The Daily Briefing Thursday, September 27, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The Competition Committee “clarifies” the new roughing the passer rule.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Recent controversy over the NFL’s point of emphasis on a defender avoiding the placement of body weight on a quarterback prompted the NFL competition committee to meet Wednesday night via teleconference.

 

The committee determined that no changes would be made to the point of emphasis, which was approved during the league’s annual meeting in the spring, or the roughing the passer rule, which has included the body weight provision since 1995, NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent announced in a statement.

 

Vincent also points out in his statement, however, that the committee clarified techniques that represent an infraction in an effort to provide uniformity with officials making the calls.

 

In total, there have been 34 roughing the passer penalties through three weeks of action. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, a member of the committee, pointed out during a Wednesday teleconference with reporters that some called penalties were wrong and there was a need for consistency among officiating crews.

 

The league provided a video narrated by senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron showing four examples of a foul and four examples of legal contact on a quarterback to avoid the placement of full body weight.

 

Missing from the video was Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ penalty after his sack of Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith drew a flag, marking the second consecutive week Matthews was penalized for roughing the passer.

 

Matthews, speaking to reporters Thursday, isn’t sure how the video provides a clear definition of what constitutes a legal hit on a quarterback.

 

“After seeing the video, too, all hits on the quarterback that came from straight on, which is what they teach you since Pee Wee football with running backs, receivers or whatever is to approach them head on if you can,” Matthews said, per The Athletic. “Those were all illegal hits [on the video], much like the two hits I had on Cousins and [Alex] Smith last week, which were conveniently left out of the video.

 

“All of the acceptable hits which were legal came from off the edge or quarterbacks that were trying to fight out of a sack,” Matthews continued. “If they continue to call it like that, I think there’s going to be more penalties, players are obviously going to be upset, coaches are going to continue to not know how to coach it and fans will continue to be upset by the fact that the NFL can’t seem to get out of its own way.”

 

While the league backed the officials for penalizing Matthews against Washington, the play was among numerous examples from Week 3 to draw league-wide confusion and comments from players.

 

So was anything clarified?  You can’t clarify the rule without unambiguously declaring whether the last two Matthews penalties were correctly called.  Our thought is that the one against the Vikings was not called correctly (there was no “scoop and lift”) with more of a legitimate case by the terms of the new rule for the one against the Redskins.  What say you?

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings will be without troubled DL EVERSON GRIFFIN tonight.  He posts something on his Instagram.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen continues to undergo treatment for his mental health issues and said in a statement he has no timeline for a return to football.

 

The Vikings will play their second game without Griffen, whose erratic behavior in the last week included threatening to shoot staff at the Hotel Ivy on Saturday.

 

He posted on Instagram on Thursday before the Vikings’ game against the Rams, writing:

 

“This past week’s events have raised many questions and I want to apologize to everyone who was impacted. I am currently focused on resolving personal issues with which I have been dealing for a long time. Once I have had time to address those issues, I hope to share my story with everyone.

 

“I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from my family, the Vikings organization, my teammates and our tremendous fan base.

 

“I apologize for not being able to take the field with my teammates and do not have an exact timeline for my return. I promise, however, I will return as a much-improved person and player.”

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Eagles RB JAY AJAYI has a “broken back” and he plans on playing.  Tim McManus of ESPN.com:

 

– Eagles running back Jay Ajayi says he has a small fracture in his back but plans to play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

 

“You just have to roll with it until it heals on its own,” he said, adding that it’s possible to do that while still playing. “You just have to protect it.”

 

Ajayi injured his back early in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2. A group of Bucs defenders bent him backwards while tackling him behind the line of scrimmage. He remained in for one more play before hobbling to the sideline.

 

Ajayi twice went into the locker room for treatment but did end up going back into the game. He finished with seven carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. He sat out last week against the Indianapolis Colts and missed Wednesday’s practice before returning on Thursday as a full participant.

 

The 25-year-old Ajayi is in a contract year. He has three touchdowns over two games despite limited action.

 

Receiver Alshon Jeffery sat out Thursday with an illness. It seems something is going around. Defensive end Michael Bennett missed Wednesday’s session with an illness as well but returned Thursday.

