Ranking the 7 Best WR Trios of the 2021 NFL Season
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Rams made the latest in a series of win-now moves for the 2021 season. This one, though, didn't involve a trade, as the Rams signed free-agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
In L.A., Beckham joins a receiving corps that already includes Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods—two of this season's top 25 receivers in yardage, with Kupp leading the NFL. This begs the question: does adding Beckham give the Rams the league's best WR trio?
We're here to answer that very question.
Last month, we examined the NFL's best WR duos heading into Week 7, but this is a little different. There's a difference between having two elite pass-catchers and having three wideouts who can operate as an elite unit.
Here, we'll rank the top three WR trios heading into Week 10. We're looking at wide receivers only, so elite tight ends like Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews won't qualify.
Rankings are based primarily on 2021 performance, though past production, player health and current-season upside were considered.
7. Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle, Kansas City Chiefs
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 124 receptions, 1,399 yards and 9 touchdowns
The Kansas City Chiefs' trio of Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle has been impressive as a group, albeit a top-heavy one.
Hill has been responsible for 55 percent of this trio's yards and two-thirds of its touchdowns. Hardman and Pringle have each topped the 250-yard mark and have found the end zone. Kelce is a big part of the Chiefs offense, but Kansas City ranks sixth in passing yards due in no small part to these three.
Are those numbers helped by having a dynamic quarterback like Patrick Mahomes under center? Sure, but they would be dangerous regardless of the quarterback.
Hill and Hardman are both proven deep threats capable of stretching the field, while Pringle has emerged as a similar player. He leads the team with a 14.2 yards-per-reception average and has provided a passer rating of 131.2 when targeted.
This group could explode over the second half of the season if Mahomes (10 interceptions, 92.5 rating) stops making uncharacteristic mistakes.
6. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn, Minnesota Vikings
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 120 receptions, 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns
The Minnesota Vikings also possess a relatively top-heavy trio, though they happen to have two standout receivers at the top.
The duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen ranked No. 2 on our list of WR duos for good reason. They've formed a spectacular pair and have accumulated 91 receptions, 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Third receiver K.J. Osborn is only coming into his own this season—he didn't have a catch before 2021—and having that reliable third option has been huge.
"[Jefferson and Thielen] draw plenty of attention, though, with safeties often rolling toward them to try to take away Minnesota's best weapons. That's why a productive and reliable third downfield option is so important," Dave Campbell of the Associated Press wrote.
While Osborn may not be as prolific as some No. 3 receivers on this list, he's done a fine job of complementing two Pro Bowl-caliber talents.
5. Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 127 receptions, 1,512 yards and 8 touchdowns
Last season, Buffalo Bills wideout Stefon Diggs led the NFL in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). He also had eight touchdown catches. The addition of Emmanuel Sanders to Buffalo's receiving corps has hurt Diggs' individual production, but those two, along with Cole Beasley, have operated extremely well as a unit.
All three receivers have topped 25 receptions and 450 receiving yards. Each has found the end zone at least once, and all three have topped 90 yards in a game.
Diggs, for his part, has been happy to sacrifice individual numbers for the good of the group.
"You can ask any receiver how many times he wants the ball," Diggs said, per Nick Fierro of FanNation. "And it would be every time, every play. ... But for me, I just try to be a good teammate."
The Buffalo offense was out of sorts in its Week 9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, as Josh Allen tossed a pair of interceptions and posted a season-low 62.7 passer rating. With this trio in the fold, though, Allen should have little trouble getting back on track over the second half of the season.
4. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 118 receptions, 1,622 yards and 16 touchdowns
Based on the raw numbers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are as good as any group in the league. There are only two trios with more receiving yards on this list, and Brown has missed three games due to injury.
However, Brown's injury is why the Tampa trio falls in the middle of the list. Brown has missed the last two games with an ankle sprain and doesn't appear close to returning—which hurts the outlook for this group.
As Matthew Betz, a certified physical therapist and lead writer for the Fantasy Footballers, pointed out during Tampa's Week 9 bye, Brown could still be "multiple weeks away."
Still, this trio has put in impressive work when healthy. All three receivers are averaging at least 68 yards per game. All three have a catch percentage of 61 or higher.
One could argue that Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has three No. 1 receivers at his disposal and not be totally off base. The question is whether all three will be available when it's time to make the stretch run.
3. Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 117 receptions, 1,675 yards and 11 touchdowns
The Cincinnati Bengals duo of Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd only got an honorable mention on last month's list. However, adding Tee Higgins to the mix changes the complexion of this group dramatically.
Chase, an early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, is the headliner by a large margin. He has 44 receptions, 835 receiving yards and seven touchdowns through his first nine NFL games. Consistency has been an issue—Chase has seven drops and two fumbles—but he can manufacture separation and score from anywhere on the field.
As a complementary duo, Boyd and Higgins have been superb. Each has at least 35 receptions, 400 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
This is a well-rounded group capable of going toe-to-toe with almost any secondary in the league. It's worth noting that Cincinnati ranks only 26th in passing attempts per game but 10th in passing yards per game.
2. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 85 receptions, 1,200 yards and 9 touchdowns
The Dallas Cowboys' trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup haven't been as statistically productive as trios ranked lower on this list. However, Gallup has been out since Week 1 with a calf strain. He's contributed only four receptions and 36 yards to the total.
Gallup has been designated for return from injured reserve and is expected to play against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10.
"We're excited to have him back. He's going to do some awesome things for us," offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said, per Patrik Walker of CBS Sports.
We're giving weight to both past production and rest-of-season potential for this trio—and if you want to mentally swap this group with Cincinnati's, have at it. Consider this, though. Cooper and Lamb are both on pace to top 1,100 receiving yards. In Gallup's last full season with a healthy Dak Prescott, he also topped the 1,100-yard mark.
Also consider that if we replace Gallup with fill-in third receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr., this that trio would have 100 receptions, 1,444 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. At least theoretically, this group will be even more dangerous with Gallup taking back over the No. 3 role.
1. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr., Los Angeles Rams
Combined 2021 Receiving Numbers: 136 receptions, 1,807 yards and 14 touchdowns
To be fair, the Rams would still top this list if we included Van Jefferson instead of Beckham—the numbers would actually be more impressive, as Jefferson has 10 more receptions, 201 more yards and three more touchdowns than Beckham this season.
However, Beckham is coming from a Cleveland Browns offense in which he was a poor fit to a Rams offense where he fits perfectly. Sean McVay is utilizing of more a wide-open dropback passing game than in years past—and certainly a more open offense than Cleveland's play-action-oriented attack.
McVay has used multiple looks and Matthew Stafford's howitzer of an arm to consistently threaten defenses downfield.
"The dropback game you're seeing a little bit more of, but there's different phases of the dropback game," McVay said, per Skyler Carlin of Rams Wire.
In a system that focuses on creating space down the field, Beckham should shine. It remains to be seen if he can recapture the magic he once had with the New York Giants, but L.A. provides an ideal opportunity.
Even if we only see the Beckham we saw a couple of years ago in Cleveland—he was a 1,000-yard receiver in a more pass-heavy Freddie Kitchens offense—this trio should explode over the final stretch of the season. Woods' and Kupps' numbers speak for themselves, and Beckham still possesses the potential to be a game-breaker.
*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference