Adams, a reigning second-team All-American, went 53rd overall in the 2014 draft. However, not even the pundits and live-tweeters that night would likely have predicted Adams would earn five Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro selections across his first eight seasons.
Eight receivers, including two in the top 10, were selected ahead of Adams in 2014. Of that group, who has had the best careers? For this list, we are only ranking players based on their on-field achievements and numbers. We did not consider any off-field issues.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, the best players stack up as follows:
8. Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks (45th overall)
Richardson is perhaps best remembered for a 44-catch, 703-yard, six-touchdown season for the Seahawks in 2017, numbers which allowed him to sign a five-year, $40 million contract with the Washington Football Team. Injuries limited Richardson to 48 catches, 507 yards, and four touchdowns in two seasons, and Washington cut him in February 2020.
When we last saw Richardson, the Seahawks had cut him in September 2020 after a brief reunion. Maybe he’ll pop up in the USFL or the XFL, especially considering he’ll only turn 30 in April 2022.
7. Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars (39th overall)
A blue-chip high school receiver prospect, Lee won the Fred Biletnikoff Award in 2012 and appeared destined for NFL stardom. However, several early injuries limited his progress, however, and he didn’t become a full-time starter until 2017, when he hauled in 56 catches, 702 yards, and three touchdowns.
Repeated knee injuries limited Lee to three catches and six games from 2018-19, and he opted out of the 2020 season. Although he hadn’t officially retired as of publication, his age (he turned 30 in November 2021) and lack of recent playing time make it hard to see him catching touchdowns in the NFL anytime soon.
6. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (28th overall)
When we last saw Benjamin, he got into a heated argument with then-New York Giants head coach Joe Judge in the summer of 2021 after a failed conversion to tight end. If we’ve seen the last of Benjamin, he’ll end his career with 209 catches, 3,021 yards, and 20 touchdowns.
Injuries and maturity derailed the Florida State product’s path, and the Panthers surely wish they’d taken a chance on Adams in the 2014 draft.
5. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles (42nd overall)
The 42nd overall pick in 2014, Matthews recorded 225 catches, 2,673 yards, and 19 touchdowns in his first season and appeared destined to become a significant part of the Eagles’ future. However, Philadelphia traded the Vanderbilt product to the Buffalo Bills for cornerback Ronald Darby in October 2017, a move that backfired for both teams.
Matthews lasted one year with the Bills, returned to the Eagles in 2018, and has spent recent years with the San Francisco 49ers. Still, he did enough to rank above Benjamin, which might be a victory.
4. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (4th overall)
If Watkins went 44th overall in 2014, football fans might think more favorably of the Clemson product. Alas, he went fourth overall, and his career totals of 348 catches, 5,039 yards, and 34 touchdowns are underwhelming to the point where the veteran wideout is considered a bust.
However, for the sake of this list, Watkins has done enough to rank fourth. Yes, the fourth overall pick ranks in the top half of a story ranking the best receivers selected in the 2014 draft’s first two rounds. Hooray for Sammy Watkins.
3. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints (20th overall)
Cooks doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done over the last decade. The 20th overall pick in 2014, Cooks ended the 2021 season with 573 catches, 7,917 yards, and 46 touchdowns; he’s always been a solid starting receiver, one with six 1,000-yard seasons, but never dominant or recognizable enough to earn Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors.
Although Cooks is still chasing a Super Bowl ring, he’s at least earned over $72 million thus far. We’ll see if he finally gets that elusive hug with the Lombardi Trophy before he eventually retires.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants (12th overall)
Believe it or not, Beckham will be 29 when the 2022 season starts, and he’ll have an opportunity to improve on his 531 catches, 7,367 yards, and 56 touchdowns. Although the LSU product is a long way removed from his Pro Bowl seasons with the Giants, he’s had a fine career and has done enough to rank second on this list.
Given how well Beckham played near the end of the 2021 campaign, he should retain his hold on the No. 2 slot for years to come. However, he has a long way to go before he can ever dream of reaching the top.
1. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7th overall)
Not only is Evans the best receiver selected ahead of Adams, but he’s well on track to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Texas A&M product reached the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first eight seasons — no other player in NFL history, not even Jerry Rice or Larry Fitzgerald, had done that — and is still going strong ahead of his age 29-season.
When the 2021 regular season ended, Evans led all 2014 draftees in career receiving yards (9,301) and touchdowns (75). His 606 catches trail only Jarvis Landry (688) and Adams (669). He was a lock to rank first on this list.
When all is said and done, Adams and Evans could each find themselves wearing a gold jacket in Canton.