• Davante Adams beats out Justin Jefferson for No. 1: The masses think Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in the NFL, but I see no white towel thrown in on Adams’ career.
• Tyreek Hill rounds out the top three: Hill gained an absurd 3.2 yards per route run last season, his first in Miami, almost half a yard more than any other receiver.
• Dolphins, Bengals, Eagles among those with top duos: Each squad has two receivers who crack the top 32.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 mins
With NFL free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, we continue with our offseason position rankings. We already looked at the game’s most important position, quarterback, leading us naturally to the players they throw to.
Here are the top 32 wide receivers in the NFL.
The masses think Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in the NFL, but I see no white towel thrown in on Adams’ career. Last season, his first without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Adams caught 100 passes for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns, six more than Jefferson. He averaged 2.45 yards per route run, and over the past three seasons he leads the NFL in PFF receiving grade (94.5) and yards per route run (2.67), with Jefferson placing second in each category. Adams remains the king of receivers until somebody topples him.
I’m not sure you can say Jefferson is better than Davante Adams, but he’s joined him atop the mountain. Jefferson is second to Adams in a whole variety of categories since entering the league and has been phenomenally productive for the Vikings in his young career. He is an outstanding route runner, can win contested catches and already has one of the greatest catches in NFL history on his resume — a fourth-and-18 one-handed snag against Buffalo.
There is no more dangerous receiver in the league than Hill, whose combination of speed and instant acceleration makes him a threat to score any time he touches the football. Hill gained an absurd 3.2 yards per route run last season, his first in Miami, almost half a yard more than any other receiver. For a smaller receiver, he has also always been exceptional with the ball in the air, catching 52.0% of his contested targets last season.
Chase didn’t quite replicate the crazy performance of his rookie season in 2022, but what he did manage was to show that he can be just as effective without the element of surprise, even if some of the unsustainable big plays went away. Passes thrown toward Chase over his first two seasons in the league are generating Joe Burrow a 112.4 passer rating, and that number actually went up to 118.2 during the playoffs last season. Chase is a dominant receiver and is just getting started.
Diggs has been unleashed in Buffalo, having been capped in terms of opportunity in Minnesota’s offense before he was traded. Since that move, Diggs has 469 targets, second in the league behind only Davante Adams. His receiving stat line includes more than 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he continues to be one of the most well-rounded receivers in the game.
Kupp played in just nine games in 2022 in a Rams offense that was collapsing around him and still racked up 95 targets and 75 catches a season after posting one of the finest single-season performances in NFL history. Kupp is an elite route runner, technician and blocker who lines up predominantly in the slot but can still torch defensive backs on the outside when needed. He has broken 10 or more tackles for three straight seasons.
Last season, we saw the kind of impact that Brown can have on an offense. Already a player who had elite stats against any kind of coverage or player, Brown’s arrival transformed the Philadelphia offense and helped spark a corresponding huge improvement from DeVonta Smith at receiver and Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Brown averaged 2.59 yards per route run and passes thrown his way generated a 118.8 passer rating.
Since coming into the league, McLaurin has racked up more than 4,200 yards and 460 targets in four seasons with an ugly list of quarterbacks throwing him the football. He has a PFF receiving grade of at least 77.1 in each season, and passes thrown his way have generated a 101.2 passer rating, significantly higher than the baseline of those aforementioned quarterbacks.
Lamb’s production should only go up in 2023 now that Brandin Cooks is on the roster to keep defenses on their toes. Last season, with no Amari Cooper, Lamb set career highs in targets, catches, yards, touchdowns and yards per route run. He posted the lowest drop rate of his career and looked like one of the best receivers in the game. This season could be even better.
Arguably the most unique receiver on this list, Samuel is so effective running the ball that it tends to overshadow how good he is in conventional ways as a receiver. For his career, Samuel averages 2.29 yards per route run and has caught 43.4% of contested targets. He has broken 128 tackles on 223 catches, and that’s before you get to the threat he poses as a rusher. He is one of the most dynamic threats in the game.
The consistency shown by Evans throughout his NFL career has been remarkable. He has caught more than 65 passes for at least 1,000 yards in all nine of his seasons, and in six of those years he recorded eight or more touchdowns. Injuries have started to bite over the past few seasons, limiting his effectiveness, if not keeping him off the field, but he remains an elite target, particularly downfield.
One of the more difficult players to slot on this list, Hopkins was arguably the best receiver in the league at his peak, but injury and suspension have limited him over the past couple of seasons in Arizona, along with playing in a lackluster offense. Now on the wrong side of 30 and still yearning for a trade, Hopkins has a broad range of outcomes in 2023. But he has shown there is still plenty of juice left if he lands in a good situation.
With Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, Wilson could go to the moon in 2023. As a rookie, he trailed only Deebo Samuel in broken tackles (22) and gained more than 1,100 receiving yards despite a disastrous quarterback situation featuring three backup-caliber passers trying to get him the football. He is an outstanding route runner and has excellent body control and skills after the catch.
One of the most physically imposing receivers in the game, Metcalf brings size and athleticism that most cornerbacks can’t hope to match. He is an elite deep threat who has added multiple strings to his bow while in the NFL. Passes thrown his way over his professional career have generated a 105.7 passer rating.