 

Safety Rodney McLeod had season-ending surgery to repair a torn MCL, according to reports. The Eagles did not immediately confirm the news. Veteran Corey Graham is expected to slide into a starting role opposite Malcolm Jenkins in McLeod’s absence.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

S ERIC REID, whose lack of a job seemed more puzzling that that of his buddy Colin Kaepernick, is out of the ranks of the unemployed.  Bill Chappell of NPR.org:

 

Eric Reid, a Pro Bowl safety who has said he was punished for kneeling with Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem, has signed a deal with the Carolina Panthers, ending his hiatus from the NFL.

 

Reid, 26, was a starter during the five years he played for the San Francisco 49ers. But no one signed him after his contract expired at the end of last season. The new contract with the Panthers is a one-year deal.

 

In San Francisco, Reid was the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick — and earlier this year, Reid filed a grievance against the NFL and its teams, alleging they colluded to punish him for his social advocacy.

 

After news of Reid’s signing, Kaepernick sent congratulations via Twitter, saying, “Congrats 2 my brother … who should have been signed the 1st day of free agency.”

 

Wide receiver Torrey Smith — who two days ago was urging the Panthers to sign Reid, after losing safety Da’Norris Searcy to injury last week — said on Thursday, “There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.”

 

Carolina General Manager Marty Hurney said that after he and head coach Ron Rivera checked out their options to fill the spot, “Eric was at the top of our list. He is a physical safety with good ball skills and play-making ability.”

 

It should be noted that Reid was offered early contracts that were not to his liking by the Seahawks in August and his former team, the 49ers, recently.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com thinks teams should do everything they can to make sure they have a young QB.  And he thinks the Rams should prove his point by dumping JARED GOFF, rather than give him a second contract.

 

The cheat code to unlock a Super Bowl-caliber team in the modern NFL is to find a useful quarterback on a rookie deal. It has been clear going back to the early days of this collective bargaining agreement, when the Seahawks surrounded Russell Wilson with stars and nearly claimed consecutive championships. Last year, the Eagles built a team around Carson Wentz talented enough to win even after Wentz went down because of a torn ACL. Tom Brady is obviously not on a rookie deal, but the Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl four times under the current CBA with Brady on a below-market contract.

 

Teams have realized this, of course, which is why we’ve seen them go on a spending spree to surround their young quarterbacks with stars while they remain cheap:

 

The Rams traded up for Jared Goff in 2016 and then acquired Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh this year, while signing Cooks, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald to massive extensions while Goff is still making peanuts.

 

The Eagles brought back virtually everyone of consequence from their Super Bowl team while locking up new acquisitions such as Alshon Jeffery and Tim Jernigan over the past 12 months.

 

The Chiefs signed Sammy Watkins with the money they saved by replacing Alex Smith with Patrick Mahomes.

 

The Bears signed an entire receiving corps in free agency for Mitchell Trubisky.

 

The 3-0 Rams are a model to teams like the Bears and Browns, who are building around quarterbacks taken at or near the top of the draft. The Rams are structuring their extension schedule around Goff, who has two years and $16.5 million in cap charges remaining on his rookie deal. Los Angeles will have one more year of cost control in 2020 with Goff’s unguaranteed fifth-year option, which comes to more than $25 million, though teams traditionally use that year to sign their star quarterback to a long-term contract extension.

 

Time is of the essence with these moves. Wilson eventually got a market-value deal, and while he has continued to play well, the Seahawks’ roster has gotten worse around him. Joe Flacco signed a massive contract after playing out the fifth year of his rookie deal with the Ravens, who have been pinching pennies ever since. Cam Newton signed an extension with the Panthers before his 2015 MVP season and subsequent Super Bowl appearance, but his cap hit during that 2015 campaign was a relatively modest $13 million before jumping to $19.5 million and higher. He hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl. Even Brady’s cap hit — which hadn’t topped $15 million since 2010 — jumped to $22 million this year, leaving the Patriots with what looks like a thin roster in spots during their indifferent start to the season.

 

Unless your quarterback is married to a supermodel with a net worth stretching into nine figures, though, the bargain doesn’t last forever. The best-case scenario is that you get four seasons of excellent play at a below-market rate before locking up your franchise passer and hoping to find arbitrage opportunities elsewhere.

 

Well, that’s the current best-case scenario. As @DamonGilmour posed on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, what if you could have a cheap quarterback … forever?

 

There’s a fascinating idea here, and I think it deserves some thought. Is a talented quarterback on a rookie deal such a valuable proposition that an organization should get on a cycle of finding a quarterback in the draft before trading him once he gets expensive? Is that even a feasible plan? And if it is, which organizations could even realistically consider it? Let’s run through a few reasonable questions about this theory and see what we find.

