Best Pass Catching Unit In Both Conferences

Photo: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This is the fourth part of a project of mine here at The Draft Network. The ultimate goal is to rank the top group of pass catchers in the NFL.

In order to do so, I created a 32 team bracket while listing the pass catchers for each squad. By “pass catchers,” I generally mean each team’s wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.

Today will be the final 4, as the first three rounds were recently completed.

There had to be some structure within this tournament, so let me explain how I viewed each unit. Below, I’ve listed the depth chart of each remaining team with their top 4 wide receivers, top 2 tight ends and top 2 running backs. Beneath that, there are the major depth pieces for all three positions.

Something that should be noted is that these aren’t necessarily listed by standing on the team’s actual depth chart. While the Eagles are likely to give Jordan Howard a strong portion of the playing time, I’d expect them to feature Miles Sanders and Corey Clement more in the passing game. Since the passing game is what we’re looking at, that puts Howard into the depth category.

Additionally, these lists needed to be cut down to not include every player on the 90-man rosters. So while I like your favorite team’s late round picks and undrafted free agents too, they didn’t necessarily make the cut here. The players listed are those that I expect to have an opportunity to make an impact this season.

To structure the tournament, each team started by competing against their own divisions and conferences first. That means that today, we’ll crown the top pass catching unit in both the AFC and NFC. Be sure to keep your eyes out for the championship round being released in the coming days.

The AFC has dwindled to the Los Angeles Chargers and Indianapolis Colts. If you want to review how both teams got to this point, read the round of 8 right here. These are the pass catching depth charts for both squads:

Los Angeles Chargers

WR Keenan Allen

WR Mike Williams

WR Travis Benjamin

WR Dylan Cantrell

TE Hunter Henry

TE Virgil Green

RB Melvin Gordon

RB Austin Ekeler

Depth / Unknown

RB Justin Jackson

Indianapolis Colts

WR T.Y. Hilton

WR Parris Campbell

WR Devin Funchess

WR Chester Rogers

TE Eric Ebron

TE Jack Doyle

RB Marlon Mack

RB Nyheim Hines

Depth / Unknown

WR Zach Pascal

TE Mo Alie-Cox

RB Jordan Wilkins

AFC Championship

Indianapolis Colts def. Los Angeles Chargers

When this exercise started, I didn’t expect the Indianapolis Colts to come out of the AFC. They just kept advancing in matchups that were seemingly close, and that continues in this round.

T.Y. Hilton is a stud, and he and Keenan Allen are in the same tier of wide receivers. Devin Funchess is an underrated free agent signing, and Parris Campbell will perfectly fit into the Colts offensive scheme. Chester Rogers has become a solid role player who caught 53 balls in his third season last year.

While Mike Williams is an ascending talent as the Chargers #2 receiver, Travis Benjamin has seen his production decrease in his late 20’s and Dylan Cantrell is unproven. The top 4 wide receiver units for either side is mostly even.

Indianapolis, as they’ve done throughout this tournament, separate themselves at the tight end position. In 2017, Jack Doyle posted 80 receptions. Last year as Doyle was banged up, Eric Ebron produced 13 receiving touchdowns. The combination of those two is one of the strongest pass catching tight end duos in the NFL, and while Hunter Henry and Virgil Green are above average, they’re not quite the level of Doyle and Ebron.

Generally, the Chargers combination of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler would make up the difference when compared to most backfields. However, the Colts have an even group of pass catching running backs, highlighted by Nyheim Hines. As a rookie last year, Hines produced 63 receptions, approximately half of which came from the slot. His strength keeps the Colts about even when comparing the backfields, allowing their tight ends to put them above the Chargers unit.

NFC Championship

The two remaining squads for the NFC are the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons. Here are the pass catching depth charts for each side:

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Alshon Jeffery

WR Nelson Agholor

WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

WR Desean Jackson

TE Zach Ertz

TE Dallas Goedert

RB Miles Sanders

RB Corey Clement

Depth / Unknown

RB Jordan Howard

RB Wendell Smallwood

RB Donnel Pumphrey

Atlanta Falcons

WR Julio Jones

WR Calvin Ridley

WR Mohamed Sanu

WR Justin Hardy

TE Austin Hooper

TE Luke Stocker

RB Devonta Freeman

RB Ito Smith

Depth / Unknown

WR Russell Gage

TE Eric Saubert

Atlanta Falcons def. Philadelphia Eagles

This matchup is basically a toss up, as both units are obviously very strong. Let me explain how the Falcons came out on top in my eyes.

Starting by looking at just the tight ends and running backs, Philadelphia has the stronger unit. While that part isn’t exactly up for too much debate, I believe it’s a pretty close matchup. Atlanta’s Austin Hooper is an ascending talent, having recorded 71 receptions last year en route to his first pro bowl. Despite an injury last season, Devonta Freeman is an accomplished pass catcher with a 70+ reception season on his resume as well. Second-year running back Ito Smith flashed receiving potential as a rookie and during his time in college.

While Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert is a disgustingly strong tight end duo and Philadelphia has a boatload of receiving backs, the strength of Hooper and the Falcons running backs keeps Atlanta’s group close.

Philadelphia has a legit top 4 wide receivers with the offseason additions of Desean Jackson and draft pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside to play alongside Jeffery and Agholor. However, none of them compare to Atlanta’s Julio Jones. An unquestioned top 3 wide receiver in the league, he’s head and shoulders any pass catcher in Philadelphia. Second-year wide receiver Calvin Ridley has pro bowl potential, and I’m not totally convinced he won’t ascend higher than any Eagles pass catcher this season as well. Mohamed Sanu is coming off a career year in 2018, finishing with 838 receiving yards. Justin Hardy has been a solid, consistent role player for Atlanta since arriving in the league in 2015.

The Eagles undoubtedly have a great group of pass catchers, but Atlanta’s wide receivers separate their overall unit. The Jones, Ridley and Sanu trio ends up being just too strong for the Eagles to overcome.

Written By:

Brad Kelly

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Wide Receivers Coach at Salve Regina University. Salve Regina Football ‘15.

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