Ever since the beginning of sports, there have been few connections greater than those of a quarterback and his number 1 receiver. From Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry to Joe Montana and Jerry Rice to Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, the dynamic overall chemistry between the man under center and his trusty security blanket have awed fans for over 100 years. However, with so many top-tier wide receivers changing teams and others retiring, the idea of ranking these combinations has lost its relevance. While this used to be the norm 2 or 3 years ago, this concept has just disappeared in the wake of “more controversial” drama in the football world. To reverse this flawed thought process, this article discusses the top 10 quarterback-receiver tandems in football for the 2019-2020 NFL season. (Disclaimer: Those who are playing together for the first time are not evaluated). After rating the top 10 based on consistency, duration, and production, here are the top combos heading into the 2019-2020 NFL season:
The new dynamic duo in Pittsburgh (sorry, Antonio Brown) is set to do great things in 2019. Over the course of 2 seasons, the two have connected for 2 touchdowns over 95 yards, an unbelievable feat for anyone at either position. Smith-Schuster is one of the best talents in the NFL with the ball in his hands, and his chemistry with an aging but still reliable Ben Roethlisberger should still pay dividends next season. Smith-Schuster’s breakout season and the absence of Antonio Brown from Pittsburgh’s offense should allow for greater production from this duo. Even with the now-gone Brown in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster had a whopping 111 receptions in 2018, leading the team in that category as well as in the yards metric. Those 111 connections between Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster are near the likes of All-Pro wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, arguably the two best receivers in the whole league. Smith-Schuster has definitely gained the respect of many NFL defenses over the course of his first two years, so don’t be surprised if his numbers regress a little compared to his monster sophomore season. Over the course of Roethlisberger’s career, he’s been renowned for creating superstar wide receivers out of players who flash a lot of upside early in their careers. Antonio Brown, Santonio Holmes, and Hines Ward are all past examples of receivers who developed great rapport with Roethlisberger over the years, and Smith-Schuster has shown the potential to be next in that list of superstars. While the past few seasons may have been growing sample sizes for what this tandem can do together, the results within their first two seasons should remove all doubt about their productivity in the upcoming 2019 season.
This duo was once one of the league’s premier pairings multiple years ago. When the concept of a quarterback-receiver duo had become cemented in the NFL, some of the popular tandems were Aaron Rodgers-Jordy Nelson, Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson, Tony Romo-Dez Bryant, and Dalton-Green. Ever since the Bengals selected him 4th overall out of Georgia in 2011, Green has been nothing short of spectacular. He may not be the freakiest athlete, but his route-running abilities paired with one of the best jump-ball talents had made A.J. Green one of the top 5 receivers in the entire league. While Dalton has regressed ever since the infamous Wild Card matchup against Pittsburgh in the 2015-16 season, the connection between these two ever since Day 1 automatically puts them in the top 10. This duo should be a lot higher, and yet they’re not, because of injuries to both Dalton and Green. While this duo is the only light at the end of Cincinnati’s mediocrity tunnel, they’ll be heavily relied upon in new head coach Zac Taylor’s first season in 2019. The Bengals’ offensive line may be a mess, and will probably fix itself only when their players stay healthy. With the injury to 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams, Bobby Hart is almost guaranteed to start at right tackle, causing this duo to carry this below-average team on its back. Whether they can do it or not is an entirely different matter, but just based on Green’s connection and productivity with the Red Rifle, at least there is a small semblance of a chance.
The sleeping giant has finally woken up, and he’s more dangerous than ever. True football fans remember the days when Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton were forced to carry a dismal Colts team to the playoffs year after year. Luck, despite having a subpar running game and offensive line, was able to guide this team to wins with his most reliable weapon, at least until disaster struck and Luck, after taking too many hits, had to sit out nearly 2 whole years as a result of a shoulder injury. In 2018, with the hiring of new general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich, Luck had by far his best season, and so did his favorite target. Hilton’s 1270 yards in 2018 were the best he’s had in 3 years, and the massive upgrade in his play with Luck was quite obviously different from when Luck was injured, and 2nd-stringer Jacoby Brissett was under center for the 2017 season. Even in Luck’s comeback season, this connection was criminally underrated until the Colts finally became one of the more dangerous teams in the AFC, and Hilton’s statement game in Houston’s NRG Stadium against the eventual division champion truly exemplified the comeback of this duo. Luck and Hilton are only going to get better in the 2019 season, because their perseverance through all the ups-and-downs in the past few years have only indicated their fortitude as one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in all of football. Expect the league’s best offensive line, a menacing rushing attack, and one of the best schemes in the entire AFC to enhance the production of Luck and Hilton even more, and maybe, just maybe, this duo will guide the team to an AFC Championship title.
