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Ranking NFL team WR, TE, RB talent for 2024: Top players

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Ranking NFL team WR, TE, RB talent for 2024: Top players


It’s the peak of summer, which means one thing for me: It’s time to rank the NFL’s offensive playmakers. Every year, right around this time, I take stock of every move franchises have made to surround their various starting quarterbacks with talent as they hope to parlay a hot offseason into a Super Bowl victory.

On one hand, you could argue the 2023 season proved teams can win without great playmakers, as the Chiefs spent most of 2023 begging any of their wide receivers to catch the football. I’d also point out they got plenty out of future Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce, saw Isiah Pacheco blossom in a full season as the starter and got just enough out of Rashee Rice & Co. in the postseason to advance through the AFC bracket. The guys on the other side of the field in Super Bowl LVIII might have done enough to turn their quarterback into the league MVP with another great start or two down the stretch, too.

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If a team has Patrick Mahomes, it can probably survive without a great set of playmakers. What about one of the 31 teams trying to beat him in 2024? Well, it’d be nice to be close to the top of this list. Let’s run through the guys who catch and run with the football and how each team is positioned to take advantage of good quarterback play in 2024, going from worst to first.

Before you fire off that angry tweet, though, consider the ground rules I went through in compiling this piece:

This is just about running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. In other words, imagine if every set of offensive skill position players got a chance to play with the same average quarterback in an average scheme with average weather, average luck and at an average pace. Who would have the league’s best offense?

This is only about on-field performance during the 2024 season. While I talk a lot about contract value and long-term impacts in evaluating the league, all of that doesn’t matter once the games start. This is strictly considering what each player might do this season, not what will happen years down the line.

I’m using each player’s recent level of play and various advanced metrics to get the best sense of how they performed while attempting to adjust for the context around each of them. Aging curves matter here; we know players in their early-20s are more likely to improve than players in their 30s. When it comes to draft picks, I’m leaving my own feelings about each player out of the equation and relying more on historical performance for draftees in their respective ranges during their rookie seasons. In other words, to estimate what Chargers wideout Ladd McConkey will do in his rookie season, I’m looking at the typical performance by receivers chosen early in Round 2.

Injury histories and suspensions matter. Injuries are impossible to project. (If you had Aaron Rodgers tearing his Achilles on the first series of the season, I know a few NFL teams that might want to hire you.) At the same time, a player’s injury history might lead us to lean in a direction and discount some of their projected performance for the likelihood of being injured. Deebo Samuel hasn’t played a full season once as a pro; it seems likely he’ll miss a couple of games in 2024.

I’m projecting players who are recovering from serious injuries, such as Tyler Higbee and T.J. Hockenson, to be absent for meaningful chunks of the regular season. While we don’t have official word on his case for 2024, the expectation that Rashee Rice will be suspended has me keeping him out of the lineup for a few games. On the other hand, I’m expecting CeeDee Lamb and other players who will be “holding in” during training camp for new deals will be on the field in Week 1.

Wide receivers are weighted more heavily than running backs or tight ends. I’m just following the NFL’s lead here. Justin Jefferson makes $35 million per season. Christian McCaffrey is the only back making over $15 million per year. Twenty different wide receivers are making more than $20 million per season, a figure no running back or tight end can match.

This is a league in which elite wide receivers are treated as more valuable than ever before. As a result, my rankings reflect that sentiment, weighing wideouts as more valuable than players at other positions.

The focus is on elite players and a team’s top five contributors. Depth matters, but teams would probably rather have Jefferson and four other replacement-level receivers than, say, five guys like Darnell Mooney or DJ Chark. Having a player who can beat any coverage is extremely valuable, and these rankings lean toward valuing teams that have game-changers at one position or another.

Since teams can play five playmakers at any one time, I looked toward each team’s five best players as their primary arguments for these rankings. I won’t mention every single player in every writeup, but the players outside the top five were mostly used for tiebreakers between closely ranked teams, given how unlikely they are to make an impact in 2024.

Efficiency matters. I’ve done my best to try to normalize differences between what players can do and how their team played, which aren’t always the same thing. Pace is one key factor. Owing to a great defense and a middling offense, the Browns ran a league-high 1,187 plays last season, 50 more than any other team. And on the other end, without a great defense, the Seahawks ran just 995 offensive snaps. That’s 11 extra plays per game for the Browns, all of which added to their players’ cumulative stats. It doesn’t reflect better performance.

As a result, you’ll see a lot of metrics that use averages as opposed to cumulative performance. Two that come up often for receivers are yards per route and target share. Yards per route is the average number of yards a receiver gained when he ran an eligible route, regardless of whether he caught the ball or was even targeted on the play. Target share is the percentage of the time a pass-catcher was targeted when he ran a route. Neither stat is perfect, but each will help us get a sense of whether a receiver was able to create opportunities when he was on the field. I’ll also use ESPN’s advanced receiver tracking metrics, which use data from NFL Next Gen Stats to estimate their impact on a moment-by-moment basis.

With all that out of the way, let’s start getting through our teams. In 2022 and 2023, the Texans were the last-placed team in these rankings. Spoiler: They’re not 32nd this time. Instead, a team that consistently landed in the top 10 has plunged to the bottom of the playmaker charts:

Jump to a team:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

end rulelac

2023 rank: 5 | 2022 rank: 6

Gulp. Virtually every significant player who placed the Chargers in the top five last season took a major step backward, left town and weren’t replaced with a player of similar caliber. The most notable player who remains is Quentin Johnston, who averaged 0.94 yards per route run as a rookie even after Mike Williams‘ injury cleared out a spot in the starting lineup. The only first-round wideouts since 2007 who were worse in their rookie campaigns were Nelson Agholor and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Even if you’re wildly optimistic about Joshua Palmer, this isn’t an imposing group. The Chargers took fliers on the former Ravens backfield with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, both of whom have significant injury histories. The leading wideouts beyond Palmer and Johnston are DJ Chark and second-round pick Ladd McConkey, who has been hyped into a feature role out of sheer desperation. It’s no surprise a Greg Roman-coordinated offense will likely lean into multiple-tight-end sets, but signings Will Dissly and Hayden Hurst were both cap casualties this offseason, and Donald Parham has strictly been a red zone threat.

I’m optimistic about the Chargers this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody breaks through from this offense. In the big picture, though, those opportunities will come from the creations of Justin Herbert and coach Jim Harbaugh as opposed to the playmakers themselves.


ne

2023 rank: 26 | 2022 rank: 26

It’s no secret that the Patriots lack playmakers. Their failure to land difference-makers on offense likely stunted Mac Jones‘ development and cost Bill Belichick his job. This might be a different franchise if Belichick had drafted Nick Chubb ahead of Sony Michel in 2018, Deebo Samuel instead of N’Keal Harry in 2019, or George Pickens instead of Tyquan Thornton in 2022. In each case, the star was the next player taken at each respective position after New England made its choice.

