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The NFL Has a New Most Valuable Position: Receiver

On to 2022! Over many decades now, the quality of a team’s wide receivers has been vital to winning games. As we enter the decade of the 2020‘s, this is more true than ever. But instead of teams’ possessing a whole stable of talented pass catchers, we are now experiencing many teams that possess just one dominating receiver – and that seem to be enough.

I’ll take a look at the teams whose offenses largely rely on one nearly undefendable receiver – and if they are lucky, sometimes two. A dominating receiver of course requires a solid, disciplined, and accurate QB, though not necessarily a top-tier thrower. Teams with dominant receivers also need to be guided and prepared by smart coaching staffs, so I’ve also included that factor in the discussion.

I’ve listed such receivers roughly in order of dominance. It’s remarkable how fast some of these younger receivers have established dominance in the league.

Most Dominant Current Pass Receivers

Rams – Cooper Kupp (145 catches, 1,947 yards, 16 TDs) – Matthew Stafford – Sean McVay

Packers – Davante Adams (123, 1,553, 9 TDs) – Aaron Rodgers – Matt LaFleur

Chiefs – Tyreek Hill (111, 1,239, 11), Travis Kelce (92, 1,125, 9) – Patrick Mahomes – Andy Reed

Bengals – Ja’Marr Chase (81, 1,455, 13) – Joe Burrow – Zac Taylor

Forty-Niners – Deebo Samuel (77, 1,405, 6), George Kittle (71, 910, 6) – Jimmy Garoppolo – Kyle Shanahan

Honorable Mentions

Buccaneers – Mike Evans (74, 1,035, 14), Chris Godwin (98, 1,103, 5), Rob Gronkowski (55, 802, 6) – Tom Brady – Bruce Arians

Vikings – Justin Jefferson (88, 1,400, 7) – Kirk Cousins – Kevin O’Connell (replacing Mike Zimmer)

Ravens – Mark Andrews (107, 1,361, 9), Marquise Brown (91, 1,008, 6) – Lamar Jackson – John Harbaugh

Bills – Stefon Diggs (103, 1,225, 10) – Josh Allen – Sean McDermott

Seahawks – Tyler Lockett (73, 1,175, 8), D.K. Metcalf (75, 967, 12) – Russell Wilson – Pete Carroll

Cowboys – CeeDee Lamb (79, 1,102, 6) – Dak Prescott – Mike McCarthy

Comments

I view dominance as meaning the hardest receiver to defend. On that basis, these ratings stand up well, with Kupp, Adams, Samuel, and Chase causing nightmares to defenders. Tyreek Hill is mostly a speed merchant. Kupp lasted until the third round of the 2017 draft in part because he went to Eastern Washington, and even though he was phenomenal in both high school and college. Also, his dash time was 4.62.

By the playoffs, I believe Cupp, Adams, and Samuel were being accorded double coverage, and especially so as these games neared their finishes. Just think of the career Kupp would be having if he’d been thrown to by Stafford rather than Jared Goff for his first four years. I think Stafford has been seriously underrated despite having been in the league for

Only Kupp, Jefferson, and Metcalf started all 17 games; Kelce, Adams, Hill, Evans, Lockett, and Brown started 16 games; Godwin started 14; Lamb 13, Gronk 12, and Andrews only 9.

Andrews zoomed into prominence in 2021 – in his three prior years, he had never started more than 4 games, and his top yardage was 852 in 2019. Jefferson followed up his great rookie season (1,400 receiving yards) with an even better showing last season. The new phenom is Ja’Marr Chase, who just recorded the fourth most receiving yards as a rookie. Justin and La’Marr look to be perennial All-Pros for years to come. CeeDee Lamb, another youngster who’s only 22, made the Pro Bowl in just his second season.

Age is creeping up on a number of these superstars. Tight ends Kelce and Gronk are 32; Adams and Lockett are 29; Kupp, Kittle, Evans, and Diggs are 28.

Aaron Rodgers should be one hot trading commodity in 2022. The last two winning Super Bowl quarterbacks were in their first years with their new teams.

Almost all these receivers were being thrown to by top notch quarterbacks. I’d say that Samuel was the primary exception, though Justin Jefferson was probably also held back somewhat by Cousins. The Buccaneers will have to regroup next season due to Brady announcing his retirement. As usual Rodgers remains a beautiful mystery. Wilson had an uncharacteristically down year, as did Metcalf.

