NFL News & Analysis

NFL’s 10 highest-graded wide receivers against man coverage: Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown edges out the top spot

2KCT14K Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (14) runs the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Detroit, Michigan USA, on Sunday, October 31, 2021. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto)

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown dominates man coverage: He had an impressive 127.7 NFL passer rating when targeted against man coverage, which ranked inside the top 10. Not only did he rank top 10 in that area, but also with a 2.82 yards per route run.
  • Ja’Marr Chase isn't far behind: Chase was edged out by just one decimal point to St. Brown, as his 90.7 receiving grade against man coverage was good enough for second among NFL WRs. 
  • CeeDee Lamb proving to be elite: Lamb was tied second with Chase, coming as close as possible to being first on this list. Lamb showed up when defense tried to man him up – bringing in 32 catches for 458 yards and three touchdowns.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Last week, we looked at the 10 highest-graded receivers against zone coverages. Now, let’s take a look at the top 10 receivers when it comes to facing man coverage. Although zone coverage has become the much more prominent coverage in today’s NFL, teams still love to line up mono e mono across the board – typically on late, pivotal down and distances as well. We used PFF’s Premium Stats to check out what receivers consistently get open and make plays when being covered man-to-man.

1. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 90.8

St. Brown came in at No. 9 when we looked at performance against zone coverage, but when it came to facing man coverage, he was the top guy. St. Brown was a phenomenal underneath weapon working from the slot, as he had 25 first downs on one of the lowest average depth of target figures (6.9) of the qualified receivers.

St. Brown had a career year last season for Detroit, proving to be one of the league’s best slot receivers. He had an impressive 127.7 NFL passer rating when targeted against man coverage, which ranked inside the top 10. Not only did he rank top 10 in that area, but also with a 2.82 yards per route run; both of which were better numbers than what he posted when facing zone coverage.

T-2. Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 90.7

Chase was edged out by just one decimal point to St. Brown, as we are splitting hairs here. Chase is such an incredible receiver in all facets of the game, he can take shorter routes the distance but also plays much larger than his listed size. Of course, he is playing with his guy Joe Burrow, and they obviously have one of the best rapports in the league.

Chase truly is a big play waiting to happen, and manning him up makes it all the more dangerous – he hauled in 29 catches against man coverage for 444 yards and five touchdowns. He ranked in the top 10 in both of those categories, and he ranked top five with 197 yards after catch when facing man coverage. His 3.31 yards per route run was third among these 10 receivers listed; this young connection of Burrow to Chase is one we will continue to hear about for years to come.

T-2. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 90.7

Lamb was tied second with Chase, coming as close as possible to being first on this list. Lamb primarily played from the slot, which you typically face a lot of underneath zones to get open. However, Lamb showed up when the defense tried to man him up as well – bringing in 32 catches for 458 yards and three touchdowns.

Lamb posted a 2.90 yards per route run figure, which ranked eighth when facing man coverage, and he ranked the exact same when facing zone coverage as well. Of Lamb’s 167 total targets, just 45 of them were against man coverage schemes, but he managed to gain 23 first downs on his 32 receptions. Among these 10 receivers, his 58.3 contested catch percentage ranked second, snagging seven of his 12 opportunities.

4. A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 90.4

Arguably the last receiver you would want to play man-to-man, Brown has great speed and quickness to match his unbelievable physicality. The numbers speak for themselves, as Brown led all receivers against man coverage with 39 receptions, 674 yards and six touchdowns. If Jalen Hurts saw the defense playing man coverage, good chance he was looking Brown's way, as his 62 targets were tied first with Bills’ Stefon Diggs.

Brown can create great separation for his size, but his specialty is his physicality when the ball is in his hands. He also led the league with 249 yards after catch and 10 missed tackles forced when facing man coverage. Brown was also tied first with 29 first downs versus man coverage schemes, which means just 10 of his receptions against these schemes did not move the chains.

5. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 89.4

Williams dealt with some injuries last season, only appearing in 13 games for the Chargers. However, he is a nightmare for a defensive back to cover one-on-one, as the 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver led all receivers with 10 contested catches when facing man coverage. His 10-of-16 contested catch opportunities just go to show that a cornerback can be in tight coverage, but it just will not be enough against a player of his size.

Williams has been a downfield weapon for quarterback Justin Herbert, with a 15.5-yard average depth of target. He also posted an exceptional 3.70 yards per route run, which ranked second among all qualified receivers. Williams had zero drops against man coverage and is an extremely reliable, big-bodied weapon for Herbert that coincides perfectly with a veteran receiver like Keenan Allen.

6. Garrett Wilson, New York Jets

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 88.2

Two rookies appeared in the top 10 when looking at the highest-graded receivers against zone coverage, but Wilson stands as the lone first-year receiver on this list. Despite not having much stability at the quarterback position, Wilson found ways to create separation and make plays in his debut season as a Jet. He really excelled against man coverage, hauling in 33 catches, which ranked top five among all qualified receivers.

On those 33 catches, Wilson racked up 448 yards and found the end zone on two separate occasions. He gained a first down on 23 of those receptions, as he was one of just 10 receivers that had 20 or more first downs when facing man coverage. Wilson’s nine missed tackles forced only trailed A.J. Brown. Oh, now he gets to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers – get the popcorn ready.

7. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 87.3

It is safe to say that Joe Burrow loves playing against man coverage, as his top two weapons appear on the list. Higgins is another big-bodied receiver who doesn’t need to create separation to excel against man coverage. Higgins hauled in six of his 11 contested catch opportunities when playing man-to-man.

Impressively, 19 of Higgins’ 22 receptions against man coverage went for a first down. Higgins is a nightmare to cover one-on-one because he can win easily over the top with his 6-foot-4 frame and 97th-percentile arm length. With his basketball background, it shows up on film with his ability to box out smaller defensive backs and attack the catch point.

8. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 86.9

Jefferson is one of three receivers to appear in both top 10 lists versus zone and man coverage, which should come as no surprise. Jefferson is a dominant force regardless of what coverage is thrown his way. On 34 receptions against man coverage, he tallied up 642 yards, which trailed only A.J. Brown. His 238 yards after catch also ranked second to Brown.

Jefferson has already proven to be an extraordinary elite receiver in such a short time, breaking some of Randy Moss’ records in Minnesota. He is a special separator and chain mover, as his 83 total first downs led all receivers in 2022. Man or zone, Jefferson simply just wins.

9. Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 86.8

Jeudy has had a solid NFL career to this point, but with new head coach Sean Payton, this could be the year Jeudy breaks out. Jeudy is just a natural separator, and we noticed that early on when he was playing for Nick Saban at Alabama. Last season when facing man coverage, his 4.19 yards per route run led all qualified receivers. 

It was a bit of a small sample, as only 19 of Jeudy’s 100 targets came when facing man coverage schemes. However, he produced when he was given those opportunities, converting 11 first downs on 14 receptions. His 306 yards led him to a top-three 21.9 yards per reception figure. 

10. Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins

Receiving grade vs. man coverage: 86.2

Hill joins St. Brown and Jefferson as the only three receivers to make both top 10 lists when facing zone and man coverage. Hill ranked first against zone coverage, whereas he comes in at No. 10 against man coverage. This is likely due to the fact that teams would much rather play zone against the lightning-fast duo of Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Hill was targeted 181 times last season, but only 31 of those came against man-to-man coverage. However, Hill did what he could, converting 13 first downs on 20 receptions for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 81 total first downs only trailed Jefferson, as they were the only two receivers to move the chains 80 or more times in 2022. 


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