Who is your favorite receiver of all-time? Niners fans will probably say Jerry Rice, while the younger generation will probably say Randy Moss, and maybe your grandpa rambles on about Don Hutson. Personally, my favorite receiver is Antonio Freeman, for no good reason other than he used to tear it up on the field with Brett Favre.
But there is a huge difference between favorite and best. Today, at TheSportster, we will run through every NFL team’s roster, pluck out their number one receiver, and compare them to the rest of the pass-catchers in the league. Now, we will not rank these players based on their careers, just on their current performance, or else Larry Fitzgerald would be number one, two, and three. This season has seen some new stars emerge at the position, but unlike past years, the 2017 NFL Draft didn’t have the plethora of explosive rookies like recent years. There are some familiar names at the top of the list while the teams at the bottom have clearly not found their go-to target.
Split out wide, make a double move, and get open for these rankings of every NFL Team’s No. 1 WR from worst to best. The stats included are listed through Week 16.
32. Cleveland Browns – Ricardo Louis
Now, before everyone freaks out and goes checking depth charts, each one of these selections is based on who should currently be the No. 1 receiver. For example, for the Cleveland Browns, Bryce Treggs was listed as the no.1 receiver most of the season, but he was waived. Kenny Britt was supposed to be the WR1, but he played horribly since signing his four-year, $32.5-million contract in the offseason and was released.
That leaves us with Ricardo Louis. He’s seen 59 targets so far in 2017, for only 357 yards. Actually, the Browns leading receiver is their third-down back, Duke Johnson Jr. Clearly, they are the worst in the league, and their record shows it. Maybe when Josh Gordon gets back to full speed, Cleveland might move up in the list.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Marquise Goodwin
Goodwin is a perfect example of why speed isn’t everything. The former Texas Longhorn was not only dominant on the field, but he is an Olympic caliber athlete. He made the Olympics in 2012, but chose the lucrative career of NFL football instead. Buffalo chose the speedster in the third-round of the 2013 after he recorded a 4.27-sec 40-yard dash at the combine.
Now with the 49ers, Goodwin is putting up decent numbers this year, catching 54 balls for 934 yards and 1 TD. For much of the season, he didn’t had a great quarterback throwing him the ball, as Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard performed well below average Now with Jimmy Garoppolo taking over the reigns in the Bay Area, Goodwin has seen more targets and increased production. For now, the receiving corps in San Francisco is pretty weak.
30. Chicago Bears – Kendall Wright
Chicago Bears fans are holding their breath every time Mitchell Trubisky touches the ball. The young quarterback has shown flashes of brilliance, but is extremely inconsistent, and the Bears are sitting at the bottom of the NFC North. Now, with the departure of Alshon Jeffery in the offseason, and an injury to young star Cameron Meredith, Chicago does not have a clear cut no.1 receiver.
If we have to choose a top guy though, it would probably be Kendall Wright, who is nowhere close to posting the production of a no.1. The low receiving production isn’t the players fault though, since Chicago is a run-heavy offense, and is trying to minimize mistakes from the rookie quarterback. They may jump up in the rankings next year with Meredith back, but are stuck in the bottom three for now.
29. Washington Redskins – Josh Doctson
Doctson is an interesting case on our list. Even though it’s his second year in the league, the first-round pick was hampered by injuries in his rookie season, and was never able to show case his talent. Now, with the injury to Terrelle Pryor Sr., the second-year rookie has been thrust into the No. 1 receiver role. Unfortunately for Doctson, Washington’s offense goes through their pass-catching running backs and tight ends.
Doctson’s production still hasn’t quite been there for Washington. He has a lot of room to improve, but this play against Dallas about a month ago really showcases his potential. Move over Crowder, Doctson will soon be considered the best receiver on the team, not only on paper, but with all Washington fans.
28. New York Giants – Sterling Shepard
If Odell Beckam Jr. was healthy, there is no doubt he would be in the top 5 of our list. He has big play ability, amazing hands, and the diva-like attitude it takes to be a top wide out. But, with injuries to nearly every receiver on the Giants, their de facto number one receiver this year is Sterling Shepard.
The second-year man out of the University of Oklahoma has only appeared in seven games so far this year, but has reeled in 59 balls for 731 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He is a great complement to OBJ, but will need to constantly improve to earn a longtime starting spot. Oh yeah, did I mention he has a stunning fiancee? Trust me, she’s worth a look.
27. Los Angeles Rams – Sammy Watkins
Watkins is clearly a great receiver, but since the Rams have been sharing the ball this year, he makes the bottom of the list. The former Buffalo Bill was traded to Los Angeles in the offseason, in a move that many people questioned in both Buffalo and LA. But, it seems like the combination of Watkins, Woods, Austin, and Kupp, along with young head coach, Sean McVay, has propelled the Rams to the top of the NFC West.