The Batman and Robin of professional sports. The hero among all heroes and his most trusty sidekick. Brady to Edelman over the past three years, especially in the playoffs, has been one of the most underrated connections in all of football. Everyone remembers “The Catch” in Super Bowl 51, and that Brady to Edelman connection earning Minitron the Super Bowl 53 MVP, but everyone forgets what got the Patriots to those games. This duo has never earned any accolades for the unique chemistry they have, but 3 Super Bowl rings in the last 5 years speak for themselves. Some say Brady’s “not the same”, or that he’s “fallen off a cliff”, but last season was just one average season. Yet, one average season from this duo is enough to propel that team to the #2 seed in the AFC. Edelman and Brady for a full 16 games is enough to give any defense nightmares. Brady gets the ball out of his hands so quickly that pass-rushers can’t touch him, and Edelman is a shifty route runner who can get open quickly and torch defenses after the catch. This combination works so perfectly, and it’s to no one’s surprise that it’s been one of the most integral components in three of Brady’s six Super Bowl rings. In those three Super Bowls combined, Brady and Edelman have connected for a total of 24 times for 337 yards, averaging a little over 14 yards a catch. That is incredible efficiency, and this duo definitely looks to keep it that way in 2019. What they have done over the course of 6 seasons is simply unmatched, especially in the postseason, even if their statistics don’t show it. While some may critique this duo’s “insignificant” production shown in the “counting” numbers, you know what numbers should be recognized more? 3 Super Bowl rings, 3 combined Super Bowl MVPs, 337 yards, and 24 touches, all as a result of just 1 connection, because in reality, those numbers are really the only ones that count.
The most forgotten duo when discussing the top tandems. Many forget how the duo of a rookie Keenan Allen and a “declining” Philip Rivers carried the Chargers to the AFC’s 6th seed in 2013, and upset the heavily-favored Cincinnati Bengals in the first round. This duo has been so underrated for the last few years, and mostly because of Allen’s injury issues. After two straight season-ending injuries, this duo finally returned to 2013 form, and hasn’t taken a step back. Especially in 2017, even with the Chargers missing the playoffs, this duo was a large part of why they were even labeled as dark horse Super Bowl candidates. While the Chargers missed out on the playoffs that season, Rivers and Allen had a career-high 102 connections for 1393 receiving yards. While they statistically regressed from 2017, the big plays that Rivers and Allen connected on were critical in big wins, especially on the road in Seattle and Pittsburgh, really propelled this team to the divisional round. Building off the past two seasons, Allen’s incredible route-running ability as well as Rivers’s cannon for an arm makes them especially dangerous in 2019. This duo performed quite well in the playoffs, and it’s arguable that the Chargers would’ve had a better chance in that divisional round playoff game against the Patriots if Gus Bradley wasn’t running Cover 3 on EVERY SINGLE PLAY against the greatest quarterback of all time. However, this team is still young, and a lot more targets will go to Allen as a result of receiver Tyrell Williams’ departure to Oakland. Don’t be surprised if this Chargers tandem ends up taking their team to the Super Bowl, as there are more opportunities and targets to go around on one of the scariest teams in the entire AFC, so if there needs to be any playoff success for a roster this talented, the games will be won and lost through this duo.
One of the greatest statistical seasons of all time for any franchise QB. Mahomes threw for 50 touchdowns in the 2018 season, a feat accomplished by 2 of the 5 greatest quarterbacks of all time (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning). Over the course of that remarkable season, his chemistry with Hill was on full display. Hill’s 4.25 speed and Mahomes’ deep-ball, arguably the best in the entire game, made for a downright scary passing offense. Mahomes and Hill connected for 1479 yards and 12 touchdowns, 300 yards more than Hill’s previous best with the now-gone Alex Smith. The two weren’t just stuffing the stat sheets in 2018, either. They won their division and locked up the #1 seed in the AFC on the strength of Mahomes’ arm talent and Tyreek’s speed. Everyone remembers that no-look sidearm throw from Mahomes that resurfaced all over social media, but no one remembers the key 4th-and-6 conversion that Mahomes and Hill connected on to tie the game against a very strong Ravens defense. This section wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the midseason shootouts against the Patriots and the Rams. Those two games were by far two of the best games of the entire season because they truly showed off the chemistry between Mahomes and Hill, especially with the combined 25 receptions, 496 yards, and 5 touchdowns over three key games. That’s simply incredible production, and Hill’s evolution from just a gadget to a #1 wide receiver under Mahomes has just been unbelievable to witness. While there are many concerns that the 2018 season was a fluke and that the two may get off to a slower start in 2019 may still persist, the greatness achieved in 1 season was too incredible to ignore as a fluke. This may be deja vu for any football fan who’s seen one year wonders in the past (had to do you there, RG3), but the situation and system surrounding Mahomes and Hill is just too great to even think about the possibility of a potential fluke, let alone predict so. Unlike the duo discussed in the previous column, this wonder duo is extremely young, and just that one season’s worth of play has flashed enough brilliance to consider them as a potential Hall-of-Fame, Super-Bowl-winning, legendary tandem.
