The NFL quickly transitioned from a run-first league that relied on superstar running backs to a receiver-dependent league. Offenses found that passing the ball allowed a higher scoring rate. And it makes sense because there's so much more upside when the ball travels further downfield.
Building a deep receiving corps matters more now than ever. A healthy offense has at least two quality pass-catchers if not more. We're seeing teams invest into as many as four receiving threats between traditional wideouts, tight ends, and running backs.
The Titans are the latest team to make a big investment in the passing game with their acquisition of Julio Jones. Pairing him with A.J. Brown easily gives Tennessee one of the greatest wide receiver duos in the NFL. But are they the best of the bunch?
We've assembled a list of the best 10 wide receiver duos entering 2021 and ranked them all. There's an argument for several more pairings to make the list but these duos have the right blend of talent and skillsets to complement each other.
5. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
No one will confuse the Chargers' duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as the most athletic tandem on this list but they've earned respect for their talent. These polar opposites complement each other well in this balanced offense. The tandem totaled 148 receptions for 1,748 yards and 13 scores in Justin Herbert's stellar rookie campaign.
Allen is a masterful presence who is seemingly always open. He can play inside or out and torch any corner. His movements are purposeful and effective, frustrating foes every first down he converts.
Williams is the high-flying sideline presence. He took a step back in 2020 as Herbert wasn't able to create great chemistry with him, but the former top-10 pick is dangerous on any given play. Williams should be able to reach new heights as the offense continues to grow.
4. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
One reason the Seahawks finally let Russell Wilson cook last year was his phenomenal receiving duo of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The massive, intimidating Metcalf separated himself as a truly impactful presence and not just the first guy off the bus. He burst onto the scene with 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging almost 16 yards a reception.
Many thought Metcalf was too stiff to succeed. Those concerns looked overblown almost immediately, as Metcalf has always won in other ways instead. He's a premier vertical threat and nearly unstoppable as he soars high.
One of the most underrated receivers in the league, Lockett finally settled into his natural role as the second playmaker in a healthy offense thanks to Metcalf's emergence. Lockett can win on both short routes and deep targets thanks to his great burst and speed. He may be small but he comes down with big gains in key moments often.
3. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats matter to a certain degree but they don't always tell the entire story. We know Mike Evans is a premier playmaker despite his dip to 1,004 receiving yards on just 70 catches in 2020. It was his worst year since 2017 as quarterback Tom Brady repeatedly looked elsewhere and often lacked accuracy going deep to Evans.
It doesn't change the fact that defenders hate playing the hulking 6-foot-5 receiver. He produced 13 touchdowns and made the most out of his reduced role. And he has a lot of talent around him to steal touches.
The main culprit is Chris Godwin. The slot specialist is so well-rounded that he's equally as dangerous against man and zone coverages. He combines excellent athleticism with reliability and intelligence, which is all incredibly valuable for Brady in particular.
With Godwin on the franchise tag, this dynamic duo will stay together for at least one more season.
2. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
The idea that Dallas would draft CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft when they already had Amari Cooper signed long-term and Michael Gallup already on the roster seemed unlikely. Though Lamb projected to be a No. 1 threat, the Cowboys had more talent at the position than most others. But throwing the combination of Cooper and Lamb is particularly devilish.
Both are clean technicians with standout athletic traits. Cooper is known for his footwork and strength throughout routes, and can separate at the last second whenever needed. Lamb has more juice in his movements but is also capable of winning in traffic.
These two combined for more than 2,000 yards in 2020 despite missing Dak Prescott for the majority of the year. You can bet they'll push to new heights with their star passer back. They may total closer to 2,500 yards between them.
1. Julio Jones and A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
The Titans just showed the NFL how to improve a position while giving up a reasonable amount of assets. The Julio Jones trade market was shockingly quiet, and the Titans upgraded from Corey Davis to Jones for a similar cap number and two mediocre draft picks. Other teams should be kicking themselves.
Jones is still a game-breaking talent. In Atlanta, Jones posted over 1,350 yards for six straight years until injuries shortened his 2020 campaign. But extrapolating his production rate to 16 games would've yielded another qualifying season.
Brown drops in terms of his production upside with Jones next to him, but he's still a bruising talent capable of taking over games. Defenses will be torn between loading up the box to slow Derrick Henry or dropping into coverage for these two stars.
This is the best receiving duo in the NFL, period.
Photo: Getty Images