As throwing the ball has become more prevalent than ever in the National Football League, the wide receiver position is that much more important to NFL teams. As such, there have been several receivers who have emerged as superstars thanks to putting up monster numbers over the years.
Every team in the league has their No. 1 receiver, but of course, not all receivers are created equal. Those near the bottom of the list specialize in one or maybe two things, while the truly elite receivers can do it all. Those elite receivers are matchup proof and sometimes it doesn't matter what an opposing defense does, they simply can't be stopped.
So, what makes a receiver truly great?
The first thing is having the speed to stretch a field. Not only can these guys be relied upon to make big third-down catches thanks to great hands, but they can also break big plays that can change a game in the blink of an eye. Even when a throw is hotly contested by a cornerback, these receivers can go up over defenders to make catches in any given scenario.
What's also important is being able to produce regardless of who is behind center. The best of the best can compile yards even when a quarterback isn't at his best, which just goes to show that sometimes a receiver can make his quarterback better.
While it's easy to put together the bottom of this list, things get really tricky as you get to the better receivers. Ranking elite receivers against one another isn't easy, but we'll try to do our best here. Just keep in mind, the top three or four guys could go either way.
Without further adieu, here's the No. 1 receiver from every team in the NFL and how they rank from best to worst.
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32 Torrey Smith
The San Francisco 49ers signed Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million deal prior to the 2015 season and it has not paid dividends for the Niners. In his first season with San Fran, Smith caught 33 balls for 663 yards and four touchdowns. In 2016, Smith has played even worse, and isn't even the leading receiver on his own team. In fact, he'll be lucky to break 300 yards receiving.
The problem for Smith is that he isn't a prototypical No. 1 receiver by any stretch. He's a receiver who specializes in big plays, but without those, he's not very useful. Adding to his problems, Smith has had lackluster quarterbacks throwing to him in San Francisco, thus his days of being an 800-yard or more receiver are over until that problem gets solved. Whatever the case may be, Smith is a far cry from the receiver who totaled 1,128 yards for the Baltimore Ravens back in 2013.
31 Jeremy Maclin
The 2016 season has been Jeremy Maclin's worst by far since entering the league in 2009 and instantly making an impact as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Maclin's first season in Kansas City was solid, as he totaled 1,088 receiving yards and found paydirt eight times. It was his the second consecutive season in which he garnered more than 1,000 yards through the air.
In his second season, Maclin will be lucky to make it to 600 yards receiving and has barely visited the end zone. It must be noted that Maclin has missed a handful of games and that is a cause for some of his decline in production, but even when on the field Maclin has been ineffective. Perhaps we can chalk it up to him playing hurt, but there's no denying he has not been the same receiver he once was in years past.
30 Rishard Matthews
The Tennessee Titans may have found their answer at wide receiver with 27-year-old Rishard Matthews. After being an inconsistent role player for the Miami Dolphins for four seasons, Matthews has finally established himself as a No. 1 option for quarterback Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. Following a slow start to the season, Matthews really turned it on in the second half and became a scoring machine with seven touchdowns in a span of eight weeks.
Many felt that fellow wideout Tajae Sharpe would be the go-to receiver for Mariota in 2016, but Matthews has blown that notion out of the water with stellar play. He may fall just short of 1,000 yards this season, but he's definitely on the right track to becoming a stud in the years to come.
29 Jordan Matthews
Now in his third season in the NFL, Jordan Matthews has been a model of consistency for the Philadelphia Eagles. Sure, he isn't putting up huge numbers by any stretch, but he has been a reliable target in what has been a topsy-turvy situation behind center for Philly. After posting 872 yards in his rookie season and 997 in his sophomore campaign, Matthews is close to mirroring those numbers yet again in 2016.
While he likely won't break 1,000 yards - which he's yet to do in his career- this season, Matthews can't be blamed for it. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has fallen off mightily since his hot start to 2016 and Matthews' numbers have suffered as a result. If Wentz had stayed playing at a high level, the Eagles receiver likely would have hit that magic number. Still, Matthews remains a solid wideout for the Eagles and has a bright future ahead of him if Wentz can continue to develop and feed him the ball.
