Analysis

Ten best new veteran QB-WR combos heading into the 2022 NFL season

The NFL's annual game of offseason Boggle reshuffled big names around the league in 2022 at an unprecedented scale.

Seismic changes came at quarterback with Russell Wilson moving from Seattle to Denver. Matt Ryan traded from the only organization he'd known for 14 seasons, becoming the Indianapolis Colts' latest shot at QB stability. Carson Wentz joins a third team in three seasons, attempting to save a career careening into the abyss.

No position saw more explosive moves and change than the receiver position. The Offseason of the Wide Receiver, it will be remembered as. Not only did a host of wideouts splash big paydays, but there was also unparalleled movement among the top-tier targets.

Davante Adams engineered a trade from Green Bay to Las Vegas to fulfill a personal dream. Tyreek Hill was shipped from Kansas City -- where he'd helped win the AFC West in each of his six NFL seasons -- to Miami to start anew. A.J. Brown (Philadelphia) and Marquise Brown (Arizona) were traded on draft day.

The smorgasbord of moves leads to a horde of new QB-WR duos dotting the league landscape. And that's before we even consider the potential breakout of one of the many talented rookies.

With all the changes, let's take a gander at some of the top new veteran QB-WR pairings that will treat us in 2022.

Rank
1
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB
Davante Adams
Las Vegas Raiders · WR

Best friends reuniting at the pro level to chance a championship together is the stuff of Disney movies. Carr and Adams never shied away from acknowledging they'd like to play together after putting up significant stats at Fresno State. That sort of talk usually flutters down the drains in the NFL as pipe dreams. But Adams made it a reality.


On the field, the duo has a chance to be special. Adams is in any discussion about the top receivers in the NFL, and for my money, is WR1. He can win off the line of scrimmage in a blink, lines up everywhere and owns the size to bully all DBs. He boasts vice-grip hands and is nearly unstoppable in the red zone.


Since 2018, Adams leads the NFL in receptions (432), receiving yards (5,310) and receiving TDs (47). His three career seasons of 110-plus catches are second-most all-time (Wes Welker, five), and his five years with 10-plus TDs are the most by an active player (the five players with more are all in the Hall of Fame -- Randy Moss (nine), Jerry Rice (nine), Terrell Owens (eight), Marvin Harrison (eight) and Cris Carter (six)).


As he moves to Vegas, the big question is whether going from back-to-back league MVP Aaron Rodgers to Carr will take the shine off.


Carr has been an underrated passer for much of his career. Playing on losing squads lacking top-tier talent will have that effect. But Carr proved last season he can win in crunch time and make all the big-time throws. He's thrown for 4,000-plus yards in each of the last four seasons despite not having that field-tilting dominant WR since the Amari Cooper trade. In 2021, he tossed for a career-high 4,804 yards (fifth-most in NFL) and was second in the league with 67 completions of 20-plus yards (behind only Tom Brady).


Aiding Carr with a turbo-booster like Adams is a dream for a Raiders offense already in line to mash the gas pedal under Josh McDaniels.

Rank
2
Russell Wilson
Denver Broncos · QB
Jerry Jeudy
Denver Broncos · WR

The Broncos sported electric offensive talent the past several seasons but never had the quarterback who could take advantage.


Enter Russ.


The Broncos have not had a QB with 10-plus wins or 20-plus pass TD in a season since Peyton Manning in 2014. Wilson generated 10-plus wins in eight of his 10 seasons in Seattle and had 20-plus pass TDs every year.


Denver has several receivers with the talent to break out, including Courtland Sutton, K.J. Hamler and Tim Patrick. But Jeudy is the best bet to see his stock rise with Russ in town.


After a fine rookie season (52/856/3), Jeudy missed seven games in 2021 (six with an ankle injury, one on the COVID list), earning 38 catches for 467 yards with no scores. His first two seasons haven't come close to what D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett provided Wilson in Seattle. But that could change now that he has a Pro Bowl-caliber QB who can stretch the field.


