PFF The Magazine: Top 10 NFL wide receivers
In the third digital edition of PFF: The Magazine, Pro Football Focus analyst Jon Abbott breaks down the list of the top 10 wide receivers currently in the NFL. To see more articles like this, be sure to check out the latest digital edition of PFF: The Magazine, available for download here.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown unquestionably takes the top spot on this list. He was the top-graded receiver at PFF in each of the past two seasons and, even in a relative slump, is near the sharp end again in 2016. Brown has all the tools needed to be an all-time great wide receiver: speed, quickness, and route-running. He is great at getting in and out of his breaks without loss of speed, which is key to creating separation, and shows outstanding body control when having to keep feet inbounds on the sideline
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
The only man who can come close to the production that Brown has had over the past couple of seasons is Jones, an outrageously-gifted player who was second in PFF’s 2015 season grades among receivers. His speed, size, and strength combine to make him the most physically-intimidating receiver in the NFL—something he put on display when producing the sixth 300-yard receiving game in NFL history versus the Carolina Panthers this season. That performance was so dominant that it caused the Panthers to cut the player that was tasked with covering him most of the day, cornerback Bené Benwikere.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Beckham Jr. entered the NFL in 2014 and took the league by storm. Remarkably under 6-feet tall, he uses amazing speed and route-running ability to get open and also has the uncanny ability to make catches that are well outside most receivers’ radius. In his rookie year, Beckham graded third overall among all wide receivers as Eli Manning produced a QB rating of 127.6 targeting the former LSU star. In 2015, his receiving grade ranked fifth overall and he averaged 2.43 yards per route run, which was third overall. He also has arguably the best hands in the game, with the ability to make ludicrous catches few receivers can even dream of.
4. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant is a tremendously gifted, physical outside receiver. Injuries have put him out of the public eye for much of the past year, and he’s been unable to see the field, but it’s important not to forget how dominant he was in his past full season. In 2014, Bryant had 16 receiving touchdowns and graded fourth overall among NFL wide receivers. When Tony Romo threw to Bryant that year, his QB rating was 121.2, and watching any Cowboys tape from that period shows how much Bryant impacts coverage. He caught all of the 15 deep balls sent his way—eight for touchdowns—and is one of the biggest forces in the NFL when healthy.
5. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green broke out in his sophomore season with a top-10 grade earned by his catching 48.5 percent of the deep balls thrown at him, third-highest rate in the NFL. His ability to get down the field and make big plays has not dissipated. Last year, Green caught 50 percent of deep passes thrown at him (again ranking third), and stood sixth overall among wide receivers. Green has also markedly improved upon his early-career struggles with drops; in 2012 and 2013, he dropped 9.35 percent and 10.09 percent of his catchable passes, respectively, a much higher mark than the 3.37 of last season.
6. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald has been the model of consistency throughout his entire career. From 2006–2011, he graded in the top-10 for wide receivers each year. But, in 2012, he dropped all the way down to No. 64 overall, and it looked like we may have seen the end of him at the top. In 2013, Bruce Arians became the head coach of the Cardinals and made a big change, moving Fitzgerald to the slot. From 2006-2012, Fitzgerald averaged just under 20 percent of his snaps from the slot, but in the last two seasons, that number has jumped to over 50 percent, and this year it’s closer to two-thirds. Last season, Fitzgerald graded third overall, and was the top blocking wide receiver. He can truly do it all.
7. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Hopkins’ abilities as a receiver are somewhat unique to this list. Coming out of Clemson, he ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, a disappointing time in a league filled with elite speedsters. Hopkins does not separate with elite speed; rather, he wins with outstanding physicality, body control, and catching ability. He is one of the best receivers along the sidelines, and can make spectacular grabs look routine. His ability to fight off a corner, catch the ball away from his body, and keep his feet in bounds is second to none. In 2015, Hopkins was our fourth-best wide receiver and ranked seventh in yards per route run, with 2.28.
8. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Many NFL fans might have forgotten about Nelson in terms of top-10 wide receivers after he missed last season with a torn ACL, but his impact on the Green Bay offense was palpable even judging by his absence. In 2013 and 2014, Nelson graded second overall among wide receivers and, if anything, was an underrated player. When Aaron Rodgers threw to Nelson in 2014, his QB rating was 128.2, which ranked second among all wide receivers. Nelson surely benefits from having Rodgers at QB, but he also does a great job getting open downfield for big plays, and is clearly Rodgers’ favorite target, receiving a team-high 46 targets through Week 6. [Editor’s note: It’s worth noting here, however, that Rodgers threw to Nelson just three times in Week 7’s TNF win over the Bears.]
9. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
One name that may surprise many on this list is Doug Baldwin. He certainly is not what you would draw up as your prototypical No. 1 wide receiver, standing at under 6-foot and spending nearly 80 percent of his snaps in the slot. Yet Baldwin has shown that he is unbelievably productive and has become a key component in Seattle’s passing offense. Baldwin graded seventh overall last season for wide receivers, and Russell Wilson had a 142.8 rating when throwing to him, which ranked first in the league by more than 20 points. He also has some of the surest hands in the NFL, dropping only two of the 80 catchable passes thrown his way in 2015.
10. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
This season has been far from as dominant as 2015 for Jeffrey, but that production in limited snaps was hard to ignore. The Chicago wideout will not blow you away with his speed—he dropped into the second round of the draft mostly due to his average timed measurables—but Jeffrey more than makes up for that in his physicality and hands downfield. He finished last season with an average of 2.87 yards per route run, which ranked fourth overall, and has overcome questionable quarterback play to end in the top 10 of our standings in two of the last three years.