Ranking The Top 7 QB-WR Duos Entering 2022 NFL Draft

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 23, 2022

Ranking The Top 7 QB-WR Duos Entering 2022 NFL Draft

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    The NFL is filled with harsh realities. And among them is this: A quarterback is only as good as the weapons around him.

    Saddle even a Hall of Fame quarterback with mediocre passing-game weapons, and struggles could ensue—a lesson the Green Bay Packers may soon learn the hard way. Give a mediocre (in the eyes of some) quarterback fantastic weapons, and he could wind up part of one of the best pitch-and-catch duos in the game.

    Now, this list has been put through a blender over the past couple of months. Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and elite wide receivers being traded left and right tends to do that. But even after the most chaotic offseason in recent memory, there are still some QB/WR tandems who strike fear into opposing defenses. Some are grizzled veterans. Others are up-and-comers. All are a cornerback's worst nightmare.

    And here are the seven best in the NFL, in terms of both past production, present situation and future potential.


    Note: You won't see Derek Carr and Davante Adams here. Or Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill. Or Russell Wilson and Courtland Sutton. The new QB/WR combos may have all kinds of potential, but they aren't making this list without having completed a single pass to one another yet.

    Ten-year-old throws at San Jose State don't count.

7. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

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    This one is a close call between Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals and Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys.

    To Murray and Hopkins' credit, the duo exploded in 2020, their first season together. Hopkins was targeted a whopping 160 times, catching 115 passes for over 1,400 yards. But Hopkins' yards per game free-fell from 87.9 two years ago to 57.2 in an injury-marred 2021, and the Murray contract drama in Arizona casts a potential pall over the entire Arizona offense.

    The duo is trending downward.

    The opposite holds true for Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb in Dallas.

    Lamb paced the Cowboys in receiving yards in his second year with 1,102 in 2021, hauling in 79 of 120 targets and finding the end zone half a dozen times. Now, with veteran Amari Cooper and his 104 targets in Cleveland, Lamb should be in for an even bigger piece of the passing-game pie. Prescott said he has every confidence that Lamb has what it takes to be a go-to wide receiver, per David Moore of the Dallas Morning News:

    "Yeah, there's no doubt he is. I think that's the best part of [the Cooper] move. You look at a guy like CeeDee and what he's done in his first two years, it's exciting. He hasn't really scratched the surface. Just for him to be the one, to be the main guy, I know he's going to be ready for it. I know he's already doing the things he needs to do that are necessary to have a great season."

    A coming-out party could be on the horizon.

6. Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

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    This one will generate some controversy, mostly because there are few quarterbacks fans love to hate more than Kirk Daniel Cousins.

    However, while many Minnesota Vikings fans lament Cousins' latest one-year, $35 million extension, one player who was happy to see Cousins return is third-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

    "I love Kirk as a person. I love Kirk as a quarterback. He's been doing a tremendous job with me ever since I got into the league. So, I definitely would not mind him staying. I love Kirk. ... I honestly do [think we can win a Super Bowl with him]. ... Kirk is an outstanding quarterback. I feel like we all just need to play with that confidence, all need to boost him up, and I just feel like Kirk just needs to go out there and have fun with it. Just have that confidence, have that swagger. Trust in his playmakers to get the ball and do what they have to do. So, I'm happy for this upcoming year."

    It's not hard to see why Jefferson loves Cousins. In the two seasons they have been together, Jefferson has been one of the NFL's most productive pass-catchers—even with veteran Adam Thielen on the team.

    As a rookie, Jefferson caught 88 passes and set a (since-broken) record for receiving yards as a rookie with 1,400. His second season was even more impressive. Only Cooper Kupp registered more receiving yards than the 1,616 that Jefferson posted in 2021.

    If you want to criticize Cousins' performance in big games, have at it. But when it comes to pitch-catch punch, there's no way that he and Jefferson can be left off this list.

5. Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

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    In the second week of his professional career, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was thrust into the starting lineup when the team doctor accidentally punctured Tyrod Taylor's lung while administering a pain-killing injection.

    Herbert lost that game, but he passed for 311 yards against the rival Chiefs. Per Hayley Elwood of the team's website, CBS Sports sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson said Herbert's relationship with veteran wideout Keenan Allen sprang from that surprise start:

    "He's got this rapport with Keenan Allen that is kind of like a 'wink wink.' Keenan and Philip [Rivers] had it but they had a lot of time to develop that. I spoke to Keenan Allen about it, and he said it started literally in Week [2] that day, he knew [Herbert] was the real deal. Now, they have this freedom amongst each other. So [Herbert] might hold it a little longer, but he holds it knowing that Keenan Allen will get open eventually."

    In Herbert's first season, he threw for 4,336 yards and won Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Allen was his primary target—his 147 targets that season ranked fifth in the league, per FFToday, although he came up just short of 1,000 yards on 100 catches.

