The Top 10 Wide Receiver Performances of 2014

2014 was a huge year for wide receivers, but the top single-game performance may surprise you.

With the NFL's morphing into a passing league, quarterback is obviously a position paramount to team success. On the other end of that connection is the play-making wide receiver, the one who executes with flair (and more than the 15 mandated pieces if you know what I mean) and athleticism.

2014 saw some amazing performances and potentially the best rookie wide receiving class ever with players such as Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, and Kelvin Benjamin putting up serious numbers in their rookie campaigns.

The position also saw near record-breaking performances from Antonio Brown who caught 129 passes for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns in spite of his 5'10", 186-pound frame.

At numberFire, we have a metric that captures the best individual wide receiver performances in a given week. Using Net Expected Points (NEP), we can quantify how many points a wide receiver contributed to his team's ultimate scoring potential. Below you will also notice yards and touchdown catches for each player. However, for this exercise, we are judging the best performances solely on Target NEP, which represents how many points a team earned above expectation based on how many passes were thrown a wide receiver's way, regardless of whether or not that pass was completed, intercepted (significant negative implications), or fell incomplete.

With all of that out of the way, here are the 10 best single-game wide receiver performances for the 2014 season, noting surprisingly that both Beckham and Brown, with all their receiving accolades, did not crack the Top 10 best single-game performances in either Target NEP or even Reception NEP. The award for highest single game Reception NEP actually went to John Brown, who put up a 27.85 Reception NEP in Week 8 versus Philadelphia behind 119 yards receiving and a 75-yard touchdown.

10. Calvin Johnson, Week 14
Target NEP: 15.64
Receiving Yards: 158
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

A few weeks after returning from an ankle injury, Calvin Johnson, followed an 11-reception, 146-yard, 2-touchdown performance on Thanksgiving versus the Chicago Bears with an even more impressive game in Week 14 versus Tampa Bay. Johnson started the game off with a six-yard touchdown on an end-zone fade and never looked back, torching the Buccaneers (a common theme among top 10 Target NEP performances) to the tune of 8 receptions (on 9 targets) for 158 yards and a touchdown. Don't be surprised to see Megatron's name on this list again later.

9. Jordy Nelson, Week 10
Target NEP: 16.08
Receiving Yards: 152
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

Given some of the domination the Packers did at home, it is no surprise that Jordy Nelson has a top-10 Target NEP performance to add to his resume this year. Not surprisingly, the victim was the Chicago Bears and its porous secondary on a Sunday night. Nelson caught all six of his targets, including touchdowns of 73 and 40 yards from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had six passing touchdowns at the half in a 55-14 drubbing of the Bears.

8. Dez Bryant, Week 15
Target NEP: 16.20
Receiving Yards: 114
Receiving Touchdowns: 3

Sunday Night Football continued to be a big stage for wide receivers in Week 15, as Dez Bryant backed up his talk from a Thanksgiving loss to the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks earlier. Bryant hooked up with quarterback Tony Romo three times on touchdowns and caught six of eight targets to gash the Eagles secondary who had no answer for Bryant in another impressive Cowboys road victory, which set the stage for them winning the NFC East and the Eagles' fading into oblivion. This performance also propelled many a DFS player to victories and was a big part in Drew Dinkmeyer's DraftKings million-dollar-winning lineup.

7. Julio Jones, Week 3
Target NEP: 16.71
Receiving Yards: 161
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

The early season narrative on Thursday night football was one of lopsided games. Week 3 was no different, as the Atlanta Falcons took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind the proverbial woodshed, 56-14. The theme song of that night was "Me and Julio down by the endzone," as Julio Jones dominated the Bucs secondary for 9 catches on 11 targets for 161 yards, including touchdowns from 40 yards and 8 yards. Jones' Reception NEP of 17.67 for the game also put him in the top-10 in individual game Reception NEP as well. This game foreshadowed future huge games by Jones and was the second time the Bucs defense was victim to a top-10 receiver.

