NFL News & Analysis

2021 NFL Free Agent Rankings: Wide Receivers

Paradise, Nevada, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin celebrates a second half touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2020 NFL regular season officially in the books, it's almost team-building season for most franchises around the league. So let's get our first look at the 2021 free agent class.

The PFF free agent list is based upon our player evaluations and positional value — and it's a fluid list, as the 2020 season is still unfolding. We will continue to update this list as we head toward the March free agency period. 

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1. WR Chris Godwin

The 2019 season showed the ceiling that Chris Godwin can reach. He finished the year with a 90.7 overall PFF grade and was one of the very best receivers in football. Given his impressive grades over the first two seasons of his NFL career before that, it seemed like a natural breakout point. Injuries slowed him down in 2020, but Godwin finished with a strong 80.2 receiving grade and a passer rating of 131.9 when targeted.

Godwin is an exceptionally talented and versatile receiver who has great hands — dropping just four passes in his first three seasons— and he has excelled from both an outside and slot alignment. Godwin’s projection will likely depend on what the second half of the 2020 season holds for him. If he can get back to the form he showed in 2019, he may be one of the best receiver free agents to hit the open market in years.

Contract Analysis: Godwin was eligible for an extension after 2019, and Tampa Bay probably would’ve (should’ve) given him one if it didn’t land Tom Brady for a Super Bowl push. Godwin was also apparently on board with adding Antonio Brown, so he’s clearly a team-first player.

Prediction: Buccaneers franchise tag Godwin for 2021, and a deal is not reached before the season starts.

2. WR Allen Robinson II

It’s impossible not to feel a little bit sorry for Allen Robinson II given the quarterback situations he has dealt with dating back to at least high school. He may have chosen his latest nightmare in Chicago, but the combination of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles did not encourage much success, yet Robinson continually excels.

Robinson hasn’t had an overall PFF grade lower than 69.0 in his career or lower than 75.0 since the 2018 season, his first in Chicago. He consistently showcases excellent hands and contested-catch skills, dropping no more than three passes in a season since his time in Jacksonville. Robinson graded out at 88.4 during the 2020 regular season — fifth best in the league —  and he is still only 27 years old. His ceiling with a high-end quarterback could be special.

Contract Analysis: Robinson could close his eyes and throw a dart at a U.S. map, and he’ll end up with a better quarterback at his new destination. He’s another franchise-tag candidate, but Chicago’s current salary cap nightmare could make fitting $18 million (Robinson’s minimum tag) in 2021 borderline impossible.

Prediction: Dolphins sign Robinson for four years, $84 million ($21M APY): $52.5 million total guaranteed, $35 million fully guaranteed at signing.

3. WR Kenny Golladay

There may be no better endorsement of a top receiver than the difference it makes to his quarterback when he is on the field. Matthew Stafford is a different player when Golladay is on the field, and the wideout clearly has confidence in his ability to go up and get the football in tough spots. He battled injuries this season, but Golladay’s 628 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes ranked second in the league in 2019.

Golladay has the size and athleticism required to be a big target on the outside, along with that contested-catch prowess, but he also possesses enough nuance in his route running to function well in any system. The NFC North has featured some great receivers in recent seasons, and Golladay is up there with the best of them.

Contract Analysis: Golladay is probably the most likely franchise tag recipient in the NFL at this point. We don’t think the rumors of him to the Giants through trade were by accident; Golladay’s representation was probably trying to help him land on a team more interested in giving him the long-term contract he deserves.

Prediction: Lions franchise tag Kenny Golladay for 2021, and a deal is not reached before the season starts.

Otherwise: Giants sign Golladay for four years, $85 million ($21.25M APY): $57.5 million total guaranteed, $37.5 million fully guaranteed.

4. WR Will Fuller V

Will Fuller has the all-important “speed you can’t teach,” which will always elevate him beyond where his production would otherwise rank him. It was clear even when the Texans had DeAndre Hopkins as their No. 1 receiver that Fuller made a material difference to the offense just by being on the field. Defenses needed to respect that deep threat on every single snap. He has yet to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season and has missed a lot of time with injuries throughout his career, but he will still be in his mid-20s when free agency rolls around. And his speed threat is transformative for an offense that doesn’t have it.

For a player who struggled badly with drops in college, Fuller has largely kept those under control at the NFL level, with just 19 total in his career — 14 of which came in two separate seasons.

Contract Analysis: Houston seemingly put itself in a precarious position by not trading Fuller to the Packers at the deadline. Fuller was having a career year and seemed destined to command top dollar in a crowded wide receiver free agent class, but a six-game suspension for PEDs cut his 2020 season short. In situations like this, the range for the next contract is very wide.

Prediction: Packers sign Fuller for five years, $87.5 million ($17.5M APY): $25 million signing bonus (generally all the Packers guarantee).

5. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to hit free agency having just turned 24 years old because of how young he was when he entered the NFL before the 2017 season. His exact role and ceiling is still something of an open question. His best season — an 81.8 overall grade in 2018 — came working predominantly inside and when Antonio Brown was the primary threat for the Steelers. Injury robbed us of the chance to see if he could step into Brown’s role and replace that production before the team decided — aided by the emergence of Diontae Johnson, among others — to move him back to the slot for most of his snaps.

There is a lot to like about his game. He is clearly smart, understands coverages and can exploit both man and zone defenses from the slot, as well as having good size, but his projection as a full-time perimeter receiver involved more guesswork, and that’s his biggest battle heading to the negotiating table.

