A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the top 10 RBs ahead of the upcoming NFL season. This time around, we’re going to examine the top 10 WRs heading into the 2022 season. After all, they’ve been obliterating the market in their free agency deals and extensions the past few months. This is an early look, so things are all but certain to change in the coming months, but it’s a good starting point to see where teams stand. Note: I haven’t forgotten about Michael Thomas; he’s just been out for so long that I need to see how he looks in game action before I rank him this highly again.
1. Davante Adams, Raiders
It still feels weird to type “Raiders” as Adams’s team. He’s the best WR Aaron Rodgers has ever played with, and that’s saying a LOT when you consider that Rodgers has played with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and others. Adams is the best route runner in the NFL, somehow immediately creating separation within moments of the snap. He has a quick first step, no wasted movements, and quality speed. Adams can play in the slot or on the outside, and he excels at short, intermediate, and deep routes, and he’s even fantastic in the red zone, as evidenced by his 29 TD catches in the past two years. The Raiders paid first- and second-round picks, plus a mega contract, for this man, yet the Packers still seem like they got fleeced.
2. Cooper Kupp, Rams
Kupp has been a good WR since he entered the league, but he never had great QB play, so we never got to see his full potential. Matthew Stafford changed all of that and FAST. Kupp won the receiving triple crown, leading the league with 145 receptions, 1947 yards, and 11 TDs a season ago. Though not a large receiver who wins jump balls, he is an elite option in the slot that always seems to get open. He became Stafford’s security blanket very quickly, keying the Rams’ Super Bowl run. I don’t think he has quite as much pure talent as Adams, but he maximizes every bit of what he has and has turned himself into an All-Pro player.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
Here’s the guy who might be ranked #1 if not for nagging injuries last year and a 6-game suspension to start this season. From 2018-2020, Hopkins exceeded 100 catches and 1100 yards each year. He is a true #1 receiver who can line up on the outside and win every 50-50 ball he encounters. He won’t blow you away with his speed, but he is basically open no matter what with his large catch radius, great hands, superb sideline ability, and high-end toughness. Hopkins put up monster numbers even when his QB situation in Houston was a revolving door. Starting in week 7, this is an elite WR who will be extremely motivated. That’s dangerous.
4. Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
It took only one year for Chase to crack the top 5 of my rankings. Buoyed by his familiarity with college teammate Joe Burrow, Chase got off to a fast start and never faltered en route to an incredible rookie year: 81 catches, 1455 yards, and 13 TDs. His preseason drops faded quickly from everyone’s memory, as his combination of size and speed enabled him to take advantage of unsuspecting corners. Chase will likely be doubled a lot more in coverage this year, but not too much due to the presence of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. As his game becomes more refined, Chase could get even better.
5. Deebo Samuel, 49ers
He’s a 49er for now at least. Samuel might be the best player on this list with the ball in his hands, which is ironically what has created friction between him and the team. Though he dislikes his usage out of the backfield, there’s no denying that he’s good at it. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 59 carries while adding 1405 receiving yards and 14 combined touchdowns in 2021. Despite the team possessing George Kittle, Samuel is the driving force behind Kyle Shanahan’s offense. No wonder GM John Lynch is so adamant that he won’t trade Deebo in spite of his demands (and an offer from the Jets containing the #10 overall pick in the recent receiver-heavy draft).
6. Tyreek Hill, Dolphins
When you think of Tyreek Hill, two attributes come to mind: speed and more speed. Hill was shockingly traded to Miami after contract negotiations broke down, and KC will certainly miss him. Hill topped 1200 receiving yards in each of the past two years while hauling in 111 balls last season. He’s always one play away from scoring, as he can blow by pretty much any corner he lines up against. When the play broke down, Patrick Mahomes always knew where to look to find the receiver who could break away from coverage. If Tua Tagovailoa can remain upright for once (and Terron Armstead makes that much likelier), seeing Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the field simultaneously will be fun to watch.
7. Keenan Allen, Chargers
In this slot, we find the best possession receiver in the NFL. Allen has caught more than 100 balls in each of the past three season, with no fewer than 97 catches since 2017. For some reason, he remains criminally underrated. He caught 71 passes for over 1000 yards as a rookie in a strong Philip Rivers-led offense, so he should have received more recognition by now. Allen has been a pivotal reason that QB Justin Herbert has developed so well and so quickly; he serves as a key outlet over the middle on nearly every play, enabling his QB to stay calm in the pocket and know that he has an option when needed. Which is often.
8. Terry McLaurin, Commanders
I can’t help what wonder what McLaurin’s numbers would look like if he played for almost any other team. Aside from a few games with a diminished Alex Smith, he hasn’t enjoyed even average QB play at any point in his career. After compiling 919 yards receiving as an unheralded 3rd-round rookie, McLaurin has exceeded 1000 yards in each of the past two years. He has pulled this off despite having guys like Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and Colt McCoy throwing him the ball. His TD numbers could improve if Carson Wentz proves accurate enough to hit him in the red zone, but his team knows his worth; coach Ron Rivera expects an extension to be hammered out shortly.
9. Justin Jefferson, Vikings
Jefferson had the benefit of playing alongside Adam Thielen as a rookie, but he still balled out. In his second year, with Thielen missing time with injuries, Jefferson took over the #1 role and exceeded his already stellar rookie numbers. He racked up 196 catches for 3016 yards and 17 TDs in his first two seasons. His testing numbers were very good, so he figures to get even better once he gains experience. That might rocket him up this list in short order. Sorry Eagles fans; you took Jalen Reagor one pick ahead of this guy. Oops.
10. Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Another player whose QB situation weighed him down for years, Evans has continued to produce year after year, exceeding 1000 receiving yards in each of his first 8 pro seasons. He is the first player to accomplish that feat. His toils were finally rewarded when Tom Brady arrived in 2020, winning a ring and watching his TD totals spike after a few down seasons. Evans is the best red zone receiver in the league, where he uses his big frame to box out opposing cornerbacks and give his QB a great target in the most condensed part of the field. With Antonio Brown banished and Chris Godwin recovering from a torn ACL, I expect Brady to lean on Evans more than ever in the season ahead.