While everyone continues to wait for the official kickoff of the 2017 season, what better way to pass the time then with another top five. Although some people have a hard time admitting it, the NFL has become a pass friendly league over the recent years and that’s the reason why some quarterbacks are able to put up such eye popping numbers.
However, although benefited with elite quarterbacks and the new stingy rules on defense, a league can’t become dependent on throwing the football without some studs catching it. So in this top five we will evaluate receivers by their talent, route running, and consistency. Without any further ado here are the five best receivers in the NFL:
5. Jordy Nelson
Many wouldn’t expect to see Nelson all the way up in a top five rankings. If you’re one of those people than you may be severely underrating the talent of Nelson. Coming off missing a full season with a torn ACL in 2015, Nelson came back with a bang catching 97 passes for 1,257 yards with 14 touchdowns last season. In 2015 it was quite clear that the Packers missed the breakaway speed of Nelson, along with his consistent and sharp routes that allowed Rodgers to make easy throws instead of having to scramble.
On paper it’s easy to see why many underrate Nelsons ability. The Packers do have solid weapons in the passing game that give him more room to operate however, as we saw when Nelson isn’t on the field, it’s a whole different game. The stability that he provides can’t be stressed enough, especially for a team that depends so much on their passing offense to cover up their lack of a run game, and lackluster defense.
Really it isn’t even close. Nelson is by far the best slot receiver in the NFL. Most players coming off major knee surgery the year before tend to be a bit underwhelming. Nelson on the other hand just went off by not missing a step. He actually looked a little quicker on his sideline moves and his vertical routes. Expect Nelson to repeat that production this year as him and Rodgers have become one of the most dynamic quarterback/receiver duos over the last 4 years.
4. Mike Evans
When thinking about a way to properly describe Evans as a player, there is nothing else to say except that he’s an absolute force. The way that Evans is able to control his size and strength and use it to just overpower defenders is astonishing. The most eye popping thing however, is that Evans has matured so quickly as a receiver and is only in the 4th year of his NFL career. The ceiling this guy has is unreal. Just the pure athletic ability, his soft hands, and once again physical dominance makes him one of the hardest covers in the game.
Last year Evans really came onto the scene and proved himself as a top receiver. One of the main reasons for this was the chemistry that Evans and Winston developed early on. This can be shown by the number of times that Evans was targeted: a whopping 173 passes were thrown in the direction of Evans last year and for good reason. Evans finished with 96 receptions for 1,321 yards, (13.76 yards per reception) and 12 TDs. Evans had a career high in receptions, yards, and matched his season high in TDs. The major takeaway from this is that Evans was the only real threat on Tampa Bay last year, yet he still put up these ridiculous numbers facing consistent double teams.
Evans’ route running could use a little work as he tends to become a little lax sometimes and runs into coverage. Coming out of college his ability to run NFL routes was a question, but he has certainly shown that he is capable of improving as he has since entering the league. His 55.5% catch rate is also not ideal, but that’s more on the coaching staff trying to keep Evans evolved than anything else.
Now with the off-season addition of Jackson, Evans gets a dynamic weapon alongside him who can take the top off the defense and give Evans a little more room to work. Plus with the continued growth of Winston at quarterback, Evans is in a great position to be able to increase the high quality targets he receives and really make noise around the NFL as the top receiver in the game.
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
Personally, this was hard for me to do because Evans is in my perspective a more well rounded receiver. However, the stats back up Beckham, so here we are. And that doesn’t mean Beckham is anything less than a fabulous talent.
Without a doubt in my mind Beckham is the most athletically gifted player in the NFL. His hands are just ridiculous. His ability to catch a football at any angle is so rare, along with the amazing body control he possesses which allows him to stop mid route or even in mid-air to come back to the football.
Beckham also has great speed off of the snap. He is able to quickly get a step or two on the defenders and put himself in good position to make easy catches. His competitiveness is certainly there for everyone to see as he isn’t afraid to get dirty and play against bigger corner backs when he is put into that spot.
