NFL receivers have been known to be a lot of things.
Moody. Selfish. Jealous.
All of the above.
This year, as a whole, they’ll be remembered for being mostly three other things:
Great. Great. And getting greater by the game as a banner rookie class led by the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson settles into what’s looking like a golden age of receivers in an increasingly pass-happy league.
The field of receivers in today’s NFL is deeper and filled with all different shapes, sizes and head-turning skill sets.
There are jitterbugs like Tyreek Hill (5-10, 185). Giants with freakish speed like DK Metcalf (6-4, 229). Excellent route runners with great releases like Davante Adams. Sideline magicians with seeing-eye toes and one-handed bags of tricks like Adam Thielen.
The list goes on.
Watch a game and you’ll see 6-5, 231-pound Mike Evans line up outside the numbers and essentially carry the Rams’ secondary into the end zone with one of Tom Brady’s 566 career touchdown passes. Moments later, you’ll see Cooper Kupp line up inside the numbers and peck away on an 11-catch game that beats Brady’s Bucs.
Watch another game and you’ll see Stefon Diggs catch what everyone assumes is the game-winning 21-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left. Then, 32 seconds later, DeAndre Hopkins leaps over three defenders for the actual game-winning 43-yard touchdown.
A week later, you might see Keenan Allen grabbing a Chargers franchise-record 16 balls, reaching 600 career catches in 96 games — tying Antonio Brown’s NFL record — and further proving his case that he’s wrongfully underrated.
It was Allen who, four months ago, caused a stink when he turned to Twitter to vent his jealousy when the NFL started revealing its top 100 players. When the 28-year-old popped up at No. 77, he started hating on three higher-rated rivals in particular: Hill, Evans and Chris Godwin.
“Ok I’m tired of biten my tongue … @cheetah @MikeEvans13 _ @chrisgoodwin … (and the list goes on) ARE NOT a better receiver than me! Faster than me … every day of the week but separation … CHILD PLEASE!” Allen wrote.
The rivals returned fire, of course.
Evans went first: “You tagged the wrong Chris Godwin lol and don’t be mad at us we ain’t make the rankings or care about em. I like the confidence but be realistic you not on my level bro.”
Godwin ripped Allen for misspelling his name. Hill retweeted it all.
Allen leads the league in receptions (81) and first downs (50). Evans has only 45 catches, but his nine touchdowns on a 7-4 Bucs team are three more than Allen’s six TDs for a 3-7 Chargers team. Godwin’s numbers are lower because he’s played only seven games.
The bickering among these four players certainly isn’t the only debate when it comes to ranking NFL receivers in 2020. Naming the top two that make the Associated Press’ first-team All-Pro team won’t be easy.
Hopkins, who has made the past three first-team All-Pro teams, led the league in receiving yards (912) entering Week 12. Adams leads in yards per game (105.9).
Adams’ Packers teammate, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, leads the league in yards per catch (20.7) followed by the Vikings’ Jefferson (18.84) and Carolina’s D.J. Moore (18.76).
Jefferson has four touchdown catches, seven fewer than Thielen’s league-leading 11. Together, they have 94 points and the distinction of being two unselfish, team-oriented elite receivers on the same roster.
Early this week, Jefferson was asked about the possibility of playing Sunday’s game against Carolina without Thielen, who had just gone on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The unassuming rookie gave the next-man-up answer and then talked about his role being not what he’s carved it out to be but whatever the Vikings ask of him.
“I just really want to go out there and make plays,” Jefferson said. “Whatever ball Kirk throws to me, I’m just trying to go up and catch that ball. The role, I’m not really too much worrying about. Just be ready to catch the ball whenever it comes to me.”
The NFL has an awful lot of receivers who can do that very well in 2020.