In trying to make up for those mistakes, the Patriots have generally bought in bulk and hoped that somebody would break through. They haven’t. Pleasant surprises such as DeMario Douglas and Kendrick Bourne have been in and out of the lineup, the latter making his way out of Belichick’s doghouse in 2023 before tearing his right ACL. JuJu Smith-Schuster had his snaps limited by injuries and racked up just 260 yards last season. Rhamondre Stevenson and Hunter Henry, the two most productive veterans in the dying days of the Belichick era, were both out for stretches in 2023 and saw their production fall off as a result.

There are new players here, most notably second-round pick Ja’Lynn Polk and fourth-rounder Javon Baker, but both players ran 4.5-plus 40-yard dashes at the combine. Antonio Gibson and K.J. Osborn were supplemental players with their former teams. The Patriots desperately need someone who is going to keep defensive coordinators up at night. Until someone emerges for the Patriots, those coaches might as well replace Dak Prescott in mattress ads.


den

2023 rank: 24 | 2022 rank: 14

The days when Denver had a promising young group of playmakers have past. Jerry Jeudy never had his breakout before being traded to the Browns in March. Tim Patrick hasn’t played in two years. Javonte Williams tore up his knee and averaged 3.6 yards per carry while generating minus-83 rush yards over expectation (RYOE) on 217 attempts last season. Greg Dulcich caught three passes. Even Marvin Mims didn’t do much behind Jeudy in the lineup.

The offense was basically some magic catches by Courtland Sutton and little else a year ago. There are some players moving to the forefront who could be interesting, though. Josh Reynolds was a valuable No. 2 wideout in Detroit as both a pass catcher and run blocker. Mims couldn’t beat out Jeudy for regular work as a rookie, but he should have a larger role. I’m interested in Jaleel McLaughlin, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry behind Williams without ever getting more than 10 attempts in a game. In an offense in which the promising faces behind Sutton are undrafted free agents and run-blocking wide receivers, though, you can understand why the Broncos don’t rate highly.


nyg

2023 rank: 27 | 2022 rank: 30

The Giants swapped out a talented (but injury-prone) lead playmaker in Saquon Barkley for a promising (but unproven) top wide receiver in sixth overall pick Malik Nabers. With this model leaning toward wide receivers and generally optimistic about the chances for highly drafted wideouts, I don’t see that as much of a drop-off for the Giants. At the same time, even if Nabers pans out, there’s no guarantee he will like a No. 1 option during his rookie season. Just six of the 27 wideouts drafted in the top 10 over the past 20 years have topped 1,000 yards in their debut campaigns. Even acknowledging that some of those guys were limited to a maximum of 16 games, those aren’t great odds.

If Nabers is anything short of spectacular as a rookie, this won’t be a pretty offense. Devin Singletary had a decent 2023 season with the Texans, but it’s going to be much harder for him without C.J. Stroud and a devastatingly efficient passing attack. Darren Waller retired and wasn’t really replaced. I’ve always felt Darius Slayton was underrated and underappreciated as a deep threat, but he’s probably not an every-down receiver in better offenses. I don’t know why Allen Robinson is still in the league. Wan’Dale Robinson has been strictly a gadget guy over his first two seasons, and Jalin Hyatt‘s offseason hype has revolved around knowing where to line up before the snap in Year 2.


car

2023 rank: 31 | 2022 rank: 18

That 2023 rank might have foretold the Panthers firing their offensive coaching staff last year. There simply wasn’t anybody capable of getting open for Bryce Young on paper, and after a surprising early-season run from Adam Thielen, things arguably played out even worse in reality. Beyond Thielen, the other offseason additions — Miles Sanders, Hayden Hurst and DJ Chark — failed to impress. Jonathan Mingo, chosen before Jayden Reed and Rashee Rice in Round 2, averaged 0.82 yards per route run as a rookie. There have been 338 players who have run 500 routes in a season over the past decade; Mingo’s rookie season ranked 337th out of those 338.

The semi-new front office in Carolina understandably invested heavily to try to right the ship in Young’s second season, although their biggest signings were at guard. Trading cut candidate Donte Jackson for Diontae Johnson was a nifty move, with the former Steelers wideout averaging more than 2.0 yards per route run in a broken offense when healthy a year ago. Xavier Legette has lots of promise as a big-play threat, although over-age prospects with one year of significant college production don’t typically succeed at a high rate. And I’m excited about Jonathon Brooks‘ upside, but the running back is coming off a torn ACL suffered in November. If either Brooks or Legette break out as a rookie, the Panthers should be fine.

play

1:06

Herbstreit to McAfee: Panthers’ Canales will be a great fit for QB Bryce Young

Kirk Herbstreit tells Pat McAfee why Panthers head coach Dave Canales is a great hire and fit for quarterback Bryce Young.


pit

2023 rank: 13 | 2022 rank: 12

Pin it on Kenny Pickett, Matt Canada, Mitch Trubisky, Mike Tomlin or whomever else you want, but this offense simply wasn’t good enough last season. Its most efficient receiver was Diontae Johnson, who was traded to Carolina. The Steelers’ most consistent playmaker was backup running back Jaylen Warren, who was forced to play behind disappointing first-round pick Najee Harris in the new version of the battles between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in Dallas and Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon with the Chargers. It took both teams too long to make the change to the more productive back, although Pittsburgh did decline Harris’ fifth-year option after a third middling season.

The Steelers are ahead of the Panthers because they have George Pickens, who is coming off a 1,140-yard season in his age-22 campaign. A year ago, I was excited about Pickens’ chances of making a leap by virtue of having the league’s toughest expected catch rate of any player as a rookie. Well, in his second season, among wideouts who ran 400 routes or more, he had … the fourth-lowest expected catch rate of any wide receiver (53.6%). And again, Pickens exceeded expectations, catching 59.4% of the balls thrown in his direction by Pittsburgh’s array of quarterbacks.

I’m still optimistic about Pickens — even amid the real-life specter of coordinator Arthur Smith deciding to build the offense around Cordarrelle Patterson and MyCole Pruitt — but I’m wondering how he will evolve. We know he can run away from defensive backs, but is his game going to continue to revolve around low-probability contested catches on the sideline? Can his route-running command more than 10 targets in a game, something he failed to do in Year 2 with Roman Wilson and Van Jefferson as the primary wideouts behind him and Pat Freiermuth topping 50 yards in a game just once last season, it sure looks and feels like Pickens-or-bust for the Pittsburgh passing game.


wsh

2023 rank: 21 | 2022 rank: 22

We’re firmly in the tier of teams that have one commanding wide receiver and a shrug of the shoulders for everything else behind that wideout on the roster. In Washington, the main man is Terry McLaurin, who has spent his entire career in quarterback hell. If he had racked up 91 more receiving yards as a rookie, he would be able to boast of five consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns while catching passes from 10 different quarterbacks. As bad as Commanders passers have been over his career, they’ve posted a 41.1 QBR with their star wideout on the field and a staggeringly bad 30.4 mark without him.

