Smith, Muhammad, and Proehl in Carolina. Harrison, Wayne, and Stokley on the Colts. Rice, Owens, and Stokes for San Francisco. Receiver trios have been a major part of successful NFL teams for a long time.
Going into the 2021 season these five triplets stand out from the rest of the league. Don’t be surprised to see these guys put up big numbers and help their teams into the postseason. Some receivers battled through injuries and others battled poor quarterback play. Regardless, they still found a way to be productive and help their teams!
A few honorable mentions before we dive into the list of the NFL top five receiver trios:
WR Courtland Sutton, WR Jerry Jeudy, TE Noah Fant; Denver Bronocos
Sutton: 3 receptions, 66 yards, 0 TDs
Jeudy: 52 receptions, 856 yards, 3 TDs
Fant: 62 receptions, 673 yards, 3 TDs
Courtland Sutton missed all but a few minutes of his third season due to an ACL tear. After a sophomore season that turned heads towards Denver. He’s already running routes for his recovery and looks ready to go for 2021. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should provide some optimism for Sutton, as Carolina had two receivers go over 1,000 yards last season with Bridgewater at the helm.
Sutton’s touchdown production may be in danger though, Bridgewater has never thrown more than 15 touchdowns in a season. Sutton does have big-play ability and teamed up with Jeudy and Fant, could change that for Bridgewater.
Inconsistent quarterback play was the theme for Denver during Jeudy’s rookie year. One of the best route runners in the league, Jeudy found himself open often last season but the ball couldn’t get to him. Jeudy’s numbers should improve as he managed 856 yards on an offense that struggled.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 21, 2020
A full year in the Broncos system, matched with a normal offseason should help that cause. Sutton’s return means Jeudy should be matched up against opposing team’s number two cornerbacks, which will make Denver’s offense very dangerous.
Fant suffered through the same quarterback issues as Jeudy last season but was able to improve his numbers a bit from the previous season. Fant is a tough matchup for most linebackers and safeties, at 6’4 and 249 lbs, with 4.50 speed.
Fant rounds out this trio instead of other possibilities, like wide receivers Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler, due to his ability to do damage across the middle of the field and be a reliable target in the red zone. Will be fun to watch him match up against safeties Derwin James and Tyrann Mathieu.
WR Justin Jefferson, WR Adam Thielen, TE Irv Smith Jr.; Minnesota Vikings
Jefferson: 88 receptions, 1400 yards, 7 TDs
Thielen: 74 receptions, 925 yards, 14 TDs
Smith Jr.: 30 receptions, 365 yards, 5 TDs
The Vikings couldn’t have asked for more from their first year wide receiver than what they got out of Justin Jefferson. Setting an NFL rookie record on his way to a second team all-pro selection. It would be an impressive display if he were to match his rookie production this coming season.
Jefferson is a route running technician and has great hands. Two huge attributes in wide receivers with lengthy careers. Jefferson should have many more opportunities to hit the griddy as a sophomore, the NFC North only had one defensive back (Jaire Alexander) with a pro bowl nod in 2020.
Adam Thielen finished third in receiving touchdowns behind Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill. Both were first team all-pro in 2020. The veteran wideout was quietly productive behind Jefferson, coming up with big plays and unbelievable touchdown catches.
Thielen is a tough cover and knows where quarterback Kirk Cousins likes to go with the football. When plays break down he finds the open windows to extend the play for the Vikings’ offense. Thielen only had three games with over 100 receiving yards, compared to eight from Justin Jefferson. Look for him to even that out this year with Minnesota on a playoff mission.
Smith Jr. will benefit greatly from the departure of Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph, who signed with the Giants this offseason, took away 38 possible targets from the young tight end. That, coupled with attention on Jefferson and Thielen, should put him in a position to have a big year for the Vikings.
Cousins has thrown for over 4000 yards five out of the last six seasons, so there will be plenty to go around in Minnesota. Smith Jr.’s pass-catching ability could land him in the Waller-Fant echelon of tight ends by season’s end.
WR Davante Adams, TE Robert Tonyan, WR Amari Rodgers; Green Bay Packers
Adams: 115 receptions, 1374 yards, 18 TDs
Tonyan: 52 receptions, 586 yards, 11 TDs
Rodgers: 77 receptions, 1020 yards, 7 TDs (Clemson)
Davante Adams spent the better part of his 2020 season being a one man wrecking crew for opposing defenders. Without a major threat as a second option, teams knew where quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going with the football, but they couldn’t stop it.
Hard to say what the outcome will be for the Rodgers retirement/trade situation, but if he plays for the Packers this season Adams will have a good chance of leading the league in one of the major stat categories. But even if it’s Jordan Love at quarterback, Adams has the ability to put up numbers.
One of the biggest surprises from last season was the play of tight end Robert Tonyan for Green Bay. Providing Aaron Rodgers with a solid reliable target when he needed it. As the season went on, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett began to run plays specifically for Tonyan.
