The PFF unit ranking series continues with the wide receivers as we prepare for the 2020 season. When analyzing wide receiver units, there’s a delicate balance between identifying teams with elite No. 1 options and those groups that run three or four deep. In today’s NFL, most teams employ three receivers as starters and the ability to put three legitimate threats on the field makes life difficult for opposing defenses. Here are the best receiver units heading into 2020.
[Editor’s Note: PFF’s advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]
Dallas had one of the most efficient passing offenses in the league in 2019, and it started with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup becoming one of the NFL's best receiving duos. The Cowboys' passing offense has been far more efficient since Cooper came to Dallas in 2018, as evidenced by the 122.0 expected points added (EPA) on his 907 plays compared to just 2.95 EPA on 425 plays without him. Cooper’s slick route running is a big reason for quarterback Dak Prescott ranking second in the league with 197 “open” throws beyond the sticks last season. Plus, the 26-year-old wideout finished third in the league with 503 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes.
Gallup took a huge step forward in his second year and became one of the league’s most effective intermediate (10-19 yard) threats, ranking ninth in the league with 483 yards in that range. Now throw first-round pick CeeDee Lamb into the mix, and Dallas will compete to have the best group of receivers in the league. Lamb can win on the outside or in the slot and has an excellent feel for creating yards after the catch; he averaged 11.0 yards after the catch per reception last season. He may start out working mostly in the slot, but Dallas now has three legitimate receivers for defenses to contend with, and each of them can line up anywhere on the field.
However, let’s not forget that Dallas got 828 receiving yards and 6.1 yards after the catch per reception (10th) out of Randall Cobb in 2019. Even if Lamb is as good as advertised, Dallas was already just 11 yards away from having the most productive trio in the league in 2019. The No. 4 spot is wide open, but former second-rounder Devin Smith is the most intriguing name of the group, as he showed flashes of the deep speed that made him a high draft pick in 2015. However, he finished with just five catches for 113 yards in three games last season.
Last year saw the emergence of Chris Godwin, who posted the second-highest receiving grade in the league (90.4). Godwin wins at every level of the field, but he did the most damage at the intermediate (10-19 yard) range, ranking third in the league with 619 yards. He also ranked eighth with 6.7 yards after the catch per reception while ranking second in the league with 838 yards from the slot. Though Godwin is bigger than quarterback Tom Brady’s traditional slot targets, they look like a good pairing for what Brady likes to do offensively.
On the other side, Mike Evans continued his strong play, finishing the 2019 season with the eighth-best receiving grade (85.2). He ranked eighth with 407 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes while averaging over 17.0 yards per reception for the second straight year. Evans has graded at 84.0-plus as a receiver in all but one of his six NFL seasons, and he earned the No. 45 spot on the PFF 50 heading into 2020. Godwin and Evans match up with any other receiving duo in the league, but the big question is the No. 3 spot, where Breshad Perriman had a breakout season a year ago with 645 yards on 17.9 yards per reception. Perriman has moved on to the New York Jets via free agency, leaving a wide-open competition.
Scotty Miller, a 2019 sixth-rounder, will compete for snaps after gaining 200 yards as a rookie, while 2020 fifth-rounder Tyler Johnson looks like one of the steals of the draft and could compete right away. Johnson had the highest receiving grade in college football over the past two years. Also in the mix is 2018 fifth-round pick Justin Watson, who has 16 career catches. While Godwin and Evans will put the Bucs in a good position to rank among the league’s best receiving groups, this unit must find a strong No. 3 option to maximize its potential.
The Falcons are strong at receiver, starting with Julio Jones — the best all-around receiver in the league. He can win at all levels of the field, and his on-field production has been unmatched over the past decade. Jones has averaged 2.71 yards per route since entering the league in 2011, tops in the NFL in one of PFF’s best measures of receiving production. Calvin Ridley is an excellent complement for Jones, as he manipulates opposing cornerbacks like a veteran, leading to a 120.8 passer rating when targeted in his first two years in the league.
Atlanta signed Laquon Treadwell to compete for the No. 3 role after a disappointing run in Minnesota for the former first-rounder. Treadwell does not separate well, and his 0.86 yards per route ranks 140th out of 144 qualifiers since he entered the league in 2016. He’ll compete with third-year receiver Russell Gage, who caught 49 passes for 446 yards last season, good for a 66.4 receiving grade. Thanks to Jones and Ridley, this is one of the best groups of receivers in the league. However, the unit needs a No. 3 option to emerge if the Falcons are to match their output from previous seasons when players like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel presented dependable options.
Last season, Michael Thomas picked up 92 first downs — 16 more than second-place finisher Julio Jones and 24 more than third-place finisher DeAndre Hopkins. Thomas finished the year with an NFL record 149 catches and has become the premier move-the-sticks option in the league. He does most of his damage up to 20 yards, but that doesn’t take away from his efficiency; he had the third-highest percentage of open targets last season (75.2%).
On the other side, the Saints signed Emmanuel Sanders, another outstanding route runner who does his best work in the short and intermediate range. Sanders was a catalyst for the 49ers during their 2019 Super Bowl run on his way to the No. 18 receiving grade during the regular season (79.3). Tre’Quan Smith is a solid No. 3 option — 10 of his 48 career receptions have been touchdowns. He adds size and speed on the outside, though the Saints are lacking a true burner on the outside after Ted Ginn Jr. joined the Chicago Bears this offseason.
