NFL's Best: Elite Wide Receivers
NFL's Best: Elite Wide Receivers

Elite wide receivers earn plenty of attention from opposing defensive backs, but they still get plenty of it from their quarterbacks, too.

Last season, Denver Broncos wide receiver DEMARYIUS THOMAS was targeted 184 times to lead all receivers. Thomas had 111 receptions, finishing two shy of Denver's singleseason franchise record (ROD SMITH, 113).

"When he's doing what he can do, that's tough for any defense," says fellow Broncos wide receiver EMMANUEL SANDERS. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays and we've got one of the greatest quarterbacks (PEYTON MANNING) of all time. So when Demaryius has it going, people can't cover him with one guy. And if they do, it's going to be a long day."

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver ANTONIO BROWN was targeted 181 times and set franchise records for receptions (129) and receiving yards (1,698) in 2014.

Since 2013, Brown has been targeted a league-high 347 times and leads the NFL in receptions (239) and receiving yards (3,197) over that span as well.


The NFL's most targeted receivers in 2014

Player Team Target Rec Yards Avg
(Source: NFL)
Demaryius ThomasDenver1841111,61914.6
Antonio BrownPittsburgh1811291,69813.2
Julio JonesAtlanta1631041,59315.3
Jordy NelsonGreen Bay151981,51915.5
Andre JohnsonHouston1478593611.0


In the past five seasons, Detroit Lions wide receiver CALVIN JOHNSON's 784 targets are the most in the league. Johnson also leads the NFL during that span with 7,334 receiving yards and is tied with Atlanta's RODDY WHITE for the most receptions with 450.


The most targeted receivers over the past five seasons (since 2010):

Player Team(s) Target Rec Yards Avg
(Source: NFL)
Calvin JohnsonDetroit7844507,33416.3
Brandon MarshallMiami, Chicago7494465,75212.9
Roddy WhiteAtlanta7244505,66812.6
Larry FitzgeraldArizona7213865,08413.2
Andre JohnsonHouston6794255,64913.3


Moving The Chains

A precise route can be the difference between a game-changing play and an appearance by the punt team. It's a skill for a receiver to know exactly where he needs to go in order to move the chains and keep a drive going. On third down, the best receivers carefully gauge each step to ensure their routes finish beyond the first-down marker.

On his way to recording the second-most receptions in a single season in NFL history (129), Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl wide receiver ANTONIO BROWN (left) led all receivers on third down with 28 first-down catches.

"The sky is the limit for him," says Pittsburgh quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER about Brown. "He has come along as a number-one guy in those crucial, game-changing situations."


The receivers with the most first-down receptions on third down in 2014:

Player Team 1st Downs Rec Yards TDs
(Source: NFL)
Antonio BrownPittsburgh28365494
Anquan BoldinSan Francisco27304443
Randall CobbGreen Bay24264376
Julio JonesAtlanta24284271
Jordy NelsonGreen Bay24284655
Emmanuel SandersDenver24284294


Yards After The Catch

Additional yards after the catch are an important part of an offense's success.

"You want yards after the catch," says Kansas City Chiefs head coach ANDY REID. "That's especially important in the short and intermediate game."

Detroit Lions wide receiver GOLDEN TATE led all wide receivers with 720 yards after the catch last season and ranked third in the NFC with 1,331 receiving yards.

"One thing I've always taken pride in is getting those yards after the catch and the yards after the first touch," says Tate. "I'm always trying out my jukes to see what works and what doesn't. I'm a pretty fasttwitch guy so I can read body language to figure out what I'm going to do. I don't really ever plan what I'm going to do, it just always happens."

Tate led Detroit in receptions (99) and receiving yards (1,331) in his first season with the team. Lions head coach JIM CALDWELL says Tate's quickness and ability to break tackles are things the club noticed.

"There's quickness," says Caldwell about Tate. "Obviously it's something that jumps out at you right away. He's quicker than the norm. He's a guy that can avoid tackles and he has a great awareness about him." Denver Broncos wide receiver DEMARYIUS THOMAS was among the league's best in racking up yards after the catch for the third consecutive season. Thomas ranked fourth last year with 680 yards after the catch. In 2013, he led the NFL with 718 yards after the catch after ranking third (561) in 2012.

"My thing is yards after the catch," says Thomas. "I can say it's one of my favorite things to do on the football field." Broncos quarterback PEYTON MANNING knows Thomas can pile up yards in a hurry.

"He can run by fast corners and he also catches the short pass and can turn on the jets," says Manning about Thomas. "He's an angry runner. When he has the ball in his hands, he's looking to score."


The players with the most yards after the catch in 2014:

Player Team YAC Rec Yards Avg TDs
(Source: NFL)
Le'Veon BellPittsburgh8418385410.33
Matt FortéChicago8371028087.94
Golden TateDetroit720991,33113.44
Demaryius ThomasDenver6801111,61914.611
Antonio BrownPittsburgh6321291,69813.213


Most 20+ Yard Receptions

Player Team 20+ Yard
Long Rec Yards TD
(Source: NFL)
Julio JonesAtlanta31791041,5936
Demaryius ThomasDenver2586t1111,61911
Randall CobbGreen Bay2470t911,28712
Emmanuel SandersDenver24481011,4049
Dez BryantDallas2268t881,32016


Top 10 Active Pass Receivers

Rank Player Number Yards TDs
(Source: NFL)
1.Reggie Wayne1,07014,34582
2.Andre Johnson1,01213,59764
3.Jason Witten94310,50257
4.Anquan Boldin94012,40670
5.Steve Smith91513,26273
6.Larry Fitzgerald90912,15189
7.Wes Welker8909,82250
8.Antonio Gates78810,01499
9.Brandon Marshall7739,77165
10.Roddy White76510,35762

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