Top 11 wide receiver corps heading into the 2021 NFL season

Another day, another argument in the office. I’m trying to line up a 9 iron over a set of trees up onto the green, and as I address the ball, the Slack channel starts blowing up on my phone — arguing about who the best wide receiver corps are in the NFL.

No, that seriously happened. I caught up on a formidable argument over whether the Miami Dolphins or Denver Broncos have the better group and where they rank in the league overall. So, we had a meeting, made our cases, and ranked the top 11.

Top wide receiver corps in the NFL | 6-11

Before we get there, we need to set the scene. We legitimately made arguments that the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Football Team, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49ers all deserve a shot on the list. But eventually, the 11th spot on the top NFL wide receiver corps’ list came down to the Dolphins and the Broncos. The Dolphins won in a tiebreaker, with my vote as the deciding factor.

The Broncos’ group of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and K.J. Hamler is impressive. Sutton flashed true WR1 ability when healthy. If he can get into a rhythm with Drew Lock, he could put up some serious numbers. Jeudy is already one of the best route runners in the NFL. However, the drops are an issue — as they were in college — but he should be a high-volume target who keeps the drop percentage somewhat steady.

Patrick is a good athlete who stacks vertically well and really snaps off back to the quarterback well on stopping routes. He’s shown the ability to manipulate defenders’ leverage to create separation. Hamler, meanwhile, is a great fourth option, but he needs to become more consistent and efficient as a target.

11) Miami Dolphins

In the end, it came down to the old side-by-side. Do we think that DeVante Parker is better than Sutton? We gave the edge to Sutton here, but it was a tight race. Jaylen Waddle and Jeudy were practically a wash. Both are great prospects, but neither has the NFL résumé to really get a solid feel.

It all came down to Will Fuller being very good when he’s healthy. In fact, his yards per target are up there with prime Demaryius Thomas. Additionally, Preston Williams and Albert Wilson as fourth and fifth options are no pushovers. 

It’s important to stand on the table when one has a strong opinion. Waddle is going to be a star. He brings something to the Dolphins’ offense they lacked previously as a top wide receiver corps. Before the addition of Fuller, they employed big-bodied jump ball specialists. Tua Tagovailoa now has receivers that can work all three levels of the field, and Waddle is a weapon behind the line of scrimmage as well.

Eventually, we’ll look at Waddle in a similar way as we do Tyreek Hill on the field.

10) Arizona Cardinals

This ranking comes down to DeAndre Hopkins carrying around the stale bodies of his teammates, as he always has. Okay, it’s not that bad. Nuk is just that special.

We don’t know what to think about A.J. Green. If he simply checked out of Cincinnati, he could be a solid contributor for the Cardinals. Still, his tape from 2020 is not pretty. If he wasn’t checked out, he probably shouldn’t even see the field for Arizona as they have other options.

Although Christian Kirk hasn’t lived up to his draft billing, he’s certainly not been useless. His depth of target has increased in each season so far, and he possesses consistent hands.

Rondale Moore is an even freakier athlete than Waddle. Get the ball in his hands and keep him away from the soft tissue injuries, and good things will happen. Andy Isabella has been underwhelming, but as a fifth option, his speed is a valuable asset.

9) Minnesota Vikings

It’s Justin Jefferson and a now 31-year-old Adam Thielen who saw his role in the offense diminish in 2020, and then not much of anything. Nevertheless, they still deserve a spot in the top wide receiver corps of the NFL because Jefferson is that darned good.

I’ve never seen somebody able to eat up cushion like Jefferson can. The rocker step he uses as he stems against off coverage can make cornerbacks and safeties look like a point guard who just had their ankles broken on a crossover. It’s almost a Euro step.

The one question many had about Jefferson is how he would fare against press coverage, which is something he didn’t see much of at LSU. Well, Matt Harmon put in the work in his Reception Perception Project to find out. Jefferson ranked in the 96th percentile against press coverage, despite facing it almost 30% of the time.

Add in the fact that his hands are seemingly unwavering, whether open or contested, and we’re looking at a professional separator at the highest level. Jefferson might not match the production of his insane rookie season because that’s asking a whole lot from any player, but it won’t be because he’s any less open.

On the other hand, Thielen should be a fine option as a WR2 in the Vikings’ offense. However, Minnesota doesn’t have much of anything past him and Jefferson. Therefore, I’d expect a lot of heavy personnel usage in the Vikings’ future.

8) Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a top wide receiving corps despite being an incredibly young group. Ja’Marr Chase hasn’t played a snap yet, but he went to the perfect situation. He has already gone bonkers with Joe Burrow. To the point where, as a 19-year-old, Chase outpaced Jefferson in the same LSU offense. I’m not saying he’ll have that type of impact as a rookie, but we should be able to confidently assume he’ll press for 1,000 yards as a rookie.

Tee Higgins hit the ground running in Year 1. If Burrow doesn’t go down in Week 10, there’s a good chance Higgins goes for 1,000 yards as a rookie. Tyler Boyd’s already recorded two 1,000-yard seasons and is still presumably enters 2021 as the third option. That’s a pretty potent trio of receiving options.

7) Cleveland Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. will eventually get back to 100% long enough for us to catch a glimpse of his greatness. He probably won’t play 16 games, though — a feat he’s only achieved twice in his seven-year career.

Even behind OBJ, his LSU pal Jarvis Landry receives hate like he took the last beer out of the fridge and poured it straight onto the carpet. Regardless, he’s consistently been a high-volume chain mover, which is not an insignificant role.

Rashard Higgins continues as a decent WR3 option who would be a treat if he was the fourth on the depth chart. That could very well happen with Donovan Peoples-Jones being the big-play threat he is. DPJ didn’t provide much production in his rookie campaign, but he caught 70% of his targets and averaged a nutty 15.2 yards per target. Then, Cleveland drafted Anthony Schwartz in Round 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft, who is one of the fastest players in the league.

6) Kansas City Chiefs

Let’s be realistic for a second. This offense from a receiving standpoint is Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and then a lot of unknown. Nonetheless, Kelce has the TE designation and is therefore not included in this discussion.

Still, the Chiefs are one of the top wide receiving corps in the NFL because Hill is the most dangerous weapon in the league. Losing Sammy Watkins was tough for the Chiefs, but their offense has unique weapons. Mecole Hardman is a decently efficient target, but he hasn’t been the game-breaker we believed he could be coming out of college.

Demarcus Robinson is someone who seems to thrive finding openings in spot drop zone coverage schemes. What will he do with a bigger role in the offense now that Watkins left town in free agency?

With that development, Byron Pringle becomes the presumed fourth option. He hasn’t had many opportunities, but he’s caught 25 of his 33 career targets.


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