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The next group where Bengals may be doing some shopping w/ The Athletic rankings:




As of this writing, the free-agent wide receiver class looks loaded. The question is whether it will stay that way by the time the new league year starts March 17. Top players like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay could receive franchise tags from their respective teams. But if they reach the open market, this position could see more blockbuster deals than any other in free agency.

Below is a look at the wide receivers who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, with their ages as of Week 1 in parentheses.

Tier 1: Empty out the wallet

These are players who can expect to find deals at the top of the market for their position.

Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears (28)

Robinson’s talent is obvious, but his level of production with below-average quarterback play has been especially impressive. Robinson’s 2,397 receiving yards over the last two seasons ranks third among wide receivers, behind only Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins. He’s a legit outside No. 1 wide receiver who would fit pretty much any scheme. The Bears could use the franchise tag on Robinson and then try to keep him or trade him. That could potentially force him to wait to test the open market until next offseason. But if he gets a long-term deal this year, Robinson is likely to join the growing list of wide receivers (Hopkins, Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper) who make at least $20 million per year.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25)

A number of teams could have Godwin as their top-ranked free-agent wide receiver. Like Robinson, he could get tagged. But if he hits the open market, Godwin will be attractive to pretty much any team that has cap space and is in need of wide receiver help. He is a complete player who can win at all levels and play outside or in the slot, where he lined up 51.6 percent of the time last season. Godwin was prolific in 2019 with 86 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. He battled injuries in 2020 but still caught 65 balls for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 regular-season games. Like Robinson, Godwin could find a deal in the $20 million per year range.

Tier 2: Just a notch below

These are players who are likely to find big paydays as No. 1 or No. 2 wide receivers but might not be quite at the top of the market.

Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (27)

He’s another player who could get tagged. If Golladay hits the open market, it’s entirely possible that he gets a huge payday, and you could easily make the case that he belongs in Tier 1. But he has more questions than Robinson and Godwin, given that he’s coming off a season in which he played just five games because of a hip injury. When healthy, Golladay has been a monster. His 2,253 yards across 2018 and 2019 ranked ninth among all wide receivers. He’s averaged 16.8 yards per reception (YPR) for his career and is a terrific downfield threat who knows how to use his size to out-muscle opponents. As long as there are no lingering questions about Golladay’s hip injury, he should be in line to land a deal that’s at least in the neighborhood of $17 million to $18 million per year.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers (24)

He has a different skill set and will serve a different role than the three receivers already mentioned. Smith-Schuster lined up in the slot 74.6 percent of the time last year. He had 97 catches for 831 yards and nine touchdowns and is a great option to work the middle, intermediate part of the field. Smith-Schuster also brings a toughness that teams will find appealing. He entered the league at a young age and will be just 24 at the start of next season, meaning Smith-Schuster could just now be entering his prime. Players like Robert Woods, Adam Thielen and Cooper Kupp received contracts in the neighborhood of $16 million per year. That seems like a reasonable floor for any potential deal with Smith-Schuster.

Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans (26)

Davis is coming off of a career year in which he had 65 catches for 984 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games. He hasn’t lived up to his draft slot (taken fifth in 2017), and the Titans declined his fifth-year option, but Davis is still young and offers the floor of an above-average No. 2 wide receiver. Teams could easily talk themselves into him having a No. 1 wide receiver ceiling and putting up bigger numbers in a pass-heavy offense. The advanced numbers are kind to Davis. He averaged 2.7 yards per route run in the regular season, which ranked fourth behind only Davante Adams, A.J. Brown and Justin Jefferson.

Tier 3: Starting-caliber options
These are players who are unlikely to be viewed as No. 1 options but definitely project as starters. Players in this tier will likely find deals that pay between $8 million and $12 million per season.

Will Fuller, Houston Texans (27)

In late November, it looked like Fuller was making the most of his contract year, and if this list were produced at that time, he would have definitely landed in Tier 2. But then he got suspended for the final five games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Previously, the question with Fuller was durability. He has missed at least five games in each of the past four seasons. When healthy, there’s no denying Fuller’s speed and talent. He had 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns last season and ranked sixth in yards per route run. But given the injury history and last year’s suspension, there’s considerable risk in signing Fuller to a long-term contract. He’s the ultimate boom-or-bust free agent, and it’s tough to predict what his market will be.

Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers (25)

For a while, the idea of Samuel was better than the actual player. But in 2020, he set career highs with 77 catches for 851 yards. And Samuel was much more efficient than he had been previously, catching 79.4 percent of his targets and ranking 20th out of 78 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run. The Panthers used Samuel as a ballcarrier, too — he had 41 carries for 200 yards. With the right offensive coach, Samuel is a really fun player. With the wrong one, he could be a bust. But he produced his career season at the perfect time to get paid, and his speed and versatility will be attractive to a lot of teams.

