Teams are in an arms race, swinging big trades and giving huge contracts to add more weapons to their inventory. Creating plays in the passing game is how explosive you win in today’s NFL. In order to have a truly explosive offense, teams need more than just one true threat — they need at least two, plus good complementary players. Without considering the quarterback or offensive line, here are my top 10 groups of offensive skill players.
In each chart, each player is color-coded:
Blue: Very good
Green: Above-average starter
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Offensive skill players: Bengals
The Bengals successfully turned a strength into a flamethrower, drafting Ja’Marr Chase in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase instantly established himself as a true No. 1 and as one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.
Tee Higgins would be the best receiver on the roster for several teams. In this offense, he punishes single coverage or matchups against the opponent’s second-best corner when teams devote their resources to stopping Chase. Tyler Boyd is a big-play threat inside and his production speaks for itself — he was tied for fourth in receptions of 20 yards or more in the slot last season.
Running back Joe Mixon has excellent vision, can break tackles and is a threat running routes and catching passes out of the backfield.
They lost CJ Uzomah in free agency but signed Hayden Hurst. Hurst was a 2018 first-round pick who will do the dirty work and has enough athleticism to be more productive than Uzomah was in this offense.
This offense took off last season when head coach Zach Taylor removed Joe Burrow‘s handcuffs and let him throw at a high rate. The Bengals should pick up where they left off and be a top-three offense in 2022.
2. Miami Dolphins
Offensive skill players: Dolphins
This is one of the fastest collections of skill players that I’ve ever seen assembled. Tireek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are legit 4.2 guys. Waddle’s most dangerous skill is his ability to win deep, but he showed how well-rounded his game is catching passes underneath in the Dolphins’ heavy run-pass-option last season offense. He’s well on his way to becoming an elite receiver. Running back Raheem Mostert ran a 4.32 and is a home run threat whenever he touches the ball. Tight end Mike Gesicki ran a 4.52, which puts him in the 92nd percentile of his position group. Third receiver Cedrick Wilson is an ascending player — his timed speed isn’t on par with his teammates, but he can separate on verticals and crossers.
Fullback Alec Ingold is one of the most physical lead blockers in the league and is an underrated receiver out of the backfield. His presence should help with the lack of a good perimeter blocker, which is essential to making Mike McDaniel’s outside zone game work. McDaniel could run a lot of 18/19 Zorro with the fullback double-teaming the edge player with the tight end.
This offense needs a little balance, but it is built to pass the ball. McDaniel made his name as a run-game coordinator with the 49ers. Can he coordinate a pass-first attack?
3. Las Vegas Raiders
Offensive skill players: Raiders
Since Adams emerged as a No. 1 in Green Bay, he hasn’t played with great complementary targets. In Las Vegas, he’ll play next to Darren Wallerwho is an elite tight end, and Hunter Renfrow, one of the best slot receivers in the league. Running back Josh Jacobs had battled with injuries and had trouble finding space behind one of the worst offensive lines in football last season, but he’s shown he can at least be a very good starter when things are right.
Josh McDaniels’ offense is full of option routes and conversions that require receivers to read coverages, understand leverage and find open space. Adams, Waller and Renfrow are among the best at their positions at doing those things. Once they get familiar with McDaniels’ complicated system, this is going to be an electric offense to watch.
The Raiders’ best personnel grouping could be their 12 personnel with second tight end Foster Moreau. In his first season back after tearing his ACL, he didn’t quite look like himself but still had 379 receiving yards. McDaniels has had success implementing two tight end sets in the past with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. I have a feeling we’ll see a lot of 12 personnel next season.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Offensive skill players: 49ers
If George Kittle isn’t the best tight end in football, he’s the most complete tight end. He blocks better than most tackles on the edge, has the speed to separate and is a monster after the catch. The 49ers also have the best YAC wide receiver in the league with Deebo Samuelwho reported to minicamp after a dispute with the team over his contract or possibly over his usage as a running back. Even if we don’t see him as a “wide-back” again, he was one of the most productive receivers in the league, racking up 1,405 receiving yards last season.
