As the man who mans the Know Your Foe Podcast here at TOJ, it is my given duty to break down in great detail those who look to oppose the New York Jets. Today, the grandeur of Know Your Foe is momentarily shifted from ear candy to eye candy, as I discuss this question – who are the toughest wide receivers on the Jets’ 2018 schedule?
10. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikinga (Age 28, 6-2, 200)
Thielen, a through-and-through Minnesotan who went undrafted out of Minnesota State, compiled only 20 catches for 281 yards and 1 touchdown over his first two seasons. That’s still remarkably strong for an undrafted player, but Thielen was nothing more than a depth piece.
That’s all changed over the past couple of seasons. Thielen has compiled 2,243 receiving yards over 2016-17, placing him 8th in the league over that span. That’s an average of 70.1 yards per game – 12th in the entire league. With an impressive catch rate of 68.4% and a strong yards per reception rate of 14.0, Thielen has averaged 9.59 yards per target over the past two seasons. The only wide receivers to average that many yards per target and collect over 2000 receiving yards are Thielen, Marvin Jones, Julio Jones, and Brandin Cooks.
Thielen’s 1,276 receiving yards in 2017 placed 5th in the league.
9. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings (Age 24, 6-0, 191)
Like his partner in crime, Diggs emerged from a non-premium investment to a core offensive piece. A 5th round pick in 2015 out of Maryland, Diggs hit the ground running with 720 yards as a rookie, and has followed it up with 903 and 849 over the previous two seasons, respectively. He posted a career best 8 touchdowns in 2017, tying him for 8th in the league.
Diggs is one of only 6 wide receivers to have posted at least 700 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an 8.0+ yards per target average in each of the last three seasons.
He’s caught 71.5% of his targets over the past two seasons – among wide receivers with at least 200 targets over that span, only Golden Tate and Michael Thomas have caught a higher portion of their targets.
Diggs also came up huge in the playoffs for Minnesota, catching 6 passes for 137 yards and 1 absolutely huge touchdown that to this moment might be considered the greatest play in Vikings history.
While he has not quite been a dominating force just yet, Diggs is a versatile, reliable player who as the youngest player in this top ten still has room to become much more.
8. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns (Age 27, 6-3, 225)
At his best, Josh Gordon has the physical talent to be an unchained beast capable of smashing history. In 2013, he led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards. That total currently stands as the 12th highest single-season total in league history – and Gordon only played 14 games that season. Gordon’s 117.6 receiving yards per game average in that 2013 season currently sits as the 6th highest single-season average in history – since 1982, only Calvin Johnson’s 2012 season (122.8 yards per game) has been more prolific.
Only 22 at the time, Gordon’s 2013 season stands as the most yardage in a season for a player aged 22 or younger, over 200 yards ahead of the second-highest total (1999 Randy Moss). Gordon accomplished all of that with the majority of his targets thrown by Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden.
Gordon inspired confidence in his brief 2017 stint that he can still produce. In his 5 games, he averaged 67.0 yards on a surging 18.9 yards per reception.
There are a ton of question marks with Gordon, but at his best, he has proven he can dominate this league at unprecedented levels. At the bare minimum, he has averaged at least 50.0 yards per game in each of his four seasons, so even if he is not the same dominant player Gordon should be capable of providing solid #2 production.
7. DaVante Adams, Green Bay Packers (Age 25, 6-1, 215)
Adams has somewhat quietly emerged into one one of the most productive receivers in the league. His 22 touchdowns over the past two seasons top the entire league, while his 1,882 yards places him 17th overall and 16th among wide receivers.
Adams is part of an exclusive club of modern wide receivers to post back-to-back double-digit receiving TD seasons at 25 or younger. The only other wide receivers to do that since 2000 are Odell Beckham (3x from 2014-2016), Larry Fitzgerald (2007-2008), Dez Bryant (2012-2013), and A.J. Green (2012-2013).
Adams actually remained productive in 2017 after Aaron Rodgers went down. He averaged more receiving yards per game (69.9) and yards per target (8.02) in his seven games without Rodgers than he did in his seven games started by Rodgers (56.6 & 7.07).
Brett Hundley managed a 111.4 quarterback rating targeting Adams, highlighted by a 5-0 TD-INT ratio. That was nearly identical to Aaron Rodgers’ 111.0 rating targeting Adams. When targeting anybody else, Hundley had a 4-12 TD-INT ratio and a 58.8 quarterback rating.
6. Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions (Age 28, 6-2, 198)
Jones has to have been enjoying the change of scenery in Detroit. He’s posted career highs in receiving in back-to-back years since joining the Lions, compiling a total of 2,031 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two years. Jones took his biggest step up from 2016 to 2017, as this past season he collected 1,101 receiving yards (9th) and 9 touchdowns (4th).
Jones has proven himself to be one of the league’s most dangerous big play threats. His 17.5 yards per reception average over the last two seasons leads the entire league among the 132 players with at least 100 targets.
As mentioned earlier, Jones is one of only four receivers with 2000+ yards and a yards per target average of 9.59+ over the past two seasons, along with the aforementioned Thielen, Julio Jones, and Brandin Cooks.
5. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions (Age 30, 5-11, 197)
Back-to-back Lions crack the list. Tate posted 1,003 yards last season, 14th in the league, making he and Marvin Jones the only pair of wide receiver teammates to each hit the 1K mark in 2017.
