8. Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown
If young deep threats Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant can play to their potential this season, then Ben Roethlisberger could have one of the most dynamic wide receiver groupings in the NFL. Antonio Brown is as fast as any receiver in this league, and he broke out in a huge way in 2013 with 110 receptions for nearly 1,500 yards as one of the most productive wideouts. His 66.3% catch rate jumps off the page, and Brown is another one of those receivers who can dominate in just about every facet. He averaged six yards after the catch per reception last season, per the Pro Football Focus, and he could be even more efficient next season than his nine yards per target last year.
9. Green Bay Packers Jordy Nelson
Maybe he benefits too much from Aaron Rodgers and impressive pass-catchers around him, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Nelson belongs in the top ten (he and Dez Bryant are pretty much interchangeable). Nelson can dominate in the slot (as the Minnesota Vikings found out the hard way) or on the outside, and he’s elite on back-shoulder throws. Rodgers and Nelson are the best WR-QB combo on deep throws, and that’s a testament to Nelson’s long speed. This is a guy who can move the chains on intermediate routes or burn defenses, and a blown coverage by a safety is a disaster waiting to happen against the Packers, especially if Nelson is running a post route. No wide receiver in the top 15 for receiving yards had a higher catch rate than Nelson’s 66.9%, though Brown was just 0.6% off the pace.
10. Dallas Cowboys Dez Bryant
If this list were only about physical tools, then Dez Bryant would be locked into the top five. As it stands, I feel like I’m slighting him a little bit by ranking him this low, but that’s only because of my great admiration for the names in front of him. Bryant is as athletic as anyone in this league, and his catch rate and body control are envious. A true No. 1 receiver in every sense, Bryant’s only weakness are consistency and route-running. With 13 touchdowns last season, Bryant established himself as a top-notch red zone weapon, and Tony Romo can pretty much throw it to a spot with the knowledge that Bryant can get it. Sometimes, it seems like only Marshall, Graham, and Megatron are capable of that. Bryant’s 58.5% catch rate looks like the lone blemish on his resume from last season, as he has the upside to explode next year.
11. Arizona Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald
It’s fair to wonder if Michael Floyd will surpass him, but it’s also fair to wonder if it’s Floyd who benefits statistically from Fitzgerald drawing coverage. As consistent as ever, Fitzgerald is one of the smartest wide receives in the league, and his reliability would be accentuated if he had a better QB than the aging, mediocre Carson Palmer. Fitzgerald is still an elite red zone weapon (ten TDs), and his league-low drop rate, per PFF, is a testament to the aforementioned reliability of the former Pitt star. This ranking might be a based on reputation a bit to some, but I think it’s low if anything. I mean, this is a guy whose numbers are skewed because he plays with a below-average QB, and the numbers don’t do justice to his incredible football IQ.
12. Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery benefited from the attention that Bears No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall drew, but Jeffery would be a No. 1 receiver on most other teams in the NFL due to his own skill-set. A long-strider who can burn defenses downfield, Jeffery has some of the best ball skills in the NFL. He seemed to break out of nowhere in 2013, but Jay Cutler‘s training camp praise was a precursor for what was to come, as savvy/lucky fantasy owners soon found out. With 89 receptions for 1,421 yards last season, Jeffery was one of the top receivers in the league, and a top ten ranking could be in store in the near future. Capable of making “wow” catches, Jeffery commands plenty of attention in his own right, because he can blow by defensive backs and knows how to gain separation at the end of his routes.
13. Atlanta Falcons Roddy White
The argument for the best wide receiver duo in the league is a difficult one, because the Bears, Falcons, and Washington Redskins boast some of the most formidable weapons in the game. White also struggled with injuries last season, but he still managed to catch 63 passes. He started to look like the “real” Roddy White near the end of the season once his injuries subsided, and he was phenomenal in a narrow loss to the San Francisco 49ers, helping to make the sendoff of Candlestick Park a memorable affair. White averaged a solid 7.1 yards per target last year, and his route-running and strength help make him a vital piece of the Falcons attack. He and Jones work perfectly together, and the Falcons need both to be healthy in order to have a season resembling their 2012 campaign. Matt Ryan is a great quarterback, but it’s fair to say that he has an even better wide receiver tandem on his hands.
14. San Diego Chargers Keenan Allen
I wonder what people will think of this ranking, because you could make the case that Allen is either too low or too high on this list. I fell in love with Allen’s game at Cal, because he was one of the most refined route-runners I’ve seen in the college game. There are few receivers who are as good as Allen in the intermediate game, and he’s a perfect match as Philip Rivers‘s No. 1 target, because there are few QBs as accurate or as good in the intermediate game as Rivers. The Chargers offense was a well-oiled machine last year, and Allen was easily the team’s most valuable pass-catcher. Not only did Allen catch a whopping 68.3% of everything thrown at him to show off his capabilities as a possession receiver, but the rookie showed some playmaking by averaging 14.7 yards per reception and six YAC per pop. Impressive, huh?
15. Washington Redskins DeSean Jackson
Pierre Garcon may have led the league in receptions last year, but he also had a league-leading 182 targets. While he is a great receiver in his own right and carried the team’s passing attack in RG3‘s rookie year, he now has plenty of help. Rookie TE Jordan Reed emerged as a big-time weapon last year, and Garcon now has a partner in crime at the wide receiver position in DeSean Jackson. The Redskins came into the offseason with a big need for a legitimate No. 2 receiver, which is something Mike Shanahan never really seemed to care for.
I used to criticize D-Jax heavily for being overrated, a one-trick pony, inconsistent, and not a true No. 1 receiver, but he looked like a true No. 1 last year. With 16.2 yards per reception, a 65.1% catch rate, and 10.6 yards per target, the production was certainly there. But the explosive playmaker also became a consistent WR1 for the first time, as he had the highest WR rating (the exact formula for QB Rating applied to WRs) in the league last year, per PFF. He also had the seventh-lowest drop rate among qualifiers, and his ability to improve his hands and route-running made him a true monster for the Philadelphia Eagles last year. Hopefully he doesn’t rock the boat in Washington, because lord knows they don’t need any drama after last year’s sagas.