With free agency around the corner and the 2022 NFL Draft coming up in April, Kevin Patra assesses the wide receiver situations of all 32 teams in the NFL. Teams are sorted into categories signifying the level of stability at the position, then listed in alphabetical order, with the top wideouts under contract for 2022 listed, as well as key players who are not under contract for 2022. Those WRs are denoted as unrestricted free agents (UFA), restricted free agents (RFA) or exclusive rights free agents (ERFA).
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Top WRs under contract for 2022: Calvin Ridley
Ridley's future remains up in the air after the burgeoning wideout played just five games due to personal matters. Without Ridley, the Falcons' WR room is barren heading into the new league year. Still in cap trouble, Atlanta doesn't portend to be major players in free agency but should look to retain Gage. The 26-year-old has been a reliable target for Matt Ryan who can line up all over the formation. He's a stellar No. 2 forced into No. 1 duties in 2021. After selecting Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Pitts last year, the Falcons should look to the draft to add another pass-catcher.
Mooney shined in his second season, breaching the 1,000-yard mark. It was the type of Year 2 leap that foreshadows big things for the Tulane product. But there isn't anything behind Mooney to help quarterback Justin Fields. Robinson is poised to leave, as could the rest of the corps. Chicago could look at adding a Michael Gallup- or Christian Kirk-type boundary presence in free agency while also adding a receiver early in the draft. To develop Fields in Year 2, the new brass must add pass-catchers who help out the quarterback more than the 2021 crew.
Key free agents: Rashard Higgins (UFA)
Landry's future is in question this offseason. The veteran has said he wants to return -- presumably with a contract extension -- but with a $14.3 million non-guaranteed base salary, the Browns could cut bait and move on. With Landry experiencing the worst statistical season of his career in 2021 while battling injury, Cleveland might view him as a receiver on the downturn. Sans the former Pro Bowler, the Browns receiver group would desperately need a talent infusion. Peoples-Jones flashed at times but was too inconsistent as a No. 1. No Cleveland WR reached the 600-yard plateau in 2021. After cutting Odell Beckham Jr. during the season and possibly moving on from Landry, the wideout room is one Browns brass should look to overhaul this offseason.
St. Brown exploded down the stretch, generating 90-plus receiving yards in each of the final four games while catching eight-plus passes in the final six. St. Brown is a tough route runner who can bowl over defenders after the catch. The fourth-round pick is the ideal building block in Detroit. Now, the Lions must add more weapons. Cephus played just five games but has shown potential. Still in rebuild mode, expect general manager Brad Holmes to look toward the draft to add more talent while filling out the bottom of the roster with flyers.
Cooks continues to produce, regardless of his surroundings. The speedster put up the sixth 1,000-yard season of his eight-year career, despite the team's QB questions in 2021. Entering the last year of his deal, Cooks could be a trade chip for the Texans, who continue to be in rebuild mode. If Houston hangs on to the 28-year-old, it would ensure Davis Mills, or whoever is under center, will have a reliable target. Collins showed flashes of play-making ability in his rookie season and could be in for a leap in Year 2. GM Nick Caserio feels likely to take a page from the Patriots' book and buffer Cooks and Collins with cheaper ancillary vets while looking to the draft to fill out the depth chart.
The focus is on the QB position in Indy, but the wideout room needs significant help. Pittman proved he's a No. 1 target, but there isn't anyone behind the 24-year-old. Pittman generated 1,082 yards on 88 catches, and the next-closest Colt receiver was Pascal, with 384 receiving yards. That imbalance isn't going to do much for any quarterback. Hilton could retire after another injury-ravaged season, and Campbell remains MIA within the offense, having logged just 20 targets over six games thanks to a foot injury. Receiver should be high on the priority list this offseason in Indy in both free agency and the draft.
The Jags own a boatload of salary-cap space and must buffer Trevor Lawrence with more explosive skill-position players. Outside of upgrading the O-line, there shouldn't be a bigger priority in Jacksonville than adding to the WR room. Jones is a solid veteran and Shenault provides shiftiness, but there is a need for a big-time playmaker. The Jags also need speed throughout the offense. Adding a burner to stress the defense would help make life easier on Lawrence. One big question is whether the Jags will bring back Chark, who broke his foot in Week 4. Even if they hang on to the former Pro Bowler, I'd still expect Jacksonville to add multiple pass-catching options this offseason.
Waddle is a bona fide star who should shine even brighter in Mike McDaniel's offense as a go-to target who can produce after the catch. He's in for a monster second season. The question is where the Dolphins will look to buffer the passing game. Waddle went for 1,015 yards in 2021. The next-closest wideout was Parker, who had 515. Parker is talented, but health remains an issue for the veteran, who appeared in just 10 games last season. The Will Fuller experiment didn't work. With a load of cap space, the Dolphins should be players in the free-agent market, looking to make a splash signing. If he wiggles to free agency, Davante Adams could look good in South Beach.
