The top wide receivers in the NFL come in as diverse as any position group in the league. From athletic freaks to technically proficient route runners, the list has a bit of everything. The top 16 players all made an appearance on PFN’s Top 100 list. There was no democracy after that.
Top NFL wide receivers in 2021 | 1-10
From 1-10, these are the most elite group of the top NFL wide receivers. Every one of these players owns a trump card that makes them a nightmare for opposing defensive backs.
1. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers relies heavily on Davante Adams. His high volume and impressive release repertoire make him a menace to NFL defenses. Adams led the league with 98.1 yards per game in 2020. He also caught 77.2% of his targets, making him the most efficient wide receiver with more than 100 targets.
His 73 first downs were good for third-best behind Travis Kelce and DeAndre Hopkins. Adams also might have the best hands in the league. Despite his 149 targets, he only dropped 1 pass in 2020. He also caught a league-high 18 touchdowns and has had more than 10 touchdowns in four of the last five seasons.
He’s followed in the path of Antonio Brown, who was once considered the top wide receiver in the NFL despite not being a physical freak.
2. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Hill is the most terrifying offensive weapon in the NFL. His athletic ability is unmatched by any defender in the league, making him impossible to cover on a consistent basis. Add in Patrick Mahomes’ ability to create out of structure, and it’s game over.
Too many people think Hill is still just a downfield threat — they are very wrong. The undersized receiver separates incredibly well, and Andy Reid knows how to get guys open through his scheme. A lot of things work in Hill’s favor, but he makes his own luck.
He’s become more efficient as a receiver too. Despite still having a deep average depth of target (aDOT) at 12.9, he’s caught over 63% of his targets the past three seasons. Additionally, Hill has averaged 5 yards after the catch. Yet, it is his unrivaled play speed that makes him a nightmare for defenses.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
Many would argue that Hopkins is the best receiver in the league, and I wouldn’t disagree. He catches everything thrown his way. The only reason it’s called the “Hail Murray” and not the “Hail Hopkins” is because of the play on words involved with the first option.
Hopkins made that play happen like he makes most plays happen. His hands, length, and strength allow him to work through defenders to finish in contested situations. This isn’t to say he does not create separation — he can. However, he’s so dominant in contested situations that it can overshadow his other abilities.
4. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
It’s impossible to ignore just how much of a difference Stefon Diggs made for Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense. Diggs led the league with a hilarious 127 catches on just 166 targets and amassed 1,535 yards for the season.
Diggs is also the target in Buffalo, which means he sees the brunt of the defensive game plan. The Bills have good complements, but nothing around Diggs necessarily takes bodies away from him defensively. His ability to uncover is simply too great for defenders to contain. That ability to separate makes him one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.
5. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
It might be a bit early for Jefferson to be considered this high among the top wide receivers in the NFL. But it’s hard to argue against him, considering his only NFL season so far was All-Pro worthy. He should have won Rookie of the Year too, but all awards are quarterback awards at this point.
Jefferson “fell” in the draft because of a projection issue. See, Jefferson played almost primarily from the slot against off coverage while at LSU. In those situations, he was practically uncoverable. However, we didn’t know how he’d fair against press coverage.
We were all stupid. According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception project, Jefferson beat press coverage 82.3% of the time. That’s good for a mediocre 96th-percentile finish. Jefferson possesses incredible flexibility and some of the most consistent hands around.
The fact that he immediately took the WR1 job in Minnesota after Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs fought for it for years speaks volumes.
6. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown proved me wrong as a pro, and he did so with conviction. In Year 1, he broke out, averaging over 20 yards per reception and 12.5 yards per target, which was the best mark in the league. That number dropped a bit in 2021 as he became an even bigger part of the offense, but a few things remained.
Brown is a monster after the catch. His 6.2 yards after the catch per reception is the best of any high-volume receiver in the NFL (100+ targets). The next closest is DJ Moore at 5.8 yards.
Browns’ route-running savvy has led to where he is now. He’s become far more cerebral, and his understanding of leverage makes him difficult to contend against, given how physical he is along the route stem. The addition of Jones, who might still be the most physically gifted receiver in the league, should make things easier for Brown.
Add in Derrick Henry, and defenses won’t know what to put in the box.
7. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Robinson belongs in the discussion of top wide receivers in the NFL. He’s never played with an elite quarterback, yet he’s produced like a WR1 throughout his seven NFL seasons. Heck, he generated a 1,400-yard season with Blake Bortles. That’s impressive!
Then, in consecutive seasons with Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, he somehow managed over 1,100 yards in each season. Robinson also garnered over 150 targets in each of those seasons. His overall threat might be mitigated a bit with Andy Dalton slinging the pill, but hopefully, the insertion of Justin Fields proves therapeutic for Robinson playing in a contract year.
8. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Allen might not be the best route runner in the league, but if he isn’t, I don’t know who is. He’s not as slow as the 4.71 40-yard dash he ran at the combine while injured, but he’s certainly not a speed demon.
A receiver of Allen’s size simply shouldn’t be able to move the way he can. He possesses such good ankle flexion in and out of breaks and maintains speed on complex routes. His ability to sink, flip, and drive are unrivaled in a receiver his size.
9. Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans
Jones is still one of the top receivers in the NFL. Actually, when healthy, he could very well be the best receiver in the league. Despite playing through injury in 2020, Jones averaged over 85 yards per game. He also posted an 11.3 yards per target average, which was third-best in the league. Oh, and he did that while catching 75% of his targets.
While healthy in Week 1, Jones proved he could still play with his food. He’ll have an even higher-end complement in 2021 with A.J. Brown, which should take some pressure off him to be the guy in town. Calvin Ridley is a stud too, but Brown is on a different level.
Jones has the athletic ability to dominate defenders as a route runner, and he’s strong in every facet of the game as a receiver. At only 32, he’s still very much in a place to dominate the league.
10. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Metcalf doesn’t quite get the fanfare of his former Ole Miss teammate (Brown) despite being the physical freak of the top 10 receivers. The 6’3″, 230-pound receiver is carved from granite and formed with a jetpack strapped to his back.
Aside from Tyreek Hill, he’s probably the most terrifying downfield matchup in the league. Despite his size, Metcalf stacks and creates downfield separation with elite long speed. He also has improved his route running overall.
Despite being a downfield target, he caught 64.3% of his targets in 2020, averaging 10.1 yards per target. That number was tied for eighth in the league with his former college teammate. Going into his third season, Metcalf should become even more efficient as a route runner, and his efficiency should continue to rise in turn.
Top wide receivers in the NFL in 2021 | 11-32
11. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
12. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
13. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
14. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
15. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
16. Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
17. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
18. Will Fuller V, Miami Dolphins
19. DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers
20. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
21. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
22. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
23. Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
24. Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
25. Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26. Kenny Golladay, New York Giants
27. Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
28. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
29. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
30. Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
31. Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
32. Corey Davis, New York Jets