This is the one example in this entire list, where one receiver is the first, second, and third option of an offense. Davante Adams completely fits this profile for the Packers. Adams’ development ever since entering the league in 2014 has just been remarkable. One of the best route runners in the game, Adams fits Rodgers’ play style perfectly, especially with Rodgers’ tendency to scramble, escape, and to make plays downfield while on the run. Adams somehow always manages to find ways to stay alive, even against some of the best corners. Even though Rodgers is running for his life because his offensive linemen cannot pass block to save their own lives, an underrated element of that “escape and make a play downfield” is actually finding a receiver open downfield. The NFL has seen quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, and Andrew Luck use this exact same playstyle to an equal extent, but none of them are as effective as Rodgers because he can always rely on Adams being open as a safety valve for positive yards, which allows him to be more efficient and productive. The more terrifying aspect of this duo that gets overlooked when discussing these two is the fact that they can beat you the hard way too. The good old pitch-and-catch works just fine with Rodgers and Adams, especially in the two-minute scenario to get points before the half or even to win games. Most Packers fans should remember Rodgers’ games against the Jets and the 49ers, where multiple comeback drives were needed in order to win both of those games. The chemistry between Rodgers and Adams is only enhanced by their statistics from both games. These two connected 21 times for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns, and there were so many of those instances where the “escape and find someone downfield” playstyle as well as plays from the pocket looked so easy as a result of the maturity of Adams as a receiver. While their record in 2018 may not have echoed the dominance that these two show whenever they’re on the field, there is no denial that Rodgers is still the most talented player in the NFL and Adams is his first, second, and third option. Trusting the Packers to get far in 2019 may be a bit of a stretch, because Matt LaFleur is not the best offensive mind and seeing a carbon copy of Mike McCarthy may be deja vu for Packers fans all over again. Not saying this team will be a bad team next year, but if the Packers want to get anywhere in 2019, it’s gonna be through their Hall-of-Fame quarterback and his elite counterpart.
Without studs from the 2016 and 2017 NFL Drafts such as Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore, and especially Michael Thomas, there’s an argument to be made that Drew Brees would’ve never made the playoffs again in his career. Thomas, in particular, showed signs of being a Hall-of-Fame receiver from Day 1. Saints fans can gush about how Thomas resembled the new Marques Colston in 2016, and how his insane ability to pick up yards after catch foreshadowed only good things for the future of New Orleans. However, Thomas is so much better than what Colston was in the past. His connection with Brees in the 2018 season alone accounted for a league-leading 125 receptions for 1405 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s just one-of-a kind in so many receiving aspects, especially route-running. Michael Thomas is the best route runner in the entire NFL, and that allows the most accurate quarterback of all time to just feed him the ball. Thomas with the ball in his hands is also another force, because he just simply refuses to go down when defenders converge on him. So, just to recap, there’s a big-bodied wide receiver in New Orleans who may be the best receiving talent in a decade, can run routes better than everyone in the entire league, and refuses to be taken down without putting up a fight. The Saints are still a great team due to obvious other factors (Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore, Cameron Jordan), however an argument could definitely be made that none of them would be remotely as good as they are without Thomas’s ability to make plays and stretch the field. Even New Orleans’s subpar defense can stay off the field because of the efficiency in that Drew Brees-led offense, and that really leads to a lot more team success. Michael Thomas is a stud, and how New Orleans picked him up in the second round still remains the greatest unsolved case of highway robbery of all time. Regarding 2019, this duo should not take a step back at all. Expect these numbers from Thomas and Brees, because head coach Sean Payton’s gameplan will be to throw the ball at least 30 times per game, even if Alvin Kamara is having success in the ground game. There’s still a lot of scrutiny regarding the NFC Championship Game in the 2018 season, and if the Saints want to move on from that by winning a Super Bowl this coming season, the connection between Michael Thomas and Drew Brees will still carry this team.
