By Joey “I suck off Kirk Cousins on Fuws command” Esquire.
Much like quarterbacks, I think fans of all four teams are more or less happy with their current WR corps, which is somewhat surprising considering the state of WRs in the division a year ago. The gap separating all four teams at the WR position is really slim, and if I were to write a similar article retrospectively at the end of the season, it wouldn’t surprise me if the order was completely different. My rankings for WRs are:
1. New York Giants
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Washington Redskins
4. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Depth Chart: Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Brian Quick, Ryan Grant, (Robert Davis)
There is a ton of talent and potential in the Redskins WR corps. Terrelle Pryor has only been playing WR for a couple years but showed WR1 skills in Cleveland in 2016. Jamison Crowder is easily among the best slot WRs in the league. And Josh Doctson should be healthy heading into 2017, so we’ll find out what he can contribute. This ranking reflects the fact that WRs are still unproven, but they could easily be as productive as any group in the division.
I do think the loss of Desean Jackson is going to sting the Redskins offense a bit. Pryor showed ability to get separation at any level last year, and his catch radius and ability to win contested balls should be a big help to Kirk (whom I don’t think throws the most accurate deep ball in the league), so I do think they’ll still be able to attack downfield. They don’t have that burner at any position though, so we’ll see if the underneath zones tighten up just a bit without Desean clearing them out.
As far as depth goes, I like the Brian Quick signing. He’s a big, solid target with starting experience should Pryor or Doctson miss time. Jay Gruden really seems to love Ryan Grant, though it’s not really clear why. I have 6th round rookie Robert Davis listed as well, but I think he’s likely to land on the practice squad where he can work on route running.
3. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Depth Chart: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
At the conclusion of the 2016 season, I said the Eagles biggest needs on offense were a jump ball receiver and a deep speed threat. They signed Alshon Jeffery, one of the best jump ball receivers in the league, and Torrey Smith, who still has that deep speed. They also drafted Mack Hollins, a jump ball receiver, and Shelton Gibson, a deep speed threat. So if the Eagles WRs become a strong unit in 2017, I credit myself. I think adding talent on the outside should also be a big benefit for Jordan Matthews, who has been terrible on a per-target basis as the Eagles de facto No. 1 WR the past two seasons after being a good producer as a rookie, when Jeremy Maclin was on the outside.
Still some questions surrounding this WR corps. Alshon is a WR1 when available, but has missed time in both of the last two seasons. Torrey Smith was one of the best deep threats in football in 2014-2015, and then was one of the worst WRs in football in 2016; the Eagles will need him to rebound. The Eagles are likely to still give meaningful snaps to Jordan Matthews (who is still being mentioned in trade rumors) and/or Nelson Agholor, and that’s not really a recipe for success.
Carson Wentz has the arm and the instincts to attack down the field. Nelson Agholor and Bryce Treggs can’t make plays on contested deep balls, but Alshon can; in fact he thrives on it. I’m not crazy about Torrey Smith; I think he’s a one-trick pony and has terrible hands, but he does bring an outside speed element the Eagles sorely needed, and should provide some downfield opportunities and maybe open up the underneath zones a bit to let the Eagles attack the seams. One thing to watch will be Nelson Agholor’s role in 2017. I think he may just wind up being the odd man out and not getting snaps, but it will be interesting to see if the Eagles think they can salvage something from him.
2. DALLAS COWBOYS
Depth Chart: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, (Noah Brown)
The Cowboys were ranked 2nd in part based on reputation, but spots 2-4 in this ranking are really, really close together. Dez Bryant’s talent isn’t really in question, but he hasn’t been a dominant WR since 2014, and in the past two seasons he has missed significant time due to injuries and just hasn’t been very productive. You can maybe chalk up 2015 to horrid QB play, but in 2016 he only caught 52% of the targets thrown his way, and that is on a team with a QB completing 68% of passes, and Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley catching 72.1% and 76.5% of targets, respectively. I’m just not sure Dez is a fit in a Dak Prescott-led offense. Dak doesn’t take the chances Romo did, so whereas one-on-one coverage on Dez was an automatic throw for Romo, Dak is more likely to move to his other options and look for someone with better separation. Dez does not get great separation routinely, so unless Dak is willing to start trusting Dez to go up and make a play, Dez may not return to that 2012-2014 level production.
That said, setting aside health and fit, Dez does still have the talent to produce and is probably the best Red Zone WR in the NFL, which is in large part why I have the Cowboys ranked where I do. And as much as I think he may not fit the Cowboys offense under Dak, Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer can fit it perfectly. Beasley has a talent for getting open underneath, he’s sure handed and he’s a great chain mover. Terrance Williams on the outside is really just a guy, but as a third/fourth receiving option who generally catches what you throw to him, you could do worse.
I did drop Lucky Whitehead from the 2016 depth chart; I think his primary value was special teams and he has likely been replaced by Switzer. I kept Brice Butler on the depth chart, even though he is a moron who doesn’t understand how substitutions and huddles work. I thought Corey Brown was a great pickup in the 7th round, but he’s raw and probably destined for the practice squad.
1. NEW YORK GIANTS
Depth Chart: Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Dwayne Harris, (Roger Lewis), (Tavarres King)
I was tempted to include Evan Engram as a WR, because, well…. he is. But the Giants have indicated their plan is to use Engram as an in-line TE, for reasons passing understanding. Still, even without Engram they hold the top spot in my ranking. The Giants have easily the best WR in the division in Odell Beckham, who has overcome his obvious and severe mental and emotional disabilities to be a top five WR in the NFL. With Shepard, they have a versatile slot WR who can attack vertically or win underneath routes. Brandon Marshall was terrible last year (I chalk that up mostly to being on the Jets), but he adds a huge target for Eli Manning.
One thing I really like about this group is that both Beckham and Marshall can be moved all over the field. They can run routes from the slot or on the outside and be great weapons. There just aren’t many defenses built to cover WRs with this much talent and versatility.
The Giants also have Dwayne Harris, the erstwhile “best slot WR in the division” for depth and special teams, but he doesn’t figure to make much of a contribution as a WR. Lewis and King are just names to round out the depth chart, but I don’t anticipate much of a contribution from either of them.
Up Next: Joey’s favorite subject, NFL tight ends.