When it comes to identifying the top wide receiver in the NFL, sometimes the numbers don't lie. Davante Adams played a big role in teammate Aaron Rodgers' MVP season, as he led the league in touchdown catches with 18, tied for second with 115 catches, and tied for fifth in receiving yards (1,374). Even though there's some uncertainty surrounding Rodgers' future in Green Bay, Adams has shown enough to be considered the top at his position entering the 2021 season.
Right behind Adams is Stefon Diggs, who led the league in both catches (127) and yards (1,535) as he helped his quarterback, Josh Allen, bust out in a big way, following his offseason trade from Minnesota to Buffalo. Third on our list is Julio Jones, who will be playing for a new team this season as Atlanta traded Jones to Tennessee in June.
Jones, who was limited to just nine games last season due to injury, is still one of the best in the game when healthy. And even though he's leaving quarterback Matt Ryan after 10 seasons together and running mate Calvin Ridley, who rounds out our top five, Jones should still be able to put up strong numbers as a Titan considering how well Ryan Tannehill has played the last few seasons and the emergence of wideout A.J. Brown, who checks in at No. 9 below.
And speaking of young wide receivers leaving their mark, there's Justin Jefferson. The fifth at his position taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft in what was considered a loaded class, Jefferson went on to not only post the best numbers of any of his peers, but he also put together one of the most impressive rookie seasons by a wide receiver in the history of the game with 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns.
The rest of our top 10 is made up of DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill, DK Metcalf, and Amari Cooper. That tells you how deep the talent pool has become at wide receiver when New Orleans' Michael Thomas, along with Chicago's Allen Robinson II and Tampa Bay's duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are among those that didn't make the top 10.
Athlon's player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2021 Pro Football magazine.
2021 NFL Wide Receiver Rankings
1. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
There is no better receiver when it comes to beating press coverage than Adams. He’s such an astute route-runner that he’s able to fool aggressive cornerbacks with foot-fakes for days. That’s just one of the traits that have made him the game’s best receiver. Yes, Adams benefits from Aaron Rodgers’ presence, but no one does more with less talent around him.
2. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Diggs led the NFL with 127 receptions and 1,535 receiving yards. Diggs was the alpha in a receiver corps that was drastically improved with his presence, in part because he’s a great route-runner who can tie any cornerback in knots. Look for him to grow as a deep threat in his second season with Josh Allen.
3. Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans
Injuries limited Jones to just nine games last season, and he still amassed 51 catches for 771 yards and three TDs on 68 targets. He had been one of the NFL’s most productive receivers in the previous two seasons and there’s no reason to believe that a healthy Jones can’t put up league-leading numbers even if he's no longer paired with Matt Ryan.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray’s primary target spent most of his time as the backside iso receiver — 835 of his 1,043 snaps in 2020. Whatever it is that makes the Cardinals relatively schematically static when Hopkins is on the field is a matter of conjecture, but one wonders if Hopkins would be even more effective if that weren’t the case.
5. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Only Tyreek Hill had more targets of 20 or more air yards than Ridley’s 36, and Ridley caught 16 of those passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. Ridley is now clearly the man in Atlanta following the trade of Julio Jones, and he also should benefit from the efforts of new head coach and offensive play-designer Arthur Smith.
6. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Not only did Jefferson thrive as a primary outside receiver, but he also lapped the field in the 2020 class in terms of productivity — he led all rookie receivers with 88 catches for 1,400 yards, and only Pittsburgh’s Chase Claypool had more TDs among rookies than Jefferson’s seven.
7. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Once again, Hill was Patrick Mahomes’ primary deep threat in 2020. Hill caught 13 passes of 20 or more air yards on a league-high 38 targets for 475 yards and a league-high eight touchdowns. But he also developed as a receiver in the short-to-intermediate game.
8. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
In his two seasons, Metcalf has caught 157 passes for 2,518 yards and 20 touchdowns, turning himself into a constant threat in a run-heavy offense. The 6'4", 235-pound Metcalf led the NFL with 531 yards on passes of 20 or more air yards, catching 13 such passes for five TDs.
9. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown has become known for his physical playing style, especially in the red zone. On passes from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line last season, Brown caught nine passes on 12 targets for 90 yards and seven touchdowns. Inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, all five of Brown’s catches went for touchdowns. And with Julio Jones now a Titan, defenses won't be able to focus all of their attention on Brown.
10. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Cooper caught a career-high 92 passes on 130 targets for 1,114 yards and five TDs. He kept his production up when he was catching passes from Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert, which augurs well for both Dak Prescott and Cooper when Prescott returns healthy for 2021.
11. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
12. Allen Robinson II, Chicago Bears
13. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14. Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
15. Corey Davis, New York Jets
16. DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers
17. DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
18. Kenny Golladay, New York Giants
19. Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers
20. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
21. Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
22. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
23. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
24. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
25. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26. Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
27. Will Fuller V, Miami Dolphins
28. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
29. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
30. Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams