ESPN polled over 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players in order to rank the top 10 at each position, and of the top five wide receivers, two will be wearing new uniforms this season, including No. 1 Davante Adams, who’s now a member of the Las Vegas Raiders.
It was an offseason of receivers on the move, from huge trades to free agent signings. Six wide receivers were also taken in the first 18 picks of the draft, the most ever taken through No. 18.
That means there will be new No. 1 receivers lining up for nearly half of the teams in the NFL, and that’s not counting Michael Thomas‘ return from injury to resume his role as the New Orleans Saints‘ top wideout. Some of the new No. 1s will flourish, some likely will struggle as they try to fit in with new quarterbacks and offenses.
NFL Nation reporters who cover teams with new No. 1 receivers break down why the move could work and what could go wrong.
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: It is likely rookie Drake London, the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft.
Who was No. 1 last season: Calvin Ridley was expected to be Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver last season, but he missed 12 games to deal with personal issues. He’s since been suspended indefinitely for gambling.
What prompted the change: Ridley was never a lock to be with the Falcons in 2022 — there was consideration of trading him before the suspension — but the suspension, combined with tight end Kyle Pitts‘ emergence, and drafting London brought on the switch.
Reasons to believe the change will work: The 6-foot-4, 213-pound London is the big-bodied receiver coach Arthur Smith has used successfully in the past, plus he provides a target for quarterback Marcus Mariota with a good catch radius and the ability to win contested balls in the red zone.
What could go wrong? There are questions about how Mariota will play this season, and with rookies, there is always a bit of the unknown. But London is a high-level prospect with the potential to be a game-changing receiver who shouldn’t have too much pressure on him early because of Pitts.
— Michael Rothstein
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: Rashod Bateman
Who was No. 1 last season: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. On the first day of the draft, the Ravens traded Brown and a third-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for a first-round pick (which Baltimore used to select center Tyler Linderbaum).
What prompted the change: Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Brown requested a trade at the end of the season, saying he was unhappy with the team’s run-heavy offense and wanted to play elsewhere.
Reasons to believe the change will work: Bateman, a first-round pick from the 2021 NFL draft, is an extremely polished route-runner who exudes confidence. Teammates rave about his ability to get open and his deceptive speed. Over the final 12 games last season, Bateman nearly had as many receiving yards (515) as Brown (557).
What could go wrong? Hands and health. Last season, Bateman missed a chunk of training camp and the first five games of the regular season after undergoing groin surgery. This offseason, he’s been dealing with dropped passes. But catching the ball wasn’t a problem for Bateman last season, when he dropped 2.9% of passes thrown his way (sixth-lowest among rookies).
— Jamison Hensley
What prompted the change: The Browns’ receiving corps underwhelmed last season as Landry battled injuries, while Odell Beckham Jr. was released following the trade deadline after his father ripped quarterback Baker Mayfield in an Instagram video. The Browns, just three years ago, had high hopes for the OBJ-Landry pairing. But after the offense cratered down the stretch of last season, Cleveland sought a change.
Reasons to believe the change will work: Cooper could bring a big-play threat that was desperately lacking last season. During his time in Dallas, which dates back to the 2018 season, Cooper ranked fourth among NFL wide receivers with 17 TD catches on vertical targets, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
What could go wrong? The unit around Cooper is mostly unproven, which means all the attention from opposing defenses will be squarely on him. That will be a stark change from all the talent he played with at receiver in Dallas.
— Jake Trotter
Tyreek Hill reveals he probably would have stayed with the Chiefs if their offer was closer to the one from the Dolphins.
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: CeeDee Lamb
Who was No. 1 last season: Amari Cooper
What prompted the change: The Cowboys didn’t believe Cooper was worth the $20 million price tag, and they selected Lamb in the first round of the 2020 draft for a reason — to be a No. 1.
Reasons to believe the change will work: In his first two seasons, Lamb has a 1,000-yard season and a Pro Bowl to his credit. He and quarterback Dak Prescott have established a strong chemistry in their short time together, with Lamb leading the Cowboys in targets (146) and receptions (100) since joining the team, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
What could go wrong? How will Lamb adjust to the extra attention? He doesn’t have Cooper around anymore, and Michael Gallup will miss at least the first few games of the season because of a torn ACL in his left knee injury. Defenses will key in on Lamb, but the Cowboys plan to counter by moving him around the formation as much as they can.
— Todd Archer
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: TBD. The Packers don’t have a true No. 1. Allen Lazard will get the first crack at it. Randall Cobb has the most experience, but he’s mostly a slot receiver. Sammy Watkins was the only veteran addition in free agency, and second-round pick Christian Watson was the highest pick of the three receivers they drafted, but fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs has made the most plays of anyone in camp.
