Ranking the NFL's Top 7 Wide Receivers

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IISeptember 19, 2020

Ranking the NFL's Top 7 Wide Receivers

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    After only one week of the 2020 season, the debate over the NFL's best receiver has shifted.

    Some of the league's top wideouts have gone to new teams, while others have gotten new quarterbacks or are playing alongside other offensive weapons who can take some of the pressure off them. DeAndre Hopkins erupted in his Arizona Cardinals debut with 14 catches for 151 yards, while Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones and Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams also topped the 150-yard mark.  

    What makes the NFL's best receivers truly elite? Physical ability and talent are huge factors, but it's also important for these players to have a specialization that allows them to dominate, whether it's making contested catches, running precise routes or being a deep threat. 

    Production also plays a role, but in some circumstances, a receiver's ability to elevate the talent around him is just as important. A strong connection with their quarterback also helps.

    Sorting through the NFL's best receivers is no easy task, but based on the criteria above, let's go through the cream of the crop.

7. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The then-Oakland Raiders selected Amari Cooper with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, but they traded him to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick halfway through the 2018 campaign. He hauled in 53 receptions for 725 yards and six touchdowns in nine games with the Cowboys that season, helping them win the NFC East and advance to the divisional round.

    Despite dealing with a knee injury, Cooper had a career year in his first full season with the Cowboys, racking up 1,189 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

    While that production isn't on par with the NFL's other top receivers, Cooper is arguably the best route-runner in the league. His release package and footwork at the line of scrimmage is a work of art, and it regularly allows him to create separation to give his quarterbacks easy throws.

    Unfortunately for Cooper, both Derek Carr and Dak Prescott aren't considered elite quarterbacks. Even with their flashes of brilliance, they've struggled to consistently play at a high level. 

    Perhaps the conversation around Cooper would be different if he had consistent quarterback play and stayed healthy throughout his career. However, he has still established himself as one of the NFL's toughest matchups for opposing cornerbacks.

6. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are stacked on offense this year, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski joining forces with head coach Bruce Arians and a talented skill-position corps. But no one on that side of the ball may be better at their respective position than Mike Evans.

    Only two wide receivers have started their careers with six straight seasons of over 1,000 receiving yards: Randy Moss and Evans. Despite less-than-consistent quarterback play over his NFL career, Evans has made it to three Pro Bowls while racking up 463 catches, 7,262 yards and 49 touchdowns.

    Evans has been a prominent figure in the football community since he was catching passes from Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He has rare size for a receiver at 6'5" and 231 pounds, but he also has the ability to separate vertically. 

    Evans now has the chance to become the only receiver ever to start his career with seven 1,000-yard seasons. However, he caught only one pass for a two-yard touchdown in the Bucs' 34-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

    A hamstring injury limited Evans' reps leading up to last week's game, but he told reporters Thursday that he feels much better this week. As he continues to develop chemistry with Brady, Evans should quickly get back to being one of the league's most dominant receivers.

5. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    No wideout has the vertical speed and big-play potential that Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs possesses.

    It doesn't hurt that he has reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball, but Hill has been putting up big numbers since before Mahomes took over under center. In his first two seasons with Alex Smith, he caught 136 passes for 1,776 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    Hill is now in his fifth NFL season, and while he doesn't have the career numbers that other top-tier wideouts do, he already has a plethora of accolades at the age of 26. Along with a Super Bowl ring, he's already a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first-team All-Pro. 

    Hill has 17 touchdowns that have gone for at least 50 yards, which already ranks 14th in NFL history, according to Taylor Witt of Arrowhead Report. His 10 touchdowns of 70 yards or more rank fifth, per Witt.

    Although Hill doesn't have a big-bodied frame at just 5'10" and 185 pounds, his explosiveness and elusiveness in space with the ball in his hands make it hard for defenses to create game plans for him.

    The Chiefs largely rode their ground game during their Week 1 shellacking of the Houston Texans, although Hill did come up with five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. Once the Chiefs start airing it out more, he could start heading toward another dominant season.

4. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams was a relative afterthought during his first few NFL seasons. However, he's now quickly working his way into the conversation of the league's top receiver, and if he keeps playing like he did in Week 1, he may even be able to move up these rankings by the end of the year.

    Adams was on another level in the win over the Minnesota Vikings, catching 14 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He's currently tied for first in the league in both receptions and receiving touchdowns.