We could see more of punt return sensation Deonte Harris, who caught all seven of his targets for 74 yards last season, including a 50-yarder in the playoff loss to the Vikings. The only remaining battle is the No. 5 spot, where the Saints have a plethora of big-bodied possession options to choose from. This is one of the league’s best receiver groups, and the addition of Sanders makes it even more difficult to defend.
The Bills' receiving weapons have improved drastically over the past two years, and they may boast the best trio in the league in 2020. An offseason trade for Stefon Diggs completed the trifecta, as Buffalo added one of the league’s best route runners who also leads the league with a contested-catch rate of 60.0% since 2016. He’s capable of winning at all levels of the field, and his presence helps John Brown and Cole Beasley play to their respective strengths.
Brown’s 4.34 speed makes him a downfield threat, but he’s done his best work at the intermediate (10-19 yard) level, where his 57 receptions rank 16th in the league since 2017. Beasley is one of the best slot receivers in the league, and he’s been open on 77.1% of his targets over the past two years — the best rate in the league. The top three should have distinct roles, as should Isaiah McKenzie, who ranked third in the league with 120 yards on screens last season. He adds the change-of-pace/jet sweep option that many NFL offenses covet. The Bills have one of the most well-rounded receiving units in the league.
Few receivers instill fear into opposing defenses like Tyreek Hill; he has 433 more yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes than any other receiver over the past three years. Hill’s game speed is at another level, but he also has the quickness to win at the line of scrimmage and the ball skills to win down the field. The production speaks for itself, but just having Hill on the field opens up the rest of the Kansas City passing attack.
On the other side, Sammy Watkins looked like a future star after an 89.8 overall grade in his second season in 2015, but he’s graded between 69.0 and 74.0 in every year since. Last season, the big plays showed up in spurts, including in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl, but he’s been a mediocre No. 2 option during his two years in Kansas City. Mecole Hardman may be ready for an expanded role, as his big-play ability was on display in 2019 as a rookie — he had 30 catches for 567 yards (18.9 yards/reception) and six touchdowns. He’s a pure speed receiver who is dangerous both before and after the catch, though he doesn’t possess Hill’s ability to adjust and make plays down the field.
Demarcus Robinson is back in the mix as the third or fourth receiver, and he’s been fine as a complementary piece over the past three years. The Chiefs have a speedy group of receivers that pairs with an outstanding quarterback and offensive system, so look for even more fireworks in 2020.
The Lions have a well-rounded group of receivers, starting with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay on the outside. Jones has been one of the league’s best intermediate (10-19 yard) threats over the past two years, grading at 93.3 in that range. He’s also one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league, dropping just 24 passes on 390 catchable targets since entering the league in 2012. Golladay has emerged as one of the best vertical threats in the league, tying for 18th with a 79.3 receiving grade last season. Plus, his 930 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes rank third-highest in the NFL over the past two years.
While Golladay and Jones make for an excellent one-two punch, Danny Amendola is a perfect complement in the slot, as he picked up 678 yards in his first year in Detroit and was “open” on 73.9% of his targets, the fourth-best rate in the NFL last season. The No. 4 spot will be a battle between former Packers wideout Geronimo Allison, 2019 sixth-rounder Travis Fulgham and rookie fifth-rounder Quintez Cephus. Allison showed flashes in Green Bay, but he’s graded in the 50.0s in two of his past three seasons.
The other X-factor is Marvin Hall, a 4.4 speedster who played the deep threat role perfectly last year; he caught seven passes for 261 yards, averaging an incredible 37.3 yards per reception. Expect the Lions to use Hall in a similar, field-stretching role. Detroit has one of the better groups in the league and can create chunk plays as well as any receiving corps in the NFL.
Arizona’s receiving corps is starting to take shape, especially with DeAndre Hopkins in the mix. He is one of the best move-the-chains options in the NFL and will immediately become a weapon for Kyler Murray in the middle of the field and in the back-shoulder game. Hopkins’ presence takes the pressure off Larry Fitzgerald, who rarely drops passes and is still a viable possession receiver, but a complementary option at this point in his career.
Fitzgerald tied for the league lead with 24 catches on screens last season, and while he’s OK after the catch, those are passes that are better off going to Christian Kirk or Andy Isabella this season, as they bring more explosiveness with the ball in their hands. Kirk averaged just 10.4 yards per reception last year on 68 catches, while Isabella saw the field just 157 times as a rookie, flashing his big-play ability with 21.0 yards/reception — including an 88-yarder. Both players should be used down the field more often while Hopkins and Fitzgerald work the short and intermediate game.
The Broncos have overhauled their group of playmakers over the past few years, and they selected receivers with their first two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Jeudy is an outstanding route-runner who can line up outside or in the slot while winning with both speed and quickness. Jeudy was our top-ranked receiver in the draft and should make an immediate impact.
Hamler is another speed/quicks mismatch waiting to happen, though he must cut down on his 12.7% drop rate that ranked 90th out of 100 college receivers who have played significant NFL snaps since 2014. The Jeudy-Hamler combo is a perfect complement to Denver’s No. 1 receiver, Courtland Sutton, who has excellent size, ball skills and after-the-catch ability. After a promising rookie year in 2018, Sutton broke out and posted an 80.5 receiving grade, good for 13th among receivers.