Who was No. 1 last season: Davante Adams. He was traded to the Raiders in March for first- and second-round picks.
What prompted the change: Adams wanted out. The Packers put the franchise tag on him after the two sides failed to come to a long-term extension. Adams then decided he’d rather play with his college quarterback, Derek Carr, and orchestrated a trade to Las Vegas.
Reasons to believe the change will work: The Packers went 7-0 in games Adams missed over the past three years. Perhaps this will force Aaron Rodgers to spread the ball around a little more after Adams was targeted 169 times last season. Lazard was wide open on the final play of the final drive of the playoff loss to the 49ers, yet Rodgers threw to Adams, who was double-covered, and it went incomplete.
What could go wrong? Lazard doesn’t make the jump. Cobb and Watkins can’t stay healthy. Watson and the rookies don’t gel with Rodgers. History says any or all of those things could happen.
— Rob Demovsky
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: Christian Kirk, whom the Jaguars signed in free agency. He isn’t a true No 1 receiver in the mold of Adams, Cooper Kupp or Justin Jefferson, but he is by far the Jaguars best receiver.
Who was No. 1 last season: Marvin Jones Jr. He was the best receiver on a team that didn’t have very good receivers. He’s still with the Jaguars but is now the No. 3 behind Kirk and Zay Jones, whom the Jaguars also signed in free agency.
What prompted the change: The Jaguars needed to get more playmakers around second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, so Kirk and Zay Jones were the team’s top two receiver targets in free agency. Marvin Jones had 73 catches for 832 yards and four TDs last season, but he played 92% of the team’s offensive snaps last season and is 32 years old. The team wants to ease some of his workload.
Reasons to believe the change will work: Kirk had the best season of his career in 2021 (77 catches for 982 yards), and the Jaguars believe he’s an ascending player. Offensive coordinator Press Taylor moved Kirk around during OTAs, and while Kirk’s best spot is in the slot, the Jaguars believe he can be effective outside as well. Adding Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram, along with the healthy return of running back Travis Etienne Jr., gives the Jaguars more playmakers than they’ve had in a while. That should mean teams won’t be able to focus only on Kirk.
What could go wrong? Though he led Arizona in receptions last season, Kirk has not had to be the top receiver in his first four seasons in the NFL. He played alongside Larry Fitzgerald (who is almost certainly headed for the Hall of Fame) and DeAndre Hopkins (who seems to be on the same trajectory). Last season he also played with A.J. Green and tight end Zack Ertz. The Jaguars’ supporting cast isn’t at that level. Can Kirk handle the pressure of being No. 1?
— Mike DiRocco
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: The Chiefs have no shortage of candidates and spent the offseason and training camp sorting through this issue. JuJu Smith-Schuster seems to be the logical choice. He’s been moved around to a variety of spots and is at home in a more versatile role than the one he filled largely as a slot receiver the past couple of seasons with the Steelers.
What prompted the change: The Chiefs and Hill were headed toward a contract extension, and then they weren’t. Hill wanted to be the highest-paid wide receiver in the league, and the Chiefs weren’t going there.
Reasons to believe the change will work: The Chiefs are unlikely to have one wideout as productive as Hill, but they’re hopeful the combination of returning Mecole Hardman, free agent additions Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and second-round draft pick Skyy Moore will be enough to cause problems for opposing defenses.
What could go wrong? None of the four has ever been a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Smith-Schuster had 111 catches and 1,426 yards for the Steelers one season, but that was four years ago, when Antonio Brown was Pittsburgh’s top wide receiver. Hardman was also carted off the field Tuesday with a groin injury and Smith-Schuster didn’t practice for the second straight day because of a sore knee. The pair will need to stay healthy for this to work.
— Adam Teicher
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: Davante Adams, acquired in a trade with the Packers for the Raiders’ first- and second-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft.
Who was No. 1 last season: Hunter Renfrow caught 103 passes last season, basically out of necessity with tight end Darren Waller missing six games due to injury. Renfrow went to the Pro Bowl and remains one of the most dangerous slot men in the NFL.
What prompted the change: When the best receiver in the league becomes available and he actually wants to join your team, you make the trade, no?
Reasons to believe the change will work: Adams is in his prime and already has chemistry with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, as they were college teammates at Fresno State, and Las Vegas has a new, some say elite, playcaller in coach Josh McDaniels.
What could go wrong? The chemistry between Carr and Adams is overblown; the O-line can’t protect Carr long enough to give him time to find Adams downfield; McDaniels did not learn from his last head coaching stint in Denver; there’s simply not enough balls to keep Adams, Renfrow and Waller happy.
