National Football League wide receivers can be some of the most entertaining and also most frustrating players in all the league. Those with dynamic athletic skills are capable of making highlight-reel plays and even saving games for teams from just about anywhere on the field. Great talents such as Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins and others at or near the tops of statistical categories are recognized stars, faces of franchises and also heroes for fans who participate in weekly and, in some cases, daily fantasy football contests. As long as those running the NFL continue to create and alter rules that are meant to benefit passing attacks, the importance of elite receivers will only grow for the foreseeable future.
The nature of the league plays a role in front offices, coaches and, in some cases, even customers growing weary of receivers who seem to be hopeless in offensive schemes. In some cases, a receiver struggling to obtain chemistry with a quarterback or an offensive coordinator merely needs a change of scenery in order to play his best and silence critics. Unfortunately, some who are seen as hopeless by observers are destined to become backups. That’s not always a negative, as a serviceable backup receiver can help a solid team compete for a championship. You may find yourself giving up on the 15 receivers spotlighted in this piece as it pertains to your fantasy football rosters, but don’t assume they won’t be sleepers in fantasy and real football at some point down the road.
16 Tyrell Williams
The Los Angeles Chargers are an interesting team for a variety of reasons. They are struggling to obtain any real cornerstone of a fan base in their new home, veteran quarterback Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger, the team has a recent history of receivers struggling to remain healthy, and all indications are that rookie Mike Williams will eventually replace Tyrell Williams in the starting lineup once the first-year pro is physically able to take the field after he’s recovered from the back problem that has kept him sidelined throughout the first four weeks of the 2017 season.
Tyrell Williams could be on the verge of leaving the Chargers for a new team after the current season, but his stock could drop if the Chargers lean on the rookie Williams and Keenan Allen in the passing game.
15 Ted Ginn, Jr.
If this piece was being produced back in 2009 or even in 2013, we may have a more hopeful outlook as it pertains to the future of current New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.. At this point of his career, we know what Ginn is and isn’t, and there’s no reason to believe that will change now that he is on the wrong side of 30 years old.
The Saints need to get younger as the end of the current decade approaches, and Ginn has little, if any, long-term future with the club. It isn’t all that difficult to believe he will find one final home in the NFL before his career comes to an end, but it also isn’t a stretch to suggest he will be relegated to backup duties.
14 John Brown
Whether or not you would actually view Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown as a true starter in the fall of 2017 could be a matter of opinion. Brown has proven he can be an impact player in the Arizona offense, not to mention for you fantasy football owners who have lived and died with him during multiple seasons, but physical setbacks and injury woes are almost always a concern with him these days.
Brown is still likely to see a ton of targets during the 2017 season because of the nature of the Arizona offense, but there could come a time when all involved need to move on from this experiment. The proven commodity will soon be closer to 30 years old than 25, and age coupled with his history could lead to him becoming a backup.
13 Brandon Marshall
The New York Giants are, far and away, the most disappointing team in the NFL four weeks into the 2017 season. Big Blue, advertised to be a championship contender as of early September, lost its first four games of the year, and an offense believed to be one of the best in all the NFC has failed to impress throughout the campaign.
Veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall looks old more so than the player of old the Giants assumed they signed back in March, and it doesn’t appear as if he has much a future with either New York team past next January. Unless Marshall elects to hang his cleats up and embrace a media career, he is on his way to becoming a backup in the closing seasons of his career.
12 Deonte Thompson
We admittedly are not fully confident with this prediction, largely because the offense of the Chicago Bears was essentially a dumpster fire with free-agent signing Mike Glennon leading the charge. Rookie Mitchell Trubisky is set to take the keys to the offense as of the middle of October, and it’s possible Trubisky could get the best out of wide receiver Deonte Thompson.
As hopeful as that might be to say and type, this isn’t Thompson’s first rodeo. The 28-year-old likely wouldn’t be a starting receiver on multiple rosters, and the Bears are going to need to make more than a couple of offensive upgrades to give their rookie QB a chance of evolving as a hoped-to-be franchise player. Thompson could very well become a backup before 2018 rolls around.
11 Josh Doctson
It’s anybody’s guess what the offense of the Washington Redskins will look like come September 2018. Quarterback Kirk Cousins may legitimately attempt to run away from the franchise to sign with the team of his choice if he’s given the opportunity to do so, and it’s possible neither of Washington’s starting receivers this fall will be in the lineup when the next training camps open.
Josh Doctson remains a project in the early stages of the second season of his career, but it’s not an overstatement to say he’s disappointed while with the Redskins. Washington needs better production from receivers regardless of where Cousins plays football in 2018, as Doctson, not to mention another player featured in this piece (more on him later), simply aren’t good enough.
10 Corey Coleman
Does anybody reading this, even the most optimistic Cleveland Browns fan out there, trust the club got things right when the current front office used a first-round pick on Corey Coleman back in 2016? The most important ability in pro sports, so teaches the old adage, is “availability,” and Coleman’s NFL injury history is growing at an alarming rate.
Assuming the Browns lose a minimum of 12 games this season, ownership may feel the need to again blow things up and look for a new regime that can hopefully right the ship. That front office will probably not be keen on trusting a young wide receiver who averaged a paltry 3.3 catches per game during his rookie season and who is continuously bitten by the injury bug.
