Now that the 2015 NFL Draft is complete and teams have slowed down in terms of adding and dropping big name players, it is time to take a look at the wide receiver position in the AFC. Few teams were more active than the Miami Dolphins in adding targets for their quarterbacks. Here are my rankings for each AFC team’s receiving corps, excluding tight ends.
The Chiefs, led by quarterback Alex Smith, haven’t had a touchdown by a wide receiver since the 2013 season. That’s a full calendar year. They are hoping that the reunion of Jeremy Maclin with head coach Andy Reid will change that. Maclin was a stud last year, hauling in 10 touchdowns and 1,318 yards on 85 catches. However, when you look past Maclin to the Kansas City’s other wide outs, you would have trouble spotting their number two. Dwayne Bowe is gone and other than veterans Jason Avant and Armon Binns, there really aren’t many wide receivers with more than a year or two experience on this Chiefs roster. Maclin, though great, can’t do it all by himself. That being said, the Chiefs have managed to do fine without their wide receivers scoring in the past, as they rely heavily on their tight ends and running backs to catch Alex Smith’s passes.
15. Cleveland Browns
The Browns new number one wide receiver is exactly who was just mentioned: Dwayne Bowe. That’s not exactly something to brag about. Bowe has been a shell of his former self for years. Who else is in the mix? Former Dolphins Brian Hartline and Marlon Moore. Neither player has what it takes to be a true number one target. The Browns round out their corps with Andrew Hawkins, Travis Bejamin and Taylor Gabriel. Not a terrible group as a whole, but just not a lot of firepower at the position. Losing Josh Gordon to his 800th offense (okay maybe not that many, yet,) and lacking a significant quarterback will only make this mediocre group worse.
14. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders would have been dead last on this list last season. They found their true number one receiver by taking Amari Cooper fourth overall in the draft. They also added former first round pick Michael Crabtree in free agency, and just recently picked up speedster Trindon Holliday. Add another speed threat in Rod Streater and the sure-handed Andre Holmes, and this Raiders wide receiver corps could make some noise with second year quarterback Derek Carr.
13. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens lost Torrey Smith in free agency, but picked up the speedster Breshad Perriman out of Central Florida in this year’s draft. However, the Ravens biggest problem with their receivers is depth. Steve Smith can still play, but his durability is questionable, especially as the Ravens move deep into the season. Marlon Brown will almost definitely be their third option, but from there it gets iffy. Competing for the number four spot is Michael Campanaro, DeAndre Carter, Jeremy Butler and Kamar Aiken. However, the Ravens should make do fine with their less than stellar receivers. They live off of running the football and utilizing the play action passing game.
12. Houston Texans
The Texans also lost their franchise wide receiver as Andre Johnson landed with the Colts this offseason. That being said, they have found their new number one target in DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 76 passes for 1,210 yards and six scores last season. Hopkins should build on his success last year with Johnson’s departure, and should benefit from rookie Jaelen Strong’s ability to stretch the field. That is a solid one-two punch for quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. Cecil Shorts (previously with the Jaguars) and Keshawn Martin provide nice depth at the position.
11. Tennessee TitansI debated ranking the Titans higher because I think their wide receivers will surprise a lot of people this year. But in the end the uncertainty that accompanies this group of pass catchers lands them at eleven. But still, not too shabby. They may have gotten the best offensive player in the draft (if he can stay out of trouble) in Dorial Green-Beckham, a 6-foot-6, 237 pound monster that runs a 4.40 40 yard dash. Pair him with the highly underrated Kendall Wright and throw in veterans Hakeem Nicks and Harry Douglas, and this Titans offense looks a lot better. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota will have more than a few toys to play with this season. Come this time next year, we could be talking about this group a lot more.
10. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are very lucky to have retained Philip Rivers, who was debating finishing his career elsewhere. They have one of the best young wide receivers in the league in Keenan Allen, who struggled last season despite having a fantastic rookie year. I think Allen will rebound just fine this season. The Chargers also added Jacoby Jones and Stevie Johnson in free agency, and while both are seasoned veterans, they should help free up Allen underneath. Philip Rivers is a winner and will make do with whatever he’s given. It just so happens he has a talented group of receivers.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are slowly working their way towards becoming relevant again. One of their strengths of this team besides their defense is their receivers. This youthful bunch can play, and should make Blake Bortles a good statistical quarterback this season. Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are both extremely talented and athletic. Ace Sanders and newly drafted Rashad Greene from Florida State make this group one of the deepest in the conference. It’s all up to Bortles at this point to take this group as far as it can go.
The Patriots are the Super Bowl Champions for two reasons and two reasons only. They have Tom Brady (whether he cheats or not there is no denying he is great) and Bill Belichick. In my opinion they are the best player-coach tandem in the history of the NFL. They continue to win Super Bowls and big games with second tier players. That is exactly what their wide receivers are, second tier. Brandon LaFell is not a bad big target, and the consistent Julian Edelman is deadly underneath. Other than those two, the Pats have the always injured Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson. But then again, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They could win with high school receivers.
Anytime you have A.J. Green lining up for your team, you automatically have a good receiving group. Green has above average support too, with Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones both returning to the team this season. Sanu is lethal in the open field, and Marvin Jones is a beast in the red zone. It is truly a wonder how the Bengals have not escaped the first round of the playoffs in the last five seasons.
Antonio Brown was a freak last year. His 129 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014 were godlike. The Steelers also have Martavis Bryant, who proved to be a formidable number two option for Big Ben and the Steelers’ offense. Throw in speedster Markus Wheaton and the inconsistent yet flashy Darrius Heyward-Bey and this group of playmakers is dangerous. Keep an eye on rookie Sammie Coates too, who was a beast at Auburn.
The Bills are loaded at this position. Sammy Watkins had a fantastic rookie season, and the Bills just added Percy Harvin this offseason. Then they have Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Woods has great hands and is a solid route runner, and Goodwin can fly. The hardest part for this group: deciding who to play when and where. They are that deep.
The Jets have done some serious work in the past two seasons to ramp up their offense. Eric Decker is back and is now the Jets’ number two option. They went out and got the physical Brandon Marshall from the Bears. They drafted Ohio State’s Devin Smith, who can catch the long ball. Throw in slot specialist Jeremy Kerley and this group of receivers lacks anything but talent. Now they just need to decide who is going to throw the ball.
Peyton Manning’s decision to return the NFL this year had to in some way be influenced by his supporting cast. He has arguably the best receiver in the game in Demaryius Thomas. Last year it was Emmanuel Sanders who proved his worth, consistently posting multiple touchdown games. The Broncos added the lightning fast Cody Latimer too, who will be able to help free up their top two options.
2. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins may have gotten younger at the position since last season, but they have definitely improved as well. Kenny Stills should become Ryan Tannehill’s deep threat, and rookie DeVante Parker is already impressing early in his time in South Beach. The Dolphins are this high because of their depth. Second year wide receiver Jarvis Landry was a stud last year and is ready for an even bigger campaign this season. The Dolphins also brought in proven veteran Greg Jennings to double as a player and a mentor. Jennings can still play too, and is one of the purest route runners in the league. Ryan Tannehill should continue his success, and it is in part thanks to his outstanding supporting cast.
1. Indianapolis Colts
This one was easy. The Colts have surrounded Andrew Luck with more than just a few tools. He has the entire toolbox at his fingertips. As if T.Y. Hilton wasn’t enough, they added Andre Johnson from the Texans and drafted a young Hilton in Philip Dorsett out of Miami. Donte Moncrief ended last season in stride, and will now be the Colts’ third option. Veteran Deion Branch has won a super bowl before, and can help mentor this group of studs to finally get over the hump and reach the Super Bowl this season. The Colts have the best wide receivers in the AFC, hands down.