— Paul Gutierrez
Field Yates breaks down why he would not move A.J. Brown lower than 14 in rankings.
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: The Dolphins traded six draft picks, including first- and second-round picks in 2022, to the Chiefs for wide receiver Tyreek Hill — and immediately made him the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.
Who was No. 1 last season: Jaylen Waddle was Miami’s leading receiver in 2021 and returns as the 1B to Hill’s 1A.
What prompted the change: Miami’s new staff under Mike McDaniel wanted a large-scale change to its group of playmakers and acquiring Hill helped achieve that goal.
Reasons to believe the change will work: Hill is the most talented home run hitter in the NFL and joins an innovative offensive coaching staff that will find ways for him to get the ball in space. With Waddle on the field, defenses can’t afford to send too much coverage in Hill’s direction.
What could go wrong? With a new head coach, new talent on offense and a quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who has something to prove this season, Miami will need time to develop before it starts to see a return on investment. If those growing pains are tougher than expected, it could lay a rocky foundation for this team to build on.
— Marcel Louis-Jacques
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: It’s a close call. Jakobi Meyers has led the team in catches and receptions each of the past two seasons, so technically he’s the No. 1. But part of that was a result of the Patriots not having as many traditional No. 1-caliber pieces around him. Trading for DeVante Parker, and with big-money free agent Nelson Agholor looking more comfortable in his second season with the team, they are also in the conversation with Kendrick Bourne.
Who was No. 1 last season: Meyers returned to the team after signing his $3.96 million restricted free agent tender.
What prompted the change: Parker became available in Miami when the Dolphins had the unexpected opportunity to trade for Tyreek Hill. The Patriots offered the best trade compensation (a 2023 third-round pick in exchange for Parker and a fifth-rounder).
Reasons to believe the change will work: More options for second-year quarterback Mac Jones, who had an offseason goal of building better chemistry with every player on offense, especially the wide receivers.
What could go wrong? The Patriots are in transition on their offensive coaching staff with former coordinator Josh McDaniels moving on to become the Raiders head coach. So while the Patriots look deeper and more diverse at receiver, they need to ensure they have the right plan of attack.
— Mike Reiss
Who is the new No. 1 wide receiver: The Jets don’t have a true WR1 — yet. Elijah Moore and rookie Garrett Wilson have WR1 potential, but they haven’t come close to reaching that status. Corey Davis is their most experienced wide receiver, but it’s hard to label someone a WR1 when he doesn’t have a 1,000-yard season.
Who was No. 1 last season: Jamison Crowder, their leader in receptions for three straight years, signed with the Bills … but he wasn’t a No. 1 receiver. Not even close. They went through the season without one.
What prompted the change: There were no significant losses; the Jets didn’t even try to re-sign Crowder. They believe Davis will be better in Year 2 — he’s healthy after missing eight games due to injury — but his production could be impacted by Wilson and Moore.
Reasons to believe the change will work: The Jets tried to trade for Tyreek Hill and Deebo Samuel and looked into A.J. Brown, but decided to go young with Wilson, who might have a higher ceiling than those vets.
What could go wrong? If Wilson and Moore don’t develop as quickly as hoped, and if Davis stays what he is (a solid WR2), the Jets’ offense will lack a dynamic playmaker on the perimeter.
— Rich Cimini
Who was No. 1 last season: DeVonta Smith. The Eagles see Brown and Smith as wide receivers 1 and 1A. Smith, the 10th overall pick in 2021, is coming off a strong rookie season in which he led Philly in catches (64), receiving yards (916) and receiving touchdowns (five).
What prompted the change: The Eagles have been hovering near the bottom of the league in passing offense the past couple of seasons and want to get that corrected. They looked at multiple options this offseason, including Calvin Ridley (prior to his announced suspension) and Christian Kirk, before landing Brown.
Reasons to believe the change will work: The off-field connection between Jalen Hurts and Brown is well-established — they’re good friends — and it’s a safe bet that Brown’s tackle-breaking, yards-after-catch style of play will vibe with Hurts as well, while complementing Smith’s skill set. With Smith, Brown and tight end Dallas Goedert to account for, defenses will have a tough time keying on one player.
What could go wrong? Brown has dealt with multiple injuries over his first three seasons in the league, including calf, hamstring, chest and knee injuries in 2021 that cost him four games. Philadelphia gave Brown a four-year, $100 million extension after acquiring him in April and needs him to stay relatively healthy in order for that to be viewed as a sound investment.
— Tim McManus