In this NFL era of passing explosion, it seems like every team is always looking for wide receiver help during NFL free agency. Some are trying to get deeper at the position; others are just trying to find legitimate veteran starters.
The Eagles wouldn’t have become Super Bowl champions had they not invested in No. 1 go-to guy Alshon Jeffery and speedy deep threat Torrey Smith last offseason. The Rams changed their passing game fortunes by signing Robert Woods. The 49ers found good help in both Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin.
That said, the position typically has been more buyer beware than surefire hits on the open market. For every Jeffery, Woods and Garcon, there’s a Terrelle Pryor, DeSean Jackson and Kenny Britt.
It’s all about finding the right personality and fit for a scheme and a quarterback, and overall, balancing worthy splurging with more calculated spending. There are a few top-flight options in the 2018 class of free-agent wide receivers, but there are more sneaky values.
NFL FREE AGENCY:
Top 25 players; best by position
Here’s ranking the top 18 unrestricted players at the position, and a quick glance at the restricted players who may become available if they’re not tendered by their teams.
NFL free agency 2018: Wide receivers
1. Allen Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson will be fully healthy from the torn ACL he suffered in September just in time for free agency in March. Everyone knows he can be a big-play and red-zone beast if right, as evidenced by his 1,400-yard, 14-TD season in 2015. The question is whether he will round back into his best form, given his numbers dipped with a shakier Blake Bortles in 2016. Jacksonville has a ton of money and is a good bet to franchise tag (at worst) such a young, talented, all-around wideout.
2. Jarvis Landry, Dolphins
Landry looks like he’s about to walk away from Miami. He remains a high-volume slot machine after leading the league in catches last season. He’ll get the massive deal he wants elsewhere, and a lot of teams will line up with Robinson likely off the market.
MORE: Best free agency fits for Landry
3. Sammy Watkins, Rams
It’s hard to believe how young Watkins still is, given he just played his fourth NFL season for a second team. He may be a boom-or-bust deep threat, but his upside is high in that role despite a low-volume first year with the Rams. There’s a good chance he stays in Los Angeles to keep things intact for Jared Goff.
4. Marqise Lee, Jaguars
Lee is a versatile, good hands receiver. The problem is he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, related mostly to his hamstring injuries. His size limitation (6-0, 196 pounds) hurts him near the red zone. He should be viewed as more of a possession No. 2 or No. 3.
5. Paul Richardson, Seahawks
Richardson’s only real production came during a healthy 2017 season in which he racked up 44 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He’ll break the bank due more to his upside as a young potential game-breaker than anything else. He will price himself out of Seattle, but he can thrive as the No. 2 deep threat in the right situation elsewhere.
MORE: Full NFL offseason schedule
6. Mike Wallace, Ravens
Wallace has found a solid home on his fourth team, becoming a more complete receiver as a veteran and establishing a great connection with Joe Flacco. Given Wallace’s age, Baltimore should be able to keep him at a fair price.
7. Donte Moncrief, Colts
Moncrief showed promise in 2015 when he caught 64 passes for 733 yards and 6 TDs in his second season. The Colts have been disappointed since, waiting for his breakout as a big, fast receiver (6-2, 216 pouns). A new coaching and offensive staff might end up giving him a worthy second chance with Andrew Luck for a team already thin at the position.
8. Danny Amendola, Patriots
“Danny Playoff” had a huge postseason run with his work against the Titans, Jaguars and Eagles. He stepped up when the team needed him in the slot without injured Julian Edelman. As one of the “more perfect” Patriots, you can beat they want him back, assuming he accepts a team-friendly deal. For Amendola, it’s hard to see him fitting as well anywhere else.
9. Tavarres King, Giants
As injuries piled on the Giants’ receiving corps, King pitched in with 18 catches for 240 yards and 3 TDs in eight games. He can be a bargain of a speed receiver for someone else and could easily return to line up more often opposite Odell Beckham Jr. with Sterling Shepard in the slot for three-wide sets under Shurmur and Shula. King could be another Ted Ginn-type for Shula.
10. Eric Decker, Titans
Decker is pretty much a straight-up slot receiver who still has some of his red-zone pop. He can be an effective role player in this stage of his career. He wouldn’t be bad in a place such as Cleveland.
11. John Brown, Cardinals
Brown is another speedy deep threat with a long, recent history of injuries. Brown still has speed to burn, but it might be hard for him to find a Torrey Smith-like home in 2018.
NFL FREE AGENCY:
Big-name players who might get cut
12. Albert Wilson, Chiefs
Wilson is small (5-8, 200 pounds), but his quickness played well off Tyreek Hill’s speed when called upon in Kansas City. He has little mileage after being underutilized by the Chiefs. He could be a bargain signing following Matt Nagy to the Bears.
13. Taylor Gabriel, Falcons
Gabriel was the cog hurt most by the loss of Kyle Shanahan last season, as the Falcons suddenly had no creative ways of using his speed and elusiveness in the open field. He would be a sneaky-good addition for a team like the Titans.
14. Kendall Wright, Bears
The 2012 first-rounder for the Titans is down to being a possession slot receiver. Although he’s good at that job, it’s all he does. If Landry leaves the Dolphins as expected, Wright could be a bargain fill-in or Miami.
15. Dontrelle Inman, Bears
Inman helped the Bears in a receiving pinch coming from the Chargers, with some flashes playing with Mitchell Trubisky. His size (6-3, 205 pounds) should get him a gig as an outside No. 3 or No. 4 elsewhere.
16. Terrelle Pryor Sr., Redskins
Pryor broke out at his new position with the Browns in 2016, but they made a horrible decision to replace him with Britt, matching the Redskins’ mistake in thinking he could help fill the void of the polished Garcon. The 6-4, 228-pounder should be able to “go home again” to Cleveland, supplementing Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman.
17. Cody Latimer, Broncos
At 6-2, 215 pounds, Latimer has some upside because of his side, but he was disappointing in not coming close to his potential as a 2014 second-round pick in Denver. He is worth a flyer for a team and a coach that believe they can mold him into something productive with regular snaps outside. With the future of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in doubt, his best fit may still be with the Broncos.
18. Jordan Matthews, Bills
Matthews has had his moments as a productive “big slot” receiver, mostly with the Eagles. After being traded to the Bills last season, he struggled to do anything with knee and ankle injuries also hampering him. Because of his size (6-3, 212 pounds) and specific skill set, Matthews will be a cheap signing somewhere.
Top restricted free-agent wide receivers
Quincy Enunwa, WR, Jets
Cameron Meredith, WR, Bears
Adam Humphries, WR, Buccaneers
Willie Snead, WR, Saints
Brandon Coleman, WR, Saints
Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers
Eli Rogers, WR, Steelers