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At the beginning of this offseason, I wrote about the state of the wide receiver position in 2021.
Long story short: The position is incredibly stacked with quality, high-level players, and the 2021 NFL draft class is only set to boost it. Not only are there studs at the top of the board in Ja’Marr Chase and Devonta Smith, but the depth of possible strong contributors goes well beyond the capacity of the draft’s first two days.
Despite the fact that there is an overflow of good NFL receivers right now, there are some downright needy wide receiver corps across the league. All of their requirements for help, however, aren’t quite the same.
Here, I’ll look at the top 10 teams that are in the worst shape at wide receiver and will need to add a few players in the 2021 NFL Draft.
No. 1 - Detroit Lions
Not only are the Lions clearly the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL right now, but you can also argue there’s a decent gap between them and the rest of the league.
Detroit had to sign veterans Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams in free agency just to qualify as a non-expansion-team-level receiver room. They’re in the brutal position of having neither a starting-caliber veteran nor a promising young player on the roster. Every team that follows the Lions on this list at least has one of the two.
The Lions own the seventh pick in Round 1 and they could be tempted by Ja’Marr Chase if he fell there. But this entire roster is in such bad shape that taking a receiver in the top-10 would be aggressive. It’s more likely they give the WR room the reinforcements it desperately needs at 41st and 72nd overall.
No. 2 - Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ wide receiver mistakes over the past two drafts have hampered this team.
In a class littered with the studs of today and tomorrow, Philadelphia left the 2019 draft with JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He has made next to no impact thus far in his career and isn’t even a realistic starting candidate. It’s too soon to write off Jalen Reagor but nothing he does will change the fact current superstar Justin Jefferson should have been the selection with their 2020 first-round pick.
The fact that Reagor has theoretical upside and Travis Fulgham has shown promise keeps them out of the basement. But just like the team in the No. 1 slot on this list, the Eagles roster is in such bad shape they might need to consider passing on a Round 1 wideout in favor of bolstering their line play.
No. 3 - New England Patriots
I hate the contracts the Patriots handed out to Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, but I don’t mind the players.
New England boasts a receiver corps filled with low-end No. 2s to solid No. 3 receivers. Along with Agholor and Bourne, Jakobi Meyers should own a spot in 11-personnel packages and might end up beating out one or both of his compatriots for targets.
The Patriots wide receiver depth chart looks miles better than it did to end the 2020 regular season but that’s not saying much. This team has a long way to go before it’s even near the league average.
No. 4 - Baltimore Ravens
We should be plenty hopeful that Marquise Brown can be a good starting receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. The second half of his 2020 season showed good promise once the team stopped using him almost exclusively on vertical routes.
Beyond Brown, this depth chart is a mess after striking out on several veteran receivers. Having Sammy Watkins as your WR2 in 2021 is not a plan. So far, we don’t have much evidence that young guys like Miles Boykin or Devin Duvernay should be penciled in as quality starters. This team signed Dez Bryant in the middle of last season and played him over these guys.
Lamar Jackson is a much better passer over the middle of the field. I’d love to see them land a guy like Rashod Bateman, who is physical, has inside/outside versatility, and can actually get open.
No. 5 - Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders were my No. 2 ranked team last year, so this is an improvement!
Much like Jalen Reagor with the Eagles, Henry Ruggs will always be judged against some of the other receivers who went in Round 1 of the 2020 draft, but he can still develop. I’ve always seen Ruggs as a Mike Wallace-type of starter. John Brown was a home-run addition and if he’s healthy, he could give them a better version of what Las Vegas got from Nelson Agholor. That was a flowery description for these two likely starters but the obvious downside remains.
Beyond Ruggs and Brown, younger players like Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards will compete with veterans like Willie Snead. Anything more than league-average play from anyone there would be a stunner.
With Darren Waller established as the top target and a run-first philosophy permeating the team, it’s unlikely Vegas spends big draft resources at receiver.
No. 6 - Indianapolis Colts
The Colts offer Carson Wentz a much better ecosystem than the one he left behind in Philadelphia but his new wide receiver room could use some tweaks.
T.Y. Hilton returns to fill the veteran role. I think he’d be best served spending his days as a slot receiver to rip up zone coverages; he’s played there before. The Colts will have to be hoping that Michael Pittman takes another step in Year 2. The coaching staff loved this player coming out of school and he fits the mold of a true X-receiver who can separate at all levels and win 50/50 balls.
Anything Indy gets from Parris Campbell should be considered gravy at this point.
