Ranking the Top 5 QB-WR Duos Entering 2021 NFL Draft
We often discuss the evolution of the NFL as a fast-paced pass-heavy game with an emphasis on quarterbacks and their weapons.
Last offseason, the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills made aggressive moves to acquire lead wide receivers. In each case, the acquisition paid off for a young signal-caller who needed a go-to target. Looking ahead, those tandems will want to strengthen their connections while racking up more yards and points.
Which quarterback-wideout duets are set to post eye-popping numbers in 2021? How much impact could these playmaking combinations have on their teams offenses?
Using recent passing and receiving numbers along with trends, we ranked the top five pairs in the league. Players with multiple years of continuity without a sign of decline had an advantage over teammates with less experience playing together.
5. Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
In 2020, their first season together, quarterback Kyler Murray and wideout DeAndre Hopkins formed a strong rapport almost immediately.
Murray and Hopkins also won the Bridgestone Clutch Performance Play of the Year for their "Hail Murray."
In Week 10, Murray heaved a 43-yard pass to Hopkins for the game-winning touchdown over the Buffalo Bills. The sequence underlined the trust between the youngster and his go-to target.
While Murray and Hopkins made highlights, they only moderately moved the needle in terms of passing yards. The Arizona aerial attack improved from 24th in 2019 to 17th.
Nevertheless, if Murray can avoid injuries, this tandem can only go up.
Between Murray's ability to extend plays with his legs and Hopkins' ability to rip the ball out of the air with multiple defenders around him, they're a pair to watch if the Cardinals make the playoffs.
4. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Just like the Cardinals' playmakers, Bills quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs didn't take long to put defenses on notice.
Diggs recorded 100 receiving yards or a touchdown in five of his first six outings with Buffalo. More importantly, he contributed to Allen's third-year leap.
Allen went into the 2020 campaign with a 56.3 percent completion rate and fewer than 3,100 yards in each of his first two campaigns. The 24-year-old threw for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season.
He did that despite having to adjust to a new lead receiver without a full offseason. Allen put the ball in the right spots, connecting with Diggs on short, intermediate and deep passes.
Allen's impressive accuracy benefitted Diggs, who led the league in catches (127) and yards (1,535). Their rapport significantly elevated the Bills aerial attack, which ranked 26th in 2019 and finished third in 2020.
Despite the productivity of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals still fielded a bottom-half passing attack. The impact of the Bills' quarterback-wideout duo propelled Allen and Diggs to the No. 4 slot.
3. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Don't overreact to one season.
Wideout Julio Jones had a down year in 2020 because of a hamstring injury, which cost him seven games in 2020.
Before you write off Jones as a star past his prime, look at his track record, production and quarterback.
Jones has missed more than three games in a campaign only twice in 10 years. Last season, he ranked seventh in yards per game (85.7) with a 75 percent catch rate. The two-time All-Pro also averaged 15.1 yards per catch. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan recorded his best QBR (67) since 2017.
Jones didn't suffer a major injury, so he should bounce back. Because of his size (6'3", 220 lbs) and speed, the 32-year-old is still one of the league's most dynamic receivers. In terms of production, he is assisted by a top-10 quarterback who's yet to show signs of decline.
Jones and Ryan have played together for 10 seasons under two coaching staffs. Even with new lead skipper Arthur Smith implementing his scheme, the tandem should continue to post big numbers.
As one of the most established pairings in league history, Jones and Ryan rank higher than the duets in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots that just came together in 2020. The Falcons should have a top-notch aerial attack with their star quarterback and wideout healthy.
2. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
This pair may not rank high on other lists because wideout Tyreek Hill has to share targets with arguably the best active pass-catching tight end in Travis Kelce.
Yet Hill makes the most out of his opportunities as a big-play threat and finisher. Since his rookie term, he hasn't averaged less than 14.7 yards per reception. The three-time All-Pro earned the first accolade for his contributions on special teams, but the 5'10", 185-pounder has eclipsed 1,182 receiving yards in three of five campaigns with double-digit touchdowns in two terms.
Through four seasons, Patrick Mahomes has become a must-watch player because of his ability to improvise and accurately drop passes in his receivers' breadbaskets with a 66 percent completion rate. With that type of quarterback play, Hill can rack up chunk yardage on long receptions.
When Mahomes and Hill are on the same page, they're difficult to stop even in playoff matchups against top-level competition.
In the Kansas City Chiefs' last six postseason outings, Hill has hauled in 41 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 118.3 receiving yards per game in the 2020 playoffs.
While Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have been potent in the regular season, Mahomes and Hill have come up huge on the biggest stages. As a result, the duo claimed the No. 2 spot.
1. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers selected their potential quarterback of the future in Jordan Love last year, but Aaron Rodgers isn't ready to step aside.
In fact, Rodgers had one of his best seasons in 2020, throwing for 48 touchdowns against just five interceptions with a 70.7 completion rate, and he won his third league MVP award.
Last offseason, it seemed as though Rodgers needed more pass-catchers to form a potent aerial attack. The Packers didn't have a solid No. 2 wide receiver, and Devin Funchess opted out before training camp. So, the 37-year-old locked on to Davante Adams, and they carved up defenses all year.
Adams missed two games because of a hamstring injury, but he led the league in touchdowns (18) and receiving yards per game (98.1). With a bull's-eye on his back, the 28-year-old wideout put together his first All-Pro campaign.
Unlike Kansas City's Tyreek Hill, Adams doesn't have an All-Pro tight end to take away attention. Oftentimes, the Green Bay wideout has to beat double-teams as defensive coordinators scheme to neutralize him.
As the focal point of the passing attack, Adams' production carries more weight than Hill's. Rodgers' rapport with his go-to target has steadily developed over the last seven years. Now, their connection seems unstoppable.