Ranking the AFC South: Wide Receivers

As the NFL starts this week, I have been ranking the various position groups in the AFC South. In case you missed the previous articles, here are the links:

For this one I’ll be tackling wide receivers using various statistics and my own tape study to rank these units, but keep in mind there will naturally be a level of subjectivity. I found this position group especially difficult to differentiate due to the larger amount of players and variables that I had to take into account.

Make sure to let me know where you agree and disagree down in the comments below!

1. Titans

  1. A.J. Brown
  2. Corey Davis
  3. Adam Humphries
  4. Kalif Raymond
  5. Cody Hollister

As I ranked these position groups, I really tried to stay as objective as possible. Being a Titans fan myself, I even caught myself being overcritical of the Titans in order to compensate for my own biases. However, the evidence was undeniable for ranking the Titans first here. Surprisingly, the Titans have the most proven production at receiver in the division. They were the only team in the AFC South with three wide receivers who have 800+ yard seasons in their careers in A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries. The Texans have two receivers that have accomplished this, while the Colts and Jaguars only have one such receiver.

The Titans have an absolute budding star in A.J. Brown. He led the league in yards after catch per reception as a rookie and has shown growth playing on the outside since entering the league. With more experience, I think Brown has the chance to develop into a legitimate superstar for years to come.

They also have an extremely talented Corey Davis who, despite his talent, has not produced up to his draft billing. However, Davis is among the best “second options” in the league.

In the slot, Adam Humphries saw a decrease in production in 2019 after suffering an injury that held him out for some games, but he’s still a very reliable target. Humphries had only one drop each in 2018 and 2019 with a drop percentage of 2.1% last year, the lowest among the three starting receivers. With his nuanced route-running ability especially on choice routes, Humphries should be a fantastic chain-moving target for Tannehill.

Finally, the Titans have a speed demon in Kalif Raymond coming off the bench and also returning punts and kicks. He offers the Titans a legitimate threat down the field on play-action passes. While he may not see a huge volume of targets, each of his targets will be impactful. For example, Raymond only had 170 receiving yards in 2019, but his 40-yard touchdown against the Colts and 45-yard touchdown against the Ravens in the playoffs were momentum-swinging plays.

2. Texans

  1. Brandin Cooks
  2. Will Fuller
  3. Randall Cobb
  4. Kenny Stills
  5. Keke Coutee
  6. DeAndre Carter

Speed. Speed. Speed. Traditionally, teams look to build out the receiver room like a basketball team, combining various skillsets and ranges of size and athleticism. Conversely, the Texans have opted to focus on just one trait — speed.

The Texans have three receivers that have sub-4.40 40 yard dash times, while the remaining four receivers ran sub-4.50 40 times. However, although Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks are fantastic at separating down the field, they respectively ranked 1st and 4th in dropped deep balls a season ago.

The Texans also added Randall Cobb this offseason from the Cowboys. Believe it or not, Cobb was very productive this past season with 828 receiving yards for the pass-happy Cowboys. While he might not be the dynamic athlete he once was with the Packers, he is a reliable target underneath. Off the bench, Keke Coutee and Kenny Stills once again bring more speed to the group.

If the receivers can reduce their drops, this could be one of the most explosive groups in the NFL.

3. Jaguars

  1. D.J. Chark
  2. Chris Conley
  3. Dede Westbrook
  4. Laviska Shenalt
  5. Keelan Cole
  6. Collin Johnson

This is one group that I could easily see rise this season. Leading this group, D.J. Chark showed tremendous strides in 2019 after a disappointing rookie campaign. At 6-4, 200 pounds with 4.34-speed, Chark is a rare physical breed at the position. He has the deep speed to stretch the field, while also possessing elite length to win in contested catch situations.

The Jaguars also drafted Laviska Shenault back in April. Shenault is not yet a complete receiver, but he is extremely dynamic with the ball in his hands. If the Jaguars can use him more as a weapon, he could be very productive in his rookie season.

4. Colts

  1. T.Y. Hilton
  2. Michael Pittman Jr.
  3. Parris Campbell
  4. Zach Pascal
  5. Marcus Johnson
  6. Ashton Dulin
  7. Dezmon Patmon

On paper, the Colts could have a very solid receiver group, but between Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr., they are just too young and unproven to rank higher than 4th in the division.

I err on the side of caution with receivers like Pittman Jr. His big-bodied, contested-catch style of play is difficult to project to the NFL. In fact, contested catch rate is one of the most variable and unsustainable statistics for receivers on a year-to-year basis. This is why for every contested catch king like Mike Evans, there are multiple J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s or Laquon Treadwell’s drafted every year. Until I see Pittman win in the NFL with this skillset, I can’t buy any stock in his rookie production.

Parris Campbell had one of the most disappointing seasons of all the rookie receivers from 2019’s excellent class that saw multiple immediate impact players: A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuels, Terry McClaurin, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and on (seriously, there are more: Marquis “Hollywood” Brown, Darius Slayton, Mecole Hardman, Steven Sims, etc).

Campbell only had 18 receptions for 127 yards — about half the production of undrafted rookie Steven Sims who played in a terrible Washington offense that saw three different quarterbacks combine for the fifth-fewest pass attempts in the entire league. Quite a disaster of a rookie year for Campbell.

All that said, Campbell was hit hard with the injury bug; he hurt his hamstring, suffered a sports hernia, broke his hand, and then fractured his foot all in one season. Reportedly, Campbell is finally at full health going into 2020, but he will need to prove that it was truly the injuries that hampered his rookie season, not his abilities, and that he can stay healthy and withstand the physical toll of an NFL season.

The Colts also have arguably the most established receiver in the AFC South in T.Y Hilton. However, considering Hilton is coming off an injury and a down season statistically, as well as turning 31 this year, he could be due for a decline. Overall, this is not a bad group, but there are too many question marks to be confident in them as a whole.

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