Few positions in the NFL can match wide receiver in terms of marquee value. The league, thanks to its passing boom, is loaded with talent at the position, as well as proud personalities who play it.
But which team boasts the most dynamic duo? Clubs rarely have two elite wideouts at the same time, but when they do, it becomes difficult for opponents to slow down either half.
Most important in naming the top five wide receiver duos in the NFL is how the players produce and complement each other’s games. Then comes durability, which downgrades certain combinations.
The Giants‘ Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, for example, are trying to re-establish themselves after major injuries. Other duos that just missed the cut: the Texans‘ DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller; the Eagles‘ Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor; and the 49ers‘ Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin.
5. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., Lions
2017 combined stats: 153 receptions, 2,104 yards, 14 TDs
Detroit has recovered from Calvin Johnson’s retirement two offseasons ago. Jones has proved to be a strong pick-up, as Matthew Stafford’s top big-play threat outside posted his best NFL season yet with 61 catches for 1,101 yards and 9 TDs last year. Tate continues to be a consistent slot machine after another good year (92 catches, 1,003 yards, 5 TDs).
Both receivers boast terrific chemistry with Stafford and have been instrumental in helping the QB raise his game without Johnson. Their ability to get open all over the field has boosted Stafford’s accuracy and efficiency.
Jones turned 28 earlier this year, and Tate will hit 30 in August. The Lions will get at least one more season from the durable duo, but they will have a tough decision to make with Tate, who is set to become a free agent in 2019.
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4. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, Rams
2017 combined stats: 121 receptions, 1863 yards, 12 TDs
Cooks is an upgrade over Sammy Watkins. Throw in Cooper Kupp, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and the Rams suddenly have a good case for the best WR trio in the NFL. Woods turned out to be a steal in free agency; the former USC standout fit perfectly into the SoCal stylings of coach Sean McVay’s complex passing game.
Even though his production last season was critical for quarterback Jared Goff, Woods remains one of the league’s most underrated targets. That won’t be the case much longer as he assumes the role of the Rams’ all-around No. 1. Cooks comes with the label of speedy home-run hitter, but he has proved to be versatile — and McVay will take full advantage.
Goff is 23, Cooks is 24, Kupp is 25 and Woods is 26. The Rams are expected to extend Cooks, meaning they’re just getting started in burning up the league with Greatest Show 2.0.
3. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Vikings
2017 combined stats: 155 receptions, 2,125 yards, 12 TDs
Last season Thielen finished his journey from home-state undraftee to Pro Bowler with 91 catches for 1,276 yards. Diggs did plenty of scoring damage beyond the “Minneapolis Miracle” with his 8 TDs during the regular season. And at just 24, he is motivated by playing for his next contract.
Diggs played through injury at times last year, and Thielen consistently delivered regardless of where he lined up. Although the connection with Case Keenum played a big part in the success of both receivers, they can find a higher gear with big-armed Kirk Cousins; his being able to inherit go-to guys of that caliber played a big part in the QB’s signing.
Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter played in Minnesota a long time ago, but this is the Vikings’ best duo since, and it should be around for a while.
2. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
2017 combined stats: 159 receptions, 2,450 yards, 16 TDs
Brown, a future Hall of Famer and the current best wide receiver in the NFL, is the closest thing to Jerry Rice in his prime the league has today. But JuJu’s work as a rookie capable of lining up everywhere led to quick stardom. What’s scary is that, in addition to toughness and route-running savvy beyond his years, Smith-Schuster showed game-breaking ability as a bonus.
There have been other flashes from Brown’s fellow Pittsburgh receivers, most notably Martavis Bryant. But Smith-Schuster last season justified his second-round selection, making it easier for the team to move on from Bryant and replace him with James Washington.
Brown, who turns 30 in July, is not yet slowing down, and Smith-Schuster is just getting warmed up for his own special career. Give each extra credit for a unique brand of swag, too.
1. Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry, Browns
2017 combined stats: 130 receptions, 1,322 yards, 10 TDs
We know — Gordon and Landry have yet to play a down together as teammates and are working with a new quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. Gordon needs to prove his off-field issues truly are in the past. Landry needs to prove he can get the job done outside of Miami.
“But in Cleveland? You kidding me? Cleveland?”
Consider their roles in the Browns’ offense and their respective qualities. Landry is the best slot receiver in the NFL. Gordon is an ideal, big-play No. 1, and now that he has ended his two-season layoff, he has provided every reason for Cleveland to think he will rediscover his form from 2013, when he had 87 catches for a league-leading 1,646 receiving yards.
Gordon now has a better QB and more complementary threats to help him, including Landry, running back Duke Johnson Jr. and tight end David Njoku. Gordon also will benefit the way Brown did from wideout-friendly offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who arrives in Cleveland after six seasons in Pittsburgh.
Gordon’s claim that the Browns have the NFL’s “best wide receiver group” is a little off, because after him and Landry, rookie fourth-rounder Antonio Callaway and first-round bust Corey Coleman fill out the depth chart. But the duo of Gordon and Landry alone means the Browns will be difficult to cover both short and deep in 2018.