We are getting closer and closer to real football again and that means that it is time to start the player rankings conversations. Today we examine individual receiving grades using our new individual player grade system that we developed in recent months.
How the Grade System Works
The Football Scout 365 process and philosophy are predicated on the connection between advanced metrics and on-field play. The numbers can sometimes tell a different story than the film and that is where our situational analysis plays a pivotal role in how we interpret individual and team performance.
Individual Player Grades For Current NFL Players
Below you will see a list of color-coded tiers followed by a descending grade scale. The grading scale is a 1-10 model with 10 being elite, and <3 as poor to very poor. The grading scale uses variables based on each player's positional focus and uses particularly advanced metrics such as pressure rate and sacks for pass rushers. Each tier carries an average value based on the previous season's data.
Elite Level, MVP Potential 1 = 10 (A+)
Good Level 2, All Pro Level = 9 (A-)
Above Average Level 3, Pro Bowl Caliber = 8 (B+)
Average Starter Level 1, Starter, Role Player = 7 (B-)
Below Average, Can be Boom Or Bust = 6 (C+)
Developmental Player = 5 (C-)
Poor= 4 (D+)
Very Poor = <3 D- Depth or Replacements Needed
2021 Preseason Tier One Level NFL Individual Player Receiving Grades and Rankings
Tier One, Level One, Elite Level, All-Pro, MVP Level Talent
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
Hopkins is a dominant possession receiver, and it was on full display in 2020 with the Cardinals. The clear number one receiver in the Cardinals offense a season ago. Hopkins dropped one pass in 2020 and is the definition of a 50/50 ball style WR who won literally 50% of his contested pass-catching attempts a season ago. The rapport with Kyler Murray will continue to improve, so he will continue to be a consistent force moving forward.
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
With Deandre Hopkins considered our top receiver, Adams is our 1B. Adams's route running ability, combined with the rapport he has with Aaron Rodgers, is the perfect recipe for a player who arguably could have won NFL MVP in 2020. Adams, by the numbers, is the top WR in the NFL vs. press-man coverage. Adams played in 14 games in 2020; he picked up 1374 yards as a receiver and scored 18 touchdowns. Had he played a full 16, he was on pace to hit 1570 yards receiving and score 20+ TD's. We do not know how the Aaron Rodgers situation will play out, but the odds are high that Adams will be catching balls in 2021 from a new QB in Green Bay.
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Stefon Diggs took a giant leap from above-average to the elite level in one season after moving from the Vikings to the Bills in 2020. Paired with Josh Allen, who is also an ascending star, Diggs has the potential to remain in the elite tier moving forward. Diggs led the NFL in targets (127) and yards (1535) in 2020. He has the potential once again to lead the NFL in both categories in 2021, especially if NFL teams decide to play man to man as consistently as they did in 2020 (top 5 rate).
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill's dominance as a serious threat who can get behind a team's secondary is like no other. Combined with Patrick Mahomes, who has arguably the strongest arm in the NFL, defenses struggle to find ways to contain Hill. He has improved as a route runner since arriving in the NFL, and that is another reason we have him rated higher than many other outlets. Hill snagged 87 balls for 1274 yards in 2020. There is a possibility that without Sammy Watkins now in the fold, his usage will increase in 2021. We believe Hill could have his best year yet in the NFL.
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Allen Robinson will enter the 2021 NFL season with a potential rookie at QB. That rookie is Justin Fields, and we can say with confidence that Fields will be the most accurate QB that Robinson has been paired with since arriving in the league. If we are correct about our projections that Justin Fields is an instant impact player at the next level, Robinson's production has the potential to skyrocket in 2021. Robinson is a player who uses his body well in traffic to make contested catches. Robinson is also an elite chain mover; he accounted for 52% of the Bear's total first downs by WR's in 2020.
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta has had some excellent WR's the last few seasons, and the one player who is ready to take that top spot in the ATL is Calvin Ridley. In 2020, Ridley took the next step to Elite level. He reeled in 1374 yards and 9 TD's on 143 targets. He ranked atop the NFL in air yards before reception and 15th in average depth of target. Ridley win's with route running and is very good at the intermediate level. He also led the NFL in deep ball receptions in 2020. We expect Ridley to continue his rise; he is considered to be one of the elite graded WR's headed into the 2021 NFL season.
