Ranking the Top 15 Wide Receivers in the NFL
By Ben Matthews.
In the first of a series of articles, we rank the top-15 Wide Receivers in the NFL. To compile these rankings, all nine GridironXtra.com writers have been asked to provide their own personal rankings from 1-15.
The receivers have been assigned a number of points from 1-15 based on the order in which they ranked - 1st place ranking: 15 points, 2nd: 14, 3rd: 13 and so on, and these points have been totalled across all players for a definitive final order.
In total, 26 NFL wideouts received a vote and the complete rankings of 16-26 can be found at the bottom of the page. Furthermore, to see each writer's individual rankings, see the slideshow beneath the Top-15 list.
So without further ado, here are the inagural GX NFL Wide Receiver Rankings.
1st DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals -- 132 points
Hopkins was voted the consensus top receiver in the NFL by Gridiron Xtra writers and it wasn't particularly close as he beat Julio Jones by a clear 12 voting points. The Cardinals receiver continues to show his class into his eighth year and at 912 yards in 2020, appears well on his way to a sixth 1,000 yard season.
Not much needs to be said about the future Hall of Famer as he excels in all facets of the game and continues to break all kinds of records:
2nd Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons -- 121 points
Julio Jones remains possibly the most physically imposing receiver in the NFL, but he misses out on top spot. Whilst his freakish athleticism enables him to dominate opposition, injuries and an underperforming Falcons team have limited his production in recent years.
I respect Julio’s freakish combination of size speed and hands, he’s been doing it at the highest level for so long and Calvin Ridley wouldn’t be Calvin Ridley without him, although he and Hopkins are so close for me.
3rd Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers -- 116 points
Adams is making a case as the best in the game. Whilst being voted as the third overall in the GX writer rankings, Ed Wilkins did have the Packer as his number one.
Playing WR isn’t just about catching passes in the endzone, it’s about making yourself the best teammate you can be. Davante Adams does everything well; he is one of the best route runners, one of the best contested catchers, one of the best at creating separation, one of the best after the catch. He also has developed an amazing chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, meaning that he is pretty much always open on third down. He is underrated in the run game, and, oh, has the most receiving touchdowns of anyone in the last five years. All steak, with plenty of sizzle.
In the 2020 season, the three-time Pro Bowl wideout is the first player in Green Bay history to have three games of 10-plus catches and 150-plus receiving yards in the same 16-game slate. He could easily surpass that total as the Packers mount their charge on the NFC first seed with six games to go.
He is a talent that affords Green Bay the luxury of not having to rely too heavily on their second and third options on offense week-by-week, and has developed a telepathic rapport with his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
4th Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints -- 110 points
Underrated? Perhaps. Overrated? An argument can be made. Thomas can be one of the most polarising offensive players in the NFL but there is no disputing his importance and continued contribution to a Drew Brees led Saints offense.
Thomas has missed time in 2020, and New Orleans just wasn't the same without their talismanic pass catcher. A high ankle sprain and reported disciplinary issues rocked the Louisiana based organisation, but everything appears to be back on track now as they make a move on the NFC crown.
Thomas rarely drops a pass and is perhaps the premier possession receiver in the league. He will look to get back to his usual dominant self toward the back end of the year as the 2019 NFL catch leader sees his targets cranked up once again.
James Pike [on the first four receivers listed]: "The top 4 can be disputed and argued between fans and pundits alike. However no matter how you rank them, they are the best four in the game right now."
5th Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- 71 points
It is from here where things get interesting. The top-four are arguably within a tier unto themselves, but Evans appearing at number five wideout received some consternation amongst the group.
Much of this dismay was from Tom Chappell, who believes that "his tattoos take away quite a lot of points, who tf has their own name tattooed on them for god sakes?". Personal body art preferences aside though, Evans received three top-five votes, as well as four votes that placed him in the bottom six (10th-15th), showing that his value fluctuates quite considerably among our writers but that overall he is most certainly deserving of his place at five overall.
Six 1,000-yard receiving season out of six to begin his career in the NFL is special, only matched by Randy Moss all-time. It is an achievement made all the more impressive when you take into account the level of quarterback play that he has endured in Tampa. He will be looking to make it seven in a row with Tom Brady now in town, slinging him the rock.
Evans is among the best constested ball catchers in the league and utilises his physicality and strong hands extremely well within the red zone. He has become Brady's favourite target in Tampa, and could be a key difference maker by the time the playoffs roll around.
6th Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers -- 69 points
Quite simply, the Chargers number one target is one of the most clutch receivers in the game. Exceptional route running and a key chain mover on third down, the North Carolina native may possibly still be underrated by casual NFL fans.
He is the league's leader in receptions through 11 weeks of the 2020 NFL season and continues to operate under the radar for some. A ranking of sixth overall from the GX writers highlight his ability and importance within the league
During the Chargers' week 11 win over the New York Jets, Allen produced his sixth career game with 13-plus catches, which is the most by any single player in NFL history. It was also only the fifth time a single receiver had ever recorded multiple games with 15-plus catches. Furthermore, Allen tied Antonio Brown as the fastest player to 600 career catches -- a feat recorded in a mere 96 games.
