Top 10 NFL WRs in one-on-one situations

These guys are the most difficult pass-catchers to cover with just one cornerback.

| 3 weeks ago
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Top 10 NFL WRs in one-on-one situations

You better bring help.

The Miami Dolphins benched starting cornerback Bryon Maxwell for Thursday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, starting a rookie (Xavien Howard) and a former college wideout (Tony Lippett) at corner to face off against one of the league’s premier receivers in A.J. Green.

Like lambs to the slaughter, those two combined to surrender 150 receiving yards to Green, and he picked up another 23 against other Miami defenders in Cincinnati’s 22-7 win. Green is one of a number of receivers in the league that are simply too good to be left one-on-one against anything but the best corners the league has to offer. If you don’t have one of those, you better bring some reinforcements and come with more creative ways to bracket or double cover him, because he’s going to destroy that corner one-on-one.

With that in mind, let’s take a shot at ranking the 10 most dominant receivers one on one – 10 guys who demand additional attention from the defense:

1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

The one kryptonite any wide receiver has is a quarterback who just starts missing him with the ball. Matt Ryan has been playing well so far this season, but has simply been missing Julio too much on underneath passes. When you turn on the tape, however, Jones might be the league’s most physically imposing receiver, with an elite blend of size, speed and quickness that makes him near impossible to cover one-on-one. Last week he was held to just one catch for 16 yards on seven targets, but if you look at those targets he was open pretty much all day — Ryan just wasn’t able to put the ball where it needed to be. If you’re facing Jones one-on-one and you’re not one of the game’s best corners, you’d better hope Ryan has one of those off-days.

2. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Brown doesn’t have the athletic gifts that Jones does, but he has devastating route-running skills and the ability to release from the line untouched. His playing speed is far quicker than his 40-yard dash time (4.48 seconds), and your one hope as a corner is that you’re close enough to try and win the physical battle at the catch point, because otherwise he is capable of making defensive backs look silly both before and after the catch. He might be the single toughest cover in the game right now, but loses out to Jones because of the extra margin for error Jones has with his size and athleticism.

3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

We saw against Washington’s Josh Norman last week that even the game’s best corners can’t contain Beckham all game long. Sooner or later he is going to break one and make a big play, whether it’s over the top, or underneath and after the catch. He has ridiculous hands, with the ability to make catches no other receiver can, and high-end quickness and speed to go along with those. About the only flaw in his game is the tendency to lose control of himself emotionally and get out of his game because of it. If he can keep himself together, he is one of the toughest receivers in the game to deal with.

4. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Look no further than Thursday night for evidence of this. Miami started two dangerously under-experienced cornerbacks against Green and he went off, but the truth is it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if it had been Byron Maxwell covering him, instead. Green did the same to the Jets’ Darrelle Revis earlier in the season, and if you’re going to leave one guy on him, it had better be the best of the best, because he will take anybody else to the cleaners. He is dangerous at all levels of the defense, and has caught 76.2 percent of the passes thrown his way this year.


5. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

There aren’t many star receivers who have been dealing with a worse QB situation than Hopkins over the past couple of seasons. Last year the Texans went through a revolving door of disaster QBs, and yet he was still able to put up huge numbers. This season Brock Osweiler was supposed to solve all of those ills, but has been little better overall, and yet Hopkins continues to make plays. He makes one-handed catches for fun (and often necessity, given the passes thrown his way), and is excellent at using his body to shield the ball from defenders — you can be close to Hopkins in coverage, but you’re still going to struggle to stop him from catching the ball.

6. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evans looks like a more imposing figure this year. He has always been a dangerous receiver, but now he is rounding out his game and becoming a scary proposition for opposing defensive backs. He scored a touchdown against Arizona’s Patrick Peterson in Week 2, and put 106 yards and a score on the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson – the cornerback the Rams elected to keep around over Janoris Jenkins (who signed with the Giants in free agency) in the offseason. Evans is an impressive deep threat, but has that easy ability to make spectacular catches that all great receivers have. He isn’t uncoverable just yet, but you need to have somebody pretty elite on him if you’re going to shut him down.

7. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

Jeffery’s biggest limiting factor over the past couple of seasons has simply been staying on the field. Last season he was one of the best-graded receivers in the game, ending the year third in PFF grades with a 91.9 mark, but he only played 517 snaps due to injury. This year he is once again suffering through QB problems, with an inconsistent and then injured Jay Cutler trying to get him the ball, but in isolation Jeffery is a special receiver who can take most defensive backs to task. He has caught 70 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2016 and averaged 19.4 yards per reception, dropping just one ball.

8. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

There may be no better receiver at the catch point than Robinson. Dating back to Jets rookie QB Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season at Penn State, Robinson showed the ability to make spectacular aerial grabs, elevating and taking the ball away from defenders in the air. He still does that to this day, and it’s his best trait, but he is an accomplished and well-rounded receiver on top of it. After last year he looked primed for a truly monstrous season in 2016, but Jaguars QB Blake Bortles’ regression seems to have put a drag on that.


9. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets

He is slowed by injury right now, but Marshall remains one of the game’s best receivers, especially one on one. His biggest flaw has always been dropped passes, but he has always compensated for that with the ability to win contested catches, outmuscle defenders with the ball in the air and bail out his quarterback. Nowhere has that been more in evidence than in New York, where Ryan Fitzpatrick practically relies on that ability to generate production, just heaving the ball at Marshall and hoping for the best.