Sutton’s size, combined with Jeudy and Hamler’s ability to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally, gives the Broncos plenty to work with from a game plan standpoint. The No. 4 spot will be a battle between 6-foot-5 Tim Patrick, who had a solid 65.9 receiving grade on 30 targets last season, and third-year receiver DaeSean Hamilton, more of a possession option who has averaged 9.3 yards per reception in his career. If the two rookies develop quickly, the Broncos will have one of the best receiver groups in the NFL.
The big question for the Bengals' receiving corps heading into 2020 is A.J. Green‘s health and long-term prospects. The superstar has played only 458 snaps over the past two years, and even if healthy, he’ll be 32 years old at the start of the season. Green has been one of the league’s best wideouts since 2011, producing six top-10 finishes in PFF WAR (wins above replacement) among wide receivers. If Green is healthy, he’s a vertical and red-zone threat who can ease quarterback Joe Burrow‘s transition to the NFL.
The Bengals hope they got the next Green in second-round pick Tee Higgins out of Clemson. Higgins has spectacular body control, and his ability to win along the vertical route tree should mesh well with Burrow’s ability to put the ball where his receivers can make plays. Tyler Boyd has emerged as one of the league’s best options in the middle of the field, where his 1,304 yards rank seventh among receivers over the past two years. Boyd has shown the ability to produce without great complements around him, and the prospect of having Green return and/or Higgins in the mix on the outside should excite Bengals fans.
There’s even more size with Auden Tate, who leads the NFL with 37.8% of his targets being “contested” over the past two years. Tate doesn’t separate well, but he can make plays even when covered. That leaves John Ross, the former top-10 pick who cycles between tantalizing and disappointing. Ross has the speed and quickness to instill fear in opposing defenses, but inconsistent hands and route running continue to let him down. He’ll take one more shot at becoming a legitimate deep threat in this offense before another team looks at him as a reclamation project in 2021. There’s a wide range of outcomes for this Bengals receiving corps in 2020, with their prospects hinging on Green’s health, Higgins’ transition to the NFL and Ross' performance in a contract year.
The Panthers have a well-rounded group of receivers led by D.J. Moore, who ranked 15th with an 80.2 receiving grade during the 2019 regular season. Moore tied for sixth in the league with 957 yards on passes thrown up to 20 yards downfield, as he has the quickness to get open and the speed to create after the catch. The addition of Robby Anderson should take some pressure off Curtis Samuel, who was targeted 27 times on 20-plus yard throws, the 10th-most in the league. But only 18.5% of those passes were completed, the second-worst rate in the league.
Samuel is a good playmaker in space, and as the No. 3 wide receiver, that should allow the Panthers to play to that strength. Anderson is at his best as a vertical threat and he’s ranked in the top 20 in deep receiving yards in three of the last four years, including ranking sixth with 408 in 2017. The No. 4 spot will be a battle between veterans Seth Roberts, Pharoh Cooper and several youngsters, but it’s the versatility of the top three that gives the Panthers the potential for a top-10 unit this season.
Heading into last season, the on-paper version of the Eagles receivers looked like a perfect blend of big bodies, slot production and deep speed, but injuries struck and they ended up being the lowest-graded receiving corps in the league at 61.7. The Eagles had a clear offseason goal of getting faster, and that should immediately be evident, starting with the addition of Marquise Goodwin from the 49ers and first-rounder Jalen Reagor.
Goodwin has averaged 16.6 yards per reception in his seven-year career, though his best work came in 2017 with a 77.0 grade and 962 yards. He’s played just 706 snaps over the last two years. Reagor ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, but he plays even faster as he gets to top speed in a hurry. He should add a much-needed vertical component to the Philadelphia offense. And don’t forget about DeSean Jackson, who caught nine passes for 159 yards and two scores in Week 1 before playing just 14 snaps the rest of the way. If he’s still with the team at the start of the season, Jackson has plenty to offer as a deep threat, even as he starts the 13th year of his career.
Alshon Jeffery also returns after playing only 10 games last season when he had the highest receiving grade among Philly receivers at 75.0. He’s one of the league’s best at the catch point, and he adds a nice contrast to the influx of speed everywhere else. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is similar that regard, as he was a contested-catch monster in college, though he got off to a slow start with just a 53.3 receiving grade and 169 yards as a rookie. Rounding out the depth chart is Greg Ward, who stepped in and did a fine job with a 71.3 receiving grade last season, and even more speedsters in fifth-round pick John Hightower (4.43 40) and sixth-round pick Quez Watkins (4.36). The Eagles have a plethora of options heading into the season and there’s a good mix of speed and size.
The Chargers have a good pairing at the top of the depth chart in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but the big question for this group is who will emerge as the No. 3 option. Allen is one of the best route runners in the league — he’s been open on 58.6% of his single coverage targets over the last three years, good for 15th out of 62 qualifiers. Allen is slick at the line of scrimmage and at the top of the route, and he does his best work at the intermediate (10-19 yard) level, where his 601 yards ranked fourth in the league last season.
