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Thread: Ranking The NFL's Best Wide Receivers For 2020: Execs, Players, Coaches Debate 🏈

  1. #1 Ranking The NFL's Best Wide Receivers For 2020: Execs, Players, Coaches Debate 🏈 
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    Ranking the NFL's best wide receivers for 2020: Execs, players, coaches debate the top 10

    ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)


    To preview the 2020 NFL season, we asked more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions (sorry, special-teamers). The results might surprise you. They surprised me.


    Here's how it worked: Voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews and research. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy -- even the honorable mentions.


    The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2020. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who's the best today? Pretty simple.


    We'll roll out a position per day over the next 11 days. Here's the schedule:


    This week: tight ends (July 7); quarterbacks (July 8); running backs (July 9); wide receivers (July 10); offensive tackles (July 11)


    Next week: interior offensive linemen (July 12); edge defenders (July 13); interior defensive linemen (July 14); off-ball linebackers (July 15); cornerbacks (July 16); safeties (July 17)

    The sheer depth and production of the wide receiver position makes creating a top-10 list near futile. Twenty-five receivers eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2019 -- and that doesn't include Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielen and others who missed significant time because of injury.


    Second- and third-year players are putting up real numbers, but have difficulty cracking this list because the established heads won't give up ground.


    For all the receivers who are considered great, the best among them all was surprising in his voting dominance.

    1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

    Age: 31 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 7
    The expectation entering the voting was this would be close between Jones, Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins. It wasn't. More than half the voters selected Jones No. 1 overall.


    "He's an avatar," an NFL coordinator said. "There's only one of him."


    He's still got elite size and breakaway speed, he can win on all three levels and works well in traffic, catching 35 passes in tight windows the past two seasons, second to Thomas.


    "Every time we're scouting receivers, that's the one we want," one veteran NFL quarterback said. "He has everything."


    The only true weakness is he's 31.


    A few cornerbacks said they'd rather play Jones than, say, a shake-at-the-line guy like Hill or Adams. One coordinator said Jones is amazing but "only for 60 percent of the snaps."


    "He can still get the DBs to turn their hips better than anyone," one longtime NFL assistant said. "But is he approaching the end?"


    2. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

    Age: 27 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 6
    Thomas dominated the No. 2 voting, but an NFL coordinator who put him No. 1 gave the ultimate compliment.


    "Watching 'The Last Dance,' that's Jordan," he said. "He's getting the ball all day. You point to that guy and say, 'He's winning the game for us.'"


    Couple the fierce competitiveness with historic stats (an NFL-record 149 catches for 1,725 yards) and it's sort of hard to figure why he didn't have more support for the top spot.


    If there's one knock, it's this scouting report from a veteran NFL corner.


    "We just know they are going to get him the ball, a lot of slot stuff, 50 percent of the offense -- but he's not beating you deep like a guy like Tyreek Hill is," the corner said.


    But there are counters like this that are hard to deny: He caught 63.6% of tight-window plays (21-of-33), tops in the league. And his catch rate above expectation -- the difference between actual catch rate and expected catch rate -- is plus-12.7, also tops.


    "Brings this element of toughness, ability to separate and hands. Most complete," a separate NFL coordinator said.


    3. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

    Age: 28 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 6
    When the ball is in the air, "Nuk" is coming down with it.


    Several coaches echoed that thought when evaluating Hopkins, and his 112 receptions against man coverage the past two seasons, second best in the NFL behind Thomas, validates it.


    "Not the fastest or quickest, but no one can guard him," one NFL offensive assistant said. "All the coaches I've talked to say he's got the best hands they've ever seen."


    Since he first paired with Deshaun Watson in 2017, Hopkins has averaged 105 catches for 1,372 yards and 10.3 touchdowns per season. And most think Hopkins' ability to win on scramble plays and counter moves will suit Kyler Murray in Arizona.


    Don't let that 2% drop rate from 2019 fool you.


    "Best hands, no question," one NFL head coach said.


    And the catch radius and mentality to make plays on the ball are "off the charts," a longtime receivers coach said.


    4. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

    Age: 27 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 10
    Beckham began his career on a Jerry Rice path but has been a middle-of-the-road producer since 2017 because of injuries, uneven play and a curious start in Cleveland.


    But his rare gifts are still undeniable for some voters who took him No. 1. Multiple coaches say he's still the only receiver who can "do anything with his lower half" as far as spinning defensive backs and creating space.