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings struck gold after losing Stefon Diggs to the Bills. Paired with Kirk Cousins and another high-level WR in Adam Thielen, Jefferson took the NFL by storm, breaking the rookie WR record for receiving yards in a season (Super Bowl Era) with 1400. He passed the likes of Randy Moss and former record holder Anquan Boldin. Jefferson was rarely utilized the first two games of the 2020 season, making his rookie season even more incredible. Jefferson has the chops as a receiver; he proved he could dominate vs. man coverage, an area that many scouts questioned when he entered the NFL. Jefferson might not hit the same numbers in year two, and that is okay, but we fully expect him to remain at or near the top five of NFL receivers for years to come.
TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) WR Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce is the top TE in the NFL, and he is so good that he ranks among the top WR's in the NFL. Kelce Ranked 2nd in the NFL in total yards in 2020 (1416), he scored the 5th most TD's, led the league in total first downs among WR's and ranked 3rd in yards after the catch. (Throws hands in the air screaming rabble, rabble TE among WR's rabble, rabble)
Tier One, Level Two, All-Pro Level Talent, High Upside
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
A.J. Brown is a player on the rise in 2021. In 2020, he amassed nearly 1100 yards on 70 receptions. He tied for 10th in the NFL in yards per target with 10.1. Brown is the definition of a yards after the catch savant who averaged 6.1 yards after the catch in 2020, ranking 6th among WR's with at least 50 targets. His ability to be physically dominant against DB's in the NFL in his first two seasons gives us reason to believe he will only continue to ascend.
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones is what A.J. Brown wants to be, and Julio Jones is arguably the most physically imposing WR in the NFL outside of D.K. Metcalf. Jones remains highly regarded even at 32 years old because he continues to show consistency. Jones wants out of Atlanta and may only have a few more high-level years remaining as a WR in the NFL. We expect Jones will remain in this tier in 2021.
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Climbing up the charts like a BillBoard top 100 hit, Metcalf has all of the potential to enter the elite level in 2021. His 1300 yards receiving ranked 7th in the NFL in 2020. Among WR's with at least 100 targets, Metcalf ranked 2nd to Calvin Ridley in average depth of target (13.7). Metcalf is a physical player with incredible deep-ball ability. The areas where Metcalf needs to improve, route running at the short and intermediate levels and limiting drops; once he improves in both, he will undoubtedly leap into the elite status.
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Tyler Lockett is an underrated player who wins with route running and speed. The combo of Lockett and Russell Wilson have formed the most efficient duo of passer and catcher in the NFL the last three seasons. In 2020, Wilson had a top-five passer rating when targeting Tyler Lockett. It does help when you have an athletic freak opposite of you at WR in D.K. Metcalf, but there is no doubt who the go-to WR has been in Seattle the last three seasons.
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Since he arrived in Dallas, Cooper has been a consistent force in the Cowboy's offense. Cooper win's with route running, and even without Dak for most of the 2020 season, Cooper managed to amass 1114 yards and 5 TD's. His 413 yards after the catch ranked 20th in the NFL. With Dak returning in 2021, Cooper is poised to have another great year.
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
McLaurin is possibly the most technically sound young WR in the NFL. A good route runner who can get consistent separation and who boasts 4.3 speed. McLaurin posted 1100 yards in 2020 while working with sub-par QB play. His ceiling is absolutely in the elite tier, and he has an opportunity to prove that with Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fold in 2021. The area where McLaurin will likely see an increase in 2021 will be his average depth of target. His ADOT dropped from 2019 (14.0) to 2020 (9.7).
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR Keenan Allen, LA Chargers
One of our pet peeves when grading a receiver is their route-running ability. Keenan is a folk hero for route running and a player that receiver coaches use as a gold standard when teaching the young'ins how to get elite-level separation. Allen was targeted at the 5th highest rate in 2020. He is consistently one of the highest targeted WR's in the league. Allen catches a lot of passes underneath or with a low depth of target. His yards per target ranked 109th in the NFL in 2020 (6.7), but no receiver converted more first downs after the catch than Keenan Allen in 2020. Allen posted the lowest yards per target number since his 2nd year in the league. The Chargers used Allen less as an intermediate and deep route runner in 2020 than other years, so with a new headman and OC at the helm and a young, fearless, strong-armed Justin Herbert, we expect to see these numbers increase during the 2021 NFL season.