Williams does not separate nearly as well as Allen, but he’s great at the catch point and tied for seventh with a contested-catch percentage of 50% over the last three seasons. His 471 yards on deep (20-plus yard) throws ranked fifth in the league a year ago. Beyond Allen and Williams, it’s a wide-open competition for the No. 3 spot. Fifth-round pick Joe Reed is a project as a route runner, but he’s dynamic with the ball in his hands. Seventh-round pick K.J. Hill is the opposite, as he has excellent separation skills on underneath routes, though he’s a mediocre athlete for the position. The rest of the Chargers depth chart has combined for 33 career receptions and the No. 3 spot is one of the Chargers’ biggest question marks heading into the season.
14. Seattle Seahawks
For the second-straight season, Tyler Lockett posted the top receiving grade for Seattle, this time ranking 10th with an 83.2 grade including the playoffs. Lockett looked like a third-round steal as a rookie in 2015, but he’s taken his game to the next level over the last two years. In 2018, quarterbacks had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeting him, and he’s been open on 62.2% of his targets in single coverage over the last two years, the 19th-best out of 101 qualifiers.
On the other side, D.K. Metcalf proved to be an excellent fit as a rookie, ranking 15th with 362 yards on deep passes. Metcalf has a freakish combination of size and speed, and Seattle used him down the field and on slants, playing to his skillset and making life difficult for opposing defenses. It was a revolving door beyond the top two last season, and we’ll see a heated competition for the No. 3 role once again. David Moore has been an effective downfield threat, averaging 17.8 yards per reception on his 45 catches in his two years of playing time.
Phillip Dorsett comes in as a free agent, and while he hasn’t lived up to the first-round hype, he uses his 4.33 speed to get behind the defense often enough for Russell Wilson to take advantage. Metcalf and Lockett are enough to keep defenses honest, but a No. 3 option emerging could really take this group to the next level.
15. Houston Texans
With the DeAndre Hopkins trade to the Cardinals, the pressure is on the rest of Houston’s receivers to make up for the loss of one of the league’s most productive receivers. However, the Texans have plenty of speed and playmaking options on the roster.
Will Fuller V adds an explosive downfield element to the passing attack, and his presence has made the offense better when he’s on the field, though injuries have been an issue. Fuller ran a 4.32 at the scouting combine — opposing defenses are aware of where he is at all times. The Texans traded for Brandin Cooks, a productive outside receiver who ran a 4.33 of his own and now joins his fourth team in five years. Cooks runs the vertical route tree well, and his quarterbacks have a passer rating of 107.8 when targeting him during his six-year career.
Kenny Stills is yet another sub-4.4 threat who has averaged 15.7 yards per reception in his seven years in the league — Houston quarterbacks had a passer rating of 127.5 when targeting him last season. Then we get into the slot options as Randall Cobb was signed this offseason after he put up 828 yards and a 70.9 receiving grade for the Cowboys last season, the best we’ve seen from him since 2016.
If Keke Coutee can stay healthy, he has the speed and quickness to work the underneath routes and jet sweep game, as he’s averaged 6.6 yards after the catch per reception during his two years in the league. While losing Hopkins creates new challenges for the Texans, a healthy receiving unit will provide challenges of their own for opposing defenses. The Texans have speed and quickness all over the field, and they’ll be one of the more difficult on-paper matchups for opposing defenses this season.
16. Tennessee Titans
Titans receivers posted the second-best receiving grade during the 2019 regular season at 81.8, led by rookie sensation A.J. Brown. He averaged a ridiculous 20.2 yards per reception, including 8.9 yards after the catch per reception — second-highest in the league. Brown’s size/speed combination gave NFL cornerbacks fits, and he established himself as a true No. 1 option quickly.
On the other side, 2017 first-rounder Corey Davis did not have his fifth-year option picked up, but he’s still a solid No. 2 option who does his best work at the intermediate (10-19 yard) level where his 442 yards ranked 16th in the league last season. Davis works the vertical route tree well, though he has just 306 receiving yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes in his three-year career, while Brown had 378 in last year’s regular season alone. While Davis has not become the three-level receiver the Titans would have hoped as a No. 5 overall pick, they can still get solid No. 2 production out of him as a complement to Brown.
The No. 3 role is held by Adam Humphries, who had 399 yards in just 13 games last season. His best work came in 2018 when he caught 76 passes for 816 yards and earned a career-high 74.0 receiving grade. A full year of health should add a crucial complement to Brown and Davis on the outside. Kalif Raymond played a key role as the occasional downfield shot player, making the most of it with 10 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns including the playoffs. Eight other players will battle for the No. 5 role, but the first four spots on the depth chart are well-defined, and it’s a good mix of skill sets that should give the Titans one of the better units in the league.
17. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have had one of the most efficient receiving groups in the league over the last few years, and last season they tied for the sixth-best receiving grade at 78.9.
Robert Woods has progressed to become one of the best receivers in the league since joining the Rams in 2017 — his 80.4 receiving grade ranked 14th last season. Woods has been “open” on 67.0% of his single-coverage targets since 2017, fifth-best in the NFL during that time. Right behind him in that department is Cooper Kupp, who has been open on 65.2% of his targets (sixth-best in the NFL), and he has posted a receiving grade of at least 76.0 in all three seasons.
