We are not even through June yet, and it seems like it will be forever before football starts, but the beginning of the NFL season will hopefully be upon us before we know it. 21 wide receivers (and two tight-ends) had 1,000-yard seasons in 2014, but only four wideouts (and one running back) had at least 100 receptions last season. There are a number of talented NFL wide receivers playing in the league right now, but who are the 10 best heading into the 2015 season?
10. DeAndre Hopkins – Houston Texans
DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins had 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns in 2014, which was his second season in the league. Hopkins was a star at Clemson (playing opposite another talented receiver, Sammy Watkins, who is now with the Bills), and with Andre Johnson now with the Colts, he is poised to be the official number one option in Houston. Hopkins hasn’t had the luxury of great quarterback play while in the NFL, but he still manages to put up numbers. That should continue in 2015, despite the Texans still not having a truly good, and consistent, quarterback.
9. Randall Cobb – Green Bay Packers
Cobb had 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. If you include his postseason numbers, Cobb had 116 catches for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns. He does have the luxury of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but there is no doubting his skills. Cobb signed a new deal with the Packers this offseason and the structure of said deal gives Green Bay some flexibility in the 2016-2018 seasons.
8. Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers
Benjamin had 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, which was his rookie season. He also added 11 more catches and two touchdowns in the playoffs. The former Florida State star is dealing with a hamstring issue right now, but that shouldn’t keep him sidelined too long. Benjamin had three 100-yard games last season, which is pretty impressive for a rookie. He did some have some issues with drops, but he was productive throughout the season and he made some spectacular catches. Benjamin will be quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target in 2015.
7. Odell Beckham Jr. – New York Giants
Beckham Jr. is another receiver who had an outstanding rookie campaign last season when he amassed 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, despite missing the first four games of the season because of a hamstring injury. He also made one of the most incredible catches that NFL fans have ever seen. The Giants should have a really productive wide receiving corps in 2015 (especially if Victor Cruz can stay healthy), but if Beckham Jr. can build off what he did in 2014, he will be scary good.
6. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons
Jones had 104 receptions (led NFC) for 1,593 yards (led NFC) and six touchdowns in 2014, which was his fourth season in the NFL. Jones’ 1,593 yards are a Falcons single-season record. Jones has one year left on his current contract and he has already come out and said that he won’t hold out for a new deal. Jones missed three games in his rookie season, but he has been selected to the Pro Bowl in two of the past three seasons. He has averaged 88.4 receiving yards per game through his first four seasons in the NFL, which is tops in NFL history.
5. T.Y. Hilton – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts may have a great, young quarterback in Andrew Luck, but Hilton did his part in 2014 when he had 82 receptions for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns. The talented wide receiver is coming off of consecutive seasons with at least 80 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards. Indianapolis has added some talent at the receiver position (including former Houston Texan, Andre Johnson), but Hilton has proven he can perform at an incredibly high level. And since he is about to enter the last year of his rookie contract, he will be even more motivated to put up great numbers in 2015.
4. Dez Bryant – Dallas Cowboys
Bryant had a stellar 2014 season with 88 receptions for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns. Bryant can certainly be a handful off the field, but in his first five seasons he has proven to be an extremely talented wide receiver, hauling in 381 catches for 5,424 yards and 56 touchdowns. Bryant was hit with the franchise tag this offseason and he is holding out and hoping to get a long-term deal done with the Cowboys. With running back DeMarco Murray, who was a workhorse in 2014, now with the Eagles, Dallas needs to make sure their star wideout is on the field Week 1.
3. Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers
Like Cobb, Nelson has a big advantage because his quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, but Nelson produces big time. In 2014, he had 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he did have offseason hip surgery. He downplayed the seriousness of the surgery, which caused him to miss some OTAs, but Nelson returned to practice (although not fully participating) earlier this month. Nelson is Rodgers’ favorite target, and it is a good bet that he’ll be named to a second straight Pro Bowl.
2. Demaryius Thomas – Denver Broncos
Thomas had a fantastic 2014, amassing 111 receptions for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns. He put up those numbers with both wide receiver Wes Welker (currently a free agent) and tight end Julius Thomas (now with the Jaguars) on the team. Peyton Manning still has Emmanuel Sanders to sling it to, but with Welker and Julius Thomas gone, Demaryius Thomas could possibly have more targets than he did in 2014 (184), which would be ridiculous. Thomas, who had 10 100-yard games in 2014 and led the NFL with 23 end zone targets, is in the middle of holding out for a contract extension after the Broncos used the franchise tag on him. More than likely a deal will get done and Manning will be looking Thomas’ way early and often in 2015.
1. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown, who had 129 receptions for 1698 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014, was the second-most targeted receiver last season after Demaryius Thomas, as he had the ball thrown his way 182 times. Brown ranked first in both receptions and yards in 2014, becoming the first Steelers player to lead the league in those categories. Brown has been hard at work in the offseason, and there is no reason to think he will take a step back in 2015. The Steelers have some talented wide receivers, (including Martavis Bryant out of Clemson), but Brown will continue to be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target.
For the purposes of this article there were only 10 slots, so some talented, and possibly deserving, receivers were definitely left off this list. There also may be some rookie receivers who step up this season and post some big numbers for their teams. NFL fans will have to keep an eye out in 2015 to see which receivers actually step up for their teams.