Both the Broncos and Packers have high-level (read: eventual Hall of Fame) quarterbacks, and there’s little doubt Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have raised the level of play of their receivers, too. It’s what they do.
Still, that doesn’t mean the receivers should be docked for being on the receiving end of an elite quarterback, and when each of those teams have two receivers in the top 11 for yardage in 2014, it’s no wonder those two franchises sport the top two receiving units.
The Giants, at No. 3, have two in the top 26, but also have a returning Victor Cruz, who is hoping to avoid the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of training camp. Coming off knee surgery, if he returns to form early in the 2015 season, the Giants could have the best trio of receivers in the league. But that will be dependent on Cruz’s health.
Like most of the teams in our top five, the Falcons (No. 4) have a pair of receivers finishing in the top 30 for yardage last year, both of whom are regular entrants into the 1,000-yard club.
For the final team on our list, it’s more about the dominance of their No. 1 than the overall strength of the unit. Antonio Brown befuddled defensive backs last year with 126 catches, 1,698 yards and a very impressive 106.1-yard average per game, one of only three players to average more than 100 yards receiving per game, joining Julio Jones (106.2) and Demaryius Thomas (101.2).
Here are NFL’s the top five receiving units entering 2015:
Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders
Depth: Andre Caldwell, Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood, Bennie Fowler, Isaiah Burse
The top position on our ranking comes with a major asterisk – can the Broncos and Thomas find common ground on a contract after slapping the franchise tag on him? While he says he won’t report to training camp without an extension, he’s likely to show up for the regular season after a 1,619-yard season, second-best in the league last year. Combined with Sanders, who had 1,404 yards, fifth in the NFL, that’s a deadly combination for Manning.
Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
Depth: Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis
Nelson and Cobb are right there with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as the best receiving duos in the league. Nelson was fourth in the NFL last year with 1,519 yards on 98 catches and 13 touchdowns, and Cobb was 11th with 1,287 yards on 91 catches and 12 touchdowns. Simply put, defenses can’t key on one and single the other or Aaron Rodgers will have his way. Adams is emerging as a legitimate threat and Ty Montgomery was a nice addition in the draft.
Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr.
Depth: Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, Corey Washington, Parker Preston
Whether Cruz returns to form or not this season after a patella tendon tear last year, the Giants have a deep stable of receivers to encourage patience with that situation. Beckham had an incredible rookie season with 1,305 yards, 91 catches and 12 touchdowns, and Randle proved a very capable No. 2 with 71 catches for 938 yards. Dwayne Harris is also a solid No. 3, so if Cruz returns to form at some point, it could be one of the deepest receiving corps in the league.
Roddy White, Julio Jones
Depth: Leonard Hankerson, Devin Hester, Justin Hardy
If our ranking was based solely on the starters, the Falcons would have the best in the league. It doesn’t get much better than Jones, who was third in the league with 1,593 yards and 104 catches opposite White, who was 29th with 921 yards on 80 receptions. Depth is decent with Leonard Hankerson, but it falls off after that, making health with the top two imperative for the Falcons to win the NFC South.
Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton
Depth: Sammie Coates, Martavis Bryant, C.J. Goodwin, Darius Heyward-Bey
Brown was the best receiver in the league last year, whether measured by receptions (129) or yards (1,698), and was tied for second with 13 touchdowns. Wheaton added 644 yards, and if the saying about receivers hitting their stride in their third NFL season holds true, bigger things should be in store for Wheaton as defenses concentrate on not allowing Big Brown the Double Crown.
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