28 Steve Smith Sr.
Even at the ripe-old age of 37, Steve Smith Sr. is still getting it done for the Baltimore Ravens. Smith spent some time on the shelf due to injury in 2016, which opened the door for wideout Mike Wallace to take over as the Ravens' No. 1; however Smith regained that title upon his return.
Had Smith been able to stay healthy and not missed the games he did, he could be looking at his ninth career season of over 1,000 yards. Regardless, Smith can battle with the best corners in the game and be productive, and that's all you can ask for out of a guy his age. No matter what he does in what appears to be his final season in the NFL, Smith is headed for Canton as one of the best receivers this generation has seen.
27 DeSean Jackson
While he has created plenty of headaches for the teams he's played for during his career, DeSean Jackson can still ball. The Washington Redskins receiver is flirting with a 1,000-yard season in 2016 and has scored a handful of touchdowns. Overall, Jackson has enjoyed four 1,000-yard seasons during his career, one of which came with the Redskins. The other three all came while he was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Granted, Jackson is one of the best at making big plays in the NFL, but unfortunately that isn't scoring him any respect as a top receiver in the league. He isn't much of a possession receiver and relies mostly on speed to burn cornerbacks down the field. Aside from making big plays, there isn't much else Jackson does particularly well and that's why he's an average receiver at best in many circles. If he ever loses a step, he'll see a steep decline in his production.
26 Terrelle Pryor
You have to be impressed with what Terrelle Pryor has done. After being a successful college quarterback, Pryor made the transition to receiver in the NFL and has done so almost flawlessly. In fact, it looks like he's been playing the position his entire life.
Pryor is a candidate to break 1,000 yards this season and to make that an even more impressive feat, the Cleveland Browns have been a disaster at quarterback. From Robert Griffin III, to Josh McCown, to Cody Kessler, the Browns have dealt with numerous injuries behind center. Through it all, Pryor has remained the one constant for Cleveland and has emerged as the team's best playmaker. Just imagine what he could be capable of doing once the Browns actually find an answer at quarterback, if that's even possible.
25 Tyrell Williams
If not for another serious injury to San Diego Chargers wideout Keenan Allen, Williams would not have made this list. If you weren't a fan of the Chargers, you probably wouldn't have even known Williams prior to this season, but he has certainly made a name for himself after the injury to Allen.
Williams stepped up in a big way for the Chargers and has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2016 campaign. He's likely to reach 1,000 yards on the season and now gives the Chargers a nasty 1-2 punch at receiver if Allen can return to form. Even if he can't, Williams has the goods to take over as the primary receiver for quarterback Philip Rivers and the 24-year-old has quite the future ahead of him if he keeps up at his current pace.
24 Doug Baldwin
Whether it's making big plays or catching passes to move the chains, Doug Baldwin has been a great option for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to throw to. After breaking 1,000 yards last season for the Seahawks, Baldwin looks primed to do it once again in 2016. The only thing he hasn't done as well this season as he did last year is scoring touchdowns, but the 14 he totaled in 2015 were well beyond what most receivers are capable of.
Regardless, Baldwin has once again proven to be a productive receiver in the NFL and there's no telling where Wilson and company would be without him. On a team that used to be known for just pounding the rock, Baldwin has now helped make the Seahawks a threat to move the ball through the air.
23 Stefon Diggs
When you consider the Minnesota Vikings have no offensive line, no running game and a mediocre quarterback behind center, Stefon Diggs' numbers become that much more impressive. In just his second season, Diggs is showing he's no flash in the pan as many had suspected after he broke out for 720 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season.
