In the modern NFL, wide receivers have supplanted running backs as the offenses most important position (outside of the quarterback, of course). Their versatility as athletes coupled with the increasingly protective rules offensive players enjoy have opened the floodgates for receivers to take over a dominant role in the game. It seems like there’s no better time to be receiver in NFL.
Though as we all know, with every good comes bad. Receivers may post great statistics and wow fans with splash plays, but who’s really making their presence felt during crunch time? That’s a tricky thing to determine, however, it’s vital knowledge for every owner, general manager, coach and quarterback alike.
So, in an effort to weed out the pretenders from the contenders, we’re diving into every NFL roster to assess each receiving corps the same way a league insider would. Without further ado, let’s get started.
32 Atlanta Falcons - Mohamed Sanu
To Dirty Bird fans out there who welcomed the signing of Sanu as a compliment to stud receiver Julio Jones, think again.
Sanu was drafted to be A.J. Green’s partner in crime in Cincinnati and that role fizzled out quickly with the emergence of Marvin Jones and pass-catching tight ends and running backs. Now, on a much-less talented roster and tasked with a greater role, Sanu’s true colors are becoming blatantly clear.
A one-trick pony to the core that was disguised by the Bengals bevy of weapons, Sanu is trying to re-write his career arc in Atlanta by becoming the steady possession receiver that Matt Ryan needs. Problem is Ryan already has better options in Jones and back-up receiver Aldrick Robinson, who is looking to replace him much like Jones (Marvin, that is) did back in Cincinnati. Atlanta needs to “Wise Up” (mocking their motto “Rise Up”) on Sanu and drop him before it’s too late.
31 Arizona Cardinals - Michael Floyd
This one pains me to write about because Floyd has shown flashes of promise throughout his young career, with the best example coming in a stellar November road game against Seattle last year where he burned Richard Sherman--twice--for touchdowns.
But those memories seem so distant now has Floyd’s star has flickered as of late. Ending last season mediocrely and facing constant pressure from other young Cardinals receivers John and Jaron Brown (no relation), Floyd could find himself looking for a new roster as he fails to make his snaps count.
He may get lucky if quarterback Carson Palmer’s level of play falls off a cliff, but the fact remains, if Floyd’s not out there making catches and picking up yards, head coach Bruce Arians will hastily find someone who will for a Cardinals team whose window is closing.
30 Baltimore Ravens - Kamar Aiken
Oh Kamar, you were living it up so well last year.
After then-rookie receiver Breshaud Perriman suffered a season-ending injury in training camp and Steve Smith, Sr. did as well by mid-season, Aiken became quarterback Joe Flacco’s number one target for weeks to come. And even though Flacco himself went down a few weeks after Smith did, Aiken still got to bask in the spotlight of being his team’s top target.
However that was then, and this is now. Perriman, Smith and Flacco are all back to full health (not including Flacco’s favorite target, tight end Dennis Pitta). That means Aiken needs to get re-acquainted with the sideline as that will be his primary vantage point throughout what will likely be a much better season for the Ravens. Aiken has always been a serviceable receiver in the NFL, but so many other players can pass with that same qualification, so expect Kamar to get re-acquainted with his sofa sooner rather than later.
29 Buffalo Bills - Robert Woods
Who is this guy again? I’m serious, who is this guy?
Unless you’re Sammy Watkins, LeSean McCoy or Charles Clay, quarterback Tyrod Taylor isn’t throwing the ball your way too much. That’s abundantly clear in Woods’ case, as he only snagged three touchdowns last year and just under 50 receptions (47).
Though if you look a little deeper at Woods’ stat line, it’s clear to see why. Even though he was targeted 80 times last year, Woods didn’t catch almost half of the balls thrown at him. Surprisingly (or not) the same thing also happened in 2014 and his rookie year of 2013.
If Buffalo has any offensive sense, they’ll keep Woods on a short leash this upcoming season. The 2013 second-round pick hasn’t made good on his high draft choice and they’d be foolish to reward him for it.
28 Carolina Panthers - Corey “Philly” Brown
The return of Kelvin Benjamin and rise of Devin Funchess have made it hard for last year’s fill-in superstars Brown and Ted Ginn, Jr. to find their way on the roster. However, Ginn still has returner speed and ability--Brown does not.