The Patriots once again made the pass game work without a dominant receiver. Meyers led the way with 866 yards and should be expected back as a restricted free agent. Bourne proved he could be a steady force, tying for second in the NFL in yards per target (11.4). But to help Mac Jones make a giant leap in Year 2, New England needs a go-to target to shift coverage and who can win every down. Meanwhile, Harry remains in Foxborough despite Bill Belichick all but begging someone to take the WR off his hands. We'll see if that changes in the coming weeks.
After missing all of 2021, Thomas looms as a big question mark moving forward. Will he finally be healthy? Could he want out and request a trade? Saints Twitter seems convinced Thomas will be gone, but after essentially promoting most of the coaching staff, are the Saints really in rebuild mode? Without Thomas, there isn't much to love about the New Orleans receiver crew, even if Harris returns on a restricted free agent tender. With a mountain of cap issues to overcome, the obvious mode of adding talent is through the draft. The Saints didn't use high picks on wideouts much under Sean Payton. Will that change under the new staff?
UPDATE: The Saints restructured Michael Thomas' contract as they continue to work to get under the salary cap, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday.
McLaurin needs help. It felt like the dynamic receiver was on a solo plane ride for most of the 2021 season. McLaurin netted 77 catches for 1,053 yards and five TDs. The next closest wide receiver in Washington was Humphries, who had 41 catches for 383 yards. Yeesh. Samuel was signed to be that do-it-all threat who could capitalize on coverage rolling towards McLaurin, but he played in just five games due to injury. With money to spend, the Commanders should look to add another playmaker on the outside. If Samuel can stay healthy, McLaurin continues to dominate and Washington bolsters the wideout room, it could help buoy whoever is under center in 2022.
Add a piece or two or three
Kirk could have priced himself out of Arizona after leading the Cards in receiving in 2021. He could be one of the top wideouts to hit the market, depending on how the franchise tags shake out. Green, too, could be headed elsewhere after signing a one-year deal last offseason. Hopkins' health will be critical to Arizona's pass game getting back in the air. Kliff Kingsbury's offense overly relies on the star wideout making plays without much scheme help. Sans Hopkins, the operation lacks oomph. I expect Moore to be more involved as a field stretcher in Year 2 after netting 1.1 air yards per target in 2021 (lowest in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 targets, per Next Gen Stats). After a one-catch season, it's time the Cards moved on from the Isabella project.
Diggs remains one of the NFL's premier receivers, netting his fourth consecutive 1,000-plus-yard season. Everything the Bills do on offense revolves around the attention Diggs commands, and that won't change in 2022. The biggest beneficiary of the eyeballs on Diggs was Davis, who took off down the stretch and into the postseason. Davis is a big-play monster despite not having eye-popping speed. His improved route-running last season allowed the young wideout to toast lesser corners. Davis is in for a bigger leap in Year 3. Look for the Bills to add speed to the receiver corps and a wideout who can produce yards after the catch to a club that struggled with YAC in 2021.
Lamb and Cooper represent a dynamic duo. Beyond that, there are loads of questions. Gallup was on his way to a big payday before tearing his ACL. Could the Cowboys bring him back on a short-term deal if his market doesn't pan out following the injury? Financial issues likely put Dallas in a spot to fill out the depth chart with cheaper deals. Wilson may price him out of a return. There are also percolating talks that the Cowboys could move on from Cooper, who is due a $20 million base salary, which isn't guaranteed. Dallas could decide to cut bait after a down season but would need to replace Cooper with another top-shelf receiver to make the offense go. With Jerry Jones searching for that elusive return to the Super Bowl, cutting Cooper would be tough to swallow.
Adams is the biggest potential free-agent receiver. It would be a stunner if the Packers let him hit the market, with the franchise tag looming if a long-term deal can't be struck before the March 8 tag deadline. Would that perturb the star receiver enough that he would demand a trade rather than play on the one-year tender? Outside of Adams, there are questions up and down the Packers' receiver corps, with key contributors in line for new deals. Cobb could be a cut candidate, especially if Aaron Rodgers leaves. Like much of the Packers' offseason, things could look drastically different in the coming months, or GM Brian Gutekunst could go all-in once again and find a way to bring most of the crew back.
The Chiefs should be a player to add a potent second-fiddle to Hill. Hardman didn't prove consistent enough in that role in 2021. Adding a playmaker who can take advantage of coverage rolled to Hill and Travis Kelce is a need. The Josh Gordon experiment didn't take -- although the Chiefs did sign him to a reserve/future contract earlier this month -- so it's back to the drawing board in K.C. to fill the Sammy Watkins role. Odell Beckham Jr. has been rumored as a target if healthy, and the Chiefs were in on JuJu Smith-Schuster last offseason and could revisit the free agent. With Pringle and Robinson headed to free agency, depth is also on the docket.