Granted, Diggs has only found the end zone a few times this season, but he's one of the few reasons the Vikings can actually move the ball and get first downs. Furthermore, he's got quarterback Sam Bradford throwing him the ball and still manages to make big plays and burn opposing defenses for huge gains. As part of a passing attack that doesn't normally go deep, Diggs' role in short-yardage passing situations also makes him a valuable wideout. Give this man a quarterback and an offensive line to give that quarterback time to throw and we might have a star on our hands.
22 Golden Tate
Many people wrote Golden Tate off as finished after a horrific start to the season, but, alas, here he is proving people wrong. On the cusp of the second 1,000-yard season of his career, one can only imagine how much better his numbers would look if he didn't disappear for the first five weeks of the season. He actually might have been able to break his career-high of 1,331 yards in a season, and he'd be among the league leaders in receiving yards for 2016.
All the hype surrounded Marvin Jones Jr. early on, but that quickly vanished once it was clear Jones' start was a fluke. Now Tate is easily back to being the Lions' top receiver and he is undoubtedly a top-flight option for quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw to, whether it's in the intermediate passing game or when going deep.
21 Kenny Britt
You have to admire what Kenny Britt has done this season. The Los Angeles Rams have been a dumpster fire after starting out 3-1, and the quarterback situation has been a disaster between Case Keenum and Jared Goff. Despite all of that, Britt is set to have his first 1,000-yard season and will become the first Rams player to accomplish that feat since Torry Holt in 2007.
Britt's career-best campaign comes at the perfect time for the talented wideout. He is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season and will hit the open market as one of the best receivers available. He'll turn 29 next September and while that might make some teams wary of giving him a long-term deal, he should make plenty of paper with whatever team decides to sign him. Considering the Los Angeles Rams are weak at the receiver position, they'd be wise to bring him back.
20 Allen Robinson
Poor Allen Robinson. He should be a lot higher on this list based on his big-play ability, great size and fantastic hands that made him a breakout star in 2015. After totaling a ridiculous 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, A-Rob has taken a huge step back as quarterback Blake Bortles has crashed and burned following a stellar sophomore campaign.
Robinson will be lucky to total half the receiving yards he had last season and while some of that can be blamed on him directly, the vast majority of his issues come from the struggles of Bortles. As a result, he gets dropped on this list until things can straighten out and he can prove the 2015 season wasn't a fluke. Hopefully a coaching change can lead to a better 2017 season for Robinson and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
19 Julian Edelman
If you need a catch to move the chains, Julian Edelman is as reliable as they come at getting it done. The New England Patriots wide receiver has gone from a relative unknown at the beginning of his career to a bonafide stud receiver for quarterback Tom Brady. Edelman has only compiled a single 1,000 yard season during his career, but could have done so two more times if not for injuries. He finished with 972 in 14 games during the 2014 season, and then went on to rack up 692 in just nine games the season after.
Edelman has played a full season in 2016 and is on the verge of hitting that magic number all receivers want to get to, and as usual he is receiving a ton of targets and making a ton of catches. Edelman's hands are as reliable as they come in the NFL nowadays and there are few who dominate the middle of the field as well as he does.
18 Brandin Cooks
He might not have great size, but New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks makes the absolute most of his ability. After busting out for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns in his sophomore season, Cooks is set to break both of those marks in 2016 and has enjoyed some monster games with quarterback Drew Brees throwing him the ball.
Despite his displeasure with his role in the offense, Cooks has still played extremely well and those looking to anoint Michael Thomas as the Saints' No. 1 receiver should slow their roll. Cooks is a proven talent who has now put up two solid seasons for New Orleans, so give this man more credit for what he has done. The Saints would be crazy to shop him during the offseason, which has been suggested as a possibility in some reports.
17 Sammy Watkins
I'd love to give Sammy Watkins a higher ranking thanks to his raw skill and ability to burn opposing cornerbacks, but the guy simply can't stay healthy. Now in his third season with the Buffalo Bills, Watkins missed three games in 2015 and half the season in 2016. Even with three games missed last season, Watkins still managed to total 1,047 yards and score nine times.
Unfortunately for the Clemson product, a foot injury shelved him for half the season and there are some concerns about his future viability, as foot injuries are a bad thing for receivers to deal with. If he can stay healthy, he'd be near the top of this list, but for now we have to temper expectations until he can put in a full season in his prime without getting hurt.
16 Kelvin Benjamin
The Carolina Panthers made an excellent choice in drafting Kelvin Benjamin 28th overall in the 2014 draft and he paid immediate dividends by posting a 1,000-yard season in his rookie campaign. He has all the attributes of a great receiver: size, speed and the ability to go over the top of defenders and make great catches. However, after a torn ACL suffered before the 2015 season, Benjamin hasn't looked the same in 2016.
The third-year receiver has flat-out disappeared during some games this season and his production has seen a steep decline from his rookie year. Granted, it normally takes players one season to fully recover from a torn ACL and get back to form, but we'll have to see it to believe it first to truly know that Benjamin is more like his rookie self and not like his post-injury self.
15 Larry Fitzgerald
There have been some reports to suggest that Larry Fitzgerald could hang up his cleats after 2016, but most people are wondering why he would want to do that. Fitzgerald is still playing at a high level and has rebounded beautifully after a three-year stretch in which he failed to compile more than 954 yards.
Since then, Fitz has posted a 1,200-yard season with nine touchdowns, and he's set to once again break the 1,000-yard threshold. Sure his touchdowns are down, but so is just about everything else in Arizona these days. The future Hall of Fame receiver of the Arizona Cardinals has been one of the few bright spots for a team playing well below expectations and it's clear this man still has plenty left in the tank. Whether or not that's enough for him to return for another season or two remains to be seen, but the Cardinals would be in trouble without him.
14 Jarvis Landry
The Miami Dolphins are going to have to pay wide receiver Jarvis Landry soon, and for good reason. He's been a consistent threat for the Dolphins over the middle of the field since 2014 and has broken the 1,000-yard mark for the second-consecutive season. On top of that, Landry is a target monster with 111 over more in each of his first three seasons, and he catches the vast majority of those targets, also.
In fact, Landry has more catches than any receiver in NFL history in his first three seasons, and that's with quarterback Ryan Tannehill throwing him the ball. Not only does it hurt my brain to think how much worse off Tannehill would be without Landry, but how much better off Landry would be if he had a better quarterback. Landry could be approaching legendary status by the time his career ends.
13 Brandon Marshall
I'm going to give Brandon Marshall the benefit of the doubt and chalk up his down season to the disaster that is the New York Jets. Just one season after putting up 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns in what was his best season in the NFL, Marshall will not earn his ninth career campaign with 1,000 yards or more in 2016. The biggest reason for this has been the utter mess quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was this season. When he wasn't throwing picks, Fitzpatrick was playing all-around poor football and Marshall's numbers have suffered as a result.
Now, with Fitzpatrick on the bench and his Jets career finished, the team has turned to Bryce Petty as the potential solution for the future. Sorry to Petty, but he isn't the guy for this team and Marshall's numbers aren't going to improve with him behind center. Marshall is a great talent at the position and has proven so time and time again, which is why if the Jets decide to let him go after the season he'd be a highly sought-after free agent on the open market.
12 Amari Cooper
Much like he did in his rookie season, Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has slowed down in the second half of the season. While that is something to be somewhat concerned about moving forward, it doesn't take away from the fact that he has emerged as a top-flight receiver after just two seasons.
Cooper will top his rookie season in which he finished with 1,038 yards, and so far he looks well worth the No. 4 overall pick the Raiders spent on him in 2015. Furthermore, the guy throwing him the ball, quarterback Derek Carr, has improved mightily this season and will only make Cooper better down the road. The sky is the limit for Cooper for what he can become and we may be talking about Cooper being a top-five receiver in the league in no time.
