Ranking the 10 best wide receivers in the NFL
The NFL has become a heavy passing league in recent years, so it’s no surprise there is an abundance of extremely talented wide receivers.
In 2016, 25 wide receivers eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season. 34 eclipsed 900 yards on the season and 41 gained at least 850 yards or more. And perhaps more impressively, 24 different wide receivers scored seven or more touchdowns.
Needless to say, this overflowing amount of talent has led to an interesting and ongoing debate: who are the best wide receivers in the NFL?
Let’s take a look at the top 10.
10. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Thomas’ production took a bit of a hit in the aftermath of Peyton Manning’s retirement, but that was more of a product of the Broncos’ search to replace the future Hall of Famer and not necessarily Thomas himself.
Despite the clear drop off at the quarterback position, Thomas still managed to haul in 90 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns a season ago. That extended his streak of 90-plus receptions, 1,000-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns to five straight seasons.
Unsurprisingly, Thomas’ peak coincided with Manning’s three most successful seasons in Denver. He averaged 99 receptions, 1,494 yards and nearly 12 touchdowns per season from 2012-2014. He’s still going strong even since Manning’s retirement.
Any way you slice it, Thomas remains one of the best wide receivers in football. The fact that he was still able to put up those numbers with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch throwing him passes makes it even more impressive.
9. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Similar to Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins has seen his production take a hit as the result of wildly inconsistent — and sometimes downright poor — quarterback play in Houston.
If Hopkins were paired with a better quarterback, there’d be a legitimate argument that’s he’s far better than the No. 9 wide receiver in football. But that’s not the hand he’s been dealt and as a result, he’s not ranked as highly as he potentially could be.
Still, with the under-performing Brock Osweiler and spot-starting Tom Savage under center, Hopkins managed to haul in 78 receptions for 954 yards and four touchdowns last year. But a far better gauge of Hopkins’ talent came in 2015 when he hauled in 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Over the past three seasons, Hopkins has averaged 88 catches, 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns per season.
If the numbers on Hopkins don’t do it for you, put on the film; Hopkins is as athletically gifted as they come.
8. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
If T.Y. Hilton were to play in a larger market than Indianapolis, he’d likely be considered among the superstars in the NFL.
Since the moment Hilton stepped onto the scene in 2012, he’s proven himself to be a elite receiver who’s only getting better. And since becoming a full-time starter in 2014, he’s been nothing short of dominant.
Hilton had the best season of his career in 2016, finishing with 91 receptions for a league-leading 1,448 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers brought his career totals to 374 receptions for 5,861 yards and 30 touchdowns.
In his five seasons, Hilton has consistently sat near the top of the league in targets (130-plus for four straight seasons) and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. If he could somehow find the end zone with a bit more frequency, he’d certainly rise on any top wide receivers chart in the NFL.
7. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
It took Jordy Nelson several years to shed his “role player” label in Green Bay, but when finally given the opportunity, he seized it.
Nelson exploded onto the scene in 2011 with over 1,250 yards and an impressive 15 touchdowns, and he never looked back. Unfortunately, injuries in 2012 limited him a bit and then he lost the entire 2015 season after suffering a torn ACL.
Entering last season, no one really knew what to expect out of Nelson, who made his name as an explosive, quick-cutting wide receiver. There was concern that his ACL injury may change his style of play and subsequently limit his production, but he didn’t appear to miss a beat.
Nelson returned to haul in 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns, once again establishing himself as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. The numbers were very close to his stellar 2014 season in which he caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns.
6. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Dez Bryant should easily be in the top four or five wide receivers in football, but injuries have slowed him down dramatically in each of the past two seasons. Still, he’s productive enough and dangerous enough on the field to warrant a high placement.
While he’s hauled in no more than 50 receptions for 796 yards and eight touchdowns in either of the last two seasons, his body of work prior to that has proven his game-changing ability beyond a shadow of a doubt.
During his best three-year stretch from 2012-2014, Bryant averaged 91 receptions, 1,312 yards and nearly 14 touchdowns per season.
If Bryant can return healthy and play a full 16 games in 2017, he can reestablish himself as a top-five wide receiver. If not, he may slip even further down when this discussion arises.
For now, we still believe Bryant remains one of the very best in the game when healthy.