There are exactly 25 days until the beginning of the 2019-2020 NFL season, which commences with a divisional battle between the Packers and Bears on Thursday Night Football. With the upcoming season around the corner, let’s take a look at one of the standout observations from last season: the creation of high-octane offenses throughout the league.
The cornerstone of these powerhouse offenses was their passing game, which took opposing defenses by storm. In fact, last season was one of the most offensive-heavy years on record––teams aggregated to score 1,371 touchdowns (the most in an NFL season all-time) and 11,952 points (the second-most in an NFL season). Embedded within almost all offensive juggernauts last year was a deeper affinity for the passing game. To illustrate, the 2018-2019 season set an NFL season for passing touchdowns, with an astounding 847 (the previous record was 842 in 2015). Furthermore, there were twelve quarterbacks who passed for more than 4,000 yards, tied for the second-most 4,000+ yard passers in a season (the record is 13 from 2013). [Click here to see more records and milestones from the 2018 season].
There are more passing metrics that could be alluded to in order to convey the record-setting nature of the 2018 passing year. However, it is also noteworthy to portray the prolific receiving-stats from 2018 that complement the innovative passing game. Last season set a new receiving record as 11 pass-catchers had 100+ receptions (the previous record was 9 receivers from 1995).
The importance of the QB-WR connection cannot be understated––it is the new staple of the NFL, something a new era of offenses will rely on for years to come. As the NFL has evolved into a passing game, the need for top-tier receivers has also evolved, which is why an astonishing twenty-one players achieved 1,000+ receiving yards last year. So, without further ado, let’s analyze and predict the top QB-WR duos as we enter the new NFL season:
#5 Philip Rivers & Keenan Allen
Although this may not be the best duo on paper, they make up for it with an innate sense of trust that has helped the Chargers capitalize on countless third-down conversions and game winning drives. Besides future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates, Allen is likely the best receiver Rivers has thrown to in his career. In six years with the Chargers, Allen not only has the third most receiving touchdowns (28) of any Chargers wide-receiver during the Philip Rivers era, but also the highest catch rate in Chargers history (68.1%), of any receiver who has played 40+ games.
Now that Antonio Gates has officially retired, second-fiddle receiver Tyrell Williams has been traded to Raiders, and star running-back Melvin Gordon seems likely to sit-out the season, the Chargers will have to rely more than ever on the Rivers-Allen connection. Yet, Chargers fans should still be electric with optimism. Allen is one of the fiercest, most passionate players in the league. He is a tremendous presence on the field, fighting for jump balls and eluding defenders with his pure determination to win. And Rivers knows exactly how find Allen on a quick slant, or how to keep a play alive to allow him to evade his coverage.
The Rivers-Allen duo is as strong as they come, evidenced by the fact that Allen had only four drops in 2018 and the third highest catch percentage (71.3%) among wide-receivers with a minimum of 100 targets. In other words, Rivers and Allen are almost always in accord, whether it be a quick WR-screen or deep post route. With a veteran Philip Rivers under-center throwing to ball-hog, 2x Pro-Bowl wide-out like Allen, there is no ceiling to the numbers they can achieve and the strong locker-room leadership that can help the Chargers make a Super Bowl run.
- 2018 Stats: 4,308 Yds, 32 TD, 12 Int, 68.3 Cmp%
- 2019 Projection: 4,474 Yds, 35 TD, 15 Int, 66.8 Cmp%
- 2018 Stats: 1,196 Yds, 97 Rec, 6 TD
- 2019 Projection: 1,350 Yds, 107 Rec, 10 TD
#4 Deshaun Watson & DeAndre Hopkins
If DeAndre Hopkins had a Drew Brees caliber QB under command, this duo would be #1 on the list. However, Deshaun Watson is still getting acclimated to NFL life, and, like any emerging quarterback, needs to be more accurate and poised in the pocket to reach the next level. This is not to take away, though, from the incredible strides that this duo has made since Watson’s inception into the NFL, only two years ago.
What fuels the Watson-Hopkins connection is the indisputable fact that DeAndre Hopkins is the most skilled wide receiver in the league. Hopkins is one of the greatest ball-trackers in the NFL—maybe even all time—and his 10.08 inch hand-span enables him to have an enormous catch radius. Ask any cornerback and they’ll tell you Hopkins’ is the league frontrunner for catching any 50-50 ball. On the passing side of the football, Watson can hit Hopkins while either standing in the pocket or on the run, an impressive skill that he has mastered since his time at Clemson. Hopkins’ unparalleled ability to catch the football coupled with Watson’s agility and knack for throwing laser-sharp passes is what separates this QB/WR duo from most in the league.
It’s not always the smoothest connection, but it’s one of the most lethal, illustrated by how last year Hopkins was runner-up for receiving yards leader and top five in receiving touchdowns, all while not dropping a pass. From Hopkins’ breakaway power on corner routes to Watson’s flexibility in the pocket, there are innumerable occasions where this link has burned a defense or squeezed in a first-down. Opposing defenses should be weary of this connection because, as Bill Belichick described about Hopkins, “he’s really never covered.”
- 2018 Stats: 4,195 Yds, 26 TD, 9 Int, 68.3 Cmp%
- 2019 Projection: 4,332 Yds, 31 TD, 11 Int, 67.6 Cmp%
- 2018 Stats: 1,572 Yds, 115 Rec, 11 TD
- 2019 Projection: 1,510 Yds, 108 Rec, 12 TD
Check back in on Wednesday, August 14 at 7:30 PM for an unveiling of the top three QB-WR duos as we head into the 2019 NFL season!