While the analysis of any NFL offense always has to begin with the quarterback, many times they are only as good as their skill players will allow. It's paramount for a quarterback to have weapons, and that's particularly true for wide receivers. Often times, just the connection between these two positions can make-or-break an entire offense, and be the difference between success and failure.
That may not always be the case, but we've certainly seen our share of great QB/WR duos in the past, and how much of an asset it was to their respective teams. In a league that's only been trending more pass-heavy in recent years, the effect of it has only been heightened. Now it seems like every team in the league is trying to groom an elite QB/WR combination that can be effective for many years.
Not every team gets it right. It can be difficult to find that perfect passing combination, and keep it for the long-term. But for the teams that do, it's undeniably a huge advantage to their offense. Let's take a look at which ones are succeeding and failing in the league right now.
Ranked below are the 8 best and 7 worst QB/WR duos currently in the NFL.
15 Derek Carr/Amari Cooper (Best)
For the past two seasons, the Carr-Cooper connection has been the main catalyst that has turned the Raiders offense into one of the best in the league. They're a pair of some of the best young talents in the game today, and they'll have the longevity that has the potential to make them truly an all-time great combination.
You can bet that Cooper will have another 1,000 receiving yards this year with Carr throwing him the ball. That will probably be the case for the next five years at least, barring any kind of injury. Carr's varied skill set is perfectly matched Cooper's extensive use of the route tree. The scary part is that they're both not even in their statistical prime yet.
14 Matthew Stafford/Marvin Jones (Worst)
The Lions spent some serious coin to acquire Jones in the 2016 free agency period, but last season didn't see him live up to the expectations the team had for him. After a torrid start where it looked like he may have been one of the top receivers in the league, he sputtered out to an average season that left many questions in its wake.
The good news is that Stafford is a big-armed quarterback who is going to take risks (sometimes not to his benefit), and Jones has the ability to get open deep. Unfortunately, the Lions don't have enough other pieces on their offense to take the pressure off of Jones, and he's likely to have another so-so year in 2017. This is an iffy duo, because of both Stafford and Jones' inconsistency. There's hope for them to be decent, but they won't reach the upper echelon of the league as a duo.
13 Andy Dalton/A.J. Green (Best)
It's obvious that Dalton has his problems as a quarterback, and a lot of them are going to hurt the Bengals for as long as he remains the franchise player. One thing he doesn't have a problem with however, is getting the ball to Green on a regular basis. That shouldn't be surprising, because Green is undoubtedly one of the best receivers in the league. He's a nuanced route-runner, with the speed to beat the secondary deep seemingly at will.
Such a prime target for Dalton no doubt inflates his statistics, but you have to give him credit for knowing what he has on his hands. His game may be dead weight, but he's able to connect to Green with consistency, so as a duo, they're one of the best in the league. However, one player is clearly better than the other, and it's no secret as to who that is.
12 Alex Smith/Tyreek Hill (Worst)
With the surprise Jeremy Maclin cut that occurred during the offseason, the Chiefs all of a sudden have new position open for their go-to receiver. The likely candidate to take it is Hill, who had an impressive rookie season last year. The only issue is that he has the skill set of a gadget player; not one that is able to carry entire offense for four quarters every single game. Hill is a dynamic player, but he isn't a fully-formed wide receiver.
Smith has the reputation of being risk-averse, and for good reason. He won't force the ball down the field, but he also won't make many big plays with his arm either. Being limited to throwing the ball no further than 20 yards is a huge detriment to any receiver. Hill can get open deep if needed, but Smith doesn't have the capability of getting him the ball in that situation. The Chiefs may have a very shaky passing game this season.
11 Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton (Best)
This one is flying slightly under-the-radar, and it really shouldn't be. When healthy, Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He's cerebral and can make huge throws time and time again. Without question, his favorite target over the past few seasons has been Hilton. He can run routes all over the field, and Luck has the arm to deliver throws right on the money with relative ease.
Last season, Hilton had a breakout season, and it's not a surprise, due to Luck successfully coming off of the injury he sustained in 2015. If he can remain healthy, he'll give the Colts an elite quarterback to their name, and give Hilton plenty of opportunity for big plays. This has potential to be a duo that stands the test of time, and produces huge numbers for years to come.
10 Sam Bradford/Stefon Diggs (Worst)
Diggs emerged last season as the Vikings' preferred receiving target, and while he showcased flashes of brilliance, he wasn't able to put together the elite season that some thought he was capable of. Of course, Bradford is a risk-averse quarterback, and was brought in just before the season started, so some may argue that they weren't playing with a full deck.
It would be smart to remain skeptical on the Diggs-Bradford connection however. Their skill sets don't really mesh, and neither player has shown the ability to truly be great at their position. Expect a middling season from both of them, and for the Minnesota offense to go through its backfield first and foremost.
9 Eli Manning/Odell Beckham (Best)
Even though the rest of the Giants' offense is largely underwhelming, the Manning-Beckham connection is one of the most dynamic in the game right now. Sure, a lot of the credit should go to Beckham, as he has the ability to beat coverage on just about every play, but Manning does his part as well. They have a knack for making big plays on routes that are just designed to get a first down and move the chains.
That should remain consistent this season. Manning is getting older, but he's still certainly the Giants' starter. He doesn't need to hit Beckham deep every time to make an impact. A simple slant route is liable to be a touchdown on any given play. They have good chemistry with each other, and will be a lock to produce again this season.
