A list of the 10 best NFL WRs for the 2021 campaign is a tough one to create. Top to bottom, wide receiver is the deepest skill position in the NFL, with teams sometimes fielding multiple stars at once (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Dallas). Of all of the talent, who emerges as the 10 best NFL wide receivers?
We’ll lay out the top 10 guys based on a number of factors (below) for this coming season. All stats were pulled from Sports Reference.
How we determined the best NFL WRs
There’s a ton of factors that go into an elite receiver – speed, explosiveness, hands, awareness, route running – the list goes on. Of all the factors listed, which ones weighed the most on this list?
Explosiveness is a good start. Receivers that can take the top off the defense are dangerous players, with guys like Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson appearing on the list. Taking the defense out of the game doesn’t stop at go routes, though, oftentimes receivers are most dangerous with the ball in their hands and room to run.
Production is undoubtably one of the biggest factors taken into account across all positions. When it comes to receivers, targets, yards, and touchdown rate matter more than other positions. Ultimately, who is the most productive at the end of the year? That’s what we’ll dissect.
10 Best NFL WRs for 2021
10. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
DK Metcalf’s physique is enough to make him one of the top athletes on the field at any given time. His viral chasedown of Budda Baker from a year ago exemplified his top-end speed, something that makes Metcalf extremely dangerous on the field. In 2020, he recorded 15.9 yards per reception, 10th in the NFL and his 10 touchdowns ranked ninth.
Despite the Seahawks repeatedly banging the drum over converting into a run-first team, oddsmakers slate Metcalf for an impressive yards in 2021. It’s clear Russell Wilson trusts him, though production tapered from Week 12 on last year. Should Seattle continue to “Let Russ Cook,” DK Metcalf will be one of the highest-producing receivers this coming season.
9. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
After just one season, is it presumptuous to slot Justin Jefferson as one of the 10 best receivers in the NFL? His success on the field stretches well beyond just last season. On an LSU team with players like Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., Jefferson was the clear Alpha. He recorded the second-most yards by a rookie all-time (1,400) and the fifth-most targets (125). Jefferson also posted top-10 numbers in yards per reception (15.9) while repeatedly taking the top off defenses.
Even while sharing the field with another star receiver (Adam Thielen), a superstar running back (Dalvin Cook), and a mid-tier quarterback (Kirk Cousins), Jefferson racked up the production for the Vikings. For 2021, oddsmakers foresee yards and touchdowns – a large jump in touchdowns from last season.
8. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In maybe the most underrated and outstanding stat in the entire NFL, the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans has never finished with less than 1,000 receiving yards. No asterisks, no “excepts,” no injuries. He’s a machine that just produces yardage and touchdowns and garners well over 100 targets per season, no matter the quarterback. In his first season with Tom Brady and with half a dozen other receiving threats around him, Evans picked up 109 targets, 1,006 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
The consistency across offensive coordinators, head coaches, and quarterbacks is what makes him so darn good. Oddsmakers expect him to see a regression in 2021, with his season receiving total at (note: this is with an added game). His touchdown number () is based around Evans’ uncanny ability to get himself open around the goal-line; in 2020, his 14 targets inside the 10 yard line (“10-zone”) resulted in nine receptions for nine touchdowns.
7. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Calvin Ridley has been an elite receiving option from the day he stepped foot in the league with the Falcons. Last season, he recorded career-highs in targets (143), yardage (1,374), and yards per reception (15.3). It continued a steady increase in overall production year-over-year that’s included an average yardage increase of 25%.
With Julio Jones now out of the picture, there’s plenty of vacated targets to make their way to Ridley. Oddsmakers stat Ridley for yards this season and touchdowns – both near the top of league projections.
Short as his ledger is, it’s dense with accomplishments and impressive stats. He’s here to stay for a long time.
6. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
In the six seasons in which Keenan Allen has played at least 10 games, he’s recorded 100 targets, including his rookie season. Since returning from injury in 2017, he’s been targeted 147.8 times on average while scoring 6.5 touchdowns per year. Essentially, Allen is a target hog who produces as consistently as anyone in the NFL. That’s a blessing for a young quarterback like Justin Herbert, who found Allen 100 times in 2020 for 992 yards and eight touchdowns.
Sportsbooks expect Allen to continue his ways, where they slot him for yards this coming season. Depending on whether Herbert takes a second-year step forward, that number could quickly rise. Despite the Chargers fielding a 100+ target running back (Austin Ekeler), Allen will be near the top of lists for most-targeted players this coming season.
5. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
All four seasons in which Allen Robinson has played all 16 games, he’s recorded 150 targets. In 2017, he led the NFL in touchdowns (14) and recorded 1,100 yards in each of the past two years. All of this production has come with the following quarterbacks: Blake Bortles, Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, and Nick Foles. This year to start, he plays with Andy Dalton, who may just be the best quarterback of his career.
Robinson does it all– he’s an excellent route runner, a smart player, has a nose for the end zone, and wins almost every jump ball. For 2021, Robinson is projected for yards and touchdowns, but expect those to change as the Bears quarterback situation evolves.
Should Justin Fields pan out to what Chicago drafted him to be, Robinson might only be coming into his true peak.
4. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Stefon Diggs’ remarkable jump in 2020 mirrored that of his quarterback, Josh Allen. After demanding a trade from the Vikings, Diggs went on to lead the NFL in targets (166), receptions (127), and yards (1,535). Even before pacing career numbers in 2020, Diggs was a top-10 receiver; however, moving on to playing with one of the league’s best quarterbacks vaulted him into the top four.
One notable aspect of Diggs skillset is his versatility. The Bills use him from screens to slants, drags, and go routes every week. Twice last season, he caught all 10 targets (Week 10 against Arizona and Week 12 against San Francisco) and only four times was he held under 75 yards. He’s listed for yards this coming season, on pace to repeat as the receiving leader. As long as Allen continues his prolific play, Diggs will be one of the top receivers in the NFL.
ALSO READ: 10 best quarterbacks for 2021
3. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Twice in his career, Tyreek Hill has played 15 or more games. In those seasons, he averaged 136 targets, 87 receptions, 1,377.5 yards, and 13.5 touchdowns. Durability has been an issue with Hill, who stands just 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. However, when you bring a 4.29 40-yard dash to the table, the sky is the limit.
For a shining example of what Hill is capable of, look at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 12 game against Tampa Bay. Hill recorded over 200 receiving yards in the first quarter alone. His injury susceptibility is what keeps him outside of the top 2, but he’s still one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. Hill’s season yardage prop this season is , one of the highest projected marks in the NFL.
2. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
It doesn’t matter where he plays, with the Texans or Cardinals, DeAndre Hopkins is one of the most effective receivers on the field. Since his rookie season, Hopkins has recorded 1,100 yards in all but two seasons and 1,350 yards four times. He’s also perennially one of the most targeted receivers, picking up 150 targets in every season since 2015 (peak: 192 targets in 2015).
As he and Kyler Murray continue to mesh, Hopkins becomes a bigger threat to the NFC West. He sits near the top of futures tables with projected receiving yards and touchdowns. Kliff Kingsbury has been widely criticized for his misuse of his offensive weapons, but Hopkins persevered for 160 targets and 1,407 yards – both top three in the NFL.
1. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Davante Adams’ 18 touchdowns in 2020 is a nearly-unrepeatable number – especially in 14 games. He was held scoreless in just two complete games while recording multiple touchdowns five times. He saw less than nine targets just once in completed games and recorded 120 receiving yards five times. It helped having Aaron Rodgers throw a record-breaking rate of touchdowns and Adams was hyper-targeted around the goal-line (his 13 touchdowns inside the 10 yard line was more than any other player saw targets).
Again, those numbers are likely unrepeatable. But what isn’t is his opportunity. Adams remains the only big receiving threat in Green Bay, much to the chagrin of Rodgers. With the two both playing with a chip on their shoulder, Adams is going to see a ton of targets. His touchdown prop is set at , most in the NFL. Oddsmakers also place him near the top in projected yards at .