Analysis

Ten wide receivers worth pursuing via free agency or 2021 NFL Draft

In this series, NFL.com analysts look at the best players available via free agency, the NFL draft or trade at the following positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back. Today, James Jones looks at the top 10 wide receivers worth pursuing.

Predicting trades feels particularly difficult this offseason, with the salary cap projected to decrease. So while we've heard trade chatter around some notable veterans like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., I don't see a lot of movement because their contracts will cost too much for their current team to move on from (Jones) or a suitor to take on (Beckham).

That's why I'm just focusing on free agents or draft prospects, unlike my three other colleagues in this series. All right, let's get started.

Rank
1
Kenny Golladay
Free agent

This might surprise some people, but it shouldn't. Not when you look a little closer. Golladay is one of the very best deep threats when healthy -- which he wasn't in 2020, playing only five games due to a hip injury. But back in 2019, Babytron ranked among the top two in the league in all major deep passing categories (passes of 20-plus air yards), including targets (32, first), receptions (13, tied for second), yards (546, second) and touchdowns (five, tied for first), according to Next Gen Stats. The 6-foot-4, 214-pounder is physical, wins the contested catches and should be fresh heading into the 2021 season. It doesn't matter the coverage -- Golladay finds a way to get open and make plays, and we saw it weekly during the 2018 and '19 seasons in Detroit.

Rank
2
Allen Robinson
Free agent

Robinson has made a name for himself with his superb route running and hands while playing with subpar quarterbacks throughout his seven-year career. He routinely beats defenders off the line and is always open. Always. The veteran has been the most consistent part of the Chicago Bears' offense since he arrived in 2018 -- especially over the last two seasons, when he amassed 200 receptions, 2,397 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns for the sometimes-stagnant unit. Robinson could get tagged, but his production merits a long-term deal.


UPDATE: The Bears are placing the franchise tag on Robinson, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

Rank
3
Marvin Jones
Free agent

The sure-handed Jones may be one of the most overlooked receivers in the league. The natural playmaker has the ability to create big-time plays and is a touchdown machine, with nine scores in three of the last four seasons. Though the soon-to-be 31-year-old isn't the fastest guy on the field, the solid route runner is still quick in and out of his breaks and able to create separation. We've seen what Jones can do as Detroit's No. 2 or No. 1 receiver (when Kenny Golladay has been injured), and he'd be a great addition for any team looking for a reliable playmaker on the perimeter.

Rank
4
T.Y. Hilton
Free agent

There's a chance the Colts bring their longtime No. 1 receiver back this offseason, but the tape Hilton's put out over his nine years in Indy should attract plenty of attention in free agency. The four-time Pro Bowler hasn't hit the 1,000-yard mark since 2018, but he's still a YAC monster who can stretch the field. Hilton will make any passing game better, that's for certain.

Rank
5
Chris Godwin
Free agent

Godwin has evolved into a major threat over his four seasons in Tampa, and he's been most effective when in the slot, with 51.5 percent of his receiving yards coming from that alignment over the last two seasons. The 6-1 wideout is a physical player who takes advantages of mismatches against opponent's secondary cover guys. Godwin has had an issue with drops and could be more consistent; there are instances when he disappears for games at a time. 


UPDATE: The Buccaneers are placing the franchise tag on Godwin, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

Rank
6
Corey Davis
Free agent

A first-round pick in 2017, Davis hasn't lived up to his draft standing just yet, as he's battled nagging injuries that have prevented him from being a consistent baller. But we have seen glimpses. He's coming off his best campaign, in which he finished just shy of 1,000 receiving yards and had five 100-yard games, including a monstrous 11-catch, 182-yard effort in Week 12. Davis has all of the ability and tools to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. With the right fit and some better luck on the health side, I believe he meets his potential at his next stop.

Rank
7
DeVonta Smith
Alabama · Prospect

The top three receivers in this year's draft class feel somewhat interchangeable, as each has the skill set to become a No. 1 receiver at the next level, but I gotta say my favorite is Smith. He's extremely quick off the line of scrimmage and possesses elite playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. If there's a team still searching for a big-time receiver come April, Smith's your guy. 

Rank
8
Ja'Marr Chase
LSU · Prospect

The LSU star is a home run hitter as a dominant, physical player on the perimeter or slot. The 6-1, 200-pounder has very good ball skills and is dynamic once the ball is in his hands. The last time we saw Chase in game action, he helped LSU win the national championship with nine catches, 221 yards and two touchdowns. As a 2020 opt-out, Chase should be hungry to prove he's still at the top of his game at the next level.

Rank
9
JuJu Smith-Schuster
Free agent

JuJu has proven to be a very good all-around wide receiver in his four pro seasons. That said, I think it's clear he's at his best when playing opposite another No. 1 or 2, as his best seasons were spent complementing Antonio Brown and most recently Chase Claypool, a rookie who was far better than advertised in last year's draft process. JuJu will offer teams a talented target who'll move the chains and step up in the red zone.

Rank
10
Jaylen Waddle
Alabama · Prospect

Waddle reminds me a lot of San Francisco's Brandon Aiyuk, a first-round pick in 2020. With the ball in his hands, Waddle is explosive, powerful and so versatile. I envision the flashy playmaker thriving on reverses and screens while lining up inside or outside the numbers.

Follow James Jones on Twitter.

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