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Top 15 NFL receiving corps heading into 2018 season

Matt Johnson

There are several factors that impact a quarterback’s success in the NFL. One of the best ways teams can help them find success is by providing their passers with excellent receivers.

A strong receiving corps opens the doors for any quarterback to move down the field and help the team win. Wide receivers that create separation and get open consistently help make throws easier for quarterbacks and put points on the board. When a team has multiple receivers that excel in this area, it makes their entire offense even better.

Let’s take a look at the league’s top-15 NFL receiving corps entering the 2018 season.

1. Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy

Atlanta’s receiving corps is led by Jones, who finished second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,444) and led all players with at least 70 receptions in yards per catch (16.4). While teams focus their double coverage on Jones, Sanu serves as the possession receiver who racks up first downs. He is also often targeted near the goal line and finished tied for fifth in touchdowns (five) from inside the 10-yard line.

The addition of Ridley is what takes this group to the top. The 26th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Ridley plugs in perfectly to this offense as an excellent route runner who can create separation and get open all over the field.

Hardy is a quality fourth receiver who can step into the slot, while Marvin Hall’s 4.3-speed makes him a weapon stretch out a defense. Collectively, Atlanta’s group of talent and depth gives Matt Ryan the best group of receivers in the NFL.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Brown led the NFL in receiving yards (1,533) and 20-plus yard plays (27) last year. Teams still struggle to contain him even with double coverage, and things are only made worse for defensive coordinators with the emergency of Smith-Schuster. Last year, the rookie finished his rookie season with 917 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Together, the two could become the league’s best duo at wide receiver. Pair that with rookie receiver James Washington, who should step into Bryant’s role as a big-play threat, you have three strong weapons in a passing attack. Heyward-Bey gives Pittsburgh further speed and rounds out a group of receivers who can all beat teams deep.

3. New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Roger Lewis

Many will attribute this group’s ranking to OBJ, which is fair given how talented he is. Even with below-average play at the quarterback position (something Jones and Brown don’t experience) Beckham Jr. dominates opponents and the stat sheet.

Shepard deserves more recognition, though, after his 2017 season. In 11 games, the 24-year-old finished with 731 receiving yards and a career-best 12.4 YPC on 84 targets. He is now established as a strong No.2 option, and his effectiveness will rise playing on the outside in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Now New York needs one of Latimer or Lewis to step up as a No.3 receiver.

4. Kansas City Chiefs: Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson

The addition of Watkins to pair with Hill gives Kansas City two excellent deep threats who cause problems for defensive backs. Hill, who averaged 15.8 YPC last season, is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL and is notorious for torching man coverage (like this).

If teams want to help keep their cornerback from being turned into toast, they could shade a safety to his side. But that is more difficult with the addition of Watkins, who averaged 15.9 YPC in his first four seasons. Together the duo should excel, and either Conley or Robinson should be ready to step in as Kansas City’s third receiver who can help stretch the field for quarterback Patrick Mahomes rocket arm.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries

Tampa Bay is building quite the arsenal of weapons at wide receiver. Evans, who posted his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season, is capable of beating teams deep and inside the red zone. Paired with Evans is Jackson, who can still stretch the defense and beat single coverage, which gives Jameis Winston an option to work the defense downfield. As a result, it creates open areas for Godwin and Humphries.

Godwin, a third-round pick last season, is set for a larger role in 2018. In his final two games last season, he finished with 209 receiving yards on 10 targets. He will be an excellent third option in this group and more than ready to take over when Jackson departs. Humphries matches up extremely well in four-wide sets against secondary cornerbacks, giving Tampa Bay four great options on the field.

6. Los Angeles Chargers: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams

Allen ripped secondaries apart on a weekly basis and finished with 102 receptions for 1,393 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The 26-year-old is locked in as Philip Rivers favorite target and a threat to take it the distance or move the chains on every play.

He is joined by burners like Williams and Benjamin, both of whom averaged 16.5-plus YPC last season, and open up the middle of the field for Allen to work. Where this group could take a big step forward is if Williams, the No.7 overall pick in 2017, can take a major step forward and become a potential 1B to Allen’s 1A.

7. New England Patriots: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell

New England lost Brandin Cooks this offseason, but it filled most of the void with the return of Edelman. Tom Brady’s favorite target is back after missing 2017 with a torn ACL. While the 32-year-old is near the end of his peak, he will still find ways to produce this season with 80-plus receptions and 900-plus yards once again.

Hogan, who disappointed last season, is still capable of the 17.9 YPC during his first stint in New England. Meanwhile, Matthews can step in as New England’s primary slot receiver and rack up easy targets with defensive attention focused on Rob Gronkowski. New England completes its set of complementary receivers with the addition of Patterson to use as a weapon both as a receiver and running back, while Mitchell offers nice upside after he spent last year on injured reserve.

