Whenever a team decides on its franchise quarterback, one of its main priorities is to give that quarterback a go-to target. A safety blanket of sorts, someone who the quarterback can rely on to get him some completions. Conversely, if a team finds themselves with one of the game’s great receivers, but no one to deliver them the ball, the receiver’s production suffers and they find themselves overlooked.
A quarterback and wide receiver coming to a team together allows them to grow together, to build chemistry together, but some are added after a quarterback’s career is established. We’ve seen passing numbers balloon in modern football, and with it we see some great connections around the league. This list won’t necessarily feature the best quarterbacks in the game, or all the best wide receivers, but rather we’re looking at how the particular QB/WR duo produces as a unit.
10) Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen
This is a relatively new duo, as Keenan Allen is just in his second season after the San Diego Chargers drafted him in the third round in 2013. What a steal he’s turned out to be. After losing Vincent Jackson in free agency a few years ago, Rivers was left without a no.1 receiver for far too long. Malcolm Floyd is a great no.2, but should not have been a no.1.
Allen was last season’s runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He managed to find instant chemistry with Rivers. He hauled in 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. He added two touchdowns in the playoffs.
There will be plenty more time for Rivers and Allen to keep growing together, as Rivers’ career seems to be back on the right track and Allen is just starting his.
9) Matt Ryan and Roddy White
Consider this: Matt Ryan‘s first professional pass was a 62-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. They’ve now been together in Atlanta for the past six-plus years and White was a big part of Ryan growing as a quarterback and vice versa.
Since the Falcons drafted Ryan, White has caught 543 passes and has 47 touchdowns. The team drafted Julio Jones in 2012 to give Ryan perhaps the best duo of wide receivers in the NFL. White edges out Jones for now, because of the history he has with Ryan, but if we were to do this list two years from now, it would very likely be Ryan and Jones.
If White is able to stay healthy this season, we’ll likely see what we’re used to seeing from the two, and that’s timely catches.
8) Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton
When Reggie Wayne went down to a torn ACL last season, many thought Andrew Luck‘s youth would start to show without the veteran presence at wide receiver. In Wayne’s absence, Luck found immense chemistry with T.Y. Hilton, a third-round pick of the Colts in 2012. He was a speedster coming out of Florida International, running a 4.34 at the combine and he’s quickly putting it all together with Luck.
We don’t know how much longer Reggie Wayne will be playing football, but we do know that Luck and Hilton seem to be one of the fastest rising duos in the league.
Hilton stepped up and caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns last season. In two playoff games last year, he caught 17 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns. He was instrumental in the Colts’ improbable comeback win over the Chiefs in the wildcard round. He recorded both his touchdowns in that game, catching 13 passes for 224 yards, both franchise playoff records. His second touchdown, a 64-yard catch, proved to be the game winner.
Factor this in with Luck being perhaps the best young quarterback in the game today and you have a duo set to wreak havoc on the NFL for years.
7) Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb
Injuries have kept him off the field for long stretches, (as well as Rodgers’ injury last year) but when he and Rodgers are both healthy, they are dangerous.
While Jordy Nelson is another one of Rodgers’ favorites, Cobb’s versatility in the passing game, as well as end-arounds, make him a bigger threat, therefore he and Rodgers are what concerns defences more.
6) Tony Romo and Dez Bryant
Okay, maybe this connection isn’t as powerful as Romo‘s connection with defensive backs, but it’s still what carries the Cowboys to eight victories a season.
If not for Romo having Dez Bryant, the Cowboys would likely fall to five wins a season. While Bryant is no Calvin Johnson, he’s still a formidable threat, already closing in on 300 career catches, and will likely have 5,000 career receiving yards by season’s end. He also has 40 touchdowns.
The duo works well together, due to the fact that Romo is one of the league’s gunslingers and Dez Bryant loves to go downfield, jump up and make a play. He’s the reason Miles Austin was expendable and if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs this year, it will likely be due to Dez Bryant having a career year.
