NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2022" -- voted on by the players themselves -- continued on Sunday, Aug. 21. Players ranked 50-21 were revealed Sunday over the course of three hour-long episodes.
Two of the NFL's most productive QB-pass catcher combinations were revealed in Episode 7 (Nos. 40-31). Chargers' Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen landed at Nos. 40 and 35, respectively, while Baltimore's Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews ranked 36th and 32nd in the players' list. With that in mind, former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew provides his ranking of the top 10 QB-pass catcher duos heading into the 2022 NFL season.
Following the 2021 NFL season, you'd expect guys like Aaron Rodgers and Deebo Samuel to be well-positioned on a list of top quarterback-pass catcher duos. However, the back-to-back MVP is now without his best receiver, Davante Adams, while Samuel, who's fresh off signing a new contract after posting 1,405 receiving yards last season, is playing with a new, unproven quarterback in Trey Lance.
That's why you won't see these two guys below. You will see plenty of other names who will likely dazzle us with their heroics every Sunday. So let's jump in. Here are my top 10 QB-pass catcher combos ahead of the 2022 NFL season:
This pairing is a dark horse; there are actually a lot factors telling me to pick any other duo for this spot. Winston and Thomas have yet to play a game together since Winston took over as the Saints' starting QB in 2021. Jameis is recovering from an ACL injury suffered in Week 8 last season and has been dealing with a foot injury this preseason, while Thomas is back at practice but hasn't played in live game action since the 2020 playoffs. However, there's also a lot to like about this combo. Winston was playing some of the best football of his career before his knee injury. He was taking better care of the football, completing more passes and putting the Saints in favorable positions. Thomas was one of the most reliable playmakers in his last fully healthy season, as he hauled in a record-setting 149 catches in 2019 on the way to winning the Offensive Player of the Year award. The Saints' offense will put the league on watch if these two key playmakers can get on the field Week 1 and stay available. This feels like a big if, but I'm hopeful.
Murray has taken a lot of heat after the Cardinals crumbled down the stretch last season and lost their wild-card game. Now, the newly extended fourth-year pro must prove he can carry this team, which means he'll have to look to his offensive weapons for help. What better playmaker to rely on than Hopkins? When healthy, he's been one of the best at his position since he entered the league in 2013. Murray posted an 18:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 108.1 passer rating when Hopkins was on the field in 2021; when he wasn't, Murray recorded a 6:4 TD-to-INT ratio and 82.5 passer rating (including the playoff loss). The catch: Hopkins won't see the field until Week 7 this year, due to a six-game suspension. Murray must figure out a way to get it done in the interim, because we know he'll thrive when Hopkins returns.
Herbert is one of several MVP hopefuls listed here. One of two players to reach the 5,000-passing-yard benchmark in 2021, the third-year pro is ready to take the next step and help his team to the playoffs. To do that, he'll need to be in sync with his pass catchers. And while I could've gone with Mike Williams in this spot, Allen's consistency gives him the edge. Since 2017, Allen has recorded four seasons with at least 100 receptions (the most in the NFL in that span) and four seasons with 1,100 receiving yards (tied for most in the NFL). He's a perennial Pro Bowler who's undoubtedly played a key part in Herbert's quick ascension. This pair has thrived together on third and fourth down since Herbert came into the league in 2020, with Allen compiling a league-high 70 catches and ranking in the top four in receiving yards (824) and TD receptions (nine) on such downs over that span. With the AFC West division only getting tougher in 2022, you can expect Herbert to continue to look to his trusty vet in critical moments.
Prescott's coming off a solid 2021 performance in which he notched career highs in completion percentage (68.8) and passing TDs (37) while driving the NFL's top-ranked scoring and total offense. Despite the loss of Amari Cooper via trade this offseason, Prescott is poised to continue to lead a high-flying passing attack with Lamb as his top target. The third-year wideout racked up 2,037 receiving yards in his first two seasons (second-most in Dallas franchise history in a player's first two pro campaigns). He and Prescott are heading into this season with better chemistry than he "can even ask for," Lamb said, via the Dallas Morning News. As long as both of these guys can stay healthy, the Cowboys' pass game shouldn't skip a beat.
Brady put together one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2021, with over 5,300 passing yards. The fact that he will miss a significant amount of the preseason should not lead to a drop in production. I'm still taking Evans on the receiving end over other Bucs pass catchers like Chris Godwin and Julio Jones, simply because Evans has logged at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his eight NFL seasons. That's the longest such streak to begin a career in NFL history. Consider a 1,000-yard season a lock for him no matter who's under center. Now factor in the G.O.A.T. being the player to throw him the ball. I'd be a maniac to keep the Brady-Evans combo off this list.
