We're just days away from the first NFL game of the year, and we’ve been going through the top units across the NFL over the past few weeks. Included in those were our oft-talked about offensive line rankings and our defensive unit rankings on pass-rush, run defense and the secondary.
But now, we turn our attention to the offensive side of the ball again. Focusing on wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in the passing game and utilizing data from Premium Stats 2.0, here, we unveil our receiving corps rankings as we enter the 2019 NFL season.
The Jaguars' receiving corps is still full of No. 2- and No.3-type wide receivers who have yet to truly establish themselves in the NFL, and their tight end group doesn't look all that better. Right now, their highest-graded wideout is Dede Westbrook, who earned a 52nd-ranked receiving grade (70.0) off the back of a middling 1.29 yards per route run in 2018. Behind him, Leonard Fournette will look to build off a promising 2018 season as a pass-catcher and is coming off a career-highs in both receiving grade (77.8) and yards per route run (1.87, sixth-best among running backs), but even that isn't enough to significantly move the needle.
Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ravens‘ wide receiving corps featured just three players with at least one NFL reception to their name, so the overall inexperience sees them sink to the bottom of this ranking. There are bright spots bursting with potential, however: Tight end Mark Andrews generated a position-high 129.9 passer rating in 2018 and has outplayed first-round counterpart Hayden Hurst thus far. Rookies Marquise Brown (87.0) and Miles Boykin (77.0) both earned respectable receiving grades during their final year in college, but ultimately, this team will look to dominate on the ground as opposed to win through the air — and this receiving corps shows it.
Albert Wilson impressed last year before he went down with a season-ending injury, and they'll need him to replicate his early-season form if this offense is to stand a genuine chance. DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills once again both failed to grade above 70.0 last season, and neither has done so since their second year in the NFL. Compounding the issue, tight ends Nick O'Leary, Dwayne Allen and Mike Gesicki managed to combine for 315 receiving yards this past season.
Le'Veon Bell‘s value as a receiver is close to being unmatched at the running back position — his 2,276 yards after the catch since 2014 still ranks first among players at the position, even though he didn't take a single snap in 2018. Aside from that though, promising young deep threat in Robby Anderson needs to prove capable of handling WR1 duties having only graded above 70.0 once in his career, while Jamison Crowder‘s three-year average of 1.54 yards per route run from the slot ranks 33rd among 92 qualifying players at the position.
It's going to be a prove-it year for Washington's receivers, beginning with slot threat Trey Quinn. The then-rookie caught nine of his 10 targets in 2018 after putting together an impressive 2017 season at SMU, where he earned an 89.8 overall grade. Former first-rounder Josh Doctson will need to live up to that billing this season after generating meager passer ratings when targeted of 75.7, 87.8 and 61.1 in his first three seasons, respectively. And Jordan Reed, of course, just needs to be on the field to make an immediate impact.
Well, what can you say about the Giants' situation? Corey Coleman is out before his season began, Golden Tate is suspended for four games and Sterling Shepard is dealing with a supposedly minor thumb injury. Cody Latimer, who has seen just 75 targets over five seasons, will be tasked with stepping up early on. When Tate returns, the Giants will get a player who hasn't graded below 70.0 in the eight years since his rookie season. At the very least, Evan Engram tied for seventh in yards per route run in 2018 and is in line to build on that promising effort.
No matter who the Patriots employ from the outside, they always seem to make it work. A corps made up of former castoffs Phillip Dorsett, Cordarelle Patterson and Josh Gordon complemented Julian Edelman nicely in 2018, as each hauled in at least three touchdowns and graded in the 67.0-73.5 range. But the latter two are out of the picture (at least for now with Gordon). Now rookie N'Keal Harry, who notched the fourth-highest receiving grade among draft-eligible wideouts (87.8) a season ago, is expected to take on a key role out of the gate.
With the loss of Doug Baldwin, the Seattle Seahawks' receiving corps is largely in flux outside of proven stud Tyler Lockett, who managed to compile a perfect passer rating (158.3) when targeted in 2018. Outside of that, the Seahawks will rely on a bevy of rookies to step up — D.K. Metcalf, John Ursua and Gary Jennings all flashed in college, with the latter two combining for 28 touchdowns from the slot in 2018.
Arizona selected a PFF favorite in the second round of this year’s draft in wide receiver Andy Isabella and also got a steal in the fourth-round in Hakeem Butler, who was pegged as the 42nd-best prospect in this class on the PFF Big Board. Butler and Isabella finished first and second in this year’s class in deep receiving yards, but until their superb college play is seen at the NFL level, the Cardinals receiving unit will remain in the lower tier with veteran Larry Fitzgerald as their only option.
The attempt was made to try and revamp this Buffalo receiving unit with the free-agent signings of John Brown and Cole Beasley, but ultimately Josh Allen still lacks the star receiver he needs. With Allen’s accuracy already in question and Brown finishing with a 13.7% drop rate in 2018, Bills Mafia should have cause for concern with their receiving unit heading into the 2019 season.
