In many ways, a passing attack can only be as good as the players catching the ball. In this week's Position Power Rankings, Nick Shook uses Next Gen Stats to rank the 10 best receiving corps in the NFL in 2020. Note that this ranking ONLY reflects wide receivers -- which explains why an aerial attack that heavily incorporates a tight end, like, say, the Chiefs', will not be listed here. Note also that all stats and rankings are current through Week 9. Notable receivers (those with 15-plus catches) are listed, along with their stats, in each team's blurb below:
2020 WR stats: 1,816 yards, 10.4 yards per target, 20:4 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +7.2% CROE
- DK Metcalf: 43 catches, 788 rec. yards, 8 rec. TDs (+5.2% CROE)
- Tyler Lockett: 53 catches, 615 rec. yards, 7 rec. TDs (+9.1% CROE)
- David Moore: 20 catches, 316 rec. yards, 4 rec. TDs (+12.4% CROE)
Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level through the first half of the season -- he earned the most votes among our experts for the award this week -- so we can't be surprised to see the receivers he throws to atop this list. Add in the blossoming of second-year wideout DK Metcalf, and you have the best Seattle receiving corps of the Pete Carroll era.
Doug Baldwin devotees will scoff at such a statement, but with numbers like this, it's simply difficult to dispute. Metcalf leads the way with a style that both makes for great Twitter clips and has unlocked a portion of Seattle's offense that, in recent years, was only attainable when Tyler Lockett was able to sprint past the defense. For the first time in a while, Wilson has a legitimate threat down the sideline, and he doesn't need him to outrun a corner and a safety to make a play. Metcalf has gained 307 yards on go routes, the most yards gained by any player on one specific route this season, and it meshes perfectly with his scoring habits -- after forcing defenses to worry about his threat on the perimeter, the big-bodied Metcalf makes his money on in-breaking routes, where he's caught six of his eight TDs as a tough matchup inside.
Before the Seahawks get within scoring range, Lockett serves as the perfect complement to Metcalf, gaining 237 yards on crossing routes, the most by any receiver this season. And David Moore fills in the gaps as a third receiver who is no slouch himself. Consider how he made the improbable look possible on a 38-yard touchdown grab in Week 2, which, with its 6.3 percent completion probability, still stands as the second most improbable completion of the 2020 season.
2020 WR stats: 2,064 yards, 9.2 yards per target, 12:4 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +6.1% CROE
- Calvin Ridley: 43 catches, 657 rec. yards, 6 rec. TDs (+6.4% CROE)
- Julio Jones: 43 catches, 638 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+13.8% CROE)
- Russell Gage: 35 catches, 379 rec. yards, 1 rec. TD (-1.6% CROE)
- Olamide Zaccheaus: 18 catches, 253 rec. yards, 1 rec. TD (+3.3% CROE)
Matt Ryan leads the league in passing yards through nine weeks in large part because he has a receiving corps he can trust with deep shots. Of Calvin Ridley's 657 receiving yards, 17.2 percent have come after the catch, which means the rest (82.8%) were accumulated via the air before landing in the arms of Ridley, who finishes long completions with sure hands. Julio Jones, meanwhile, is the model of efficiency, gaining 2.8 yards per route run, fourth-most among receivers in the NFL this season. Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus have been able to account for the majority of Ryan's remaining yards while operating in an offense that isn't afraid to sling it around -- and more often than not, this approach produces positive outcomes for the Falcons, who have come on strong since firing head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff in October.
2020 WR stats: 2,095 yards, 9.0 yards per target, 12:4 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +5.4% CROE
- Stefon Diggs: 63 catches, 813 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+6.5% CROE)
- Cole Beasley: 44 catches, 533 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+10.0% CROE)
- John Brown: 23 catches, 314 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (-4.2% CROE)
- Gabriel Davis: 19 catches, 275 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+6.0% CROE)
- Isaiah McKenzie: 15 catches, 138 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+6.7% CROE)
In his first season in Buffalo, Stefon Diggs leads the league in receiving yards, and while he was a lucrative target on post routes in his final season in Minnesota, he's gained a good portion of his 2020 receiving total on the outside portion of the field. Diggs has seven receptions on boundary targets (targets within 2 yards of the sideline), the most among qualifying receivers (those with a minimum of 15 total receptions), and his 440 yards gained outside the numbers count as the third most among receivers. Take away the middle of the field against Diggs, but be prepared for him to make you pay on the outside.
