Ranking the NFL's Top WR Trios Entering 2021 Season
Pick your poison. Who's a defense going to stop when an offense features a trio of wide receivers all capable of creating mismatches, getting open and producing chunk plays?
The Cincinnati Bengals took this approach to team-building during April's NFL draft. Despite already having two quality wide receivers in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, they invested this year's fifth overall pick in the position's top prospect, Ja'Marr Chase, instead of fortifying a shaky offensive line.
The Bengals now feature one of the game's best trios, and though they could very well be held back by their front five, production was not the only factor considered.
To determine the game's best threesomes, a combination of each wide receiver's skill set, projected statistics and potential upside was weighed.
Sure, the Green Bay Packers have Davante Adams, but no other wide receiver on that roster scares opposing defenses. We're looking for teams with three receivers who can take over, though a couple of the teams listed have two top-tier receivers and a third who is underappreciated.
5. Tennessee Titans: Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Josh Reynolds
Any group that adds Julio Jones will automatically be better. The Tennessee Titans built an impressive wide receiver corps after losing Corey Davis, who finished second on the team last season with 984 receiving yards, in free agency to the New York Jets.
General manager Jon Robinson saw an opportunity to strike and flipped a 2022 second-round and '23 fourth-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Jones and a '23 sixth-round selection.
Jones is the standard-bearer for the wide receiver position. He may be slowed to a degree due to multiple injuries throughout his career, but he remains one of the most intimidating offensive weapons in the sport.
The two-time NFL receiving yardage leader paired with A.J. Brown is a downright frightening proposition for opponents.
"That's another alpha on the other side of me," Brown said, per ESPN's Turron Davenport. "I have to make plays, and I know he is going to make plays. We are going to go tit-for-tat. I know I don't want to let him down, and I am pretty sure he doesn't want to let me down. We are going to feed off each other. He is going to be in the Hall of Fame, so there's a Hall of Fame receiver on the other side. So, I know I have to pick my game up."
Who makes this dynamic duo into a tantalizing trio? Josh Reynolds does.
Granted, Reynolds continues to deal with an undisclosed injury after falling awkwardly in practice last week. But when healthy, head coach Mike Vrabel sees him as a versatile piece.
"I think he can play inside. I think he can play outside," Vrabel told reporters in April. "He's really continued to build confidence going into his fifth year."
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd
Potential can be alluring. The Cincinnati Bengals' wide receiver trio has the highest potential in the NFL. But the group still has a ways to go before it can be crowned.
Even placing it fourth overall might be a stretch. However, projections are favorable as long as the Bengals offense coalesces this fall.
At 26, Tyler Boyd is the receiver group's veteran leader after A.J. Green's departure in free agency. He brings a proven track record, though, with nearly 3,000 receiving yards over the last three seasons. He primarily works from the slot but provides position flexibility depending on the looks Cincinnati wants to provide.
Tee Higgins, whom the team selected at the top of last year's second round, has emerged quickly. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, Higgins is a big target outside the numbers. He led the Bengals last season with 908 receiving yards. The 22-year-old should only continue to grow in his second year as he becomes more comfortable with the professional game, his preparation and overall utilization.
Rookie Ja'Marr Chase is the potential star. He's also untested after sitting out the 2020 college football season. From a talent perspective, Chase has everything a team could want in an elite wide receiver. It's not just the top-10 physical tools, either.
"He's got a really high football IQ," head coach Zac Taylor told reporters. "Some rookies you're concerned with overloading them, just give them a little package and ease them into it. Ja'Marr hasn't been that way at all. He's all over Troy Walters, making sure he's always getting extra, and they've had a great relationship started."
The potential of Chase, Higgins and Boyd is obvious. But a very real possibility exists they're held back by a shaky offensive line and Burrow's adjustment to life after a major knee injury.
3. Los Angeles Rams: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson
The Los Angeles Rams wide receivers are good. They should be even better with a new triggerman leading the offense.
Jared Goff proved to be a fine starting quarterback. But Matthew Stafford brings an entirely different aspect to Sean McVay's offense because of his ability to improvise and create outside of structure. These qualities should help elevate what's an already outstanding trio of wide receivers.