Beckham had another fantastic statistical season last year, catching 101 passes for 1,367 yards, (13.5 yards per reception) for 10 TDs. There was a decent drop in yards per game as in 2015 (96.7 yards per game), while last year he only averaged 85.4. What does that mean you may ask? Well it shows us that despite catching more passes last year, Beckham wasn’t able to break away from defenders nearly as much as in previous years.
Despite all the talent that Beckham possesses, what leaves him from being a cemented top three or even the best receiver in the NFL is his antics. Last year with the whole Josh Norman incident we learned that Beckham lacks the ability to control his competitive nature. Then later on in the playoffs when the Giants needed their best player the most, he showed up small, catching only 4 passes on 11 targets for 28 yards. That isn’t the type of game you want to see from a player who wants to be paid like the best but can’t hack it when things get a little tighter.
Beckham needs to learn to control his temper and also catch the balls thrown to him when the games matter the most. That’s all that’s holding him back from separating himself as the clear cut number one receiver in the NFL.
2. Julio Jones
What can you say about Julio Jones that someone hasn’t already said. Nothing because everyone knows how dynamic a receiver this guy is.
Despite the statistical decline last year, Jones never looked better out on the field then he did last year. Atlanta was able to add some offensive weapons along side Jones so he didn’t have to be targeted 203 times and make 136 catches. So the drop off in receptions from 136 to 83 was a blessing in disguise as it kept Jones healthier for games down the stretch.
However, Jones didn’t let anyone forget he was more than capable of absolutely taking over games. From his 12 catch 300 yard game against the Panthers, to his stunning performance against Green Bay putting up 9 catches for 180 yards and 2 TDs on their way to the Super Bowl. The most impressive was his Super Bowl performance against a New England team that always focuses to take out the best player on the other side. Jones still came through catching every pass thrown his way including one of the greatest catches anyone will ever see.
Jones was criticized early on in his career for tending to give up when things got tough on him. Now he has completely flipped the narrative and has proven to be as clutch as anyone when the lights are brightest.
His outstanding hands, speed, route running ability, athletic build, body control, and mental toughness, Jones is just an all around great receiver. If Atlanta has any chance at redemption, they need Jones to continue his dominant ways.
1. Antonio Brown
After praising Jones so much its easy to wonder why he isn’t number one on this list. While Jones is an absolute force, the stats alone back up Brown as the best in the business. Brown was the 195th overall pick in the 2010 draft and every time he takes the field you can tell that he remembers that.
Brown has been an absolute force, especially the past few seasons. In each of the past four seasons Brown has at least 100 receptions and over 1,200 yards. That’s a hard thing to do for a receiver for a single year, let alone to repeat it and even improve on it. If you delve a little deeper into the dominance of Antonio Brown over the past four years, you’ll see that he has put up a total of 481 catches for 6,315 yards with 43 touchdowns and averaged an outstanding 100 yards per game. If you average it out on a game to game basis, Brown has put up approximately eight catches for 100 yards every single week for 63 regular season games straight! That’s just unbelievable especially considering that he has shown no signs of stopping this pace anytime soon.
Brown is the quickest receiver in the game also. His ability to plant his foot sharply and make that quick cut to the inside or outside is practically unstoppable. Brown can make separation from any player at anytime. Defenders know its coming but they can’t stop it because he’s just too quick. Brown has made a living off producing extra yards after the catch, averaging about 4.74 YAC throughout his career, this is also due to his outstanding open field quickness.
If Brown gets a defender one-on-one anywhere on the field he is going to win every time. That’s why he’s the best. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the slot, on the outside, or if he’s running a slant or a fade. He will win. That’s how good he is. Even when Brown has a rough game or makes a bad play, his ability to not let it get to him but motivate him to make the next one is truly remarkable. With all the high drafted receivers and high talented receivers coming up into the NFL, it’s hard not to continue to cheer for the underdog who continues to prove everyone who passed on him back in 2010 wrong.
Featured image via NFL Network