I expect Jeudy to be a deep-threat option after starting his career with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock as his signal-callers. Of Jeudy's 169 career targets, 31 have been deep passes (20-plus yards). Wilson has the most pass yards (6,347) and pass TDs (65) on deep passes in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016), and the QB's 9.5% completion percentage over expected on deep passes is the best in the NFL in that span (min. 200 attempts).


At Alabama, Jeudy was a big-play maven, netting 17.2 yards per reception from 2017-19. Since entering the NFL, those big plays have been few and far between.


The wideout must stay healthy, but the talent is there for Jeudy to form a dynamic combination with Wilson that can open up a previously restricted offense. 

Rank
3
Matt Ryan
Indianapolis Colts · QB
Michael Pittman
Indianapolis Colts · WR

The Colts continue to shuffle through QBs, with Matt Ryan representing the fifth starter since Frank Reich became the head coach in 2018. The former NFL MVP isn't what he once was and is coming off his first sub-4,000-yard season since 2010, but he can still put the ball on the money and isn't afraid to stand in under pressure.


Last season, the Colts didn't trust Carson Wentz down the stretch, leading to a regular-season collapse as the signal-caller threw for fewer than 200 yards in six of the final eight weeks. There should be no such concerns with Ryan.


The 37-year-old might have broken his streak of 10 straight seasons with 4,000 yards (second-longest all-time behind only Drew Brees) but it wasn't by much, netting 3,968 yards last year on a Falcons team in shambles by the end of the season. He still completed 67 percent of his passes despite a decimated receiver corps behind Russell Gage.


Now he pairs up with Michael Pittman Jr., one of the burgeoning young receivers in the NFL. In his breakout sophomore season, Pittman proved he could win one-on-one matchups and beat double teams. Despite the Colts' pass-game struggles, Pittman generated 1,082 yards on 88 catches with six TDs. No other Colts pass catcher even hit the 400-yard mark. It was Pittman or bust.


If he can produce with Wentz, imagine what he can do with Ryan.

Rank
4
Deshaun Watson
Cleveland Browns · QB
Amari Cooper
Cleveland Browns · WR

Watson remains in limbo, with the NFL yet to announce any potential suspension for violating the personal-conduct policy stemming from 24 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions. Watson, who also requested a trade from Houston in January of 2021, sat out all last season. When last he played, as a member of the Texans in 2020, Watson led the NFL with 4,823 yards passing, and he finished second in the league with a career-high 112.4 passer rating. He became the only QB all-time to log a passer rating of 110-plus in the same season he had a losing record (4-12). In March, the Browns traded six draft picks for Watson, believing he is the missing piece to a championship-level team.


Cleveland also swiped Cooper from the Cowboys for a measly fifth-round pick and a sixth-round swap. It was a steal for a dynamic player like Cooper, who has 1,000 receiving yards in five of his seven seasons, tied for fourth-most in the NFL -- only Mike Evans (seven), Travis Kelce (six) and Brandin Cooks (six) have more. Cooper is the type of go-to target, capable of winning at all levels, that Cleveland missed last season. When he's healthy, the 27-year-old is a premier route-runner and field-tilter. Regardless of who is under center, Cooper has the potential to eat a ton of targets in Cleveland in 2022.

Rank
5
Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · QB
Marquise Brown
Arizona Cardinals · WR

I'm not here to litigate whether Arizona should have traded a first-round pick to the Ravens for the receiver, who is coming up on his second contract. That's done with. Over. Finito. The question is whether Murray and Brown make a dynamic pairing.


The answer is yes.


When Murray and Brown last played together, at Oklahoma in 2018, the receiver generated 1,318 yards. While circumstances are different, there is a potential for the two to collaborate on explosive plays in the desert.


