The debate over who is the NFL’s best pass catcher is often one that changes frequently. Receivers face so many different factors that can either improve or hinder their play. For example, Sammy Watkins is one of the most talented guys in the NFL, yet playing in Buffalo’s system has hurt his ability to put up big numbers. Yet a truly great receiver must be very versatile: The ability to run a variety of routes, blow the top off the defense, but also be able to pick up those crucial third-downs. The three players I highlight all provide their teams with exceptional play every week, but only one can take the claim as the NFL’s best.
At 6’3 220 lbs running a 4.4 40, Julio Jones is an absolute matchup nightmare. He has the ability to simply blow by defenders or catch a jump ball over them with his 38 inch vertical. In addition, he possesses a catch radius that allows Matt Ryan to essentially just put it in the vicinity and with his elite hands he’s more likely than not to come down with the football. Jones boasted an astounding 67% catch rate in 2016. This catch rate allowed him to be consistent game in and game out averaging 116 yards per contest. He literally is the Falcons passing game, accounting for an insane 40% of Matt Ryan’s passing yards over the past two seasons. Jones gives you everything you want in a number one receiver and more. He’s unmatched physically at the position which is why he is one of a kind. Need any more convincing? Just watch this play.
This guy is simply unstoppable. Over the past three seasons he has had 110 catches or more to go along with at least 1,490 yards per season. He also has a whopping 31 touchdowns over that span. I will admit I have a special place in my heart for Brown having been an undersized receiver myself. Just as I have done on the intramural field, Brown has thrived in the NFL. He is extremely difficult to tackle and runs the best routes in the league. Nobody has been able to figure him out so far and it doesn’t seem likely they will. To show just how dominant he is take a look at the catch percentages in the chart below
Those third-down numbers really tell the story. When he is needed most, he comes through. His body of work since he became the number one receiver in Pittsburgh is unmatched and it’s likely he won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell is the most polarizing player the NFL has had in quite some time. He bursted into the league and became a mega-star with just one play. He is a touchdown machine with 25 in just his first two seasons. What is equally impressive is how he has been able to be so good with no help around him. Week in and week out opposing defenses have to focus on him and him only. Even with the increased focus on him, he has still been able to dominate. Averaging an extremely impressive 15 yards per catch; Beckham provides a big play every time he touches the football. The one knock I have on him early in his career has been his inconsistency at times catching the ball. Last season he had a 60% catch rate and was only average on third-down. If he is able to continue to develop in those areas then he is bound for greatness.
The Final Verdict
It’s hard to argue with the impressive numbers across the board for AB. There isn’t another guy in the NFL right now who can match his ability to make big plays all over the field, but also have the route precision to be so effective on third-down plays. He is able to play bigger than his 5’10 185 frame which has made him extremely versatile. He is, quite simply, a gamer. He is an exceptional football player all around and an unselfish one at that. Few top flight receivers would risk injury by returning punts, but he does it; and he does it very well. If there is any receiver you want on your team, it’s Brown.