John Brown, Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley have helped complement Diggs in the revamped Bills receiving corps, but Josh Allen is making the most of his targets intended for Isaiah McKenzie, who thrives with his speed. McKenzie has been open on 87.5 percent of his targets, the highest rate among all receivers, proving defensive focus on Diggs will leave others open for opportunities. McKenzie is capitalizing, and the Bills are cooking through the air as a result.
2020 WR stats: 1,818 yards, 9.3 yards per target, 6:4 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +5.7% CROE
- Robby Anderson: 60 catches, 751 rec. yards, 1 rec. TD (+10.3% CROE)
- D.J. Moore: 35 catches, 640 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (-4.1% CROE)
- Curtis Samuel: 38 catches, 367 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+13.9% CROE)
The Panthers are enjoying a renaissance through the air in their first season under the direction of wunderkind offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who is effectively deploying his cast of talented receivers by relying on their strengths. It starts before the snap for Robby Anderson, who leads the league in yards gained (237) when shifting or in motion. Deep threat D.J. Moore is realizing his potential in 2020, gaining the fourth-most receiving yards on deep targets (249). And Curtis Samuel is throwing it back to his days at Ohio State this season, catching four passes when aligned in the backfield, tied for the most among all receivers. Creativity is blending beautifully with talent in Carolina, leading to a surprisingly effective offensive season for these Panthers.
2020 WR stats: 1,650 yards, 9.4 yards per target, 12:5 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +4.7% CROE
- Will Fuller: 36 catches, 590 rec. yards, 6 rec. TDs (+8.2%)
- Brandin Cooks: 37 catches, 510 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (-1.3%)
- Randall Cobb: 33 catches, 393 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+14.9%)
The Texans aren't quite racking up receiving totals like the groups ahead of them, but they're efficient, gaining the second-most yards per target among this top 10. They're doing so by turning to two speedsters, with Will Fuller leading the way. Fuller has five receiving touchdowns on targets of 10-plus yards, tied for the most among all qualifying receivers in the NFL this season. Four of those scores have come on the most blatant attempt to go deep: go routes. Fuller leads the NFL in touchdowns scored on such routes. It took a little time for Brandin Cooks to get going, but he's been an excellent running mate for Fuller, as evidenced by his 510 receiving yards. And Randall Cobb has found a way to make the most of the space underneath, riding his talent to a catch rate over expectation of 14.9 percent, the second-highest mark in that category among all qualified receivers. Having Deshaun Watson throwing the ball sure doesn't hurt this group.
2020 WR stats: 1,594 yards, 8.5 yards per target, 11:5 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +6.2% CROE
- DeAndre Hopkins: 60 catches, 734 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+11.3%)
- Christian Kirk: 23 catches, 400 rec. yards, 6 rec. TDs (+1.6%)
- Larry Fitzgerald: 33 catches, 261 rec. yards, 0 rec. TDs (+7.5%)
Superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins has lived up to expectations since his arrival this offseason, posting a receiver rating of 155.8 on tight-window targets, good for the highest mark among receivers with a minimum of five tight-window targets. Covering Hopkins closely simply isn't a sufficient way to prevent him from making an impact. Youngster Christian Kirk is also flourishing in Kliff Kingsbury's offense, gaining 25.7 yards per catch on play-action fakes. That rate is the second-highest among receivers with a minimum of 30 play-action routes run, proving that defenses are still taking the run threat seriously, despite Arizona's penchant for trotting out three- and four-receiver sets. Larry Fitzgerald continues to find his opportunities as a wily veteran, and Andy Isabella has also stepped up to make plays in the few chances he's been afforded. These Cardinals are soaring through the air, and credit is due to more than just QB Kyler Murray.