 

What if the new guy isn’t any good?

This is the obvious question, and it’s going to stop the most risk-averse teams from even exploring the possibilities. A general manager who trades away a useful quarterback entering his prime to draft a new passer who fails to win fans over is going to get fired. General managers do not want to get fired.

 

Of course, it’s also fair to note that some executives are willing to be more aggressive. It’s not an identical scenario, but the Chiefs were willing to trade up to grab Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the 2017 draft despite the presence of Alex Smith. Smith is older than the quarterbacks we’re laying out in this scenario, but then-GM John Dorsey clearly felt as if the team had peaked with Smith under center and made the move to go after Mahomes. We’re only four games into Mahomes’ career, but the Chiefs look to have the scariest offense in football.

 

There’s also the possibility that sticking on the current path with an expensive quarterback won’t lead to further success. There was arguably no way the Ravens could have moved on from Flacco after he produced one of the best postseasons in league history during the 2012 playoffs, but the move has kneecapped Baltimore ever since. Flacco signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal that was structured to force an extension after three years. If the Ravens cut Flacco after the 2018 season as expected, they’ll end up having paid him $124 million over six years for below-average play.

 

Baltimore also has been forced to restructure several deals to free up cap space and add talent as an aftereffect of the Flacco extension, so even after its longtime quarterback leaves, his impact will still be felt. The Ravens kept Flacco while moving on from Tyrod Taylor, who was a competent starter during his time in Buffalo, though he struggled in Cleveland this season.

 

Flacco is an example of a quarterback who entered the league before the current CBA was signed, but among the current-CBA passers, seven have signed meaningful extensions with the team that drafted them: Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles. Of those seven, only Bortles’ team made the playoffs last season, and that was while he was still on his rookie deal before signing an extension this offseason.

 

In some cases, it’s not even about the quarterback playing poorly. Wilson has continued to play at a high level in Seattle, but the infrastructure around him has fallen apart. The Seahawks took away the money they spent on Wilson from the offensive line, hoping that offensive line coach Tom Cable could develop athletes and draft picks into useful players. He couldn’t, and when that plan failed, the next step was to spend on the likes of Luke Joeckel, Duane Brown and Justin Britt while saving money on defense, which led to Richard Sherman and Sheldon Richardson leaving town.

 

If you’re thinking about this as if it’s a question of quarterback vs. quarterback, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not, to pick a quarterback, four years of Derek Carr versus four years with a random rookie. It’s four years of Carr versus four years with a rookie and whatever else you can get with the money you save by not spending a premium for a quarterback.

 

Imagine a scenario in which the Raiders didn’t re-sign Carr and then traded him to the Jets before the 2017 draft for the sixth overall pick, which they then used on Deshaun Watson. Carr’s contract is roughly $25 million per year. The sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft makes right around $5.5 million, leaving a difference of $19.5 million per year with which to work. Instead of Carr vs. Watson, it’s a question of whether the Raiders would rather have Carr or, say, a trio of Watson, Calais Campbell and Dion Lewis, which adds up to $25.5 million in annual salaries. Alternately, an extra $19.5 million would have gone a long way toward paying Khalil Mack, whose new deal averages $23.5 million per season. Carr and Johnathan Hankins ($27 million), or Watson and Mack ($28 million)? The Raiders got back two draft picks for Mack, but they also would have picked up a haul for Carr last offseason, too.

– – –

Let’s say that Goff was entering the fifth year of his rookie deal after playing at the level we saw in 2017 for several years, and coach Sean McVay simultaneously fell in love with Baker Mayfield as he looked to borrow things from Oklahoma’s playbook. Mayfield would have more upside given that he would be relatively cheap, but the Browns have $80 million in cap space next year. If the Rams came and offered the Browns a successful Goff for the first overall pick in the draft, wouldn’t Dorsey at least consider it?

 

My suspicion is that it would be difficult to pull this off, but long-suffering teams like the Browns and Jets might prefer the stability of a quarterback who already has proved he can pull off playing at the NFL level, even if it means paying full freight for his services.

 

Who would be brave enough to draft a quarterback who might be a bust?

It would take an incredibly aggressive franchise to trade away a franchise quarterback in his prime. Even a post-Brady Bill Belichick might have second thoughts. You would need incredible job security. You might also need a Chiefs-esque narrative over the past several years where your quarterback impresses during the regular season but fails to move the needle during the postseason to at least convince some elements of your fan base that you can justify making a move. You have to be good but not so good that you’ve won a Super Bowl.

