Ranking the Top 7 WR Duos of the 2021 NFL Season So Far
The NFL is largely a passing league, and while quarterbacks soak up much of the spotlight, most signal-callers would struggle without a quality receiving corps.
Successful receiving units usually feature more than a single top target. Great receiver tandems like Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt or Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison complemented each other.
We'll examine the top seven wide receiver duos heading into Week 7. We're looking at wide receivers only, so elite pass-catchers like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, while worthy of recognition, won't qualify.
Rankings are based primarily on 2021 performance, though factors like past production and upside were considered. To qualify, each receiver on this list must have seen at least 25 targets through Week 6 (sorry, Davante Adams fans—no one else on the Packers has reached that mark).
Let's get to it.
Honorable Mention: Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 55 receptions, 843 yards, 6 touchdowns
The Cincinnati Bengals duo of rookie Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd doesn't make the official list but deserves a mention.
Chase has been a revelation, catching 27 passes for 553 yards and five touchdowns. While he's left some meat on the bone—he's been targeted 41 times—his ability to score from anywhere is remarkable.
"He's everything we expected him to be and hoped to be, and so far through five games, that's what we've seen from him," coach Zac Taylor told reporters.
Boyd's role has been minor compared to Chase's—part of the reason they're only an honorable mention—but he has 28 catches for 290 yards and a touchdown. Boyd has also been productive in the past with 1,000-yard campaigns in two of the last three years.
Still, Chase's connection with former LSU and current Bengals teammate Joe Burrow puts Cincinnati's wideouts on the map.
Honorable Mention: Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 72 receptions, 853 yards, 6 touchdowns
This is another lopsided duo, but Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman could be growing into one of the best in the NFL.
Hardman has caught 26 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown, but he's seen 17 targets and had 13 receptions for 138 yards over the past two weeks. In 2020, he caught 41 passes for 560 yards and four scores.
Then there's Tyreek Hill, through whom the Kansas City Chiefs offense runs. There might not be a wideout harder to cover given his speed and route running. Hill can score on any play and helps to open up everything else the Chiefs do offensively.
Hill is a five-time Pro Bowler and will make lists like this one provided he has a capable running mate at wide receiver. Hardman is also a dangerous deep threat, but this duo will move up or down the rankings depending on his development and role in the offense.
7. Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders, Buffalo Bills
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 61 receptions, 876 yards, 6 touchdowns
Like Hill, Buffalo Bills wideout Stefon Diggs can make a case for being the most dangerous receiver in football. He led the league in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) in 2020, snagging eight touchdowns.
What's scary is that Diggs may be even more dangerous with the addition of wideout Emmanuel Sanders. The Bills picked up Sanders in the offseason, and he has become one of Josh Allen's favorite targets.
Sanders has seen 39 targets, which puts him behind only Diggs and Cole Beasley. He is also second on the team in yards per reception (17.2) behind Gabriel Davis (17.3), who only has six catches.
While Sanders is cutting into Diggs' workload, he's helping to forge a balanced duo that most defenses cannot keep up with.
6. Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 60 receptions, 838 yards, 8 touchdowns
While with the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady didn't always benefit from top-tier receiving talent—aside from the Randy Moss years. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though, he has loads of it.
One could make an argument that Mike Evans and Chris Godwin deserve their own entry on this list (they've combined for 65 receptions, 829 yards and six touchdowns), but Brady's growing bond with Antonio Brown pushes this duo ahead.
"AB is like a brother to me," Brady said on the podcast Let's Go!
With Brown's emergence as Brady's go-to guy, he and Evans have become one of the hottest receiver duos in football.
The top duo in Tampa can shift from game to game, and all three wideouts regularly enjoy one-on-one coverage because of the Buccaneers' surplus of receiving targets. That places this pair behind our next one—which isn't playing with a future Hall of Famer at the moment.
5. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 58 receptions, 866 yards, 8 touchdowns
Seattle Seahawks wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf each topped 1,000 receiving yards and caught 10 touchdowns in 2020. That's a remarkable feat, but it helps to have a gunslinger like Russell Wilson throwing the football.
The Seahawks don't have Wilson under center, though, as he's on injured reserve following finger surgery. Geno Smith got the start against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and passed for only 209 yards and a touchdown.