Matty Brosnan and Matthews concur that Allen is the best route runner in the league, with Matthews ranking Allen as his number three receiver overall, stating:
Allen's savvy route running and ability to create easy separation distincts him from the pack for me. I'd say these are areas of his game that are superior to the likes of Thomas and Adams, as exceptional as they are. Some wideouts are faster, stronger and more physcial, but the permanent chip on Allen's shoulder supercedes many of those natural born gifts. Combine that with his incredible football IQ and you have one of the truly elite receivers in the game.
7th Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills -- 68 points
Second in the NFL for receptions so far this season with 72. Second in 2020 for yardage. Diggs is being rewarded for his move from Minnesota to Western New York during the off season.
He has quickly and expectedly become quarterback Josh Allen's favourite target in Buffalo, amassing an impressive 906 yards so far in what could be deemed a genuine breakout year as a true number one receiver.
Diggs has always had the talent and was one of only six players who received voting points from all nine GX writers (the Top-5 being the others), and narrowly misses out being the next receiver down from that quintet by a solitary point.
Indeed, this ranking is slightly low for four of our writers as Chappell, Saito, Wilkins and Tayyib Abu believe he is worthy of fifth overall. Saito: "Diggs terrorised the Packers for years to be fair, even with QBs like Kirk Cosuins and Josh Allen who aren’t necessarily the best outright passers in the league, Diggs is super versatile and is a threat deep and intermediate, he’s totally transformed Josh Allen and the Buffalo passing attack."
Matty Brosnan disagrees and ranks Diggs lower: "Diggs is only 11th [in my rankings] because although he’s having a great season it’s more on the scheming of the offense and teams can’t double him anymore. He’s below Thielen because I thought Thielen was the better player on the Vikings."
Matthews broadly agrees with Brosnan's sentiments, ranking Diggs a lowly 15th overall stating that: "his drops are too high to excuse (7.9% this season), for a receiver to be ranked within the Top-10 unless he offers much more underneath and as a possession receiver. I am also not keen on the fact that his effort doesn't always appear to be 100% and is often seen preening. His has a great release, effortless speed and top ability after the catch, but I'd like to see more consistency year in-year out in his new found number one status for him to be ranked amongst the very highest echelon in the NFL"
8th Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs -- 53 points
A drop of fifteen voter points signals the beginning of an unofficial tier three. Kansas speedster Hill headlines this tier and is another polarising player, receiving zero voter points from both Wilkins and Abu.
Pike ranked him highest, his fifth overall receiver, saying that: "Tyreek Hill at 5 is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but his placement on this list is due to his impact on the Chiefs offense and vice versa. Without Hill stretching the field, Mahomes won't have as much space underneath to find Kelce and their other weapons. Without Andy Reid's playbook I believe Hill would struggle on other teams who can't find a way to utilize his overwhelming speed."
Hill undeniably is a nightmare to cover in the open space, with gamebreaking speed and deserves a place in the top-10 for his playmaking abilities alone.
9th Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings -- 46 points
Thielen appeared in all of our writers' rankings, except for Saito. He is Mr Consistent and has ranked as one of the most productive receivers in the game over the past five years, despite an injury blighted 2019.
He excels in the slot as a matchup nightmare, with an uncanny ability to gain separation through savvy route running, head and eye deception, as well as an excellent ability to control his body that enables him to fool defensive backs into biting on double moves.
Thielen also has exceptional hands and rarely makes concentration drops like some of his peers even higher on this list and has a release that is comfortably among the best in the league.
10th Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks -- 42 points
"Quite simply the best receiver in the game when out of structure", according to Matthews.
Lockett ranks as the fourth best in the game for both Matthews and Matthew Brosnan who believes that: "Lockett I think is arguably the best deep ball catcher in the league and never seems to have a bad game, he has been so consistent for a few years".
Indeed, Lockett has become a complete and dependable receiver for Russell Wilson, after initially only being known as a speedy return man during his first couple of years in the league. Lockett remains a top quality field-strectcher, but offers more versatility than most give him credit for, as he is able to operate outside, in the slot, and as a possession based chain mover.
Over the past two years, Lockett's importance to the Seahawks passing attack cannot be understated. In 2018, Wilson posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating targeting Lockett, connecting with his number one wideout 57 times for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2019, the pair hooked up for an increased 82 times for 1,057 yards and eight end zone grabs.
11th Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears -- 41 points
There are fewer better all-around receivers than Allen Robinson in the NFL. With a competent quarterback, he could become spectacular but has had to endure a combination of Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles in recent years.
Robinson is one of the best in the league on contested balls and has excellent size for the position. He may not be the fastest and does not have the elite traits of some of the names above, but the Bear has not dropped a pass of over 20 yards since 2017.
Robinson becomes a free agent in 2021 and with 5,504 and 36 touchdowns in 82 career games, he will have no end of suitors willing to release him from QB purgatory.
12th DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks -- 32 points
Ranked just ahead of fellow 2019 draftee Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf has emerged as a prototypical number one receiver in the NFL. He is everything you want in an alpha wideout physically and anatomically and some believe he can become the best in the league, period.
