Ranking the Top 10 Wide Receivers in the NFL in 2021

By Nick Sterling in NFL
| June 27, 2021 8:46 am PDT

The NFL has clearly become a pass-first league over the last few seasons. Quarterbacks are no doubt the most important position on the field, but every quarterback would love to have an elite pass catcher.

An elite wide receiver can make an average quarterback look great.

The WR position is all about speed, route running, and getting separation. Which NFL wide receivers have a combination of those attributes so good that in gets them included in this list of top-10 wide receivers for 2021? Read on to find out.

10. Keenan Allen – Los Angeles Chargers

An eight-year veteran of the Los Angeles Chargers, Keenan Allen came into the NFL and had immediate success. He put up 1,046 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season.

Allen followed that up with a disappointing 783 receiving yard season. The opportunity was still there, as he caught six more passes than his rookie season. However, his average yards per catch dropped from 14.7 to 10.2.

Allen was on pace for a 1,400+ yard receiving season in 2015, but he suffered a lacerated kidney halfway through the season. The injury ended his breakout season.

Allen signed a 4-year, $45 million contract extension before the 2016 season. Unfortunately, his season lasted just under one half. He suffered a torn ACL in the first game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries, many people considered Allen an injury-prone player that couldn’t be trusted over the course of a full season. Allen’s play the next four seasons put all that talk to rest.

Take a look at his production during that span.

Year Receptions Receiving Yards Touchdowns
2017 102 1,393 6
2018 97 1,196 6
2019 104 1,199 6
2020 100 992 8

The best season of Allen’s career came in 2017. He finished third in the league with 1,393 receiving yards.

He followed that up with two straight seasons of 1,100+ receiving yards and six receiving TDs. More importantly, he didn’t miss a game from 2017-2019.

Allen failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards in 2020 for the first time since his injury-shortened season in 2016. He did miss two games, but his 100 receptions and eight receiving TDs were right on par with his career averages.

I’d say the big difference in 2020 was Allen had just 10 catches over 20 yards. That’s tied for 43rd in the league. That’s not a knock on him, but it just shows the Chargers use him more in the short and intermediate area.

A second season with quarterback Justin Herbert, and new head coach Brandon Staley should be enough to get Allen back over the 1,000-yard plateau.

9. Justin Jefferson – Minnesota Vikings

Justin Jefferson entered the league with a chip on his shoulder. The Minnesota Vikings took him 22nd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was the fifth WR off the board. Jefferson wanted to show the league that he should’ve been the top WR taken.

Jefferson went out and did just that with a record-breaking rookie season. He broke the rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards in a season. He also had seven receiving TDs.

His big-play ability really stood out among the league’s top players. He averaged 15.9 yards per catch, which was the most among players with 80+ receptions. Jefferson tied the league lead with 23 receptions over 20 yards.

Jefferson had a slow start to the season with just five receptions in his first two games. His breakout game came in week 3 against the Tennessee Titans. He exploded for 175 receiving yards and a TD on seven receptions.

That was the start of Jefferson’s dominant rookie season. He went over 100 receiving yards in seven of 16 games in 2020.

In addition to Jefferson’s big playmaking ability, his route running is something special. I think that’s what sets him apart from the other rookies. That specialty, along with his 6’ 1” frame, makes him a dangerous WR.

Jefferson plays on a Vikings offense that includes elite running back Dalvin Cook and two-time Pro Bowl WR Adam Thielen. Defenses must watch out for those guys, so Jefferson gets a chance to showcase his one-on-one skills.

I expect Jefferson to draw a lot more attention from opposing defenses this season. We’ll see if he can back up his spectacular rookie season.

8. A.J. Brown – Tennessee Titans

A.J. Brown came into the league in 2019 as a second-round pick out of Ole Miss.

He had a great debut game with 100 receiving yards on just three receptions. Brown’s production went quiet after that game. He had just two games over 80 receiving yards in his next nine games. Brown also had just three TDs in that span.

The switch flipped for Brown in the final six games of 2019. He averaged 100 receiving yards a game over that span, with four games over 110 receiving yards. He added in five receiving TDs and even had a rushing TD in that span as well.

His strong close to the season gave him 1,051 receiving yards on just 52 receptions for the season. He averaged 20.2 yards per catch, good enough for second in the league.

