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Which NFL teams have the best and worst WR/TE depth?
I was surprised to see people criticizing the Bears for going after Kenny Golladay even though they franchised Allen Robinson. Seriously? It just goes to prove that people often do not care about the “what” they only care about the “who” and they’ll feed their opinion through a biased narrative before they give it online. If the perception of the Bears was that they are moving in the “right direction” then this would be pitched as a very simple copycat move of both Super Bowl teams in 2020.
The Bucs have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, two receivers often pitched as “number one options” but I haven’t heard many people argue that offenses should follow this model. Not even after the Bucs franchised Godwin in spite of the fact that WR value has been dropping like it was downvoted at /r/wallstreetbets. Of course, Tampa also has Antonio Brown and he might have been their most valuable receiver down the stretch. Then there was Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson. Extending that to tight ends and of course Tampa also has Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate. Remember that Brate and Miller are not their number three and four options, but by the end of the season, more like their number five and eight options.
The Chiefs have two elite pass-catchers in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman represent better receivers than most teams when they get down to their three and four receiver, but that would only be the case if Sammy Watkins didn’t also exist. So it’s more like Hill is the number one, while Robinson, Hardman, and Watkins sort of all represent equal number twos, depending on the situation.
The Bills, who made it to the AFC Championship, didn’t only add Stefon Diggs. (Though you’d think the addition and success of Diggs would have sparked greater urgency this year to copy that move.) They also got a second-team all-pro performance out of Cole Beasley and had strong depth with John Brown and Gabe Davis. Even number five receiver Isaiah McKenzie was regularly involved in the offense, catching a touchdown in the AFC Championship game.
So why shouldn’t Chicago be praised for going after Golladay? Oh that’s right, because people already decided to shit on the Bears for cutting Akiem Hicks and Kyle Fuller and “failing” to secure Russell Wilson. So it went along with the narrative.
Here’s a better narrative: WR talent and depth might be the most underrated storyline of the offseason.
In the NBA, it was found out long ago that it was sometimes better to pool talent on a small number of teams rather than hope that every team has a superstar. Is it better to have one superstar on 30 teams or two superstars on 15 teams or three superstars on 10 teams? Well, there probably aren’t 30 “superstars” anyway, but you get my point.
There’s been such a focus on Tom Brady that it seems people are overlooking the additions of Gronkowski, Brown, Leonard Fournette, and even Tristan Wirfs. But what I’m really interested in is what impact WR depth and WR/TE depth could have on offenses in 2021 and whether or not it’s a lack of depth that hurts, as well as how beneficial it is to have two “number ones” like the Bucs.
Your list might include running backs. This list doesn’t include running backs. Yes, I’m aware that running backs catch more passes than they used to. This is not a list that includes running backs though. If you wanted that list, this is not the place you intended to wind up at and we don’t have to make it any more than that.
This is each team’s roster as of March 20, 2021. If a team signs Kenny Golladay tomorrow, then their placement on the list would change. If a team is expected to add a player or bring back a player or draft a player, that’s of no concern to me. This is a list based on players on rosters on March 20, 2021.
It is entirely possible that I overlooked or “missed” a wide receiver or tight end of note, but if they aren’t SIGNED to that team as of today, it’s not worth mentioning.
This is not exactly a ranking. Not exactly.
Deep Impact - Best Depth
Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabe Davis, Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah Hodgins, Jacob Hollister, Dawson Knox
Even without a notable receiving tight end (Buffalo did just add Hollister, who could challenge Knox for starting reps), Buffalo could boast the the deepest receiving corps in the league. 2020 fourth round pick Gabe Davis is a good bet to breakout for 1,000 yards next season. Hodgins didn’t get drafted long after Davis and if it weren’t for a preseason injury, might have also surprised last year. (His dad James was a fullback on the ‘99 Rams.) And both of those guys appear lower on the depth chart than Diggs, Beasley, and arguably Sanders. Deep.
Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Rashard Higgins, Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Njoku
On one hand, this looks fantastic for Cleveland. They’re in the argument for best WR duo in the NFL but they also run three-deep at tight end since Njoku remains on the roster and just had his 2021 salary guaranteed. Higgins was just re-signed and though Peoples-Jones only had 20 targets as a rookie, he’s a sleeper to develop into a valuable number two option.
On the other hand, this same team didn’t feature any player with more than 850 receiving yards last season (Landry had 840 in 15 games), Beckham hasn’t been “Beckham” in a while now, and I wouldn’t be sold on any of the tight ends yet. But because of the depth (and a case for best o-line in the NFL), the Browns have a huge margin for error.
Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Eric Ebron
A weaker-than-expected market for receivers allowed Smith-Schuster to claim that he would have “never” left Pittsburgh and he returned on a one-year, $8 million contract. The Steelers have drafted a receiver on day two in each of the last four years and as my Steelers friend texted me yesterday, “They’ll probably do it again this year.”
Last year, it resulted in Claypool leading the team in yards per target (8.0) and tying with Smith-Schuster in touchdowns (9), though those two and Johnson combined for eight fumbles. Johnson also reportedly had 13 drops, which is about as many as you’ll ever read about. Ebron had seven and Claypool had six. There’s a lot of talent here and it would seem that Claypool and Johnson have extraordinary ceilings, but can either reach that point? They still lack notable tight ends and depth there.
Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
And Antonio Brown remains unsigned and could return …
The wild card here is Howard, who might have had his best season last year if not for injury. He could be the top tight end on the free agent market in 2021. Don’t ignore Johnson either, a 2020 fifth rounder who caught 12 of 17 targets for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Henry Ruggs, Darren Waller, John Brown, Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, Foster Moreau, Zay Jones, Keelan Doss, Derek Carrier
People mocking Jon Gruden’s offseason moves are wrong. I can’t say if the Raiders will go to the playoffs or anything, but it seems to me that they’ve mostly made moves that will improve the roster. Trent Brown was a team problem, he never showed up. Rodney Hudson could have seen his best days pass him by already. Nelson Agholor got paid more than anyone expected. Kenyan Drake is not a “backup running back.”
People compare Kyle Pitts to Darren Waller, so I’m fine with saying that it is very good to have Darren Waller on your team. Is Ruggs going to develop into a number one? Are any of these players? That’s undecided, but this is an article highlighting depth and that’s what I’m seeing here. Look out for Edwards to potentially emerge as the best here.
Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, Cedrick Wilson, Blake Jarwin
It could very well be the last year we see this trio together, as Gallup likely prices himself out of Dallas in 2021. This is a great example of people assuming that a team must have great wideout depth, but the exact point is that if anything happens to a starter, they’re turning to Wilson, Noah Brown, or former Seahawk Malik Turner. Schultz was interesting in 2020 though, catching 63 of 89 for 615 yards at age 24, so if a team can go four-deep with a tight end, that’s enough for me to place them here.
Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Robert Tonyan, Equanimeous St. Brown
I, too, would’ve been curious to see Green Bay draft a receiver early in 2020, but this isn’t exactly an “Eagles” situation. Still, it seems like the Packers are a team that could really challenge Tampa Bay’s depth with one high profile addition, and not the too-late-Jimmy-Graham version.
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, Julian Edelman, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Henry, Jakobi Meyers, Donte Moncrief
Bring on the controversy: New England has had an unbelievably good free agency. Every year, I write that teams shouldn’t spend a lot in free agency, and most every year that turns out to be good advice. Not in the case of the Patriots. The offensive line now has top-five potential (even if Trent Brown wasn’t fond of playing for the Raiders, he’s never had an issue playing for the Pats) and Bill Belichick has a tight end duo again. If Henry had developed as hoped, this would be an unbelievable group. But without a true number one, it’s mostly just phenomenal depth. They still need the quarterback, however. And I wouldn’t rule out Belichick taking a receiver at 15. They could also draft Pitts and line him up wide and really screw with everyone.
Could Improve The Depth Perception - Best Potential
Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst, Olamide Zaccheaus
Depth certainly seemed apparent when Gage had 114 yards in Week 1 against the Seahawks. But he didn’t even reach 90 yards again until Week 17. (When he had 91 against the Bucs.) Zaccheaus could be sneaky next year. Hurst cost Atlanta a second round pick in trade and he responded with a career-high 56 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns.
Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam
Has the potential to be a top-five group, but it’s early to anoint most of these players as consistent, high quality options.
Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jared Cook, Tyron Johnson, Jalen Guyton, K.J. Hill
It’s not as good as it could be yet, but Johnson is the name to watch and LA could draft a WR/TE with one of their first two picks.
Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Ross Dwelley
I actually don’t have many doubts that Samuel, Aiyuk, and Kittle represent the perfect players for this system. But they combined to miss 21 games last season due to injury. They’ve also lost a good depth piece with Kendrick Bourne leaving for the Patriots. The injury worries and the lack of depth could lead San Francisco towards drafting yet another wideout. (They took Samuel and Hurd on day two of 2019, Aiyuk in the first round in 2020.) The most Kyle Shanahan move of all would be drafting Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
The Niners are in contention for best 1-2-3, but “depth” …? I think they lack it.
DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Mike Gesicki, Lynn Bowden, Preston Williams
Adding Fuller was necessary; Parker and Gesicki were the only two Dolphins last season to top 400 receiving yards and running back Myles Gaskin was third on the team in that category with 388 in 10 games. Miami isn’t done and they could target Devonta Smith or Kyle Pitts with pick three.
Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Chris Herndon
We can’t say much yet about Mims or how Davis will perform in New York, but by adding Davis and Cole, they’ve given themselves four options; which is three more than they had for most of last season. Trading down and drafting a WR or Pitts would move the needle a lot here.
D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyler Eifert, Collin Johnson
It looks better than a 1-15 team has any right to look, maybe. That’s because they signed Jones and Shenault was only 22 last season. Chark was only 24. Jacksonville will draft Trevor Lawrence first, but they also have picks 25, 33, 45, and 65. That’s four more opportunities to give Lawrence yet another weapon. It’s a pretty top-heavy tight end class, with Pitts as the only player at his position guaranteed to go in the first. Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth might fit here.
Top-Heavy - Surface-level Offenses
Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle
Demarcus Robinson caught 45 of 59 targets and Sammy Watkins caught 37 of 55. They combined for 887 yards and five touchdowns. They aren’t signed and Kansas City is out of cap room for now. Will the Chiefs regret taking Clyde Edwards-Helaire over Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman, etc? The depth is gone, for now, but it’s early to say that Patrick Mahomes can’t turn some of these unknowns into knowns.
Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Irv Smith, Olabisi Johnson
Even when a team makes the best WR pick of 2020 and the other guy catches 14 touchdowns, you can have poor pass-catching depth. Smith, an Alabama alum, was only 22 last season and he has potential. Johnson has a little potential. But Minnesota could target a receiver at pick 14, even after having taken Jefferson in the first last year. This would not be “crazy” if people had opted to go with the narrative that the Bucs were successful because of their array of talented weapons. Besides, Thielen is turning 31 in August and that will make him one of the oldest starting wideouts in the league.
KENNY GOLLADAY*, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, John Ross, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Levin Toilolo, Dante Pettis
Slayton didn’t take a big step forward last season, so as of now, New York still lacks a number one option. They’ve got two decent twos and an okay tight end and probably a need for more help through the draft. It’s bordering on “bad depth” but soon you’ll see how much worse it can really get.
Update: 12:38 PM - Golladay is apparently headed to the Giants. This slides Slayton and Shepard down a peg and afirms Ross as no better than a gadget option. Golladay/Slayton could be a good duo, with Shepard as the number three, and it might be of near equal value to what the Lions had with Golladay/Marvin Jones/Hockenson in 2020.
Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, Van Jefferson
There are two other Rams to watch: tight end Brycen Hopkins and receiver Trishton Jackson. But neither played in 2020 and Jefferson, a second round pick, was of little consequence as a rookie. LA has a solid 1-2 — and Matthew Stafford should bring a lot more out of these players than Jared Goff was able to — but they must be considering a veteran addition like a Sammy Watkins reunion or an Antonio Brown gamble.
Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas
The Samuel addition gives Washington an interesting 1-2, but depth is sorely lacking.
Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet
They’re reportedly shopping Miller, but that may be contingent on signing someone like Golladay. Kmet was only 21 last season, catching 28 passes for 243 yards. Mooney is a 24-year-old who is beeping loud on many radars. But Chicago is going after receiver help for obvious reasons.
D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Ian Thomas
After losing Curtis Samuel, the number three receiver becomes … Omar Bayless? Brandon Zylstra? Keith Kirkwood? Anybody looking at Moore and Anderson and thinking Carolina’s a “good spot” for a quarterback is completely overlooking the fact that the Panthers are one injury away from being the Jets or Eagles of last season.
DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart, Luke Willson
My biggest fear in life? It’s not spiders, skydiving, or speeches. It’s saying that Seattle lacks the wide receiver depth that they need and then having a person disagree with me on the internet. I do understand that you may have a different opinion than me and I support your right to disagree with me on the internet.
I also acknowledge that you probably want the best for Seattle and because of that you’re probably more optimistic on Everett or Parkinson or Swain than a Browns fan or a Bucs fan would be. But I never intend to write with that same optimism — only realism.
Metcalf could become a generational number one, and even then he’s clearly leaving something on the field these last two years. Pro-Football-Reference counts it as 15 drops in his career so far.
