Top NFL AFC Wide Receivers 2018 – Part 1

This is the first part of a two part post in which I look at the top NFL AFC wide receivers 2018.  I identify the top wide receivers in the league based on historical statistics and how the receivers are dispersed across the teams. In determining top receivers I focused on their combined numbers for the last three seasons. In cases where two receivers were close I put a little more emphasis on their last year. However I was more than willing to overlook a down year and not greatly penalize for one bad year. I also did not penalize the new guys. I treated all receivers on an equal starting ground and if a new guy had one or two years of good performance he was treated the same as the veterans.

This is an update of an earlier post. After the original post I then posted the NFC receivers. In doing so my evaluation criteria became more refined and I came up with changes to the total 44 top receivers. This is that update. Changes are in italics and at the end of each division I list the changes made for that division.

Included are pictures of tables showing the teams. I highlighted the top receivers in yellow and all rookies are highlighted in green. Rookies were not considered in this evaluation.  I only note for some exceptional rookie picks.  Each team table is sorted by years experience and a total number of veterans are noted under the Player column. Under the Age column is the average age for the receivers on the team. The tables pictures are a little hard to read but you can click on them to open them up into an easier to read display.

The football rosters are pretty set in preparation for the start of preseason. There are 274 wide receivers listed on team’s rosters. In choosing my top receivers I had to draw the line somewhere. So I decided to use 16% as the line. I figure 16% roughly translates to one in six receivers and so I consider the top 16% to be the top receivers. This translates to 44 of the 274 receivers on rosters.

Today I start with the AFC receivers. Twenty-three of the forty-four top receivers were in the AFC. I will work on the NFC post and have that up in the next or two.

AFC East

AFC East Wide Receivers
AFC East Wide Receivers

For the span of his NFL career Kelvin Benjamin, of the Bills, has had 19 receiving touchdowns from 2014 thru 2017. Kelvin ranks 30th in the NFL among active wide receiver for receiving touchdowns over that time period. This was accomplished in spite of missing the 2015 season due to a torn ACL in August of that year. Benjamin has a career first down percentage of 71.2%. According to fivethirtyeight.com, Benjamin leads receivers  in average yards gained per route run in the fourth quarter and his average of 23.3 fourth-quarter receiving yards ranks fourth.

Robby Anderson of the Jets is a rising talent. Last season he accounted for 27% of his team’s receiving yards, the highest percentage. He was tied for eleventh in the league for big receiving plays (25+ yards) with ten. In 2016 he also had ten big plays for thirteenth most in the league. Anderson has great speed and lists as the 3rd fastest forty for wide receivers in the 2016 draft class.

Kenny Britt, of the Patriots, has had 15% or better of his receptions go for 25+ yards for each of the last three seasons. He is one of only twenty-one current players with a minimum of two years that accomplished that. His three year average of 18.55% for big plays is sixth best among my top 44 receivers. His three year combined yards per reception average of 15.44 is ranked 14th in the NFL among active wide receivers with a minimum 30 receptions for that time-frame.

Chris Hogan, of the Patriots, has a reputation for being able to get open. Maybe that’s why he has also done well in yards after the catch (YAC). Over the past three seasons he has averaged 4.8 YAC. He had a breakout season in 2016 where he averaged 6.55 YAC on 38 receptions which was 8th best for wide receivers with a minimum 10 catches. That year his yards per target was 11.72 yards – the tops for wide receivers with minimum 10 catches. His 17.9 yards per reception led the NFL. In 2016 21% of his receptions were for big plays of 25+ yards which was ninth best among wide receivers with a minimum 10 receptions. From a Belichick interview – “He’s one of our best players, (and) again, another hard working guy that’s tough. …”

Kenny Stills, of the Dolphins, is a speedster that can take the top off a defense. Of the top receivers I have looked at his last three season average of 18.1 % big plays to receptions is in the top five. Big plays are receptions of 25+ yards. Stills is 3rd on the NFL active leaders list for yards per reception with 16.1 yards. His 20 yards/reception in 2013 led the NFL.

