As a new feature in the 2021 Sharp Football Preview Book, the Sharp Football Analysis team ranked positional units across the league for the 2021 season. The ranking guidelines were up to the specific voter with the only requirement that the focus is on the upcoming season only, not the future outlook.
With a combination of numbers, film, and projections, the rankings were averaged for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, defensive front seven, defensive secondary, and head coach.
2021 NFL Wide Reciever & Tight End Rankings, by Unit
32. Houston Texans
Houston invested in the receiving corps in the draft, adding WR Nico Collins (third round) and TE Brevin Jordan (fifth round). So at least there’s some youth to develop in this 32nd-ranked unit, unlike most of the roster.
31. Detroit Lions
The Lions’ receiving corps is tied with Houston for last in our rankings. Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman have both been productive deep threats when used as complementary pieces, but it’s difficult to imagine either emerging as a number-one threat at this stage of their careers. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown probably has the most potential of the group.
30. Philadelphia Eagles
Prior to the selection of DeVonta Smith, this was the worst receiving corps by a wide margin. Smith should at least provide some excitement, though it’s easy to doubt his ability to make an immediate impact given the lack of complementary pieces around him.
29. New York Jets
The receiving corps ranks 29th primarily because there isn’t a reliable number-one threat, but the depth is strong. If rookie Elijah Moore meets expectations and free agent addition Corey Davis continues building on his breakout 2020 campaign, this group could easily outplay its ranking.
28. New England Patriots
The receiving corps is the lowest-ranked unit on the New England roster, and will likely rely heavily on Jakobi Meyers’s ability to elevate his game in his third season. If Meyers’s game doesn’t ascend and Nelson Agholor becomes the default number-one weapon, this could quickly turn into the worst unit in the league. The addition of tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith appears to indicate a desire to run more 12 personnel, and likely lean more heavily on the tight ends in the passing game.
27. Indianapolis Colts
Indy’s receiving corps needed an upgrade, but was mostly ignored this offseason. This unit could elevate its production significantly if Parris Campbell stays healthy and lives up to expectations. Campbell has produced a negative EPA per target in each of his first two seasons.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville has a couple of proven weapons (D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones), and Laviska Shenault Jr. should be a good fit for Urban Meyer’s offense. However, without a true number-one weapon, it was hard to justify ranking this unit any higher.
25. Chicago Bears
Few teams have a number-one weapon as talented as Allen Robinson, but the depth is atrocious. Non-Robinson receivers and tight ends averaged just 6.0 yards per target in 2020. There is a lot of hope with Darnell Mooney, but with free agent Damiere Byrd and rookie Dazz Newsome as the most notable offseason additions, this is likely to remain among the league’s worst units.
24. Baltimore Ravens
The lowest-ranked unit on the Baltimore roster is the receiving corps, though rookie Rashod Bateman should help. Excluding targets behind the line of scrimmage, Marquise Brown had a 15.3% drop rate last season一inexcusable for a number-one weapon. If he cleans that up, or Bateman supplants him as the top weapon, this unit will be much improved.
23. Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas’s failure to upgrade the receiving corps was one of the more surprising non-moves this offseason. Raiders receivers ranked 22nd with an on-target catch rate of 84% on targets 10+ yards downfield, and had the fourth-worst drop rate (10.4%) on those plays. Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards have talent, but neither appears suited to be a number-one weapon.
22. New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas remains among the best receivers, but with his current injury, the limited help around him stands out even more. Tre’Quan Smith enters his fourth year in the league and has yet to carve out a significant role. The loss of tight end Jared Cook hurts, though the Saints hope second-year tight end Adam Trautman emerges as a dangerous weapon.
21. Atlanta Falcons
The loss of Julio Jones knocked the Falcons down the rankings and while there is young talent, it’s still a bit of a projection. Calvin Ridley could already be one of the league’s best receivers but it remains to be seen how he’ll produce without Jones on the other side. Expectations are high for rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, though he’ll have to significantly outproduce historical trends at the position to match them. It’s highly possible this unit ranks much higher in this exercise next year.
20. Washington Football Team
With the addition of Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown, Washington now has impressive depth at receiver. It would not be shocking if the unit significantly outplays our ranking, but it will require Kelvin Harmon and/or Antonio Gandy-Golden establishing themselves as a legitimate complement to Terry McLaurin on the outside.
19. New York Giants
Kenny Golladay gives the receiving corps a significant boost. In 2020, Giants receivers ranked 29th with an on-target catch rate of 80.2% on targets 10+ yards downfield. Golladay has caught 86.7% of on-target throws at that distance over the last two years. Kadarius Toney, likely lining up in the slot, could also make this a more explosive unit.