PFR had even more drops for Lockett than for Metcalf last season (8 to 7) and he’ll be one of the oldest starting wideouts in the NFL this year, even if he’s only going to be 29. Seattle doesn’t have a number two or number three receiver who absolutely demands Russell Wilson’s attention for eight or nine targets per game and that’s something they could use next season.
I’m really not concerned with what other people think about Everett or Parkinson or Swain. Maybe one of those players does breakout next season. Going off of what we know, however, I see practically no depth here and honestly things begin to get wonky for me as early as mentioning Lockett as the two.
Buoy Boys - Depth Could Swing Either Way
Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris, Tre’Quan Smith, Taysom Hill*, Adam Trautman, Marquez Callaway
It’s not just Drew Brees. Emmanuel Sanders had 82 targets last season and Jared Cook had 60 (only Alvin Kamara had more than those two) and it’s going to be a much different offense next season. It’s easy to fall in love with Harris, but we’ve only seen him targeted 31 times in two years. “Depth” though? How? Where? What?
DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, Max Williams
Don’t dismiss Green’s poor numbers in 2020 as being a result of lack of opportunities: 16 games, 104 targets, 820 snaps. And he played three-quarters of his season with Joe Burrow as the QB. Burrow’s completion rate when throwing to Green: 45.3% with a 58.3 passer rating. I would think that Kirk and Isabella have greater odds of success next season than Green or a re-signed Larry Fitzgerald. And that’s not good news for Arizona. Plus, if you’re used to a reality where the Cardinals don’t have an interesting tight end, then you’ll love it here.
Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Mike Thomas, Drew Sample, CJ Uzomah
It’s fine to let A.J. Green leave but Cincinnati can’t possibly be satisfied with what they have left over. Even if Higgins and Boyd are really good, there’s no depth here that I can see.
Depth of a Failed Man - Worst Depth
A.J. Brown, Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim
Corey Davis took 984 yards to the Jets, Jonnu Smith took 448 yards and eight touchdowns to the Patriots. Rashard Davis, Cameron Batson, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine … these are the players vying for opportunities next training camp, until Tennessee makes another move. They’ve got some cap space, they can’t be done yet.
Jalen Reagor, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Travis Fulgham, John Hightower, Quez Watkins, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward
There are now teams that have even less to hope for at WR than Philadelphia, especially for as long as they intend to hold onto Ertz. Reagor’s far from written off and I think Hightower/Watkins are interesting projects. But the obvious is no less obvious: despite many efforts by Howie Roseman to get better on the field, they haven’t. No receiver on the roster has ever posted 600 yards in a season.
Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Andre Roberts, Jordan Akins, Ryan Izzo, Keke Coutee
They’ve been the worst-run organization in football and if you want compelling evidence to prove it, just read those names. Cobb is making a guaranteed $10.5 million. And Houston’s first draft pick doesn’t come until 67th overall. And they have no money to get better. These are probably the reasons why Deshaun Watson won’t play for the Texans, not some comic book Bible villain.
Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell, Jack Doyle, Zach Pascal, Dezmon Patmon, Mo Alie-Cox
If T.Y. Hilton doesn’t return, the top returning player will be Pascal, who had 44 catches for 629 yards. Pittman was productive in the playoff loss to Buffalo, gaining 90 yards. Campbell, a second rounder in 2019, only played in two games. So, how exactly is Carson Wentz supposed to do “better” with Indy’s receiving corps than he did with Philly’s?
Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Devin Duvernay, Miles Boykin
I’m starting to think that the receiver problem in Baltimore is actually worse than feared. I’m not sure pick 27 is high enough for them to get the help they want at the position right away. Someone needs to stop the Ravens from their comp pick obsession and convince them to get involved with the receiver market.
T.J. Hockenson, Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Quintez Cephus, Josh Hill
No disrespect to Hockenson, but Jared Goff is doomed.
I wanted to set aside two or three teams as the absolute dredge of this list, but couldn’t quite narrow it down between the teams in this section. I mean, clearly Detroit has the least amount of wide receiver talent. But look at how bad things get for the Titans after A.J. Brown. The Colts, Ravens, and Eagles all seem to lack any good receivers but all have a young guy or two worth holding out hope for too. The Lions may be the worst, but Hockenson could be as valuable in the NFL today as A.J. Brown or any receiver in this grouping.
The Seahawks don’t quite belong in this group, but an injury to Lockett could send them here and an injury to Metcalf would have them treading far too close to the Lions. The search for a receiver can’t possibly have ended.