A lot of work was done by AFC West teams on the wide receiver position as they all try to compete with the top offense in the league and reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs. How are they looking? Let’s see.
Starters: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman/Demarcus Robinson
Having the most lethal weapon receiver in this division certainly helps. With four Pro Bowls in four NFL seasons, including twice an All-Pro, Tyreek Hill is the standard-bearer for speed burner deep threat receivers. He’s the type of receiver who Jon Gruden is hoping he can duplicate with Henry Ruggs III.
Watkins has never been the caliber of receiver he was drafted to be when the Bills traded ahead of the Raiders to get him in 2014 over Khalil Mack. But he’s still a decent starting receiver. He had 673 yards receiving last season, which doesn’t seem fantastic unless you consider the depth the Chiefs have at receiver. Demarcus Robinson started 10 games last season and added another 449 yards of his own.
Then there’s slot receiver Mecole Hardman who, as a rookie last season, caught 30-of-42 targets for 567 yards and six touchdowns. Patrick Mahomes enjoyed a near-perfect passer rating (153.3) when targeting Hardman, according to Pro Football Focus, which is easily the best in the NFL. He also led all receivers with 20.69 yards per catch (minimum ten catches). What an embarrassment of riches Mahomes has to target in the passing game.
Starters: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams
Keenan Allen was a steal by the Chargers in the third round of the 2013 draft. Coming out of Cal, he felt like the one that got away for the Raiders who had three chances to get him in that draft, but went with cornerback D.J. Hayden, tackle Menelik Watson, and linebacker Sio Moore instead. Not exactly a trio that brings up happy memories. Allen surged out the gates with a 1000-yard season as a rookie and after a couple of injury-shortened seasons, is currently riding a streak of three straight Pro Bowl seasons, averaging 1262 yards and six touchdowns per season.
Mike Williams is coming off a 1,000-yard season in which he averaged an astounding 20.4 yards per catch, which was the most in the NFL among receivers with at least 30 catches. The former seventh overall pick had 10 touchdowns the season before. Methinks Justin Herbert is going to like throwing to these two top receivers.
The third receiver gets interesting for the Chargers. Allen plays the slot, so it’s the outside receiver opposite Williams that is up for grabs. They have a slew guys who will compete for the spot, including rookies Joe Reed (fifth round) and KJ Hill (seventh round). Among those competing for this spot, the leading receiver from last season was Andre Patton with six catches for 56 yards.
Starters: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler
Courtland Sutton is coming off his first Pro Bowl season. The 40th overall pick in the 2018 draft caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns, which are fantastic numbers considering the poor QB play and the change in starters midseason in Denver last season.
With the Raiders selecting Henry Ruggs III at 12th overall in the draft, the Broncos had his more well-established Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy fall into their lap at 15, so they took him. They double-dipped early at receiver, getting KJ Hamler in the second round to play the slot.
Starters: Henry Ruggs III, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow
The one AFC West team that has a rookie number one receiver. Last season, they were struggling to put even a decent couple of starters on the field. Now they hope Henry Ruggs III, who they selected at 12 overall, can be the number one receiver and deep threat the offense has been lacking. They put themselves in this position by trading for washout Antonio Brown last offseason. And several attempts at finding a poor-mans attempt went broke quickly.
The team insisted time and time again that prior to AB’s acquisition, Tyrell Williams was to be their number one receiver. That seemed rather unlikely, though had Williams not suffered a plantar fascia injury early in the season, he should have been worthy of being a number two receiver. He was brought back this season, so he’ll have the opportunity to prove he can be the big X receiver in this offense.
Renfrow was a rookie fifth-round pick last season. He earned his way into the starting lineup and then defied all expectations, finishing with his first and second ever 100-yard games. And I mean ever in his football life. He also earned the nickname ‘Third-and-Renfrow’ due to his dependability when the Raiders needed it most. How dependable was he? Derek Carr’s passer rating when targeting Renfrow was 126.9, according to Pro Football Focus, which was the second-best in the league behind only Seahawks’ receiver Tyler Lockett.