The NFL is currently in an interesting place when it comes to the state of the league's wide receivers. There's an abundance of talent unquestionably, but staple elite players at the position such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown are getting older, and in a few years will more than likely lose a step on the younger competition. There's no telling when that may happen, but there's no denying that there is a bevy of young talent at wide receiver in the league right now, and also about to emerge from the 2017 and 2018 drafts. With most of the current top-tier receivers in the league hovering around the age of 30, it's a good time to take a look at where things stand for the future.
In the next few seasons, we're going to see some of the league's best pass-catchers take a step backwards, and inevitably there will be a handful waiting in the wings to take their place. It will be interesting to see which of the youthful wide outs will be doing so, but needless to say, there are many potential candidates. Let's see which ones fit the bill.
Ranked below is a projection of who the 15 best NFL wide receivers will be for the 2020 season.
15 Sammy Watkins
When Watkins is on the field, he's shown that he's one of the league's best receivers. A big-bodied target with a huge catch radius, he's excelled for much of the time, even when placed in a run-first offense in Buffalo. Odds are that he'll overcome these injury issues that have hindered him for parts of a few seasons, and turn into a perennial top-tier wide receiver. He has a skill set and athletic makeup that simply doesn't come across very often, even in the NFL. With a proper amount of targets each season, Watkins should excel, whether he remains in Buffalo or not, and be firmly entrenched as a top receiver in a couple of seasons. After an injury-plagued 2016, expect a return to form over the next several seasons, and his availability to increase.
14 John Ross
Ross turned plenty of heads during this year's NFL Combined, when he ran a record-breaking 4.22 in the 40-yard-dash. Needless to say, his lightning speed should make him a true vertical threat at the next level. He showed plenty of big-play potential during his time at Washington, and placed in the right situation with a big-armed quarterback, Ross is going to thrive as a rookie for the 2017 season. By the time we hit 2020, he has the potential for be the best burner in the league, and should be torching defenses with regularity. Consider him to be the league's next DeSean Jackson by that time, taking the top of off most secondaries that he comes in contact with. Should be one of the leaders in the yards per catch category almost immediately upon entering the league this upcoming season.
13 Kelvin Benjamin
Heading into the 2016 season, there were questions as to how Benjamin would fare, considering he was coming off of a 2015 season that he missed entirely due to injury. He turned in a fine season for a comeback attempt and should only better it in 2017. With strong-armed Cam Newton throwing him the ball, Benjamin should be able to use his size and agility to become one of the league's truly best receivers in the coming season or two. By 2020, he should be one of the game's very best, and put together a string of Pro Bowl-caliber seasons by that time. He's by far the Panthers best receiving target, and has big-play potential all over the field. Definitely Newton's best target going forward, and has proved that he wasn't just a one-year wonder as a rookie in 2014.
12 Zay Jones
Projected to go in in the second or third round in the 2017 draft, Jones is a sure-handed receiver who can play a physical game on the outside. He may not have blazing speed, but the East Carolina product is going to turn some heads in the NFL, and is one of the more overlooked prospects who will be a rookie in 2017. In a few years, Jones should develop his game to the point where he's one of the better receivers in the league. His game is suited to the red zone as well, which means he should be able to rack up some pretty impressive touchdown numbers once he becomes one of the main focal points of an offense. By the 2020 season, he'll have well-established himself in the upper echelon of the league's receivers. A player just barely under the radar in this year's draft, who should have a big impact.
11 Jarvis Landry
Right now, Landry is probably the best pure possession receiver in the NFL. He's coming off of two 1,000 yard seasons, and has established himself as the Dolphins' most reliable target. At the age of just 24, he hasn't even hit his peak yet, and there's little reason to expect a drop-off, given that his style of play is conducive to consistency. He may not be the most dynamic receiver, but he's almost guaranteed to be good for 1,000 yards for the next five or six seasons, and by 2020, will have a pretty impressive resume to his name. Overall, Landry is one of the league's more overlooked receivers, but that should change with time, when it's understood how dependable his game really is.
10 Christian Kirk
Kirk is only going to be a junior at Texas A&M this upcoming season, but he's by far one of the best receiving prospects for the 2018 draft. Even in just his two seasons at the NCAA level, he's shown why he's going to be a playmaker in the NFL. He has the burst of an elite player, combined with an advanced catching ability, and superior route-running. He will probably have his best seasons yet in 2017 for the Aggies, and then the hype will be unreal for him as he goes into next year's draft. Consider him one of the top names to watch for receivers for this college football season, and expect him to do big things when he eventually gets to the NFL. By the 2020 season, he'll have a few pro seasons under his belt, and be established as one of the biggest playmakers in the league.
9 Brandin Cooks
Despite being traded by the Saints in the offseason, Cooks is one of the best young receivers in the NFL, with two 1,000 yard seasons to his credit at the age of 23. Now on his way to the Patriots, it's safe to say that he's going to have his best season yet, and be able to push himself into the category of "elite receiver" by the end of the 2017 season. It remains to be seen if he'll be in New England by 2020, but there's no reason to assume that he won't be able to continue his torrid pace. When he hits free agency in a couple of seasons, he'll have the best of the best offers coming to him, and basically his pick of where he'll want to play. If Cooks is able to stay with an elite quarterback, he'll be a top-five receiver. If not, it's still unlikely that he dips out of the top-ten by the 2020 season. One of the NFL's best young talents.
