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The NFL Continues to Become a Receiver-Driven League

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 16, 2022

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The Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles are all off to great starts in 2022, thanks in large part to standout wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown. Those three stars caught a combined 27 of the 33 passes thrown their way in Week 1 victories.

Meanwhile, the only other wideouts with more than 121 yards receiving last weekend were familiar elite pass-catchers Davante Adams, Ja'Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp of the Las Vegas Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, respectively. Those teams weren't as fortunate, but big numbers from them as well as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Indianapolis Colts top weapon Michael Pittman Jr. served as yet another reminder that the NFL's shifting focus to dominant receivers is evident and justified.

All eight of those league-leading receivers play for teams that currently rank in the top 15 in Bleacher Report's NFL power rankings. Most of the other seven teams in that group aren't exactly hurting for wideouts, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Mike Evans/Julio Jones), Los Angeles Chargers (Keenan Allen/Mike Williams), Baltimore Ravens (Rashod Bateman), New Orleans Saints (Michael Thomas/Jarvis Landry), Miami Dolphins (Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle) and Denver Broncos (Jerry Jeudy/Courtland Sutton) all in "good hands."

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On the other side of the coin, teams that struggled offensively out of the gate—the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, to name a few—lack clear-cut game-changing wide receivers.

One week doesn't a trend make, but it's got to feel like reaffirmation entering the second weekend of the season for those who supported the shift to emphasizing receivers in recent offseasons.

And that movement has carried over to the draft, where one-third of the first 18 players selected in the 2022 edition were wide receivers, with seven more going off the board in Round 2.

That was extraordinary but not surprising when you consider that 17 wideouts have been chosen in the first round of the past three drafts combined, compared to just seven in the preceding three-year span between 2017 and 2019.

It's not as though every member of that 17-receiver group has flourished (see Jalen Reagor during his time with the Eagles and New York Giants sophomore Kadarius Toney), but Jefferson, Chase, Waddle, Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia's DeVonta Smith have flashed to varying degrees.

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Meanwhile, rookie first-round pass-catchers Drake London and Jahan Dotson stood out for the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Commanders, respectively in Week 1. (And we'd be remiss not to mention Atlanta's Kyle Pitts, who, like Kelce, is a game-altering receiver at the tight end position.)

So yeah, it's easy to understand and track the leaguewide infatuation with wide receivers. No position will soon threaten quarterback atop the NFL's positional hierarchy, but the battery of passer and catcher is becoming more of a focus.

We saw more from some of the current veteran pass-catching elites Thursday night in Kansas City, and more will be on display throughout the weekend. Hill, Waddle and Bateman will take the same field for Dolphins-Ravens in Baltimore, while Thomas, Landry, Evans and Jones will do the same thing for Bucs-Saints in New Orleans. There's also Chase vs. Lamb with Cincinnati in Dallas, and Jefferson vs. Brown on Monday night with the Vikings in Philly.

It might always be a quarterback's league, but the NFL's prized receivers are becoming the show. And they're a lot of fun. Enjoy.

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