Through 15 games in 2017, Watkins has 39 catches for 593 yards, and 8 TDs. He is doing his part in a dynamic scoring offense, but has the potential to be an annual 1,000-yard receiver. For that reason, he’s on the bottom half of our list. In the coming years, he should be able to jump up a few spots.
26. New York Jets – Robby Anderson
Okay, so this no-name receiver in New York is lighting up opposing secondaries. How the hell did Robby Anderson break onto the scene? Well, in 2016, he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Temple. At 6’3″, 190 lbs., he seems to be a little bit undersized to be physical receiver. But, Anderson has the speed of a slot specialist, and some amazing hands. He is honestly one of the best deep threats in the game right now.
With McCown at the helm, and injuries galore to the Jets’ receivers, Anderson has emerged as a potential future Pro Bowler. So far in 2017, he has had 62 catches for 939 yards and 7 TDs. But, to move higher up on our list, he needs to expand his short- and mid-range game.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Allen Hurns
At the start of the season, Allen Robinson would have been the no. 1 receiver in Jacksonville. But, after one catch in the season-opener, Robinson went down with a torn ACL and won’t see any action until 2018. So, another Allen makes our list as the top receiver in Jacksonville, Allen Hurns. Many Jaguars fans may argue that Marqise Lee should get top honor in Robinson’s absence, but we will stick with the former University of Miami receiver for this entry.
Despite also being hampered by injury, Hurns has still reeled in 36 receptions for 446 yards and 2 TDs in nine games. While he did have a 1,000-yard season in 2015, Hurns has been on the decline over the last two years. It won’t be until Jacksonville gets a better QB that any Jags receiver makes the top half of our list.
24. Baltimore Ravens – Jeremy Maclin
Maclin has proven his worth in the NFL, but has regressed in a weak offense in Baltimore, led by overpaid quarterback, Joe Flacco. The former Mizzou receiver was taken in the first-round of the 2009 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. After two 1,000-yard seasons, with both Philadelphia and Kansas City, Maclin finds himself stagnant with the Ravens.
The Pro Bowler has showed that he can be a reliable pass catcher, especially down the field, but with a poor offensive line, and poor quarterback play, Maclin’s stats don’t look like that of a top receiver. In 2017, he’s reeled in 40 balls for 440 yards and 3 TDs. Baltimore is led by their defense and run game, and it’s hard to imagine that Maclin ever makes his way back to the top of the list.
23. Tennessee Titans – Rishard Matthews
The former seventh-round pick out of the University of Nevada has worked his way up the ranks of receivers in the league since he entered the NFL in 2012. With Miami, Matthews never really made a splash until 2015, which was his contract year. Tennessee saw something in him, and signed Matthews to a three-year deal in 2016. Coming off a 945 yard season in 2016, Matthews has had 788 yards and 4 TDs so far in 2017.
Many NFL fans will probably argue this ranking, but in a run-heavy offense in Nashville, Matthews has excelled as a reliable target for Mariota. I’m sure he will be usurped by newcomer Corey Davis, but for now, he makes our list as the 23rd best No. 1 wide out in the NFL.
22. Carolina Panthers – Devin Funchess
Who? The Carolina Panthers traded their No. 1 receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, to Buffalo right before the trade deadline. One driving factor in this trade is their trust in third-year receiver, former Michigan Wolverine standout, Devin Funchess. The 6’4″, 225 lb. wide out has been a reliable target for Cam Newton in Charlotte, especially in the absence of their Pro Bowl tight end, Greg Olsen, who missed a good portion of the season with a broken leg.
As for Funchess, he does need to show some improvement in his route running, and has dropped a few passes here and there, but Newton seems to trust him, and he will surely be the No. 1 receiver in Carolina for years to come.
21. Buffalo Bills – Kelvin Benjamin
I’m sure Buffalo is regretting the recent trade with Carolina for Benjamin. Right before the 2017 deadline, the Panthers sent their No. 1 receiver to the Bills in exchange for a future third- and seventh-round pick. Now in Western NY, Benjamin has been hampered by a torn meniscus in his knee.
Aside from the knee injury, Benjamin has had a productive year, and is consistently rising in the ranks in this list. He has had 46 catches for 665 yards, and 3 TDs in 13 games. While he has had issues with his conditioning in the past, if Benjamin is featured in the Bills offense, there is no doubt he will be a future Pro Bowler. Still, it’d be wise of Buffalo to add to their WR corps this offseason.
