Every week until the season begins, I’ll be going through each position group in the NFC South, ranking them by team from fourth to first. Now that Julio Jones has moved on to Tennessee, it’s time to rank the most controversial position group in the NFC South: Wide Receivers. The loss of Jones, Emmanuel Sanders and Curtis Samuel have impacted the overall strength of the division slightly, eliminating three of the Top 10 target-getters in the division from a year ago.

Still, the group returns all four 1,000-yard receivers from the 2020 campaign, as well as Chris Godwin, who only missed the mark due to early season injuries. Antonio Brown will get a full year in the South after posting 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight games last season, while rookies Terrace Marshall and Jaelon Darden look to earn some playing time. The division should produce five-to-seven 1,000-yard receivers and a few Pro Bowlers if everyone stays healthy.

Wide Receivers – Bucs Lead The Way

4. New Orleans Saints

Michael Thomas
Tre’Quan Smith
Deonte Harris
Marquez Callaway
Juwan Johnson
Lil’Jordan Humphrey
Kawaan Baker

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Saints did shockingly little to address their lack of depth at wide receiver this offseason, especially surprising considering they lost tight end Jared Cook in free agency. Thomas will look to re-claim his spot as a Top 10 wide receiver in the league after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, but after him it gets ugly.

Tre’Quan Smith is a solid depth option, but his fourth season will have to represent a big leap. Smith posted a line of 34-448-4 last year, his best NFL campaign. Callaway and Harris each posted 20 catches in 2020, but didn’t do much with them. There’s not much upside further down the depth chart, so the Saints inexperienced, but older wide receivers will need to play beyond what they’ve shown so far in their careers.

3. Atlanta Falcons

Calvin Ridley
Russell Gage
Christian Blake
Cordarelle Patterson
Olamide Zaccheaus
Greg Dortch
Frank Darby
Tajae Sharpe

The loss of Jones can’t be understated. Even banged up in 2020, Jones was productive and extremely dangerous. He changed the way teams prepared to defend Atlanta. Without him in the lineup, the Falcons definitely become easier to game plan for.

Still, Ridley performed like a true No. 1 receiver last season, leading the division with over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns on 90 catches. Gage also showed the ability to be a solid No. 2 receiver, growing in his releases and route-running while reeling in 72 catches for 786 yards and four scores.

After those two, Atlanta will need someone to step up. Blake and Zaccheaus both flashed in limited roles, and will likely compete for the No. 3 receiver spot. Sharpe has been productive in the past, but his lack of any standout traits limits his ceiling. Patterson is more of a returner/gadget player option, while Darby and Dortch are roster long shots at this point. It’s a good group in Atlanta, but with Jones it would have competed for the best room in the NFL.

2. Carolina Panthers

D.J. Moore
Robby Anderson
David Moore
Terrace Marshall
Shi Smith
Brandon Zylstra
Keith Kirkwood

Quietly, the Panthers have put together one of the better wide receiver rooms in the league. Moore has put together back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons, showing the patented YAC ability that made him so dangerous in college. Anderson has been every bit as good as Carolina could have hoped when they acquired him late in free agency, exploding for 95 catches and over 1,000 yards a year ago. Anderson had definite chemistry with Darnold during their Jets tenure together, and now the Panthers will attempt to replicate that connection.

The Panthers lost Samuel in free agency, but didn’t stand pat like the Saints or Falcons, adding the underrated David Moore from Seattle. Carolina also drafted Marshall in Round 2, whose upside is through the roof if he can be developed. Sixth rounder Shi Smith had his fans in the draft as well, certainly providing great value as a day 3 pick. It’s an exciting corps with the ability to be productive up-and-down the lineup – if Darnold’s quarterbacking will oblige.

1. Tampa Bay Bucs

Mike Evans
Chris Godwin
Antonio Brown
Scotty Miller
Tyler Johnson
Jaelon Darden
Jaydon Mickens
Justin Watson

Bucs WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans

Bucs WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs have compiled one of the best wide receiver rooms in NFL history, with two future Hall of Famers in Evans and Brown and another in Godwin, who is an All-Pro. The group also complements each other wonderfully, as Evans dominates as a vertical threat, Brown can dominate short-intermediate with his routes and releases and Godwin can do it all.