Nelson Agholor, Raiders (28)

He settled for a one-year, $1.05 million deal last offseason and produced a career year, catching 48 balls for 896 yards. Agholor averaged 18.7 yards YPR, which ranked second league-wide, and he was 16th in yards per route run. Agholor was pegged as a slot receiver during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he lined up on the outside more than 70 percent of the time with the Raiders. He should have a much different market this time around.

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (31)

He started off slow but came on strong in the second half of the season and finished with 56 catches for 762 yards and five touchdowns. Just two years ago, Hilton totaled 1,270 yards with Andrew Luck as his quarterback. Hilton’s best days are likely behind him, but he should still have at least a couple of years left as a starting-caliber player. Emmanuel Sanders’ two-year, $16 million deal with the Saints could be a good comp for Hilton.

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions (31)

Would you believe that over the last five years, Jones ranks 16th among wide receivers in receiving yards and seventh in touchdowns? He was a high-volume option in 2020, catching 76 balls on 115 targets for 978 yards and nine touchdowns. But he ranked 46th among 78 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run. Jones could be a relatively low-cost, reliable veteran option.

Tier 4: Fringe starters/wild cards

These are players who could potentially land starting jobs if things fall their way. This tier includes players who could have to settle for one-year deals or may be viewed as rotational options.

Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs (28)

He returned to Kansas City on a one-year, $9 million last offseason. Watkins battled injuries and had 37 catches for 421 yards in 10 games. He’s had some memorable playoff moments, but in three years with the Chiefs Watkins never topped 673 yards. He ranked 64th out of 78 players last season in yards per route run.

Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (33)

It’s pretty much impossible to know where to slot him on a list like this. The Bucs signed Brown during last season, and he had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular-season games. Will he now search for a new team or return to Tampa on what might have to be a one-year deal? If the Bucs lose Godwin in free agency, they could view Brown as an attractive replacement. Brown served a suspension last season but is still facing a lawsuit for alleged rape.

Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns (26)

He started six games last season and set a career high with 599 yards. Among the 103 wide receivers who ran at least 200 routes, Higgins ranked 17th in yards per route run, and he caught 71.2 percent of his targets. Higgins’ upside would be as a No. 2 outside receiver.

Josh Reynolds, Los Angeles Rams (26)

He set career highs with 52 catches for 618 yards last season. But Reynolds ranked 66th out of 78 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run, while averaging a pedestrian 11.9 yards per reception. Reynolds is still young, he has size (6-foot-3), and he’s never missed a game due to injury. Teams may view him as a player with upside, but he had an unspectacular four-year run with the Rams.

Kendrick Bourne, San Francisco 49ers (26)

He was on the field for 63 percent of the offensive snaps last year — the highest rate of his career. Bourne also set career highs with 49 catches for 667 yards. He’s lined up both outside and in the slot and has missed just one game over the past three seasons.

Tyrell Williams, Las Vegas Raiders (29)

He’s not a free agent quite yet but is expected to be released. Williams missed all of last season because of foot issues. In 2019, he caught 42 balls for 651 yards. For his career, Williams has been a legit deep threat, averaging 16.1 YPR. Given his health issues, he could be looking at a one-year deal.

Breshad Perriman, New York Jets (28)

He signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal as a free agent last offseason. Perriman played 66 percent of the snaps and had 30 catches for 505 yards. He’s averaged 16.5 YPR for his career. Perriman could be attractive to teams looking for a low-cost, field-stretching option.

Keelan Cole, Jacksonville Jaguars (28)

He set a career high with 55 catches last season and produced 642 yards for a putrid Jaguars passing attack. Cole ranked 70th out of 78 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run. He averaged 17.8 yards per reception as a rookie in 2017, but that dropped to a career low 11.7 last season. Cole could be a low-cost second or third option.

Danny Amendola, Detroit Lions (35)

He is one of the oldest players on this list but still showed some juice last year as a slot receiver, catching 46 balls for 602 yards. Amendola ranked 26th among 78 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run. He could be a nice option for a contending team (Packers? Bucs?) looking for a slot option on a one-year deal.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (33)

On a per-snap basis, Green was one of the least efficient wide receivers in the league last season. He averaged just 1.06 yards per route run, which ranked 73rd out of 78 qualifying wide receivers. Green caught 47 balls for 523 yards and averaged a career-low 11.1 yards per reception. He caught just 45.2 percent of his targets, which was also a career low. This was after he played just nine total games from 2018-19. Maybe he surprises, but all signs point to a player in steep decline.