20. Detroit Lions – Golden Tate III
In the post-Calvin Johnson era in Detroit, Tate has stepped up big. Despite his small frame, at only 5’10”, 200 lbs., Tate has torched defenses in the NFC North, and helped bring the Lions into the playoff picture in 2017. As long as OC Jim Bob Cooter (best name in football) can establish the run game, the defense can put pressure on the opposing quarterback, Tate and Stafford will continue their chemistry and lead the team a step further in 2018.
The former Notre Dame standout eclipsed 1,000-yards receiving in two of the last three season. Now, he has had almost 899 receiving yards through 15 games, to go with three touchdowns. Tate is Stafford’s favorite target and ranking him as the 20th-best receiver in the league seems fitting.
19. Oakland Raiders – Amari Cooper
Cooper has showed so much promise in the NFL since he came into the league as the fourth-overall pick in 2015. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns, but is currently having a down year. The Raiders offense is struggling and despite flashes of greatness, Carr does not look like the future of the franchise. Cooper is dropping balls left and right, a problem that has always plagued his game. While the Raiders were favorites going into the season, their offense sputtered and they’ll once again be sitting at home in January.
The former Alabama receiver has 45 receptions for 565 yards and 6 TDs through 13 games this year. He has had his worst year as a pro. Still though, he has a promising career ahead of him and just cracks our top 20.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Dez Bryant
All you Dallas fans are going to hate me for this one; Dez is not a top receiver in the NFL anymore! He has lost a step, rarely gets separation on his routes, and has an ego too big for his head. Of course, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy can go up snag 50/50 balls, but that’s about it. He is too inconsistent to be considered in the top half of our list, and Dallas should be eyeing a young rookie receiver in next year’s draft to replace Bryant as the No. 1 guy.
Despite making the Pro Bowl and having several 1,000-yard seasons, it’s over for Bryant. In 2017, his stats show that he isn’t the same player, and has yet to record an over 800-yard season in the last three years. Pretty much, he’s a poor man’s version of TO.
17. Kansas City Chiefs – Tyreek Hill
Hill is a different kind of player. He’s not your big-bodied pass-catcher (the Chiefs have Travis Kelce in that category), but he can make unbelievable plays. You can line him up in the back field and try and get him on the edge, hit him on a slant and hope he takes it the house, or throw to him deep. A jack of all trades.
In 2016, the former West Alabama receiver fell to Kansas City in the fifth-round due to his off-the-field domestic violent incident, but the Chiefs felt that he was remorseful and paid his dues. Luckily for Kansas City, he broke onto the scene as a stellar punt returner, and made one highlight reel after another. He still has a lot to prove, but is ranked 17th-overall, the top of the bottom-half of our list.
16. Denver Broncos – Demaryius Thomas
Based on talent alone, Thomas would definitely be a top ten receiver. But, due to the current quarterback situation in Denver, he’s sitting at the 16th-best No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Prior to 2017, Thomas had five-straight 1,000-yard season, and was a perennial Pro Bowler. But that has changed in the QB carousel of Siemian, Osweiler, and Lynch, with Thomas being well below his usual averages.
The front office in Denver, led by John Elway, thinks that Thomas has lost some of his strength too, due to the former Georgia Tech receiver changing to a vegan diet. Reports have even surfaced that Elways tried to trade him before the deadline. The Broncos are wasting Thomas’ prime years, and it’s safe to say he probably wants out in Mile High.
15. New England Patriots – Brandin Cooks
Cooks busted into the league with the New Orleans Saints in 2014, as the 20th overall pick out of Oregon State. He was able to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in both the 2015 and 2016 season with the help of future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees. With the emergence of Michael Thomas in 2016 though, the Saints were looking to shop Cooks, and the Patriots answered with a first and third-round pick.
Now with another Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady, Cooks is tearing apart defenses in the AFC. While he hasn’t been the go-to for Brady in the way Julian Edelman was in past years, Cooks has been one of Brady’s better deep threats in recent memory. If I were Patriots fan, I’d hope he sticks around after his fifth-year option, and if Tom Brady can continue his dominance into his 40s, the Patriots will stay atop the AFC.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery’s career started off with a bang. After being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Chicago Bears, he immediately made an impact on the field. In his sophomore and junior campaigns in the NFL, the former South Carolina star recorded two 1,000-yard seasons. But, as Jay Cutler’s production declined in Chi-town, so did Jeffery’s. In the offseason, the Eagles signed a one-year deal for the Bears receiver, worth $14-million.
