The most challenging part of ranking NFL positional units is weighing elite talent against depth.
Players like Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams are extremely valuable, as their trades and subsequent contract extensions this offseason would suggest. Their on-field impact goes beyond their individual production to include the opportunities they create for their teammates and the defensive attention they draw. But one elite wide receiver often isn’t enough for an offense. Having quality secondary and tertiary receiving options is also important, particularly as the season progresses into the postseason.
Here’s an attempt at balancing that high-end talent with depth — rankings and tiers for all 32 NFL wide receiver and tight end groups entering the 2022 season. Running backs weren’t included in the receiving corps for this exercise.
Tier 1: Elite
No team has a more impressive collection of young pass-game talent than the Bengals. Obviously, quarterback Joe Burrow is a big part of that, but the starting wide receiver trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd that came together last offseason contributed heavily to Burrow’s progression from his rookie season to 2021.
Chase established himself as one of the NFL’s best deep threats (league-high eight touchdowns on throws 20-plus yards downfield) and after-the-catch weapons (third among wide receivers in yards after the catch) at the position. Cincinnati’s decision to reunite him and Burrow also allowed Higgins and Boyd to profile as some of the better No. 2 and No. 3 options in the league, respectively.
Tampa Bay’s receiving corps isn’t quite as talented as it was at full strength last season. Antonio Brown and O.J. Howard are no longer on the roster, and neither is Rob Gronkowski (for now). However, the Buccaneers still have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin — a stellar one-two punch when healthy — and added Russell Gage from Atlanta via free agency and tight end Cade Otton in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Gage makes a lot of sense as a fit alongside Evans and Godwin. He profiles as a possession receiver who can work the middle of the field from slot or wide alignments. Gage steadily improved his receiving yards per route run from 1.18 in 2019 to 1.96 last season (19th among qualifying wide receivers).
Via an offseason trade, Tyreek Hill joined forces with the player closest to his unique blend of speed and twitch in the open field — Jaylen Waddle. Opposing defenses are going to have to grapple with the best way to mitigate risk and limit the damage caused by that duo all season.
Hill and Waddle aren’t the only quality receiving options for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, either. Tight end Mike Gesicki has 32 contested catches over the past two seasons (tied for fourth in NFL), and free agent acquisition Cedrick Wilson steps in as the No. 3 wide receiver after a career year with the Cowboys in 2021 (71.6 PFF receiving grade).
A.J. Brown, a legitimate No. 1 option who can win over the middle of the field, changes everything for Philadelphia’s receiving corps. The only wide receivers to average more receiving yards per route run than Brown — who the Eagles traded for on Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft — since he entered the league in 2019 (2.61) are Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson.
Brown, DeVonta Smith and one of the more underrated tight ends in the league (Dallas Goedert) is a nice core with players like Quez Watkins and the thus-far disappointing Jalen Reagor adding some speed behind them on the depth chart.
The Raiders, like the Eagles, made a splash for a wide receiver who can separate against any coverage and win at all levels of the field. Davante Adams has commanded a target on a league-high 30% of his routes over the past three seasons. He’ll likely be open enough to warrant a similar figure in Las Vegas, but he'll also be surrounded by more receiving talent.
Tight end Darren Waller‘s play slightly declined as he battled injury in 2021, but he ranked second among tight ends in PFF’s Wins Above Replacement metric across the 2019 and 2020 seasons. And Hunter Renfrow has developed into a reliable target over the middle of the field for quarterback Derek Carr, leading the Raiders in receiving conversions in 2021 (51).
This No. 6 ranking is under the assumption that the offseason rumors surrounding Deebo Samuel end up being water under the bridge. Before Samuel took on his “wide back” role toward the tail end of the 2021 season, he was one of the most efficient wide receivers in the league. His 86.9 PFF receiving grade through Week 10 ranked third, behind only Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp.
George Kittle remains one of the league’s few truly elite tight ends, and Brandon Aiyuk emerged from Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse down the stretch to generate a 119.4 passer rating on his 83 targets. And with potential contributions from less established players like Jauan Jennings and rookie Danny Gray out of SMU, this becomes one of the more well-rounded groups in the league on paper.
Tier 2: Strong overall with a weak point or two
A potential Odell Beckham Jr. return would bump the Rams into Tier 1, but they stick at the top of Tier 2 for now. How high they rise or how far they fall largely hinges on whether Allen Robinson’s 2021 season was a one-year hiatus from the wide receiver he’s been for much of his career or a sign of things to come. Robinson’s 67.0 PFF receiving grade in 2021 — following two seasons above 80.0 with the Bears — was the lowest of his career. Cooper Kupp still headlines the unit after ranking first among all wide receivers in PFF’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric last season.
Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley are out in Buffalo, leaving Gabriel Davis and Jamison Crowder to step up and replace their production. Davis performed well all last season (81.5 PFF grade), saving the best for last with over 200 receiving yards and four touchdowns in Buffalo’s postseason loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He’ll step in as the No. 2 outside option opposite Stefon Diggs, while Crowder replaces Beasley in the slot. Crowder ranks eighth in the NFL in slot receiving yards since 2019 despite dealing with some of the worst quarterback situations in the league with the New York Jets.
The one-two punch of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams is one of the better wide receiver duos in the league. Both are top-20 wideouts in PFF’s Wins Above Replacement Metric over the past two seasons with Justin Herbert at quarterback.
The only reason the Chargers don’t rank any higher is that their starting options at the third wide receiver spot and tight end aren’t quite as exciting. Josh Palmer, a second-year player out of Tennessee, is someone who could take a step forward after catching 33 of his 45 targets as a rookie.
10. Denver Broncos
Broncos receivers have escaped quarterback purgatory following the blockbuster trade to bring Russell Wilson to Denver this offseason. Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick profile as the type of big, sure-handed targets who can thrive on the end of Wilson's deep throws. Sutton and Patrick combined for 27 receptions targeted 20-plus yards downfield in 2021 without a drop. Wilson’s downfield accuracy will also be a welcome addition for K.J. Hamler as he returns from injury.
The X-factor in this group is Jerry Jeudy, who has endured an underwhelming first two NFL seasons. It’s too early to give up on the talent, but it hasn’t translated to on-field success for Jeudy. Broncos quarterbacks have combined for just a 69.7 passer rating when targeting him since 2020, and that can’t be pinned solely on the signal-callers.
In many respects, the Steelers’ receiving corps is similar to the Broncos' group. They don’t have a bona fide elite wide receiver, but they do have one you can at least make the case for. That’s Diontae Johnson for Pittsburgh. While he has battled drops and poor quarterback play early in his career, his 1.83 receiving yards per route run over the past two seasons ranks 25th among 96 wide receivers with at least 500 routes. Chase Claypool is in the same vicinity at 1.84 yards per route run since 2020.
The additions of George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the 2022 NFL Draft to pair with those two and tight end Pat Freiermuth creates an intriguing young collection of talent for either Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett at quarterback.
12. Dallas Cowboys
The losses of Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson hurt, and they’re the reason Dallas slides just outside of the top 10 on this list. But there’s still reason to be excited about this unit. CeeDee Lamb could be in for a monstrous 2022 season after raising his PFF grade from 71.6 as a rookie to 84.1 last year. He’s joined by Michael Gallup at the top of the depth chart — an underrated X receiver returning from a torn ACL in 2022. Free agent acquisition James Washington and rookie Jalen Tolbert will compete for snaps as the No. 3 receiver and vertical threat in Dallas’ offense.
13. Seattle Seahawks
D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett will have a far tougher time in 2022 without Russell Wilson. No quarterback has graded higher on throws 20-plus yards downfield than Wilson over the past five seasons, which has played to Metcalf's and Lockett's strengths. However, that wide receiver duo still looks to be the strongest point on Seattle’s roster entering next season. Lockett and Metcalf rank 14th and 19th, respectively, in PFF receiving grade since 2019 out of 133 qualifiers at the position.
Seattle also added Noah Fant at tight end — a position that could become more involved in the team's offense with a new quarterback — as part of the trade with Denver.
Offseason additions Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry take the Saints' receiving corps from one of the thinner groups across the NFL to one with promise, particularly if Michael Thomas returns at full strength.
New Orleans secured an excellent prospect-team fit by snagging Olave the first round, even if they paid a premium to move up and get him. He’s a polished route-runner who can separate downfield. That shows in his 12 touchdowns on throws 20-plus yards downfield across his final two seasons at Ohio State (fourth-most in the FBS). That profile is what New Orleans was missing at wide receiver in 2021.
Justin Jefferson has already comfortably established himself as one of the league’s best wide receivers. He leads all players at the position in PFF receiving grade against press coverage since 2020 and has proven he can win against any type of coverage from both the slot and outside.
However, the Vikings don’t have a particularly deep group beyond Jefferson. Adam Thielen is turning 32 years old in August and coming off his lowest PFF grade since 2015 in a season limited by an ankle injury. Beyond those two, Minnesota will be leaning on the likes of K.J. Osborn, Albert Wilson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Irv Smith Jr.
The Cardinals' receiving corps for 2022 moves up or down depending on how much you want to factor in DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension to start the season. Arizona’s offense ranked fourth in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play for the 10 weeks that Hopkins played, dropping to 18th in the weeks he missed. His presence in the lineup matters.
The addition of Marquise Brown via trade — Kyler Murray’s college teammate — should help, even if the trade looked like an overpay on the surface. Brown should fit in nicely to the vertical slot role occupied by Christian Kirk in 2021. The Cardinals have also put together three quality tight ends in Zach Ertz, Maxx Williams and Trey McBride who will allow them to mix and match personnel groupings.
Tier 3: Could be strength or weakness
Washington’s receiving corps has been Terry McLaurin and not much else over the past several seasons. That has a chance to change in 2022 with a healthy Curtis Samuel and the first-rounder Jahan Dotson in the fold. Dotson is a sudden route-runner who plays bigger than his size with the way he attacks the football in the air. A 5.1% career drop rate doesn’t hurt, either.
The hope for Washington will be that Dotson and Samuel free things up even more for McLaurin, who has already averaged 1.9 receiving yards per route run for his career despite bottom-of-the-league quarterback play.
18. New York Jets
There’s some projection in this ranking, given the Jets' two young wide receivers have yet to fully establish themselves in the NFL. Elijah Moore earned a 73.8 PFF receiving grade as a rookie, but he could very well make a Year 2 leap alongside quarterback Zach Wilson. Like Moore, Garrett Wilson isn’t the biggest target. However, his ability to create separation before the catch and additional yardage after the catch with his shiftiness in the open field should have an immediate impact on this offense.
It’s a well-rounded unit, as well. Wide receiver Corey Davis and offseason acquisitions C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin at tight end add some veteran presence. This could end up being too low a ranking if everything clicks.
The Chiefs had to give in somewhere on the roster after handing out a lot of big contracts over the past several offseasons, and they opted to do so at wide receiver. One doesn’t simply replace what Tyreek Hill provides to an offense, but Kansas City attacked the position with several different skill sets, acquiring Skyy Moore, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. It remains to be seen how those pieces, along with returners like Mecole Hardman, fit together. Travis Kelce remains the star of the unit, though. His 85.0 PFF grade ranked fourth at the position in 2021.
The Patriots' receiving corps contains plenty of nice, complementary pieces, but it still lacks a true No. 1 wide receiver who quarterback Mac Jones can rely on to beat man coverage in key situations. DeVante Parker comes in from Miami to be one of New England's top options on the outside, but even he failed to top an 80.0 PFF grade or 2.0 yards per route run in his best season with the Miami Dolphins.
One storyline worth watching is whether the Patriots can get tight end Jonnu Smith more involved in their offense after giving him over $30 million guaranteed last offseason. Smith appeared in 16 games during the 2021 season but ran only 158 routes (52nd at tight end) and posted his fewest receiving yards (294) since the 2018 season.
21. Detroit Lions
This receiving corps is on the rise. The Lions have two solid pieces returning from last season in T.J. Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown and also added a few more options in the draft and free agency, specifically players who could stretch the field.
D.J. Chark Jr. brings a unique combination of size (6-foot-4) and speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash), and Jameson Williams’ impact can be seen in his production against a seemingly infallible Georgia defense last year. That infusion of speed was necessary for a Lions offense that ranked dead last in average depth of target in 2021 (6.8 yards).
22. New York Giants
Expectations for this unit have lowered significantly compared to last offseason. Part of that is a disappointing 2021 season from Kenny Golladay, who battled injuries and wasn’t all that effective when on the field. His 49.9 passer rating when targeted ranked last among all wide receivers with at least 50 targets. Availability was the biggest roadblock for then-rookie Kadarius Toney. The Giants’ first-round selection ran fewer than 200 routes but still showed the kind of impact he could have with a 10-catch, 189-yard performance against the Cowboys in Week 5. The Giants need both to stay healthy and produce more consistently in 2022.
D.J. Moore fits into a similar bucket as Terry McLaurin — a young receiver who has had a lot of success early in his career despite bottom-of-the-barrel quarterback play. Moore has cleared 1,100 receiving yards and a 75.0 PFF grade in each of the past three seasons. However, things get a little bit more uncertain beyond him on the depth chart.
Robby Anderson’s play has trailed off since his strong start to the 2020 season, and Terrace Marshall Jr. failed to make much of an impact (0.5 yards per route run) as a rookie last year. A tight end group led by Ian Thomas doesn’t move the needle much, either.
24. Cleveland Browns
Amari Cooper is comfortably the most established wide receiver on Cleveland’s depth chart, but he’s been no stranger to the injury report in recent seasons and is coming off his lowest PFF grade (73.0) since 2017.
The Austin Hooper departure opens up a larger role for the recently extended David Njoku at tight end, and the Browns will also be looking for more out of Donovan Peoples-Jones in his third season out of Michigan. Rookie David Bell is expected to step in for Jarvis Landry in the slot — a role that should suit him.
Michael Pittman Jr. quietly had a very impressive second season out of USC for the Colts in 2021, improving his PFF receiving grade from 62.3 as a rookie to 79.9 last year. He’s an impressive route-runner, especially for his size, and excelled in contested-catch situations (18 of 28) last year. Matt Ryan’s effectiveness throwing between the numbers and targeting the intermediate range should only help Pittman next season.