Removed: Julian Edelman

Added: Kenny Britt, Kelvin Benjamin

AFC North

AFC North Wide Receivers
AFC North Wide Receivers

A.J. Green, on the Bengals was selected for the Pro Bowl all seven years of his career. Green has a career games to touchdown ratio of a touchdown every 1.78 games. Of the top 20 active wide receiver career leaders for receiving touchdowns  only Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham have a better ratio.

After the Brown’s Josh Gordon’s  incredible 2013 sophomore season he was listed 13th on the Receiving Yards Single Season Leaders list,  was selected to the Pro Bowl, was named First-Team All Pro and was designated number 16 on the 2014 NFL Top 100 list.  That’s what amassing 1,646 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns in 14 games will do for you. . That was followed by three years lost to suspensions and substance abuse issues. He came back for the last five games of 2017 and finished the season leading the Browns in yards per game and 100+ receiving games(1). His 335 season receiving yards was fifth on the team. He had 18 season receptions with an average of 18.6 yards which was third best in the league for over ten targets. The team is saying all the right things commending his work ethic, how hard he works on and off the field and having an awesome mindset.

Jarvis Landry, now on the Browns,  over his four year NFL career has 400 receptions and a combined season catch rate of 70.2%.  The 400 receptions is the most by any player in  their first four seasons. The  catch rate is sixth best among all active receivers averaging 10+ yards and with a minimum 80 targets over that time frame. Last season Landry’s 112 receptions led the NFL and his 69.6% catch rate was 14th best in the league for over 50 targets. Landry has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three of his four year career.

Antonio Brown , of the Steelers, has been voted 1st Team All-Pro each of the last four years and selected to the Pro-Bowl six of his eight year career. Brown is a two time NFL receptions leader and two time NFL receiving yards leader including last year with 1,533 yards. Over the last four seasons Brown has a game to touchdown ratio of 1.39 which is second only to Odell Beckham.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, of the Steelers, made the NFL and the sixth best All-Rookie team in 2017. He led rookie receivers in receiving yards (917) , longest reception (97T),  receiving touchdowns (7), 20+ yard plays (12) and 40+ yard plays (6).  His long reception led the NFL and he had a kickoff return for a touchdown. His catch percentage of 73.4% was third best in the NFL among wide receivers with 70 or more targets. Smith-Schuster has the top combined season yards per target number for wide receivers with over 30 targets (11.61 yards).

The Steelers pick of James Washington in the draft should be a nice continuation of a very good receiver corp. Washington looks like a great deep threat. He had outstanding numbers in college for his senior year in yards (1,544), touchdowns (13), yards per catch (20.9) and yards per target (13.2). I have him listed with a top level success rate of 57.3% which measures the percentage of plays that were successful in terms of yards gained.

Removed: Willie Snead

AFC South

AFC South Wide Receivers
AFC South Wide Receivers

DeAndre Hopkins, on the Texans, has been in the top twenty in the NFL for 1st down percentage each of the last three seasons.  He is one of only three players to currently hold that distinction. He has converted on 71.9, 71.8 and 74.8% of his receptions over those years. Over these last three seasons Hopkins had the third most receiving touchdowns (28) and the sixth best games to touchdowns ratio (1.68).  Hopkins led the NFL in 2017 in receiving touchdowns.

Will Fuller, of the Texans, ranked tied at 14th among NFL wide receivers for receiving touchdowns (7) in 2017. He did that playing in only 10 games and with 50 targets. No other wide receiver scored that many or more touchdowns in 2017 with less opportunity. The next closest would be 7 touchdowns by Sammy Watkins in 15 games and 70 targets. Fuller’s game to touchdown ratio in 2017 was 1.43.  Over his two year career Fuller has a 69.3% first down to receptions percentage with a 75% ratio in 2017.

T.Y Hilton, on the Colts, led the NFL in receiving yards in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus since 2013 Hilton has the second most receiving yards on deep passes. On receptions of 25+ yards Hilton has been 7th in 2017 (11), 1st in 2016 (16), 6th in 2015 (14), 1st in 2014 (17), 23rd in 2013 (9) and 12th in his rookie year in 2012 (11). He excels in 100 yard games also. In his six year career spanning 2012 thru 2017 he has had 28 hundred plus yard games. Spanning that time-frame only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas have had more. In his six years he has been in the top ten in the NFL for yards per reception four of those years and has a career average of 15.8 yards.

