Best wide receivers available in the 2023 NFL Draft and free agency

Fort Worth, Texas, USA; TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) scores a touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats in the third quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

  • Jakobi Meyers is the best WR on the free-agent market: Meyers ranking No. 1 is more of an indication of the lack of talent in the free-agent WR class than a nod to Meyer's skill set.
  • Quentin Johnston leads the way in the draft: The TCU wideout has an impressive size-speed combination and can help remake a team's WR corps.
  • DeAndre Hopkins tops the trade market: The Arizona Cardinals WR could help a new team transform its WR corps immediately.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If quarterback is the most important position in football, the players on the other end of their passes might be the next most important, starting with wide receiver. 

This offseason figures to be another fascinating season where the biggest moves may be the ones we don’t see coming, just as they were a year ago.

Teams can address the position in three key areas — free agency, the draft or the trade market. Therefore, we will take a look at how the market looks for each.

Best free agents

  1. Jakobi Meyers (No. 7 on the PFF free agent rankings)
  2. Juju Smith-Schuster (36)
  3. Odell Beckham Jr. (39)
  4. Michael Thomas (40)
  5. D.J. Chark Jr. (56)
  6. Allen Lazard (63)
  7. Parris Campbell (83)
  8. Mecole Hardman (N/A)
  9. Darius Slayton (N/A)
  10. Robert Woods (N/A)

This is one of the weakest free-agent groups in years when it comes to wide receiver talent. Meyers is the best receiver available, and he has been emblematic of a lack of receiving talent in New England for several seasons because he has been by far their best option.

Meyers has gained fewer than 2.0 yards per route run in three of his four seasons in the league, including each of the last two with Mac Jones at quarterback.

Smith-Schuster became the primary wideout in Kansas City this season but was still a secondary option to Travis Kelce within the Chiefs offense.  He has proven ability as a possession receiver but isn’t transforming a receiving corps bereft of talent.

Beckham is the group's one X-factor, as he is capable of elite-level play but is coming off an ACL injury in addition to the fact that his best play is in the rear-view mirror. 

There are free agents that can contribute and improve the overall efficiency of a passing game, but if your team needs a complete change at the position, it will going to need to look elsewhere.

Best prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

  1. Quentin Johnston, TCU (PFF big board rank: 8)
  2. Jordan Addison, USC (17)
  3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (20)
  4. Zay Flowers, Boston College (22)
  5. Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell, Houston (37)
  6. Josh Downs, North Carolina (40)
  7. Kayshon Boutte, LSU (56)
  8. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee (68)
  9. Michael Wilson, Stanford (76)
  10. Rashee Rice, SMU (81)

It isn’t the strongest draft class we have seen in recent seasons, but there should still be several impact players throughout the first few rounds of the draft.

One statement that will be made a lot this year is that there is no Ja’Marr Chase in this draft (as if that is a reasonable expectation every season). Johnston has the most obvious high-end ceiling given his size and speed combination. He has the potential to make plays that few other players in this draft class have the physical capacity to replicate, but he also has bouts of inconsistencies, and he is far from a slam dunk as a top draft pick.

Addison has arguably the best tape of the group but will suffer from lacking a truly standout trait. Addison is a well-rounded receiver who can succeed at all levels and in all alignments, so he may be a steal for a team that doesn’t overthink things.

Smith-Njigba is a difficult evaluation. He spent a little over 90% of his snaps in the slot at Ohio State, but in that role, he produced bigger numbers than Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.  Whether teams believe he can play on the outside will be a big factor in determining how high he is selected, and there are reasons to believe he can do more at the next level than he did in college in terms of role. Missing almost all of the 2022 season with a lingering hamstring injury will also be a reason for some teams to be concerned.

Overall, this class is full of undersized receivers, with players such as Flowers needing to convince teams he can thrive at that size at the next level.

Best WRs available in trades

  1. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
  2. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
  3. Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
  4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  5. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
  6. Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Like last year, the biggest moves for wide receivers may come via trade. Hopkins is the receiver most obviously on the trading block, and he can help transform a receiver corps, unlike any other receiver who is available this offseason.

Higgins could be available for a team willing to send a healthy trade offer to Cincinnati as it looks ahead to the giant contracts it is going to have to hand out to Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Last season, there wasn’t a better first-round selection spent than the one the Philadelphia Eagles used to acquire A.J. Brown. A team could be inspired by that to tempt the Bengals into a move they wouldn’t otherwise be considering,

Cooks seems to be perpetually available via trade and remains an excellent receiving option; meanwhile, young receivers such as Aiyuk and Jeudy could potentially be acquired from the team that drafted them if that team doesn’t think they have enough cap space to effectively re-sign them to a big-money second contract.

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