Brown produced in Baltimore's run-first offense, becoming the only WR in Ravens history to have 2,000-plus receiving yards (2,361) and 20-plus receiving TDs (21) in his first three NFL seasons. (Tight end Mark Andrews is the only other player in the franchise record books to do so.) And he's used to being the focal point of an air attack, as one of seven players in the NFL to see 25.0-plus percent of their team's targets over the last two seasons (Brown accounted for 25.0 percent of the Ravens' targets since 2020).This will come in handy while DeAndre Hopkins serves his six-game suspension.


Last season, Murray came out on fire before a midseason injury led to inconsistent play down the stretch. He remains one of the most dynamic signal-callers in the NFL when healthy, able to devastate defenses with the deep ball and scamper through traffic with his legs. Perhaps too often last season, he relied on the YOLO ball, but he also made some of the most ridiculous plays of the year.


Hopkins was absent for seven games in 2021, due to hamstring and knee injuries, and Murray missed him desperately, particularly on third and fourth downs. With Hopkins on the field in those situations, the QB posted a 71.2 completion percentage with 11 yards/attempt and a 141.3 passer rating; without him, those figures fell to 51.9 percent, 6.9 yards/attempt and an 85.3 passer rating. Brown, who fits Kliff Kingsbury's offense like a glove, is in town to help preempt a return to those dire times.

Rank
6
Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · QB
Tyreek Hill
Miami Dolphins · WR

The addition of Hill to an offense that already boasted Jaylen Waddle makes the Dolphins D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S in Mike McDaniel's first season. Hill is a field stretcher who can win with the ball in his hands at any level. Perhaps more critical for Tagovailoa, he earns massive amounts of separation, making life easier for his QB. In two seasons, Tagovailoa has thrown into tight windows on 19.8 percent of his pass attempts -- the second-highest rate since 2020 (behind Joe Burrow, min. 400 pass attempts, per Next Gen Stats). Hill has generated 3.4 yards of separation per route since 2016, which leads all NFL WRs (min. 300 targets).


Hill and Waddle can both run after the catch and burn defenses. As for the deep ball, Hill has led the NFL in all major deep receiving categories since 2017. He has 139 targets of 20-plus yards, 59 catches, 2,410 yards and 25 TDs. Tagovailoa, meanwhile, has attempted a deep pass on 7.1 percent of his 678 career pass attempts, the second-lowest rate since 2020. But this isn't Jeff George leading the old Run 'n' Shoot offense. The only QB to attempt deep passes at a lower rate since 2020? Jimmy Garoppolo, who played for the 49ers, where McDaniel was the OC.


Tagovailoa has plenty to prove in Year 3, and getting a weapon like Hill, who will be utilized all over the field, makes that process easier in Miami.


Rank
7
Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · QB
A.J. Brown
Philadelphia Eagles · WR

Brown has generated 1,000-plus receiving yards in two of his three NFL seasons. Only injuries slowed him from reaching that plateau last season. The Eagles have not had a WR with 1,000-plus receiving yards in a season since Jeremy Maclin in 2014 (1,318 yards). The big-bodied Brown, acquired via draft day trade with the Titans, brings needed playmaking ability to pair with DeVonta Smith. Since 2019, Brown has averaged 16.2 yards per catch (fifth in the NFL) and 24 TDs (tied for eighth among WRs).


Brown's presence will make life easier for Hurts, who enters a pivotal season attempting to prove he's the long-term solution under center. Hurts displayed a dual-threat ability in 2021, his first season as a full-time starter, but he missed too many throws, generating a passer rating of 87.2. Brown's ability to win in tight spaces and generate yards after the catch adds a dimension to the offense that was missing last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown has averaged 6.0 yards after the catch since 2019 -- second among WRs, behind only Deebo Samuel (minimum of 150 receptions). Getting those extra yards will make the entire operation run smoother and make Hurts more dangerous when he decides to use his legs.


Much like Tua, Hurts needs a strong season. The pairing of Brown and Smith ratchets up the passing game to make Philly one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL if everyone stays healthy.


Rank
8
Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · QB
Allen Robinson
Los Angeles Rams · WR

Cooper Kupp remains the alpha, but adding Allen Robinson on a three-year contract was a big addition for Matthew Stafford.