11 Alshon Jeffery
As he prepares to hit the free agent market this offseason, Alshon Jeffery will be the No. 1 receiver available for teams looking for help at the position with his great size to jump corners and make catches, along with everything else he does so well.. After racking up 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns combined in his second and third seasons, Jeffery has seen his production decline from 2015 to 2016. However, when looking closer, there's a perfectly logical explanation for that.
In 2015, Jeffery missed seven games due to injury and still totaled 807 yards. In 2016, the Chicago Bears star wideout missed four games due to a suspension and once again would have easily crossed the 1,000-yard mark. Also bear in mind he's had the perennially disappointing Jay Cutler throwing to him, who was relieved by Matt Barkley late in the season went Cutler went down to a season-ending shoulder injury. Alshon, we're begging you, move on from the mess that is Chicago and find yourself a team that can help you vault into the discussion as one of the best receivers in the league.
10 Dez Bryant
Injuries have slowed Dez Bryant the past few seasons, but he still cracks the top-10 of the best receivers in the NFL. After three straight seasons of 1,200 yards or more, Bryant missed seven games in 2015 and a few more in 2016. Still, Bryant likely would have broken 1,000 yards this season if not for an injury early on and he has the kind of talent to make up for missed time by compiling receiving yards in bunches.
Bryant has adjusted pretty well in the transition from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott, and the rookie quarterback has wisely made Bryant his No. 1 guy. Bryant remains a bit of a head case and that will ultimately stop him from being the best in the league, but he's still one hell of a receiver that every team in the NFL would love to have.
9 T.Y. Hilton
T.Y. Hilton is a small guy who can make big things happen on a football field. Whether it's catching intermediate passes for first downs or making big plays, Hilton has been a stud receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. Including 2016, Hilton has four consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards and is on the verge of having his best season in 2016 as he approaches his career-high in receiving yards and touchdowns. Not to mention, he could finished with more receiving yards than any wideout in 2016.
Hilton made an immediate impact upon entering the league and his chemistry with quarterback Andrew Luck has been impressive to watch. On a team full of receivers who routinely drop the ball, Hilton is the most reliable receiver the Colts have and is easily their best playmaker on offense. While you can attribute his success to having Luck behind center, there's no question Luck would be far worse off if Hilton wasn't around.
8 DeAndre Hopkins
Through his first three years in the league, DeAndre Hopkins had to deal with quarterbacks the likes of which no team would like to start. From Matt Schaub to Case Keenum to Ryan Fitzpatrick to Brian Hoyer - and there are more garbage quarterbacks in between - Hopkins has been dealt a bad hand and still comes out on top.
Hopkins has broken the 1,000-yard mark in two straight seasons and topped 1,500 yards in 2015. He will fall far short of that this season and likely won't break more than 1,000 yards, but consider the fact that he had Brock Osweiler as his quarterback for most of the season. In case you didn't know, Osweiler has been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. Now that Tom Savage has taken over, there is new hope for Hopkins, who is a superstar talent when his quarterback can play at even a decent level.
7 Mike Evans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Mike Evans has been a top-notch receiver since the second he entered the NFL. After posting a 1,000-yard season in his rookie year that also saw him score 12 touchdowns, Evans has added two more 1,000-yard campaigns to his resume that have earned him the honor of being called one of the best receivers in the game.
An absolutely huge target, Evans has become a favorite of quarterback Jameis Winston all over the field, including in the red zone. He has once again scored double-digit touchdowns after falling off in that category last season and he's set to play in every single game, which he was unable to do in his first two seasons. As Winston continues to improve, so will Evans and that makes him almost certain to be an elite receiver for years to come.
6 Jordy Nelson
After missing the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson has rebounded to have a great season in 2016. He has now surpassed 1,000 yards four times in his career and likely would have six straight seasons of 1,000 yards or more if not for his missing four games in 2012 and his unfortunate injury in 2015.
