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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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