NFL 2017: Ranking the 10 best wide receiver duos
It’s time to take a look at the top 10 duos at wide receiver heading into the 2017 NFL season.
Training camp for the 2017 NFL season is right around the corner, and while football fans anxiously await for it to officially get underway, one way to kill a little time until then is looking at which teams are fortunate to have some of the best duos at wide receivers. The NFL has become a pass-happy league over the last couple of years, and the receivers on this list certainly make life much easier for their quarterbacks.
For example, most quarterbacks in the league would do anything to be in the position the Green Bay Packers put Aaron Rodgers finds himself in for the weapons he has to work with on offense. It’s one thing to have a dangerous weapon like Jordy Nelson who seems impossible to cover at times, but throw another player like Randall Cobb, who could arguably be a No. 1 wideout elsewhere, into the mix, and it’s easy to see why the Packers always seem to have a high-powered offense year after year.
While it seemed obvious that Green Bay would earn a spot on this list, where do they stack up compared to the rest of the top duos in the NFL? Without wasting any more time, here’s a look at the top 10 duos at wide receiver at the moment for the 2017 NFL season.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant (Steelers)
Before any Pittsburgh Steelers fans freak out over Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant only earning an honorable mention on this list, keep in mind the situation surrounding the offense heading into training camp. For obvious reasons, Brown has established a strong reputation for being one of the top receivers in the league, and his numbers dating back to the 2013 season will back it up.
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On paper, Pittsburgh has the potential to have one of league’s top offenses once again, as the team looks to take advantage of the limited time Ben Roethlisberger has since the quarterback has already hinted that retirement isn’t too far away. But while Big Ben has benefitted from playing with an explosive wideout like Brown, the one question to keep an eye on over the next few months will be whether Bryant can return to his old dominant form.
Bryant missed the entire 2016 season due to suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but now that he’s officially back in the picture, the wideout could be the difference maker when it comes to this offense reaching a whole new level. At the moment, there are a handful of receivers who seem capable of emerging as a reliable No. 2 wideout alongside Brown in the passing game, but there’s no question the Steelers would love to see Bryant earn the role when it’s all said and done.
10. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns (Jaguars)
Heading into the 2016 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars were considered a team to keep an eye on when it comes to making the leap to potential contenders when seeing the talent surrounding the offense. Prior to last year, Blake Bortles was coming off an impressive sophomore campaign in which he finished with 4,428 passing yards to go along with 35 touchdowns, mainly because of the unexpected emergence of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns at wideout.
During that season, Robinson and Hurns combined for 2,431 receiving yards to go along with 24 touchdowns, but unfortunately the duo saw their production take a hit in 2016, with struggles surrounding Bortles being the main reason why. The Jaguars have been patient enough with Bortles over the years when it comes to the former first-round pick hitting his true potential, and if the struggles carry over into 2017, there’s a good chance he’ll be looking for a new job next offseason.
Hopefully, Robinson and Hurns can help take some of that pressure off Bortles by returning to the dominant duo that was on display during the 2016 season. And if that does happen, maybe Jacksonville will consider keeping Bortles around for the long run.
9. Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills (Dolphins)
Last year, the Miami Dolphins ended up being one of the biggest surprises by earning one of the Wild Card spots in the AFC, despite a 1-4 start to the year. Unfortunately, it’s tough not to wonder what could have been for the Dolphins if Ryan Tannehill was healthy enough to play in the postseason, but at least the quarterback has plenty of reasons to feel confident about the potential surrounding this offense in 2017.
After months of rumors surrounding the possibility of bolting in free agency, Kenny Stills will be returning for his third season with the Dolphins after agreeing to a four-year deal with the team during the offseason. With Stills deciding to stay put, the Dolphins have every reason to believe their offense has what it takes to be one of the best next season thanks to the wideout playing alongside a player who continues to improve each year in Jarvis Landry.