Having two of the league’s best route-runners has elevated the Rams offense during the Sean McVay era, though downfield speed is a question mark with Brandin Cooks being traded to the Texans. Second-rounder Van Jefferson will compete for that role and he has the speed to get down the field, though he must improve his ability to deal with contact. Josh Reynolds is also in the mix — he’s been a solid No. 4 option over the last two years, posting receiving grades of 65.6 and 66.5. While Woods and Kupp are strong at the top of the depth chart, replacing Cooks will be difficult as he contributed over 1,200 yards during the 2018 Super Bowl year. This offense works best when it can threaten defenses down the field.
18. Cleveland Browns
The entire Browns’ passing attack was out of sync last season, and it was no different in the receiving corps. An offseason trade for Odell Beckham got off to a slow start as OBJ posted the lowest receiving grade of his career at 69.4 and Baker Mayfield had a passer rating of just 70.5 when targeting him.
Miscommunications and an overall lack of attention to detail were prevalent last season, and a new system may be what Beckham needs to get back to his previous form in which he posted an 85.0-plus receiving grade in his previous four full seasons. Jarvis Landry is a fine complement, and he’s been one of the league’s most productive slot receivers since entering the league in 2014.
The No. 3 role will likely be manned by Rashard Higgins, who had a breakout 2018 as a complementary receiver but was limited to just 172 snaps last season. The bottom of the depth chart has a variety of options, including Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, J’Mon Moore and sixth-rounder Donovan Peoples-Jones. The hope is that one of them can emerge as a downfield threat to complement Landry and Higgins, who are more of the possession variety. The strength of this group will depend heavily on Beckham getting back to his All-Pro form, and if he does they could rank in the top 10 in 2020.
19. New York Giants
We didn’t get to see much of the complete Giants receiving corps in 2019, and they could surprise this season. Golden Tate played in just 11 games, but his 13.8 yards per reception was his highest mark since 2012 — he remains an effective after-the-catch threat. Tate had broken at least 20 tackles after the catch in every season from 2012 to 2018, and a return to that form will be a huge asset for the Giants offense.
Sterling Shepard played in just 10 games last season, though he was on a 91-catch pace. He spent nearly half of his snaps in the slot, where he’s become a dependable option in his four years in the league. The wild card is Darius Slayton, who impressed with 740 yards and eight touchdowns as a fifth-round rookie. While the consistency wasn’t there, Slayton had multiple high-end games and finished with 265 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes, fifth-best among rookies.
The fourth spot on the depth chart is open, with Cody Core and annual first-round reclamation project Corey Coleman both in the mix. With few established options beyond the top three, this could be an opportunity for three undrafted free agents to make the roster, or perhaps the Giants will be active in the receiver market as rosters unfold in August. While the top three receivers don’t have a prototypical “No. 1” option, the Giants have a well-rounded group that can do damage if it remains healthy.
20. Chicago Bears
The receiving corps was one-dimensional last season, as Allen Robinson posted the 12th-best receiving grade in the league at 81.1, but no other receiver graded higher than 67.9.
Robinson finished with 393 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes, and his drop rate of 3.0% was 11th-best out of 101 qualifiers. At his best, Robinson is a complete receiver who can win at all levels of the field and at the catch point. Anthony Miller had the second-highest receiving grade on the team at 67.9, and he may be ready to take the next step to be a true No. 2 option behind Robinson.
The No. 3 role is wide open after Taylor Gabriel was released this offseason after a disappointing 62.0 overall grade last season. Riley Ridley a 2019 fourth-rounder, is a smooth route-runner who could fit as more of a possession receiver after catching six passes in his debut last season. He’ll compete with Javon Wims, a big-bodied target who ranked fifth on the team with 186 yards a year ago. Cordarrelle Patterson is more of a gimmick player at this point, and his 6.4 yards after the catch have a place as long as he’s not relied upon too much on the outside.
The Bears also added speed this offseason with Ted Ginn Jr. and fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney out of Tulane, so the goal is to have at least one of them to emerge as a much-needed deep option to complement the other pieces in place. There are plenty of question marks beyond Robinson, and the fate of this receiving corps depends on Miller’s development and the emergence of a downfield threat.
After trotting out one of the best receiving duos in the league over the last few years, the Vikings have question marks in their group this season.
Adam Thielen was limited to just 541 snaps in 2019, but when healthy, he’s a nuanced route-runner with the downfield ball skills to win all over the field. Thielen posted a receiving grade of 78.5 last year, and he did his best work in 2018, ranking seventh in the league at 89.4.
The biggest question mark surrounds rookie first-rounder Justin Jefferson, who will now be charged with replacing Stefon Diggs. Jefferson’s scouting report will read a lot like Thielen’s, as he’s a crafty route-runner with an excellent feel for working the middle of the field. Most of Jefferson’s production came out of the slot at LSU, where he often had free releases and schemed up throws, but he also has the tools to win on the outside and he caught 12 of his 13 contested catches a year ago.
Last season, the Vikings didn’t use three wide receivers often, but Olabisi Johnson did a fine job as a seventh-round rookie, grading at 63.7 overall to go with 311 yards, including the playoffs. Tajae Sharpe also signed a one-year deal this offseason after four years with the Titans, where his best grade was a 72.3 mark last season. Fifth-round pick K.J. Osborn will compete for snaps behind those two as will third-year player Chad Beebe, who has six career catches.
