After what has felt like an interminably long offseason, NFL pre-season games have finally gotten underway, with the season proper to kick-off in the first week of September.
In the aftermath of a wild free-agency/trade/drafting period and in the lead-up to 2019, Sportstips.com will be power-ranking the top 10 players in each skill position in the league. There’s no better way to assess where your favourite player sits in the NFL hierarchy than by seeing them placed amongst the best of the rest.
We continue our weekly series with the top 10 wide receivers.
Please note – this top 10 is purely based on the performance of the WR during their 2018 campaigns, with some consideration also given to how they might perform in the upcoming NFL season. We are NOT (repeat NOT) taking in to account overall career, rings, MVPs etc. These are purely current power rankings.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
The 30-year-old continues to be a model of consistency, and is clearly still the number 1 WR in the NFL going in to season 2019.
Jones led the league in receiving yards per game in three of the past four seasons and has not had fewer than 1409 total yards in the last 5. To put to bed any suggestion that his lack of scoring is an issue, he had eight receiving touchdowns in the Falcon’s last 9 games last season to finish with his highest number of total TDs since 2015. His yards per game was also the highest it’s been since that year (104.8).
The Falcons are set for a bounce-back season after disappointing last year, and a big part of that is going to be the relationship between Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan. Until further notice, though, is the best WR in the NFL.
2. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Hopkins is effectively a complete wide-receiver; his catching ability is unparalleled, he’s a fantastic route-runner and his body control is phenomenal.
As Deshaun Watson continues to grow in his journey as an NFL QB, so will Hopkins on the outside. He’s caught 211 balls for 2,950 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons, which is an incredible set of numbers and speaks volumes for his ability to produce even with Watson out injured (as was the case in 2017). The one potential hurdle for his production this year is the probability that Keke Coutee and Will Fuller will begin to see an increase in reps, which may lead to Watson’s targets decreasing every so slightly.
Regardless, he’s a stud.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
OBJ falls to number 3 on this list for one reason and one reason alone; his durability.
The Browns’ prized offseason trade-in has missed 17 games over the past two seasons due to injury, and only once in his career (2016) played a full season. There is no doubting his ability, though. In just 12 games last year, even despite Eli Manning’s preposterous inability to throw the deep ball, he still managed a respectable 1,052 yards and 6 TDs.
With Baker Mayfield’s limitless ability and Jarvis Landry to help take some of the heat off coverage-wise, this is shaping to be an enormous season for OBJ. If he can stay on the park.
4. Antonio Brown, Oakland Raiders
It’s fair to say the back-end of Brown’s tenure in Pittsburgh was a train-wreck, but in a new city and with a new QB he’s poised to rebound in a big way.
Even given the turmoil surrounding it, his 2018 season wasn’t even that bad. In fact, it was elite. Brown led the NFL in touchdown receptions (15), went for 1,257 yards and caught 100+ passes for the sixth straight season (extending his own record-setting streak). All amidst feuding with Ben Roethlisberger and watching fellow pass-catcher JuJu Smith-Schuster explode in to the league.
Arguably Derek Carr is no Roethlisberger in terms of throwing-ability, but with barely any quality receiving options on the depth chart it’s conceivable that Brown finishes the 2019 season with something in the vicinity of 200 targets. Rest assured he’ll be catching the majority of them.
5. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
If you’re being thrown to by Drew Brees, odds are you’re going to be in any top 10 WR list.
Thomas is no exception, and in 2018 became the first Saints receiver since Joe Horn in 2001-02 to be elected to consecutive Pro Bowls. He’s arguably the most talented pass-catcher Brees has ever worked with. 321 career catches are the most ever by anyone in their first three seasons in the league and Thomas led the NFL with 125 receptions last season, hauling in 9 TDs to go along with it.
At 6’3 and 212 pounds Thomas can line up anywhere, and having missed only 1 game out of 48 since entering the league in 2016 it’s fair to say he’s as durable as they come. The Saints are a Super Bowl contender, and Thomas is going to see a ton of passes coming his way as Brees suits up for another tilt at the title.
6. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
That howling wind you felt three weeks ago? That was the entire Chiefs organisation breathing a sigh of relief as their star WR was officially let off by the NFL without any sanction.
Hill – off-field issues aside – is a bona fide star. His combination of size, strength and skill make him an impossible match-up for opposition DBs, and his pairing with Patrick Mahomes is a legitimate match made in heaven. Stats of 1,479 yards receiving (on just 87 receptions), 12 TDs and a total of 1,843 all-purpose yards last season should open your eyes to how good the 25-year-old Chief can be if he gets his act together off the gridiron.
Look out for Mahomes and Hill, because they might just be ruling the league by February of 2020.
7. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Well, contrary to some expectations, 2017 certainly wasn’t a fluke from JuJu.
The sophomore finished his 2018 campaign 6th in the NFL for receptions (111) and 5th in yardage (1,426), while displaying impressive consistency on his way to 8 100+ yard games and 7 TDs. Oh, and he’s also just 22-years-old.
JuJu’s ability to run both short and long routes has been impressive, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to cope with the extra attention in the form of double coverages sure to come his way without Antonio Brown on the roster. In his one game without Smith last year (in week 17) he caught just 5/10 passes (for one touchdown, admittedly) and notched up just 37 yards through the air. The opportunities will certainly be there – can he take them? We see no reason why not.
8. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Adams officially entered the “elite” bracket of NFL receivers last season.
He finished the year 2nd in targets (169), 5th in receptions (111), 7th in yards (1,386) and 2nd in touchdowns (13). With all of Green Bay’s offensive struggles and Rodgers’ well-documented injury issues, 2019 is likely to result in even more productiveness. Rodgers is newly-healthy and an offensively-minded Matt LaFleur as head coach will do wonders to a tired looking passing game.
At 26-years of age, Adams is officially in his prime. 169 targets may not be feasible thanks to an increased focus on the run game and the natural improvement of other receiving targets, but with Rodgers back to his gun-slinging best there’s no reason why Adams’ number of receptions can’t stay around the 100 mark.
9. Keenan Allen, L.A. Chargers
The knock on Allen has always been his ability to stay on the park, but with back-to-back 16-game seasons in 2017 and 2018 that may finally have been put to bed.
His 199 receptions and close to 2,600 receiving yards over those two years are (obviously) elite, but the worry now is that he find a way to put touchdowns on the board. 12 in those two seasons is not an amazing number, and one which needs to improve if he is to jump in to the top bracket of NFL receivers.
Allen is a reliable route-running machine who pairs brilliantly with Phillip Rivers, but the challenge for him now is to stay healthy and increase his scoring capabilities even amongst the continued break-out of Mike Williams and the return of Hunter Henry.
10. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The stats, for Evans, are fantastic.
He’s striving to become just the second player (after Randy Moss) to start his career with 6 straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons and, barring injury, should be able to do it in a canter. The knock on Evans has always been his catching ability, but that began to change last season as he caught 62% of his targets (finishing with 86/138). Evans also went for 1,524 receiving yards with Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick under centre, and is officially the Bucs’ all-time leading receiver with 6,103 yards total.
Bruce Arians as incoming head coach has a clear mandate to spread the field for Winston and that suits Evans to a tee; his average of 17.7 yards per catch last season is perfectly in line with a spread offense.
Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Had immediate impact in Dallas last season, and will only get better as he learns the system. Look out for Dak airing it out in a contract year, too.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Expert route-runner, and tied Calvin Johnson for the most consecutive 100-yard receiving games with 8 in a row last season. Fell off in the second half of the year and needs to show consistency.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Is now 31-years old and injuries may be catching up with him. Still, when healthy has at least one more All-Pro season up his sleeve and will benefit from a change in head coach.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Has never had more than seven receiving touchdowns in any season, which needs to change if he’s to leap in to super stardom. Colts offense is set to explode though, and Hilton is likely to be at the epicentre.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Got a two-year, $18 million contract extension recently and looks as fit as ever. Remains Tom Brady’s #1 target, and anyone with that mantle deserves a mention.
Anyone too high? Anyone too low? Let us know!
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