I’m willing to believe McLaurin is a top-15 wide receiver in a vacuum, but there isn’t much around him. Jahan Dotson, a first-rounder in 2022, failed to build upon his rookie campaign and had just 158 receiving yards in eight games during the second half of the season. Curtis Samuel departed and was replaced by rookie Luke McCaffrey. Logan Thomas has been swapped out for 33-year-old tight end Zach Ertz, who was a catch-and-fall guy last season. No. 2 overall pick Jayden Daniels will need McCaffrey or rookie tight end Ben Sinnott to grow into a second option behind McLaurin.

There’s more to like at running back. Second-year starter Brian Robinson generated a solid 38 rush yards over expectation and five first downs over expectation behind a middling line in Eric Bieniemy’s pass-happy offensive scheme last season. He’s an effective outside zone runner who might not have the burst to post gaudy yards-per-carry figures. And while free agent signing Austin Ekeler disappointed in his final season with the Chargers, he should still be an effective receiver and pass blocker when given the opportunity.


no

2023 rank: 14 | 2022 rank: 21

Do the Saints have two playmaker standouts? Depends on how optimistic you are about Alvin Kamara. I’m confident in Chris Olave, but Kamara hasn’t been an efficient runner for three seasons now since Drew Brees retired. He has averaged 3.9 yards per carry and generated minus-277 rush yards over expectation during that stretch. New Orleans’ other backs have been about as disappointing over the same time frame, but Kamara is being paid a premium to be something more than Jamaal Williams and Kendre Miller. His top-end speed is also down from where it was three years ago.

On the other hand, Kamara is still an excellent receiver; he generated 1.8 yards per route run last season while garnering targets on 33% of his routes, which is an elite combo for a running back. Deep threat Rasheed Shaheed continued to pop in a larger role, although I’m not sure he has the profile of an every-down wideout. Cap concerns meant the Saints couldn’t add a notable veteran to replace the finally departed Michael Thomas, and Juwan Johnson is already out indefinitely with a foot injury. If new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak can get Kamara back on track, this group will rise back toward the teens.


buf

2023 rank: 20 | 2022 rank: 10

This is a second straight drop for the Bills, who saw positives from their young players mixed with disappointing years from their veterans in 2023. James Cook ranked sixth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage over the second half of the season and averaged 2.1 yards per route run over that stretch, although he was only running about 14 routes per game in his role. There’s the potential for massive upside with Cook if he’s on the field more often, although fumbles were a problem in 2023. Dalton Kincaid wasn’t as explosive as hoped, but talk about a reliable pair of hands, as the rookie tight end caught more than 80% of his targets. He had five games with 65 yards or more after sitting out the Week 6 win over the Giants.

The wide receivers? Not so much. Stefon Diggs dropped from fourth to 67th in ESPN’s advanced receiver metrics, leading the Bills to trade him to the Texans for a second-round pick. Gabe Davis continued to serve as a low-efficiency, heavy-route deep threat, and Buffalo let him leave for the Jaguars in free agency.

If the Bills tried to emulate the Chiefs last year by drafting Kincaid and shifting toward more 12 personnel packages, this year’s version is to get rid of the star receiver and replace him in the aggregate. Buffalo will give Khalil Shakir a larger role, drafted Keon Coleman in Round 2 and signed Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Curtis Samuel, Chase Claypool and Mack Hollins in free agency. I’m not sure the formula works quite as well without Travis Kelce, but given how often even the Joe Brady-coordinated Bills throw the football, somebody has to catch passes here.


lv

2023 rank: 11 | 2022 rank: 2

It was overshadowed by everything else that went on with the Raiders last season, but we might have seen Davante Adams begin his decline. The star wideout dropped off by nearly 400 yards from his first season with the Raiders in 2022 despite getting nearly as many targets over 17 games. The quarterback play didn’t help, of course, but it’s not as if he is going to be playing with Aaron Rodgers again in 2024. As I wrote about when Adams was traded, the track record of elite wideouts entering their 30s suggests teams can’t count on them maintaining their All-Pro level for long. He is still very good, but 2023 was his worst season in a half-decade.

Jakobi Meyers came over from the Patriots and essentially emulated his prior performance with New England, which is just fine for a WR2, but there are questions elsewhere. Josh Jacobs wasn’t good before getting hurt a year ago — he exited for Green Bay in free agency — and the running back depth chart is as thin as any in the league with Zamir White and Alexander Mattison leading the way. I’m excited about 13th overall pick Brock Bowers‘ potential as a potentially elite pass catcher, but tight ends rarely break out in their rookie campaigns, even eventual stars. Michael Mayer was anonymous as a rookie — he caught 27 passes and had two touchdowns — but if he and Tre Tucker can take a step forward in Year 2, Las Vegas might have something to build around after Adams leaves.


ind

2023 rank: 25 | 2022 rank: 20

Michael Pittman Jr. is one of the league’s most unique No. 1 receivers. While he ran more than 69% of his routes from out wide a year ago, his stat line looks more like that of a slot receiver. He averaged 9.3 yards per catch in 2022 and upped that to 10.6 last season. The list of guys with multiple seasons of 80 catches or more while failing to average 11 yards per reception are almost all running backs, tight ends and slot receivers such as Wes Welker and Jarvis Landry. Pittman averaged 2.2 yards per route run a year ago, though, which is in line with DK Metcalf and Chris Olave. The only wideouts who had to do more after the catch were Rashee Rice and Zay Flowers. Pittman likely can run a more complete route tree, but that might not happen with Anthony Richardson at quarterback for a full season.

play

2:07

Is Anthony Richardson being taken too early in fantasy drafts?

Mike Clay and Field Yates disagree about where Anthony Richardson should be taken among quarterbacks in fantasy drafts.

Beyond Pittman, there’s more promise than performance here. Josh Downs was solid as a rookie out of the slot, averaging 1.9 yards per route run as an outside receiver in limited usage. Alec Pierce took a step backward as the team’s deep threat and likely will be replaced by Adonai Mitchell, whose draft pedigree profiles him as an upgrade. It would be fun to see someone from Indy’s plethora of late-round and undrafted tight ends take a step forward; the guy who intrigues me most is second-year tight end Will Mallory, whose 82 Athleticism Score before the draft from the NFL Next Gen Stats project ranked sixth among players at the position.

What about Jonathan Taylor? After his breakout 2021 campaign, he has now had back-to-back seasons impacted by ankle and contract issues. He has failed to match his 2021 production in rushing yards and touchdowns over the subsequent two seasons combined, and he has been less productive in the passing game as well. Taylor is still a good player — I like his chances of a rebound if Richardson stays healthy and impacts the numbers in the box for rush defenses — but I’m not sure we can count on seeing the All-Pro version of him again. If the ankle continues to ail him, there’s no Zack Moss in wait, with young journeyman Trey Sermon likely to be the primary backup.


ari

2023 rank: 30 | 2022 rank: 15

The easiest fit in April’s draft was Marvin Harrison Jr. going to the Cardinals, so it’s no surprise Arizona eventually landed the likely successor to Larry Fitzgerald with the fourth overall pick. I’ll repeat my concerns about expecting rookies to excel from day one — remember that Fitzgerald himself only had 780 yards as a rookie and was overshadowed by a stunning debut campaign from second-rounder Anquan Boldin — but Harrison is as good of a wide receiver prospect as they come.