Keelan Cole, of the Jaguars, had 21.4% of his receptions for for a big play (25+ yards). That was 14th best among the 274 active veterans. Cole’s YAC per reception of 6.69 yards was ranked 15th among the active veterans on rosters. His 17.81 yards/reception was 14th in the league. Cole’s 1st down to reception ratio of 76.2% was 8th best among currently active NFL wide receivers with a minimum 20 receptions in 2017. Cole finished his rookie year with an NFL-leading 186 receiving yards and a touchdown in week 15, including a 73-yard reception to the 1 yard line. That 75 yard reception was tied for tenth longest reception among currently active NFL wide receivers.

Rishard Matthews, on the Titans, has the tenth best combined season reception yards per target (9.38) over the last three seasons for wide receivers with minimum 50 targets. Since joining the Titans he has accounted for 25% and 23% of the Titan’s receiving yards the last two seasons. Matthews is a tough runner and good at getting yards after the catch (YAC). Over his last three seasons his YAC totals accounted for 30% of his receiving yards. In 2017 his YAC per reception of 5.15 yards was twelfth best among wide receivers with a minimum of total 39 yards after catch.

The Jaguars picked D.J. Chark in the second round (61st pick) of the 2018 draft and signed Allen Lazard as a free agent. Both were good values. Chark is a deep threat and excelled in the Reese Senior Bowl with a game-high 160 yards on 5 catches. Lazard is a big receiver that was projected to go in the 5th round by nfldraftscout.com.  He is a red zone threat and is fourth on NCAA active career leaders for receiving touchdowns.  Both Lazard and Chark were top performers at the combine for vertical jump and bench press among receivers. Chark was also the top receiver in the 40 yard dash.

Added: Will Fuller, Keelan Cole

AFC West

AFC West Wide Receivers
AFC West Wide Receivers

Emmanuel Sanders, of the Broncos, is a tough receiver not afraid to go over the middle, take a hit and fight for the first down. Sanders has said his goal is always to get a first down. “Anything after that is all positive, but I just try to get a first down. Ten yards, and whatever happens after that, happens.” Of the 16% top receivers I have noted Sanders is in the 31% of those that have achieved an above average 1st down percentage for each of the last three seasons. In that time-frame of  his 202 receptions 64.85% have gone for 1st down. Likewise he has had 10-15% of his receptions go for big plays of 25+ yards for each of the last three seasons.

Sammy Watkins, now with the Chiefs,  was eighth in receiving touchdowns in 2017. Over the last three seasons Watkins is tenth for games to touchdowns ratio achieving  on average a touchdown every 1.89 games. In 2017 Watkins first in the NFL in first down conversion percentage achieving an 84.6% conversion on 39 receptions. He has a career average conversion percentage of 73.4% on 192 receptions.

Tyreek Hill, of the Chiefs, has in his two year career had catch percentages of 73.5% on 83 targets and 71.4% on 105 targets. That was good for 8th and 7th for NFL wide receivers. In that time-frame only one other wide receiver made the top ten more than once. That was Mohamed Sanu at tenth and ninth. Hill was one of only 13 wide receivers to break 1,000 yards receiving in 2017 and that in his 2nd year.  There are only 28 active receivers that broke 1,000 yards in either their first or second year.

Speedster Travis Benjamin, of the Chargers, was tied for first at his combine in the 40 yard dash among wide receivers. He uses that speed to break out on the deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2017 on passes that traveled 40+ yards in the air, Phillip Rivers had the 3rd best passer rating when targeting Benjamin. In 2017 Benjamin’s 20.6% big play/receptions ratio was 7th best among current NFL wide receivers with a minimum 20 receptions. Benjamin’s three season average of 5.36 YAC/reception is ranked 13th among my top 44 wide receivers.