9 Robby Anderson
It’s nice the New York Jets have shocked just about everyone involved in the football world by managing to win two of their first four contests of the season. Let’s all remember the front office of the Jets built this roster to (allegedly) tank for high draft picks, and that includes throwing wide receiver Robby Anderson into the starting lineup. Anderson hasn’t been a complete disaster. In fact, he managed to find the end zone once during the first four games of the campaign.
The Jets will eventually use a first-round pick on a quarterback, and the club is going to want to surround that QB with better talent. Once the next phase of the team’s rebuild begins, Mr. Anderson will likely find himself in a backup role.
8 Marquise Goodwin
Following Robby Anderson with Marquise Goodwin on this list is ironic in that the San Francisco 49ers, like the New York Jets, began the 2017 regular season already looking ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft. Goodwin failed to cement himself as a proven starter during a stint with the Buffalo Bills, and he averaged slightly over two catches per game in San Francisco’s first four contests of the 2017 campaign.
The 26-year-old may temporarily lose his spot in the starting lineup as he attempts to recover from a concussion, and that could end up affecting him for more than one week. The 49ers likely aren’t ready to give up on Goodwin as of October, but he hasn’t yet earned a long-term place in the starting lineup of the Niners or any other team.
7 Kenny Stills
Wide receiver Kenny Stills is hardly the biggest problem hovering over the Miami Dolphins this fall. Who could have possibly imagined trusting veteran quarterback Jay Cutler, who literally wanted to retire earlier this year, wouldn’t work out well for the Dolphins? Oh, that’s right: Everybody.
Stills likely doesn’t come to mind when attempting to explain why the Dolphins will finish at or near the basement of the division standings later this season, but he nevertheless remains the “big play or bust” target he’s been over the years. There’s a place for Stills on some roster, maybe even Miami’s, following the 2017 campaign, but he is better served as a backup moving forward. He's simply too inconsistent to trust, regardless of the opposing secondary he happens to face on any given Sunday.
6 Terrelle Pryor
Everybody, from fans to fantasy football players to observers, needs to stop convincing themselves Terrelle Pryor is going to magically become a true starting wide receiver who teases earning a spot on a Pro Bowl roster. Pryor, a quarterback who completed the switch to receiver not all that long ago, is an incredible athlete who, at times, looks like the real deal, but he turned 28-years-old earlier this year.
A pro can only learn so much at this stage of his career. Pryor failed to average four catches per game in Washington’s first four contests of the season, and it has appeared during games as if he and Kirk Cousins never met during the summer. Even if Pryor’s numbers improve, he seems destined to become a backup receiver used in red-zone situations.
5 Tavon Austin
Unless you completely ignore the Los Angeles Rams and/or fantasy football, you are probably aware of why Tavon Austin is spotlighted in this piece. At this point, the Rams offering Austin a contract extension back in August 2016 that could’ve been worth over $40 million in total money looks like one of the worst business decisions made by any NFL franchise in recent memory, as the 27-year-old is now more promise than finished product.
That supposed promise, if any still exists, dwindles more with each game, and the Rams saving some money by cutting him in 2018 seems inevitable at this point. Maybe Austin will surprise observers and silence critics. We would recommend those of you still keeping fingers crossed about his future don’t hold your breaths.
4 Torrey Smith
You can’t blame the Philadelphia Eagles for taking a flier on Torrey Smith earlier this year. Smith is a proven home-run hitter who can take the ball to the house when he gets behind defensive backs, and he only cost the Eagles $5 million for the current campaign. Those looking to rate Smith either a bargain or bust signing would have to put him in the second category, as the 28-year-old is currently averaging less than three catches per game.
There’s still time for Smith to turn things around, but young quarterback Carson Wentz may soon lose confidence in the veteran as he continues to grow and become even more comfortable under center. Smith may find himself serving as a backup for a team other than the Eagles next season.
3 Brandin Cooks
The sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Grass being green. The New England Patriots featuring undersized wide receivers. You can set your watch to each of these. Somewhat surprisingly, the New England Patriots looked rather ordinary and downright beatable during the first four weeks of the 2017 season, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks has failed to evolve into the star some believed he would become, minus one breakout performance, after the Patriots traded for his services earlier this year.
If the Patriots are forced to actually compete for a playoff berth, let alone a division title, during the holiday season, those running the club may feel that veteran quarterback Tom Brady needs a better option in the starting lineup once the offseason arrives.
1 Kenny Britt
It wasn’t all that long ago when it seemed as if Dwayne Bowe would be the worst wide receiver signed by the Cleveland Browns in free agency this decade. Don’t look now, but Kenny Britt is giving Bowe a run for his money. Britt has established a reputation for dropping passes and also for falling down while running routes during games, and Browns fans booed him during the fourth game of the season, a blowout home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Many of those same Cleveland customers would probably prefer the Browns just cut Britt and move on toward yet another losing season. Those people may not realize the Browns don’t have a plethora of options at the position. Britt should be a backup today, and his future with the Browns and in the NFL, in general, looks bleak.