Since coming over to Detroit from Seattle in 2014, Tate has emerged from a solid receiver to one of the most productive yardage machines in the NFL. Since becoming a Lion, Tate has amassed 4,224 receiving yards, the 9th highest total in the league over that span. He’s hit the 1K mark three times in the past four years, one of only 11 WRs to do so, and has hit the plateau each of the past two years, one of only 7 WRs to do so.
Tate caught 76.7% of his 120 targets last year. As far back as Pro Football Reference tracks catch rate (to 1992), Tate’s catch rate in 2017 was the 3rd best among the 931 wide receiver seasons with 100+ targets in that span.
4. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears (Age 24, 6-3, 211)
Like Gordon, Robinson is going to try and prove in Chicago that he can continuously replicate one tremendous season in the distant past while rebounding from extended missed time. Robinson missed all but one game last season, but back in 2015, showcased immense potential. He amassed 1,400 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns that season, the second-most ever for a wide receiver 22 or younger (shy of Randy Moss’ 17 in 1998). His 1,400 receiving yards that year stands at 4th all-time for a wide receiver 22 and under.
The man is a red zone monster. Since 2015, Robinson leads the league with 18 receiving touchdowns in the red zone, tied with Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald. That is including the entire season he missed in 2017. Over the same span, Robinson’s rate of 44% of red zone targets resulting in a touchdown easily leads any wide receiver in his remote vicinity targets-wise, and obliterates the league average of 23%.
3. Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns (Age 25, 5-11, 206)
You can seriously question whether or not Landry is simply a reception-hog who doesn’t actually create much, but I think you have to respect his overall production volume and sheer amount of plays he is able to make for himself underneath.
Landry led the league with 112 receptions last season, but averaged a despicable 8.8 yards on those catches. It was the lowest yards per reception rate for a player with 100+ catches in league history (of 95 such seasons), and the only time a player caught 100 passes and failed to reach 1,000 yards.
However, Landry did still convert 39% of his targets into first downs in 2017. Comparatively, the league average was 33% – so Landry was still producing at a very solid level in spite of the lack of yardage he was posting.
Over the last three seasons, among wide receivers, Landry ranks 3rd in the league with 316 receptions (behind only Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald), 10th in the league with 3,280 receiving yards, and tied for 17th with 17 receiving touchdowns.
This past season in 2017, in spite of his yardage shortcomings, Landry collected a career-best 9 touchdowns to tie for 4th in the entire league. While to what degree is debatable – the man is a threat. He needs to be accounted for.
2. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (Age 28, 5-10, 183)
Hilton, along with the man at #1 on this list, has just continued to produce at an elite level in spite of his QB carousel.
With Andrew Luck missing all of 2017, Hilton’s four-year 1K streak ended, but he still managed 966 yards and 4 touchdowns. Hilton is currently joined with Antonio Brown as the only players with an active streak of 5 seasons with at least 966 receiving yards.
Since Hilton entered the league, he ranks 5th with 6,827 receiving yards, while joining Calvin Johnson as the only players with 5,500 receiving yards and a yards per reception average of 15.8+ over that span.
Hilton did his best to produce without Luck this year and carry a lethargic offense. The Colts ranked 30th in total passing yards, and Hilton accounted for 30% of their passing yardage. Jacoby Brissett posted a 92.3 quarterback rating when targeting Hilton, throwing for 4 TDs and 1 INT with an 8.9 yards per attempt average. On all other throws, Brissett threw for only 6.0 yards per attempt with a 78.7 quarterback rating.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (Age 26, 6-1, 215)
I’m really pumped to watch Hopkins and Trumaine Johnson go at it late in the season, assuming both are still healthy. The two battled last season in Houston while Johnson was still a Ram, and it was a fun battle to watch with such physicality emanating from both sides as each possess such rugged styles of play.
Hopkins ranked 4th in receiving in 2017 with 1,378 yards and led the league with 13 touchdowns, 3 more than any other player. He did that on a team in which over half of the passes were thrown by T.J. Yates and Tom Savage, while the rest were thrown by a rookie – a great one at that, but a rookie nonetheless.
Hopkins has been accustomed to carrying bad quarterbacks on his back throughout his entire career. Over the past four seasons, since Hopkins became “the guy,” the Texans rank 28th in the league in cumulative quarterback rating (81.8) and 30th in completion percentage (58.7). Yet, over that span, Hopkins ranks 3rd in the league in receiving yards (5,063) and is tied for 3rd in receiving touchdowns (34).
Tom Savage and T.J. Yates combined to throw for 6 TDs, 3 INTs, and a 7.6 yards per attempt average when targeting Hopkins in 2017. When targeting anybody else, they threw for 3 TDs, 6 INTs, and an embarrassing 5.3 yards per attempt.
With 5,865 career receiving yards at the end of his age-25 season in 2017, Hopkins is currently placed 3rd all-time in total receiving yards accumulated at 25 or younger, behind only Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald.
You can listen to the Know Your Foe podcast on iTunes as well as check out all of the episodes and articles here – including the latest episode in which I discussed the New York Giants with NJ Advance Media Giants beat reporter Ryan Dunleavy. Follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania for more Know Your Foe and plenty of must-have daily Jets content!