Each week of the 2023 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Pranking, meant to spotlight the top performers among a specific group of players. This week, we've assembled a list of the top 10 big-play wide receivers heading into Week 4.
Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each player's percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.
NOTE: Player percentiles are based on components such as each receiver's speed, pass-catching ability, yards after catch and success on deep passes. The metric and overall scores are based on each player's performance through the first three weeks of the season.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 98
The No. 1 player on this list for the second year in a row continues his reign as the NFL’s most explosive big-play receiver. Since 2017, Hill leads the league in deep receptions (90) and receiving yards (3,461) by wide margins. Since 2018, he has reached 20-plus miles per hour as a route runner 100 times; no other player has done it even 40 times. This season has been no different. In addition to owning the second- and fourth-fastest plays of the season -- 21.66 and 21.52 mph, respectively (his teammates account for the first and third spots) -- Hill is burning defenses over the top through three weeks. His nine targets, five receptions and 193 receiving yards on deep routes this season all currently lead the NFL. Hill’s 54-yard touchdown reception last week against the Broncos exemplifies his game-breaking ability.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 92
Minnesota's back-and-forth shootout with the Chargers on Sunday illustrated that Jefferson, Kirk Cousins and Co. will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball this season. Jefferson already leads the NFL in receiving yards (458) through three weeks, and is likewise in the top three in deep receiving yards (131), deep targets (six) and deep receptions (four). His 21 first downs on the young season are tied with Hill, but Jefferson is simply making more happen after the catch. Jefferson’s league-leading +183 yards after the catch contributes to his impressive receiving yards over expected total (+141) -- the most in the NFL by a large margin.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 90
Derek Carr isn’t afraid to uncork the deep ball himself, but the possibility of Jameis Winston starting a few games for the Saints while Carr recovers from an AC joint sprain has to have Olave’s fantasy owners excited for what’s to come. The existence of elite receivers like Hill and Jefferson are keeping Olave’s deep numbers from popping as much as they would have in years past, but being tied for third in deep receptions (three) and targets (six) through three weeks is significant on its own. Winston’s potential insertion into the starting lineup would only increase the opportunity for Olave to convert more deep targets into receptions, as his 30 targets on deep passes are tied for fifth in the league since last season, ranking ahead of the likes of Stefon Diggs and Jefferson.
An underrated part of Olave’s game is his raw speed, and he’s flexed that asset so far this season. The Saints’ WR1 is tied for the third-most routes breaking 20 mph and has the fifth-highest max speed as a route runner this season at 21.23 mph.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 89
Anyone who thought Tampa’s QB transition from Tom Brady to Baker Mayfield would threaten Evans’ streak of nine 1000-yard seasons was sadly mistaken.
Playing in a contract year in his age-30 season, Evans has 297 receiving yards through three games, which puts him on pace to clear 1,000 yards with plenty of room to spare. It’s become evident that the deep ball is still a significant part of Evans’ game -- he's tied with Tyreek Hill for the most deep touchdowns through three weeks (two). His 130 receiving yards on deep passes are the fourth-most in the league, coming on the same amount of targets (six) and receptions (three) as Chris Olave. Evans has also been an advantage for Tampa after reeling in receptions, particularly from a wide alignment. His 106 yards after the catch and +80 receiving yards over expected both rank second from that alignment.
Even if Mayfield’s start to the season proves to be fool’s gold, it’s apparent after 10 years that Evans’ success through the air isn’t necessarily dependent on who's throwing the ball.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 87
Was Dell’s Week 3 eruption for 145 yards and a touchdown an indication of a career to come, or is he just C.J. Stroud’s flavor of the week? While Nico Collins and Robert Woods enjoyed a heavy share of Stroud’s attention the first two weeks of the season, Dell still totaled 106 yards over the course of those two games. But Week 3 was when the deep balls really started coming his way, as 114 of Dell’s 145 receiving yards in the win against the Jaguars came on two of his three deep targets. His +63 receiving yards over expected on Sunday are the second-most by a rookie receiver in a single game since 2022.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 83
Almost every time he’s touched the football, Mims has created an explosive play. The rookie leads the NFL in kick return yards over expected (+75) and ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards over expected (+81) on just 26 routes run, with a 44-yard punt return to boot. So far, Mims has primarily been used as a deep threat, going vertical on over half of his routes. He's commanded a target at twice the rate of an average receiver when running those verticals. That has translated into 151 yards on such routes, which trails only Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson. Look for the Broncos to give Mims more opportunities going forward -- if he can maintain even a portion of that efficiency, the sky is the limit for the Oklahoma alum.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 82
It took most of last season for Allen to truly get over a nagging hamstring injury he suffered early in the year, but once he did, the veteran led the NFL in receptions from Week 11 through the end of the regular season. That production has carried right over to 2023. Seeing a healthy amount of snaps aligned out wide in Kellen Moore’s offense, Allen is in a virtual tie with Hill at 5.1 yards per route as the outside receiver this year. Allen has been especially effective in one-on-one matchups, leading the NFL in yards after the catch (76) and receptions (13) against man coverage.
Mike Williams’ season-ending ACL injury will change how Moore’s offense is run, as Williams’ 29.4 percent slot alignment rate through three weeks created better matchups for Allen on the outside. Time will tell if Joshua Palmer and/or Quentin Johnston can create the same threat to keep things open for Allen.
BIG PLAY SCORE: 81
Cooper Kupp’s early-season absence due to a hamstring injury created a receiving vacuum in Los Angeles that needed filling. Atwell and Puka Nacua (who we’ll discuss next) have seized the opportunity. The 165-pound Atwell has broken out as a field stretcher in his third season -- only Hill has more deep targets (nine) than he does (seven). Sean McVay has been creative in getting the small receiver in space, using Atwell in a shift or motion on 64 plays this season (20 more than any other player). As a result, Atwell has faced press coverage at the lowest rate (3.3%) in a season in the NGS era (minimum 100 routes).
BIG PLAY SCORE: 81
After a historic debut in Week 1, the fifth-round rookie has continued to rack up production, gaining at least 70 receiving yards in each of his first three career games. A majority of Nacua’s production has come in the underneath areas of the defense so far, but don’t let that fool you -- he has reached the sixth-fastest speed on a route this season (21.05 mph). Nacua should be able to maintain a role in the Rams' offense even after Kupp returns from injury, which could be as soon as Week 5. The rookie has gained more yards after the catch than expected on 19 receptions this season (two more than any other receiver).
BIG PLAY SCORE: 80
Waddle ranked third on this list around the same time last season, and realistically could have ranked that high again this year had he not been sidelined with a concussion for the Dolphins' 70-point explosion against the Broncos this past Sunday. Waddle and Hill are one of the fastest, if not the fastest, WR duos in the history of the league. They had the fastest and second-fastest average top speeds (15.95 mph for Hill, 15.81 mph for Waddle) among all ball carriers last season (min. 75 touches).
Despite missing a game, Waddle has still gained the third-most yards after the catch over expected (+47) this season. Explosive as ever with the ball in his hands, look for Waddle to climb up this list if he can stay healthy throughout the year.