Now, with an emerging superstar in Carson Wentz, (before he got hurt) Jeffery is shining in Philadelphia. While the numbers may not show it, on tape, the team looks like they are having the time of their lives. Actually, the Eagles were so happy with Jeffery’s performance, they inked him to a four-year, $52 million contract extension.
13. Seattle Seahawks – Doug Baldwin
Baldwin is truly one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL. His route running is superb, and he is a sure-bet on third-downs. Russell Wilson’s favorite target is coming off two-straight 1,000-yard seasons, and is an important weapon in Seattle’s offense. So far this season, he’s caught 71 balls for 901 yards and 6 TDs through 15 games.
All of this is even more impressive when you see his backstory. The former Stanford Cardinal came into the NFL undrafted and had to earn his way to a starting position. He battled through injuries early in his career, but ultimately helped lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2013. Right now we have him ranked as the 13th-best No. 1 receiver in the league.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Adam Thielen
An even better success story than Baldwin is Adam Thielen. The Minnesota State receiver never even received an invitation to the NFL combine. He had to attend a regional combine to qualify for the national combine. Then, he had to actually pay to attend a Minnesota Vikings open tryout in 2013. He eventually made the practice squad, and worked his way up the roster to be in the top 12 no. 1 receivers in the NFL.
Thielen has broken out in the last two years, and has already eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in 2017. He seems to be Case Keenum’s favorite target, and is just a guy you want on your team. Honestly, there really is no better story of “rags to riches” than Thielen. What a great talent that went overlooked, but is now at the top of the game.
11. Green Bay Packers – Jordy Nelson
Packers fans love the Rodgers-Nelson connection. They have had over 60 hookups for touchdowns, breaking Green Bay’s franchise record for most QB-WR touchdowns. The 32-year-old out of Kansas State has amazed fans over the past decade with his spectacular catches. He led the league in 2016 with 14 TD receptions, and is one of the Packers all-time greats.
But, with Aaron Rodgers out for a good portion of the season with a collar bone injury, backup QB Brett Hundley didn’t seem to have the same chemistry with Nelson that Rodgers does. He has had a huge drop off this year which was expected once Rodgers went down. Still he lands just outside the top 10.
10. Miami Dolphins – Jarvis Landry
He may not get the recognition or the accolades that some of the other receivers receive on this list, but Jarvis Landry is a player, and cracks our top ten. He’s coming off two 1,000-yard seasons, and will probably making a huge salary in 2018. This year, with Ryan Tannehill going down for the year, and Smokin’ Jay playing inconsistently, Landry does not have his usual crazy numbers. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the best receivers in the league.
The two-time Pro Bowler was ranked in the top 100 players prior to the 2017 season, and he is just exciting to watch on the field. It’s crazy to think that LSU had Landry, and Odell Beckham Jr. on the same roster. Can you imagine if he they reunite back in New York? That receiving duo would be epic!
9. New Orleans Saints – Michael Thomas
The second-year man out of Ohio State has immediately emerged as top ten receiver in this league. During his rookie year in 2016, the former second-round pick hauled in 92 receptions (on 121 targets) for 1,137 yards and 9 TDS. Drew Brees instantly connected with Thomas and his emergence in 2016 was one of the main reasons that New Orleans felt confident trading Brandin Cooks to New England in the offseason.
In 2017, Thomas doesn’t have the same touchdown production that he saw his rookie year, but still remains one of Brees’ top targets. Sean Payton and company have clawed their way to the top of a tough NFC South by dominating the run game with their tag-team duo of Mark Ingram and Rookie of the Year candidate, Alvin Kamara. That being said, Thomas’ future looks bright, and he should look to stay in the top ten receivers for many years to come.
8. Los Angeles Chargers – Keenan Allen
The 2013 third-round pick out of Cal started his career off strong, posting a Chargers rookie record with 71 receptions and 1,046-yards. Despite going having a down year in his sophomore campaign, Allen looked like a promising top target for Philip Rivers going into the 2015 season. Unfortunately, he went down with a kidney injury half way through the year, and barely played in 2016 due to a torn ACL.
Coaches and fans questioned if Allen could ever make it back to greatness, and if he would be able to endure the grueling sixteen week season. In the race for the top spot in the AFC West, the Chargers and Allen have not disappointed. Allen surpassed the 1,000-yard mark a month ago, and continues to be improve. We look forward to watch his progress through the ranks of top receivers.
7. Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald is not only our top ten current receiver list, but is certainly one of the top ten receivers of all time! The former Pitt wide out broke into the league in 2004 as the third-overall pick, and hasn’t looked back since. He has been to 10 Pro Bowls and received countless other accolades, but is still chasing his Super Bowl ring.
