Over the last quarter century, the National Football League has evolved from being a league that places a heavy emphasis on running the ball and playing smothering defense to the pass-heavy, offense-centric league we know today. As a direct result, offensive players are posting gaudier statistics than ever before.
With the preseason winding down, and the start of the regular season right around the corner, the oddsmakers for the sportsbooks in Las Vegas, Nevada revealed which players they believe will post the biggest numbers in 2016. Today, we are going to look at which wide receivers will contend for the league-lead in receiving yards. Here’s a look at the top seven contenders according to the oddsmakers in Vegas.
7. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
In 2014, Jordan Nelson had arguably the best season of his entire career. The former Kansas State wideout hauled in 98 passes, compiled 1,519 receiving yards, and finished the year with 13 touchdown receptions. Thanks to these gaudy numbers, the Green Bay Packers receiver earned his first-ever trip to the Pro Bowl. Entering the 2015 season, most pundits were expecting a repeat performance from Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards.
After tearing the ACL in his right knee, Nelson was forced to miss the entire 2015 season. And it didn’t take long for it to become painfully clear that the Packers desperately missed having him in their lineup. But that was then, and this is now, and the new season offers the wideout an opportunity for a fresh start.
In 2016, he will enter the season fully healthy and is set reclaim his spot as quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. Given that he has the best quarterback in the NFL throwing him the ball, we fully expect Nelson to have a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2016.
6. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green may be the best deep threat receiver in the National Football League. And after the Bengals lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu during free agency this offseason, Green should see a substantial increase in his targets during the 2016 season. He will still be a long-shot to be the NFL receiving yards leader this year, but we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him post career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in his sixth NFL season.
5. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars had the foresight to select Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson with the No. 61 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. It took only two seasons for the young wideout to prove he has the makings of a star in this league.
In 2015, after being targeted 151 times, Robinson finished the year with 80 receptions, 1,400 receiving yards, and 14 receiving touchdowns (which put him in a three-way tie for the best in the league). It’s become quite clear that Robinson has already established a solid relationship with Jacksonville’s young quarterback, Blake Bortles. As these two foundational pieces continue to grow together in their respective careers, we expect Robinson to be among the league leaders in receiving yards on a regular basis.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Over the last three seasons, DeAndre Hopkins has developed into one of the premier wideouts in the game, despite playing with below average quarterbacks in the process. In fact, in 2015, the former Clemson standout caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns even though the Texans had one of the worst quarterback situations in the league.
Houston signed Brock Osweiler during free agency this offseason. If he turns out to be as good as his hefty contract suggests he should be, Hopkins’ numbers will undoubtedly be even higher in 2016.
The Texans also added a duo of talented wide receivers — Will Fuller and Braxton Miller — in this year’s draft class, and if they can develop into solid contributors as rookies, it will keep defenses from focusing solely on slowing down Hopkins. All said, we really like Hopkins’ chances at making a serious run at being the NFL receiving yards leader in 2016.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. may be the flashiest wide receiver in the game. He is explosive, competitive, and has a knack for making seemingly impossible catches look routine. Looking forward into the 2016 season, Beckham looks primed to post huge numbers. He plays in an extremely pass-heavy offense, and his quarterback, Eli Manning, is one of the best pure passers in the league.
Additionally, the Giants finally added a second wide receiver, Sterling Shepard, who will help take some of the pressure off of Beckham in his third professional season. If he stays healthy, we fully expect Beckham to make a run at being the NFL receiving yards leader in 2016.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
In 2015, Julio Jones tied for the league lead in receptions with 136, and led the league with 1,871 receiving yards. While it may seem unlikely that he will be able to replicate those numbers in 2016, we are confident that he will come close and possibly even exceed them.
Jones is just entering the prime of his career, and there is no questioning that he will be the focal point in the Falcons’ passing attack. He was targeted 204 times last season, and although Atlanta added Mohamed Sanu this offseason, we are still confident that Jones will see around 200 targets again in 2016. As a result, Jones will likely have another All-Pro caliber season this fall.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown is widely considered to be the best all-around wide receiver in the National Football League. He can lineup and make plays anywhere on the field, and his rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is second to none among other premier quarterbacks and wide receivers around the league.
With guys like Brown leading the way, we are expecting the Steelers to have the best offense in the league this year. And when the dust settles on the 2016 NFL season, we would be shocked if Brown doesn’t finish near the top of the league in receiving yards.