Top 8 free agent wide receivers
Nathan Jahnke breaks down the top wide receivers that are set to hit free agency, including Marvin Jones and Rishard Matthews.
Top 8 free agent wide receivers
A team can never have too many good wide receivers, and there are only a few options that could stand to be solid role players. With a small supply, the top available receivers will be in high demand.
Below are PFF’s top eight wide receiver free agents:
(Editor’s note: This list was updated on March 4, 2016.)
1. Marvin Jones
2015 team: Cincinnati Bengals
Jones is coming off a season with career-highs in receptions and yards. The Bengal had a breakout season in 2013 with 10 touchdowns. He proceeded to miss the entire 2014 season with injury, but had a solid rebound in 2015. Part of what makes Jones a good option is his ability to make defenders miss after the catch. Typically, the top receivers in missed tackles caused are a combination of the elite outside receivers or the slot receivers. Jones rarely lines up in the slot, and was in the top 20 in missed tackles in both 2013 and 2015. While a team probably shouldn’t use him as their No. 1 receiver, he makes a very good second option.
2. Rishard Matthews
2015 team: Miami Dolphins
In the 2015 offseason, the Dolphins went out and added a number of receivers that made it seem like Matthews would be buried on the depth chart. During training camp, Matthews managed his way into the starting lineup, and performed admirably over the first 10 games of the year before suffering a season-ending injury. Typically, a good receiver will have a good catch rate and low yards-per-catch, or a good yards-per-catch and low catch rate. Matthews is the rare receiver who did both last year. He was the only player in the top 25 in each category among the 119 receivers with the most playing time.
3. Travis Benjamin
2015 team: Cleveland Browns
Of the 2015 unrestricted free agent wide receivers, the only one to top 900 yards in 2015 was Travis Benjamin. The one area Benjamin is most helpful is as a deep threat. He had 363 receiving yards on deep passes, which was 16th-most in the NFL. Four of his eight deep catches went for touchdowns. His one drawback is that he drops too many passes, with six dropped passes over the second half of last year. In every other way he has been an average receiver. No team had worse play from their quarterbacks than the Browns, so a new setting with a new QB could help Benjamin break out as a very good receiver.
4. Jermaine Kearse
2015 team: Seattle Seahawks
While there were better receiving options in Seattle, the Seahawks still had plenty of success when throwing Kearse the football. When Kearse was targeted, the Seahawks had a 126.1 NFL passer rating, which was the fourth-best for any wide receiver in the NFL. He started playing especially well late in the season. From Week 14 on, including the playoffs, his +7.4 cumulative grade was the seventh best for wide receivers. The receivers above him might have more upside, but over the last three years, Kearse has been more consistent.
5. James Jones
2015 team: Green Bay Packers
The top five receivers are all players who entered the league in 2012 and can sign long-term contracts. If a team wants more of a short-term fix with less upside (but less bust potential), James Jones is their best option. His 17.8 yards-per-catch were the best for receivers with at least 35 catches. While he was invisible in some games, in others (with the right cornerback matchup) he was capable of huge showings. For most of his career, Jones has benefited from having Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but even in 2014 in Oakland, Jones was still an average receiver.
6. Rueben Randle
2015 team: New York Giants
Most receivers on this list helped their stock in 2015, but Randle was an exception to that rule. After three straight years of increasing playing time and improved production, Randle saw plenty of playing time in 2015 with not enough production. He had just 1.31 yards-per-route-run, which was sixth-worst for those with at least 500 routes. This was due to a lack of big plays in 2015. In 2014, he forced 13 players to miss tackles on him, which was 10th-best among receivers. If he can return to his 2014 form, he would be a solid second receiver.
7. Nate Washington
2015 team: Houston Texans
The top seven wide receivers on this list are all outside players with little to no experience in the slot. At his best, Washington is a dependable receiver who is capable of moving the chains. He’s been penalized just three times over the last five years, and during the majority of seasons, he’s an above average run-blocker. At his age (32), there probably isn’t much left in the tank, but he can still be part of a wide receiver rotation.
8. Andre Johnson
2015 team: Indianapolis Colts
Thrice our second-highest graded receiver in the NFL (2008, 2010, and 2012 seasons), Andre Johnson is likely nearing the end of a quality career. In 2015, he finished as the 60th-ranked receiver in the league, notching four touchdown receptions for Indy—two in Week 5 against the Texans. While he was once an elite wideout, Johnson will turn 35 in July, and his drop rate of 12.8 percent last season (ranked 68th among NFL WRs) won’t likely attract many suitors. He could be an okay veteran pickup for cheap, however, and can still act as a vertical threat (caught all five deep passes thrown his way in 2015).