There’s nominally a big three here with Harrison, Trey McBride and James Conner. With Zach Ertz out of the picture, McBride more than tripled his receiving yardage as a sophomore, although much of that came in garbage time; the only player who caught more passes on plays in which his team already had a win expectancy below 5% was Adam Thielen.

Conner, on the other hand, had his best season as a pro, posting a career-high 5.0 yards per carry and 211 rush yards over expectation, the latter of which ranked third behind Christian McCaffrey and De’Von Achane. He also went all season without fumbling for the first time as a starter. He deserved to go to the Pro Bowl. Sure, 29 feels ancient for running backs in the modern era, but he isn’t slowing down as he approaches his 30s. Rookie third-rounder Trey Benson is in reserve if Conner gets banged up, although the depth chart at wideout is perilously thin behind Harrison.


cle

2023 rank: 12 | 2022 rank: 23

How many times will teams give up on Amari Cooper before they learn? He was brilliant last season, racking up 1,250 receiving yards despite facing the second-toughest expected catch rate of any regular wideout. He would have posted even gaudier numbers if not for a heel injury that cost him the final two games, just after an 11-catch, 265-yard performance in a win over the Texans. With David Njoku adding 882 receiving yards in his best pro season, the Browns can feel good about their top two pass catchers.

Everything else is a question mark. Nick Chubb is coming off a serious ACL injury, and while he was able to return and become a spectacularly efficient back after tearing up his knee at Georgia, it’s tough to assume he’ll bounce back to being the league’s best pure runner at 28. Jerome Ford wasn’t good in his absence, albeit behind an injury-riddled offensive line. Elijah Moore didn’t do much after being acquired from the Jets. While Cleveland signaled its need for a No. 2 wideout by trading for Jerry Jeudy, the former first-rounder has only put together one above-average NFL season, when he approached 1,000 yards in 2022. There’s major upside here if everyone’s healthy and lives up to expectations, but it would be a surprise if any of the top playmakers on this roster played a full 17 games.


ten

2023 rank: 29 | 2022 rank: 19

The Titans are your friend who hasn’t played fantasy football since the pandemic and hasn’t prepared for their draft. This team would have looked like a juggernaut in 2020, but how many of its key playmakers can we project to be better in 2024 than they were in 2023, given their age and injury history? DeAndre Hopkins is 32, and while he’s coming off his first full season since 2020, he had to be rotated and played just 72% of the offensive snaps. Free agent addition Calvin Ridley turns 30 in December and has one top-15 fantasy season on his résumé. Tyler Boyd turns 30 a month earlier and has seen his receiving yardage drop each of the past four seasons. And Tony Pollard, the team’s replacement for Derrick Henry, was markedly inefficient after returning from a fractured fibula, even while playing behind an excellent offensive line in Dallas.

I can’t really fault general manager Ran Carthon; this is what you do when you let Henry leave in free agency and the prior regime trades A.J. Brown and seems to whiff on his replacement in Treylon Burks. Tennessee fans are intrigued by Tyjae Spears, although I’m concerned about his ability to play as a regular back given an arthritic knee. Given the age and track record of Tennessee’s four top playmakers, it’s tough to imagine any of them taking the sort of huge leap the Titans would need to advance further up these charts in 2025.


dal

2023 rank: 7 | 2022 rank: 11

How does a team drop out of the top 10 when its No. 1 wide receiver has a career year? I suppose it’s a fair question, given that CeeDee Lamb led the league in receptions (135) and had a whopping 1,749 passing yards for Dak Prescott. There were some concerns during the draft that Lamb might not have the size and route-running ability to win one-on-one in tighter quarters, but those have faded as Lamb has grown into the NFL game. He posted an 85 Open Score last season, second only to veteran wizard Keenan Allen.

The No. 2 receiver, arguably, was tight end Jake Ferguson. It was unclear whether he would be the starter ahead of rookie second-rounder Luke Schoonmaker, but by the end of the season he had become a trusted part of the offense, racking up 761 yards and five touchdowns. He also wins the Gabe Davis Award for most tantalizing performance in a playoff loss, as he went off for 93 yards and three touchdowns in the otherwise-ugly defeat at the hands of the Packers.

play

9:53

Should the Cowboys prioritize extending CeeDee over Dak?

The “First Take” crew debates whether if the Dallas Cowboys should focus on extending CeeDee Lamb’s contract over Dak Prescott’s next season.

Everything else isn’t promising. As I mentioned in the Tennessee section, Pollard wasn’t able to stay productive after returning from his injury last season, and the Cowboys replaced him by bringing back Ezekiel Elliott, who is a replacement-level runner at this point of his career. Brandin Cooks has fallen off noticeably over the past two seasons. After averaging north of 2.0 yards per route run in each of his first two seasons with the Texans, Cooks dropped to 1.7 in 2022 and then just 1.3 in Dallas last season. His saving grace last year was a plus-8.2% catch rate over expectation, which might owe more to Prescott than Cooks, given that Lamb was at plus-10.3% and Jalen Tolbert was also north of 7%.

Owing to the expected new contracts for Prescott, Lamb and Micah Parsons, the depth here is nonexistent. The Cowboys cut Michael Gallup and didn’t replace the veteran wideout, leaving them with Tolbert and KaVontae Turpin as the competition for the third wide receiver role. If Lamb were to get injured, this could be one of the two worst groups of playmakers in football.


gb

2023 rank: 28 | 2022 rank: 29

The Packers, on the other hand, are the anti-Titans and anti-Cowboys. There’s no star or household name (yet) in this mix, but this is the youngest, deepest receiving corps in the league, with four different wide receivers credibly competing for the top spot in the lineup when they’re healthy. Their youth suggests those wideouts should be better in 2024 than they were in 2023. I think Christian Watson has the most upside, but the guy who I keep coming back to when I watch the Packers this offseason is Dontayvion Wicks, who averaged 2.2 yards per route run as a rookie. Over the past decade, 21 wideouts have averaged more than 2.0 yards per route run in their debut campaign, and the vast majority have had impressive careers so far. Green Bay has three on its roster: Wicks, Watson and Jayden Reed.

Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft flashed promise in their rookie seasons, although Kraft is sidelined by a torn pectoral muscle. My concern here is at running back, where the Packers swapped Aaron Jones for the younger Josh Jacobs. We saw what Jacobs’ ceiling looked like in 2022 — he had 1,653 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns — but he was one of the league’s worst backs last season by rush yards over expectation, has six fumbles over the past two seasons and has one fully healthy year in five tries. He should be better in Green Bay, but I’m not sure he’s the difference-maker the Packers had when Jones was at his best. AJ Dillon has also disappointingly faded into an anonymous reserve over the past two seasons. If Jacobs gets back on track and one of the wideouts makes a leap, the Packers should be in the top 10 next year.