Contract Analysis: Even before the 2020 season began, pundits predicted that Smith-Schuster would be playing his final season in Pittsburgh. With the emergence of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, that’s now even more of a safe bet.

Prediction: Jets sign Smith-Schuster for four years, $68 million ($17M APY): $35M total guaranteed, $22M fully guaranteed at signing.

6. WR Corey Davis

While Davis may never live up to his No. 5 overall draft status, he has become a reliable No. 2 receiver. His four-year body of work puts him slightly above average when measured by PFF receiving grade, receiving grade against single coverage and yards per route run.

Davis pairs one of the lowest drop rates in the league with one of the lowest catchable-target rates — his 2020 breakout may be more than a mirage. Davis looked the part of a high-volume possession receiver coming out of college, but he works best on the outside running the vertical route tree, and he’s been better than expected at winning in contested situations at the catch point.

Davis may never develop into an all-around route-runner or a dynamic threat after the catch, but if expectations are properly set, he fills the role of a dependable complementary receiver on the outside. Davis' 86.9 regular season grade was by far the best of his career and ranked eighth among all receivers.

Contract Analysis: Davis was supposed to be the high draft pick breakout wide receiver in Tennessee, but A.J. Brown burst onto the scene in 2019 and isn’t looking back. Tennessee will have a hard time retaining Davis, who has earned a solid contract and whose status as the No. 5 overall pick will artificially inflate the value of that contract even further.

Prediction: Football Team signs Davis for four years, $65M ($16.25M APY): $32M total guaranteed, $20M fully guaranteed at signing.

7. WR T.Y. Hilton

Hilton is not the same big-play threat he once was, but he’s settled in as more of an efficient chain-mover over the past two years. Forty-two of his 56 receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown in 2020, and he has just six drops on his past 101 catchable passes. Hilton had the No. 13 grade on intermediate (10-19 yard) passes last season, and that’s where he provides the most value going forward as a complementary threat. 

Contract Analysis: Hilton finished out the regular season of his contract year with a bang, scoring four touchdowns and posting five straight games with at least 60 receiving yards from Week 12 to Week 16. He had no touchdowns and only one outing with 60 receiving yards over the first 11 weeks, so generating some flashy generic stats was important for him down the stretch.

Prediction: Colts sign Hilton for three years, $28.5 million ($9.5M APY): $18 million total guaranteed, $10 million fully guaranteed at signing.

8. WR Curtis Samuel

Perhaps one of the more under-the-radar storylines of the entire 2020 season is Curtis Samuel’s rebirth in Carolina under new head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady. When Carolina signed speedster Robby Anderson this offseason, some thought it could spell the end of Samuel’s time in Carolina. He’s long been rumored in trades as he approaches the end of his rookie contract, but his 2020 campaign changes the situation entirely. Samuel and Anderson really aren’t very similar in their playing styles, and Joe Brady has accentuated Samuel’s strengths in an impressive fashion. 

Contract Analysis: Samuel has shifted inside to the slot, and he’s also had at least one rushing attempt in every game this season. His 2020 average depth of target of 6.2 yards through Week 12 is a massive drop-off from his 2019 average depth of target mark of 15.1 yards. As a result, Samuel’s game is starting to resemble another second-round wide receiver with the last name Samuel: Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers. Both players look like running backs in the open field when they get the ball near or behind the line of scrimmage, flashing a physical, downhill nature in their efforts after the catch. Samuel has excelled in his new role and could have an opportunity to finish the season on a tear with D.J. Moore expected to miss some time.

Prediction: Giants sign Samuel for three years, $25 million ($8.33M APY): $15 million total guaranteed, $10 million fully guaranteed at signing.

9. WR Marvin Jones Jr.

Kenny Golladay is not the only Lions wide receiver headed to free agency, but the team won’t be as hard-pressed to retain Jones, who will be 31 years old before the 2021 league year begins on March 17. Jones has been incredibly consistent, grading between 71.0 and 76.0 in each of his last six seasons. Jones is still a capable Z wide receiver on the outside opposite a true X, but he has also seen his snaps from the slot increase steadily each season, which could perhaps make him more attractive to potential suitors if there are concerns about his game not aging well.

Jones has solid hands (only dropped more than four passes once in a season) and some juice after the catch. He should still be a capable addition to a lot of receiving corps in the league. He isn’t a true mismatch weapon or a No. 1 receiver, but he can still provide a lot of value.

Prediction: Browns sign Jones for three years, $27 million ($9M APY): $16.5 million total guaranteed, $12.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.

10. WR Nelson Agholor

It’s been a career of inconsistency for Agholor, who has been good in two of his five years with three other seasons being marred by dropped passes and disappointing production. However, Agholor was an excellent slot receiver for the Eagles in 2017, as Philadelphia quarterbacks had a 114.5 passer rating when targeting him. 

His 2020 campaign with Las Vegas has netted similar production, albeit in a different role. Agholor has become a legitimate downfield threat for the Raiders, posting career-highs in yards, and touchdowns while dwarfing his career yards per reception numbers with a 17.9 mark. The question is whether Agholor can sustain his success, and that question is better asked of him in a complementary role rather than a feature one.

Contract Analysis: These flash-in-the-pan players like Agholor can be hard to project, as he’s a former first-round pick coming off a 900-yard, eight-touchdown season. However, Agholor still had nine drops on his 82 targets, which earned him a 31.7 drop grade (109th of 115 wide receivers with at least 30 targets). 

Prediction: Raiders sign Agholor for two years, $15 million ($7.5M APY): $9 million total guaranteed, $7 million fully guaranteed at signing.

You've got the first pick with your finances. Western Southern Financial Group.

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