TIER 1 Level 2 Good = 9 (A-) WR Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
Our 2nd highest-graded TE is also among the best receivers in the NFL. Like Travis Kelce, Waller led his team in targets, receptions, yards, yards after the catch, and TD's. Waller is among the best in the league in almost every statistical category. His 145 targets tied for 6th with Travis Kelce, his 107 receptions are 4th best, and two catches ahead of Kelce. His 1196 yards rank 11th, and his yards after the catch (you guessed it) ranked 4th right behind Travis Kelce in 2020 with 572. Waller still has room to grow as a player and should remain the top target for the Raiders in 2021.
Tier One, Level Three, Above Average Level 3, Pro Bowl Caliber
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Godwin entered the 2020 season as a player who had elite-level WR written all over him with Tom Brady as his QB. He did not hit the elite level overall but did show why we believe he can reach the elite level of tier one. His route running ability is high-level, and his slot prowess is exactly what Tom Brady needs. Godwin still managed to post 800+ yards on 84 targets while playing in only 12 games. If he can stay healthy in 2021, he will likely be Tom Brady's favorite target.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Brady needed to find a target inside the opponent's 10-yard line in 2020, he looked for Mike Evans. In 2020, Evans ranked 2nd only to Davante Adams in targets from or within the opponent's 10 with 14 total targets. Evans would snag 9 of those 14 targets, and all nine were for TD's. Evans managed to crack 1000 yards as a receiver in 2020 while surrounded by Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) WR Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Slowing with age, Thielen did not get the same kind of separation on a per route basis that he has been accustomed to in years prior. Still, Thielen played extremely well when faced with man-to-man coverage due to his route running ability. Thielen did not crack the 1000 yard barrier in 2020, and his best years might be behind him, but we believe he has enough in the tank to produce a few more top-level seasons. In 2020, among all receivers with at least 100 targets, Thielen posted the 6th best QBR when targeted.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) WR D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
In 2020, Teddy Bridgewater ranked near the league's bottom in air yards per attempt average (7.1), leaving a lot to be desired from a WR in D.J. Moore to be desired. Moore himself still managed to rank in the top ten of average depth of target among WR's with at least 75 targets. Moore was also a consistent mover of the chains converting a first down on 45% of his targets in 2020. In comes QB Sam Darnold, a player who boasts a strong arm. The potential for Moore to take the next step is in the cards, and a lot will ride on how much Sammy D can improve under OC Joe Brady. D.J. Moore's standing in the top tier is based more on the projectible upside than recent accolades, and he must clean up his issues with drops (7). We believe Moore has the tools to be an elite-level WR.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) WR Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers
In 2020, there was a lot of debate about who was the top WR in the Carolina offense between Anderson and D.J. Moore. Anderson made a solid case in 2020, posting 1096 yards, of which 45% of those total yards came after the catch for Anderson. Like D.J. Moore, Anderson had a high number of drops in 2020 (6). With his former Jet teammate Sam Darnold in Carolina, Anderson might have the inside track to more production.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
George Kittle managed to play in 8 games in 2020, and had he remained healthy; he was on pace to amass 1250+ receiving yards. Kittle is a physical player who, unlike Kelce, plays a more traditional inline version of the TE position. In 2019, Kittle cracked 1000 yards; he picked up 53 first downs as a receiver while still only playing 14 regular-season games. Kittles health in 2021 will determine whether or not he should remain within the top tier of receivers moving forward. Still, his overall ability and what we believe he projects to become is why he remains in the top tier of receivers.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
The number one rated RB among the top WR's is none other than Christian McCaffrey. CMC was hurt in 2020, but no one can argue against the fact that if CMC remained healthy in 2020, he would have been among the league's best receivers. In 2019, he capped a fantastic season as both a runner and a receiver, where he picked up 1005 yards as a receiver, 4 TD's, and ranked 10th, converting 58 first downs as a receiver. His 8.8 yards after the catch ranked 6th among all receivers in 2019. If he remains healthy in 2021, he will be a part of an offense built around his skill set, even more so than in 2019 under current OC Joe Brady.
TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Like CMC, Kamara is a dynamite receiver out of the backfield. Kamara became the leader of the Saints offense in stretches where they were without both WR Michael Thomas and QB Drew Brees. Kamara was great as a runner and extremely efficient as a receiver, where he picked up 756 yards and 5 TD's. His league is leading 8.8 yards after the catch. Kamara also led the NFL in forced missed tackle rate (77%) as a receiver a rate 40% pts higher than the next closest player. His ceiling is the sky, maybe beyond that.