2023 rank: 9 | 2022 rank: 28

What felt like it might emerge as a top-five unit last season never came together. Travis Etienne got off to a white-hot start and then failed to top 60 rushing yards in eight of his final nine games, ending the season at 3.8 yards per carry. He had 11 rushing touchdowns after seemingly being squeezed out of that workload before the season, but that was because expected goal-line back Tank Bigsby wasn’t good enough to earn regular snaps as a rookie.

The receiving corps struggled to jell. Calvin Ridley had a huge Week 1 and then never seemed to find steady targets as the “X” receiver and wasn’t consistently on the same page with Trevor Lawrence. The Jags replaced him and Zay Jones with the combination of Gabe Davis and first-round pick Brian Thomas, who should be the starters on the outside in 2024. I’m more optimistic about the rookie than I am Davis, who couldn’t routinely command targets with Josh Allen at the helm in Buffalo.

The key players for the Jags just aren’t dominant playmakers. Etienne is a good all-around back, but he isn’t the Christian McCaffrey-esque receiver they hoped for coming out of college. Christian Kirk racked up plenty of receiving yards in 2022 before battling injuries in 2023, but he’s really a slot receiver who doesn’t do much after the catch; he ranks 88th in ESPN’s wide receiver metrics over the past two seasons. And Evan Engram‘s path to the Pro Bowl consists almost entirely of checkdowns; no wide receiver or tight end had more catches that didn’t add expected points to his team’s total than Engram (36) last season, and his average target traveled just 4.7 yards in the air, which ranked 103rd out of 104 receivers. All of those guys are fine and professional options, but this offense is succeeding when it does because of Lawrence as opposed to the guys around him.


bal

2023 rank: 15 | 2022 rank: 25

Do the Ravens have a big three? There’s a scenario in which it plays out that way. Zay Flowers was promising as a rookie, although it was in more of a gadget role than you would expect from a traditional top wide receiver. Mark Andrews has been excellent when healthy, but that 1,361-yard season from 2021 is close to double what he has averaged across his other five NFL seasons, often owing to injuries and limited snap counts. While recognizing he’s capable of elite performance, it’s tough to believe Andrews is going to be a 1,300-yard receiver again in 2024. (Having Isaiah Likely here as a backup is valuable, given that he might be a top-20 receiving tight end in his own right.)

Derrick Henry‘s move from the Titans to the Ravens will be fascinating. The top-end acceleration that made him a sensation at his peak probably isn’t there anymore, as the running back who gained 30 yards or more once every 52 carries between 2019 and 2020 has done that once every 106 carries since. In the passing game, he has never been more than a change of pace who can terrify defensive backs on screens, and while he didn’t fumble last season, he fumbled six times in 2022.

And yet, would you be surprised if this move revitalized Henry’s career? He’s still productive enough as a runner; he had 84 rush yards over expectation behind a horrible offensive line last season. Playing alongside Lamar Jackson will slow down linebacker flow and give weakside defensive ends something to think about as they try to chase Henry down on outside zone, creating more space for him in the run game.

A resurgent Henry would go a long way for Baltimore. The organization has talked up Rashod Bateman this offseason, but it’s tough to find many wide receivers who have been this unproductive through three seasons, even allowing for injuries, who have then broken out in Year 4. More than anything, given how many times the Ravens had had their playmakers go down the past few years, let’s just hope for a full season with Henry, Flowers and Andrews all on the field together.


kc

2023 rank: 19 | 2022 rank: 16

It can’t be as bad as it was last year. Kansas City’s wide receivers posted the worst drop rate of the past decade, and when that regressed toward the mean during the playoffs, the offense was good enough to win the Super Bowl. Wideout has been perhaps the only source of consternation for this team since trading away Tyreek Hill, but the roster is deeper than it was in 2023. The Chiefs won’t be relying on Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney. Marquise Brown, wildly efficient at times during his time with the Ravens and Cardinals, is an upgrade on Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Can the young guys be building blocks? Rashee Rice is likely to face some sort of suspension for off-field misconduct, which limits his chances of breaking out in Year 2. Rookie first-rounder Xavier Worthy‘s range of outcomes includes everyone from Hill and DeSean Jackson on the high end to Troy Williamson and John Ross on the low end, who might be more of a situational player than an immediate every-down starter. The advantage here is more about depth than any one player being a star; the Chiefs have three potential standout wide receivers and only need one of them to be an impact player at any given time. Anything they get from Toney & Co. would be an added bonus.

We can feel more confident about what the Chiefs have elsewhere. Isiah Pacheco has grown into his role as the team’s bruising starting back, and he added more as a receiver while cutting out most of his fumbles in Year 2. He’s already a top-10 back. And while Travis Kelce slowed down from his ridiculous 2022 campaign and finally missed a game through injury, most of the numerical drop-off was a product of reduced snaps. He led all tight ends in receiving yards per game and ranked third in yards per route run. We’re in unprecedented territory for even elite tight ends, but if a 34-year-old Kelce’s down season is producing like T.J. Hockenson on a route-by-route basis, that’s still a major advantage for Kansas City.


tb

2023 rank: 18 | 2022 rank: 5

Mike Evans can’t keep doing this, can he? In his age-30 season and playing without Tom Brady, the 30-year-old rose to the occasion with a banner campaign. His 1,255 yards were the most he has had since 2018, and he led the league with 13 touchdowns catches. With 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé, Evans is going to have a viable Hall of Fame case in a few years. Receivers on the wrong side of 30 are always dangerous propositions, but he has been so remarkably consistent that it’s hard to expect much of a drop off.

Chris Godwin also quietly had a bounce-back season after his 2022 season was limited as he adjusted to life after a torn ACL. He was back up to 12.3 yards per catch after falling below 10 yards per reception the prior season. That 2019 season with Jameis Winston chucking the ball all over the place looks more like an outlier than a level of play he can hope to hit in the years to come, but the only thing missing from Godwin’s game is touchdowns. He has 10 across 285 catches over the past three seasons, which is comfortably the worst mark in football for any wide receiver with 150 catches or more over that timeframe. Get this man into the endzone in 2024!

I’m a little less sanguine about Rachaad White, who has absorbed a starter’s workload by default. He had 1,539 yards from scrimmage last season, but he ranked last in the league with minus-110 rush yards over expectation and averaged 3.6 yards per carry. His role in the passing game grew and he racked up 549 receiving yards, but again, the efficiency was just average, as he picked up 1.4 yards per route run. There’s value in being able to take a ton of touches, but White isn’t appreciably moving Tampa Bay forward on a regular basis. The rest of the offense behind White and Godwin isn’t promising, which keeps the Bucs from going higher.


nyj

2023 rank: 22 | 2022 rank: 24

We’re in teams-with-two-stars territory now, and the Jets have young building blocks. Garrett Wilson has averaged 1.8 yards per route run in his first two seasons, and he ranked fifth in the NFL in Open Score last season despite being saddled with Zach Wilson as his quarterback. He has just seven receiving touchdowns over that two-year span, but as you saw with his touchdown catch against the Bills in the opener, it wasn’t for a lack of talent or ability near the pylon. The only hole you can poke in the star wideout’s game is drops — he has 11 over the past two years — but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is a top-five receiver with Aaron Rodgers this season.