While other receivers have come and gone and been up-and-down during Aaron Rodgers' tenure as the team's quarterback, Nelson has remained the constant and has recorded 25 touchdowns combined in his 2014 and 2016 seasons. All together he has three seasons of double-digit scores under his belt. Nelson is a great big-play receiver, but his sure hands also make him a go-to target on third-down plays. Normally it takes a season for a player to get back into top form after an ACL injury, but Nelson is clearly bucking that trend in 2016 and who knows how much better he could have done this season if not for his injury suffered in 2015.
5 Demaryius Thomas
So much of Demaryius Thomas' success over the years has been attributed to having Peyton Manning as his quarterback, however Thomas has destroyed that narrative in the past two seasons. After totaling 1,400 yards or more and double-digit touchdowns from 2012 to 2014 with Manning playing at insane levels, Thomas posted 1,304 yards in 2015 with a greatly diminished Manning and the aforementioned Brock Osweiler playing quarterback.
In 2016, Thomas has had to suffer through Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, but is still over 1,000 yards on the season with a handful of touchdowns. It doesn't matter who you throw out there for Thomas, he is going to produce great numbers. So, with all of that being said, can we please start mentioning Thomas among the league's truly elite? It's time he gets recognition for how great he has been, especially because of the lackluster talent throwing him the ball.
4 A.J. Green
In each of his first five seasons in the NFL, A.J. Green has compiled 1,000 receiving yards and has scored double-digit touchdowns three times. Once again set for a 1,000-yard season, Green's numbers could have been even better in 2016 if not for his missing a handful of games due to a hamstring injury. Now that it looks like he'll return for the final weeks of the season, Green is poised to break 1,000 yards yet again, his sixth straight season doing so.
During a 2016 campaign in which the Cincinnati Bengals have been an utter disappointment, Green remains the straw that stirs the drink. His production hasn't slowed as a result of his team's poor overall play and there's no telling how good his numbers could have been if things had gone better. Green is arguably the best receiver in the league, but at worst he is a top-five talent at a loaded position in the NFL.
3 Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. has broken just about every record imaginable in his first three seasons in the NFL and has made some of the greatest catches this game has ever seen. On top of his racking up 1,100 yards or more in that span, Beckham has scored double-digit touchdowns in each season. Furthermore, Beckham Jr. is the first player in NFL history to record 80-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards in each of his first three seasons in the league.
Say what you want about his outbursts or his relationship with the kicking net, Beckham Jr. is a stud in every sense of the word. He is the Giants' best playmaker and makes quarterback Eli Manning even better than he already is. If not for two other superstar receivers, you can easily make the case that Beckham Jr. is the best receiver in the league. Even then, nobody can call you dumb for saying he's the best in the business.
2 Antonio Brown
There are few receivers in the NFL who can do what Pittsburgh Steelers superstar Antonio Brown can do. AB is considered the best wideout in the NFL in many circles, and rightfully so. He's had no fewer than 1,499 yards through the air from 2013 to 2015. While he likely won't eclipse that mark in 2016, Brown is still going to finish with over 1,200 yards at least and he's already passed double-digit scores for the third straight year.
Brown has finished no worse than second in the NFL in receiving yards the past three campaigns and led the league in that category in 2014. Many would say Brown is having a down year, which is crazy when you look at his numbers, but that's the kind of standard Brown has set for himself with some of the monster years he has put up. And, as is the case with Beckham Jr., you wouldn't be wrong if you argued he's the best in the game at what he does.
1 Julio Jones
Despite missing a couple of games this season, Julio Jones is set to lead the league in receiving yards in 2016, a feat he accomplished last season as well. In fact, had he not missed one game in 2014, Jones might have led the league in yards again instead of Antonio Brown. Jones is capable of going off at any second and he proved that in Week 4 of this season when he totaled a ridiculous 300 yards on 12 receptions.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jones is that he's a regular on the injury report, constantly dealing with nagging injuries. Just imagine what he could do if he was completely healthy - or as healthy as a football player can be during a season - and not slowed by any issues during the course of a full season. You can't help but be in awe by what Jones does on a weekly basis and it's one of many reasons why people consider him to be the best receiver in the NFL today.
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