Now, at 34 years old, Fitzgerald is still tearing up defenses. Despite Carson Palmer suffering a broken arm midway through the year, Fitz still managed to stay productive under Blaine Gabbert. If only Arizona could get him a consistent quarterback to get him the ball, he would be much higher on this list! There is no doubt that Fitzgerald is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, even though he’s lost a step with age, he still seems to be developing his game.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans
If you have made it this far in the list, you’ve come to realize there is no real method to our madness. Mike Evans ranked ahead of Larry Fitzgerald? Most people will write us off for just this ranking, but just look at the numbers. Since entering the league as a first-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2014, he has had three-straight 1,000-yard seasons. With a 6’5″ frame, he’s able to tower over smaller defensive backs, and has the speed to stretch the field.
In 2017 though, Evans has fallen flat of his projections. To be fair, the Buccaneers offense has been a disappointment overall and Jameis Winston seemed to take a step back, which affected Evans’ totals. There is no doubt that he has the talent to be a top five wide out for years to come, but he needs to get a better, and more consistent Jameis Winston, to get him the ball.
5. Indianapolis Colts – T.Y. Hilton
Another underrated wide out that doesn’t get the accolades or praise that the top guys get is T.Y. Hilton. The 2012 third-round pick out of the Florida International University may not have the size to go up and grab a 50/50 ball, but he uses his small stature to his advantage. At only 5’9″, 180 lbs., Hilton’s route-running is superb, and can make an impact from the outside or from the slot.
Even with Andrew Luck out for the year, Hilton’s been productive with Jacoby Brissett as his starter. Hopefully, when Luck gets back to full health, and when the defense steps up in Indianapolis, the Colts will make it back to powerhouse status. But for now, Hilton will continue his dominant career, and rounds out our top five.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green
A.J. Green is a special talent. Besides selling his jersey in college and trying to choke slam Jalen Ramsey, Green is a relatively reserved for a top receiver. The former fourth overall pick out of the University of Georgia is still tearing up defenses in the AFC North, despite being on a sub-par team.
After starting off his career with five-straight 1,000-yard, Green dipped below the millennium mark in 2016 due to injury. The issue is that the Pro Bowl receiver’s talents are being wasted under a stagnant Bengals offense and coach Marvin Lewis. With Lewis now leaving the Bengals after this season and the team possibly looking elsewhere at QB, Green could move up a couple spots at this time next year.
3. Houston Texans – DeAndre Hopkins
So, our No. 3 top wide out is up for discussion, and Hopkins’ numbers may not prove his worth, but just watch his highlights; the guy is an absolute beast. Behind his tall, slender frame hides a strong receiver who is one of the best ever at getting separation (legal or not). Just ask Arizona Cardinals defensive backs coach, Kevin Ross, who caught up with Hopkins, noting him as the “best in the game,” to which Hopkins responded, “I know.”
Despite having a down year, in top receiver standards, in 2016, Hopkins has rebounded with a 1,000-yard season in 2017, even with backup QB, Tom Savage, at the helm with Deshaun Watson injured. It will be an exciting 2018 when Watson recovers from injury, and Texans’ fans will be ecstatic to see the Deshaun-DeAndre connection for years to come.
2. Atlanta Falcons – Julio Jones
The seventh-year receiver out of the University of Alabama, Julio Jones, makes out list as the second-best receiver in the league. In addition to his All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, Jones is just an all-around monster. He is nearly the size of a linebacker at 6’3″, 220 lb., and runs a sub-4.4-sec 40. Whether he runs a streak, curl, slant, or a simple screen, when the ball is in his hands, Jones is a legitimate threat to every defense.
This year, Jones posted one of the best games in NFL history, with a stat line of 12 receptions, 253 yards, and two touchdowns versus division rival, Tampa Bay. While this would be a career best for every receiver, it was Jones third-career game with plus-250 yards. Can we just book this guy a seat in Canton already?
1. Pittsburgh Steelers – Antonio Brown
Finally, the top receiver in the NFL is none other than Antonio Brown. What can’t this guy do? The former sixth-round pick out of the Central Michigan is a human highlight reel. His route running is exceptional, his hands are amazing, and he can take the top of the defense. No other play defines how amazing Brown is than this seemingly impossible toe-tap catch on the sideline to bring Pittsburgh closer to field goal range against the Green Bay Packers in prime time. That is, until he makes the next miraculous play!
Brown has had five-straight 1,000-yard season, countless accolades, and will probably go down as the best receiver in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A future Hall of Famer for sure! If not for his torn calf muscle suffered late in the season, Brown was looking like a possible MVP candidate.
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