Breece Hall might be even more impressive. While it wasn’t the most consistent season as he returned from a torn ACL, he still managed 4.5 yards per carry and posted 146 rush yards over expectation behind a dismal New York offensive line. Even more notably, Hall was a phenomenal receiver when called upon; his 1.9 yards per route run led all backs, topping both Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. He also commanded targets on nearly 30% of his routes, so these weren’t strictly catches of last resort. Of all the backs in the league who aren’t McCaffrey, Hall has the best chance of having a CMC-esque season.

After that? Hope. Mike Williams, signed to a one-year deal in March, has the upside to take over games, but he was consistently limited in games by injuries over the past few years before tearing his ACL last September. He should be a massive upgrade on Allen Lazard as the No. 2 receiver if healthy, but 12 full games of Williams would feel like a pleasant victory for the Jets. Lazard is still around as the No. 3 because of his contract in competition with rookie slot receiver Malachi Corley, while Tyler Conklin managed to catch 61 passes without scoring a touchdown in 2023. That won’t happen again if Rodgers is healthy.


cin

2023 rank: 2 | 2022 rank: 1

What has happened with the Bengals? While I haven’t lost faith in the duo of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, neither had a great season by their standards in 2023. Higgins battled injuries and only mustered 42 catches across 12 games, while Chase was inconsistent, with three games of 141-plus receiving yards and seven where he failed to top 41 yards. Losing Joe Burrow for nearly half of the season obviously hurt his top two receivers, but I’m expecting Chase and Higgins to bounce back and look like one of the league’s best one-two punches.

The real reason for the drop here is what’s around those two. Joe Mixon was traded and replaced with Zack Moss, and while I thought Moss’ 2023 season with the Colts was underrated, his numbers fell to earth after a stellar start. I’m not sure he’s on Mixon’s level as an all-around player, and Cincinnati was clearly reticent about using rookie Chase Brown as a pass blocker. Even as someone who’s probably higher on Moss than most, this has to be considered a below-average running back room.

Tyler Boyd was arguably the best third wideout in football heading into 2022, but after two fading seasons, the Bengals moved on. Third-round pick Jermaine Burton will compete with Andrei Iosivas and Charlie Jones for the No. 3 spot. I like what Iosivas did in a small sample last season, although either player would likely be a step down from Boyd’s prime. And when you consider Mike Gesicki has only been able to muster 606 receiving yards over the past two seasons, it’s tough to be optimistic about tight end, too. The Bengals are in the top five in terms of their best two playmakers and bottom five outside of them.

play

0:59

The numbers to know about Tee Higgins’ Bengals tenure

Check out the facts and figures behind Tee Higgins’ four seasons with the Bengals after he signed his franchise tender.


atl

2023 rank: 10 | 2022 rank: 27

It should probably be telling that the Falcons have three young top-10 picks either in or entering what should be their peak seasons and are right where they were a year ago. Arthur Smith’s final season as Atlanta’s coach didn’t push anything forward. Bijan Robinson was good, not great, and wasn’t featured in any sort of unique role relative to preseason hype and expectations. Drake London remained efficient, only in an offense that targeted him less than five times on five different occasions. And Kyle Pitts flashed just enough after returning from knee surgery to tease fantasy football managers while never actually producing enough to satisfy. He failed to top 12 fantasy points even once.

How much of that are you willing to put on Smith and Desmond Ridder, who was traded to Arizona in March? The fact the Falcons are still in the same spot they were occupying last season probably tells you how I feel. Pitts should be healthier. London should be in an offense that throws the ball way more often than it did a year ago, and with a much better quarterback to boot in Kirk Cousins. Robinson’s skill set was still on display for stretches throughout 2023, and he should be more consistent. The time for action in Atlanta is now, especially now that the offense can’t run through Cordarrelle Patterson and Jonnu Smith.


lar

2023 rank: 23 | 2022 rank: 7

It helps when a team finds two of the most valuable contributors at their positions on Day 3 of the draft. Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua emerged as stars last season, accelerating Los Angeles’ offensive rebuild and helping create a path forward for a team that had been overly reliant on Cooper Kupp. When Kupp, Nacua and Williams all were on the field together, Matthew Stafford posted a 72.1 QBR. That would have been the third-best mark in football over the full season, within one point of leaders Brock Purdy and Dak Prescott.

I’m a little hesitant to push the Rams higher out of concerns surrounding two of those standouts. Kupp was on the way to repeating (or at least approximating) his stunning 2021 campaign during the first half of 2022, but he wasn’t on the same level after returning from his ankle injury. He averaged a whopping 3.2 yards per route run in 2021 and 2.5 in 2022, which would still be elite performance. He was down below 2.0 yards per route run last season, and while that’s still starting-caliber work, he is 31 and also missed time with a hamstring injury.

Williams is also an injury concern. After breaking his foot as a rookie, Williams was held back from OTAs with another foot issue. Coach Sean McVay said the injury is nothing to be concerned about, but McVay isn’t exactly known for being truthful about injuries, even as games are going on in real-time. Williams has missed time in both of his seasons with ankle injuries. I’m hoping he plays 17 games in 2024, but that can’t be the expectation heading into camp.

There’s a big drop-off from that top three, at least on paper. Demarcus Robinson was fine as the third wideout in 2023, but the next wideout up would be Tutu Atwell. Rookie Blake Corum is the primary backup behind Williams. And at tight end, while the Rams signed Colby Parkinson to a surprisingly large deal in free agency, Tyler Higbee tore his ACL during the postseason and probably won’t be ready for Week 1. L.A. can be elite if everyone is on the field, but I’m a little nervous about that happening consistently.


sea

2023 rank: 4 | 2022 rank: 13

The Seahawks are returning the vast majority of what got them into the top five a year ago, but the projections across the board are a little dimmer. At running back, Kenneth Walker improved his success rate, but he wasn’t quite as explosive in his second season and fell from 103 rush yards over expectation to minus-27 in 2023. Zach Charbonnet was solid in his debut campaign and might project for more of an even timeshare this season.

DK Metcalf continues to stay on the field and pump out solid seasons, but he hasn’t come close to matching the 1,303-yard, 10-touchdown campaign he put together in 2020. He had a 58% success rate on his targets that season and has been closer to 50% in each of the three ensuing campaigns. There’s nothing wrong with what he has been doing — he has averaged 2.2 yards per route run — but each good season recalibrates our expectations of how likely he is to be great in the upcoming one.

Tyler Lockett took a step backward, as his 1.7 yards per route run were the worst mark he has posted since 2017. It was also his worst catch rate since that season. ESPN’s advanced analysis has mixed feelings; it still ranks Lockett as 19th in Open Score, but the 31-year-old wideout was tied for 124th in YAC Score. Lockett took a pay cut to stay with the team this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his last season in Seattle if things don’t improve.