 

You can never be 100 percent sure you’ll avoid drafting a disappointing quarterback. Ozzie Newsome traded up to grab Kyle Boller. The Patriots nearly took Tim Rattay over Brady. As I wrote before this year’s draft, the evidence tells us that we really aren’t very good at identifying which quarterbacks are going to turn into stars until they actually line up on the field for money. NFL executives (and reporters, too) want to believe that they can sense an “it factor” with quarterbacks, but more often than not, they’re wrong.

 

The best way to draft a successful quarterback is to put the right pieces around him. You’d want a brilliant offensive mind as a head coach, preferably one with a track record of developing young quarterbacks and an open mind about his scheme. There have to be weapons, of course; great receivers and an effective running game would make this quarterback’s life easier. A solid, stable offensive line would help the rookie settle in without developing a nervous tic about the pass rush a la David Carr in Houston.

 

Simply put, our ideal team to make this sort of trade would already have a ton of talent around the new quarterback. Naturally, paying their quarterback a relative pittance would allow our organization to both retain its own talent and target new players.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

TE JAKE BUTT goes on the shelf again.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Broncos tight end Jake Butt missed all 16 games in his first NFL season because of a torn ACL and he’ll miss the final 13 games of his second season for the same reason.

 

Butt injured his left knee in Thursday’s practice and the Broncos confirmed reports that he tore the ligament later in the day.

 

“Jake has worked his tail off to recover from his previous injuries, and we feel terrible for him,” head coach Vance Joseph said in a statement. “He’s a great kid who’s developed into a very good football player. We have no doubt Jake will come back stronger than ever.”

 

Butt tore the right ACL in his final game at the University of Michigan — he also tore his right ACL in 2014 — and the Broncos drafted him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. He had eight catches for 85 yards in three starts for Denver this season.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

OC Todd Haley admits to plagerism.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley admitted Thursday to reporters that he “absolutely” used the two-point conversion attempt trick play in Week 3 from the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII.

 

In the Eagles’ version, quarterback Nick Foles caught a touchdown from tight end Trey Burton en route to a championship over the New England Patriots.

 

Against the New York Jets, Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield converted on the two-point try after catching a pass from wide receiver Jarvis Landry to tie the game. The Browns eventually secured a 21-17 win.

 

“I have no shame,” Haley told reporters.

 

Meanwhile, if any of the replays look familiar to even casual football fans, they probably should.

 

Trick plays involving a quarterback getting in the end zone on the receiving end of a pass aren’t uncommon at the high school, college or professional level.

 

Foles scored on virtually the same play at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, while Mayfield, as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma, caught a touchdown pass against Georgia in the Rose Bowl.

 

And just a little more than a month before the “Philly Special” took the NFL by storm at the Super Bowl, the Detroit Lions made a splash with their own two-point conversion trick play against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 31, 2017.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Michael David Smith on the lack of downfield throws by QB ANDREW LUCK so far:

 

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck says that his surgically repaired throwing shoulder has healed well enough that he knows he can make all the throws. But his actions don’t match his words.

 

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said on PTI that he has watched Luck since college and can see that Luck’s arm is not the same.

 

“I was a season ticket holder at Stanford,” Young said. “I used to go over and watch Andrew Luck, and as a quarterback I used to watch him throw the ball and go, ‘That’s beautiful. That’s amazing.’ I haven’t seen the guy throw the ball like that. And so I have a deep appreciation for how he throws the ball. It is not being thrown that way right now. He cannot drive the football. He can’t throw it the way he used to.”

 

According to Mike Clay of ESPN, Luck has not attempted a pass with a depth over 31 yards even once this season. During Luck’s previous five seasons, he totaled 114 pass attempts with a depth over 31 yards.

 

Luck played 70 games in his first five seasons, so he was previously averaging 1.6 attempts per game that went 31 yards downfield or longer. To play three straight games and not even try a pass that deep once would strongly suggest that the Colts aren’t confident enough in Luck’s arm strength to trust him to throw deep.

 

And, of course, we don’t have to speculate about what the Colts are thinking about Luck’s arm: We saw it at the end of Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. With the Colts trailing 20-16, they took over at their own 11-yard line with 39 seconds left. That’s a situation when NFL teams throw deep. But what did the Colts do? They had luck throw six consecutive short passes, then come out of the game to be replaced by Jacoby Brissett for a Hail Mary.

