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When ranking wide receiver duos primed to dominate in 2021, we’ll weigh performance over the last few seasons, efficiency (catch rates and averages) and each player’s 2021 outlook.
Quarterback play and a team’s offensive system are also factors to consider. Rookies don’t qualify because they have blank NFL resumes. And until Julio Jones is dealt, we’ll consider him and Calvin Ridley a tandem.
Think back to the most recent receiver tandems that dominated defenses: Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Cris Carter, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Five of the six are Hall of Famers. The best duos in today’s game have plenty of time left to build their resumes, starting in 2021.
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Cooper Kupp (left) and Robert Woods (right)Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp don’t have Pro Bowl or All-Pro accolades to show for their production. However, both eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards for the 2019 season, one of three pairs to accomplished that feat.
Between 2019 and 2020, the Los Angeles Rams’ aerial attack took a step back, falling from fourth to 13th as quarterback Jared Goff struggled to stretch the field and threw 13 interceptions. The front office addressed the issue, trading him to the Detroit Lions and acquiring Matthew Stafford.
In recent seasons, Stafford has cut down on his interception rate. He’s also averaged at least 12 yards per completion the last two terms. Expect Woods and Kupp to see an uptick in yards per catch similar to their 2019 averages, 12.6 and 12.4, respectively.
Cleveland Browns wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. missed the cut for an honorable mention because of the latter’s recent injury and inefficiencies.
In 2020, Beckham missed nine games with a torn ACL. While healthy, he’s recorded a 55.1 percent catch rate with the Browns. Coming off a serious injury in a run-heavy offense that may limit receiving opportunities, the 28-year-old doesn’t have a strong outlook for the 2021 campaign.
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Justin Jefferson (left) and Adam Thielen (right)Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
Last offseason, the Minnesota Vikings traded Stefon Diggs and may have added another star on a much cheaper contract. In the first round of the 2020 draft, the front office selected Justin Jefferson, who had a legitimate case for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Jefferson caught 88 passes for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns with a 70.4 percent catch rate. He holds the all-time rookie record in receiving yards. Even more impressively, the LSU product posted those numbers in an offense that ranked 27th in pass attempts with an established two-time Pro Bowl wideout on the opposite side of the field.
Jefferson’s strong year propelled the Vikings’ duo onto the receiver radar, though Adam Thielen had a solid bounce-back campaign after he missed six outings in 2019. The eighth-year veteran ranked third in touchdown receptions (14) in 2020.
For the upcoming campaign, Jefferson and Thielen could clear the 1,100-yard mark. Quarterback Kirk Cousins may also have more incentive to show off his arm with a new offensive coordinator (Klint Kubiak) and rookie third-rounder Kellen Mond behind him on the depth chart.
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CeeDee Lamb (left) and Amari Cooper (right)Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
You can interchange CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup with Amari Cooper, and that pair would still rank fourth on this list.
Nevertheless, Lamb has a little more upside than Gallup with a healthy Dak Prescott.
As a rookie, Lamb recorded 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns with Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert under center for a combined 11 contests. He also logged a 66.7 percent catch rate, significantly higher than Gallup’s 56.2 percent catch rate.
Lamb listed second on the team in receptions and yards as one of the league’s top primary slot receivers. He should see an uptick in production with improved quarterback play.
Last season, Cooper finished top 15 in catches (92) and receiving yards (1,114) with a 70.8 percent catch rate. He logged career highs in yards and touchdowns in his last full season with Prescott. Expect him to top those numbers in his third term with the two-time Pro Bowler signal-caller.
While Justin Jefferson had a more productive rookie campaign than Lamb, the latter could close the gap with Prescott’s return. They’re possibly the top two receivers from the 2020 class, and Cooper tips the scale in this duo’s favor over the Vikings’ tandem. At 26 years old, he’s going into the peak of his prime unlike Adam Thielen, who turns 31 years old in August.
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Julio Jones (left) and Calvin Ridley (right)Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley may not go into the 2021 season as a pair, but they’re one of the best duos right now. Despite the trade buzz around Jones, we cannot count out this duo until the Falcons make a move.
In 2020, Jones battled a nagging hamstring injury, which forced him to miss seven games. Yet when healthy, he still hauled in passes at an impressive 75 percent catch rate while averaging a career-high 11.3 receiving yards per target.
Meanwhile, Ridley led the Falcons in receptions (90), yards (1,374) and touchdowns (nine). At 26 years old, he’s still an ascending playmaker.
For most of his career, Jones has avoided significant injuries. He’s only missed more than three games in a single season twice in a decade. At 32 years old, the two-time All-Pro has a good chance to bounce back in 2021.
Despite the addition of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, Matt Ryan has a rapport with his top two receivers who could rack up 1,200-plus yards apiece in the same offense.
Jones and Ridley have recorded 1,300-plus receiving yards in a season, which is something the Dallas Cowboys wideouts haven’t done yet, so the Falcons’ tandem comes in third on this list.
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DK Metcalf (left) and Tyler Lockett (right)Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Seattle Seahawks’ aerial attack jumped off to a quick start and fizzled late in the previous season. Yet DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards and caught 10 touchdowns apiece, the only wide receiver pair to reach those numbers in 2020.
As a late second-round pick from the 2019 draft, Metcalf looks like an absolute steal. He’s a bigger version of Julio Jones in terms of his size (6’4″, 235 lbs), speed and playmaking ability. The Pro Bowl wideout upped his receiving numbers between the 2019 and 2020 campaigns to finish seventh in yards (1,303) last season. As a big-play pass-catcher, he averages 15.6 yards per reception.
Lockett has blossomed into a surehanded versatile receiver who’s effective in the slot and on the outside with a penchant for scoring touchdowns.
Typically, we think about big-bodied receivers as scoring machines in the red zone. At 5’10”, 182 pounds, Lockett scored seven of his 10 touchdowns within six yards of the goal line in 2020. He can also burn defenses for chunk plays as well, logging three 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions over the last two seasons.
In each of the last three seasons, Lockett has finished with a catch rate of at least 74.5 percent. He’s one of the league’s most trustworthy receivers in any down-and-distance situation.
Metcalf and Lockett take the No. 2 spot over Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley because they’re both coming off their best statistical seasons in multiple receiving categories.
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Chris Godwin (left) and Mike Evans (right)Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept their dynamic duo together, franchise-tagging Chris Godwin. The wideouts’ continuity with quarterback Tom Brady ultimately pushes this pair to the top.
In the final quarter of the 2020 campaign, Brady started to click with his receivers. Through the last four contests, Mike Evans and Godwin combined for three 100-plus-yard performances. Although they found their groove against bottom-tier defenses in that stretch, the trio carried that momentum into the postseason.
During the Buccaneers’ playoff run, both Evans and Godwin recorded 100-yard performances against the Washington Football Team and the Green Bay Packers, respectively, two teams with top-10 pass defenses.
If Brady and his starting wideouts pick up where they left off, this pair has the ability to rank near the top in every major receiving category. Evans has eclipsed 1,000 yards in all seven of his pro seasons. He ranked fourth in touchdowns (13) last year. Godwin had some drops during the 2020 playoffs but finished with a career-high 77.4 percent catch rate for the regular season.
Godwin, 25, and Evans, 27, are both in the prime of their careers with four Pro Bowls between them. Within a stable offense that ranked sixth in pass attempts last year, the Buccaneers’ duo has a higher ceiling in terms of production than a Seahawks tandem that will adjust to a new system under a first-time offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron.