2020’s Top 10: Quarterback and Wide Receiver Edition
Dec 29, 2019; Tampa, Florida, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) talks with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
With every season that passes, NFL offenses seem to rely more and more on the passing game.
Since 2010, the league-average for passing yards in a single season per team has reached 3,500 yards or higher in every season, a mark that had only been matched once prior to that (1995). This is largely due to increased emphasis on the passing game during player development, which results in some star-studded tandems making connections across the field.
Here are some of the most talented and potent passing duos in the NFL right now.
10. Tom Brady and Chris Godwin
Okay, okay. While these two have not officially played together on a football field, one can only imagine the explosiveness that will come from this Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. Opposing teams know what Tom Brady can do with weapons at his disposal—and a chance at the playoffs.
The 24-year-old Godwin was a third-round pick in 2017 and posted career-highs in all areas last season, including 1,333 receiving yards, nine touchdowns, 63 first downs, and a 71.1 catch-percentage. It’s likely that his production will only improve in 2020 with Brady throwing him the ball.
9. Tom Brady and Mike Evans
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Two duos from the same team? Yes.
Evans represents Tom Brady’s most skilled wide receiver since Randy Moss. The former No. 7-overall draft choice has enjoyed a more-than-productive NFL career, recording 1,000 receiving yards and at least 65 receptions every season in Tampa Bay. The 26-year-old is widely considered to be one of the most talented receivers in football and will be joined by Godwin and Rob Gronkowski in a potent Buccaneer offense.
The only reason this duo is not ranked higher, like Godwin and Brady, is that they have yet to step on a field together.
8. Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay
Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay may not be the first names that come to mind when fans discuss the best players at their respective positions but don’t get it twisted; this is a duo that can play with the league’s best.
Golladay has improved in each of his three NFL seasons, with 2019 being his best yet. The 26-year-old started all 16 games for the Lions and led the team in receptions, yards, and targets. He was so involved in the team’s passing attack that he shared just under 34-percent of the team’s air yards. His 11 receiving touchdowns led the NFL last season, and it’s worth noting that Stafford was only healthy for eight of those games.
This is a tandem that was well on its way to a breakout season last year and will pick up where they left off in 2020.
7. Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster
When healthy, this duo is only matched by a select group of connections in all of football. The last time these two played a full season together was 2018, and they made the most of it. The two connected 111 times for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns, in an offense that still featured Antonio Brown.
But since then, things haven’t gone as planned.
Roethlisberger enters his 17th season with health issues, as the 38-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm last season. Smith-Schuster followed up his explosive 2018 campaign with a 2019 season in which he failed to record even half of those numbers, thanks to a slew of injuries. The two will look to bounce back in 2020 and help guide the Steelers back into the playoffs.
6. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper
Since Cooper joined the Cowboys at the league’s trade deadline in 2018, the former No. 5-overall draft choice has emerged in a major way.
The 210-pound speedster averaged just over 15 yards per-reception last season, good enough to rank in the league’s 95th percentile. His 74.3 yards-per-game ranked eighth league-wide. As for Prescott, the four-year starter only got better in 2019, as he led the Dallas offense to an average of 431.5 total-yards per game, which was the best in all of football.
This duo was dynamic and terrorized opposing defenses last season, and should do the same this season.
5. Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins
I’ll admit it: I may be jumping the gun a little bit by putting a group that hasn’t seen on-field action in the top-five, but one can only imagine the numbers these two will put up for the years to come.
Hopkins has established himself as one of the best wide receivers in all of football, maybe even the best. The seven-year veteran has recorded at least 1,000 receiving yards in five of the last six seasons and 10 or more touchdowns in three of those seasons. He was one of four receivers to haul in over 100 receptions in 2019.
As it pertains to the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in Murray, he proved doubters wrong last season and now has a surplus of weapons in Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk. His 65.9 expected-completion percentage ranked eighth in the NFL, a mark that was impressive for a rookie.
This duo should get better and better in the years to come for Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals, and be among the league’s best in 2020.
4. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill
In terms of talent, this duo may be unmatched by anybody else on this list. But, this might not be the most-important connection on the loaded Chiefs offense. Patrick Mahomes has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, with Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman being just some of the other receivers in the Chiefs’ air attack. But then again, there’s the talent and athletic ability.
Hill is known by many as the fastest man in football, and his yards-after-catch ability ranks among the league’s best for that reason. Mahomes is a do-it-all gunslinger, who also ranks among the league’s best in completion percentage. His 66.5 expected-completion percentage ranked sixth in the NFL, and his 105.3 passer rating placed seventh.
This duo powered the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title in 2019 and is the most talented on this list.
3. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams
In recent years, the Packers have not invested much at the wide receiver position. In fact, throughout his entire career, Rodgers has only thrown one touchdown to a first-round draft pick, and it came in the form of free-agent signing Marcedes Lewis. It is for this reason that the 36-year-old quarterback relied on Adams heavily last season.
Adams was targeted 127 times in 2019 and totaled just under 27-percent of the team’s air yards, which are especially high numbers considering he missed four games due to injury. In the playoffs, Adams was the recipient of 298 of Rodgers 567 passing yards, roughly 52.5-percent (a number that is higher than any receiver’s share of air yards throughout the regular season).
Every time Rodgers drops back to the pass, the defense expects the ball to go Adams’ way: and they still couldn’t stop them, with Adams averaging 83.1 yards-per-game, a mark that ranked fifth in the NFL.
The bottom line? This battery is the heart and soul of the Packer offense, and the numbers will only go up with Adams fully healthy.
2. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones
NFL fans have watched Matt Ryan and Julio Jones tear apart opposing defenses for a good part of the last decade.
The No. 6-overall pick in the 2011 Draft has made quite the name for himself in the NFL, leading the league in receiving yards twice, and yards-per-game and yards-per-touch on three occasions apiece.
Like Adams, he too was a heavy part of his team’s offensive game-plan, with 157 targets and 1,394 receiving yards going his way, both second in the NFL. He was also responsible for just a hair under 36-percent of the team’s air yards, which ranked top-10 in the league.
As for Ryan, he threw it deep and often in 2019, with his 616 attempts ranking third and his 6.8 average completed air yards ranking sixth. He has solidified his place among the league’s elite quarterbacks, and Julio has solidified himself in a select group of receivers. This duo will continue to dominate like they have for the last number of years.
1. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas
Not only was this duo dominant in 2019—they were record-breaking. Thomas hauled in 149 passes in 2019, the most in a single season in NFL history. He also received 26 targets in the red zone, which ranked first league-wide. Brees shattered NFL records, moving into first place all-time in passing yards and touchdowns.
Thomas’ 2019 was especially impressive. His 193 targets were the most in an NFL season since 2015: and he still hauled in a league-best 80.54-percent of the passes thrown in his direction. He was responsible for a whopping 41.34-percent of the team’s share of air yards, and ran away with the league’s crown in receiving yards, with 1,725. Thomas was incredibly efficient while also having one of the league’s most productive seasons in its history.
With Brees being one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks in league history and Thomas coming off a historic season, it could only be them earning top honors on this list.