18. Miami Dolphins
Free agent addition Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle give the receiving corps significantly more speed. However, without a true number-one weapon, this group will still likely struggle in matchups with the league’s better secondaries.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams would likely rank higher if we were strictly evaluating the top two weapons, but without any depth behind them, the receiving corps is always one injury away from sinking towards the bottom of the league. Rookie Josh Palmer, who saw an average depth of target of 15.5 yards at Tennessee, could potentially help stretch the field and be the depth they need.
16. Arizona Cardinals
Last year, it was clear the Arizona receiving corps was DeAndre Hopkins and not much else. Hopkins had the second-most targets in the league and ranked 11th in EPA. In an attempt to build-up the unit, the Cardinals signed A.J. Green and drafted Rondale Moore in the second round. Green was one of the least efficient receivers in the NFL last season.
15. Green Bay Packers
The receiving corps generated mixed reviews on ballots (ranks between 11 and 21), likely because it’s difficult to account for both the elite number-one weapon (Davante Adams) and the poor depth. On targets 10+ yards downfield, non-Adams receivers had a pathetic 48.5% catch rate and 16.1% drop rate.
14. Carolina Panthers
Carolina had another unit that ranged in perception as the Panthers earned votes ranking from ninth to 17th, demonstrating our uncertainty following the loss of Curtis Samuel and the addition of rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. In 2020, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Samuel, and Mike Davis accounted for 80% of the team’s targets. That lack of depth does not appear to have been fixed.
13. Denver Broncos
The receiving corps falls in the middle of the pack, but it’s easy to envision this unit making a substantial leap if the quarterback play were to improve. Additionally, having a healthy Courtland Sutton back on the field should provide a boost to Jerry Jeudy in his second year.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers check-in at 12th overall, but it’s worth noting the votes ranged from fifth to 20th. For this unit to live up to the high end of those rankings, Chase Claypool must develop into a more reliable downfield weapon. As a rookie, Claypool ranked 40th out of 42 receivers with an on-target catch rate of just 72 percent on targets 10+ yards downfield.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
Votes for the Bengals receiving corps ranged from seventh to 17th, which is understandable considering how much they’ll rely on rookie Ja’Marr Chase. If he immediately produces at a high level, this is a top-10 unit; if he looks like a rookie, the low end of that spectrum is more realistic.
10. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland sneaks into the top 10 based on the assumption Odell Beckham Jr. returns to full health. Beckham and Jarvis Landry are a strong one-two punch but the depth is below average.
9. Los Angeles Rams
The depth at receiver has taken a hit with the losses of Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds in consecutive offseasons. Van Jefferson will need to take a significant step forward to fill the void. The wildcard in this unit is second-round pick Tutu Atwell一it’s unlikely they invested in him without a plan to immediately incorporate him into the offense.
8. San Francisco 49ers
If the 49ers’ receiving corps ranking looks high, remember George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel were only on the field together in four games. In those games, they combined for 765 yards, four touchdowns, and +0.33 EPA per target.
7. Buffalo Bills
The receiving corps was mostly a two-man show一Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley combined for 48% of the targets一but the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and the potential improvement of second-year pro Gabriel Davis gives this seventh-ranked unit an even higher ceiling in 2021.
6. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee’s receiving corps skyrocketed up our rankings after the acquisition of Julio Jones. A strong case could be made that no one has a better duo than Jones and A.J. Brown. The depth behind them is mediocre, but Josh Reynolds at least has experience in the slot (8.8 yards per target in the slot in 2020 with the Rams).
5. Seattle Seahawks
D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett belong in the conversation for the league’s best receiving duos. If there’s an area for the unit improve, it’s depth at receiver, but rookie D’Wayne Eskdrige could be the answer there. Gerald Everett could also bring a new element as a receiving tight end to open up some short-area throws that weren’t often available last season.
4. Minnesota Vikings
Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson carry a receiving corps that is elite at the top but lacks any depth beyond those two. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is the third option in the receiving corps and could earn a larger role with Kyle Rudolph out of the picture.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
The receiving corps, due to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, ranked no worse than fifth on any ballot. Hill and Kelce are perfectly complementary to each other and make up for any lack of development behind them.
2. Dallas Cowboys
The receiving corps returns 97% of its targets from 2020, as well as starting tight end Blake Jarwin who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. With elite depth and experience in the offense, it was an easy choice to rank this among the top units一they appeared in the top five on every ballot.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The top-ranked receiving corps is led by one of the best duos in the game, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. And, though he’s unreliable for a variety of reasons, Antonio Brown is easily the most talented third option on any depth chart.
Ranking each NFL Unit for 2021:
For all of the team-by-team unit rankings and full team chapters, including a dozen more visuals & info-graphics, defensive breakdown, and detailed Fantasy football implication — plus the other 31 team chapters — pick up a copy of Warren Sharp’s new ‘2021 Football Preview’ book