One of the least-heralded receivers to come good, St. Brown has emerged as the driving force behind Detroit’s flourishing offense over the past couple of seasons. He was one of five receivers in the NFL to earn a PFF receiving grade above 90.0 last season, putting him in elite company. His role differs from most of those other receivers, lining up predominantly in the slot and with an average depth of target of just 6.7 yards downfield. But he is elite in that role.
16. D.J. Moore, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears securing Moore's services as part of their trade out of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft was a real coup. He isn’t coming off a great year of production, but prior to last season Moore had three straight years of 1,100-plus receiving yards and is still averaging 1.94 yards per route run for his career despite some ugly quarterback situations. Moore can be the elite target Justin Fields has not yet had in the NFL.
Tyreek Hill arriving in Miami has only helped Waddle, who thrived last season in a completely different role to the one we saw from him as a rookie. Waddle finished third in the NFL in yards per route run (2.59) with an average depth of target (12.2 yards) more than 5 yards higher than it was in his rookie season. Waddle has now demonstrated he can win inside and outside and at all levels of the field.
A.J. Brown‘s arrival set off a huge improvement from almost all quarters of the Eagles' offense, including DeVonta Smith. In Year 2, Smith improved in almost every receiving metric, including yards per route run, and passes thrown his way generated a 114.1 passer rating in the regular season. Smith is an outstanding receiver whose only question mark is his slender build, which is less of an issue with a physically imposing receiver like Brown on the other side.
2022 was a big year for Higgins because he was able to show that he could still look like a true No. 1 receiver without Ja'Marr Chase, who missed time due to injury, on the field drawing the attention of defenders. Higgins justified the narrative that he can be an elite receiver in any offense and caught 61.5% of his contested targets.
The 49ers have such an array of offensive talent that Aiyuk tends to fly under the radar. But he is a dynamic and devastating weapon in his own right. He topped 1,000 receiving yards for the first time last season, and now passes thrown his way for his career are generating a 109.1 rating despite the real lack of stability the 49ers have had at the quarterback position.
Godwin’s best season came back in 2019, but he has been a consistently excellent receiver from primarily the slot throughout his NFL career. He has never once caught less than 50% of his contested targets over a single season and for his career has come up with 60.7% of such passes, one of the highest rates in football.
Cooper makes every offense he steps into better. He has now demonstrated this knack for the Raiders, Cowboys and Browns in the NFL, yet the discussion about Cooper tends to center too often around his deficiencies. A receiver who is good at everything, Cooper is an excellent weapon whose only real issue is consistency.
Lockett’s peak may be behind him now that he will be 31 during the 2023 season, but he remains an extremely effective receiver who has thrived as an undersized player throughout his career. Lockett has some of the best hands in the game, having dropped three passes over the past two years and only 3.8% of catchable targets over his entire time in the NFL.
Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t exactly been on fire over the past couple of years, so Johnson’s stats have taken a dive. He didn’t have a single touchdown in 2023, but then-rookie Kenny Pickett threw just seven all season, and Mitchell Trubisky tossed four before he was replaced by Pickett. Johnson remains an outstanding route runner and a savvy receiver in need of an improved passing game to really showcase those skills.
The 31-year-old Allen’s best play might be behind him, and injuries have been an issue, but he is still an exceptional route runner and a player who knows how to get open consistently. He gained 2.18 yards per route run last season even if being limited to 10 games of action meant he had fewer than 800 total receiving yards. Allen’s strengths as a receiver are still sharp, so if he can stay healthy, he is still an excellent receiver on the other end of Justin Herbert passes.
Cooks will be moving on to his fifth team in the NFL when he suits up for Dallas this season, but whatever reason teams choose to trade him away with impressive regularity, it’s not because he doesn’t produce. This past season was the first of his Texans tenure that didn’t yield a 1,000-yard season, and he has posted at least one of those for every team he has played for.
Another unknown quantity when it comes to ranking going forward, Thomas was one of the very best receivers in the game before injuries completely derailed his career. He has played in three games over the past two years, but even in those three games he caught three touchdowns and had 22 targets. If Thomas is legitimately healthy in 2023, he could rocket up these rankings.
Ridley was suspended for the 2022 NFL season for violating the gambling policy, but he heads into 2023 fresh and ready to take advantage of playing with Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville. Ridley is an exceptional route runner and has excellent deep speed. He might not be able to dominate as a true No. 1 receiver, but Jacksonville doesn’t need him to be that guy.
A contested-catch specialist who can win deep down the field and on the vertical route tree, first and foremost, Williams is another receiver who has been battling injuries in his career. The difference he makes to the Chargers' offense is obvious when he is on the field, and the kind of big-play ability he brings to the table is a vital component of their passing attack.
Pittman has had to shoulder the burden of being the Colts' top receiver since he entered the league. While he might benefit from a true complementary threat on the other side, Pittman has already shown he can be an outstanding possession receiver that has caught 54.0% of his career contested targets and dropped only 5.4% of catchable passes.
Jacksonville seemed intent on justifying the big-money contract they handed Kirk in free agency, and it resulted in him finishing the 2022 NFL season with career highs in pretty much every conceivable receiving metric. He spent 75% of his snaps in the slot, and passes thrown his way resulted in a 104.7 passer rating.
Olave’s rookie season was exceptionally effective, with only opportunity holding him back from a truly impressive statistical output. He gained 2.42 yards per route run, which led all rookie receivers and ranked seventh overall, one spot behind Davante Adams. He was particularly effective as a deep threat, with an average depth of target 14.9 yards downfield.