Which Wide Receiver Duo Is the Best in the NFL?
Having one great wide receiver is helpful, but having two is even better.
The double threat helps mitigate the presence of an elite cornerback and causes problems when the defense shifts its focus to one side of the field to account for a single receiver.
For that reason, the best wide receiver duos in the NFL prove to be a dangerous weapon in today's NFL.
But just who are the best teammates in the league, based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics?
1. Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant - Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant have proven to be one of the deadliest pairs in the NFL this season. They both have big play ability, as Bryant is 5th in the league with 17.7 yards per catch, and even though Brown catches a lot of screen passes, he still averages 14 yards per catch. Brown is also leading the league with 15 "big catches" of over 25 yards.
The dominant duo combine for a league-leading 15.44 Reception NEP per game. For those unfamiliar with NEP, it is our signature metric that allows us to quantify the amount of points a player contributes to his team compared to how he would be expected to perform.
Bryant started the year with a suspension and has only played eight games this year. In those eight games that both Bryant and Brown have played, the Steelers are 5-3. With their three losses coming to the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Seattle Seahawks who rank, respectably, 7th, 6th, and 3rd, in our power rankings, it's safe to say that Brown and Bryant are a big factor in the Steelers' success this year.
The Steelers' top wideouts are averaging 12.5 receptions, 191.5 yards, 1.3 touchdowns, and a Reception NEP of 15.44 per game.
2. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker - New York Jets
The New York Jets have been a pleasant surprise this year with an 8-5 record that is keeping them playoff chase. Ryan Fitzpatrick has led a pretty consistent offense that features the two veteran wide receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The pair has totaled 20 touchdowns on the season, and they have already tied a record of most games in which teammates each caught a touchdown. Last week was their seventh such game, which ties the historic duo of Randy Moss and Cris Carter.
Marshall and Decker combine for 15.13 Reception NEP per game and are carrying a lot of weight for the Jets: the rest of the wide receivers and tight ends on the roster total a Reception NEP of 55 or just 4.23 per game! The Jets aren't hiding who they are throwing to by any means, but the duo continues to produce at an elite level.
The pair is averaging 12.3 receptions, 164.2 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, and a Reception NEP of 15.13 per game.
3. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns - Jacksonville Jaguars
The "Jacksonville Allens" are one of the most promising duos in the league. The two wide receivers are the focal point in a very young offense; Allen Robinson is just 22 years old while Allen Hurns is 24 years old. The sophomore wideouts are keeping pace with the veterans of Marshall and Decker, above, with 20 touchdowns of their own.
The "sophomore slump" doesn't seem to exist with these two, as they put up impressive numbers week after week. In terms of our metrics, the duo averages 14.59 Reception NEP per game and have a total Reception NEP of 183 this season, which ranks third among any of the wide receiver teammates.
Blake Bortles may not be as good as people think he is, but he has still improved a lot from last year and has thrown 19 more touchdowns and 616 more yards than last year. Also, Bortles possesses a Passing NEP of 46.06, which ranks him 18th among all quarterbacks. That's nothing to write home about, but compared to his dead last Passing NEP of -97.97, he has shown a lot of improvement.
Bortles' progression has helped Robinson and Hurns a lot, as the young offense is becoming a threat to score points. Last year the Jaguars averaged a league-worst 15.6 points per game. This year, they rank ninth with 25.1 points per game -- a tremendous jump in the right direction.
The Jaguars' top wideouts are averaging 9.4 receptions, 155 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, and a Reception NEP of 14.59 per game.
4. Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle - New York Giants
This is the first duo on the list where one of the receivers is pulling almost all of the weight. Randle is averaging 3.6 catches, 46 yards, and has a total Reception NEP of 57.71, ranking him 38th in the metric. However, OBJ is so dominant that their numbers together prove to be one of the top in the league. Beckham is averaging an insane Reception NEP of 10.29 per game. If you think about the New York Giants, you pretty much think "average." In fact, we have them ranked 14th in our power rankings: pretty average. Then if you realize Beckham is creating over 10 points a game, you start to notice how important he is to that team.