That puts Philly Brown firmly behind the 8-ball this season. Every reception Benjamin, and especially, Funchess earn just push him further and further away from playing meaningful minutes for the team like he did last year. It’s the NFL’s cold reality, but when you look at Brown’s career it’s not hard to imagine.
Outside of Cam Newton’s coming-out party last year, Brown has never been a key factor in his short career. And seeing how much of his role last year was based on circumstance instead of ability, it means his time in Carolina will also come to end soon.
27 Chicago Bears - Kevin White
It’s a bit unfair to think that Kevin White is already the worst receiver on his team. But history tells us that receivers who miss their first season usually don’t experience the same success as those healthy enough to play in theirs.
That spells trouble for White, who was looking to resume Chicago’s twin towers approach from two years ago when Alshon Jeffrey was flanked by Brandon Marshall. White may have the ability to succeed, but given how he was never truly tested by defenses at the collegiate level at West Virginia, fans shouldn’t be holding their breath that he will make an instant transition to NFL success.
Watch out, Chicago. White is primed to be a bust.
26 Cincinnati Bengals - Brandon Lafell
With Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones both skipping town for bigger paychecks, the Bengals decided to bring on the enigmatic Brandon Lafell in attempt to fulfill their roles.
Only problem is that Lafell succeeds in run-heavy systems like he did with his former teams in New England and Carolina before that. Translation: he’s a blocking receiver, not so much the Corvette everyone wants on the perimeter.
Injury forced Lafell’s late start last season, but even in 11 games as the relative big man in New England’s receiving corps (outside of Gronk, of course) he couldn’t haul in a single touchdown! That’s scary to ponder, and something Cincinnati should look into before asking much of Lafell.
25 Cleveland Browns - Terrelle Pryor
This is another one that feels slightly unfair because, technically, Pryor was drafted as a quarterback and converted to wide receiver to keep his career alive.
And while Pryor and now-injured quarterback Robert Griffin III had their moments in the preseason, it doesn’t mean Pryor will be out there tearing up defenses anytime soon. Actually, it means the opposite--they’ll likely tear him up once they’re accustomed to his rudimentary knowledge of the receiver position.
Leave it to the Browns to field a guy with no real shot in the league and set itself up for a season of beratement from peers. Is this what moneyball looks like?
24 Dallas Cowboys - Terrance Williams
Recency bias definitely spurred this decision, as Williams’ inability to get out of bounds against the New York Giants expedited their loss in Week 1. But Williams’ track record without superstar Dez Bryant opposite of him is not pretty.
Take last season. Bryant missed significant time with a foot injury after the season opener against, guess who, the Giants. In his time off, Williams only caught two touchdowns and failed to break into triple digits. On top of that, he wasn’t even targeted often.
You can blame the Cowboys terrible quarterback situation. However, that doesn’t give Williams an excuse to become more pedestrian as a receiver.
23 Denver Broncos - Jordan Norwood
A timely and record-setting punt return in Super Bowl 50 gave Norwood his moment in the sunshine, but outside of that he has nothing to his name.
Norwood’s you’re average journeyman NFL player, serving time on Philadelphia, Cleveland and currently Denver. Although in a six-year career he’s practically a poltergeist. Check out these stat totals: 10 starts, 86 targets, 612 yards and a whopping one touchdown.
He earned a respectable career as a special teamer, and that could keep him on rosters for a while longer, but Norwood’s not a real receiver.
22 Detroit Lions - Andre Roberts
I was off the Andre Roberts bandwagon once he left the talent-soaked squad at Arizona and signed a big deal with the Washington Redskins, but it seems some people still value his skill.
For what reason, I don’t know. Outside of a surprise kickoff return against the Carolina Panthers last year, Roberts’ season was defined by his hard hands than anything redeemable he did on the field.
The jury isn’t out on Roberts: he’s a receiver that needs, not only other big name receivers around him to shine, but also needs multiple opportunities for him to get it right. Sounds like the epitome of someone who’ll be on a short leash on every NFL team he joins, and even worse, someone who’s becoming more and more disposable.
21 Green Bay Packers - Jeff Janis
Despite the heroics in last year’s playoff game against the Cardinals and a knack for getting some decent yards in kick returns, whenever Janis is on the field he’s usually not making much of a difference.