    2021 was that much better. Even with Mike Williams enjoying a career season, Allen still checked in eighth in the league in targets, racking up 1,138 receiving yards. Herbert, on the other hand, led the AFC with 5,014 passing yards and 38 touchdowns.

    There's little reason to think 2022 couldn't bring even bigger and better things.

4. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills

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    Over the past several years, the Buffalo Bills have gone from AFC East tomato can to perennial Super Bowl contender. And on offense, that turnaround has been mostly tied to two players: quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

    Both have received massive extensions that will keep them in Western New York for the foreseeable future, with Diggs receiving a four-year, $96 million extension a couple of weeks ago.

    Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports told the team's website it was money well-spent:

    "Stefon Diggs is the heart of this offense in terms of the passing game. They have Gabe Davis on the outside to help as well. They signed Jameson Crowder, they have Isaiah McKenzie to take over that Cole Beasley slot, but Stefon Diggs is what makes this thing work. And he's been so much more productive, which is hard to imagine after that trade in 2020. He's totaled 230 receptions in two seasons in Buffalo. He has those 18 touchdowns, and he has been the difference-maker."

    In 2019, Allen completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,089 yards and 20 touchdowns. The following season, after Diggs' arrival, Allen completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns on the way to the AFC Championship Game.

    Those numbers dipped a bit last season, and Allen's improvement isn't solely tied to Diggs. But Diggs paced the NFL in targets with 168 in 2020 and ranked fifth with 164 last year.

3. Tom Brady and Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    When it comes to productivity at wide receiver, few in NFL history have been more consistent than Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    He has spent eight years in the league. In all eight, he has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards. And as the team's Twitter account relayed, Tom Brady believes Evans' name belongs among all the all-time greats at the position.

    "It's been a real privilege for me to play with him," Brady said. He's one of the NFL all-time greats."

    For what it's worth, while appearing on the AP Pro Football podcast, the 28-year-old Evans made it clear the feeling is mutual (8:26 mark):

    "He brings that winning culture. You don't want to lose when you play with Tom. The way he works, the way he treats everybody, it shows. He is the most detailed player I have ever been around.

    "Whatever you think about him, all of it's true and then some. He is so detailed. He makes sure everybody knows what they are doing. And he is fiery too. He's a competitor. He hates losing, like he hates it. It is infectious."

    Brady's unretirement aside, the most decorated quarterback in league history showed last year that he's still quite capable of playing at an elite level. In his 22nd professional season, Brady led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43).

    And so long as Brady is still chucking the rock in Tampa, Evans will be his go-to pass-catcher—especially in the red zone.

2. Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When the Cincinnati Bengals made Ja'Marr Chase the fifth pick in the 2021 draft, they did so in part because Chase and Joe Burrow had a built-in rapport. The duo had played a major role on arguably the greatest single-season college football team of all time.

    In 2019, Burrow threw for a ridiculous 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns at LSU. Chase caught his fair share of those passes and then some—84 receptions, 1,780 yards and 20 scores.

    As ESPN's Ben Baby reported, Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters indicated that the duo didn't miss a beat once Chase arrived in the Queen City.

    "They came into this thing being on the same page understanding each other," he said. "Joe knows exactly what Ja'Marr is going to do in terms of his release, where to throw the ball. Ja'Marr understands where Joe is going to put the ball. It's just uncanny."

    It didn't take long for opposing defenses to see that. In his NFL debut, Chase caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. In Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens, Chase posted the first of his two 200-yard receiving games of the year. By season's end, Chase had piled up 81 grabs, set a rookie receiving record with 1,455 yards and captured Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

    For his part, Burrow threw for 4,611 yards and 34 scores in his second professional season, leading the Bengals on an improbable run to Super Bowl LVI.

    Had Cooper Kupp not had the historic season he did in 2021, Burrow and Chase would top this list.

    An argument can be made they should anyway.

1. Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

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    The best QB/WR combo in the NFL certainly isn't the longest-tenured. The 2021 season was their first together.

    But given what that duo produced last season, it's hard to argue their spot atop this list.

    Per Greg Beacham of the Associated Press, after the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, Cooper Kupp revealed just how much time he and Matthew Stafford spent developing a rapport after the veteran quarterback joined the Rams in a trade with the Detroit Lions.

    "Stafford and I spend a ton of time together," he said. "I was adding it up in the car on the way here. Just the extra time north of the obligatory time was probably 500 hours."

    That's a lot of pitching and catching. And boy oh boy, did it pay off.

    Stafford's first year with the Rams was one of the best of his career. His 4,886 passing yards were the third-most of his career. Stafford's 41 scoring passes tied his career high. His passer rating of 102.9 was only the second time he's eclipsed 100. And Stafford won 12 regular-season games for the first time.

    As for Kupp, well, all he did was have one of the best single seasons by a wide receiver in the history of the NFL. He led the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16) on the way to being named Offensive Player of the Year.

    It's just the fourth time since 1970 that a wide receiver has accomplished that last feat.