There are many different ways in which one can use in trying to decide who is the best wide receiver in the league. One could simply go with receiving yards and leave it at that, but what if that receiver had been targeted 30 times more than any other receiver? One could simply go with touchdowns, but what if they play for a coach who prefers to utilize a tight end in that situation? You could go for receptions, but what if that player is on a team who runs the ball 35 times a game versus a receiver who plays on a team with no run game at all? In order to really identify who the top receivers in the league are, you have to look at all aspects of their game from yards to touchdowns, from receptions to drops, from their ability to block to their ability to create plays.
Without a doubt, Tampa Bay Buccaneer receiver Mike Evans is an elite receiver, and most would say he’s one of the best receivers in the league, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s at the top of the list. Many Bucs fans have repeatedly put Evans as one of the top five receivers among names such as Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown, but is Mike Evans really a top 5 receiver, or is he simply over-hyped by the Buccaneer faithful?
Every fan of every team is going to always throw their best receiver in among a conversation about who is the best, and from time to time, most teams will have a star receiver who could be named among the best for a season or two, and some will have been great throughout an entire career but still find themselves left out of the best receiver in the league conversations. Larry Fitzgerald is one of those players who has been an incredible talent each and every year, but he is rarely mentioned due to the fact he’s seen more like a sure thing, someone that will catch what’s thrown to him, but not someone who is relied on to go out and get 1500 yards every year. That isn’t to say Fitzgerald isn’t one of the best receivers to ever play the game, simply that he isn’t often mentioned in the conversation of who the best is today, especially given his age.
The market in which a player plays also has a big impact on how often they are mentioned or talked about, as those players in larger media markets get more exposure and find themselves on the cover of video games and magazines simply because of a marketing strategy, even if their performance or on field attitude don’t support the case for them being among the best.
Mike Evans has never led the league in receiving yards, nor has he led in touchdowns or receptions, but he’s always been towards the top of those lists. Eric Ebron led the league in touchdowns for most of the season, but very few, if any, would say he’s among the best in the league as a receiver, not only because he’s a tight end, but because he doesn’t stand out as a flashy go deep type player. It’s the same reason we don’t talk about Gronkowski or George Kittle being among the best, even though they are very good at catching the ball, they’re not performing one handed 45 yard catches into the end zone.
So while there are quite a few running backs and tight ends that catch the ball extremely well, we will not be including them among the best receivers in the league. It’s important to clarify this because while some will say a top receiver has to be a wide receiver, there are others who will argue that they simply need to be great at catching the ball, no matter their given position. There are also players that we won’t be put among the best even though they will have fans who will argue for their inclusion. If you don’t see your favorite receiver mentioned, it’s not because they aren’t a great player, but rather because they’re not among the best of the best.
When you look around the league, there are several names that will pop out at you including Mike Evans, Deandre Hopkins, Julio Jones, TY Hilton, Adam Thielen, Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, JuJu, Davante Adams, and Michael Thomas. These are the receivers we’re going to be taking a look at, and I think most would agree they are probably the top receivers in the league and have been for more than one season. With his current future in doubt, we will not be including Tyreek Hill in this conversation, but if he gets re-instated, we’ll gladly revisit this conversation midway through the season.
Looking at just receiving yards, one would say that Julio Jones is the best around, but his per catch average isn’t nearly as good as Mike Evans, but that could be in part to Julio being targeted more than Evans was. Neither, however, was targeted as much as Thomas or Hopkins. Hilton was a monster in the playoffs, but Evans has never been, which hurts Evans when it comes to coming up clutch, but missing the playoffs isn’t on any one player, so you can’t weight it too heavily against him. Thielen and Evans seem to be money across the middle much like Fitzgerald is, but Hilton and Hopkins seem to perform better than they do when playing towards the sidelines. JuJu may not be as skilled as many listed, but he can flat out make plays and break loose for huge gains that one doesn’t expect from Michael Thomas.
As you can see, you can’t just look at one stat or one role and judge the entire group of receivers based just on that one stat. It’s when we take a look at all of the stats and all of the roles and then start sorting through them that we can weed out who stands above the rest. Antonio Brown and Odell can both be tossed out of the discussion as far as reality is concerned due to their stats when compared with the above-mentioned people. Yes, they get the publicity and the marketing, but when the game is on the line, they don’t perform nearly as well as Hilton, Hopkins, Thomas, Evans, or Julio. We can also take out JuJu because while he’s a playmaker, he isn’t a constant receiving threat across the middle. Thielen will also be taken out because while a great possession receiver, he’s not necessarily a big play maker.
This leaves us with Mike Evans, Julio Jones, TY Hilton, Deandre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Davante Adams. The interesting thing about this breakdown is that we find all but one of them in either the AFC South or the NFC South. This goes to show just how good these two divisions are, and how tough the competition is among these two divisions.
Based on total yards, we have to go with Julio and Hopkins with Julio outperforming everyone amassing almost 1700 receiving yards last season. While they lead in total yards, they get outperformed in yards per catch by TY Hilton and Mike Evans. If you’re looking at total yards or who can manage more yards per catch, you have to go with the player who can average more yards per catch as more passes their way would result in higher total yards.
Catching the ball is great, but if you can’t score, then you might face some problems. That’s one area where Davante Adams stands above the rest of the group, followed closely behind by Hopkins. Of course, simply looking at scoring doesn’t take into account a team’s running game or the possibility of having a better red zone threat such as when it comes to Hilton in Indy with their addition of Ebron who was unstoppable in the end zone last season. This doesn’t take away from Hilton’s ability as a receiver, but it does bolster Adams.
You could argue for any one receiver from those we’ve talked about, and argue a good case for any of them, and you can’t really go wrong with having them on your team, but just saying any of the receivers could be at the top isn’t what we do here, so let’s break them down and rank them based on yards, yards per catch, touchdowns, performance in the playoffs, and completely ignore the hype and marketing.
- Mike Evans
- DeAndre Hopkins
- Julio Jones
- Michael Thomas
- TY Hilton
- Adam Thielen
- Davante Adams
- JuJu Smith-Schuster
- Odell Beckham
- Antonio Brown
That’s right, he’s more than just hype, he’s the best receiver in the league, so don’t let anyone tell you that Mike Evans isn’t elite, or isn’t one of the best. When you factor in more than one stat and look at the overall responsibilities of the receiving position, Mike Evans stands alone above them all. It’s not a wide margin, however, and if he doesn’t maintain the production he’s had over the past few seasons, and if he doesn’t continue putting in the work, he will very easily find himself overtaken, as there are simply too many incredible receivers for one to let themselves get comfortable where they’re at and stop working. We’ve seen it with Beckham and Brown who both have seen themselves tumble from the top two receivers in the league, and we just have to hope that Evans has learned from their example and doesn’t rest on his laurels.