While one star wide receiver departed the AFC North this off-season via trade, another star receiver entered the fray due to a trade, giving one team a major makeover when it comes to star power.
As Antonio Brown forced his way to Oakland, Odell Beckham Jr. kept quiet and played the hand that was dealt to him, winding up in Cleveland with the upstart Browns after a blockbuster trade saw him leave the New York Giants in early March.
The addition of Beckham certainly shakes up the hierarchy at wide receiver for the 2019 season in my Ranking the Room series at the wide receiver position. Let’s take a look.
1. Cleveland Browns
Anytime a wide receiver room can start with Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry as its 1-2 punch, it will be hard to top. Last season’s 1-2 punch of Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster for the Steelers certainly would have topped Cleveland’s combo, but with Brown in the Bay Area, it’s the Browns in first place in this year’s rankings at wide receiver.
OBJ gets treated unfairly, in my eyes, by the national media and fans outside of his team’s current fan base. He’s certainly a passionate player and is a huge star, but he’s not a locker room problem and is great in the community. The Browns gave up very little for a top 5 receiver in the league. Unbelievable.
At times last season, Landry struggled as Cleveland’s No. 1 option, but he’ll flourish as the second fiddle next to his life-long best friend in Beckham Jr. Landry will get to work underneath much more with second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, giving the Browns a ridiculous amount of firepower at receiver.
The top two doesn’t even touch on a solid second level at receiver in Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, and Damion Ratley, all of whom produced in flashes last season for Cleveland. Higgins is easily one of the most overlooked weapons in the league; he’s a big, physical receiver that excels at contested catches.
Outside of the perceived top five for Cleveland, Jaelen Strong and Derrick Willies provide good depth for Cleveland, making this arguably the deepest receiving group in the AFC.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
With AB gone, the Steelers turn to Smith-Schuster to fill the No. 1 role in an offensive attack that is still loaded for bear come this fall.
Smith-Schuster excelled out of the slot and should be able to stay there this season with Donte Moncrief joining the fold, and an expected Year 2 leap for James Washington, but it will be interesting to see how the third-year USC product handles being the No. 1 target for Ben Roethlisberger. He’ll undoubtedly face double coverage nearly every snap, but he’ll handle that much better emotionally than AB did throughout the last few seasons. Don’t expect much of a drop-off for JuJu though.
Moncrief and Washington will be the keys for the Steelers’ offense this year. Moncrief has to be able to fill the X role that AB played for years. I’m not saying Moncrief has to turn into AB – that’s preposterous – but he does need to be at least a threat on the left side of the offense. I’d be thrilled with 50/500/5 out of the former Colt and Jaguar. Washington struggled throughout his rookie year, but he did seem to figure it out late, which was a positive sign.
With a full NFL off-season under his belt, the former Oklahoma State standout should make the Year 2 leap that usually happens with second-year players. If he does, look out.
Rookie Diontae Johnson is getting a ton of hype right now for his route-running abilities and overall athleticism, but if things break the right way, he’ll be a No. 4 receiver is rookie year, giving the Steelers solid depth while letting him develop into a long-term starter. It’s far too tough to expect great things out of Johnson right away.
Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers will battle it out in camp for the No. 5 spot, which should be a great battle to watch. Both are tremendous locker room guys and are willing to do anything the coaching staff asks. If I had it my way, I’d keep both and roll with six receivers, but that’s hard to see the Steelers doing. Overall, it’s a solid group top to bottom.
Keep an eye on Diontae Spencer, Trey Griffey, and Johnny Holton, as all are relatively long-time professionals that know what to expect in camp. It wouldn’t shock me if one of them made the 53-man roster coming out of camp.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
AJ Green is still at the height of his powers when healthy, so that gives the Cincinnati Bengals an elite weapon at receiver for an offense that was mostly good last season – when all key players were healthy.
With Green headlining the group, this gives the Bengals the edge of the Baltimore Ravens, at least for this season. When healthy, Green is in the top five discussions for the receiver position.
Behind him, I’m a big believer in Tyler Boyd, who has really come on strong as a No. 2 option and a possession receiver for Cincinnati. Last season the Pitt product cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. Those numbers should only improve under new head coach Zac Taylor, as well as with a healthy Green opposite him.
John Ross has been mostly a disappointment, but he was a decent No. 3 last season for the Bengals, while Alex Erickson really came on strong as a viable slot option for Cincinnati down the stretch last season. Add Josh Malone into that mix as well; the former Tennessee product showed flashes at times last season, giving him the inside track for the No. 4 role this season.
The sleeper here is Stanley Morgan Jr., who shockingly went undrafted in the 2019 draft. If the Bengals develop him correctly, they have a good receiving option on the outside moving forward.
Keep an eye on Auden Tate and Kermit Whitfield this summer too. Tate is a big, physical body at receiver, while Whitfield is a throwback to Peter Warrick in build and skillset.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Once again, this group is a problem – at least on the surface – for the Baltimore Ravens heading into the 2019 season.
Sure, Baltimore drafted Marquise Brown in the first round and Miles Boykin in the third round, giving Lamar Jackson two new, shiny toys to play with at receiver, but overall this group lacks depth and experience, with Willie Snead IV and Michael Floyd being the most experienced players in the room.
That said, in a few years, should the Ravens develop the talent in the room correctly, this could be a scary group.
I liked Brown’s abilities as a game-breaker with the ball in his hands, while Boykin appears to be a physical freak. That said, Brown is really small for the NFL standard and could struggle to stay healthy, while Boykin isn’t really much of a contested catches guy.
I really liked Antoine Wesley coming out of Texas Tech and the Ravens snatched him up as a UDFA, giving Jackson another big, fast burner to work with. Baltimore also singed Jackson’s former top target at Louisville in Jaylen Smith as a UDFA. I’m not very high on him; he struggles to catch the football and create separation, but he does have the mind meld with Jackson, so we’ll see.
Personally, I still really like Jordan Lashley and I hope the Ravens give him a true chance to make the team and see the field at receiver. He was dynamic at UCLA with Josh Rosen.
Chris Moore and Seth Roberts provide speed and return abilities, but I can see both cancelling each other out and pushing one out the door due to similar traits and build.
Overall, it’s not a good group right now and it has bit of a weird mix, but with the right development it could turn into a really solid group that is downright scary down the line.
Last Season’s Rankings
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Cleveland Browns
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Baltimore Ravens