• Best on late downs: Justin Jefferson caught 31 of his 46 late-down targets last season, turning six into touchdowns and 21 into a fresh set of downs.
• Best in the red zone: George Kittle led the league in receiving grade in the red zone, catching nine of his 16 targets for five touchdowns and two more first downs. He also went 3-of-5 in contested situations.
• Best from the slot: CeeDee Lamb led the way in slot receiving yards and combined first downs and touchdowns (41). He dropped just one pass all year.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
In the modern NFL, the passing game and the role receivers play have become paramount to the success of the offense.
The best pass-catchers in the league can change the course of a game, whether it's a running back who can create mismatches with linebackers, a tight end who can outmuscle defenders at the catch point or a wide receiver who can threaten defenses deep every time they get a clean release.
Here, we look at how the NFL's best receivers performed in the red zone, from the slot and on late downs. The data we used is from the 2022 regular season and does not include plays nullified by penalty.
Third and fourth downs
Justin Jefferson caught 31 of his 46 late-down targets last season, turning six into touchdowns and 21 into a fresh set of downs. His 513 yards on third and fourth down ranked second to only Davante Adams‘ 548, but his 15 explosive plays of 15 or more yards on those late downs led the league.
Christian McCaffrey ranked second in receiving grade (91.2) among receivers on late downs, which should not come as a surprise. The 49ers earned an 80.7 team grade on late downs in 2022, third in the league. The star running back caught 26 of his 30 late-down targets for 179 yards, with 122 of those yards coming after the catch.
No player in the league saw more third- and fourth-down targets than Amari Cooper (53), and he turned those into 29 catches for 494 yards, three touchdowns and 23 first downs. The Browns were 14th in the league in team grade on late downs (73.5).
You may be surprised that Bengals receivers aren’t at the top of this list. This may be due to the fact that targets were split up among them: Ja'Marr Chase saw 36 targets for 230 yards on late downs, Tyler Boyd saw 28 targets for 203 yards, Hayden Hurst saw 21 targets for 141 yards and Tee Higgins saw 19 targets for 205 yards. The Bengals excelled on late downs, grading fifth in the league in receiving in those situations (76.6).
The Lions earned the highest team receiving grade (82.0) in the league in late-down situations, so it is fitting that Amon-Ra St. Brown is on this list. St. Brown put up the best receiving grade (90.4) among second-year receivers on late downs. Look for him to continue to build on this in 2023.
It was Travis Kelce who led the league in red-zone targets, and he caught 19 of those 31 targets for 102 yards, 10 touchdowns and two more first downs. However, he also dropped four passes and came down with just one of his five contested targets, hurting his grade in this situation.
George Kittle led the league in receiving grade in the red zone, catching nine of his 16 targets for five touchdowns and two more first downs. He also went 3-of-5 in contested situations. The 49ers ranked seventh in the league in red-zone receiving grade (68.3) last season.
The Cowboys led the league in red-zone receiving grade (70.9). CeeDee Lamb finished seventh among his peers in red-zone receiving grade (75.8), second in completion percentage at almost 85% and sixth in yards with 95.
CeeDee Lamb led the way in slot receiving yards and combined first downs and touchdowns (41). He dropped just one pass all year.
Veteran pass-catcher Keenan Allen finished 10th among wide receivers in receiving grade (85.1) when he was lined up in the slot, catching 56 of his 73 targets for 495 yards, four touchdowns and 22 first downs.