8. Los Angeles Rams: Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds

Los Angeles bid farewell to Watkins this offseason but immediately upgraded to Cooks. A deep threat in New England and New Orleans, Cooks now find himself with arguably the best offensive mind in Sean McCoy. He pairs nicely with Woods, who racked up 703 yards and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception in the first three months of the season.

Kupp shined as a rookie last season, finishing with 869 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 62 receptions. At 6-foot-2 with great instincts for the game, he fits in perfectly as the Rams’ slot receiver and should take another step forward in his second season.

9. Detroit Lions: Marvin Jones Jr., Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones

Golden Tate

Perhaps the most underrated receiving corps in the NFL, maybe this is the season the Lions will gain more recognition. Jones took another step forward with Detroit and recorded his first 1,000-yard season, while Tate finished with 1,000-plus yards for the third time in four seasons with the Lions.

The breakout player to watch is Golladay. He averaged 17 YPC on 28 receptions and found the end zone three times last season, with glimpses of a potentially dominant receiver. Locked in as Detroit’s third receive, Golladay should play a major role this season with the potential for a breakthrough year.

10. Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis

After years of a putrid offense with a barren roster, this offense is set for a breakthrough in 2018. One of the most gifted receivers in the league, Gordon gives Cleveland an excellent No. 1 receiver when he is on the field.

Landry adds a pass-catching machine to move the chains and draw more defensive attention away from Gordon. As a result, it opens up deep shots for Gordon and Callaway. While Coleman may not be long for Cleveland, he would be an excellent No. 4 receiver if the team keeps him and make Cleveland’s receivers nearly impossible to account for in four-wide sets.

11. Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins

The defending Super Bowl champions saw an opportunity to upgrade at wide receiver this offseason and did just that. The team replaced Torrey Smith with Wallace, who will complement this receiving group very well.

Jeffery received a $52 million extension after a strong season with nine touchdowns and 789 receiving yards in 2017. Pair his physical style with Agholor in the slot and it gives Philadelphia versatile weapons to attack with.

12. Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kendall Wright, Laquon Treadwell

If we ranked the best wide receiver duos on a team, Minnesota would finish inside the top three. Last season, Thielen and Diggs combined for 2,125 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. After Minnesota added Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator John De Filippo, Diggs and Thielen’s numbers could set new highs in 2018.

Minnesota just lacks in standout talent behind the duo. Wright is a solid slot receiver who will fits in nicely for Minnesota’s offense. Unfortunately for Minnesota, there is little depth behind him. A former first-round pick, Treadwell caught just 21 passes for 215 yards in two seasons. Behind the draft bust, Minnesota has next to nothing.

13. New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Coleman

This is certainly a receiving corps that could rise as the season unfolds. Thomas is one of the game’s best receivers, and he’ll have the numbers to back it up with Drew Brees under center. Meanwhile, Ginn Jr. averaged 14.8 YPC last season and finished the 2017 season with 15 catches for 20-plus yards.

The player that could vault this group firmly into the top-10 receiving corps is Meredith. The 25-year-old flashed talent in 2016 with 66 receptions for 888 receiving yards in his second season with Chicago. He missed 2017 with a torn ACL, then signed with New Orleans as a free agent this offseason. The talent and opportunity exist for success, now Meredith must stay healthy and be an effective contributor.

14. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Bruce Ellington, Keke Coutee

If Deshaun Watson can stay healthy, this becomes another potential top-10 corps later this season. If he gets hurt and Brandon Weeden takes over, Houston’s receivers tumble off this list.

Hopkins is an elite receiver and showed it last season with 1,378 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Fuller showed tremendous promise with Watson at quarterback. He fit in perfectly as Watson’s vertical threat in this offense and that should only continue in 2018. Ellington slots in as the No.3 receiver on this team and he could be a solid option pending health. Keep an eye on Coutee, who could surpass Braxton Miller and quickly earn snaps out of the slot.

15. Chicago Bears: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Anthony Miller, Josh Bellamy

Chicago’s receiving corps went from one the worst in the league to a top-15 group in a single offseason. The addition of Matt Nagy should inject life into Chicago’s offense much like McVay did last season for Los Angeles.

Nearly recovered from a torn ACL last season, Robinson is primed to be Chicago’s No. 1 receiver in a dynamic offense. Gabriel is a big-play threat and showed it in 2016  with 579 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 35 receptions. A poor 2017 season can be chalked up to bad playcalling, which won’t be a problem with Nagy in Chicago.

White, who played in five games in three seasons, is out of the spotlight and the team just hopes he can just stay healthy for once. If he doesn’t, expect Miller to be ready to step in as a rookie. Chicago provided Mitchell Trubisky with the talent necessary for success, now it’s up to him to achieve it.