Nominally, the Seahawks drafted Jaxon Smith-Njigba last year to be the replacement for Lockett in two-wideout sets, but Smith-Njigba had a disappointing start to his career. He failed to top 70 receiving yards in a game even once, dropped six passes and ranked 14th among 2023 draftees in yards per route run. It’s too early to be concerned, but he wasn’t able to immediately command a large share of the Seattle passing game. If we’re still at this level a year from now, it’ll be a problem. With Colby Parkinson and Will Dissly both leaving this offseason and Ryan Grubb taking over as offensive coordinator, I wonder if Seattle will live in three-wideout sets in 2024. It was already there more than 63% of the time a year ago.


det

2023 rank: 16 | 2022 rank: 17

Detroit’s skill position players mostly delivered on their promise. David Montgomery found a new gear and produced more big plays than he had seemingly across his entire Bears career while adding 13 touchdowns in the Jamaal Williams role. Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta were both excellent as rookies, with LaPorta leading all tight ends in fantasy points and scoring 10 touchdowns. The list of tight ends to hit double-digit touchdowns in their rookie season is short and sweet: Mike Ditka (12), Rob Gronkowski (10) and LaPorta. That’s one Hall of Famer, a future Hall of Famer and a guy who might have the clearest path to being the next Travis Kelce of any tight end.

Amon-Ra St. Brown continued to develop into a superstar. Players who operate in the slot and don’t have game-blazing speed aren’t supposed to have 1,500-yard ceilings, but he got there in 16 games. He averaged 2.7 yards per route run, which is just below what A.J. Brown did for the Eagles. He’s the best possible version of his archetype, like a supercharged Keenan Allen. I would say it’s tough to imagine St. Brown staying at that level year after year, but why should anybody doubt him now?

The one glaring issue for the Lions is at wide receiver behind St. Brown, where Jameson Williams hasn’t yet launched. The No. 12 overall pick in 2022 caught one pass as a rookie as he recovered from a torn ACL, missed the first four games of 2023 because of a gambling suspension and didn’t bed back into the lineup until midseason. He has only been able to capture targets on about 17% of his non-screen routes through two seasons, which is right where Gabe Davis was for the Bills over that timeframe. If Williams develops into the player Detroit hoped to add when it traded up for him in 2022, it could have the NFL’s best group of playmakers. If he doesn’t, that depth chart at wide receiver behind St. Brown could be what keeps the Lions out of the Super Bowl.


chi

2023 rank: 17 | 2022 rank: 31

It has only been two years since the Bears were starting Velus Jones and Dante Pettis at wide receiver. Things have turned quickly. I’m not sure if Keenan Allen, D.J. Moore and Rome Odunze form the best trio of wide receivers a quarterback has had during a rookie season, but it can’t be far off. (Matt Leinart having Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson and then Edgerrin James at running back in 2006 was pretty nice.) Odunze would be the most exciting wideout on a quarter of the league’s teams before ever playing a snap; here, he’s probably the No. 3 out of the gates.

There are reasons to think the expectations might be too high. Odunze, the No. 9 overall pick, is still unproven. Allen is 32, and while he was still at peak efficiency on the field with the Chargers last season, the 11-year pro has missed 11 games and parts of two more over the past two seasons with various injuries. The Bears might not throw the ball around frequently enough to get all three guys the numbers they’re expecting. If two of these three wideouts live up to the hopes of fans in 2024, though, that’s just fine for Chicago. Cole Kmet also averaged just under 2.0 yards per route run last season, which is plenty efficient for a tight end.

I’m a little concerned about running back. Free agent signing D’Andre Swift is coming off a big year in Philadelphia, but I’d poke a couple of holes in his performance. After struggling for consistency in Detroit, he started the 2023 season by posting a 63.2% success rate through the first four weeks. He fell off to 38.8% the rest of the way. The NFL Next Gen Stats model thought his production was mostly a product of Philly’s blocking, with Swift generating minus-65 rush yards over expectation on 229 rush attempts. The average back with his blocking would have generated 4.9 rushing yards per attempt, the second most generous expectation in the league for a back with at least 100 carries. Roschon Johnson posted minus-61 rush yards over expectation as a rookie, while the Bears don’t seem convinced Khalil Herbert can be the featured back. I’d temper my enthusiasm a little bit, but Chicago has enough firepower to keep Caleb Williams satiated in 2024.


min

2023 rank: 6 | 2022 rank: 4

We finally found something capable of stopping Justin Jefferson last season: his hamstring. The injury cost Jefferson seven games, and the star wideout left his return game after 13 snaps with a chest ailment. On the field, he was every bit as devastating as previous seasons, and at 25, there’s little reason to think the hamstring will continue to bother him in the years to come. He projects as the best wide receiver in football in 2024 independent of his quarterback play.

There’s room for a second-year leap for Jordan Addison, who was more solid than spectacular as a rookie. He caught 10 touchdown passes, but his 1.6 yards per route run firmly placed him in WR2 territory. There was no significant drop off between Addison’s yardage production with and without Jefferson on the field, but unsurprisingly, his target rate grew from 16% with Jefferson on the field to nearly 23% without Jefferson in the lineup. The touchdown rate probably won’t stick, requiring Addison to be more efficient outside of the red zone to keep up his performance.

There’s little of note on the depth chart at receiver behind those two and injury concerns elsewhere in the fold. Aaron Jones, signed to a one-year deal in March, has been efficient behind an ever-evolving offensive line in Green Bay for years, but he turns 30 in December and missed six games last season. T.J. Hockenson, meanwhile, tore his ACL and MCL and wasn’t able to have surgery to address the issue until late January. They are high-upside players when they’re on the field, but Hockenson will likely start the season on PUP, and Jones has one complete season in his past four tries. If the Vikings could get 17 games out of their top four playmakers, they would be No. 1 in these rankings. Starting with something close to a half-season from Hockenson limits their ceiling.


hou

2023 rank: 32 | 2022 rank: 32

A bit has changed here, huh? The Texans were last year’s biggest surprise, as Nico Collins took a major leap forward and Tank Dell, who I expected to be a gadget player and punt returner as a rookie, looked like a superstar before suffering a season-ending fibula injury. Dalton Schultz was a solid tight end in his debut season in Houston, while veterans Devin Singletary and Noah Brown played better than previous campaigns elsewhere. John Metchie and Robert Woods, two players I expected to be regulars in the passing-game rotation, were barely needed afterthoughts in the league’s most surprisingly fun offense.

Now, there’s no sleeping on the Texans. Collins, Dell and Schultz are all back, and this team has made major upgrades elsewhere. Buoyed by C.J. Stroud‘s strong performance on a rookie deal, Houston traded a late-round pick for running back Joe Mixon and dealt a second-round pick to shockingly acquire Stefon Diggs from the Bills. With virtually everybody of note besides Singletary from the 2023 team returning to the lineup, this is a deep pool of talent at wideout. On Nos. 1 through 6 at receiver, nobody is deeper than the Texans.

play

7:26

Which NFL QB has the highest expectations entering the season?