6. Calvin Johnson, Week 1
Target NEP: 16.90
Receiving Yards: 164
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

Johnson makes the list for a second time with his impressive Week 1 performance against the New York Giants. Buoyed by 2 first-quarter touchdowns spanning 67 and 16 yards, Megatron caught 7 of 11 targets for 164 yards in a Lions 35-14 win. Johnson's Reception NEP of 18.86 for the game was the eighth-highest individual performance for all players on the season in that category.

5. Mike Evans, Week 11
Target NEP: 17.20
Receiving Yards: 209
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

The inclusion of a rookie in the top Target NEP performances of 2014 is not surprising. What potentially is surprising, however, is which rookie had the performance. After the recency of Beckham's domination down the stretch, one would think that some of his monster games would land him in the top-10 Target NEP performances. However, it was Mike Evans, the seventh-overall draft choice this year, who found himself dominating like it was an SEC game. Evans torched the Washington secondary for touchdowns of 56 and 36 yards and crossed over the 200-yard receiving mark in the game as well, catching 7 of his 9 targets. His Reception NEP of 19.46 was the sixth-highest in that category for the season.

4. Eric Decker, Week 17
Target NEP: 17.51
Receiving Yards: 221
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

One only has to look back a few days to grab the fourth-best Target NEP performance of the season. Eric Decker, a high-priced free agent in the 2014 offseason, finally was able to show how good he really is when a quarterback can find him and the offense opens up. Decker caught 10 of 11 targets from all-of-a-sudden gunslinger Geno Smith in coach Rex Ryan's DGAF finale as Jets coach. Decker put up an impressive 221 yards and a 74-yard touchdown (and a Reception NEP of 18.62, ninth-best on the season) against the Miami Dolphins in a 37-24 win that may give a glimmer of hope to Jets fans or fantasy football speculators for 2015.

3. Julio Jones, Week 14
Target NEP: 19.11
Receiving Yards: 259
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

Jones again found his name on the Target NEP list in Week 14. Our JJ Zachariason boldly predicted that Jones would be the second half's best receiver, and he pretty much nailed it. Jones capitalized on 11 of 18 targets for a season high 259 yards and a touchdown, barely missing another long touchdown after being tackled near the goal line. This resulted in a Reception NEP of 24.33, which was the second-best individual performance of the season.

Jones' performance also brought back several fantasy owners from the dead in playoff matchups that they had already written off and sent the owners who thought they had their games won to the showers to cry. Those victories ended up being bittersweet for Jones owners, however, as he couldn't finish his amazing game against the Packers due to an injury and ended up missing a crucial fantasy playoff game in Week 15 thereafter.

2. T.Y. Hilton, Week 6
Target NEP: 19.81
Receiving Yards: 223
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

T.Y. Hilton owns the Houston Texans. He destroyed them in 2013 with a 121-yard, 3-touchdown performance. So, it was only natural when Hilton went off in Week 6 in Houston on a Thursday night to the tune of catching all 9 targets for 223 yards and a 33-yard touchdown. Hilton's Reception NEP of 19.81 (same as his Target NEP because he caught all passes thrown his way) was the fifth-best Reception NEP of the season.

1. DeAndre Hopkins, Week 13
Target NEP: 23.30
Receiving Yards: 238
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

The winner of the Target NEP bowl, however, is someone who was not necessarily pegged as his team's primary option heading into the 2014 season. However, DeAndre Hopkins worked his chemistry with returning quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to achieve the highest single-game Target NEP of 2014. Hopkins caught 2 of Fitzmagic's 6 touchdown passes spanning 58 and 34 yards, respectively, against the Titans. He also caught all 9 of his targets, making his Reception NEP (23.30) the third-highest on the season, as well. Hopkins' timing was also impeccable as many a fantasy owner needing a Week 13 victory were able to ride his performance to the playoffs.