 

If Luck can make deep throws, he should have thrown deep at the end of Sunday’s game. And until we see him throw deep the way we used to, it’s hard to take seriously his claims that his shoulder is as good as new.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed on something, but it is not as consequential as a new CBA, or even an anthem policy.  Austin Knoblach of NFL.com on the case of S PATRICK CHUNG:

 

A review conducted by the NFL and the NFL Players Association concluded the New England Patriots followed proper procedures in connection to a concussion suffered by safety Patrick Chung during a Week 2 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

The review concluded that the team, the unaffiliated neurotrama consultant and the booth independent certified athletic trainer in the booth (ATC spotter) followed proper procedures under the league’s concussion protocol.

 

The league and union found that Chung was not initially displaying concussion symptoms immediately after the hit, which allowed him to re-enter the game for several plays in the second quarter. A short time later, sideline medical staff chose to pull Chung out of the game after seeing him get up slow after a play.

 

After undergoing a sideline exam, Chung was cleared to return again, but he was re-evaluated by the Patriots’ medical staff during halftime. It was during the halftime exam that Chung was displaying potential concussion symptoms and taken out for the remainder of the game.

 

Here is the NFL-NFLPA joint statement on the review:

 

The NFL and NFLPA concluded their review of the application of the Concussion Protocol involving New England Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung during the Patriots-Jaguars game on September 16. The NFL and NFLPA conducted interviews with relevant Patriots personnel, the game official involved, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC) and the booth ATC spotter, all of whom fully cooperated in the review.

 

The interviews established that the booth ATC spotter, booth UNC, sideline medical staff, and the game official each concluded that they did not need to initiate the Protocol. The game official observed that Mr. Chung was slow to get up and therefore removed him from play, but he did not identify a need to trigger the Protocol. Additionally, the unaffiliated medical personnel (booth UNC and booth ATC spotter) reviewed the play, did not identify a mechanism of injury and concluded the player was not exhibiting signs or symptoms suggestive of a concussion and therefore did not initiate the Protocol.

 

After Mr. Chung returned to the game for several plays, the Patriots’ coaching staff observed behavior that warranted a sideline review and the Protocol was triggered. The UNC and team medical staff conducted a sideline evaluation, which per the Concussion Game Day Checklist required a review of the video from the earlier play. Mr. Chung was cleared by the UNC and team medical staff. Subsequently, as is standard practice, the player remained under close observation following the sideline exam. During halftime, Mr. Chung was re-evaluated by the Club’s medical staff and the UNC and found to have potential concussion symptoms and therefore was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Mr. Chung had delayed development of concussions symptoms, which is not uncommon, and was removed as soon as that was recognized.

 

As a result of these findings, the NFL and NFLPA both concluded that the Protocol was not violated. The parties will continue to educate all stakeholders about the Protocol and emphasize conservative care.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

RANKING THE RECEIVERS

Mike Clay of ESPN.com ranks all 32 receiving corps after 3 weeks of the NFL season.  A significantly edited version below (just WRs, not tight ends):

 

In the modern NFL, teams have made the smart decision to throw the ball more than we’ve ever seen. That’s led to more scoring and more reliance on wide receivers.

 

Consider that as recently as 2007, the average team had three or more wide receivers on the field for 43 percent of its offensive snaps. That number was at 50 percent by 2012, peaked at 66 percent in 2016 and sits at 65 percent through three weeks of play in 2018.

 

The wide receiver position being important is nothing new, but with more of them on the field, depth is more important than ever before. Here is a ranking of the league’s best and most impactful wide receiver groups.

                                   

1. Los Angeles Rams

Primary weapons: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds

Coach Sean McVay isn’t the first to lean heavily on the “11” personnel package — three wide receivers, one running back, one tight end (see: the Mike McCarthy coaching tree) — but he’s certainly taken it to another level. The Rams paced the NFL in the utilization of “11” in 2017 (87 percent) and sit at a ridiculous 99 percent in 2018. McVay has arguably the league’s best trio at the position in Woods, Cooks and slot man Kupp at his disposal. All three rank no lower than 26th at the position in targets.

 

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Primary weapons: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin

They’ve done a nice job keeping pretty much everyone happy so far, but the Buccaneers have too many mouths to feed. Of course, that’s a good problem to have (at least in reality … not so much in fantasy). Evans, Godwin and Jackson each have three touchdowns this season, and although Humphries has taken a step back, he still has been targeted 12 times. The only reason Tampa Bay isn’t higher in three-wide sets is because the Bucs are also strong at tight end with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.