The era of mediocrity in Houston is finally over. Back in the days of Brock Osweiler, Matt Schaub, and Brandon Weeden, Houston still managed to win the division due to a suffocating defense led by all-time great J.J. Watt. Now, Watson and Hopkins may finally change the culture in Houston, and one could argue they already have. Watson, ever since entering the league in 2017, was nothing short of a stud. Despite accuracy issues and one of the league’s worst offensive lines, he and Hopkins have been unstoppable since Day 1. Many remember the battle Watson fought against Russell Wilson in 2017, and despite Watson losing that fight, he made so many plays and created tons of opportunities for his team to stay in that game, especially with his passes to Hopkins. 8 catches, 224 yards, and a 72-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown are just a small sample slice of what this duo can accomplish. In 2018, Watson played a full season, and he and Hopkins carried Houston to the AFC South division crown. The two connected a whopping 115 times for over 1500 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns, and Hopkins started to gain a lot of attention as a potential candidate for Offensive Player of the Year. What makes Hopkins so great is not only the fact that he’s an unbelievable route runner, but his body control is almost unparalleled when he’s in the air. The man was producing with Tom Savage at quarterback in 2017, and led the league in touchdown receptions that season, because his body control and hands allowed him to make so many plays in the red zone. Hopkins’s hands should also unanimously be considered the best in all of football. He catches everything that comes within a mile of his location, and his 0 drops indicate that better than anything else. This team may have a lot of work to do if they want to become Super Bowl contenders rather than perennial division champions, but that’s never a bad place to begin. This team’s success and developing offensive line will count on Watson’s mobility and Hopkins’s playmaking as pillars for their own growth, and the ability of both players to compliment one another’s playstyles will definitely carry this team to division wins year after year.
The most underrated duo of all time. After being overshadowed by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown for many years, the duo of Ryan and Jones is finally on display as the league’s best. Jones is the freakiest receiver prospect to have entered the league (sorry, Calvin Johnson). 4.39 speed, 135 inch broad jump, and a 38.5 inch vertical are only some of Julio’s physical milestones. The Falcons traded up for him in 2011 with the expectation that he would develop into one of the league’s best receivers, but any Falcons fan would gladly rave about how that expectation was shattered. There’s an argument that Jones is one of the 10 greatest receivers to have ever played this game, and he is definitely the best of five do-it all receivers in the NFL (Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr). His route-running ability is still top 3 in this league, because he can annihilate any coverage thrown his way, even double teams. Jones is just so fast off the line of scrimmage that teams dread his deep-ball abilities, which open the door for slants, posts, and curls. His body control and jumping abilities are definitely some of the best. But the overall point here is just the fact that Julio Jones is one of the freakiest do-it-all receivers to have ever played the game. But what separates him from his counterparts such as DeAndre Hopkins is speed. Jones’s aforementioned 4.39 40-yard dash time and the versatility of the Falcons’ playbook under competent offensive coordinators in the past is just a tribute to his elite skillset. Press coverage, off coverage, double teams, bump-and-run, one can name all of the coverages in any defensive manual and it still wouldn’t be enough to stop a receiver like Julio Jones because of his elite speed, and that’s just before ball is in his hands. NFL fans also see the speed of a cheetah when he has the ball in his hands after the catch. Just like Michael Thomas, Jones can do anything with the ball in his hands. Everyone should remember the 2017 NFC Championship where he EMBARRASSED the Packers secondary with 180 receiving yards, and that signature 73-yard touchdown on a simple slant route is just another example of Jones’s entire skillset when it is put to use. This wouldn’t be the only time that Julio did something in the playoffs, either. Jones has the all-time record for average receiving yards per playoff game, and some of his signature routine plays are made to look so easy just based on how he uses his physical profile to maximize his receiving ability. Some of his playoff moments are some of the most forgotten plays of all time, such as that unbelievable sideline play in Super Bowl 51 and that conversion against the Eagles in the 2018 playoffs. That catch in particular showed the experience and trust that Matt Ryan had in Julio to come up with that catch when the defender was in perfect position, and Julio did so. His touchdown numbers may be subpar (sorry, fantasy owners) due to a poor offensive system after the 2016 season, however Jones himself has definitely not regressed. This duet of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones combined for the 2nd-greatest receiving yardage total of all time in the 2015 season with 1871 yards. That statistic further enhances the idea that Julio can and will do anything with Matt Ryan as his quarterback, and no one would not be surprised at all if he, out of all of the elite Hall-of-Fame receivers this league has seen over its 100 years, is the first one to break 2,000 receiving yards in a single season.