Cooper Kupp is a reliable target. He is one of the league's best receivers in the slot and at creating after the catch. He's produced the fourth-most slot yards (853) since the start of the 2017 campaign and tied for the third-most missed tackles forced (29) since the beginning of the 2019 season, per Pro Football Focus.
It hasn't taken long for Stafford to show he can do things Goff can't.
"The subtleties in terms of how he's moving defenses, what he's doing with his eyes. He made a throw out here today that was just disgusting," Kupp said of Stafford on Sunday. "He is looking guys off mid-throw, where he's throwing across his body. The ball is out before receivers are looking. Just the subtleties within his drops and how he's manipulating guys—I think that's kind of the big thing that I've seen."
Over the last three seasons, Robert Woods has amassed 266 receptions for 3,289 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Now, sprinkle DeSean Jackson into the mix. Granted, the 34-year-old veteran has played in only eight games over the last two seasons. But when healthy, he's still a vertical threat. Jackson averaged 17.2 yards per catch in his limited opportunities.
The Rams offense should light up opposing defenses.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an embarrassment of riches at every level of the roster, particularly at the skill positions. The wide receivers bring an exciting combination of skill sets and high-level production.
Mike Evans is entering his eighth season and is still only 27 years old. The three-time Pro Bowl selection is the ultimate vertical threat at 6'5" and 231 pounds. He may not bring Tyreek Hill's speed. But Evans will find a way to work outside the numbers, stack cornerbacks and go up to the highest point and snag deep passes. Last season's 13 touchdown receptions set a new career mark.
Chris Godwin remains underappreciated. Evans gets more attention, but Godwin is a legitimate WR1. His numbers dipped in 2020 due to a broken index finger. Yet the Buccaneers' franchise player finished third in the NFL with 1,333 receiving yards just two seasons ago. He's more than capable of being a featured component, as long as he rectifies the drops he had during Tampa Bay's Super Bowl run. Then again, his regular-season drop rate ranks among the league's lowest since the start of the 2017 campaign, per Pro Football Focus.
Antonio Brown is the wild card. Brown didn't even sign with Tampa Bay until Oct. 27. He's now had a full offseason with the team after re-signing. At 33 years old and having missed time the previous two seasons amid sexual assault and misconduct allegations (among other things), Brown isn't the player he once was. He still knows how to get open, though. The veteran target showed how valuable he is with six touchdown receptions in the Buccaneers' final six games (including playoffs).
To make things even more intriguing, Tom Brady should be more comfortable in his second season with the Bucs. The offensive flow took off after last season's bye. His rhythm passing could very well improve throughout the 2021 campaign.
1. Dallas Cowboys: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup
The Dallas Cowboys' Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb are 27, 25 and 22, respectively.
They are young, talented and on the verge of putting together a special season as long as quarterback Dak Prescott stays healthy.
How good was Dallas' passing attack before Prescott's season-ending ankle injury? Oh, Prescott set an NFL record with 1,690 passing yards during the four-game span before the injury, per Pro Football Focus. That's all.
Each of the Cowboys' top three wide receivers was well on the way to eclipsing 1,000 yards had Prescott played a full season. But their production fell off once Andy Dalton took over the offense.
Prescott is back. The team's offensive line is healthy, too. Nothing should hold back the wide receivers.
Cooper is already a four-time Pro Bowl selection with 1,100-yard campaigns during his two full seasons in Dallas. Gallup is quite capable of winning one-on-one matchups and serving as a serious vertical threat. Lamb has been a standout in training camp, per The Athletic's Jon Machota, and the Cowboys plan to use him far more in his second season.
"Last year with the compressed offseason, he played a lot in the slot," offensive coordinator Kellen Moore told reporters. "And obviously we want to move him around a lot more. So hopefully that provides us the versatility to move those guys around to different positions, create matchups, put guys where we want them to be to hopefully be successful. And CeeDee's one of those guys."
Good luck to any defensive coordinator trying to slow Dallas' aerial attack this fall.