Willie Snead, Baltimore Ravens (28)

He was willing to do the dirty work as a slot option in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. Snead had 33 catches for 432 yards, but he showed previously in his career that he could produce with more targets.

Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars (27)

He appeared in just two games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 7. Assuming he’s on track to get healthy, Westbrook should be able to compete for a slot receiver spot. He had 66 catches for 660 yards in 2019.

Larry Fitzgerald Arizona Cardinals (37)

It’s unclear whether the future Hall of Famer will return for an 18th year or retire. Fitzgerald set career lows last season with 54 catches for 409 yards and 7.6 yards per reception. He ranked 76th out of 78 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run. Fitzgerald played a career-low 66 percent of the snaps last season, but if he returned he would likely be looking at an even more reduced role.

Tier 5: Depth/special teams options

These are players who project as rotational options or guys who could serve specialized roles. Many will provide their primary value on special teams.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago Bears (30)

He made the Pro Bowl for the fourth time because of his performance as a kickoff returner. Patterson saw snaps as a receiver and a running back, in addition to his prominent special-teams role.

David Moore, Seattle Seahawks (26)

He started 14 games in four seasons and produced some eye-popping highlights. But Moore has never eclipsed 445 yards in a single season.

Demarcus Robinson, Kansas City Chiefs (27)

He was a free agent last year and returned to Kansas City on a one-year, $2.3 million deal. Robinson set career highs with 45 catches for 466 yards, but it seems unlikely that his market will be much different this time around. He ranked 74th out of 78 wide receivers in yards per route run.

Chris Conley, Jacksonville Jaguars (28)

He played 42 percent of the snaps last season and produced 471 yards. Conley will likely be viewed as a backup by most teams.

Damiere Byrd, New England Patriots (28)

He’s been in the league since 2015, and last year was the first time Byrd played at least 50 percent of the offensive snaps. He set career highs with 47 catches for 604 yards.

Isaiah McKenzie, Buffalo Bills (26)

Given his versatility as a gadget-type player, a slot receiver and a returner, McKenzie should find a home somewhere.

John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals (25)

He’s a tough one to place. It’s possible that Ross competes for real playing time somewhere, but he played just 86 snaps last season and has 733 total yards in four NFL seasons. Maybe a change of scenery allows Ross to resurrect his career, but it’s also possible he has trouble finding a roster spot next season.

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (34)

His return to the Eagles was mostly a disaster. Jackson appeared in eight games across two seasons. The good news is he hasn’t lost a step and still has elite speed. The bad news is he’s been unable to stay on the field. Some team will likely take a one-year flier.

Phillip Dorsett, Seattle Seahawks (28)

He missed all of last season with a foot injury after signing a one-year, $1.05 million deal with the Seahawks. Dorsett will have to prove he’s healthy and still has his speed to land a roster spot somewhere.

Alex Erickson, Cincinnati Bengals (28)

His value is as a returner on special teams. Erickson played just 18 percent of the offensive snaps last season and had 139 receiving yards.

Andre Roberts, Buffalo Bills (33)

He made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist for the third consecutive season in 2020. Roberts will be an option for teams looking for a special-teams upgrade.

Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles (31)

He appeared in six games last season and had 115 total yards. The days of Jeffery being a productive starter are probably over, but he could get one last opportunity to earn meaningful snaps.

Tier 6: Fighting for a roster spot

These are players who will likely be looking to earn a job somewhere either before Week 1 or during next season when teams need injury replacements.

Tavon Austin, Green Bay Packers (31)
Laquon Treadwell, Atlanta Falcons (26)
Isaiah Ford, Miami Dolphins (25)
DeAndre Carter, Houston Texans (28)
Bennie Fowler, New Orleans Saints (30)
Marvin Hall, Detroit Lions, (28)
Mack Hollins, Miami Dolphins (28)
Zay Jones, Las Vegas Raiders (26)
Mike Thomas, Cincinnati Bengals (27)
Noah Brown, Dallas Cowboys (25)
Donte Moncrief, New England Patriots (28)
Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers (27)
Taywan Taylor, Cleveland Browns (26)
Pharoh Cooper, Carolina Panthers (26)
Dez Bryant, Baltimore Ravens (32)
Chris Moore, Baltimore Ravens (28)
JoJo Natson, Cleveland Browns (27)
Dwayne Harris, Chicago Bears (34)
DeAndrew White, Carolina Panthers (29)
Mohamed Sanu, San Francisco 49ers (32)



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