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Who are the NFL’s best wide receivers by route?

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman runs through a drill during an NFL football organized team activities practice Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes). He is one of thee best receivers by route.
Bill Sikes/AP photo

I’ve hated the way the media has covered the receiver position. We (the media) generally go right to end-of-season totals to justify who we think is a good or bad receiver. There are just way too many factors that go into ranking receivers that it doesn’t seem fair to use end-of-the-year totals. Instead, I like to try to break things down on a much smaller level to order my receiver ranks.

Over the course of the season,  I graded the receivers for the Bleacher Report NFL1000 project and while doing so, I charted every wide receiver in the league by route. This project has taken me more than nine months to create and there will certainly be more to come, but today, we are looking to find the best receivers for each individual route.

This analysis won’t be perfect because it still relies a lot on the team around the player and the quarterback throwing the ball, but it provides more context than just raw stats. So without further ado, here are the best receivers by route in 2016:

Go: Brandin Cooks, Patriots

4.33 speed? Check. Ball tracking skills? Check. Ability to make defenders miss after the catch? Check. Brandin Cooks has everything a receiver needs to be a deep threat in today’s NFL. His elite speed torches cornerbacks down the field. In 2016, no receiver in the league racked up more yards on one single route than Cooks did on go routes with the Saints. Cooks caught eight of his 20 targets on go routes, totaling 409 receiving yards and two touchdowns. This was his longest reception in 2016:

Slant: Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

No receiver in the league was better on slant routes than Odell Beckham Jr. Because of his insane catch radius and ability to beat defenders after the catch, he’s nearly unstoppable on slants. Beckham caught 19 of his 26 targets on slant routes and the only failed competitions came because of the quarterback’s inaccuracy. Beckham totaled 326 yards and four touchdowns on those 19 catches. His 17 yards per catch on slant routes was the highest among any receiver with at least five targets.

Out: Julian Edelman, Patriots

It shouldn’t surprise you that Julian Edelman is the best out route receiver in football because this route is typically based on timing and trust. Tom Brady and Edelman have been running this route for years, abusing both man and zone coverage. In 2016, Edelman caught 27 of his 40 targets on out routes. He racked up over 300 receiving yards on out routes alone, combined with more than 120 yards after the catch. Here’s just one ridiculous example of the trust Brady has in his receiver on an out route:

Post and Cross: Tyrell Williams, Chargers

Yes. You read that right. Tyrell Williams led the league in two different types of routes in 2016. On post and cross routes, Williams totaled 646 yards and five touchdowns on 47 targets.  His combination of size and speed in the middle of the field made him an instant favorite of Philip Rivers. Williams’ versatility as an outside receiver and has a slot receiver will allow him to make plays, even after the Chargers drafted Mike Williams.

Curl: Michael Thomas, Saints

Another route that requires a lot of trust from both the receiver and from the quarterback, the curl is typically tough for a young receiver. That wasn’t the case for Michael Thomas in his rookie season. Thomas led the league in catches (27) and yards (257) on curl routes. Thomas quickly earned the trust of Drew Brees and he became the team’s No.1 wide receiver. His development allowed the team to move Brandin Cooks and now it will feature Thomas as the team’s top receiver.



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