Even if the Vikings are going to predominantly be a two-wide receiver team, they need Jefferson to transition smoothly to the NFL along with Thielen getting back to his 2018 form in order to rank among the league’s best receiving units.
Only three teams had a worse receiving grade than the 64.0 posted by Colts receivers during the regular season, and this unit will have a massive impact on the Colts’ prospects in 2020.
T.Y. Hilton is the No. 1, a speedy outside receiver with five 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. Hilton was banged up last season and he played in only 10 games, but he’s one year removed from ranking fourth in the league in yards per route at 2.54 in 2018. The Colts drafted a fine complement to Hilton in second-rounder Michael Pittman, Jr. out of USC, a big-bodied possession receiver who has dropped just four passes over the last two seasons. Pittman’s 6-foot-4 frame is a good fit for QB Philip Rivers, who has had great success throwing to bigger receivers through the years — and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to use his size at the short and intermediate level. Pittman’s presence takes some pressure off 2019 second rounder Parris Campbell who is at his best as an after-the-catch threat. Campbell ran a 4.33 and averaged 9.4 YAC/reception during his college career at Ohio State, but he lacks the polish and route running to be a true No.2 receiver at this point in his career. Fourth-year receiver Zach Pascal is also in the mix after he posted a strong 71.4 receiving grade to go with 607 yards and four scores a year ago. He did most of his damage at the short and intermediate level, and at 6-foot-2, he’s yet another receiver who could become an early Rivers favorite. The Colts need their big targets to emerge and Hilton to get back to form to rank among the top receiving units in the league.
The receiving production took an obvious hit with Ben Roethlisberger missing most of the season, and this group heads into 2020 with plenty of question marks.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had an excellent rookie campaign in 2017 and followed it with over 1,400 yards in 2018. Last year, however, he dropped to a 63.0 receiving grade and only managed 552 yards in his 12 games. Even heading into 2019, there were questions about whether Smith-Schuster could produce without Antonio Brown on the other side, and those questions remain. Smith-Schuster has shown all the necessary skills, from catching 46.4% of his contested catches — good for 15th since 2017 — to averaging 6.1 yards after the catch per reception.
James Washington also has something to prove, as he’s coming off a 69.3 overall grade after a rough 49.2 grade as a rookie in 2018. A season ago, Washington showed off some of the downfield skills that once made him a second-round pick, and that’s a much-needed skill set in this offense.
Look for Diontae Johnson to earn more targets this season, as the 2019 third-rounder was open on 70.2% of his single-coverage targets as a rookie, the ninth-best rate in the league. Johnson is a dynamic route-runner who ran a 4.60 40-yard dash, and he reminded us of Antonio Brown coming out of the draft. Those are high expectations, but Johnson has the skills to be a high-volume target for Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh added Chase Claypool in the second round of the draft, adding a 6-foot-4, 227-pounder into the mix. Claypool does his best work on the vertical route tree, and he ran an impressive 4.42 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, so the Steelers are expecting big plays from him on the outside.
Deon Cain will also compete for some of those downfield targets, while Ryan Switzer provides depth in the slot. The Steelers have an intriguing group on paper, and there’s certainly a world where Smith-Schuster, Johnson and Washington all continue to progress, but they still have more question marks than most receiving units around the league.
Packers receivers finished just 25th with a receiving grade of 67.6 during the regular season, and they return much of the same unit from 2019.
Davante Adams is the clear No. 1 option; he and QB Aaron Rodgers have excellent chemistry, and Adams possesses one of the league’s best combinations of line-of-scrimmage releases and overall route running. Adams ranked sixth in the league with 2.33 yards per route last season.
After Adams, it’s all about size for Green Bay, and it starts with 6-foot-5 Allen Lazard, who ranked second among Packers receivers with a 69.1 receiving grade last season. He appeared to earn Rodgers’ trust on his way to 513 yards and a passer rating of 116.7 when targeted. Green Bay also added 6-foot-4 Devin Funchess to the mix after he was limited to just 36 snaps last season with the Colts. Funchess was once a solid option for the Panthers, though, peaking with 919 yards on 67 catches in 2017.
The most tantalizing of the receivers may be Marquez Valdes-Scantling, yet another 6-foot-4 target, though he has 4.37 speed and 16.0 yards per reception in his career. Even with the big plays, Valdes-Scantling has two pedestrian grades of 57.0 and 60.4 in his two seasons, as he and Rodgers have not always been on the same page.
The size doesn’t stop there, as Jake Kumerow is 6-foot-4 and Equanimeous St. Brown is 6-foot-5. Both players have also landed in the bucket of “flashed potential but lacked consistency” during their respective times in Green Bay.
When you add it all up, the Packers just need two of the options behind Adams to step up as more than just a flash of tools. And if they do, Green Bay’s downfield passing attack is in good hands. The problem is how much Adams must be relied upon as the one receiver who can get open consistently, and this group of receivers does not have the versatility to win at all levels of the field or after the catch.
The passing offense got a boost with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders in Week 8 last season, and he added 573 yards down the stretch while dropping just one pass.