Going into the 2020 season, a lot of people doubted Brown’s ability to sustain his production with such limited receptions. Brown did what any good player would do. He proved the critics wrong.

Brown recorded his second straight season of 1,000+ receiving yards. This time, he did it on 70 receptions. His average yards per catch dropped to 15.4, but that didn’t mean his production went down. He had the fifth-most receiving TDs in the league with 11.

Brown showed the league he can be a true number one WR.

Brown’s 2020 playoff performance may have been the most impressive part of his season. Although the Titans were one-and-done, it was through no fault of Brown. Brown had six catches, 83 receiving yards, and a TD. In comparison, he had just 64 receiving yards in three games in the 2019 postseason.

Opposing defenses can never really key into Brown with Derrick Henry being the focal point of the Titans offense. Now, teams won’t be able to double Brown with Julio Jones coming to town.

Brown could be in store for his best season yet.

7. DK Metcalf – Seattle Seahawks

DK Metcalf will always have a connection to A.J. Brown. They both went to Ole Miss and were drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Coincidentally, the two have put up similar numbers in the NFL.

Metcalf had a solid rookie season. It wasn’t anything spectacular with just 900 receiving yards and seven receiving TDs. But he stayed consistent throughout the season. Although, he did have three games where he had under 15 receiving yards.

Metcalf’s breakout game came in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles. In his first career playoff game, Metcalf recorded a career-high 160 receiving yards on seven receptions. He also chipped in a TD.

Metcalf performed like one of the top WRs at the beginning of the 2020 season. He had just one game under 90 receiving yards in the first half of the season. He also had eight receiving TDs in that span. His performance had him on pace for 1,576 receiving yards and 16 receiving TDs.

That pace cooled off considerably in the second half of the season. Metcalf had just one game over 80 receiving yards. However, that one game was a 10 reception, 177 receiving yard game against the Eagles.

Even with the rough second half, Metcalf finished the season with 1,303 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs. Both marks ranked top 10 in the league.

For the second straight season, Metcalf showed out in the postseason. He had five receptions, 96 receiving yards, and caught both Seahawks TDs in their lone playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams. Clearly, Metcalf shows up on the biggest stage.

Metcalf’s 6’ 4” frame and elite speed make him as dangerous as any WR in the league.

6. Julio Jones – Tennessee Titans

Julio Jones spent 10 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, but he’s on to a new chapter in his career. The Tennessee Titans traded for Jones in exchange for a second and fourth-round draft pick this offseason.

That blockbuster move undeniably thrusted the Titans into the Super Bowl 56 conversation.

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Jones will no doubt be a Hall of Famer when he decides to hang it up. Since entering the league in 2011, Jones leads all WRs with 12,896 receiving yards, and ranks second with 848 receptions.

Jones had a very solid rookie season before really coming into his own in 2012. He had 1,198 receiving yards and caught a career-high 10 TDs.

Jones looked like he was on his way to a monster season in 2013. He had 580 receiving yards in just five games. However, a foot injury ended his season. Jones finished second that season with 116 receiving yards per game.

The 2014 season started a Hall of Fame worthy run. Jones had his first of six consecutive 1,300+ receiving yard seasons.

The 2015 season was the best of Jones’ career. He set career highs and led the league with 136 receptions, 1,871 receiving yards, and 116.9 receiving yards per game. The 1,871 yards were second most all-time for a receiver in a single season. The spectacular season earned him his first of two All-Pro honors.

Jones had over 1,400 receiving yards in 2016, despite missing two games. He had the best game of his career in week 4 of this season. Jones exploded for 12 receptions, 300 receiving yards, and a TD. His spectacular season helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl.

He led the league in receiving once again in 2018 with 1,677 yards.

Jones dealt with injuries much of the 2020 season. His 771 receiving yards were his lowest total since his injury-shortened 2013 season. He had 85.7 receiving yards per game. That number ranked seventh in the league.

With the Falcons strapped against the salary cap, they had to trade Jones and his $15.3 million cap hit. We’ll see if a 32-year-old Jones can sustain his Hall of Fame production in Tennessee.

5. Allen Robinson II – Chicago Bears

Allen Robinson of the Chicago Bears is one of the best WRs in the NFL. Unfortunately, the two quarterbacks he played the most with in this league are Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky.

Yeah, not exactly great players. Despite that, Robinson has put up great numbers.