Carolina’s D.J. Moore impressed during his first year in the big leagues, after coming home as the highest-graded rookie wide receiver in terms of receiving grade (73.7) and having forced the fourth-most missed tackles among all wideouts (17). Although they have one of the top receiving backs in the league in Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers unit overall is lacking depth. Outside of the great potential Moore has to offer, Cam Newton and company will soon find out their current corps is not viable enough to build off of.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was phenomenal down the stretch for Indianapolis as he had the highest receiving grade (90.6) and most yards per route run (2.94) among wide receivers from Week 10 and beyond. In addition, the Colts got themselves a shifty slot receiver in Ohio State’s Parris Campbell in this year’s draft, who has impressive after-the-catch ability. After that, however, Luck’s best option is up in the air is Chester Rogers (62.8 receiving grade), Devin Funchess (68.0 receiving grade), and Eric Ebron (70.5 receiving grade), all of whom still have a lot to prove in Indy.
There’s no doubt Green Bay has the best red-zone receiver in the game in Davante Adams, who came away as PFF’s highest-graded receiver on red-zone targets a season ago. After the always-reliable Adams though, Green Bay’s receiving corps drops off significantly. Veteran tight end Jimmy Graham finished his first season in Wisconsin with the lowest-graded season of his career, and second-year wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling still have yet to prove they are deserving of being a WR2. As a result, Rodgers’ receiving room in 2019 is looking gloomy.
Dallas finally found their wide receiver number one midway through the 2018 season with the acquisition of Amari Cooper courtesy of Oakland. From his first week in Dallas in Week 9 through Week 17, Cooper ranked tied for ninth in receiving grade (81.2) and tied for 13th in yards per route run (2.16). Even with the return of tight end Jason Witten, there’s still a lot to prove in the Cowboys’ receiving room with Michael Gallup struggling in his rookie campaign and free agency acquisition Randall Cobb coming off an injury-riddled season that led him to a 62.3 receiving grade.
There may not be a better tight end in the passing game than San Francisco’s George Kittle. After an average rookie season, Kittle broke out in 2018 recording a 90.4 receiving grade (first), forcing 17 missed tackles in the process (most). With Kittle and young wideouts Dante Pettis and Deebo Samuel, the Niners’ have an arsenal of weapons for Garoppolo that’ll only continue to get better in years to come.
Tennessee added a couple of new faces to their receiving room this offseason with the signing of slot receiver Adam Humphries and second-round draft pick A.J. Brown. Humphries, a former Buccaneer, is exclusively a slot receiver as no other wide receiver in the NFL has played more receiving snaps in the slot since 2017. Brown, PFF’s 20th-rated prospect in this year’s class, gives the Titans big-time playmaking ability as he finished with 33 explosive plays for Ole Miss in 2018 (7th in CFB).
Emmanuel Sanders earned a team-high 80.1 receiving grade before his season was cut short by an Achilles injury in 2018. If he can return to form in 2019, he’ll easily be Denver’s top target even at the ripe age of 32. He and the mounting potential in the Broncos’ highly regarded 2018 draft picks, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, and first-round rookie tight end Noah Fant pin Denver at No. 16 on this list. Hamilton and Sutton both earned 75.0-plus overall grades at the college level in 2017.
T.J. Hockenson was tagged as PFF’s No. 1 tight end in the 2019 NFL Draft, and for good reason. The Iowa product earned an elite 90.8 receiving grade in his final collegiate season and averaged 15.2 yards per reception in the process. Hockenson and Kenny Golladay – the team’s highest-graded receiver (81.3) from a year ago – lead a Detroit receiving corps with significant upside this upcoming season. And Kerryon Johnson is no slouch in the passing game, either. The former Auburn back earned an 80.6 receiving grade across 180 routes run as a rookie in 2018.
Antonio Brown’s departure drops Pittsburgh down a handful of spots on this list, but JuJu Smith-Schuster, tight end Vance McDonald and the potential of Diontae Johnson keeps the Steelers from a complete free fall. Smith-Schuster has now earned 73.0 and 81.8 overall grades in Years 1 and 2 of his NFL career, McDonald just landed at No. 8 on PFF’s list of the top-10 tight ends in the NFL and, put simply, Johnson is a PFF favorite. PFF’s Mike Renner and Austin Gayle fell in love with Johnson’s route-running ability watching his tape at Toledo, and Renner went as far as to highlight Johnson as a top OROY candidate in 2019.
Michael Thomas is awesome, easily one of the NFL’s best at the wide receiver position. He’s had the best three-year start of any receiver in the PFF era (2006-18) from a grading perspective. Factor in the NFL’s best receiving back in Alvin Kamara, veteran Jared Cook and second-year wideout Tre’Quan Smith poised for a breakout, and no wonder New Orleans’ receiving corps finds itself in the top half of this list.