He has time to develop too, with running mate Tyler Lockett at the top of his game and accounting for plenty of coverage himself when the Seahawks look Metcalf's way. He has had a few concentration drops, but he is improving here and the fumbling issue he was experiencing back in his rookie year appears to have disappeared.
He is an exceptional weapon in the red zone and outmuscles defenders both at the catch point and with the ball in his hands, able to carry multiple defenders on his back whilst battling for first downs.
Oh, and did we mention the speed?
13th Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team -- 31 points
Chappell: "Terry McLaurin’s rise from special teamer to absolute bonafide stud would be impressive enough without also having to recognise that his QB talents have been downright atrocious for the most part, Haskins and Allen are not good, and he’s still carving out a monster season."
Matthews: "Terry is without a doubt in my Top-10. Absolutely loved him in the 2019 NFL Draft for his agility and quickness on his routes and he is showing this and more at the higher level. He is quietly sitting at fourth in the league for receiving yards this year and it would be a travesty if he was not an All-Pro this season. He struggled a little against Jalen Ramsey and so we do need to see a little more against the top cover guys in the league before we anoint him within the top-five, but I believe he will get there."
14th= Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys -- 26 points
Connor Brosnan: "One of the more consistent WRs since he was drafted in 2015. Currently on course for his fifth 1,000 yard season in his sixth year. A star for Oakland even when they had some offensive struggles and always seems to stand out even on a stacked Dallas offensive roster. Proved his worth for his big trade. Helped take Dak and his offense to another level when they were crying out for a WR1."
14th= Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions -- 26 points
Abu: "Golladay is my seventh ranked receiver because he is the prototype wide receiver, and he’ll soon elevate himself into the top five. Dude plays like a hybrid of Moss and Megatron. Catches so many contested balls. Dude 'Mosses' receivers."
Pike: "The most underrated guy on this list (if you can even call a top 15 wideout underrated?!) Is Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions. When he's healthy he's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, with his combination of height, weight and speed he simply bullies defenders and has as good hands as anyone in the league. I believe if he hadn't spent his entire career with Detroit then we would be talking about Golladay alongside the absolute best in the game right now."
See each writers' Top-15 below:
Honourable mentions (with some comments for personal favourites of the writers):
16. Chris Godwin -- 21 points
17. Justin Jefferson -- 19 (Wilkins: "Jefferson plays like a guy who has been in the league for seven years, not seven games. His route running from the slot is the best from any WR not named Thielen, and he arguably has a bigger catch radius and more explosive release. He is PFF’s highest graded receiver, not just rookie receiver, through week ten. And he will only get better. I’m not saying he’s Randy Moss or Cris Carter but you can trace the lineage through from Cris Carter, through Thielen and then finally to Jefferson. The guy is great right now. Give him a couple of years and he could be special.")
18. Odell Beckham Jr -- 14 (Pike: "Odell Beckham barely made the cut on my list with the emergence of young players currently in the league (Jefferson and Claypool were almost included ahead of him!!), however I do believe that if OBJ can learn to be a part of the offense rather than wanting to be in the spotlight he will once again solidify himself as one of the best in the game.")
19. Robert Woods -- 12 (Matthews: "Woods is a terrific technician and has terrorised NFC West defenses for a while now, he always seems open and makes Jared Goff look better than he is. He is a safety valve of the highest order and always poses a threat for a gamebreaking play.")
20. Robby Anderson -- 11 (C. Brosnan: "While he never hit 1,000 yards for the Jets, he was always a favourite target for his quarterbacks and developed into a touchdown machine. His speed and ability to turn short yardage plays into big plays is as good as any other receiver in the league. He has transformed the Carolina offense this year by instantly becoming Bridgewater’s favourite target. Lightning speed and very safe hands, he’s a player that would probably be talked about as being one of the very best in the NFL had it not been for his off-field issues, which seem to be behind him now, and had he not been on a roster as poor as the Jets.")
21. Courtland Sutton -- 7
22. A.J. Brown -- 5 (Saito: "I had to put A.J. Brown because the guy is just a bulldozer, that play at the weekend (week 11) was basically all you need to see. I just love big violent dudes who can shove guys around, and Brown is a monster in the YAC game too.")
23= D.J. Moore -- 2
23= Juju Smith-Schuster -- 2 (Chappell: "JuJu is the youngest guy to ever have 2,500 yards beating a certain Randy Moss. His production the last two years has dropped off slightly what with The Animal Brothers as his two QBs last year and Randy Fichtner using him in short down situations, make no mistake though JuJu is incredible".)
23= Mike Williams -- 2 (M. Brosnan: "Mike Williams I just really like when one on one - he always seems to come down with it, either in the red zone or a deep pass, he’s got some Megatron qualities.")
26. Antonio Brown -- 1 (Abu: "AB in terms of pure ability might be the best. That dude is going to the HOF. But he was out for a year and he is still getting up to speed. But in terms of all round receiver play, from 2015 to 2019 he’s been the best. ")