Brandon Aiyuk made major strides last season after climbing out of the coaching staff’s doghouse and finished with 826 yards and five touchdowns — not bad for a third option. Rockie receiver Jennings also finished the season strong with a six-catch, 94-yard, two-touchdown game against the Rams in Week 17 and looks to have the potential to be a strong fourth option. It’s usually hard for a rookie receiver to earn Kyle Shanahan’s trust, but he was calling choice route plays for Jennings in clutch situations.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk has proved to be one of the most unique players in the NFL. Though he doesn’t destroy defenders at the point of attack, he makes nearly every block he’s asked to make and has the speed and catching ability to win downfield as a receiver.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Offensive skill players: Eagles
AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith couldn’t be more different in state and play style. Brown is a hulking receiver who makes his money outmuscling defensive backs in the middle of the field. Smith, appropriately named “the slim reaper,” wins with crafty route running. Together they’ll form one of the better one-two punches in the league. Smith could make the leap toward being a star player, but it’s too early to say he’s there yet. Tight end Dallas Goedert is a borderline elite tight end. He’s always been a plus blocker but took his receiving game to another level last season, leading tight ends in yards per route run (2.33), according to Pro Football Focus. Running back Miles Sanders has struggled with health but can be a very good all-around back when he’s on the field.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive skill players: Buccaneers
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are a proven duo, but Godwin tore his ACL in Week 15 and his status for the beginning of the season is up in the air. Even when he does return, how effective will he be this year? Free-agent signing Russell Gage‘s production should go up with Tom Brady throwing to him, but he isn’t quite in the class of Evans and Godwin. Gronkowski hasn’t made a decision about returning. His would-be replacement, Cameron Bratis a good player but he’s a downgrade. Leonard Fournette had his best season as a pro running behind one of the best offensive lines in football and became a much more reliable receiver out of the backfield. Will he be able to repeat his success? The Buccanneers have a lot of talent but also have a ton of questions.
7. Los Angeles Rams
Offensive skill players: Rams
Cooper Kup led the league in nearly every major receiving category last season. He’s an absolute monster running option routes and Matthew Stafford unlocked his ability to get vertical last season. Allen Robinson had a down year last season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a bounce-back year in a new environment. Tight end Tyler Higbee is an underrated player and can punish defenses for forgetting about him. Running back Cam Akers should be healthy and provide a spark in the running game.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Offensive skill players: Seahawks
DK Metcalf had a down year after breaking out in his second season in the league but has potential to be elite. Tyler Lockett is one of the better No. 2 receivers and is as dependable as they come. They got 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant in the Russell Wilson trade. Fant hasn’t lived up to his draft status but has the athleticism to make plays in the middle of the field when defenses have to keep their safeties on top of Metcalf and Lockett. Running back Kenneth Walkerdrafted in the second round, should be productive.
9. Los Angeles Chargers
Offensive skill players: Chargers
Keenan Allen is a third-down machine from the slot and Mike Williams broke out last season, hauling in nine touchdown passes. Austin Ekeler is an and reliable threat catching explosive passes out of the backfield. The Chargers have other nice pieces such as Jalen Guyton, Joshua Palmer and Gerald Everettbut they really lack a receiver who can take the top off the defense consistently and take advantage of Justin Herbert‘s big arm.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive skill players: Steelers
Diontae Johnson is a crafty route runner with explosion, but his hands have been unreliable. Chase Claypool has had flashes of brilliance and has top-tier height and speed, but he’s been inconsistent and can make head-scratching decisions. Second-round pick George Pickens has No. 1 receiver potential but fell in the draft because of injury concerns. Outside of the receivers, the Steelers have a couple of reliable pieces. Tight end Pat Freiermuth proved to be a red zone threat as a rookie, catching seven touchdown passes. Running back Najee Harris had 1,200 yards rushing and 467 yards receiving in his first season. This group could end up being ranked a lot higher if the Steelers put it together, but there’s a huge boom-or-bust factor associated with them.
(Top photo of Ja’Marr Chase: Kirby Lee / USA Today)