Adding Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Ryan Grant and Hunter Renfrow in the offseason, Oakland improved its receiving corps significantly across the board. AB’s dominance is well documented, and Williams flashed potential – specifically on deep targets – in his stint with the rival Chargers. And whether it’s Grant or Renfrow taking snaps in the slot, either of the two will be a massive upgrade over Seth Roberts, the NFL’s least efficient slot receiver on a per-route basis over the past four years.
Bears’ Tarik Cohen is one of the league’s best receiving backs in the NFL and one of the reasons quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s box-score statistics soared while his passing grade didn’t. Cohen and Allen Robinson II led the team in receiving grade a year ago at 82.1 and 78.7, respectively. If the duo can pick up where they left off, second-year Memphis product Anthony Miller can take the next step and veterans Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel can stay above average at their respective positions, Chicago will feature one of the NFL’s most complete receiving corps.
The latest from Ian Rapoport is that A.J. Green “underwent a minor ankle procedure,” and “the timeline [for return] should remain the same and Week 1 is still possible.” Cincinnati’s receiving corps falls down this list if Green is sidelined long term, but if healthy, he and Tyler Boyd form one of the NFL’s top receiver tandems entering the 2109 season. Green has earned 80.0-plus overall grades in every year but his rookie campaign (2011), and Boyd is coming off a breakout 2018 campaign that an 84.5 overall grade across 773 offensive snaps.
Keenan Allen is one of the NFL’s elite receiving talents. He is easily one of the league’s best route-runners and unfairly overlooked in an NFL overflowing with top-end receivers. And while he’s easily the Bolts’ top pass-catcher, Allen isn’t without very capable teammates.
Third-year Clemson product Mike Williams took a huge step forward in 2018, earning an impressive 80.5 overall grade across 732 offensive snaps in his sophomore campaign. The oft-injured Hunter Henry needs to stay healthy to legitimize Los Angeles’ spot on this list, but he has earned an 88.5 overall grade and a 90.0 receiving grade across the 1,185 snaps he has seen the field in his career. And Austin Ekeler, potentially the team’s top running back if Melvin Gordon holds out, has earned high receiving grades across his short NFL career, as well.
On PFF's list of best pass-catching tandems entering the 2019 NFL season, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were right where they belong: No. 1. They earned overall grades of 89.4 and 81.1, respectively, and paired to have the best hands in the league. On 290 targets combined, only six passes were dropped between the two. And don't sleep on Kyle Rudolph, who has notched passer ratings when targeted above 100.0 in each of the past five seasons.
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans will form one of the NFL's most potent receiving duos in 2019. Evans ranked second among wide receivers in 2018 with 543 deep receiving yards while Godwin has already made a name for himself after two years in the league. He's achieved an overall grade higher than 80.0 in each of those first two seasons and led the Bucs with a 111.1 passer rating when targeted last season. Factor in PFF's second-highest graded tight end in O.J. Howard (89.1), and you have yourself quite the young and talented receiving corps.
The Cleveland Browns are out for blood, and their trade for Odell Beckham Jr. only further solidified their Super Bowl aspirations. He was PFF's fifth-highest graded wideout (90.0) a season ago, and he joins a star-studded group. Antonio Callaway ranked fourth among rookie receivers in deep receiving yards (287) while Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Rashard Higgins each earned grades north of 65.0.
Deandre Hopkins came in as our top-ranked wide receiver heading into 2019, and any time you have that guy on your team, it’s going to give you a leg up on the competition. The interesting guy here if he can stay healthy is Will Fuller V. Among all wide receivers with 75 or more targets since 2017, Fuller’s passer rating when targeted of 127.2 sits behind only Seattle's Tyler Lockett.
Obviously, all eyes are going to be on Patrick Mahomes after his debut season, but few teams provided a better situation for a young quarterback to step into. At the forefront of their deep group of receiving options is Travis Kelce, one of the premier receiving threats at the tight end position over the last five seasons. His 2,690 regular-season receiving yards after the catch since entering the league are 957 more than the next closest tight end.
In 2018, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp all finished among the top-30 wide receivers in overall grade. The Rams are the only team heading into 2019 that can claim to have three wide receivers in that group. Considering that Kupp appears primed to return from his ACL injury and that the Rams used 11 personnel on over 90% of their snaps in 2018, those three should share the field often in 2019.
Conversations about the Falcons' receiving corps have to begin with Julio Jones, who has piled up yardage at rare efficiency. Over the last four seasons, four wide receivers have picked up over 2.90 yards per route run on 50 or more targets. They have been 2015 Julio, 2016 Julio, 2017 Julio and 2018 Julio.
The Eagles took steps this offseason to improve what was already an above-average unit in 2018 with the additions of DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Jackson showed last year that he hasn’t lost a step, leading all NFL players with 50-plus targets in average depth of target at 19.6 yards while grading 25th at the position. Arcega-Whiteside came in at 23rd on the PFF Big Board after hauling in a draft class-leading 19 contested catches in 2018.