The AFC North projects as one of the leagues toughest divisions in 2023, with all four teams’ eyes set on a division title and a playoff run. One can debate the validity of each team’s chances to reach that goal, but the fact is that the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns, and our own Pittsburgh Steelers all believe they belong in the conversation with the AFC’s best.
In this series, I will attempt to rank the four AFC North teams by position. In part three, we take a look at each team’s wide receiver group. We’ll be looking at the top 3 projected receivers in each room to determine which team has the best trio heading into 2023.
Ja’Marr Chase: 12 g, 87 rec, 134 tgt, 1,046 yds, 9 td
Tee Higgins: 16 g, 74 rec, 109 tgt, 1,029 yds, 7 td
Tyler Boyd: 16 g, 58 rec, 82 tgt, 762 yds, 5 td
Analysis: The Bengals return not only the AFC North’s top WR trio, but perhaps the league’s best 3-man group heading into 2023. On most other teams, Tee Higgins would be the no. 1 target, but Chase is just a different animal at WR. Despite an injury riddled ‘22 campaign, he still earned over 1,000 yds on an elite 134 targets (11.2 tgt/gm). The efficiency dropped a little from his 2nd-team All-Pro, OROY debut season. Expect a rebound from the generational receiver. At WR3, it doesn’t get better than Tyler Boyd across the league, and the do-it-all pass catcher is one of Joe Burrow’s favorite targets on the money downs. In short, the cupboard is full in Cincy at WR.
Diontae Johnson: 17 g, 86 rec, 147 tgt, 882 yds, 0 td
George Pickens: 17 g, 52 rec, 84 tgt, 801 yds, 4 td
Allen Robinson (w/ Rams): 10 g, 33 rec, 52 tgt, 339 yds, 3 td
Analysis: The Steelers narrowly beat out the Browns for the no. 2 spot on this list, and much of that is to do with the projected ceiling of George Pickens heading into year 2. Pickens is a Madden cheat code on contested catches down the field and, with improved route running and YAC production, could leap into the Top 10 receiver conversation by the end of the season. Diontae Johnson is consistent even if he isn’t flashy. With what should be much improved QB play in 2023, DJ is poised for a rebound season. For Robinson, horrid QB luck has been a major factor in his 2-year decline in production. Perhaps the youthful energy and stable environment of Pittsburgh will rekindle the fire in the former Pro Bowl receiver. The Steelers have done a fantastic job of surrounding QB Kenny Pickett with a deep and diverse bevy of playmakers at WR.
Amari Cooper: 17 g, 78 rec, 132 tgt, 1,160 yds, 9 td
Donovan Peoples-Jones: 17 g, 61 rec, 96 tgt, 839 yds, 3 td
Elijah Moore (w/ Jets): 16 g, 37 rec, 65 tgt, 446 yds, 1 td
Analysis: Amari Cooper is an underrated receiver across the NFL, and is one of it’s better route runners and technicians at the position. He’s the perfect all-round receiver for Deshaun Watson and should be in for a big year if Watson can turn back the clock and rejoin the conversation of the top QBs. By the end of the year, I project Elijah Moore will be the team’s WR2. His growth was severely stunted in a stagnant Jets offense, but the flashes are brilliant. He’ll find an offensive environment in Cleveland much more suited to his sillset. Peoples-Jones is a good receiver as well, but seems to have peaked as a solid, upper-tier WR3. The Browns receiver room looks good.
Rashod Bateman: 7 g, 15 rec, 28 tgt, 285 yds, 2 td
O’dell Beckham, Jr. (DNP)
Zay Flowers (R)
Analysis: The Ravens are crossing their fingers for sustained health from Bateman and Beckham, and for the Rook (Flowers) to be an immediate impact starter for the newly extended Lamar Jackson. There’s a lot of ifs and unknowns for this group, but Bateman showed a some good things in his short rookie season, and we know what a healthy OBJ looks like as recently as Super Bowl LVI. Flowers has an intriguing skillset, and has been compared to former Steelers great Antonio Brown as a route technician. That’s a tall order for the former Boston College receiver. Expectations will be high in Baltimore for this revamped receiving corps in new OC Todd Monken’s scheme that will attempt to win with the passing game more than the Ravens have ever tried in the Jackson era.
Next time on my AFC North Rankings by position, we’ll look at the tight end position for each squad and sort out the top unit in the division. What did you think of my WR rankings? Who’s too high/low? Chat it up!