Sanders’ route running will be difficult to replace, but San Francisco hit the jackpot with Deebo Samuel in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and he has the skill set to be the true No. 1 this season. You could find Samuel all over the field last year, as he was used in the backfield and on jet sweeps while also threatening the middle of the field on conventional routes. This added up to him ranking fifth in the league with 484 yards after the catch during the regular season while ranking third with an average of 8.5 yards after the catch per reception.
Samuel is banged up and will likely miss some time, but when healthy, he’s dynamic both before and after the catch. Some of the “space” plays could go to rookie first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk, who averaged 9.9 yards after the catch per reception on his 98 career college catches. Samuel and Aiyuk are perfect fits for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and his deployment of the dangerous receivers will keep defenses in a bind.
The No. 3 spot is wide open, with 2019 third-rounder Jalen Hurd the most intriguing option. He’s a 6-foot-4 former running back who showed some promise last year during the preseason before getting injured. Hurd’s size and running back skills add yet another weapon to the offensive arsenal.
Kendrick Bourne is also in the mix, though his last two seasons have been quite the roller-coaster ride — he’s caught 10 touchdowns on 78 catches but also dropped nine catchable targets during the time. Former second-rounder Dante Pettis may be running out of time after a 56.4 overall grade last season, while 2018 seventh-rounder Richie James Jr. adds big-play potential and return ability.
The 49ers don’t have the best group on paper, but they’ve fired draft capital at the position for four consecutive years and have a solid group that fits their offensive system.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Speed is the name of the game for the Ravens’ receivers, starting with 2019 first-rounder Marquise Brown. A true downfield weapon from the slot, Brown showed his big-play ability right away with an 83-yard touchdown in Week 1. Brown averaged 1.83 yards per route last season — 29th out of 129 qualifiers — and he should have even more big-play opportunities this season.
On the other side, Miles Boykin has 4.42 speed to go with a 6-foot-4 frame, and he showed flashes as a rookie despite grading at just 58.9 overall. The Ravens added even more speed in the third round of the draft with Texas wideout Devin Duvernay, who ran a 4.39 at the scouting combine. Duvernay projects to the slot due to his strong hands and after-the-catch skills, and he gives Baltimore another explosive weapon for defenses to worry about.
Willie Snead IV may still see time in the slot, but Duvernay will see as much time as the gameplan dictates. Baltimore may not have the best all-around receiving corps, but they have a group of field-stretchers and mismatch-creators who fit their big-play offensive style.
27. Miami Dolphins
Last season, DeVante Parker broke out and showed off the skills that made him a 2015 first-rounder. Parker finished with career highs in nearly every major category, including receiving grade (79.8), which was good for 17th in the NFL. He had the eighth-best receiving grade against single coverage, and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s aggressive nature gave Parker the opportunity to make plays down the field.
Albert Wilson was unable to duplicate his excellent Dolphins debut that saw him average a ridiculous 13.3 yards after the catch per reception, but that’s where he’s at his best.
Preston Williams also had a fine rookie season, with 32 catches, 428 yards and a 69.4 receiving grade that ranked eighth among rookies. He will cycle through spectacular catch and head-scratching drop, but the high-end play makes him an intriguing potential No. 2 option.
Meanwhile, Allen Hurns is also in the mix, but we’re a few years removed from a 2015 season that saw him earn a 78.8 overall grade to go along with his 1,031 receiving yards and had him looking like a future No. 2 receiver. Hurns has been unable to get back to that point, but he’s worth having around for another season to add depth.
Beyond that, Mack Hollins is another big receiver who could be a late bloomer and find a potential role if he’s used along the vertical route tree. Jakeem Grant has also shown flashes of being a jet sweep/space option, but he has just 53 catches and nine rushes in his four years in the league.
This receiving corps ranks near the bottom of the league, and there’s some volatility to this group given how much they relied on winning contested catches a year ago.
The Raiders receivers finished with a 62.8 receiving grade last season, second-worst in the league.
They had their pick of any receiver in the draft and went with the fastest option in Henry Ruggs III, who ran a 4.27 at the scouting combine. That speed shows up on the field, too, as Ruggs can get behind the defense or take it to the house on screens or slants. The question is how much he’ll be fed and if he’ll be treated like a true No. 1. Even if Ruggs is an 80-to-100-target receiver who creates big plays and alters gameplans, he’ll add the proper first-round value, but Las Vegas’ expectations might be even higher.
Hunter Renfrow was the highest-graded receiver on the team a year ago, at 75.5 overall, as the rookie caught 49 passes for 605 yards and became a valuable weapon in the slot. Tyrell Williams was signed to stretch the field, and he produced along his career baseline with a 66.7 receiving grade while averaging 15.5 yards per reception. He is a complementary piece who will be most effective if Ruggs does draw most of the defense’s attention.
The other key draft pick is third-rounder Bryan Edwards, a physical 215-pounder with a great highlight reel who didn’t create separation as well as the top receivers in the class. Zay Jones is also in the mix, though he’s disappointed so far, earning receiving grades below 60.0 in two of his first three years in the league.
The Raiders have the speed in Ruggs and Williams to go with underneath options in Renfrow and Edwards, but the every-down consistency remains the biggest question for this receiving corps heading into 2020.
