This week begins cover32’s ‘Top 10’ series, set to run every Wednesday. Each week we will tackle a different topic and rank them, 10-through-1. On today’s docket: the best quarterback and wide receiver combinations heading into the 2017 season.
The usual suspects at quarterback fill the top of the list with a newcomer wide receiver cracking the top five. He is one-of-two familiar faces in new places that made the prestigious ranking. Be sure to give us your thoughts on the rankings in the comment section and use #cover32 on Twitter to give us your own Top 10.
Now, without further ado, let’s get on with the ranking!
QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald Arizona Cardinals
QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green Cincinnati Bengals
QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Jarvis Landry Miami Dolphins
10. QB Kirk Cousins – WR Terrelle Pryor Washington Redskins
Cousins lost both his top receivers from 2016 to free agency. Pierre Garcon headed to the 49ers and Desean Jackson headed south to Tampa Bay. Both cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark last season, so presumably, it would be tough to replace the production. Enter quarterback turned wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor was a revelation for the Cleveland Browns last year, his first as an NFL receiver. Catching balls from a number of Browns’ quarterbacks, Pryor racked up 1,007 yards on 77 receptions and four touchdowns. Cousins on the other hand nearly joined Drew Brees as a 5,000-yard passer in 2016. He threw for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His 97.2 rating was good for seventh in the NFL.
Once again entering a ‘prove it’ year on the franchise tag, Cousins has eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing mark and 25 touchdowns in both seasons as a full-time starter. Tight end Jordan Reed offers an excellent compliment to Pryor in the passing game. This should allow Cousins to continue his upward trend and perhaps hit the 30 touchdown mark for the first time.
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9. QB Jameis Winston – WR Mike Evans Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston’s overall play and the Buccaneers’ record has improved in each of his first two seasons. The Florida State product has a big arm and his rapport with Evans grew immensely from year one to year two. In Evans third season, second with Winston, he set career highs in receptions (96) and yards (1,321). He also tied a career high with 12 touchdowns.
The addition of receiver Desean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard should take this offense to the next level. Evans became the first receiver to start his career with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. In 2016, Evans led the league in receptions for a first down. Look for that to continue in 2017 as the Buccaneers have their eyes set on a playoff birth.
8. QB Eli Manning – WR Odell Beckham Jr. New York Giants
Manning regressed a bit in 2016, compared to his previous two seasons. His interception total remained in the mid-teens, however, he threw nine fewer touchdowns and 400 fewer yards than 2015. Beckham, on the other hand, continued his torrid start to his career. He had a career-high 101 receptions for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Giants as they returned to the playoffs after a three-year absence.
Despite the aging Manning’s slip in production, Beckham’s ability to turn a three-yard slant into a 75-yard touchdown makes them a lethal combination. Add newly-acquired Brandon Marshall to the mix and the Giants should find themselves right back into the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
7. QB Ben Roethlisberger – WR Antonio Brown Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s crazy, but considering Antonio Brown’s stretch from 2013-2015, his 106 receptions and 1,284 yards in 2016 was a ‘down’ year for him. Part of that is due to Roethlisberger missing a couple games, something that is becoming a trend for Big Ben. He missed four games in 2015.
The success of the Steelers hinges on the health of Roethlisberger. If he remains healthy for the entire year, it would be a shock to no one if Brown leads the league in most receiver categories. Over the course of 2013-2015, Roethlisberger connected with Brown over 350 times for nearly 4,500 yards.
6. QB Andrew Luck – WR T.Y. Hilton Indianapolis Colts
Limited to just seven games in 2015, Andrew Luck returned in 2016 to throw 31 touchdowns and 4,240 yards. His 96.4 quarterback rating was his second highest of his career behind his 96.5 mark in 2014. That was the last time the Colts made the playoffs. Hilton surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the fourth consecutive year in 2016. His career high 1,448 yards receiving were best in the NFL. Despite all that, the Colts were on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Entering 2017, Luck is recovering from another injury, a torn labrum. He is, however, expected to be ready for the start of the season. If all goes according to plan, the two should give the Colts a great chance at returning to the playoffs for the first time in two years. Luck will have to play for the entire year for that to come to fruition. Look for Hilton to push 1,500 yards receiving again and for Luck to get closer to his career high of 40 touchdowns.
5. QB Derek Carr – WR Amari Cooper Oakland Raiders
The Raiders were on an upward trajectory to the AFC Championship game until a broken fibula abruptly ended Derek Carr’s season. The title aspirations of Raiders’ Nation perished that day too. Prior to the injury, Carr led the Raiders to a 12-3 record in his third season. A five-win improvement from his 7-9 2015 campaign.
In his second season, Cooper caught 83 passes for 1,153 yards. Both career highs. He added five touchdowns to help guide the Raiders to an AFC West division title. However, without Carr, the Raiders faltered in the playoffs and were left with a lot of ‘what if’s’. On schedule for the season opener, Carr and Cooper should pick up right where they left off.
4. QB Drew Brees – WR Mike Thomas New Orleans Saints
Mike Thomas burst onto the scene his rookie year with the Saints in 2016. He caught 92 passes on 121 targets for 1,137 yards. Thomas led all rookie receivers with nine touchdowns as he helped Drew Bress post his fifth season of more than 5,000 yards passing. His 37 touchdowns were third behind Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
The loss of Brandin Cooks will hurt, but Brees has proven year in and year out that no matter who comes and goes, he is still going to produce. Thomas is a special talent that should continue to grow. Given his production in his first season, it’s a scary prospect to the rest of the NFL that he could get better.
3. QB Matt Ryan – WR Julio Jones Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan led the league with an 117.2 quarterback rating in his 2016 MVP season. Jones had a monster year in 2015, racking up 1,871 yards on 136 receptions with eight touchdowns. He followed that up with 83 receptions and 1,409 yards in just 14 games in 2016. The two, not surprisingly, led the team to an appearance in Super Bowl LI.
There is no reason to think that the production will not continue in 2017. Despite offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s departure, the well-rounded offense should continue to be one of the best in the league. Whether or not they make another run at the Super Bowl is another question. However, the duo should wreak havoc on the NFL once again.
2. QB Tom Brady – WR Brandin Cooks New England Patriots
In 2016, the Patriots offense was lethal once Brady returned to the team. After winning the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, they added superstar wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the already deep receiver group. Julian Edelman could have easily been the player opposite Brady in this ranking, however, Cooks’ big-play potential sets him apart.
In 2016, Cooks caught 78 passes for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns with Drew Brees and the Saints. Brady, in just 12 games, threw for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns. Astonishingly, he threw only two interceptions on the entire year. Entering his age-40 season, Brady still remains the best quarterback in the game.
Joining an offense that already includes the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Edelman, Cooks should flourish with plenty of open space to work with. Set to play in a full 16-game season in 2017, look for Brady soar pass the 40 touchdown mark for the second time in his career. With a number of mismatches already on the Patriots offense, Cooks adds a dimension that they have lacked in quite some time.
1. QB Aaron Rodgers – WR Jordy Nelson Green Bay Packers
Rodgers had another stellar year at the helm for the Packers, throwing 40 touchdowns for the second time in his career. He threw 45 in 2011. He led the Packers on a six-game winning streak to end the year to clinch a playoff birth. Nelson set career high’s in receptions (98) and yards (1,519) in 2014 but a devastating injury kept him off the field for the 2015 season.
However, Nelson returned to form in 2016 and was crucial down the stretch, catching five touchdowns during their six-game winning streak. He ended the year with 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and led the league with 14 touchdown receptions. The duo will need to be at their best as the Packers look to finally get back to the Super Bowl.