He’s been pegged as the fifth or sixth option for stud quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who often prefers his passes end up in the hands of Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers or Eddie Lacy before finding their way to Janis. And Janis’ putrid statline supports Rodgers’ tentative nature, with career totals of 14 targets, four catches and 95 yards.
Janis does have two postseason touchdowns (both of which came against the Cardinals in last year’s playoffs) but having a big game only matters for 6 days if you win and not at all if you lose. Green Bay’s loss damns Janis’ one impressive game to obscurity and leaves him hung out to dry at the mercy of his weak resume.
20 Houston Texans - Jaelen Strong
This guy is a serious fringe player, especially now with the additions of rookies Will Fuller and Braxton Miller (who got the start Week 1).
Even in last year’s depleted receiving corps that only sported a studly DeAndre Hopkins, Strong couldn’t carve out much of a role as a rookie. Fuller and Miller entering the mix make it next to impossible for Strong to get an opportunity on the field or maybe even another job. Without game film out there, how can he find a team to play for?
Strong will be riding off potential, not credentials, to keep playing receiver in the league. He’s most likely on borrowed time.
19 Indianapolis Colts - Quan Bray
If this were a list about top return men in the league, maybe Quan Bray would be added on it. Then again, so would Jordan Norwood.
Perspective, folks--it matters. And when looking at Bray’s receiving ability, it’s pretty limited. Sure, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Dwayne Allen don’t help matters for Bray’s playing time. But if you have talent in the NFL--scrap that, in sports in general--then you don’t get ignored on a depth chart.
Bray’s lucky to have a niche role on a competitive team. Just make sure he’s studying kickoff coverages and not defensive coverages.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars - Denard Robinson
Remember, Denard? The once electric college quarterback who was keeping Brady Hoke’s career afloat during his head coaching stint at Michigan.
Well, Denard didn’t have what it took to cut it as an NFL quarterback and now seems we can say the same as a receiver. Thanks to Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, Julian Thomas and even back-up former USC stud Marqise Lee on the roster, Jacksonville reconciled for their mistake in drafting Robinson quick.
It still sucks for the guy. Robinson was a joy to watch on fall saturdays and really did keep Michigan interesting when they were giving the world plenty of reasons not to. Although the NFL is ultimately a business, and it seems Robinson’s skills don’t meet the bottom line at any position.
17 Kansas City Chiefs - Albert Wilson
Another casualty from the NFL’s version of natural selection, Wilson’s time on the Chiefs is running short due to the influx of new recruits and the stability options already present.
It doesn’t help matters that Wilson is a measly 5’9, 170 pounds. It also doesn’t help that he can’t find his way on the field. Maybe it’s for the best as his rookie replacements have the vitality (and the height) to make his two-year career a little briefer.
Hopefully Wilson has another marketable talent because it looks like his athleticism can’t get him much farther.
16 Los Angeles Rams - Tavon Austin
Austin has been the one receiver worth knowing on the Rams putrid offense, but even his abilities (or lack thereof) are limited in the star role.
Listed as the primary receiver, Austin mainly catches his passes out of the backfied for quick screens or swing routes. That means more often than other receivers, Austin will be tackled for negative gains and fail to actually contribute to his offense. I’m not sure how that helps anyone on the Rams other than fantasy football owners of Todd Gurley, who will get more carries as a result.
For the Rams to move forward as a team, they have to leave Austin behind. You can’t build a receiving game around a fun-sized pass-catcher--height matters too much in the modern NFL game.
15 Miami Dolphins - Kenny Stills
Stills was a wide receiver drafted by the New Orleans Saints, so clearly there were high intentions with the guy.
However, he didn’t pass the test for quarterback Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Free agency saw him land in the company of Ryan Tannehill and now we can get a good estimation of how valuable Stills actually is.
In 2016’s opening game Stills dropped a sure touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks and likely cost his team the game, so safe to say the year hasn’t started out on the right note. If Brees and Payton sent him packing, it’s not hard to think he’s on the fast-lane for an NFL exit if he keeps, literally, dropping the ball.
14 Minnesota Vikings - Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson was slated as the receiving savior for Minnesota when drafted and was supposed to grow alongside a young Teddy Bridgewater into Minnesota succes.