Renfrow had a career campaign, authoring a 103-catch, 1,038-yard season with nine TDs in 2021, but the Raiders need help outside the third-down machine. Edwards remains inconsistent. Jones was a solid target but is headed to free agency. Even if Vegas brings back Jones, a top-flight wideout would open up the offense for Josh McDaniels. Raiders fans are pining for Davante Adams, and if he somehow hit free agency, it would be a dream pairing. If, as expected, Adams remains in Green Bay, the Raiders should still be players to add a receiving threat in free agency and the draft.
The Chargers can franchise-tag Williams to ensure the big wideout goes nowhere in 2022 while working on a long-term extension. Williams led the Chargers with 1,146 yards on 76 catches with nine TDs last season. He combines the ideal size and speed to complement Allen. Ensuring Williams remains in L.A. is priority No. 1. If not, the Chargers, who have a ton of cap space, instantly become players at the top of the market. Youngsters Palmer and Guyton also provide good depth with upside. Regardless of whether Williams returns, I'd expect Palmer's role to expand exponentially in Year 2.
On paper, Big Blue has a good quartet. In practice, the group underperformed and couldn't stay healthy. Golladay generated just 521 yards on 37 catches with zero TDs after his big payday and was far too inconsistent for his talent level. Toney displayed brief moments of explosive play-making but was constantly hurt. And Shepard likewise played in just seven games. Shepard and Slayton could be cut candidates this offseason as the Giants dig out from salary cap hell. Like much of what was left after the Dave Gettleman era, the receiver corps leaves a lot to be desired even though a lot of capital was spent to fix it.
The Jets signed Davis to play a big role in 2021. That didn't work out, as the free-agent acquisition played just nine games and caught 34 passes for 492 yards and four TDs. Davis struggled with drops and had almost no rapport with rookie Zach Wilson. Moore flashed play-making ability at times, but he appeared in only 11 games. With Crowder and Berrios set for free agency, Moore could see additional snaps from the slot this fall, which would make him more dangerous moving forward. But all this adds up to Gang Green sorely needing a field-tilting No. 1 target to take the pressure off Wilson. Expect the Jets to make strong offers to receivers in free agency with their cap room.
Key free agents: Greg Ward (RFA)
GM Howie Roseman continues to swing big at the receiver position. He finally found a keeper in Smith, who put up 916 yards on 64 catches with five TDs as a rookie. Smith's numbers could have been even better if Jalen Hurts connected on a few of his deep balls. The 6-foot wideout offers superior route running and good hands. Expect a Year 2 leap on tap. Watkins proved to be a good speed option -- even if Nick Sirianni called far too many WR screens at times. Reagor has been a massive disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2020 (just 695 total yards in two years). With three first-round picks in April's draft, it wouldn't be a shocker if Roseman added another early receiver to pair with Smith.
Back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard seasons proved Johnson could be a go-to target -- when he's focused. A new quarterback could unlock more deep targets for the speed threat with good route-running ability this season. Likewise, Claypool offers enticing talent but lacks consistency -- four 90-plus-yard games were met by five of fewer than 40 yards. Claypool owns the size and speed to be a much bigger force. Depth is undoubtedly an issue with Smith-Schuster heading toward free agency and Washington possibly finding a landing spot where he could finally break out. The Steelers have money to spend this offseason, and if they don't use it on a QB, it could go to upgrading the pass-catching corps.
Bigger fish to fry
Key free agents: Sammy Watkins (UFA)
Brown is coming off his first 1,000-yard season, but the breakthrough was mitigated by fewer explosive plays and the first three fumbles of his career. Brown has areas to improve, from route running to getting more potent after the catch, but he remains a centerpiece of the offense. With Baltimore expected to pick up his fifth-year option for 2023, the WR may push for an extension alongside Lamar Jackson this offseason. Meanwhile, Bateman surged after missing the beginning of the season. The first-rounder showed good route-running and ball skills. Bateman has the potential to grow into the top target in Baltimore. With Watkins headed to free agency, GM Eric DeCosta could look to add a veteran, but with bigger holes along the line and on defense, shelling out to woo a big name doesn't appear in the cards.
Key free agents: Brandon Zylstra
Moore is a stud, even in a struggling pass offense, but the rest of the corps offers significant questions. It's telling that running back Christian McCaffrey finished the year third in receiving yards for Carolina despite playing in just seven games (343 yards). Anderson wasn't nearly as explosive last season, thanks partly to the lack of a vertical attack. Carolina could attempt to trade him, but would they find a taker with $8 million guaranteed? The Panthers got next to nothing out of rookies Marshall and Smith, but with other areas of need (QB, O-line), I don't expect significant changes in the wideout room. Instead, Carolina will likely hope Marshall and Smith grow in Year 2.
