The 2023 NFL season will be here before you know it. Along with the quest for the Lombardi Trophy kicking off in earnest, debates over the best players in the NFL will begin anew.
As training camps open and the Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs‘ opening night matchup gets closer by the day, Heavy is taking a positional deep dive in an ongoing series ranking the top five NFL players by position for the upcoming 2023 campaign.
Next up: Wide receivers.
1. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Not only is Justin Jefferson a matchup nightmare, but he might be the most complete wide receiver in the game today.
Between being one of the smoothest route-runners in the game, combined with an insane catch-radius, and uncanny ability to create separation, it’s little wonder that Jefferson is the focal point of the Minnesota Vikings‘ offense and one of the most prolific players at the position.
In 2022, Kirk Cousins posted a whopping 108.8 passer rating on Jefferson’s 176 targets, as the 23-year-old pulled down 128 catches for a league-high 1,809 yards with eight touchdowns. The only thing holding Jefferson back from the top spot is a bit of uncertainty surrounding the Vikings’ quarterback situation, entering the 2023 campaign.
2. Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins
Tyreek Hill’s game-altering speed was a game-changer for the Miami Dolphins in 2022, and a driving force behind the franchise returning to the postseason as an AFC Wild Card.
Dolphins fans are buzzing with optimism, ahead of what promises to be a strong 2023 campaign in South Beach, largely because of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s continued development and his budding chemistry with Hill. Last season, Hill caught 94 passes for 1,408 yards and 7 touchdowns, just in the 13 games that Tagovailoa started.
Hill’s impact on Miami’s offense, opposite Jaylen Waddle, is almost unquantifiable. According to Pro Football Focus, Hill averaged 4.1 Yards After The Catch per reception, and Dolphins quarterbacks produced a 103.1 passer rating when targeting him.
If Tagovailoa can stay healthy, there might not be a bigger beneficiary to Waddle continuing to emerge as a deep threat, than Hill, especially in a second season playing in head coach Mike McDaniel’s scheme.
3. Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
There might not be a bigger downfield threat than Ja’Marr Chase, and few boast as impressive a catch radius. Combine those attributes and continued chemistry with an ascending elite quarterback like Joe Burrow, and Chase’s best days appear still to be in front of him.
A dynamic playmaker, Chase averaged 4.8 Yards After the Catch per reception in 2022, while catching 87 of his 127 targets for 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns … in 12 games.
If Chase can stay healthy for all 17 games, there’s little doubt that his production will benefit significantly both from his chemistry with Burrow and the fact that Burrow’s game continues to improve. Don’t be surprised if, by season’s end, Chase winds up as the NFL’s leading receiver.
4. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
There are few player-scheme fits in the NFL as ideal as Stefon Diggs’ downfield playmaking ability in Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills‘ offense.
An electrifying playmaker whenever the ball is in his hands, Diggs caught a career-high 11 touchdowns last season, while posting the third-highest Yards per Route Run in the NFL, averaging 2.87.
Diggs’ chemistry with Allen is easily noticeable each week, as is his ability to impact the game when lined up out wide, in the slot, or even as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Last season, Diggs caught 108 passes for 1,429 yards, and will once again be Allen’s preferred target in 2023.
5. A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
A.J. Brown arrived in Philadelphia and instantly proved to be a culture-driver on the Eagles’ offense, and made arguably the biggest impact of any offseason addition made across the NFL.
Brown isn’t just one of the more physically imposing wide receivers in the NFL, checking in at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, but he has an uncanny ability to both create separation and make plays deep downfield with the ball in his hands. Throw in being one of the best in the sport at pulling down contested passes, and you have the makings of the kind of player who keeps opposing defensive backs awake at night.
What gives Brown an even loftier ceiling in his second season as the focal point of the Eagles’ offense, is the fact that quarterback Jalen Hurts has a consistent track record for continually improving, dating back to his time at Alabama, and later Oklahoma, through his first three NFL seasons. If Brown can build on his career-high 88 catches for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns, he’ll not only climb this list in 2024 but the Eagles will once again be one of the league’s toughest outs.