2020 WR stats: 1,468 yards, 8.7 yards per target, 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +4.7% CROE
- Mike Evans: 34 catches, 437 rec. yards, 7 rec. TDs (+3.5%)
- Scotty Miller: 26 catches, 410 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+5.3%)
- Chris Godwin: 28 catches, 320 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+8.9%)
Tom Brady has to wonder where a player like Mike Evans was for much of his time in New England. Evans has been very productive in the red zone in a style that extends beyond that portion of the field. Evans has caught six touchdowns when lined up wide, tied for the most among receivers in such scenarios, using his large frame to win one-on-one matchups and help the Buccaneers race out to a 6-3 start. Chris Godwin has battled multiple injuries to rack up over 300 receiving yards -- but a lesser-known pass-catcher has been making an even greater contribution. Scotty Miller has gained 14.1 yards per target on in-breaking routes, performing his best Wes Welker impression as part of an offense led by Welker's former quarterback. These three are elevating Brady in his age-43 season by achieving above expectation, too, combining to post a catch rate over expectation of +4.7 percent. Tampa Bay might have struggled in Week 9, but the numbers prove all opponents must take the Buccaneers' air attack seriously from here on out -- especially now that four-time All-Pro Antonio Brown, who joined the team too late to be fully evaluated in this column, is in the fold.
2020 WR stats: 1,992 yards, 8.2 yards per target, 8:5 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +2.4% CROE
- Amari Cooper: 59 catches, 655 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (+7.1% CROE)
- CeeDee Lamb: 44 catches, 595 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+0.8% CROE)
- Michael Gallup: 29 catches, 468 rec. yards, 1 rec. TD (-1.1% CROE)
- Cedrick Wilson: 15 catches, 179 rec. yards, 2 rec. TDs (-4.9% CROE)
The Cowboys will be without Dak Prescott for the rest of 2020 -- but the receiving corps offers a clue as to how they can still be effective through the air with Andy Dalton (or Garrett Gilbert). Start with the fact that Amari Cooper has racked up 370 receiving yards on quick passes, the most among all receivers. A big chunk of that has come on in-breaking routes, with Cooper's 333 receiving yards gained on such routes also ranking third among qualified receivers. CeeDee Lamb finds his opportunities by taking up the mantle of slot receiver, gaining 545 of his 595 receiving yards on routes run out of the slot, the most among all receivers. And Michael Gallup has become a nightmare for physical defenders, gaining 22.9 yards per reception when pressed at the line of scrimmage, the most in the NFL (among those with a minimum of five receptions when pressed at the line of scrimmage). Together, this group has become one that can attack defenses in a variety of ways -- as long as an adequate quarterback is throwing the ball.
2020 WR stats: 1,440 yards, 9.3 yards per target, 11:5 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +5.5% CROE
- Keenan Allen: 62 catches, 651 rec. yards, 4 rec. TDs (+6.0%)
- Mike Williams: 23 catches, 393 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+10%)
The Chargers are another team with an efficient receiving corps, as evidenced by their 9.3 yards gained per target. But the efficiency doesn't end there. Mike Williams is hauling in passes while averaging 16.5 air yards per target, the second most in the NFL among qualified receivers, proving to be a reliable downfield threat for rookie QB Justin Herbert. Keenan Allen, meanwhile, is making defenses pay for failing to stop him from crossing the field. Allen has scored four receiving touchdowns on in-breaking routes, good for second-most among all receivers. Herbert doesn't have an incredibly deep corps to throw to, but he does have an effective one.
2020 WR stats: 1,667 yards, 7.5 yards per target, 7:3 TD-to-INT ratio when targeted, +6.6% CROE
- Tyler Boyd: 54 catches, 584 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+11.7%)
- Tee Higgins: 33 catches, 488 rec. yards, 3 rec. TDs (+5.9%)
- A.J. Green: 31 catches, 316 rec. yards, 0 rec. TDs (+1.9%)
QB Joe Burrow is in the midst of a potential Rookie of the Year campaign, and he's doing it with a corps that has proven it's not reliant upon the play (or availability) of seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green. Tyler Boyd leads the Bengals in receiving, with 135 of his 584 receiving yards gained on receptions between the hashes. While opposing defenses are keying on stopping Green outside, Boyd has been taking advantage on the inside. Combined with the promising development of rookie Tee Higgins and the still-present contributions of Green, Cincinnati has itself a well-rounded receiving corps (even without a notable contribution from John Ross) that is also achieving above expectation, as evidenced by its catch rate over expectation of 6.6 percent. The Bengals have plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of their passing game under Zac Taylor.