Seeing Landry targeted 297 times over the last two seasons shows how valuable he’s been to Miami’s passing game, and his presence will certainly take some of the pressure off Tannehill, as the quarterback looks to avoid any setbacks. Overtaking a talented team like the New England Patriots in the AFC East will be no easy task, but at least having players like Landry and Stills will give the Dolphins a fighting chance.
8. Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams (Cowboys)
His numbers may have been down last season, but when looking at the rise of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott on offense, Dez Bryant was willing to let this happen since the end results of the Dallas Cowboys earning the best record in the NFC made it totally worth it. Ever since he was drafted by the Cowboys in 2010, Bryant has been a nightmare for opponents to defend thanks to having some of the best hands in football, and with Prescott officially having a year of experience under his belt, all signs point to another big year from the former Oklahoma State standout.
When looking at what the Dallas offense brings to the table in the passing game, the two names that stick out the most beyond Bryant happen to be Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. But since Beasley is considered the slot wideout and Witten is simply a tight end who can catch, it’s Terrance Williams that technically gets the honors of being the No. 2 wideout for the Cowboys.
Williams and the Cowboys agreed to a new four-year deal this offseason, and he’s coming off a 2016 season in which he caught 44 passes for 594 yards to go along with four touchdowns. Give Williams credit for recognizing he has a good thing going in Dallas instead of trying to gain more money elsewhere, which sadly doesn’t happen as often at the NFL level.
7. Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu (Falcons)
Just like some of the other receivers on this list, Julio Jones can be nearly impossible to defend at times thanks to his quick hands and blazing speed, making him worth all of those surrendered draft picks by the Atlanta Falcons back in 2011. Whether it was his 300-yard game against the Carolina Panthers to his stellar performance against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, it’s tough to pick just one favorite game from Jones in 2016, and the Falcons wideout isn’t ready to slow down any time soon.
Having Jones in the lineup always gave the Falcons an extra advantage against opponents, but it was tough at times when considering the extra coverage he would receive. Luckily for Atlanta, the team landed an under the radar free agent in Mohamed Sanu last offseason to lineup alongside Jones, and even though it’s only been one year, it seems to be paying off so far.
With two speedy receivers for opponents to worry about in Jones and Sanu, the Falcons’ offense hit a whole new level in 2016, and played a key role in not just Matt Ryan taking home MVP honors, but the team becoming NFC Champions. And if all goes well a few months from now, there’s a good chance Ryan and Atlanta will be serious contenders in the NFC for the second year in a row.
6. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall (Giants)
Even though they were eliminated early on from the playoffs, the New York Giants are considered one of the early favorites to make a run for the NFC title this season, and rightfully so when looking at the lineup on offense. In just three seasons, Odell Beckham Jr. has wasted no time emerging as one of the league’s top wideouts, and the fact that he’s only 24 years of age is terrifying to think about.
Seeing Beckham snag 35 touchdowns during his first three seasons in the league shows the type of impact he’s made thanks to his blazing speed to go along with amazing hands. To top it off, the Giants were excited with the potential surrounding Sterling Shepard following an impressive rookie campaign, and while the young wideout should still be in for a strong sophomore season, it’s tough to imagine him being as effective as Brandon Marshall.
After the New York Jets decided to start fresh by parting ways with a majority of their veterans, the Giants wasted little time with bringing Marshall on board to boost their receiving corps even more. Fans can say what they want about the risk of two hot-headed players like Beckham and Marshall playing together, but everything will workout just fine in New York.
5. Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks (Patriots)
Watching the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl last February the way they did after trailing 28-3 will go down as arguably the greatest comeback of all time, and put Bill Belichick‘s squad in position to be early favorites to repeat as champions. But just when it seemed like the Patriots couldn’t get better on the offensive side of the football, they ended up landing one of the fastest and most dangerous receivers to face off against in Brandin Cooks.
For some reason, Cooks seemed unhappy with how things were playing out with the New Orleans Saints, which led to the organization trading him to New England in March. Cooks may have been upset with the Saints, but there’s no excuse to feel frustration over an opportunity to play with a team like the Patriots.
