Who are the best wide receivers in the NFL? People talk about having a “true number 1” wide receivers, but it is likely that only about 6-8 guys fit the traditional mold of what people consider for that title. After that, it depends on style preferences, possession versus speed guys, multi-faceted guys who can return and be used in a variety of roles, versus the prototype big receiver or red zone threat.
I will note that this is not a fantasy football ranking, or a projection of simply who will put up the best stats. Though, because putting up production is a big factor, there will be plenty of correlation. These rankings try to take into account system and which quarterbacks a receiver gets to play with, though it is hard to truly divorce that. I looked at age, production the last three years and trends, overall yards, yards per target, receptions, percentage of team passing game when healthy, and touchdown rate.
#1 Antonio Brown
#2 Julio Jones
Julio Jones is right near the top in terms of yards. You can pencil him in for over 1,400 if he stays healthy. He sits below Brown for one reason–touchdowns. Despite his prototypical size, and big play ability, Jones somehow has not scored double digit touchdowns in a season since 2012. He somehow managed only 3 touchdowns in 2017 despite 88 catches and 1,444 yards. Expect a touchdown rebound this year toward his career averages (6-8 per year).
#3 DeAndre Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins often gets slightly overlooked in the greatest receiver discussions. So I’ll justify his position here. Over the last four years, more than two-thirds of the games in Houston were started by the quartet of Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, and Tom Savage (not to mention lots of spot starts for guys like Ryan Mallett and T.J. Yates). Despite that string of quarterbacks that doesn’t compare to most of the other top receivers, he’s averaged over 1,200 yards. His numbers in a short stretch with DeShaun Watson would extrapolate to 101 catches, 1,469 yards, and 16 touchdowns for a full season.
#4 Odell Beckham, Jr.
Odell Beckham is coming off injury, and will try to continue where he left off, when he was over 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns every year of his career until last season. He’s one of the most entertaining and explosive receivers in the game, and we saw just how badly the Giants were hurt without his playmaking.
#5 A.J. Green
A.J. Green may not put up the big numbers of some other top receivers (he finished with 1,078 yards last year), but he carries the passing game for the Cincinnati Bengals. He still accounted for over 30% of the passing game a year ago, which has been true every year of his career on a yards-per-game basis. He’s an acrobat and an artist and would be near the top of the league in a more explosive passing attack.