Passing is king in the modern NFL, which means wide receivers are more important than ever before. More and more often, teams are getting more and more wideouts onto the field, to the point where it is not even novel to state that a team’s third wideout is nearly a full-time starter.
It’s in that environment that we continue our divisional rankings. In the space below, we’re going to dig in on each division’s wide receivers, summing up which group is the best, which is the worst, and all of the rankings in between. 8. AFC East
Just as it did in our running back rankings, our tight end rankings, and our quarterback rankings, the AFC East comes in last place here. This division is … Not rife with skill position talent.
Stefon Diggs is a borderline top-10 guy. DeVante Parker finally had the breakout season so many had been predicting for him for so long. Beyond that, there is not much to write home about here. Brown is a strong deep threat and Beasley is a solid slot man, but they are pretty clearly best-suited as role players. Edelman is 34 years old and the guy who made him a star now plays for the Bucs. Harry showed next to nothing last season. Crowder averaged an anemic 6.8 yards per target last season. Wilson matched his career high with 62 targets last season, but also set a career low in yards per reception. 7. AFC South
There’s a nice amount of depth in this division, but a lot of injury-related question marks and no true superstar talent just yet.
The entire Texans receiving corps is a walking injury risk, but Fuller and Cooks, in particular have had trouble staying on the field. They have each shown an ability to raise the level of their quarterback’s play when out there, though, which is a nice bonus. Cobb is a good slot guy, but not much more than that. Chark had a breakout second season and flashed excellent chemistry with Gardner Minshew, which should give us high hopes for the next couple years. Westbrook has been only occasionally effective, and Cole has been little more than a bit player most of the time. Laviska Shenault should take over a role in Jacksonville sooner rather than later.
Hilton is another major injury risk, and we’ve yet to see him have much in the way of success with a quarterback not named Andrew Luck. Philip Rivers is an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, but also not necessarily a perfect schematic fit with Hilton. Campbell is getting a second shot at a rookie season, basically, and Pittman is the type of big-bodied target Rivers has been willing to target downfield over the years. Brown is a star in the making; now we just need to see him sustain what he did last year in a true No. 1 role. I have high hopes.6. NFC North
There are three star receivers in this division, in Robinson, Golladay, and Adams. Robinson keeps throwing up top-10 type numbers despite having some of the worst quarterback play imaginable. Golladay essentially matched his sophomore year production last season, despite playing half the year without Matthew Stafford. And Adams is a top-five wideout.
After that, Thielen has the talent to hit the level of those guys, but hasn’t done it in a couple years. Jones is a tier or two below those guys, but a good deep threat and red zone guy. Jefferson was my next-favorite guy in the draft after the consensus top-two wideouts, but he’s also a slot guy joining an offense where the No. 1 (Thielen) is also a slot guy. The rest of the receivers in this division are barely worth mentioning. 5. AFC North
If we knew that A.J. Green was going to be healthy and the same A.J. Green he’s always been, this division might have been even higher on the list. As-is, though, the group is a bit top-heavy. Green has the ceiling of a top-five guy, but we can’t count on it. The same goes for Beckham, who has dealt with injuries and inconsistent quarterback play the past few years. Smith-Schuster looked like he was ticketed to join that group, but then he underwhelmed in a big way last season. (Other receivers have done far better despite horrid quarterback play.)
But Boyd is a good No. 2 guy. So is Landry, who was finally allowed to stretch the field a bit last season, freed as he was from Adam Gase and Hue Jackson’s offenses. Johnson flashed a ton of talent despite the aforementioned terrible QB play in Pittsburgh, and could emerge as a strong option alongside JuJu. The Ravens have enormous hopes for Hollywood Brown, and rightfully so, but the receiver corps is a bit wanting beyond that, even if you include rookie Devin Duvernay. Higgins should be able to ease into the Cincy offense as the third option this year, before eventually becoming Joe Burrow’s top target somewhere down the line. 4. AFC West
I wanted to get this division even higher on the list, but ultimately couldn’t justify it. Still, there’s a lot to like in what is fast becoming a division based around speed on offense.
The Chiefs have the fastest receiver corps in the league, with Hill and Hardman leading the way. Watkins is practically running in quicksand compared to those two, and he’s, ya know, still fast. Ruggs might be the fastest guy in the league now. Williams showed last year that he’s not equipped to be a No. 1 guy, but he’s a good deep threat who could provide space for guys like Renfrow and Darren Waller to work underneath.
The Broncos trio should be good for years to come. We may not get much out of Jeudy and Hamler this season because they’re rookies and the offseason is weird, but these three guys fit well together conceptually and should help Drew Lock establish a floor. Allen is one of the most consistent players in the league and Williams finally tapped into some of his talent last year, but the Chargers desperately need some depth at the position. 3. NFC East
We had the discussion in Slack yesterday and came to the conclusion that it’s entirely possible the Cowboys already have the three best receivers in the division. They definitely have the best two in Cooper and Gallup, and Lamb might actually be the best player of the three. Those guys alone were enough to vault the NFC East a few spots up the list, but despite not having as much star power, the rest of the division is pretty solid as well.
I really like the Giants’ trio of wideouts. Slayton had one of the best late-round rookie receiver seasons in NFL history. Only three guys drafted in the fifth round or later ever had more receiving yards during their rookie year. Tate and Shepard aren’t high-ceiling guys, but they’re strong short-to-intermediate options for Daniel Jones. Alshon can’t manage to stay healthy but is a good red zone weapon when he is. The same is true of Jackson, but sub deep threat for red zone. McLaurin reminds me of a young Keenan Allen. The dude is a fantastic route runner and always open. Sims showed something toward the end of last season, but we’ve got to see if it’s anything more than a flash in the pan.2. NFC West
The injury to Samuel is a major bummer. He was going to break out this year. The 49ers don’t have anyone else of his caliber but Aiyuk is a terrific fit for their offense, Bourne is dependable scheme-wise, and Hurd has a ton of versatility. The Hopkins trade was an absolute heist. Ridiculous. Kirk is a good fit for Kyler Murray and should get back to working the underneath areas of the field this year. Fitz could catch 100 passes in his sleep, probably.
Woods is one of the most underrated players in the league, and a borderline top-10 guy. Kupp is just about as good as Woods. Reynolds looked fine as the No. 3 guy when Kupp got injured a couple years ago, and should be fine in the role this year. Lockett is one of those guys who I would just love to see with big volume, but the Seahawks refuse to run an offense that isn’t from 1992. Metcalf quietly out-targeted Lockett last season, and diversified his route tree as the season went along. He’s a monster. 1. NFC South
This division is hilarious. The two best receivers in the league right now are both here: Thomas and Julio. Evans and Godwin are each top-10 guys, with the talent to break into the top five. Moore is probably somewhere in the back half of the top-20, and Ridley and Sanders aren’t too far behind him. Anderson and Samuel have a ton of talent but haven’t totally put it together yet. Tyler Johnson would have gone a round or two earlier in the draft if he didn’t have as many injury issues.
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