Well, with the arrival of Stefon Diggs and early career of Laquon Treadwell, it’s looking like Minnesota is moving on from Patterson and the potential he once had. He continues to remain valuable as a returner, but when it comes to running routes he’s less than stellar.
Circumstance is putting Patterson between a rock and a hard place. Of course, he did have his time, and now appears to be old news up north.
13 New England Patriots - Danny Amendola
Injury has kept Amendola off and on the roster in New England, but even when he’s on the field he’s not wowing anyone with his play.
Amendola has essentially become the other (short) white guy behind Julian Edelman. And just like Cobb earlier in this list and Wes Welker before him, Amendola is perfect for interior crossing patterns New England loves to run.
Outside of that system though, he’s just another guy. Bill Belichick save Amendola from the then-St. Louis Rams, but he’ll also be the one to end his career.
12 New Orleans Saints - Coby Fleener
Fleener marks the first tight end to make it on this list and is only on because there’s not enough evidence for me to condemn Willie Snead yet for his untimely drops.
Even so, the Saints believe they obtained a nice replacement for Jimmy Graham with Fleener’s large frame and soft hands. However, they’ll soon find out that Fleener’s success on the field was not only A) attributed to his pre-existing relationship with Andrew Luck (both went to Stanford) and B) a product of the Luck’s supreme ability.
Don’t get me wrong, Brees is great, but he’s nowhere near his prime. Brees doesn’t have the strength to uplift talentless players much longer, and Fleener might be the first indication of that.
11 New York Giants - Victor Cruz
Cruz is an anomaly that could have a remarkable bounceback year. A touchdown against the Cowboys in his first game back gives that statement credence.
But he’s just finding his way back into the NFL groove and still could be an injury liability. Plus, he hasn’t had to test his skills against skilled competition, and the additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and now rookie Sterling Shepard have kept him in cozy coverage situations.
Like I said, Cruz could break out again, but until he does he’s been the biggest disappointment for the Giants receiving corps over the past two seasons.
10 New York Jets - Devin Smith
Similar to Jaelen Strong from the Houston Texans, Smith is a big-tim fringe player who looks to become a receiving loss due to the arrival of three new rookies.
The Jets do run some five-wide sets that make use of Smith now, but the organization is banking on the development of younger players and is using Smith as a stop-gap until they get there. Just like with Strong, it’s unfortunate for Smith because he lacks a lot of good film and now seems to have way to get any with more competition on the squad.
It’s a matter of time with Smith, who will likely end up watching football from home very soon.
9 Oakland Raiders - Andre Holmes
The relative giant on a small receiving corps, a 6’5 Holmes has carved out his role as red zone target for quarterback Derek Carr. Only problem is outside of that niche need, Carr nor the offense of the Oakland Raiders relies on Holmes and his production will soon be replaced by newer prospects.
Holmes has had moderate success in the league since coming out of little known Hillsdale college, but it’s not enough to keep him around much longer. Since his peak season in 2014 with 99 targets, 693 yards and four touchdowns, Holmes production has dropped significantly. The arrival of a proven Michael Crabtree and the rising star of second-year man Amari Cooper have all but opened the exit door on Holmes time in Oakland.
It appears the best isn't yet to come for Holmes, who will be looking for a new roster to play on come next year.
8 Philadelphia Eagles - Nelson Agholor
Agholor was drafted high by Chip Kelly in his final year and intended to be one of the first pieces he brought on to replace Desean Jackson. With 17 games under his belt though, Agholor is looking more and more like a surefire bust than anything else.
Philly media has shown an outpouring of support for Agholor in recent weeks, who has vied for competency behind growing star Jordan Matthews, but hopes will be squashed as the Eagles come across more serious competition in the near future. Agholor’s one touchdown from last season and inability to garner more than three targets a game make his upside fairly limited.
If Kelly’s high-flying offense couldn’t get Agholor off the ground, then it’s not likely new head coach Doug Pedersen’s will either.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers - Martavis Bryant
As Marty Schottenheimer once said, “A part of having ability, is availability.”
That summarizes Bryant’s short NFL career since he’s been explosive for the time he’s on the field--catching 14 touchdowns in the 21 games he’s played in--but has trouble getting into the action during the season’s opening weeks (he’s never played a game before Week 6).