Beckham has reeled in 24 touchdowns in his first 25 games as a professional. The historical comparisons are staggering. In the Super Bowl era, OBJ has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than anyone in NFL history through his first 25 games. Now can you see how the pair of Beckham and Randle made the list?
The Giants top receivers are averaging 10.1 receptions, 145 yards, 1.31 touchdowns, and a Reception NEP of 14.73 per game.
5. Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown - Arizona Cardinals
If this was a list of the best wide receiver core, the Arizona Cardinals would be right near the top because the Cardinals spread the ball between three receivers: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd. This year, Fitzgerald already has 96 catches, 1,088 yards, and 7 scores. Brown is the other side of the coin, as he is a bit more of a downfield threat compared to Fitzgerald. The two complement each other nicely, helping the Cardinals on their pursuit to a Super Bowl.
Entering the year, Vegas had the over/under total wins for the Cardinals at 8.5. They are already at 11 with three games remaining. The most dominant aerial attack in the league has helped that win total tremendously. Cardinals quarterback, Carson Palmer, is having a very nice season as well, as he leads the league in our Passing NEP metric with 164.16, about 15 more than second place. The trust between Palmer and his main targets is very visible as only three wide receivers and tight ends have caught more than 17 passes on the season for the Cardinals.
Fitzgerald and Brown are averaging 12 receptions, 158.3 yards, 0.96 touchdowns, and a Reception NEP of 12.67 per game.
There are many solid receiving duos in the league, and perhaps if injuries went a different way, the list may be a little different. Below is a chart of a few honorable mentions that almost made the list as well as a couple that don't exactly follow the rules of "best wide receiver duo" but are still noteworthy.
|Player 1||Player 2||Rec / G||Yards / G||TD / G||NEP / G|
|Rob Gronkowski||Julian Edelman||11.9||161.7||1.61||14.44|
|DeAndre Hopkins||Arian Foster||12.3||150.7||1.27||13.67|
|Keenan Allen||Antonio Gates||14||152.7||1||13.31|
|Demaryius Thomas||Emmanuel Sanders||11.6||147.8||0.56||12.49|
|Julio Jones||Devonta Freeman||13.5||151.2||0.63||11.01|
Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman - These two are the best wide receiver/tight end duo in the league. Their numbers are individually great, and together, they have proven to be some of the most dangerous weapons in football. Edelman missed time this year due to an injury, but the per-game stats are great. 1.61 touchdowns and a Reception NEP of 14.44 per game are hard to argue against for last years' Super Bowl champs.
DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster - This is a unique pairing because Foster is obviously a running back. I am not factoring in his running ability or stats at all -- this is strictly receiving. Foster only played four games this year, which crushes their cumulative stats, but on a per-game basis, Foster was averaging 57 receiving yards per game. Hopkins is having a career year, and between them, they are giving a glimmer of hope in Houston.
Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates - The injury couple. Allen played only eight games before going down for the season, and it seems like Gates is always playing through some type of minor injury. Oh, and he was also suspended for four games to start the season. So being on the field at the same time has been an issue in San Diego. They are still averaging 1.5 more receptions per game than any other couple in the league. If Allen can come back healthy next year and return to his productive self, the pair should remain a top-10 duo in football, as Gates refuses to slow down.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders - The underwhelming couple. Everyone had high expectations for this duo at the beginning of the season, and they have somewhat disappointed. However, their numbers are still pretty impressive. Close to 150 yards and a Reception NEP of 12.49 per game is nothing to be ashamed about. Their numbers aren't as good as they were when Peyton Manning was throwing for the best statistical season in quarterback history, but they are still noteworthy.
Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman - The all-usage couple. This duo combines for 50% of all receptions for the Atlanta Falcons. That is insane when you realize Freeman isn't a wide receiver and that he has also missed some time this year due to injury. Jones has accounted for 59% of all wide receiver yards for the Falcons as well. This duo has made a lot of fantasy owners happy while piling up some of the best stats in the NFL. For Atlanta, they could be two cornerstone pieces for many years, as Jones is only 26 years old and Freeman is 23.