Almost everyone on my list also played on well-coached teams, which is surely not a coincidence. Viking fans are hoping that O’Connell will be an upgrade over Zimmer. The Bengals’ Zac Taylor, who became a head coach in 2019, the same year as LaFleur almost went all the way in his third season. Unlike LaFleur, however, his first two years resulted in a total of only 6 wins.

A number of veteran coaches also continued to do well at utilizing their star receivers, including Bruce Arians, Andy Reid, and you could include Sean McVay, who’s led the Rams for the five years now. McCarthy and Carroll’s teams underperformed.

Superstar tight end George Kittle has been injury-prone of late – he’s missed 13 games over the past three seasons. Though he’s now 32, Kelce has avoided serious injuries, and has now racked up six consecutive 1,000 receiving yard seasons.

There shouldn’t be much debate: at this moment, Davante Adams is the second best receiver in the NFL. And just as certain, Cooper Kupp is the best. He’s achieved that status through tireless effort, and despite being an average athlete – in fact he looks a bit frail out there on the gridiron.

He is also a role model and the essence of humility and team play. I put Cooper Kupp right up there with Bart Starr, Reggie White, and Jordy Nelson as being among the finest people, on and off the football field, I’ve had the pleasure of watching over a bunch of decades. What a player, and what a feel-good story – I can’t wait until the movie comes out.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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6 Comments

  1. NobodysBurfect February 18, 2022

    But Rob I’m confused – with such a putrid 40 yard dash time, how can Kupp be considered the best WR? Your statement seems to imply that there’s more to football than being able to run fast in a straight line without pads on! Sorry, he’s a number two at best. Give me Jeff Janis any day, that kid is plucky – and his RAS is off the charts!

  2. PF4L February 18, 2022

    Nice piece Rob….
    The only thing i scratched my head about is reading Justin Jefferson is an honorable mention.
    .
    This dude is about as real as it gets when talking next level players.
    Easily in the top level. I don’t care if he’s a viking or not.
    88 catches for 1400 yards? I want that cat on my team…any day.
    I agree the QB matters when discussing receiver talent.
    Imagine him and Rodgers.
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    When discussing receivers i can’t help but think of all the good receivers in the 2020 draft, most in the first round but some budding stars in the 2nd round also like Pittman, Van Jefferson, and Higgins.
    We didn’t need any of those guy’s as we are set at receiver…..apparently.
    Plus, we drafted for the future (in the best interest of the Green Bay Packers……apparently).
    .
    Thank for the articles Rob and all your work through the years, new articles are getting pretty rare in here.

  3. Mitch Anthony February 18, 2022

    If, and I only say IF, Green Bay transitions from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love then by looking at what is presented here and what the abilities of a Jordan Love are, Green Bay doesn’t need a Davante Adams target for Jordan Love. Green Bay needs a Mark Andrews type target for a QB like Jordan Love.

    Jordan Love will not need a supreme deep threat guy (he can’t accurately hit with consistency) and he will not need that – one guy – to always look for to bail him out. Jordan Love will need big muscular targets with great hands to compete for questionable throws in more one on one situations. Big wide receivers who are not necessarily the fastest guys on the field but sure handed and tall, a blue chip tight end (if one can be found), and pass catchers out of the backfield.

    If Jordan Love has a safety valve like Adams, it will not force him to go through his read progressions and adapt to the pace of the game. He needs more sure handed short field targets who can win battles. Big guys who can win the fight for the ball. Sure enough, accurate route runners make that happen as well but when the pass isn’t perfectly in the window for that accurate route, what do you have? You don’t need a Jordan Love firing at a double covered Davante Adams if the accuracy isn’t quite there.

    Adams can make great catches all over the field and the pairing of Rodgers and Adams is sometimes otherworldly. It will not be that if it is a Love and Adams pairing. For sure, there would be some rescues but it just won’t be the same. Jordan Love will need a variety of targets adequate enough for him to service those targets. If he gets the job, go find him the next Mark Andrews.

  4. PF4L February 20, 2022

    Novel time…..
    A lot of 1st round QB’s start in their first year, some in their second year.
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    In theory…if you have a 1st round QB who is finally going to get on the field in his 3rd season. He will succeed or fail on his own merits. You shouldn’t “have to” custom mold certain type of receivers.
    What he needs is receivers with skills…period.
    Lazard and MVS….(if resigned)..yes, that helps.
    But…don’t get confused on the difference between a #2 receiver, and role players.
    Which is exactly what MVS and Lazard are, role players..
    .
    With QB’s….you can pretty much tell what you have after they start some games. Sometimes they just don’t have the mental capabilities to succeed in the NFL.
    That is the case most of the time with QB’s drafted with enough physical talent to be drafted in round 1..
    Most of these QB’s have throwing skills. They didn’t get drafted in the 1st round because they don’t have the arm.
    Most all these guys can spin the ball at an NFL level.