That trend continues this year with another delayed start to the season. Bryant is currently serving a four-game suspension for breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policy, but clearly possesses the chops to make it in the league. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh will look to move on from Bryant once another viable--and more reliable--player comes along.
6 San Diego Chargers - Stevie Johnson
Stevie Johnson was Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins before, you know, they actually got Sammy Watkins. He had decent height and build, speed and shifty nature that made him a solid starting wide receiver for Bills for a couple of years.
However, his admirable time in Buffalo was defined more by a big drop against the Steelers in overtime and celebration that mocked former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress’ incident where he shot himself in the foot (literally). Now as a Charger, Johnson is having a hard time distancing himself from veterans Eddie Royal, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead as quarterback Philip Rivers’ favorite targets.
Luckily for Johnson, Keenan Allen is out for the year so he’ll likely finish the season in San Diego. After that, who knows what’s next for this guy’s up and down career.
5 San Francisco 49ers - Torrey Smith
Smith was a key part of the Baltimore Ravens improbable Super Bowl run in 2012 and was a huge reason they experienced the success they did during that postseason.
Though following that breakout four-game streak, Smith has been a vanilla receiver that’s failed to make his mark in the league. As always, you can put some of the blame on quarterbacks who’re tossing him the ball, but you can’t let be an excuse. DeAndre Hopkins has made Houston’s carousel of quarterbacks look competent, so no reason a guy like Smith couldn’t.
It’s sad to write him off because Smith did have an enormous 11-touchdown year in 2014 with Baltimore before being let go. If he can find a way to channel that ability again, he’ll remain in the league, but as it stands now he’s been a disappointment in San Francisco.
4 Seattle Seahawks - Jermaine Kearse
With the budding chemistry of Doug Baldwin and Russell Wilson and the emphasis on getting Jimmy Graham the ball more, it seems Kearse is being pushed to the side.
The general pubic might be shocked by this, as Kearse made big plays in back-to-back Super Bowls against the Broncos and Patriots, respectively. But outside of those flashes in the pan, Kearse has been just another receiver who’s curried favor with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
That relationship has gotten him snaps and playtime, but it can’t hide the fact that he’s a mediocre talent in the game. Kearse is looking more and more irrelevant as Tyler Lockett’s career takes off, spelling trouble for his NFL hopes.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Vincent Jackson
Another player who was supposed to lead a skyscraper-sized receiving corps along with fellow giant Mike Evans, Jackson’s star has faded with his age.
There’s nothing wrong with that. V-Jax had a good run in San Diego with Philip Rivers and was able to make something out fo nothing in Tampa Bay when Mike Glennon was throwing him passess as well as a rookie Jameis Winston. Still, father time has caught up to Jackson and it seems his time as perimeter threat are coming to an end.
Nothing to fret about on Jackson’s case. He’s made his plays and his money, now it’s time for him to get out of the league while he can still walk.
2 Tennessee Titans - Andre Johnson
Andre, Andre, Andre...when will you learn?
After failing to prosper in his (albeit, short) time with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis last year, Johnson has now moved onto another AFC South squad in Tennessee. Maybe it’s out of spite he’s jumped onto teams that play his former Texans twice a year, or just simply the options being presented to him.
Either way, Johnson has become borderline embarrassing to watch when he’s outside of Texas state lines. It’s time for Andre to wise up like the rest of us have and just call it quits, before he becomes berated for being a has-been any longer.
1 Washington Redskins - Ryan Grant
Little known Ryan Grant has been a stable player on Washington’s roster since 2014, making big plays and catches in moments that don’t translate to the stat sheet. But given the influx of talent at the receiver position for DC it seems that Grant’s tenure will come to a close sooner rather than later.
Grant has lost reps due to the arrival of Desean Jackson, emergence of Jordan Reed and the drafting of receivers in consecutive drafts with Jamison Crowder (2015) and Josh Doctson (2016). Those players have higher floors and ceilings than Grant and are all able to make the most out of their opportunities in Washington’s west-coast offense that requires players with supreme skill to compensate for shoddy quarterback play.
It was real, and it was fun, but it wasn't real fun, Ryan. Better luck on another NFL roster in the future.