The Top Five Series: Current NFL wide receivers
The second run of The Top Five Series opened last week with a look at the top coaches in the NFL today. Take a look here if you missed out on last week’s list.
This week, we take a look at the best wide receivers in the league.
5. Stefon Diggs
Team: Buffalo Bills
492 receptions; 6,158 yards, 38 TD (six seasons)
Stefon Diggs has not received the respect he deserves.
Despite being the no. 2 option behind Adam Thielen in Minnesota, Diggs’ per-year numbers were on par with those of former division rival Davante Adams, who some consider the best wide receiver in football. And once the Kirk Cousins-sized shackles were removed, Diggs went off. Josh Allen’s favorite target led the league in 2020 with 127 receptions and 1,535 receiving yards while being named an All-Pro for the first time.
Diggs was a superstar in waiting and Minnesota failed to take advantage of the talent Diggs brings to the table. Still only 27, Diggs is now the focal point of the Bills passing attack and stands among the best receivers in the NFL today.
4. Julio Jones
Team: Tennessee Titans
848 receptions; 12,896 yards, 60 TD (10 seasons)
Julio Jones has not worn blue for a long time. A really long time. Seeing the seven-time Pro Bowler in anything other than black or red will be a shock to the football system. It will also be a boon for the Tennessee Titans.
At the peak of his powers, Jones is an unstoppable force of nature. From 2014 to 2019, Jones averaged 104 receptions, 1,565 yards and six touchdowns per season. That kind of production is outrageous, even more so considering the Falcons never pretended to focus on the running game and every opposing defense keyed on Jones.
After a 2020 season largely lost to injury, health is the biggest question following the 32-year-old Jones to Nashville. Head coach Mike Vrabel has a basis of comparison, however: After missing 11 games in 2013, Jones played in 15 games during Atlanta’s 2014 season, hauling in 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six scores.
Jones may not be in his prime but will be especially dangerous opposite burgeoning star A.J. Brown. AFC cornerbacks beware.
3. Davante Adams
Team: Green Bay Packers
546 receptions; 6,568 yards, 62 TD (seven seasons)
Davante Adams was a steal at pick no. 53 in the 2014 draft. I was a huge fan of Adams’ when he was at Fresno State and have been ever since.
I just cannot put him higher than no. 3.
Adams is the only player on this list who averages fewer than 80 receptions and 1,000 yards per season over the course of his career. He has played in all 16 of Green Bay’s games only twice in his seven seasons with the team.
These are not knocks on Davante Adams, who is one of the best route-runners in the league and may be the best in the business at creating separation. Adams is an elite playmaker who has scored 10 or more touchdowns in four of the last five seasons. His presence alone makes the already dangerous Aaron Rodgers even more of a threat.
We are splitting hairs when separating Adams from the next two players on this list. They are all among the best of the best, but someone has to be third, and it is Adams.
By a hair.
2. Michael Thomas
Team: New Orleans Saints
510 receptions; 5,950 yards, 32 TD (five seasons)
Michael Thomas catches damn near everything.
Over the course of his NFL career, Thomas has caught 77.6 percent of the passes thrown his way, a rate seven points higher than Stefon Diggs and at least 12 points higher than everyone else on this list. Playing with one of the most accurate passers in NFL history certainly helps, but Adams also has a future Hall-of-Famer throwing to him and 2020 was Adams’ first season with a catch rate above 66 percent.
Thomas’ claim as the second-best receiver in the NFL is growing thin, however, as the Saints superstar looks set to miss time again following off-season ankle surgery. The best ability is availability, and if Thomas continues to miss games, his value to New Orleans will suffer.
Team: Arizona Cardinals
747 receptions; 10,009 yards, 60 TD (eight seasons)
Nobody in the NFL is better at catching contested balls than DeAndre Hopkins. Video evidence exists here, where Hopkins straight up sons three Bills defenders — including Micah Hyde and Tre’Davious White, who are very good defensive backs — to catch a game-winning Hail Mary. Hopkins makes it look routine because he makes catches like this all the time.
Unlike Thomas, Adams and Jones, Hopkins never played with an elite (or even above average) quarterback for most of his career. Hell, Houston’s offense was not designed to make things easier for its wideouts at all. It didn’t matter. Hopkins averaged 79 catches, 1,122 yards and six touchdowns in his first four seasons as a pro, when he was saddled with a collective turd sandwich at quarterback. His numbers skyrocketed alongside Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray, as Hopkins has tallied at least 96 receptions and 1,165 yards over the second half of his eight-year career.