    The Packers selected Adams in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, but it took him a while to find his footing. During his first two seasons, he totaled only 88 catches, 929 yards and four scores.

    When James Jones left the Packers following the 2015 season, Adams started to seize a bigger role. He cut down on the drops that plagued him early in his career, while his release package at the line of scrimmage makes it almost impossible for cornerbacks to stick to him in coverage.

    Although Adams doesn't have elite receivers alongside him to alleviate some pressure, he does have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Their connection has gotten stronger every season, and it has allowed Adams to become one of the league's elite wideouts.

    Even if he isn't among the top three here, Adams deserves a ton of credit for his development.

3. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    Despite being one of the most physically imposing wide receivers in NFL history, Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones doesn't seem to get the respect that he should. 

    Jones has rarely been prolific when it comes to scoring touchdowns. However, the 31-year-old still has an incredible resume, ranking in the top 25 in career receiving yards with 12,282. He also had a strong 2019 season, catching 99 passes for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns.

    Even in a difficult 38-25 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Jones had a strong start to the season. He caught nine passes for 157 yards, averaging 17.4 yards per catch. Although he didn't score a touchdown, opponents must constantly account for him even when Matt Ryan isn't throwing the ball his way. 

    The 2011 No. 6 overall pick has a rare combination of size, strength and speed. He has no issue making contested catches or burning past cornerbacks for big plays vertically. Picking up yards has never been an issue for Jones, as he's had 56 regular-season games and three postseason games with at least 100 receiving yards. He even had a game with 12 catches and 300 yards in 2016 and 253 yards in 2017.

    The impact Jones has on his teammates also keeps him in the discussion for the NFL's best receiver. Fellow wideout Calvin Ridley is able to make all kinds of plays while defenses try to focus on Jones. This past week's game was the perfect example, with Ridley catching nine passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.

    Jones' lack of scoring hurts his argument to top the positional hierarchy, and the Falcons' struggles since their Super Bowl loss haven't helped his case. Still, you can't have a conversation about the league's best receiver without mentioning him.

2. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    After a record-breaking 2019 season, what did Michael Thomas have in store for an encore? Unfortunately, we may not find out anytime soon.

    The New Orleans Saints got a big 34-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, but Thomas didn't have much of an impact, finishing with only three receptions for 17 yards. To make matters worse, he sprained his ankle during the game and could miss several weeks, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport

    That start to the season is disappointing for Thomas, who was looking to solidify his case as the league's best wide receiver after racking up an NFL-record 149 receptions for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns last year. It will be almost impossible for him to replicate that production now.

    Thomas wins against defenders with his terrific ability to separate on short and intermediate routes. According to Next Gen Stats, he was the best wide receiver last season on crossing, slant, hitch and out routes, which demonstrates how dominant and developed his route tree is.

    At 6'3" and 212 pounds, Thomas' size makes him an even more difficult matchup for opposing defensive backs. He's in the perfect situation with Drew Brees as his quarterback, and even though he might not be as good as he was last year, Thomas still deserves to be in the conversation for the best receiver in the NFL.

1. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    After a strong Week 1 performance, new Arizona Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins has taken the edge in the race for the NFL's best receiver. He could solidify that status as the season continues.

    The Cardinals made one of the biggest trades of this past offseason, convincing Houston Texans head coach and de facto general manager Bill O'Brien to part with Hopkins. The trade was widely considered to be a steal for the Cardinals, who sent a second-round pick, a 2021 fourth-round pick and struggling running back David Johnson to Houston in exchange for Hopkins and a fourth-round pick. 

    Snagging Hopkins gave quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury a new weapon to make their offense even more exciting in 2020. To no one's surprise, Hopkins played a huge role in Arizona's win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, catching 14 passes for 151 yards on 16 targets.

    Along with the athleticism and size to make all kinds of difficult contested catches, Hopkins has the best hands in the NFL. Heading into 2020, he had caught 225 consecutive passes without a drop, per Pro Football Focus. That was over 100 more than Randall Cobb, who was in second place.

    Hopkins spends most of his time as an outside receiver, but he's also capable of lining up in the slot when needed. His production has always been impressive, but in Kingsbury's modern spread offense, the 28-year-old should make an even bigger leap this season.

    Hopkins may have a hard time holding onto the top spot given his competition around the league. But as long as Kingsbury keeps scheming ways to get him the ball and Murray keeps targeting him, this might be the year he firmly puts himself ahead of the rest of the competition.