Before his injury-plagued, subpar final season in Chicago, Robinson was one of the most consistent receivers in the league. In 2019-2020, Robinson recorded 200 catches and 2,397 yards, both fourth-most in the NFL over that span. In 2022, Robinson is set to play a vital role alongside Kupp with Robert Woods traded to Tennessee and Odell Beckham Jr. still unsigned.


While Sean McVay's offense schemes open receivers, Robinson's ability to win in tight coverage will prove huge for Stafford. Since 2019, the wideout has 53 contested catches, tied for second-most in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Stafford proved last season that his ability to hit the deep dig and passes outside the numbers pushes the Rams' offense to new heights. His new receiver should fit well into that scheme.


If Robinson stays healthy and returns to the form we saw two years ago, the Rams have a duo that can win versus any coverage.

Rank
9
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB
Russell Gage
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · WR

With Chris Godwin expected to miss the start of the 2022 season, the Bucs need Gage to come out of the gate cooking. Gage missing workouts this offseason due to an undisclosed injury doesn't help, but if healthy by training camp, he should be ready for his big role alongside Mike Evans. Even when Godwin returns, the Bucs need three wideouts for their offense to hum. We saw last season how much Brady's operation suffered when Antonio Brown was out of the lineup.


Last season, Gage proved as the lone Falcons wide receiver threat that he can make contested catches and win in traffic. Playing out of the slot, Gage will be the ideal stand-in for Godwin early in the season and allow the Bucs to be more versatile when the latter eventually returns. When lining up in the slot since 2020, Gage has 75 receptions (14th-most among WRs) on 109 targets (12th-most among WR), per Next Gen Stats. Gage had career-highs 11 receptions and 130 receiving yards versus the Buccaneers in Week 13 last season -- hauling in eight of 11 receptions for 84 yards from the slot in that game.


While he might not be a household name, Gage owns the skill set to be a difference-maker in Tampa. Going from a hamstrung offense to playing in the Bucs explosive operation alongside Brady will only help. Last season, Brady became the fifth player in NFL history with 5,000-plus pass yards, 40-plus pass TDs and a 100-plus passer rating in a single season. To say it's a pass-happy offense is an understatement.

Rank
10
Carson Wentz
Washington Commanders · QB
Terry McLaurin
Washington Commanders · WR

This tandem makes the list on the strength of the hot start to Terry McLaurin's career. 


The 26-year-old has generated 3,090 yards on 222 catches -- the most receptions through three seasons in Washington franchise history -- with 16 TDs. Since 2019, McLaurin has registered nine games with at least 100 receiving yards and one receiving TD (fourth-most in the NFL), and he's earned 1,000-plus yards in each of the past two years, including 1,053 yards on 77 catches with five TDs in 2021. McLaurin was the Washington passing offense last season, as no other player hit the 400-yard receiving mark.


A crisp route runner, McLaurin has proven he can win anywhere on the field and against double coverages, which he saw plenty. The speedy weapon with good hands can make circus catches look routine.


I don't love the pairing with Carson Wentz, but as colleague Nick Shook pointed out, the former Colts quarterback actually graded out well on his deep passing score last season. That bodes well for his connection with McLaurin, whose 13.4 air yards per target was third-highest in the NFL last season among players with at least 100 targets.


Wentz clearly lost confidence -- and the trust of his coaching staff -- last season as he withered down the stretch and Indy missed the playoffs. Washington hopes it can be the team to recapture the magic from Wentz's 2017 season that is slowly starting to seem a figment of our imagination.  


Still, when protected, Wentz has enough talent to get the ball to a playmaker like McLaurin. If McLaurin can gobble up stats with a patchwork of quarterbacks including Taylor Heinicke, a diminished Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, he can undoubtedly pull Wentz along.


Even with rookie Jahan Dotson in line for a significant role, I still expect McLaurin to dominate the pigskin. But, first, the club needs to figure out his contract situation.

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter.

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