In a year of outstanding rookie wide receiver performances, it was Terry McLaurin who posted the top receiving grade (86.5), which was good for seventh-best in the league. McLaurin combined slick route running with big-play ability, adding up to 15.8 yards per reception and a passer rating of 118.3 when targeted.
McLaurin’s emergence as a third-round pick gives Washington plenty of hope, but they still have work to do to build around him. No other receiver graded higher than 65.0, with Steven Sims leading the way at 64.4. An undrafted free agent, Sims showed well in the slot, where he picked up 165 of his 310 yards.
Yet another rookie, sixth-rounder Kelvin Harmon, ranked second among the team’s receivers with 365 yards to go with a 64.6 receiving grade. Trey Quinn has shown flashes as a slot receiver, though he’s graded in the 50s in his two NFL seasons.
Veteran Cody Latimer joins the team after a career-high 300 yards last year with the Giants, but you should also keep an eye on fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden, who has a 6-foot-4 frame and the catch radius to produce immediately after an impressive 89.4 receiving grade last season at Liberty. Emanuel Hall is the other name to watch, as he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, but he’s a project who is yet to play an NFL snap.
The full story is McLaurin and numerous question marks, so while Washington has an excellent starting point for their receiving corps, the team needs at least two players to develop to rank above the worst units in the league.
New England’s wide receivers and tight ends combined to produce a 67.0 receiving grade last season, 27th in the NFL.
The receiving corps looked promising early in the season with both Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown in the mix, but optimism soon turned into the worst offensive performance from the team in recent history. Julian Edelman is still effective, however, as he can work the underneath routes as well as any receiver in the league and finished the season with 100 receptions. Edelman’s 73.6 receiving grade ranked just 37th in the league, in part due to 10 drops and three fumbles.
The Patriots offense struggled once opposing defenses turned the attention toward Edelman, even after the midseason acquisition Mohamed Sanu and the return of first-round rookie N’Keal Harry. Sanu graded at just 57.1 with the Patriots, dropping four of his 27 catchable passes, while Harry only got open on 11.1% of his single-coverage targets, the worst rate in the NFL.
The Patriots also added Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee to the mix this offseason to compete with second-year player Jakobi Meyers for the No. 4 spot. Byrd adds much-needed speed to an offense that looked like one of the slowest in the league last year, while Lee has been limited to just 111 snaps over the last two seasons. Meyers showed flashes last year, though, earning an impressive 67.0 receiving grade.
There are plenty of options for the Patriots, though none of them outside of Edelman are particularly exciting on paper. They need the best of Sanu and one other receiver along with strong Year 2 development from Harry to move this unit into the top half of the league in 2020.
31. New York Jets
The receiving corps has been a weakness for a few years in New York, and they’re hoping the 2020 overhaul pushes this unit in the right direction.
Robby Anderson was a viable deep threat, but he’s on to the Panthers, with Breshad Perriman coming in on a one-year deal to fill his role. Perriman finally showed off his first-round ability last season, posting a career-high 645 yards at 17.9 yards per reception. After dropping nine of his first 52 catchable passes in his career, Perriman only has one drop in his last 53 attempts, and if the Jets get that version, they have a viable downfield threat.
Jamison Crowder returns after posting a team-high 73.9 receiving grade, with 648 of his 854 yards coming from the slot. Crowder is among the league’s best at getting open on underneath routes, making for a solid security blanket for Sam Darnold in what figures to be an important year for the third-year signal-caller.
The Jets also added Denzel Mims, another big-bodied receiver with field-stretching ability, in the second round. Mims ran a limited route tree at Baylor, but he had a dominant pre-draft process that starting with him earning the highest grade among receivers at Senior Bowl practices. He should be effective on the vertical route tree, and there may be even more room to improve given the limitations in the Baylor offense.
New York is also looking to reclaim another former first-rounder in Josh Doctson, whose career-high grade of 63.3 came in 2018. He’ll compete for the No. 4 spot along with Josh Malone, Braxton Berrios and others. There are plenty of question marks on paper, but the potential is there with this receiving corps if Perriman continues to progress and Mims’ size/speed profile translates quickly.
The Jaguars appeared to have one of the worst groups of receivers in the league heading into 2019, but the emergence of D.J. Chark eased that burden.
Chark finished with a 75.8 receiving grade, good for 26th in the league, and his 424 yards on deep (20-plus yard) targets ranked seventh. Chark was the only Jaguars receiver to grade above 70.0 last season, so plenty of question marks remain. Dede Westbrook has been a dependable possession option over the last two years, but he ranked just third on the team with 31 first downs a season ago. Chris Conley is another speed threat, and he’s coming off a career-high 775 yards, though his 62.0 receiving grade also represents a career high. Conley dropped 13.0% of his catchable targets, seventh highest in the league.
The Jaguars drafted Laviska Shenault in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and he adds a viable weapon who can line up all over the field. Shenault is an after-the-catch monster who still must polish some of his overall game as a receiver, but he has good hands and excellent explosiveness when healthy.
The other player competing for targets is Keelan Cole, who is a nice fourth option given that he’s averaged 15.7 yards per reception in his three-year career.
The Jaguars need a few things to fall into place in order to rise to the top half of the league, including another big step forward from Chark, and Shenault looking like the healthy 2018 version that was a potential top-15 overall pick.