If the team doesn’t add any major wide receiver talent in the draft, I’ll be tempted to aggressively draft Pittman this year. He’s their one in-house hope of turning this unit from a weakness to a near strength.
No. 7 - Houston Texans
I’ve already filed my analysis on the Texans wide receiver corps:
Brandin Cooks saves this unit from cratering to close to the league’s basement. This depth chart is a full-on mess behind him. Even Cooks himself will head into this year as something of a question mark. There’s no doubt he’s a quality starting receiver but with how things are trending for Deshaun Watson, 2021 will likely be the first time in his NFL career he’ll be tethered to a non-stud quarterback.
Houston doesn’t have many premium draft resources. Good. Fantasy managers don’t want any rookie receiver we like going to this roster as things stand right now.
No. 8 - Miami Dolphins
The next two teams on this list have a solid mix of quality and quantity at the position but are desperately lacking a true No. 1 presence. The odds are the Dolphins traded back up to sixth-overall after moving down from No. 3 because they understand that.
DeVante Parker has clear strengths as an outside receiver who thrives in contested situations. He’s just never been the type of separator you need to fill the No. 1 role. Will Fuller — on just a one-year deal with Miami — was that guy for Houston last year but we know he comes with layers of questions. There’s some interesting depth behind those two with Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant, and Lynn Bowden but none of them should stop the Dolphins from adding to the cupboard.
With a pair of quality starters locked up for 2021 and a solid crop of depth players, I wouldn’t blame the Dolphins for going Kyle Pitts at sixth overall, if he’s there. He would give the team a true top tight end, with Mike Gesicki mostly splitting out into the slot. But if Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, or DeVonta Smith is their guy, Tua Tagovailoa would suddenly be playing with one of the most dangerous receiver corps in the league after dealing with one of the stone worst as a rookie.
No. 9 - New York Jets
The Jets topped this list last season. So, getting all the way to “ninth-worst” is a pretty big win. I’ve also already spilled plenty of digital ink praising the Jets' new-look receiver corps and I meant it.
What they did this offseason was a good start.
The lack of a true dynamic No. 1 receiver does hold this unit back a bit. We know who Corey Davis is; let’s not expect him to suddenly be a top receiver when he’s always been a strong second-fiddle. Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole are good NFL players who can be plus assets as a team’s No. 3 or 4 receivers.
The real wildcard here is Denzel Mims. The second-year wideout is the only one of these receivers who profiles as a starting X-receiver. Mims didn’t get to show us a ton amid injuries while playing in a hideous Jets offense last year but if he takes a surprising leap and becomes a good starter, I’ll look foolish for having the Jets here.
I’ll keep a candle lit for that dream but for now, in this lane of reality, the Jets receiver corps can’t be considered a strength.
No. 10 - Tennessee Titans
The Titans represent a tide change on this list.
Unlike every other team in spots one to nine, the Titans have solved the hardest part: They have a true, dominant alpha No. 1 wideout in the fold with A.J. Brown.
Brown’s presence alone meant I couldn’t in good conscience say Tennessee was worse off at the receiver position than other teams with a collection of okay starters.
However, let’s be clear, the Titans receiver depth chart is brutal after Brown. Former Rams third (at best) receiver Josh Reynolds was signed to a one-year deal and is currently penciled in as the No. 2. That’s not what you want. Nothing in Reynolds’ career thus far screams, “Ready for a promotion!”
We should consider Tennessee a virtual lock to pluck a player from the second-tier of receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. They could even look to add Brown’s fellow Ole Miss product, Eli Moore, who would bring a slot and big-play option to the table.
Tennessee’s presence as the final team on this list also represents one more change. The Titans and almost every other team that I considered along with them for No. 10 would represent a desirable fantasy landing spot for a rookie receiver.
For clarity’s sake, here are the other teams that ranked 11 to 14: Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, and Green Bay Packers. Just like the Titans, all of these teams employ a true No. 1 wideout but have major questions at the No. 2 spot on down the depth chart.
While we theoretically love for rookies to waltz into an immediate opportunity to be the guy on a barren depth chart, ask yourself this: Would you rather your Round 1 dynasty rookie draft pick be the Patriots, Lions, or Eagles' new top receiver or line up across from A.J. Brown, Michael Thomas, etc. in an offense that’s been wildly efficient?
Something to consider.
It worked out pretty well for Justin Jefferson across from Adam Thielen last year. Maybe the next Jefferson will be lining up across from one of the aforementioned alpha receivers during the 2021 season.