Key free agents: N/A
The Broncos have the makings of a dynamic, top-flight receiver corps if they can stay healthy. Jeudy owns Pro Bowl talent but played just 10 games in 2021, and speedster Hamler was injured in Week 3. Sutton took time to get back into the swing of things after returning from injury. And Patrick adds an enticing big-body target. The foursome fits well together from a schematic standpoint and could dominate in new coach Nathaniel Hackett's system. The talent resides in Denver for a potent offense if they can finally figure out the QB.
The triple crown winner, Kupp is everything you want in a receiver: smart, instinctive, great route runner, tough hands, superb after the catch and a good blocker. The Super Bowl MVP makes the Rams' offense go. Getting Woods back healthy from a torn ACL will be critical, as L.A. struggled for stretches sans the underrated receiver. Will Jefferson make a Year 3 leap? That possibility could very well be determined by whether the Rams retain OBJ -- if he genuinely is considering taking a team-friendly offer to remain with the Super Bowl champs.
Key free agents: Dede Westbrook (UFA)
The Vikings' WR corps is in a good spot. Jefferson is a star, yet it feels as though he hasn't even reached his peak. In Year 3, Jefferson should contend for the title of top WR in the NFL. Injuries held back Thielen in 2021, but he remains as reliable a receiver as there is in the league when healthy. The emergence of Osborn gives the Vikes a solid trio to build off of in new coach Kevin O'Connell's offense. Don't be surprised if Smith-Marsette carves out a bigger role in Year 2.
Samuel's dynamism as a "wide back" makes him unique among receivers. His running prowess will likely lead other clubs to attempt to mimic that usage, but there is only one Deebo. The pairing of Samuel and Aiyuk gives the Niners two reliable targets for the next phase of the offense under quarterback Trey Lance. Each provides run-after-the-catch ability and can win over the middle. Jennings should return, while Kyle Shanahan fills out the rest of the depth chart with cheaper options and likely a veteran or two. But the Niners have more significant needs this offseason than the wideout corps.
Key free agents: Penny Hart (UFA)
Lockett and Metcalf represent a dangerous duo who can win at all levels and offer explosive playmaking. Scary as it is, Metcalf still has room to grow after falling just shy of the 1,000-yard barrier in 2021. Assuming Russell Wilson returns and the blocking holds up, the passing game is in capable hands. The bigger question for the Seahawks' receiver corps is whether Eskridge, a 2021 second-round pick, can grow into a role after playing sparingly as a rookie. Eskridge caught just 10 passes for 64 yards and a TD, but he has the raw talent to thrive in Year 2. How much he develops this offseason will determine whether Seattle's two-headed monster grows into a three-man force.
The Titans were rarely healthy at the same time in 2021, which hindered the upside of the offense. Brown proved he's a field-tilting weapon; his absence for four games left a hole that was arguably harder to fill than that left by injured back Derrick Henry. Jones played just 10 games, catching 31 passes for 434 yards and a lone TD. Tennessee is paying a lot of scratch for someone who has appeared in just 19 games over the past two years. The question is whether the 33-year-old will be perennially dogged by injury concerns or find the fountain of youth in Tennessee. On paper, the A.J.-Julio duo should be dynamic. We just didn't see it play out on the field in 2021. With salary cap questions and issues elsewhere, the Titans are likely to fill in the gaps with cheaper, young talent while praying to the football gods for good health.
Godwin remains in line for a hefty payday despite his ACL tear. By most accounts, the Bucs don't plan on letting the star wideout out of the building after he played on the franchise tag in 2021. If Tampa doesn't pay Godwin, someone with more cap room surely will make a huge offer. Keeping Evans and Godwin together would boost whomever replaces Tom Brady at quarterback. But the Bucs need one of their young wideouts to step up in three-receiver sets. The offense struggled at times without Antonio Brown. Tampa stockpiled young wideouts with talent in Johnson and Darden. Now they need them to develop into consistent playmakers.
Best trio in the NFL
The best wide receiver trio in the NFL resides in Cincinnati. Chase proved to be a big-play machine en route to claiming the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Higgins owns No. 1-receiver talent. And Boyd is one of the best slot receivers in the NFL. Each member of this threesome perfectly complements the others. While there was some debate as to whether Cincinnati should select Chase with the fifth overall pick in last year's draft, it's unequivocally true that the Bengals wouldn't have reached Super Bowl LVI without the record-setting rookie. Another year of growth together with Joe Burrow should only increase Cincy's capabilities. Depth could be an issue, with Tate and Thomas headed towards free agency, but neither player would have cracked the top three anyway, and the Bengals have bigger problems to deal with on the O-line.