In a post published yesterday on NFL.com, former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson ranked his top 5 most valuable pass catchers in the league. Burleson, now a media analyst, played in the league for 11 seasons. As he states in his article, he played second fiddle to some pretty impressive guys, namely Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson.
To be clear, this is not necessarily a list of the best receivers, rather the guys who provide the most value to their team. While Burleson definitely leaves some room for debate, his opinions provide for an interesting read. Here are his top 5 most valuable pass catchers.
5. Doug Baldwin – Seattle Seahawks
Baldwin is a guy that I wouldn’t have expected to see on this list. However, he stepped up big time last season. He was a major factor in his team’s success, finishing the season with 78 receptions, 1,069 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Previously, his highest touchdown total was 5, in 2013. Baldwin provided an offensive spark, especially with key injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham.
4. Dez Bryant – Dallas Cowboys
I followed Bryant’s season pretty closely after drafting him high for my fantasy team. He has been an elite receiver for many years, and when he went down with a broken foot, the Cowboy’s offense wasn’t the same. Dez is a unique blend of size and speed for which most NFL corners have no answer. His 2015 season was very underwhelming due to injury, but his 2014 season (88 rec., 1,320 yds., 16 tds) was a big reason for Dallas’ success.
3. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons
Jones is simply a freakshow. Early on in 2015, he was on pace to put up better single season numbers than any receiver in NFL history. The Falcons, and Matt Ryan, were not a good team last year, but it was not due to Julio Jones. He, like Dez, is a freakishly big, fast receiver. If there were a laboratory for receiver creation, Jones would probably be the prototype. He finished the season with 136 catches, 1,871 yds., and 8 touchdowns.
2. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Gronk is not a wide receiver, but he is, without a doubt, one of the best pass catchers in the league. Tom Brady is an outstanding quarterback, whether his balls are deflated or not. But let’s be honest, even Uncle Rico would look competent with Gronk on his side. The guy is unguardable. Just look at the AFC Championship game. The whole universe knew that Gronk was going to get the ball, but they were helpless to stop him. He finished with 72 catches, 1,176 yards, and 11 touchdowns in 2015.
1. Deandre Hopkins – Houston Texans
Nuk Hopkins busted out of Andre Johnson’s shadow in 2015. The third year man out of Clemson compiled 111 catches, 1,521 yards, and 11 scores. D-Hop made amazing catch after amazing catch all season long. He was the heart and soul of Houston’s offense. And he wasn’t catching passes from Russell Wilson, or Tony Romo, or Matt Ryan, or even Tom Brady. Nope, D-Hop was catching passes from Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden.
Burleson had this to say about Hopkins:
Hopkins is still in the infancy of his career, but he doesn’t play that way. When you listen to him talk, watch him play or look at his body language, he is the J.J. Watt of the Texans’ offense. He is the offensive leader, who played with three different quarterbacks and still helped his team win the AFC South and make the playoffs in 2015. Going forward, he’s going to be a huge catalyst for new starting quarterback Brock Osweiler. As an inexperienced signal caller, there’s nothing better than having a confident and cocky wide receiver to help you. Osweiler knows that when he drops back or throws a bad pass or if his receiver isn’t open, Hopkins is going to give the ultimate effort to come down with the ball, which we’ve seen time and time again. Hopkins keeps getting better with every passing season, and he’s going to continue to make huge plays and put up massive numbers in years to come.
I like the names on this list, but I do have to question the omission of Antonio Brown. I know that Burleson wasn’t looking purely at stats, but how can you leave Brown out? AB is the best receiver in the game right now. He tied J. Jones for the league lead in receptions, and led the league in yardage. Nine times he went for over 100 yards, including 284 in week 9 against Oakland.
If you’ve watched the Steelers play in the last couple of years, it’s obvious that nobody can cover him. I think they could put Darrelle Revis, Josh Norman, and Richard Sherman on Brown and he would still get open. He finished the 2015 season with 136 catches, 1,834 yds., and 10 scores. Oh, and Roethlisberger was hurt for several games too.
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Header image “Deandre Hopkins” by Victor Araiza (CC BY-NC 2.0)