Robinson’s rookie season in 2014 didn’t go too well, but he broke out in his sophomore season. Robinson finished sixth with 1,400 receiving yards and tied for the league lead with 14 receiving TDs.

Robinson couldn’t sustain that production in 2016. He had just 883 receiving yards.

He looked for a bounce-back season in 2017, but that wouldn’t happen. Robinson tore his ACL on his first catch of the season. It was a crushing blow as Robinson watched from the sideline as the Jacksonville Jaguars advanced all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Robinson left the Jaguars to sign a 3-year, $42 million contract with the Chicago Bears.

He didn’t do much in his first season with the Bears. He had just 754 receiving yards and four TDs. Robinson’s best game of the season came in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles. He had 10 receptions, 143 receiving yards, and a TD.

Robinson’s 2019 and 2020 seasons are when he really showed he can be a number one WR no matter who’s throwing the ball to him. Here are his stats over the last two seasons.

Year Receptions Receiving Yards Touchdowns
2019 98 1,147 7
2020 102 1,250 6

Robinson signed the franchise tag to stay with the Bears through the 2021 season. He’ll have a different quarterback with either Andy Dalton or Justin Fields expected to take over as the starting quarterback.

We’ll see if one of them can unlock Robinson’s full potential.

4. Stefon Diggs – Buffalo Bills

Stefon Diggs spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings. Diggs had become increasingly frustrated in his final season with the Vikings. Minnesota traded him to the Buffalo Bills in the 2020 offseason.

The Vikings primarily used Diggs as a deep threat in his first three seasons. He averaged over 13 yards a catch in 2015 and 2017.

That number dropped in 2018 when he saw a substantial rise in receptions (102) and targets (149). He recorded his first 1,000 receiving yard season while bringing in a career-high nine TDs.

Diggs upped his receiving yards total to 1,130 in 2019, but his receptions went back down to 62 on just 94 targets. It seems like the Vikings went back to using him as a deep threat. He averaged a career-high 17.9 yards per catch.

The trade to the Bills meant Diggs would be the true number one option in Buffalo. He and quarterback Josh Allen teamed up to have a stellar season.

It also created a bit of a bromance, with Diggs being vocal about his connection with his quarterback.

“Playing with this guy, practicing with this guy, he’s a guy that can do it. As a player, you just wanna play for him. I just love this guy, that’s it.”

The connection took to the field in 2021, where Diggs brought his game to another level. He led the league with 127 receptions and 1,535 receiving yards. The Bills used him as so much more than just a deep threat.

His elite route-running skills make him impactful in any area of the field.

If you include the playoffs, Diggs closed the season with 100+ receiving yards in five of his last seven games. He had over 75 yards in the two games he didn’t hit 100 yards.

Diggs and the Bills have plenty of unfinished business after losing in the AFC Championship game last season. With Buffalo owning the third best Super Bowl 56 odds at the best NFL betting sites, look for Diggs to play a big hand in their playoff push in 2021.

3. Tyreek Hill – Kansas City Chiefs

Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs is one of the fastest players in the NFL. While speed is an important aspect of being a good WR, it doesn’t make you the best.

That concept doesn’t really apply to Hill. What sets him apart from other fast WRs is his route routing and ability to stop on a dime. Even with his 5’ 10” frame, he can still highpoint a ball.

Hill wasn’t a big contributor his rookie season. He had just 593 receiving yards and six TDs. However, the Chiefs did a great job of maximizing his skillset.

Hill averaged 11.1 yards per carry on 24 rushing attempts. The yards per carry is the second highest all-time in a single season for a WR. Hill also led the league with 592 punt return yards.

Hill recorded his first season over 1,000 receiving yards in 2017. His yards per catch jumped from 9.7 to 15.8.

Once quarterback Patrick Mahomes took over in 2018, Hill really took off. The man known as “Cheetah” recorded the fourth-most receiving yards that season with 1,479. He led the league with 27 receptions over
20 yards.

Hill dropped back under 1,000 receiving yards in 2019 after both he and Mahomes missed time. The Chiefs would go on to win the Super Bowl that season. Hill had nine receptions and 105 receiving yards in the Chiefs win.

He returned to form in 2020 with 1,276 receiving yards and a career-high 15 receiving TDs. Hill had the best game of his career in week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had 13 receptions, 269 receiving yards, and three TDs.

If Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid are running the Chiefs offense, I don’t expect Hill’s production to slow down.

2. DeAndre Hopkins – Arizona Cardinals

DeAndre Hopkins spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Houston Texans. He didn’t do much his rookie season in 2013, but he really came into his own the following two seasons.

In 2014, Hopkins put up 1,210 receiving yards and six receiving TDs. He did that on just 76 receptions. Hopkins elevated his game in 2015 to new heights. He had 111 receptions, 1,521 receiving yards, and 11 receiving TDs.

After a down 2016 season, Hopkins returned to form with his first of three consecutive All-Pro seasons. He finished 2017 with 1,378 receiving yards and a league-high 13 receiving TDs.

Hopkins first full-time season with quarterback Deshaun Watson was arguably the best of his career. He recorded a career-high 1,572 receiving yards. He also tied his career-high with 115 receptions and finished with 11 receiving TDs.

Hopkins had another stellar season in 2019 with over 1,100 receiving yards. That’s when the Texans made the questionable decision to trade him. If the decision wasn’t bad enough, they traded a 27-year-old elite WR to the Arizona Cardinals for a second-round pick and a 28-year-old running back. Yep, that’s all.

In Arizona, Hopkins teamed up with second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. Hopkins continued his elite play in Arizona with 115 receptions and 1,407 receiving yards in 2020.

The two even combined for one of the biggest regular season moments of the 2020 NFL season.

The Texans on the other hand went 4-12 without Hopkins, and Watson has since requested a trade.

Hopkins and Watson clearly had a special connection. I know people will say the Texans didn’t want to pay Hopkins but why not? He was a top-five WR when he left Houston.

Oh, well. I’m sure the Cardinals appreciate the Texans’ contribution.

1. Davante Adams – Green Bay Packers

It seems like every great quarterback needs a great WR. Last season’s MVP, Aaron Rodgers, has that elite WR in Davante Adams.

It’s hard to believe Adams will be entering his eighth season in the league this fall. For most of the 2010s, Jordy Nelson was Rodgers’ top target. That all changed in 2018.

Adams’ career got off to a bit of a slow start. He had a combined 929 receiving yards and four receiving TDs in his first two seasons.

Adams improved in 2016 and 2017 with a combined 1,882 receiving yards and 22 TDs.

Despite not having a 1,000-yard receiving season, the Packers handed Adams a 4-year, $58 million contract extension. That now seems like quite the discount for one of the best pass-catching technicians in the game.

Adams rewarded the Packers by having a breakout season in 2018. With Jordy Nelson out of town, Adams became Rodgers’ primary target. Adams had 111 receptions on 169 targets. For reference, Adams previous season highs were 75 receptions and 121 targets.

He took full advantage of the opportunity. Adams finished the season with 1,386 receiving yards and 13 receiving TDs. He finished seventh in the league in receiving yards and tied for second in receiving TDs. Adams did all that despite missing a game.

Adams failed to clear the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2019 after missing four games with turf toe. Still, his 83.1 receiving yards per game were good enough for fifth in the league.

With a rejuvenated Rodgers, Adams went off in 2020. Despite missing two games, he led the league with 18 receiving TDs. He had 1,374 receiving yards, but he led the league with 98.1 per game. He also tied for second-most receptions with 115.

Adams is entering the final year of his contract. Rodgers’ impending trade request could impact the type of season Adams has.

Which Wide Receivers Just Missed the Cut?

  • Michael Thomas – Saints
  • Mike Evans – Buccaneers
  • Chris Godwin – Buccaneers
  • Calvin Ridley – Falcons
  • Terry McLaurin – Washington
  • Amari Cooper – Cowboys

There are so many great WRs in the NFL. Ranking the best wide receivers for 2021 wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Had I been making this list last season; Michael Thomas probably would’ve been in the top five. Maybe even number one. After all, he broke the record for most receptions in a single season in 2019. Not to mention, he had 1,725 receiving yards.

He missed a lot of time in 2020 with injuries, and I’m curious to see how he does without Drew Brees.

Other guys like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Calvin Ridley, Terry McLaurin, and Amari Cooper could all make cases for being on this list, and deserve an honorable mention.

We’ll see which WRs can improve their game and become a top 10 WR in the NFL.

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