The New England Patriots will have to face a gauntlet of receiver talent throughout the 2021 campaign.
Well, at least according to one ESPN publication, which ranked the top wideouts in the National Football League. More than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players were surveyed for the exercise as voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at the position. It was compiled from there.
The Patriots have six of the top 10 receivers on their 2021 schedule. The Tennessee Titans, for what it’s worth, have two in the top 10. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns are well represented, too, as the list included nine additional honorable mentions.
Anyway, here they are:
3. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
The Bills wideout carved up Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson during a matchup last season, and Jackson certainly wasn’t alone in that regard. Diggs was graded as high as second and no lower than eighth by those surveyed. The Patriots will see Diggs and the Bills twice during AFC East competition this season — Week 13 and Week 16.
5. Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans
The recently-acquired Jones was added in an offseason trade and now gives the Titans two of the best big-body receivers in the game. Jones, a longtime star for the Atlanta Falcons, was graded No. 1 by at least one writer, but another had him as low as No. 13. Jones and the Titans will play the Patriots during Week 12.
6. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore has long admired the route-running ability of Allen, and others around the game believe he’s among the most underrated, too. Allen was ranked as high as second and as low as 12th by those surveyed. The Patriots will face Allen and the Chargers during Week 8.
7. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans benefitted from quarterback Tom Brady’s arrival in 2020 and is viewed as one of the fiercest competitors the position has to offer. Evans, 27, was ranked as high as fourth and as low as No. 13. The Patriots will face Evans, Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium during Week 4.
8. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Thomas was dealt a bizarre year of injures and production during the 2020 season, but it’d probably be unfair to completely discount the year prior when he led the league in yards per game. Thomas was ranked as high as fourth but at least one surveyed had him off his list of 15. New England will play Thomas and the Saints in Week 3.
10. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown, who led the recruitment in getting Jones to Tennessee, rounded out the top 10. The 24-year-old wideout, who’s praised for his ability after the catch, was graded as high as third though he too was left off the list by at least one person. Brown and Jones will face the Patriots during Week 12.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta may have traded Jones to Tennessee, but Ridley is still a solid No. 1 wideout. He’ll face the Patriots during Week 11.
Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
Beckham has been plagued by injuries during recent seasons, but when healthy, he’s still among the game’s best. He’ll travel to Gillette Stadium during Week 10.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Godwin joins Evans on the list after playing through some injuries and coming up in big moments. He’ll challenge the depth of the Patriots secondary during Week 4.
Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
Landry is still a more than capable No. 1 wideout, but with a healthy Beckham it’s a champagne problem for the Browns. Still, he’s shown he can take over and produce.
Perhaps this list will make the Patriots a bit more inclined to agree to a contract with 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, and their best cornerback, Stephon Gilmore?