8 DeAndre Hopkins
Despite coming off of a down year in 2016, Hopkins is still one of the game's best receiving talents. It didn't help him that he had the likes of Brock Osweiler throwing to him, and he should improve with just about any option under center in 2017. Hopkins was extended for the long-term during the offseason, and it will be worth it for the Texans to keep their best offensive player for the coming seasons. Expect him to bounce back in a big way for 2017, and regain his status as a top-five receiver in the league. Elite talent is elite talent, and Hopkins has shown that he possesses it, even if it didn't materialize in 2016 like it had for the past few seasons. It would be a mistake to sleep on him for this season, and he should still be among the league's best in a few years, given his skill set and age.
7 Amari Cooper
Cooper has proven himself to be one of the most productive offensive weapons on a stacked Raiders team, and has turned into perhaps Derek Carr's favorite target. The Alabama product has produced two 1,000 yard seasons in two years so far, and there's no reason to believe that he'll fall off the map for the next few seasons. The Raiders offense will still be elite, and Cooper will still be one of the main focal points of it, so there's no drop-off expected. In fact, by the 2020 season he may improve even further, really starting to post some top-tier statistics. Cooper is one of the safest receiving bets in the league over the long-term; he's young, and on a great young offense that maximizes talent.
6 Corey Davis
The hype is real right now on the Western Michigan product as we head into the 2017 draft. Davis is considered to have the size and skill set that compares to a player like T.O., which should have NFL general managers chomping at the bit to get him on their roster. By all accounts, Davis is probably going to be a first round pick this year, and depending on which roster he falls on, we could see some hefty production from him right away. In a few years, it won't be surprising to see him in the upper-tier of the league's receivers, and one of the best players in the game. The sky is really the limit for Davis, who is coming off one of the most prolific NCAA careers in the history of college football. One of the key names to watch as the draft comes around.
5 Calvin Ridley
Ridley will play one more year at Alabama and then be entering the NFL draft in 2018. He's had two quality seasons so far, and is primed for a high draft selection when the time comes around. Given the reputation of Alabama receivers, there's little reason to doubt Ridley's ability at the next level, and by 2020 could be one of the next great receivers in the NFL, following in the footsteps of Amari Cooper and Julio Jones. Making an estimation on him today, he'll likely be a top-15 pick and be slotted into a starting role in the NFL right away. Keep an eye on him this year for the Crimson Tide, because he may have the best season out of any receiver in college football. Expect big things from him in the pros when he likely hits the draft in 2018.
4 Michael Thomas
Not many people expected Thomas to become Drew Brees' favorite target as a rookie in 2016, but that's exactly what happened. So much so, that the team was willing to trade off Brandin Cooks in the offseason, and now Thomas is in line for an even bigger season in 2017. If the trend continues, Thomas will almost certainly be one of the league's best targets in a few years. He's sure-handed and athletic, versatile enough to play all over the field and still produce. It doesn't hurt that he currently has one of the era's best quarterbacks throwing him the ball, but that should continue even when Brees is out of the league. Look for big things from Thomas in the coming seasons. By 2020, he could establish himself as a top-ten receiver, and one of the most elite players in the game.
3 Mike Williams
Largely considered to be the best receiving option in the upcoming draft, Williams is a Dez Bryant or Alshon Jeffery-type receiver who can catch the ball from just about anywhere on the field. Coming from a Clemson team that just won the National Title, he's getting a lot of press, and should be taken somewhere in the middle of the first round this year. Depending on who he goes to, he could contribute right away, but in a few years there's little doubt that he'll be one of the best receivers in football. Consider Williams the most surefire option coming out of college right now, and one of the most anticipated rookies for the 2017 regular season. There's a good chance he lives up to the hype, and becomes the real deal in short order.
2 Odell Beckham Jr.
There's little to say about Beckham than what's already been said countless times. He's simply been a revelation for the Giants, and is a top-three receiver in the game right now. That will continue to be the case by the 2020 season, and he may even improve upon his output, which is a scary thought for opposing defenses. There's really no telling what the ceiling is for Beckham, but its certain that an unprecedented talent like he is, will still be an elite receiver over the long-haul. Even after Eli Manning retires, he'll still be the same player he is right now. A player will this kind of ability doesn't vanish because of a change at quarterback. In fact, Beckham's game is pretty much quarterback-proof, and he'll be able to produce no matter who is under center, whether it's for the Giants, or any other team.
1 Mike Evans
Evans is making a push to be the best receiver in the game by 2020, and he's doing under the radar of many people. Each of his three years in the league, his receiving yardage and targets have increased. He's shown that he's a threat all over the field, and has a young franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston that he'll be catching passes from, for perhaps his entire career. He's never had less than a 1,000 yard season, and only caught less than 10 touchdown passes in a season once in a season. With the Buccaneers adding DeSean Jackson to the other side of the field, Evans will have the opportunity for a true career year, and may wind up having the best one out of the entire league. There's a good chance that Evans could establish himself as the best receiver in football over the next few years, even though he doesn't get the press that some other players do. If that happens, it shouldn't come as a surprise. He's been one of the best young players in the NFL for the past few years, and can stack up with any receiver in the league right now.