5) Andy Dalton and A.J. Green
While we’d love to see more consistency from Andy Dalton, that’s a trait that’s never been A.J. Green’s problem. Green instantly solved all of the Bengals’ receiving woes when he was drafted back in 2011.
He’s a major reason the Bengals have been to the postseason every year since he was drafted and you know what to expect out of him every week. He’s had 1,000-yard seasons every year of his career and his numbers have always gone up. An argument can be made for him being the game’s best receiver today (after Calvin Johnson). Dalton putting up the numbers he has in his young career is a testament to his pairing with Green. Dalton’s strong arm makes him a perfect compliment to Green, who can go anywhere on the field and use his amazing hands and to make a play.
4) Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown
Ben Roethlisberger has proven a lot more than Andy Dalton, which is what gives them a higher spot than their division rivals. With Roethlisberger now a 10-year veteran, he’s had his share of go-to targets. There was Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle-El, Mike Wallace and now there’s Antonio Brown. However this connection might be Roethlisberger’s strongest yet.
The Steelers elected to re-sign Brown, rather than Wallace a couple seasons ago and it’s proven to be the right move. Brown was a rookie when the Steelers were last in the Super Bowl and he has grown into one of the game’s most reliable wideouts.
He had a career year last year, catching 115 passes for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns, second in yards behind Josh Gordon. He was named an All-Pro for the first time in his career. There’s going to be plenty more where that came from. If the Steelers rebound and get back to the playoffs, it will be because of this duo.
3) Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall
Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall‘s history together can’t be ignored. After being separated in Denver, following Cutler going to Chicago and Marshall to Miami, the two were reunited in Chicago a couple of seasons ago and their chemistry picked up right where it left off.
Last year in Chicago may have been their best yet, with Marshall racking up 100 catches for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns (some came with McCown). There’s no doubting though, that their greatest career successes came when the two were together. There’s something to be said for them as a duo. They’re both undoubtedly better off with each other.
2) Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas
In Peyton Manning‘s first two seasons in Denver, the Broncos went 13-3 both years, were the AFC’s no.1 seed and last year, Manning set new records across the board for a quarterback and led the team to Super Bowl XLVIII.
He has had his options, including Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker (in 2012 and 2013) and now we’ll see what he does with Emmanuel Sanders. However, the no.1 receiver has always been Demaryius Thomas, whose potential was realized once Peyton Manning became his quarterback.
Since Peyton Manning became his quarterback, Thomas has had two world-class seasons. In 2012 he caught 94 passes for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last year, he caught another 92 for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns. He helped make Manning’s transition to Denver a lot easier and Manning gave Thomas something he didn’t have before; a passer to get him the ball.
1) Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson
There’s no doubt that having Calvin Johnson as your receiver would make life so much easier for any quarterback. He’s arguably the best player in the league today, let alone receiver.
Calvin Johnson came into the league in 2007 out of Georgia Tech, regarded as one of the best receiving prospects in history. Matthew Stafford came into the league in 2009, the year following Detroit’s 0-16 season. Stafford and Johnson have essentially had to build the franchise from the ground up. While the wins haven’t piled on as much as Lions fans might have hoped, this duo has made the team one of the most fun to watch in league.
When Megatron is playing you have to watch to see what kind of ridiculous play the two of them will make. Stafford has a tremendous arm and likes to zing a ball, even if there’s coverage, because Megatron is there. Johnson goes all over the field and still manages to produce when defences dedicate their game plan to limiting him.
Johnson’s 1,964 yards in 2012 set an all-time receiving record and Stafford has already broken numerous Detroit passing records. Critics will say the team hasn’t won enough to put this duo no.1, but their numbers are just too difficult to ignore.
Johnson’s 84 catches last year were low by his standards, but this year, expect a huge bounce back from Stafford, as the Lions have made it their first priority to get Stafford to the next level, having hired Jim Caldwell. The NFC North is up for grabs and Stafford and Johnson are very capable of seizing it.
The connection has given Detroit the most excitement they’ve had since Barry Sanders. They also still have plenty of years left together.