Despite all the uncertainty around the resumption of professional sport in the United States, the NFL has remained steadfast in its commitment to getting started on time. That means that, as of today, there are less than 90 days remaining before football is set to return to gridirons around the country.
1. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
2019: 149 catches for 1,725 yards (11.6 yards per reception) & nine TDs on 185 targets; 2.88 yards per route run (first in NFL)
Of all of Thomas’ enviable qualities, perhaps the one which makes him most valuable is his durability; since entering the league he’s missed just ONE of 49 potential games and played in every contest since his rookie season.
It’s not the only quality that makes him the best receiver in football today, though. Thomas set the single-season receptions record last year and led the league in yards too, but it’s his overall reliability which again stands out; he’s dropped just 3.2% of potential in the last two seasons and caught 82.5% of all his targets.
Thomas has improved with every season in the NFL, and his route-running is now at a point where he has to be considered the most unguardable player in football.
The one statistic above all others that points to Thomas’ status as the best receiver in the league; he had 10 games with 100+ yards receiving in 2019. The next best receiver had just 6.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
2019: 399 catches for 1,394 yards (14.1 yards per reception) & six TDs on 157 targets; 2.44 yards per route run (fifth in NFL)
Jones has been up at the pointy end of these lists for many years now, and is showing no signs of dropping off any time soon.
It’s his unique combination of athleticism, skill and size at the receiver position which has always been Jones’ calling card and – remarkably – 2019 was his sixth straight season with at least 80 catches and 1,300 receiving yards.
The one Jones stat that stands out more than all the others is that over the last six seasons his average yards per target is 9.7. Think about that for a second; the Falcons can essentially pencil in a first down EVERY time they throw in Jones’ direction. That stat alone gives him a reasonable argument to dethrone Thomas at the top of this list.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
2019: 104 catches for 1,165 yards (11.2 yards per reception) & seven TDs on 150 targets; 1.99 yards per route run (21st in NFL)
While Jones and Thomas are able to body smaller defenders, neither quite boast the physicality that Hopkins can. At any point before, during or even after his route is complete, Hopkins is able to body his defender in to an advantageous position.
He’s also a transcendent catcher of the ball; leaving aside an anomalous three-drop performance in Week 1 of 2018, Hopkins has had just three drops in the last two seasons combined. His last three seasons he’s posted an otherworldly statline of 315 receptions for 4,115 yards and 31 touchdowns.
The prospect of Kyler Murray throwing to Hopkins should send tremors through the NFC West.
4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019: 67 catches for 1,157 yards (17.3 yards per reception) & eight TDs on 118 targets; 2.3 yards per route run (seventh in NFL)
The top three guys in this list are fairly settled, but from here on it starts to get a little tricky. Evans gets the nod for our number 4 position based on one factor alone; his consistency.
Despite the extremely inconsistent Jameis Winston throwing to him, Evans has put up at least 65 catches and 1,000 yards receiving in each of his six seasons as a pro. The only other player in history to put up comparable stats is Randy Moss.
Evans’ physicality is what enables him to overpower defenders. He’s no burner, but his ability to catch the ball at the highest point allows him to reel in balls that others simply can’t.
With Evans and Chris Godwin on the same roster, the Bucs have an embarrassment of riches to shower Tom Brady with.
5. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
2019: 74 catches for 1,035 yards (14.0 yards per reception) & four TDs on 133 targets; 1.81 yards per route run (33rd in NFL)
Don’t let OBJ’s 2019 campaign fool you in to thinking he’s anything but one of the premier receivers in the NFL.
Even in a year in which almost nothing went right for the 27-year-old star, he still managed to pull in over 70 receptions ad more than 1,000 yards, which means he’s put up at least those numbers in every year of his carrer except 2017 (he only played four games).
When fully healthy – which he wasn’t last year – Beckham is arguably the most outstanding athlete in the NFL who can create separation like no other. You may not like the way Beckham goes about his business, but there’s no denying he’s one of the five best receivers in football.
6. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
2019: 83 catches for 997 yards (12.0 yards per reception) & five TDs on 127 targets; 2.33 yards per route run (sixth in NFL)
No one runs tighter routes than Davante Adams, and his library of potential releases is second-to-none.
The only reason Adams isn’t higher in this list is due to a litany of injuries which forced him to miss four games last season. However, when healthy, he was magnificent, running routes with precision and proving nearly impossible to guard.
In four of Green Bay’s last five games of 2019 – including playoffs – Adams put up 100+ yards and torched several opposing defenses just to prove his status as an elite pass-catcher. Ignore him at your peril.
7. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
2019: 79 catches for 1,189 yards (15.1 yards per reception) & eight TDs on 119 targets; 2.29 yards per route run (eighth in NFL)
Cooper’s impact on the Cowboys can’t be overstated, with his route-running a huge reason for Dak Prescott’s emergence as one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks.
Cooper is particularly effective on slants, double moves and blaze-outs, with the former Raider extremely adept at disguising routes and keeping opposing DBs guessing at all times.
In his 27 games in Dallas, Cooper has racked up over 1,900 yards and 15 touchdowns, cementing himself as a bona fide star on America’s Team.
8. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019: 86 catches for 1,333 yards (15.5 yards per reception) & nine TDs on 121 targets; 2.24 yards per route run (ninth in NFL)
Despite the aforementioned issues with Jameis Winston and yet another outstanding season from Mike Evans, Godwin exploded on to the NFL scene in 2019.
There’s actually a fair argument to be made that Godwin outperformed Evans in 2019. He had more receptions, yards and touchdowns than Evans and also led him in yards after the catch, yards per reception, yards per route run and first downs.
Importantly for a young receiver, Godwin dropped just one ball in 2019. If he can perform consistently again with Tom Brady under centre, expect an astronomical rise up this list.
9. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefds
2019: 58 catches for 860 yards (14.8 yards per reception) & seven TDs on 89 targets; 2.45 yards per route run (fourth in NFL)
As indisputably the fastest receiver in football, Hill remains the primary deep threat in the league.
He missed four games last year but still finished with six receptions of 40+ yards, and his insane explosiveness out of breaks makes him a threat no matter where on the field he receives the ball.
Per Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a 152.1 passer rating in 2019 when targeting Hill against press coverage. That should give you some indication of how dangerous he is.
10. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
2019: 63 catches for 1,130 yards (17.9 yards per reception) & six TDs on 94 targets; 2.69 yards per route run (second in NFL)
Diggs’ upside is enormous; should the young Bill find a way to improve his route running, there’s no reason he shouldn’t top this list in the coming years.
In 2019 he led all receivers in 40+ yard receptions and 40+ touchdowns, while his 2.69 yards per route run were second in the league to Michael Thomas.
His footwork is excellent and he has mastered creating separation on routes of all shapes and sizes. He is now the kind of receiver that poses a yardage threat on all passing plays, and it’s up to the Buffalo coaching staff to make the most of his otherworldly talents.
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Image by: Jeffrey Beall