The “First Take” panel debates whether Deshaun Watson, C.J. Stroud or Aaron Rodgers is under the most pressure entering the new season.

It’s the new guys who have me worried a bit, however. Diggs’ performance dramatically declined last season. He dropped from 2.7 yards per route run in the first half of the season to 1.5 during the second half. It’s possible the Bills offense shifted with Joe Brady taking over as offensive coordinator, but after ranking in the top 10 in ESPN’s receiver metrics in each of the five previous seasons, he fell to 67th last season. The route-based metric there, Open Score, was more optimistic about Diggs’ performance than the catch-based metrics, suggesting he was better than the final numbers suggested. I’m counting on somewhat of a rebound, but I’m also not expecting a 30-year-old Diggs to be what he was at his best in Buffalo, especially given how many targets he’ll need to share with the other players in the offense.

Mixon’s name might also be bigger than his production at this point. He was a league-average back last season, generating six rush yards over expectation across 257 carries in Cincinnati. He’s topped 10 rush yards over expectation once in the past five seasons. He adds value as a receiver, but he’s not regarded as an effective pass-blocker, so the Texans probably need to spot him on passing downs with Dameon Pierce or Dare Ogunbowale. Make no mistake: This is a great set of playmakers. I just think the new additions won’t move the needle as much as projected.


mia

2023 rank: 8 | 2022 rank: 9

I wrote about Tyreek Hill‘s incredible season in this space a year ago, and he was even better in 2023. He averaged an unprecedented 4.0 yards per route run in his age-29 campaign. I had him as my Offensive Player of the Year, and while I’d generally be nervous about wide receivers reliant on top-end speed as they enter their 30s, Hill has been so staggeringly efficient that he could drop off and still be in range of the league’s top wideouts. The only hole you can poke in his game is drops; he had 10 a year ago. Jerry Rice‘s 1987 campaign is still the golden standard for wideouts, but what Hill did in 2023 was probably the best performance any pass catcher has put together since.

Jaylen Waddle didn’t have his best season alongside Hill as a product of injuries, but the Dolphins got more out of their running game. Raheem Mostert ran for a team-high 18 touchdowns, while rookie De’Von Achane averaged 7.8 yards per carry and ranked 21st in fantasy points among backs despite playing just 300 snaps. A rushing game that ranked last in the league in rush yards over expectation in 2022 was No. 1 in the same category in 2023, a testament to how much the backs improved.

At the same time, the offensive line and the scheme certainly deserved some of the credit for Miami’s success; the Dolphins had a league-high 4.6 expected yards per carry when their running backs took the football, with Achane expected to gain a whopping 5.0 yards per carry on his touches. Give the running backs credit for exceeding those marks, but I would expect them to regress back toward the mean in 2024, with their numbers further influenced by a rebuilt offensive line.

As good as the one-two punch at receiver is, the Dolphins don’t have much behind them. Odell Beckham Jr. was efficient in Baltimore last season, but after playing virtually every snap to begin the season before getting injured in September, the Ravens didn’t trust him as much more than a part-time player the rest of the way. There’s also not much here in terms of receiving work at tight end, with Jonnu Smith riding his unexpectedly heavy workload in Atlanta to the starting role in Miami. The two teams ahead of the Dolphins can match their high-end talent and are deeper 1 through 5.


phi

2023 rank: 3 | 2022 rank: 8

What do you get for the quarterback who has everything? Jalen Hurts already had two top-end wide receivers in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, a solid tight end in Dallas Goedert and arguably the league’s best offensive line in front of him, even after Jason Kelce’s retirement. Hurts is a great player in his own right, of course, but the Eagles had already surrounded their star quarterback with an elite offensive core.

Enter Saquon Barkley, who fills the spot in the lineup that had typically been left to players on rookie deals or low-level free agents. It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Eagles sign a 27-year-old running back with a significant injury history off a season in which he averaged 3.9 yards per carry, but he was stuck in a dismal Giants offense. His average carry was only expected to generate 3.5 yards per carry, the league’s second-toughest mark for backs with 100 carries or more last season. He generated 93 rush yards over expectation, which ranked 10th among running backs. If Philadelphia offensive coordinator Kellen Moore finds more receiving work for Barkley than prior running backs have with Hurts, Barkley can be a valuable part of the passing game, too.

Barkley’s efficiency should spike in moving from one of the league’s worst rushing contexts to one of the best. My only concern there is health, given his history of ankle and knee issues. Likewise, Goedert hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year in 2018. I’m not sure how many snaps Hurts will get with Barkley, Brown, Goedert and Smith all on the field together, but my prediction is he’ll be the best quarterback in football on those plays.


sf

2023 rank: 1 | 2022 rank: 3

There’s a chasm between the 49ers and everybody else in the league in terms of their playmakers and explosiveness. They can afford to lose Deebo Samuel or George Kittle for stretches and still challenge for the top of this list. On other teams, Jauan Jennings would be a trendy breakout candidate after he had 221 receiving yards during the postseason and scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Here, he might be the fourth wide receiver behind Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and rookie first-round pick Ricky Pearsall.

The day will come where the 49ers will likely need to move on from Aiyuk or Samuel, but until that happens, they can enjoy an embarrassment of riches. Aiyuk further developed into a superstar last season, as the 26-year-old put up 1,342 receiving yards and averaged 3.3 yards per route run, the third-highest mark in football. He topped ESPN’s receiver metrics, ranking in the top 10 in both Open Score (tied for eighth) and Catch Score (first). If you think that’s solely a product of Brock Purdy and/or Kyle Shanahan, consider that Samuel ranked 128th in Open Score and 116th in Catch Score. Samuel is the best run-after-catch receiver in the game by a considerable margin, so he’s still a valuable player, but Aiyuk is special in his own right.

And then you have Christian McCaffrey. The 2023 campaign wasn’t even a dominant receiving season by CMC’s standards, but he unsurprisingly has become a more efficient runner in Shanahan’s offense. He comfortably led the league with 349 rush yards over expectation, the third-highest mark a back has posted in a single season since 2016. He was also healthy for most of the season for the second year in a row, a major positive in projecting him to play a significant portion of San Francisco’s snaps in 2024.

You don’t need me to tell you San Francisco has great playmakers. The only concerns to be raised here are with injuries, but the 49ers can feel good about what they have in reserve. The team is excited about Pearsall, and Jennings has proven he can step in and be productive. Elijah Mitchell averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry as the primary back in 2021 before the 49ers traded for McCaffrey. There’s no replacement for Kittle, who is one of one as a blocking tight end in today’s NFL, but they could survive if they had to move to more three-wide sets and/or use Kyle Juszczyk as more of a full-time player. Given the draft picks they’ve used on players who haven’t worked out, they have spent a lot of draft capital and cash on their playmakers. It hasn’t led them to a Super Bowl, but about 28 other franchises would be pretty happy with what the Niners have accomplished over the past few years.





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