10. Terrelle Pryor, Cleveland Browns

It’s time to admit that Pryor hasn’t just successfully converted to wide receiver, but looks like he could be a dominant force at the position. When I was at Browns camp this preseason it struck me how natural he looked as a route-runner. He was smooth, sharp and accomplished in that area of the game, leaving only hands to work on. So far this season he has yet to drop a pass, while doing a pretty good Josh Gordon impression with his work as a receiver. This is effectively the first real year of Pryor playing wide receiver, so his potential and ceiling are scary going forward.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Ryan

    No Demaryius? I understand he drops some balls, but when you have him one-on-one on a deep route he’s gonna go up and get it.

    • Malachi

      right, he should probably be #6 on this list

    • D. San

      He drops A LOT of balls.

  • Tony

    Seems a bit disrespectful to not even have Dez at #10 considering he is doubled (with a safety over top) pretty much all game. He doesn’t get thrown to as much now because he allows others to have 1 on 1 matchups which they beat (Beasley, Witten, Williams, running game). The 5 yard TD fade or back shoulder throw is still a nightmare for defenses to defend because of his physicality and leaping ability. When he doesnt catch it its either cas he draws a penalty (resulting in a td via run, etc) or cas of the new catch rules lol.

    • crashby89

      Why do people still believe this doubled the entire game nonsense? It’s time to admit Dez is not the Dez people want him to be. He is a monster in the red zone and great at the jump ball but beyond that he has dropped off. If Julio and AB don’t constantly draw doubles and open up their teammates, like you seem to think Dez does, I can assure you Dez does not either.

      • Tony

        “Monster in the red zone and great at jump balls” – seems like that would apply great to this article specifically about one on one situations.

        Julio and AB line up in the slot WAY more than Dez which makes it almost impossible to straight up double (and not have the best corner on them).

        Dez led the league in TDs in 2014. In 2015 not only was he hurt and only played in 9 games, he had arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL with Romo out.

        If they kept him out strictly because injury okay. Look up Mike Evans stats the last 3 years then look at Dez’s. Its a slap in the face to say Evans is better.

        • crashby89

          If every 1 on 1 was a jump ball then sure you would be right. But it’s not. Julio and AB line up in the slot because they have a more complete skill set and are able to do so.

          Dez fans need to move on from 2014. That was 2 seasons ago. He has done nothing since, yes I do realize he has been injured but guess what? If you cant play then you shouldn’t be ranked. What about Evans? This list is based on right now. So far this season Evans has been better then Dez.

          • Tony

            I acutally think Dez has the skills to be a great slot player (Y) (quick, phyiscal, not too tall, good hands) but Beasley has to be in the slot because he doesnt have the skills to be a X or Z receiver. In the Washington game they did a good job of moving Dez into the slot more but realistically he cant be there all the time or even half the time. Maybe some smart coach could find a way but its not easy when factoring in Beasley (and Witten to a lesser extent). Also, putting Dez at the X or Z keeps the safeties high which allows for easier running.

            Marshall is on this list and he has been terrible in 2016.

            Hurt or not, seemingly before, during, and after every game the opponent coaches, players, broadcasters say how much they have to gameplan for Dez and point out all the plays he is double teamed. Dak is simply hitting the open man which many times is anyone but Dez because of the respect he gets. #6-#10 dont get the respect he gets.

    • The Legendary Dealat

      Dez should be on this list but Julio is definitely doubled most of the game, sometimes tripled. He’s probably the main reason why our offense has been rolling so well. Our receivers, TE’s, and both RB’s are pretty much always 1 on 1 in receiving situations.

  • unc54

    Pryor over Kelvin Benjamin?

  • Ser Jaime

    your number 1 graded receiver this year isn’t on the list but Pryor is. Haha

  • crosseyedlemon

    Sam seems to believe that covering Larry Fitzgerald is so easy a caveman could do it. Never mind that he is among the top ten all-time in receptions or that he has a better TD to catch ratio this season than either Jones or Brown.

  • James R

    I know I sound like everyone else here with the guy they think missed out, but you have to have Dez Bryant on here. He’s suffered from bad/injured quarterback play for a while now, but I think people are forgetting how talented he is.

  • Malachi

    still would prefer these lists to go in reverse order, ten to one

    • crosseyedlemon

      I think Sam made a bet with the other guys on the staff that he could get you and a few others to stand on your head while reading these lists.
      It’s a non issue for me while I try to convince them to bring back the team power rankings.

  • Nelson Cobb

    Terrell Pryor?? Is that a joke?? How about Jordy, Dez, DT?? Pryor after 1 great game vs the lowly Dolphins secondary jump those top tier WRs?? Seems you put more jump ball WRs in there than anything. Can’t argue with the top 5, but Jordy, Dez and DT belong on this list.

  • Kyle Kennedy, CSCS

    No Landry? Only obj had more catches in their first 2 and 3 years. Watch miami, he’s tough to cover

    • Boomslang Green

      Heh, you’re more athletic than Jarvis Landry. You’re also extremely impressed with a guy who averages 10.2 yards per reception for his career.

      Also, keep in mind the article’s title. Landry does most of his work underneath against zone. He’s much less a threat against man coverage.

      • Kyle Kennedy, CSCS

        The only thing I will agree with is that he faces a lot of zone, but so do wideouts. He still beats slot corners one on one. IT doesn’t matter what he’s yards per catch is, especially since 10 is all that is needed for a first down. Does that mean guys like welker, etc are not talented? He also breaks more tackles and creates more yards after the catch than most rec in the nfl, so i’m really not sure of your definition of athleticism. HAve you watched a miami game? or reading just the career stats?

  • Lukescapes

    Surprised kelvin Benjamin not on this list, he’s enormous, no one can high point and box out like him.