    In Loves case, he’s got plenty of the mental preparation in 2 years, the covid excuse is used up and then some.
    Should Love get the chance to start full time and show what he’s learned the last 2 seasons?
    Absolutely, Gute owes him that, after chasing Love as a #1 pick.
    Unless of course…the Packers don’t have faith in him.
    I think keeping Rodgers, might be the answer to that question.
    If you trade up and draft Love to be the starter, then start him, or admit a mistake.
    A big mistake.
    .
    Gute also owed Rashan Gary and Packer fans the same courtesy.
    You don’t draft someone at 12, then sit him for two years, finally becoming a starter by default because of injury to Z. Smith in his 3rd season.
    Am i saying Preston Smith was a waste of a lot of money…fuck yea i am.
    He was ok….but he wasn’t 36.7 million…ok.
    I mean fuck…a 5th grader could understand that.
    .
    I worry about the O line with Love as much as having skilled receivers.
    I say this simply because he doesn’t have the skills or knowledge that Rodgers has in dealing with an O line who tend to give up a lot of pressure.
    Some of you understand what i’m saying there.
    I watch Love when he gets pressure, and i think mentally…..he has a lot of growing to do there.
    And no knock on Love personally, but a lot of highly skilled QB’s, just can’t deal mentally, with the speed and the complexity of the NFL.
    We see it all the time, game after game, season after season, decade after decade.
    I think that any scout or football guy will tell you, there is a world of difference from college to the NFL concerning QB play.
    It’s checkers vs chess in many, many aspects.
    .
    In respect to Mitch’s comments….most QB’s had at least 1 or 2 go to” guys (receivers they trusted and rely on early on and through their careers.
    Initially…Rodgers had Driver and Jennings.
    Then, along with Jennings, he had a rising J. Nelson, and JJ, and a slowly fading Driver.
    Then Nelson, Jennings, Finley and JJ…in that order.
    Then Cobb, Jones, Nelson, Finley and Jennings.
    You see where i’m going with this?
    A promising QB needs some talented pass catchers.
    .
    The point is….Ted knew what he had in Rodgers, and he was smart enough to provide him with receivers.
    Drafting JJ in the 3rd round, Cobb, Adams and Nelson in the 2 rounds,
    Not the shit story we have now under Gute.
    After Adams…what do we have?
    Not even a true #2 receiver, or a proven tight end….that, is reality. No…Acquiring Jimmy G and doesn’t count
    That is not making an excuse for Rodgers in any way.

    This is making the point…..that if Adams leaves….Love/Rodgers, has a shit poor receiving core…and that was a choice made…by Gutekunst.
    Can the Packers afford to acquire receiver talent through free agency…..doubtful.
    Once again, we’ll be depending on a rookie draft class for receiving talent.
    But then again, in a receiver deep 2020 draft, he elected to opt out.
    So who knows what he’ll do.
    Maybe draft 3 more receivers on day 3?
    But then again, maybe Gute can find another cheap free agent receiver like Devon Funchess.
    That worked out well.
    .
    The Packers currently have one wide receiver signed for the 2022 season and a bunch of nobody’s at tight end…apologies to Tonyan and his one good season.
    .
    Citing the current receiver situation Gute created….If i’m Rodgers, either i retire, or i want out via a trade.
    .
    My .02

  5. Tom M February 20, 2022

    Davante Adams maybe the oldest and slowest of the group. I’m not in favor of paying him 25 million. Which seems to be his asking price. But he’ll be a packaged deal in the event Rodgers stays. Adams isn’t a deep threat by any means. MVS is. And 38 yr old Rodgers struggles to connect with MVS on a deep routes. Jordan Love has the arm to do just that. I’d like to see Love and MVS play together for an extended period of time. They could complement each other the way Rodgers and Adams do.

  6. PF4L February 20, 2022

    Lol…good one Tommi.
    .
    Love/Mvs..like Rodgers/Adams.
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    Love your sense of humor, never stop!
    .
    Tell us the 5th year guarantee joke again, that one had me rolling….