    "Run after catch, track the deep ball, run every route, blocking -- he might be the most complete receiver," a longtime NFL offensive assistant said.


    To be sure, Beckham clearly was affected last season by a lingering hip injury that required postseason surgery. It didn't help that the previous Browns coaching staff seemed to have no plan each week. Beckham still produced 459 of his 1,035 yards off play-action, third in the NFL. His 29 targets on passes 20-plus yards in the air tied for second.


    It's the intangibles with Beckham, whose "mental roller coaster" on game days keeps him from greatness, one prominent coach said.


    "I've been watching him quit on plays for years," the coach said.


    Added a veteran NFL player: "The whole game seems like a lot for him. At some point you have to say none of your teams have been successful. At some point you have to wonder about that."


    5. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

    Age: 26 | Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: 11
    Hill broke a close three-man race for the fifth spot because he wrecks a game plan like no one else. Since 2017, Hill has 21 receiving touchdowns reaching 20 mph, four more than any other player.


    The 4.2 40 speed helps, but that's not the only reason he breaks free.


    "There are a lot of fast guys, but no one can take a shallow cross 80 yards like Tyreek," one NFL coordinator said. "He's got that football awareness to know where space is."


    Many criticize Hill for choppy route running, pointing out that Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid maximize his ability. But Hill does No. 1 receiver things each week. He caught 77% of his third-down targets last year (20-of-26), third best among receivers with at least 15 targets on that down. His 42 receptions of 20-plus air yards since 2017 is an NFL high.


    "Vision is his No. 1 thing -- where to go, get there, angles, stop and go -- he just toys with guys," a different NFL coordinator said.


    6. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Age: 26 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 12
    Evans has quietly become one of the NFL's most consistent pass-catching performers, averaging 1,210 yards per season since 2014. More importantly, that average of 17.5 yards per catch the past two seasons gives Tom Brady an instant big-play threat in Tampa.


    Multiple NFL players called Evans "totally underrated."


    "I've flipped my opinion on him," one veteran NFL offensive coach added. "I didn't love him in the draft, but his intense physical routes have gotten a lot better. He's a top-five player at the position now."


    The problem with Evans is whether Brady can drive the ball downfield, where Evans thrives. Evans averaged 15.04 air yards per target last year, fourth in the NFL, and many agree Brady's arm strength has diminished, which could result in more intermediate work for Evans.


    7. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

    Age: 27 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 12
    Adams lost a tight race to Evans and Hill, but many believe he's a top-three receiver.


    "You drop Adams on any team and he's successful," one veteran NFL quarterback said. "Big, fast, skill."


    He has mastered the art of shaking coverage with nuance and anticipation. Adams' 3.3 average yards of separation per target is fourth among 29 wide receivers with at least 100 targets last year. Twenty-two percent of his targets were considered "wide open," with five yards of separation.


    "I hate going up against him more than any other receiver," a veteran NFL cornerback said.


    One veteran coach calls Adams "insanely talented" but imperfect, relying more on instinct, feel and jukes more than refined route running. With 876 yards after the catch the past two years, third by any receiver, it's tough to argue with the method.


    8. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

    Age: 28 | Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: 10
    Allen isn't a household name with every fan, but he is inside NFL offices.


    "We use examples of him in the film room running a bunch of routes," one NFL head coach said.


    Allen is widely known as one of the game's most refined route runners, helping him become one of four receivers with at least 300 catches and 3,500 yards since 2017. The other three? Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on this list.


    Allen's 70.7 catch rate out of the slot is seventh in the NFL among 21 players with 50 slot targets.


    "It doesn't get any better than him in the slot," one NFL coordinator said. "He understands every release. He has a plan. Timing is flawless."


    A knock on Allen is he's not considered a true outside receiver by many. But the Chargers would dispute that, believing he has enough speed and can turn in and out of breaks with great feel inside and out.


    9. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Age: 24 | Highest ranking: 4 | Lowest ranking: Off the ballot
    Godwin not only exploded with 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns in his third NFL season, but he earned Pro Football Focus' top receiver grade at 90.7. Execs and coaches don't see Godwin as a top guy yet. And several prefer Kenny Golladay among the fourth-year receivers because he commands more game-plan attention with size and catch radius.


    But the Bucs -- and much of the league -- expect Godwin to keep climbing.