 

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Primary weapons: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ryan Switzer

With Smith-Schuster taking another step forward this season, there’s a case to be made that the Steelers have the best one-two punch at the position. Brown is the best receiver in the league and trails Smith-Schuster by a whopping 146 receiving yards. The Steelers also have made heavy usage of three-plus-wide sets under offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, same as they did during the Todd Haley era. Second-round rookie Washington also has the look of an emerging star.

 

4. Detroit Lions

Primary weapons: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones

The Lions may not have a clear No. 1 wide receiver, but that’s because they have three viable No. 1 options. Jones and Golladay have run a team-high 137 pass routes, but Tate paces the team with 35 targets and is handling a career-high 26 percent target share. Jones is third among the trio with 23 targets, but that’s enough to rank him 26th in the league. The three receivers form arguably the league’s best trio at the position.

 

5. Los Angeles Chargers

Primary weapons: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin

Allen is one of the best in the business and ranked fourth at the position with 102 receptions during a breakout 2017 campaign. Mike Williams was a top-10 pick in the 2017 draft and offers some major upside. He has three touchdowns already this season, but he hasn’t fully separated himself from Tyrell Williams and the speedster Benjamin. The Chargers’ reliance on backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler has led to lower-than-expected usage of their wideouts thus far in 2018.

 

6. Green Bay Packers

Primary weapons: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling

 

7. Atlanta Falcons

Primary weapons: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Marvin Hall, Justin Hardy

Jones may not score many touchdowns, but he’s otherwise an absolute stud.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings

Primary weapons: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Aldrick Robinson

Minnesota undoubtedly sports one of the league’s best duos in Thielen and Diggs, but shaky depth knocks them down the ranks a bit.

 

9. Houston Texans

Primary weapons: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, Keke Coutee, Vyncint Smith

Similar to Minnesota, Houston sports a terrific duo but is a bit top-heavy, which has led to using the “12” package — two tight ends, two wide receivers, one running back — a league-high 41 percent of the time this season.

 

10. Denver Broncos

Primary weapons: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean

Thomas and Sanders both have cleared age 30 but remain one of the game’s better duos.

 

11. Kansas City Chiefs

Primary weapons: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson

 

12. New York Giants

Primary weapons: Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard

 

13. New Orleans Saints

Primary weapons: Michael A. Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, Austin Carr

 

14. Miami Dolphins

Primary weapons: DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant

Jarvis Landry and his 28 percent target share are long gone, leaving coach Adam Gase & Co. to lean heavily on a rotation.

 

15. Cincinnati Bengals

Primary weapons: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone

 

16. New England Patriots

Primary weapons: Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson

Gordon-Edelman-Hogan is a formidable group, but it’s anyone’s guess if all three will consistently be on the field together.

 

17. Oakland Raiders

Primary weapons: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Brandon LaFell, Seth Roberts

 

18. Chicago Bears

Primary weapons: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Joshua Bellamy

 

19. Philadelphia Eagles

Primary weapons: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Kamar Aiken, Shelton Gibson

 

20. Baltimore Ravens

Primary weapons: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore

 

21. Seattle Seahawks

Primary weapons: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown, David Moore

2018 3+ WR sets: 80 percent (Rank: 2)

2018 WR target share: 48 percent (Rank: 28)

 

22. San Francisco 49ers

Primary weapons: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne

 

 

23. Tennessee Titans

Primary weapons: Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Rishard Matthews (released on Sept. 27), Tajae Sharpe

 

24. Washington Redskins

Primary weapons: Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Maurice Harris, Brian Quick

 

25. Cleveland Browns

Primary weapons: Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Derrick Willies, Damion Ratley

 

26. New York Jets

Primary weapons: Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Terrelle Pryor Sr., Jermaine Kearse

 

27. Carolina Panthers

Primary weapons: Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, D.J. Moore

 

28. Jacksonville Jaguars

Primary weapons: Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief, Dede Westbrook, DJ Chark

 

29. Arizona Cardinals

Primary weapons: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson

 

30. Indianapolis Colts

Primary weapons: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal

 

31. Dallas Cowboys

Primary weapons: Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin, Terrance Williams

 

32. Buffalo Bills

Primary weapons: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Robert Foster, Ray-Ray McCloud