Tonyan, who for the first few years of his career had only caught 14 total passes, had a breakout season statistically. Making himself a legitimate pass receiving threat for the Packers moving forward.
Amari Rodgers’ pro comparison has been slot receiver Randall Cobb. The same Randall Cobb who caught over 400 passes from Aaron Rodgers during his time in Green Bay. With similar combine/pro day numbers (Amari ran a 4.51 40, Cobb ran a 4.55), and similar builds (both are 5’10, and roughly 200 lbs) Aaron Rodgers should feel good about the selection.
For Amari going from Trevor Lawrence to Aaron Rodgers is an incredibly lucky situation. Amari, as a playmaker, should contribute pretty quickly to an offense that relies heavily on Aaron to make plays.
On the outside looking in for these honorable mention triplets, but let’s get into the top five receiver trios for this coming season:
5. Buffalo Bills
WR Stefon Diggs, WR Cole Beasley, WR Emmanuel Sanders
Diggs: 127 receptions, 1535 yards, 8 TDs
Beasley: 82 receptions, 967 yards, 4 TDs
Sanders: 61 receptions, 726 yards, 5 TDs (Saints)
A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Diggs who thrived in Buffalo this past season. Diggs shredded his AFC East opponents posting 600 yards and four touchdowns in six games. Buffalo won a playoff game for the first time since 1995.
Thanks in part to Diggs who scored in their wild card win as well as their divisional round victory. Quarterback Josh Allen was also able to put it all together in his third season with the help of Diggs. The Bills are now the team to beat in the East and defenses will need to slow down Diggs in order to stop Buffalo.
Beasley has posted two solid seasons with the Bills since coming over from Dallas in 2019. He had his best season statistically as a pro, pairing with Diggs to torture defenses en route to a 13 win season. Allen has targeted him 213 times over the last two years, and that trend should continue this coming season. with the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders this offseason, Beasley should have a little more room to work as defenses try to solve this budding offensive juggernaut.
Despite injuries to starter Drew Brees, Sanders managed to have a decent year for the Saints. Now teaming up with Diggs and Beasley, Sanders should be a solid third option for Allen to throw to. Sanders makes a living off of getting open and making tough catches.
He should be able to fill the John Brown void immediately and garner snaps over fifth year receiver Isaiah Mckenzie. Sanders will be pushed by second year receiver Gabriel Davis who could find himself being the third receiver on this trio with a good sophomore season.
4. Dallas Cowboys
WR Amari Cooper, WR CeeDee Lamb, WR Michael Gallup
Cooper: 92 receptions, 1114 yards, 5 TDs
Lamb: 74 receptions, 935 yards, 5 TDs
Gallup: 59 receptions, 843 yards, 5 TDs
This unit was on it’s way to a record season when Dak Prescott broke his ankle five games into the season. Cooper already had four games of 80+ yards at that point, including a 134-yard performance against Cleveland.
Catching passes from Andy Dalton, Ben Dinucci, and Garrett Gilbert isn’t the best way to spend your season, but Cooper still finished with over 1100 yards. With Dak set to return, this group should all finish with over 1000 yards each. The Cowboys are in a good position to retake the NFC East from Washington, expect Cooper to be a major part of that.
Lamb started hot as a rookie and then cooled down a bit as the season went along. We can attribute that a bit to the quarterback play to some degree. Lamb still managed close to a 1000 yard season despite Dallas’ quarterback woes. The former 17th overall pick lived up to his first round grade and nearly doubled the Cowboys rookie receptions record. One that surprisingly stood for 55 years.
This angle of the CeeDee Lamb TD catch 🔥👀
— ESPN (@espn) November 22, 2020
Covid protocols made it tough for rookies who went without a proper training camp and preseason, but Lamb managed to make an impact on one of the more storied franchises anyway. Can’t wait to see what he does in year 2 with a full offseason and healthy Dak Prescott.
Entering his fourth season, Gallup could wind up as a free agent next offseason. This should be an incentive for him to put up big numbers. Gallup has shown he’s capable of doing so, racking up 1100 yards in 2019, but if Dallas re-signs him he’ll be a number three receiver behind Lamb and Cooper for the foreseeable future.
Dak Prescott returning to the field will definitely set Gallup up for a big year statistically which should lead to a nice offseason for him. This is one of the more dangerous trios in the sport, with a healthy Dak of course.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WR Mike Evans, WR Chris Godwin, TE Rob Gronkowski
Evans: 70 receptions, 1006 yards, 13 TDs
Godwin: 75 receptions, 840 yards, 7 TDs
Gronkowski: 45 receptions, 623 yards, 7 TDs
No one was happier to transition from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady, than Mike Evans. Happy to sacrifice targets for wins, Evans still put up over 1000 yards and reached double digit touchdowns for the first time since 2016. The leader of a receiver group that shared the load as Brady spread the ball around to anyone who was open.