The rest of Indianapolis’ receiving corps has a lot of question marks. Rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce should help stretch the field, and the Colts are hoping to finally get a healthy season out of Parris Campbell. It projects to be a physically imposing group, if nothing else.
Heights and weights for the Colts receiving corps:
Michael Pittman Jr: 6'4", 220
Alec Pierce: 6'3", 211
Parris Campbell: 6'0", 208
Mike Strachan: 6'5", 224
Dezmon Patmon: 6'4", 225
Ashton Dulin: 6'1", 215
Mo Alie-Cox: 6'5", 267
Jelani Woods: 6'7", 253
Kylen Granson: 6'2", 242
— Ben Linsey (@PFF_Linsey) June 4, 2022
26. Tennessee Titans
The Titans moved on from A.J. Brown and Julio Jones this offseason and replaced them with Robert Woods and rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks. Jones is no longer the player who was perennially in the conversation for best in the NFL, but he’s still a strong starting option when healthy (76.8 PFF receiving grade in 2021). And Brown is one of the best, young receivers in the league.
Woods was a productive receiver for the Rams since joining the team in 2017, but there’s risk involved with relying on a 30-year-old coming off a midseason torn ACL as your new No. 1 option. Similar concerns can be voiced for Burks given his role at Arkansas and lack of experience outside and against press coverage. Those pieces could come together — hence the inclusion in the “could be a strength or weakness” tier — but it’s far from a sure thing.
Tier 4: Likely a weakness
27. Atlanta Falcons
In the course of a couple of seasons, the Falcons lost Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. That drained a lot of the talent from this group, but the team has done a good job of at least putting some building blocks in place with first-round picks spent at tight end (Kyle Pitts) and wide receiver (Drake London) over the past two drafts.
While touchdowns were hard to come by, Pitts had an extremely impressive rookie season. He ranked fourth among all receivers — regardless of position — in yards per route run against press coverage, showing he can produce out wide against NFL cornerbacks. Any big leap by Atlanta’s offense will stem from Pitts and London having big years, because the rest of the unit looks relatively thin.
The Jaguars threw plenty of money at their receiving corps with the signings of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram. That gives Jacksonville more depth, but the team still lacks the top-end options for Trevor Lawrence to throw to. Kirk is the closest thing to it, but even he has averaged just 1.52 receiving yards per route run over the [ast two seasons (66th among 127 qualifying wide receivers). The biggest improvement should come from the incoming coaching staff putting Lawrence and his receivers in a better position to succeed.
29. Baltimore Ravens
The biggest thing keeping the Ravens from falling any lower is Mark Andrews — the second-most valuable tight end in 2021, per PFF WAR. The Marquise Brown trade puts a lot on the shoulders of unproven options, including Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace and James Proche, even if Baltimore uses heavy personnel often.
Rashod Bateman stands out as the clear No. 1 at wide receiver after recording a 64.9 PFF grade on just over 600 snaps as a rookie. He missed the early portion of his rookie season due to injury and didn’t have a healthy Lamar Jackson at quarterback for much of the season after he returned to the lineup. He’s a potential second-year breakout candidate, and the Ravens need him to make that happen.
30. Houston Texans
Brandin Cooks, one of Houston's best players, belongs to this unit, but he alone is not enough to drag it out of the bottom five. There’s some potential for younger receivers such as Nico Collins and John Metchie III to elevate the unit, but that’s still a “wait-and-see” situation entering the 2022 season. Metchie is a crafty route-runner who earned an 80.0-plus PFF grade against man coverage last season, but he has some physical limitations and is coming off a torn ACL in the SEC Championship game.
The Packers upped the difficulty level for Aaron Rodgers in his pursuit of a third consecutive MVP trophy by trading away his top target and one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Davante Adams. In his place are veterans Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.
Watson has the measurables of a No. 1 wide receiver, but there’s still some rawness to the North Dakota State product. As for the veterans, the only one to clear 750 receiving yards in a season over the past five years was Cobb with the Cowboys in 2019 (828 yards).
32. Chicago Bears
It’s not difficult to see what new general manager Ryan Poles' strategy is. He wants to build the “right way,” and that means not overspending in free agency or reaching in the draft. The unfortunate side effect of that plan this offseason is that Justin Fields is in the midst of one of the worst offensive situations in the NFL entering a pivotal second season.
Darnell Mooney is the lone established option in the receiving corps after earning a 74.9 PFF receiving grade in his second season out of Tulane. He’s still better suited as a No. 2, which is a title currently held by free agent acquisition Byron Pringle. Leaning heavily on Pringle, Tajae Sharpe, Velus Jones Jr. and Equanimeous St. Brown isn’t where you want to be as an offense.