Keenan Allen, of the Chargers, was named 2017 NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year following an impressive 2017 season after coming back from two season ending injuries. Keenan suffered a lacerated kidney in a 2015 November game that ended that season. On his return in 2016 Keenan in the first game he suffered a torn ACL that ended the 2016 season. Coming back in 2017, in NFL receiving Allen was fourth in receptions (102), third in yards (1,393), fourth in yards per game (87.1), eleventh in yards after the catch (499), eleventh in receptions of 25+ yards (10),  second in 100+ yard games (7), first in 1st downs  (74) and twelfth in 1st down percentage (72.5%). It was as good or better performance as four years prior when he made the NFL All-Rookie Team. In 2017 Allen was selected for the Pro Bowl. Discounting his 2016 season, in which Allen only played one game, Allen has made the top twenty for 100+ yard games every season with a total of 18 games of 100+ yards . Over the last three seasons Allen achieved a 68.6% catch rate.

Tyrell Williams, of the Chargers, was signed as an undrafted free agent in May of 2015. In the 2016 season, after Keenan Allen went down for the season in the season opener with a knee injury, Williams was promoted to the third wide receiver.  He made the most of this opportunity and had a 1,059 yard season with seven touchdowns.  His 13 plays of plus 25 yards was ranked fifth in the NFL. In his three year career Williams has excelled in big plays (25+ yards) achieving  18.4% for big plays to receptions.  Of 56 top receivers only three had a better ratio – T.Y. Hilton, Robby Anderson and DeSean Jackson. In 2017 his 16.9 yards/reception was 4th in the NFL. His combined yards/reception for the last three seasons of 16.46 is ranked 11th among active wide receivers with a minimum  25 targets for that time-frame. For the time-span of his career, Williams’ 9.73 yards per target is ranked fifth among active wide receivers with a minimum 25 targets. Over the last three season Williams’ 7.55 YAC per reception leads all top receivers covered in this two part article. Tyrell is tall, has great speed and an outstanding work ethic.

Jordy Nelson, now with the Raiders, was named 2016 NFL AP Comeback Player of the Year after returning in 2016 from an ACL injury in week 2 of the 2015 season. In 2016 Nelson led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with fourteen. Over the last three seasons Nelson has a combined games to touchdown ratio of one touchdown every 1.55 games. For that time-frame that is the third best ratio beaten only by Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown. Nelson made the NFL top ten for 100+ yard games for the two years prior to his lost 2015 season and for the year back in 2016 when he was 4th. Nelson has a total of 19 games of 100+ yards receiving.

Amari Cooper, of the Raiders, is fast and runs great routes. Cooper was in the top seven wide receivers at the combine for the forty (7th), 3-cone(5th) and 20 yard shuttle (1st). Amari had two breakout season’s his first two and got selected to the Pro Bowl for both. He was the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. Then he had a big downturn in 2017 and finished with just 680 yards but still had 7 touchdowns. Amari can haul in the big play and finished ranked 2nd in 2016 with 15 receptions of 25+ yards. In his first two seasons he ranked 7th and then 6th in 100+ yards games. Amari struggled in 2017 playing hurt for much of the year.

Added Travis Benjamin

I hope you have enjoyed this post and if so check toward the end of next week for the second part on the NFC wide receivers.

Data Backup

I have included the data sheet I used in evaluation for those that may be interested. One sheet has the player’s score summaries. The top 44 players are highlighted by yellow in column A. The other sheet has three seasons of data on the players followed by columns of calculations for evaluation criteria (See part II of the post for list of criteria).  Cells exceeding the criteria baseline are highlighted in yellow. Each player has a line for the season denoted by year. This is followed by a line for the three season average. The average line is followed by a line denoted by an S in column A. That “S” line is a score summary line computing how far the player’s average is from the baseline by a percentage calculation. The S line is summed and those are the totals on the summary sheet.

The calculation was tweaked to combine data on fumbles and drops into one category. This was because using them separate distorting the results to overly favor “sure-handedness”.

Using the data I avoid putting to much emphasis on the results. Specifically the scores. The exercise was to help systematically come up with a top 16% of current receivers. It is more for a verification with data of what is generally reported on the player’s skills. I would not use the scores as a “ranking” of those top receivers. Although it was useful to tweak the calculation to arrive at a list that looks reasonably accurate.

Three year receiver performance data

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