Despite all this talent it was Miller who led the team in receiving yards at the midseason point, and it was Miller who made several of the biggest plays in Bucs history during the stretch run of the 2020 season. His big-play ability is critical for the Bucs, especially considering the chemistry between he and Brady. Johnson also impresses in a small sample size as a rookie, making one of the biggest catches of the year to convert a third down against the Saints in the playoffs. Darden will be relied upon mostly as a return man this season, but the Bucs are excited about his potential at wide receiver too.

It’s the best wide receiver room in the NFL and it should result in a monster statistical season for Tampa Bay’s passing offense this year.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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1 month ago

Might go down as the best wide receiver room in the history of the NFL.

Reply to  gcolerick
1 month ago

If Howard can stay healthy and play up to his potential for a season, that’s definitely the best receiving-group in NFL history.

Best Quarterback in the league (and of all time, obviously), top-five O-Line, best receiving-corps, best TE-group. One of the easiest schedules in the league. I’d say the only thing that could stop this offense from setting all-time records is the defense performing too well.

Last edited 1 month ago by M4X
Reply to  M4X
1 month ago

Injuries, too. Those are always the potential wildcard. We’ve got good depth at various spots across the team, but other positions where an injury or two could be really damaging to our chances. Beyond that, there are definitely multiple important players/positions across the roster where regression and/or relatively poor play wouldn’t shock me and would hurt us, of course.

Alldaway 2.0
1 month ago

Panthers are impressive with how they upgraded their WR situation. Not surprising they chose to move on from Teddy B as they want to score more points in the redzone with three WR personnel grouping. Adding T. Marshal ensures they can run three WR personnel groupings to a greater degree.

1 month ago

The Bucs’ WR room is crazy and really 8 players deep. Even if Watson or Mickens would have to step in as WR3 for a few games due to injuries, they are capable and get the job done. Miller, Johnson and possibly Darden would be top3 WRs on most NFL teams.

Reply to  BucLife
1 month ago

Disagree on that big of a statement. Neither Watson nor Mickens are guys you want taking that many snaps in a game, even for just one or two games. They’re not that good. But even still, I agree with your overall point, which is that our WR depth is nuts. I’d comfortably say we’re five deep as far as who are genuinely really good players, guys who are pretty clearly good enough to be a top 3 weapon on a good passing offense. And Darden might make that 6, although I think it’s way too early to something like say… Read more »

Reply to  toofamiliar17
1 month ago

I really don’t believe that Watson or Mickens even make this team this year. Especially if Darden performs on special teams.

Reply to  bucballer
1 month ago

Agree on Mickens. I hope you’re right on Watson. Both players have very clear paths to making the roster. Both rely on other players failing. If Darden demonstrates the ability to be at least a solid, reliable returner in camp and the preseason, Mickens is gone. If some combination of players can render Watson’s contributions as a special teamer replaceable, he’s gone. Of the two, I think it’s clear that Watson has a considerably stronger shot at making the team right now, especially with us having lost other high volume special teams players from last season through free agency. But… Read more »

1 month ago

Crazy deep.. You almost have to feel bad for Scooter and TJ, as they have three legit #1’s ahead of them.. Luckily for them the GOAT enjoys playing with ALL of his toys..

1 month ago

One of the reasons Brady left the Pats was because they kept doing very little in improving the WR room in the last few years. They instead relied upon Brady to make them better players than they ever could be and over come their lack of ability. Belichek absolutely stinks when it comes to drafting quality wide receivers and has the draft history to prove it. As far as i can remember, the worst WR Licht ever drafted was Kenny Bell on the advice of his father and his biggest problem was he lacked the intestinal fortitude to play with… Read more »

1 month ago

If these guys can go relatively injury-free… man! I wouldn’t dream of trying to project their stats nor their flash plays! Unbelievable potential. ✌️ ✌️ ✌️ 🤩

1 month ago

We have been fortunate to watch these guys grow into masterful pros. Godwin was a surprise. He may end up being the best of the group if he can stay healthy. Can’t wait to see Darden and Johnson in Pre-season.

1 month ago

I get why you’ve got the order the way you do. I think there’s a decent argument for putting the Falcons #2 though. I like DJ Moore, but Ridley, to me, is very clearly the best WR between those two teams. Anderson is coming off of a career year, but it WAS a career year. Gage is going into just his 4th season, and he has taken significant leaps forward in production each season thus far. In the last four games of 2020, in which Julio was out for all of them, Gage put up 23 receptions at a catch… Read more »