Throughout his career, Tom Brady has always been one of the most competitive players in the NFL, and it’s crazy to think he could be in for his best season yet when looking at the weapons he gets to play with. By having Cooks play alongside a talented slot wideout in Julian Edelman, just imagine the damage this duo is going to cause during their first season together.
4. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos)
Only time will tell when it comes to which quarterback will be lining up under center for the Denver Broncos in Week 1, but no matter who ends up winning the job, at least they will hopefully benefit from having a dynamic duo in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to work with. While Trevor Siemian was able to win the job last year, Paxton Lynch has looked impressive for the Broncos this offseason, and it will be fun to see how this all pans out in training camp.
Thomas and Sanders will be entering their fourth season playing in Denver together, and based off how the first three years ended up, it’s safe to say the two wideouts will be in for another strong season in 2017. Not many teams can say they have two receivers capable of breaking the 1,000-yard mark, but seeing Thomas and Sanders manage to do so in each of the last three seasons shows how special these Broncos wideouts truly are.
The quarterback position was a major issue for Denver 2016, and arguably played a big role in the team falling apart in the second half of the season, which also led to them falling shy of the playoffs. Hopefully, the Broncos duo at wideout can help make sure that doesn’t happen for the second-straight season, whether it ends up being Siemian or Lynch throwing them the football.
3. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree (Raiders)
After years of football frustration, the Oakland Raiders finally put an end to their playoff drought in 2016, mainly thanks to Derek Carr elevating his game to a whole new level by looking like an MVP. And even though the team received an early exit following an opening round loss to the Houston Texans, all signs point to the Raiders being one of the teams to beat once again in the AFC, especially with the addition of Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.
While Oakland deserves plenty of credit for rewarding Carr with his new hefty contract, the argument can be made he wouldn’t have found this much success if it wasn’t for the strong receiving corps the organization provided him with. One year after drafting Carr in 2014, the Raiders used the NFL Draft and free agency to build a solid offense around their new quarterback by landing Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
It’s only been two years of the wideouts playing together, but Cooper and Crabtree have already proven to be the type of duo who improve with experience together. Based off of what happened last year, it’s going to be fun watching these two along with the rest of Oakland’s offense heading into the 2017 season.
2. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson (Buccaneers)
There are numerous teams expected to make the serious leap from pretenders to contenders during the 2017 season, and after a successful offseason of key additions to the offense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of those teams to keep an eye on. Actually, the Buccaneers were on the verge of earning a spot in the playoffs towards the end of last season before losing two key games to the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints that prevented them from controlling their own destiny.
Assuming all goes according to plan, the end results should be different this time around for Tampa Bay thanks to improving their offense with the signing of DeSean Jackson. Opponents already struggled to contain a big-body receiver like Mike Evans when squaring off against the Buccaneers’ offense, but the unit was always missing a reliable deep threat, that is until Jackson came into the picture.
Even though the two have yet to take a single snap together during the regular season, the hype alone surrounding Evans and Jackson as teammates is enough to believe Tampa Bay will be one of the serious contenders in the NFC. If football fans thought Jameis Winston showed potential during his first two NFL seasons, just imagine what could be in store for year three with a new duo in Evans and Jackson.
1. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb (Packers)
When the time does come down the road to call it a career, Aaron Rodgers almost seems to be a lock to eventually earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And while Rodgers has always been the type of quarterback who makes the players around him better, it also helps the Packers star has one of the strongest receiving corps to work with in the NFL.
Ever since his breakout year in 2011, Jordy Nelson has been considered one of the top receivers in football since he’s proven to be effective not only in the slot, but as a deep threat when needed. Nobody really knew what to expect from Nelson last season when considering he was coming off a torn ACL injury, but after catching 97 passes while recording 14 touchdowns, it’s safe to say any concerns Green Bay had quickly went away.
As far as one of Nelson’s partners in crime, Randall Cobb is another one of those fast players who is capable of exploding for a strong performance at any given time. Cobb’s numbers may not be as high as Nelson’s, but the argument can be made that both players benefit from one another when it comes to the Packers’ offense ranking near the top of the league year after year.