As we move onto wide receivers and tight ends we have to keep a few things in mind. First, like with the running backs, so much depends on the quarterback, offensive line, and play caller. Secondly, it’s one thing to ask which team has the best depth, but it also matters which individual target is the most dominant. We just saw an offseason where number one receivers were traded left and right and that included the Titans A.J. Brown. Obviously they are important. Like with the running backs, let’s take a look at the overall rankings.
Jaguars— 3,436 yards (22nd), 12 TD (DAL), 5.4 NY/A (29th)
Titans— 3,418 yards (24th), 22 TD (19th), 5.9 NY/A (20th)
Colts— 3,361 yards (26th), 27 TD (13th), 6.1 NY/A (17th)
Texans— 3,305 yards (28th). 21 TD (24th), 5.6 NY/A (26th)
I like to compare statistics to art. When you use only one you are drawing stick figures. The more you use the more detail your artwork becomes. The Jaguars might appear to have the best passing attack in the division until you look at touchdowns and net yards per attempt. Then, it would appear they have the worst passing attack in the division. Yet, they clearly passed way too often and that probably explains why they sucked so badly.
For our purposes here, we will look at the likely wide receivers (three) to start and the primary pass catching tight end. Obviously, teams will employ five or six receivers and depth is important, but we are talking power rankings here. We will look receiving stats along with PFF scores for those that have played at the NFL level. Rookies will be italicized.
They had arguably the best passing game in the division last season and somehow didn’t win with both that and the league’s leading rusher. Those are the kinds of seasons that get coaches fired. This time they just brought in a new quarterback. So, let’s see how these guys fared last season.
Michael Pittman Jr— 88 catchers/1,082 yards/6 TD. 79.9 PFF
Alec Pierce— 52 catchers/884 yards/8 TD. N/A (college stats)
Parris Campbell— 10 catches/162 yards/1 TD, 63.0 PFF
Mo Alie-Cox— 24 catches/316 yards/4 TD, 59.4 PFF
It should be noted that the PFF scores are just for receiving. That becomes important when evaluating Cox. He is an excellent blocking tight end that also has some receiver skills. Pittman is the best receiver in the division and likely to get better with Matt Ryan. That gap is not all that big and the team is thin in the receiver department unless Pierce comes up big as a rookie. T.Y. Hilton is still there, so the cupboard isn’t completely bare.
A.J. Brown might have been the best receiver in the division. He was traded away. Julio Jones was good when healthy, but he is also gone. They did trade for Robert Woods, but he is coming off of an ACL tear. They also drafted Treylon Burks in the first round. So, this could be just as good as it was before, or they could take a tumble in this department.
Robert Woods— 45 catches/556 yards/4 TD, 72.1 PFF
Treylon Burkes— 66 catches/1,104 yards/11 TD, N/A (college stats)
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine— 38 catches/476 yards/4 TD, 67.6 PFF
Austin Hooper— 38 catches/345 yards/3 TD, 61.8 PFF
They may have the best receiving tight end in the division and he came over from Cleveland where things were rough. In 2019, he had 75 catches and six touchdowns when Baker Mayfield was at his best. Could he chip in 50 catches with Tannehill? I suppose anything is possible. The questions start with Woods and end with Burkes. It’s hard to say what either of them will bring to the table this season.
Brandin Cooks has nearly 8,000 receiving yards in eight NFL seasons. He certainly will likely get to 10,000 yards and 700 or more catches, but is he a number one target? He might not be one on a good team, but this is not a good team. So, he will continue to be that guy until further notice.
Brandin Cooks— 90 catches/1,037 yards/6 TD, 77.3 PFF
Nico Collins— 33 catches/446 yards/1 TD, 65.1 PFF
John Metchie— 96 catches/1,142 yards/8 TD, N/A (college stats)
Brevin Jordan— 20 catches/178 yards/3 TD, 69.3 PFF
If you believe in PFF grades then Jordan is the best receiving tight end in the division. I think that’s certainly possible, but he will have to prove it over a full season. Nico Collins probably grows into a 50-60 catch wide receiver in his second year. The key will be how soon Metchie takes to return to full speed. When he does, the Texans will have multiple threats at multiple levels of the defense.
The follies of free agency. The Jaguars have a new number one receiver and a pass catching tight end. Raw numbers would seem to indicate they are vastly improved. They are also the only team in the division not relying on a rookie wideout to break out for them. At first glance, they would appear to be poised for a huge improvement.
Christian Kirk— 77 catches/982 yards/5 TD/72.7 PFF
Marvin Jones— 73 catches/832 yards/4 TD/70.4 PFF
Zay Jones— 47 catches/546 yards/1 TD/70.4 PFF
Evan Engram— 46 catches/408 yards/3 TD/54.9 PFF
Remember the whole “Deshaun will distribute the ball more without a number one receiver” argument? That appears to be the argument here. Of course, the Jaguars added Kirk and added Engram, so it does make some sense. The question will be whether Trevor Lawrence would be better served with one really good target or three or four solid ones.
Coming into the offseason, the Texans would have ranked third here. So, the question comes down to whether the Titans fall back and make them second or whether the Jaguars take a giant leap forward. These might be the four closest position groups in the division. There is definitely room for optimism here as the squad has three young guys that could all be really good some day.