UPDATE: Tom Brady is expected to return to the Bucs on Monday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday.
Kelce is the standard at the tight end position heading into 2022 -- though the 49ers' George Kittle is a close second. Kelce has averaged 5.5 catches per game and 70.9 receiving yards per game in his career, both most by a tight end in NFL history. Throwing to him is another guy considered to be the best at his position (depending on whom you ask). Kelce is one of just two players to post at least 5,000 receiving yards since 2018, when Mahomes became the Chiefs' starter, and he's added 35 touchdown catches in that span. That likely doesn't happen without Mahomes, whose "down" performances often result in Chiefs wins. The connection between these two is almost second to none. Kelce finds ways to get and stay open on any given play, even when double-teamed, and Mahomes routinely gets the ball to his biggest and most reliable target, whether he's facing pressure in the pocket or is on the run. Mahomes and Kelce are a huge reason the Chiefs have made four straight AFC title game appearances. They should be as successful as ever in 2022, even with Tyreek Hill now gone.
I'm not so sure Derek Carr would've made this list a year ago sans Davante Adams. Now, with the two reunited on the same team for the first time since their days at Fresno State, Carr is positioned to have his best pro season to date. Consider the numbers they put up as one of college football's most dangerous offensive duos in 2012-13:
- Carr: led FBS in passing yards (9,187) and passing TDs (87)
- Adams: led FBS in receiving yards (3,031) and receiving TDs (38)
To think Carr could have his best pro season in 2022 is saying something, considering Carr had a career-high 4,804 passing yards in 2021 and helped the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Adams also tallied a career-high 1,553 receiving yards in 2021, his final season with the Green Bay Packers. Carr and Adams certainly have the tools to blow up the stat sheet and take the Raiders to consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 2002, but can they recapture the magic they once had? We'll find out soon enough.
Kupp put up gaudy numbers en route to winning the receiving triple crown in 2021: 145 receptions, 1,947 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns. Sean McVay and Kevin O'Connell, now in Minnesota, did a great job scheming Kupp open, but the crafty wideout also did a lot on his own by collecting yards after the catch and hoovering up everything in his vicinity. There's no reason Kupp can't have an equally great 2022 campaign, but the one factor that could play a role is Stafford's elbow. We know what Stafford is capable of, but this offense could suffer if his injury lingers.
This duo has been nearly unstoppable since Diggs joined the Bills in 2020, with Diggs ranking in the top five in targets (330, first), receptions (230, third) and receiving yards (2,760, fourth) since 2020. In their first season together, it felt as if Diggs was the leader of this duo, but Allen took the reins last season, becoming one of the toughest quarterbacks to defend with this ability to make every throw in the playbook while posing the threat to take off with his legs at any moment. The following Next Gen Stats metrics proves just how dangerous Allen makes the Bills' offense:
- 24 pass TDs on throws of 10-plus air yards in 2021 (most in NFL)
- 12 pass TDs outside tackle box in 2021 (most in NFL)
- 12 pass TDs on the run in 2021 (most in NFL)
The veteran wideout has been instrumental in Allen's improvement, and the sky's the limit for this pair in 2022 -- as it is for most of the duos on this list. While Allen, currently the favorite to win the MVP award according to Caesars Sportsbook, wows in almost everything he does, Diggs is the meticulous and reliable receiver who keeps his head down and constantly shows up for his quarterback and team.
Coming into the 2021 season, there were a ton of question marks surrounding these two players. Burrow was returning from a season-ending ACL injury that forced him to miss six games as a rookie, and Chase entered Week 1 coming off a rough preseason that saw him record numerous drops. But by season's end, there were zero concerns about the Burrow-Chase marriage. This was perhaps the most exciting duo at the start of the postseason, with Chase setting several regular-season rookie records -- including for single-game receiving yards (266 in Week 17) and single-season receiving yards (1,455). The fact that Burrow was able to put together an impressive sophomore campaign and lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl while under heavy duress in the pocket (he was sacked a league-high 51 times) is a testament to his awareness and ability. Chase, who had previously built chemistry with Burrow at LSU, was not only a safety net for his QB but routinely provided a big play when the Bengals needed one. A huge downfield playmaker, Chase led the NFL with seven deep receiving touchdowns (20-plus air yards) last season, per NGS. It truly was just like Burrow said: "Eff it. Ja'Marr's down there somewhere. I'm gonna throw it up to him and he's going to make a play." That's pretty much how it went. Expecting more fireworks in 2022.
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