Evans is big and fast and a better route runner than given credit for. Brady spending a full year and offseason in Arians’ system should be a major boost for Evans, who will benefit from a comfortable and confident Brady.
Sacrificing for winning was a theme for this extremely talented group. No one sacrificed more than Godwin who’s numbers dwindled by nearly 500 yards and 40 targets. He even gave up his jersey number to the 6-time super bowl champion quarterback.
Capable of being a number one option on other teams it will be interesting to see what happens with the franchise-tagged Godwin’s contract situation. But for the upcoming season, the reigning champs have a force to be reckoned with catching passes from the greatest quarterback of all time.
Gronkowski gets the third spot over options like Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and Tyler Johnson due to his rapport with Brady. As Tampa went on their run late in the season you could clearly see Gronk get back to playing like he did pre-retirement.
The acceleration isn’t there as much but the hands and playmaking still are. Brady does what he can to keep Evans and Godwin fed but when he needs a play there’s one person he’ll turn to first, and that’s Gronk. Right now, there’s no slowing down Brady and the Bucs. Especially with this trio.
2. Atlanta Falcons
WR Calvin Ridley, WR Julio Jones, TE Kyle Pitts
Ridley: 90 receptions, 1374 yards, 9 TDs
Jones: 51 receptions, 771 yards, 3 TDs
Pitts: 43 receptions, 770 yards, 12 TDs (Florida)
Calvin Ridley proved that he can carry the load with Julio Jones struggling to produce. With his elite route running Ridley terrorized defenses all season, giving Matt Ryan a consistent weapon on the outside. The Falcons as a team had trouble maintaining leads and finishing games. If that trend continues, Ridley could be in for another big year.
The selection of Kyle Pitts in the draft should also open Ridley up more as Pitts is a threat from multiple locations on the offense. Matt Ryan is a few years removed from his MVP-level play, but he should give Ridley enough to garner a pro bowl selection at minimum.
Jones failed to reach 1300 yards receiving for the first time since 2013. Despite nagging injuries, Jones is still capable of putting up big numbers. This group falls short of the number 1 spot in part because the Falcons won’t know which version of Julio Jones they’ll get this season.
When healthy he’s unguardable, but what Atlanta fans saw last season was a laboring, lumbering Jones who had trouble staying on the field before shutting it down for the season. If Atlanta gets classic Julio this season, there’s no stopping this Falcons trio.
Regarded as potentially the best player in the 2021 draft, tight end Kyle Pitts should come as advertised. A matchup problem that defenses can’t solve. At 6’6 he towers over smaller defenders and his 4.4 speed can separate from slower linebackers.
Not to mention he catches everything in his radius and that radius is huge with an 83-inch wingspan. Pitts is an obvious red-zone threat as well with his size and quickness. This gives Jones the chance to potentially go 1-on-1 inside the 10-yard line with safeties having their hands full with Pitts. Atlanta is dangerous with this three-headed monster.
1.Kansas City Chiefs
TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill, WR Mecole Hardman
Kelce: 105 receptions, 1416 yards, 11 TDs
Hill: 87 receptions, 1276 yards, 15 TDs
Hardman: 62 receptions, 560 yards, 4 TDs
The unanimous first team all-pro selection had his best season statistically as a pro. It also happened to be a record-breaking season as he broke George Kittle’s single-season yardage by a tight end record. Kelce was nearly unstoppable last season and with a revamped offensive line he should be set to continue his dominance at the position.
The Chiefs are primed to defend their title as AFC Champions with Kelce leading a speedy and talented receiver group. Mahomes is the gold standard at quarterback in the NFL right now and he has one of the best tight ends in history as his leading receiver.
Tyreek Hill caught 15 touchdowns on his way to a first team all-pro selection. His first as a receiver (he has 1 as a return specialist and one as a Flex offensive player). Hill’s speed has given opposing defensive coordinators headaches for 5 years and that’s expected to continue into 2021.
Hill, who at one point had experts wondering if he could ever be a full time wide receiver, has repeatedly proven doubters wrong. And as a fierce competitor, the sting of a loss to Antwoine Winfield Jr. and the Bucs should fire him up, even more, to get back to the Super Bowl and throw up the peace sign on his way to a win.
The X factor for this trio is the development of Mecole Hardman into a bonafide third option for Mahomes. Hardman has shown flashes of brilliance as a returner and often puts his 4.3 speed on display. He’s even been able to find the end zone in the playoffs. But, he has yet to really come into his own on this loaded offense and patience is wearing thin for head coach Andy Ried. With Sammy Watkins now in Baltimore, Hardman will have every opportunity to showcase his playmaking ability. If he’s able to, with his speed, there isn’t a better trio of receivers in the league.
If you think about it…
Passing in this league has drastically changed the way game plans are set up, the way defenders are valued, and definitely the way a group of receivers can impact the game. These receiver trios have lit up scoreboards and blown open games with their pass-catching abilities. It’s going to be fun watching them this fall!
Thanks, as always, for reading and feel free to comment below!