News & Analysis

Top NFL receivers by route in 2018

By William Moy
Mar 18, 2019

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Nov 4, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) hauls in a touchdown catch that went over the head of Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters (22) in the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Saints won, 45-35. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Here at Pro Football Focus, we keep track of everything that happens on a football field. Every player on every play of every game. Thanks to that, we’ve got a tremendous database just loaded with football goodness. We’re going to dive into that database and look at which receivers were the most productive last season on individual routes. The metric we’re using to rank these players is wide receiver rating. Simply: WR rating is the passer rating that a quarterback earns when throwing to that receiver.

Some context here, these are the numbers each receiver saw on the basic routes of our route tree definitions. At PFF, we have multiple modifiers for routes that are broken off, combination routes and specialized routes by design like a ‘back-shoulder go.’ The numbers below are just based off the basic design and execution of each route, not inclusive of combination routes, specialized routes or modifiers.

[Editor’s note: The numbers below include postseason play. For more premium content like this, subscribe to PFF Edge or Elite. Find out more information on our subscription packages here.]

Wide receiver screens (min 10 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 97.9

1. Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals – 136.7 wide receiver rating

Kirk led all receivers with at least 10 targets on wide receiver screens last season in terms of wide receiver rating. Kirk caught 9-of-11 targets on screens for a total of 105 yards and a combined four first downs and touchdowns. Kirk was one of seven receivers last season to be targeted at least 10 times on screens and average at least 4.0 yards per route run (4.04).

2. Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams – 127.4
3. Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles – 127.1
4. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts – 118.8
5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers – 113.3

Quick Outs (min 10 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 100.9

1. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams – 143.3 wide receiver rating

Higbee caught all 10 of his targets on quick outs this past season, accumulating 89 yards (with 69 of them coming after the catch) to go with four first downs and two touchdowns.

2. Evan Engram, New York Giants – 140.3
3. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons – 135.4
4. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers – 121.3
5. Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers – 110.6

Slants (min 10 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 94.6

1. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys – 156.0 wide receiver rating

Cooper caught 13-of-16 targets on slant routes in 2018, turning eight of those catches into first downs while also scoring a league-leading four touchdowns on the route.

2. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers – 142.4
3. Willie Snead IV, Baltimore Ravens – 141.0
4. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs – 137.5
5. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings – 132.6

Out routes (min 10 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 92.5

1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs – 139.4 wide receiver rating

Kelce hauled in 12-of-15 targets on out routes in 2018 for 182 yards, seven first downs, and a touchdown. His average of 4.92 yards per route run on the route was fourth-highest mark among 59 offensive players who ran at least 10 out routes.

2. Golden Tate, Philadelphia Eagles – 138.8
3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers – 133.9
4. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals – 130.1
5. Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles – 129.1

In routes (min 10 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 89.0

1. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints – 144.4 wide receiver rating

Thomas caught all 13 of his targets on in routes last season for 210 yards (second-most in the league on in routes), eight first downs and a touchdown. Thomas led the league with four contested catches on in routes, and his average of 9.13 yards per route run was nearly two yards greater than anybody else in the league.

2. Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions – 134.7
3. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants – 125.3
T4. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants – 118.8
T4. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers – 118.8

 

Comebacks (min 5 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 85.2

1. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings – 118.8 wide receiver rating

Thielen caught all five of his targets on comeback routes this past season, picking up a first down on all five plays. There were just four offensive players in 2018 who were targeted at least five times on comeback routes, as there were just 151 total throws attempted on comebacks.

2. Robby Anderson, New York Jets – 94.9
3. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers – 87.5
4. Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers – 68.1

 

Hitches (min 20 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 90.8

1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – 122.2 wide receiver rating

Jones hauled in 19-of-22 targets on hitch routes in 2018 for a total of 213 yards. He ranked second among all offensive players with 14 combined first downs or touchdowns on the route, and he was one of just three receivers to average at least 3.5 yards per route run on hitches. 

2. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints – 103.2
3. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts – 101.4
4. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs – 99.7
5. Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs – 96.3

 

Corner routes (min 5 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 101.7

T1. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons – 158.3 wide receiver rating

Hooper caught all seven of his targets on corner routes in 2018, accumulating 159 yards and picking up either a first down or touchdown on all seven plays. His average of 13.25 yards per route run on corner routes led all offensive players.

T1. Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams – 158.3
3. Jordan Thomas, Houston Texans – 154.6
4. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers – 149.3
5. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks – 126.2

 

Post routes (min 7 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 95.2

1. Jordy Nelson, Oakland Raiders – 155.8 wide receiver rating

Nelson caught eight of his nine targets on post routes in 2018 to go with 154 yards, a touchdown, and seven first downs. The veteran receiver was one of just seven qualifying offensive players to earn an elite receiving grade on the route, leading the group at 96.3.

2. Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams – 143.9
3. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers – 141.4
4. Tajae Sharpe, Tennessee Titans – 135.4
5. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings – 118.2

 

‘Go’ routes (min 10 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 73.6

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers – 128.5 wide receiver rating

Smith-Schuster caught 5-of-12 targets on go routes this past season for 247 yards and two touchdowns. A 41.7 completion percentage might seem low, but it was the second-highest completion percentage any qualifying receiver earned on the route in 2018.

2. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers – 121.5
3. David Moore, Seattle Seahawks – 108.8
4. John Brown, Baltimore Ravens – 106.9
5. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – 98.1

 

Crossing routes (min 15 targets) – League average wide receiver rating: 101.3

1. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – 156.3 wide receiver rating

Hopkins caught 12-of-16 targets on crossing routes in 2018 for a total of 300 yards, three touchdowns, and seven first downs. Hopkins wasn’t just running shallow crossers either, his 20.2 average depth of target on the route ranked second among qualifying receivers, and his 25.0 yards per reception on the route led the group.

2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals – 154.9
3. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs – 149.3
4. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – 137.8
5. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens – 137.5

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