8 Tom Brady/Julian Edelman (Worst)
This certainly isn't a knock on Brady, since the Patriots' offense doesn't really operate by having an elite receiver, but this is a duo that gets far too much credit. Edelman is essentially a possession receiver that can be schemed open because of other factors. He does his job well, but is sometimes viewed as elite, when he really isn't.
Brady is obviously one of the best ever, and while he has shown to have the chemistry with a traditional wide receiver (Randy Moss for example), the passing game often runs through tight ends or running backs first. It's a unique offense that New England has, but it works, and it isn't dependent on having one elite receiver for Brady to throw to.
7 Matt Ryan/Julio Jones (Best)
While Jones has been an elite receiver since coming into the league, last season was really Ryan's coming out party. He finally proved that he can perform as a truly elite NFL quarterback, and it certainly wasn't lost anyone as the season went on. All season long, the Ryan-Jones connection was a big play threat, and burned opposing defenses with regularity.
While the Falcons may have come up short in the Super Bowl (or rather, exhibited the biggest choke-job of all-time), they can at least take solace in the fact that they now have one of the best quarterbacks, and one of the best wide receivers in the game right now. Next season should be more of the same, and we can expect to see both of them excel, maybe posting their best season yet.
6 Blake Bortles/Allen Robinson (Worst)
This is a tough duo to really get a hold on, because they have exhibited great play before. There's just too much inconsistency however to warrant anything but skepticism, especially when it comes to Bortles. The former 3rd-overall pick has been frustratingly up-and-down during his three-year career, and this may be his ceiling when it comes down to it. There's room for Bottles to really make an impact on the league, but he keeps coming up short.
Robinson is a good receiver all the same, but other than his stellar 2015 season, he's been inconsistent as well. They're good individual players, but have a long way to go to prove that they're a top-notch NFL duo in the tradition of the league's best. Maybe new head coach Doug Marrone will help that materialize, but it seems to be an issue with the players themselves in this situation.
5 Jameis Winston/Mike Evans (Best)
Winston and Evans have proven themselves to be a prolific duo that can rack up touchdown production, and even with Tampa Bay's offense seeing some notable upgrades in the personnel department, that will likely continue into the 2017 season. There's no doubt that Evans is the favorite target for Winston, and that he'll get the opportunity necessary to have another big year. Maybe even his best yet.
As mentioned, even with DeSean Jackson in the fold, the offense is still going to run through Winston and Evans. They are the best skill players on the field, and will command the bulk of the production.
4 Jared Goff/Robert Woods (Worst)
Yikes. This isn't going to turn out well for the Rams. They inked Woods to an inexplicably large contract in the offseason, despite the fact that the former Bills receiver hasn't shown that he's anything more than a depth-level talent. He'll be replacing Kenny Britt as the go-to guy, and even then, Britt wasn't exactly a rousing success during his time with the team.
To make matters worse, Goff hasn't shown the kind of progress that you'd like to see out of a 1st overall pick. He'll need to make a big jump this year to show that he's even a sufficient NFL starter, much less before establishes a consistent connection with a go-to receiver. This just has failure written all over it for Los Angeles.
3 Aaron Rodgers/Jordy Nelson (Best)
When they're on their game, which is most of the time, this duo is almost infallible. Rodgers may be the most talented quarterback in football, and Nelson is a sure-handed, smooth route-runner who can work in tandem with Rodgers' arm strength to torch defenses. The Packers are going to throw the ball a ton as usual, so expect this duo to have another huge year in 2017.
While the goal for the team will be to figure out a way to get over the hump in the NFC playoff picture, the goal for Rodgers and Nelson will just be to keep producing at a high level. Consider them to be among the league's best yet again.
2 Cam Newton/Kelvin Benjamin (Worst)
When the Panthers invested a 1st-round pick into Benjamin in the 2014 offseason, they assumed that he would be the go-to target for Cam Newton for the long-term. While Benjamin's raw statistics are pretty good, a lot of it comes in garbage time, and there is a notable drop-off in his play when he's in typical game situations.
Carolina and Newton made a Super Bowl without the services of Benjamin, as he sat out of the 2015 season with an injury. It's fair to raise a question as to how important he really is for the Panthers' offense. Newton has had his own struggles with consistency, but Benjamin is the overall problem here, and if he falters, the Panthers will have no discernible go-to receiver that they can count on. Not a good position to be in with their receiving corps, when they have a quarterback as dynamic as Newton can be.
1 Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown (Best)
The duo of Brown and Big Ben is a legitimate touchdown threat on every play. There is no QB/WR combination that makes use of elite accuracy and arm strength from the quarterback, and dynamic ability from the receiver like this one does. Brown's skill set is almost unfathomable, even for this golden age of receivers, and Roethlisberger has the arm to justify the amount of deep shots that he takes. More often than not, the Steelers wind up successful when he does.
So you can count on this duo being the best in the NFL yet again, if Roehtlisberger is able to shake the injury bug and remain healthy. If you need a 25-yard pass play to win the game, you'd expect Brown and Big Ben to get it done more than any other duo in the league. Unfortunately, with Roethlisberger's retirement inevitably coming up soon (maybe as soon as the conclusion of this season), we won't get to see them together for much longer.
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