Lockett and Metcalf caught a combined eight passes for 93 yards—nearly half of Smith's production.
Even with Smith under center for the past game-and-a-half, Metcalf and Lockett are on pace for 2,454 combined receiving yards and 23 touchdowns, better numbers than they posted a year ago (albeit in a 17-game season).
Wilson's absence will affect that pace, though it doesn't take away from the greatness of the Lockett-Metcalf duo.
4. Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 72 receptions, 917 yards, 7 touchdowns
Things are tight at the top, and if you want to consider these next four duos as relative equals, have at it. The Los Angeles Chargers' tandem of Mike Williams and Keenan Allen deserves to be in the conversation.
Allen has long been one of the league's most underrated receivers. He isn't regularly mentioned among the game's best, though he's made four straight Pro Bowls, racking up 4,780 yards and 26 touchdowns over the past four seasons.
Williams was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, but he is only now coming into his own. He and quarterback Justin Herbert have formed a bond, and Williams leads the Chargers in both receiving yards (498) and touchdowns (6).
This was a solid pair in 2020 but not elite. It's one of the best in the league this year and could challenge for the top spot if it can continue growing alongside Herbert.
Don't expect to see many games like the one Williams and Allen had Sunday in which they combined for just seven receptions and 77 yards in a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
3. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 63 receptions, 870 yards, 8 touchdowns
The Dallas Cowboys' duo of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb gets an edge over the Chargers' duo based on big-play ability. While Williams and Allen have produced more yards, Cooper and Lamb have been more dangerous vertical threats.
Williams and Allen have combined for 12.7 yards per catch. Cooper and Lamb combine for 13.8 yards per reception—and each averages at least 12.4.
Their quick-strike ability was on display Sunday when Lamb scored on a walk-off 35-yard touchdown reception in overtime. He got behind the Patriots' coverage and waltzed into the end zone.
"I turned around and I was kind of surprised. I just walked in," Lamb told reporters.
While it helps to play with a great quarterback like Dak Prescott, consider this. Lamb and Cooper combined for 2,049 yards and 10 touchdowns last year even though Prescott was lost to a broken ankle after five games.
This duo could thrive with any quarterback.
2. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 78 receptions, 935 yards, 8 touchdowns
One's a savvy veteran with two Pro Bowls and 44 receiving touchdowns who has provided a quarterback rating above 115.0 when targeted in four consecutive seasons. The other is a second-year youngster who took the NFL by storm and set a league rookie receiving record.
We're talking about the Minnesota Vikings' talented tandem of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
Each pass-catcher has a unique set of skills that complements the other. Thielen is a precision route-runner who is in the right place at the right time in clutch situations. Of his 74 receptions in 2020, 52 went for first downs, and 14 were touchdowns. Jefferson is a physical phenom who racked up 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in his inaugural NFL campaign.
Combined, they produced 2,235 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago.
Jefferson and Thielen are on an even more impressive pace this season. Even if the Vikings played 16 games, the duo would be in line for 2,493 yards and 21 scores. With an extra game to play, they should eclipse 2,500 receiving yards with little resistance.
1. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 75 receptions, 1,006 yards, 10 touchdowns
Los Angeles Rams wideout Cooper Kupp is the most productive receiver in football. He's tied for the league lead in receptions (46) and is tops in receiving touchdowns (7). He and running mate Robert Woods combined for 1,910 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago.
With Matthew Stafford under center, this duo is poised for even bigger numbers.
Kupp and Woods are on pace for a whopping 2,850 yards and 28 touchdowns. Kupp has been the bigger piece of the offensive puzzle—responsible for 65 percent of the duo's yardage and 70 percent of its touchdowns—but Woods is a playmaker in his own right.
Kupp talked up his teammate on the Rams Revealed podcast (h/t J.B. Long of the team website):
"What he can do in terms of the top shelf stuff, what he does in the intermediate game, what he does underneath being able to get open, his ability to separate versus press (coverage), ability to eat up grass versus off coverage, I don't think there's anyone in the league you can ask to do all the things he does in the pass game."
Kupp and Woods can each take over a game, and they've learned to share the load. It's close at the top, but if Kupp and Woods can maintain their pace, they'll unquestionably be the best duo in football.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.