    "If you're not convinced now, you will be by the end of the year," an NFC exec said. "Mike Evans is probably more talented, but Godwin does everything well and has tremendous hands."


    Godwin had zero drops a year ago, while catching 12 of 19 passes on balls thrown 20-plus yards in the air, best in the NFL among 43 players with 15 or more such targets. He led the league with 25 receptions of 20-plus yards.


    "I didn't like him coming out, but he has size, strength and athleticism, a big target that gets it done," an NFL coordinator said.


    An offensive assistant coach took that a step further.


    "There's a Steve Smith quality to him," the coach said. "I'm not saying he's Smith, but he's a tough motherf---er."


    10. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

    Age: 26 | Highest ranking: 5 | Lowest ranking: Off the ballot
    The most polarizing player on the list by a wide margin, Cooper took heat from several voters because of what he should be. One coordinator said Cooper is "top 10 in his sleep" with "effortless" ability, which is the problem. He's 10th, but should be fifth.


    "There's something holding him back," one NFL personnel man said. "He was the best receiver on the market and I didn't want to sign him."


    Cooper is from Miami but doesn't carry that "Miami swag" and is more reserved by nature, an NFC exec said. But the exec notes he shouldn't be punished for that and is easily in the top five.


    A scouting report from an offensive coordinator reads: "Big, really fast, understands runaway angles, he'll catch it and you say, 'How did he get to the pylon on that?' Great double mover. Not a technician, sloppy but sudden."


    Cooper ranked second in the NFL with a 59% catch rate on passes 20-plus yards (13-of-22) and first in receiving yards in the boundary (within two yards of the sideline) with 176.


    All of that is great, but Cooper struggled in two high-profile games last season, including catching zero passes on 30 routes run in a loss in New England, and putting up four catches for 24 yards on 12 targets in a crucial Week 16 loss to the Eagles, which all but sealed Philadelphia's NFC East title.


    One veteran offensive coach of several positions, however, thinks the criticism of Cooper is unfair.


    "The media has put a label on him -- Amari is this or that -- but if you watch him and watch him work, he's a top-level receiver," the coach said.

    Honorable mention

    Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills: "Would go to battle with Diggs all day. Dude is a beast. And he has that No. 1 WR dog to him. I love that." -- NFL offensive assistant; "He could have a career year in Buffalo by the way they will use him. He's a true No. 1 but he seems constantly unhappy and frustrated." -- another NFL assistant


    Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings: "Ask the Vikings who was better [Thielen or Diggs], most say Thielen. ... Does everything well. Has such quick feet that the DB squats and he gets on top of him deep." -- NFC exec


    Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions: "He's central to the game plan, scares you more than some of those other younger guys. Big dude who can go over you." -- NFL passing game coordinator


    A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: "He's probably practiced all of five minutes over the last year. He's still a top-10 talent easily, but hard to put him on there because of all the injuries." -- AFC exec


    Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos: "He will be a star this year. Needs a little bit of experience, but I watched his targets last year and he's got it all." -- NFC exec
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  2. #2  
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    I agree with the top three order but I disagree with #4. Odell Beckham is way overrated in
    my opinion. Mr. 'Hey Look at Me' is all about himself. He's not a team player and loafs half
    the time. Hell, the guy has only played on one winning team since joining the NFL. The NYG
    unloaded him for a reason.......
    We have so many players on the disabled list the team's bus can use
    handicapped parking. (Unnamed coach on COVID-19)
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  3. #3  
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    Thanks for the thread H, I look forward to it every year. Saves me the cost of ESPN Insider subscription
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  4. #4  
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloverleaf View Post
    I agree with the top three order but I disagree with #4. Odell Beckham is way overrated in
    my opinion. Mr. 'Hey Look at Me' is all about himself. He's not a team player and loafs half
    the time. Hell, the guy has only played on one winning team since joining the NFL. The NYG
    unloaded him for a reason.......
    Agree with Odel....so sick of getting burned by this guy in fantasy. He always seems to drop to me and I'm forced to take him. No more!
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  5. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by mountain View Post
    Thanks for the thread H, I look forward to it every year. Saves me the cost of ESPN Insider subscription
    Hache is $$$ with these ESPN articles all season! Much appreciated!
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  6. #6  
    RX Junior ConleyPicks's Avatar
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    I thought ESPN+ was for more handicapping articles picks etc not a streaming service

    https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-espn-plus
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