Odell Beckham Jr. recently told his teammate Jarvis Landry that 2021 is going to be "a special year." While we can easily see that being the case for the Cleveland Browns, it's difficult to know if Beckham will be able to be special in comparison to what he did early in his career with the New York Giants.
Beckham has played in 23 games for the Browns over the past two seasons, and we've yet to see him consistently look like the Hall of Fame-caliber player that he was at the outset of his career. Granted, his first season in Cleveland was an unmitigated disaster for the team as a whole and his second season was ended prematurely by a torn ACL, but the three-time Pro Bowler has averaged just 58.9 receiving yards per game as a Brown, as opposed to 92.8 in five seasons with the Giants.
As a Brown, you've still seen flashes of the generational playmaker that Beckham appeared to be early in his career. For example, in a win over the Dallas Cowboys last October, Beckham had five catches for 81 yards and two receiving touchdowns, while also running for 73 yards and a touchdown on the ground. In the four other full games he played last season, though, Beckham didn't have more than 74 receiving yards in a single game.
While it would hardly be shocking if Beckham re-emerges as one of the game's top receivers in 2020 and the Browns make a Super Bowl run, he currently finds himself on the outside looking in of the top wideouts in the game. Here are our projected top 10 wide receivers in the NFL for the 2021 season:
10. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
Certainly you can make the argument for a few other names here, but when Kupp has been on the field in four seasons for the Rams, he's been one of the most productive players in the league. Kupp had 94 catches for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns two seasons ago, and with Matthew Stafford now at quarterback in Los Angeles, it would hardly be a surprise if he matches or even tops what's been his best season to date.
9. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
We ranked Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert as the No. 6 overall player at his position for the upcoming season, a sign of how impressive his rookie season was. Still, for our money, Jefferson probably should have been the Offensive Rookie of the Year, after he hauled in 88 passes for 1,400 yards in 2021. We could easily see CeeDee Lamb exploding in his second year with the Dallas Cowboys, but to this point, Jefferson has been the most productive wide receiver in the much-talked-about 2020 class.
8. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
How good was Brown in his second NFL season? So good that Pro Football Focus graded the former second-round pick as the third-best wide receiver in the NFL last year. In January, Brown had what he called "cleanup" surgery on both knees, which is something to monitor, as is the departure of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, now the head coach in Atlanta. Still, the Titans added future Hall of Famer Julio Jones - who was one of the first names off this list - across from Brown after an 11-touchdown season. We're expecting big things.
7. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It felt like Evans was never completely healthy a season ago, and yet he still hauled in 70 passes and racked up 13 touchdowns, while topping the 1,000 receiving yards mark for the seventh straight season to begin his career. Assuming better health this season and accounting for the fact that Tom Brady should feel much more comfortable in Bruce Arians' system this year, Evans should continue his march towards Canton.
6. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
For someone that's not seen as a volume receiver, Hill sure impressed with his back-of-the-football-card numbers in 2020, catching 87 passes for 1,276 yards and 15 touchdowns, despite being rested in Week 17. One of the most explosive players that the league has ever seen, Hill is a constant threat to take over a game, as he did last November in Tampa Bay when he topped 200 receiving yards in the first quarter of a win over the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
5. D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
With a Randy Moss-type skillset and a future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing him the ball, it wouldn't be shocking if Metcalf tops this list next summer. That, of course, assumes that Russell Wilson is still playing for the Seahawks next summer and that new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron builds the offense around an explosive passing attack, rather than appealing to some of Pete Carroll's worst instincts. In any event, Metcalf had 1,303 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago. He's arguably the most physically-gifted wide receiver in the league today.
4. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
After finishing as the NFL MVP runner-up a season ago, Josh Allen checked in at No. 3 on our quarterback rankings for 2021. A large reason why Allen was able to realize his potential in his third NFL season was the addition of Diggs. Frankly, the Allen-Diggs relationship is a mutually beneficial one, as after years of flashing elite talent in Minnesota, Diggs was an All-Pro in his first season with the Bills. Diggs led the NFL in both catches (127) and receptions (1,535) in 2020, and with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in the fold, the Bills have a chance to run one of last year's most explosive offenses back.
3. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Obviously, we're banking here that Aaron Rodgers is ultimately the quarterback of the Packers in 2021. Assuming that he is, the chemistry between quarterback and wide receiver in Green Bay is as good as any duo in recent memory. Adams is a Hall of Fame-caliber route runner, and even when you seemingly know that the ball is coming to him in the red zone, he and Rodgers still find a way to link up.
2. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Injuries and some disciplinary issues turned 2020 into a lost season for the two-time All-Pro, but that came after one of the greatest first four-season stretches in NFL history. Two seasons removed from setting a new NFL record with 149 receptions, we'd bet on a major bounce-back from Thomas, whether Jameis Winson or Taysom Hill is playing quarterback for Sean Payton and the Saints.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
If you could build a wide receiver in a lab, he'd have the hands that Hopkins does. The three-time All-Pro didn't skip a beat in his first season with the Cardinals, catching 115 passes for 1,407 yards. The 29-year-old has already topped 10,000 career receiving yards and appears headed for the Hall of Fame.