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Who truly owns the title of best NFL wide receiver in 2017?

Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown

“He’s arguably the best wide receiver in football.”

That’s the sentence football analysts attach to several wide receivers every year. Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Odell Beckham Jr. are frequently referred to as the best of the best. But based on their production, who is truly the best NFL wide receiver as we enter the 2017 season?

The Frontrunners

For our analysis, we’ll take a look at production over the last three seasons, courtesy of NFL.com. To account for missed time amongst some of these players, per game statistics are the most relevant.

In the last three years, Antonio Brown has been incredibly durable, missing only one meaningless Week 17 game last year as coach Mike Tomlin held him out to prepare for the playoffs. In the last three seasons, he’s also put up freakish numbers that have brought him from 6th round draft pick to the highest paid receiver in football.

In 47 games, he’s reeled in 4,816 yards, 371 receptions, and 35 touchdowns. So, on a per game basis, AB is averaging 102.5 yards per game, 7.9 receptions, and 0.74 touchdowns. Looking towards 2017, the Steelers have returned all of their starters on the offensive side of the ball and have more toys for Big Ben to play with after using a second round pick on Juju Smith-Schuster, in addition to the return of Martavis Bryant from suspension.

When looking at Brown specifically for this season, these added weapons could either bolster his stats as teams won’t be able to double cover him routinely like last season, or Bryant and Juju could take away some of his targets. Regardless of these variables, his stats over the last three seasons leave little room to doubt what he could do this year.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Julio Jones, in only 14 games, also provided fans with plenty of numbers to place him atop the list of the best wide receivers based on his play. After putting up over 1,400 yards for the third straight season, Julio’s production for the last three years in 45 games is as follows: 4,873 yards, 323 receptions, and 20 touchdowns. On a per game basis, Julio is averaging 108.3 yards, 7.2 receptions, and 0.44 touchdowns. The Falcons also return all the vital pieces on offense from their Super Bowl winning… sorry, runner-up team. There’s little reason to believe that 2017 will see a downturn in Jones’ performance.

Finally, perhaps the flashiest of the bunch. What have Beckham’s numbers looked like?

Even though these three years are his first three in the league, he has put up All-Pro numbers. Odell put up slightly less yards and receptions in three seasons (43 games), at 4,122 and 288 respectively. However, he’s put up the exact same number of touchdowns (35) as AB despite playing in three less games. On a per game basis over the last three seasons, OBJ is averaging 95.9 yards, 6.7 receptions, and 0.81 touchdowns. The addition of Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepherd’s continued development could alter OBJ’s 2017 season in a similar way to Brown and the Steelers’ offseason moves. It could pad his stats, or decrease his targets.

Darkhorses

 

Mike Evans

Evans, also drafted in 2014, has put up 3,578 yards, 238 receptions, and 27 touchdowns in his first three seasons (46 games). On a per game basis, Evans is averaging 77.8 yards, 5.2 receptions, and 0.59 touchdowns.

Evans is not quite on the same level of Brown, Jones, and Beckham yet based on the stats. However, anyone who doesn’t believe that Evans has a chance to shatter those numbers this year, as he and Jameis Winston continue to develop a rapport along with complementary speedster DeSean Jackson lined up on the other side for the first time, is not paying attention.

A.J. Green

People routinely leave Green out of this discussion, but that’s foolish. Green has had trouble staying on the field, but when he’s there, you can’t miss him.

Over the last three seasons, in only 39 games, Green’s quietly put up 3,302 yards, 221 receptions, and 20 touchdowns. On a per game basis, that equates to 84.7 yards, 5.7 receptions, and 0.51 touchdowns. His production puts him slightly ahead of Mike Evans currently, but similarly, Green’s 2017 could be enormous thanks to the additions of Joe Mixon, John Ross, and a healthy Tyler Eifert opening up the field.

Conclusion

Antonio Brown may not be the flashiest of the bunch, but his numbers don’t lie. As we enter 2017, it’s near impossible to deny that Brown and Julio Jones are jockeying for position atop the list. I would argue that AB holds the slightest of edges over Jones thanks to him averaging a substantial higher number of touchdowns per game (their yards per game and receptions per game are a wash).

Beckham, Evans, and Green should not be forgotten about, but as of right now, they don’t have the numbers to back it. Odell and Evans, particularly though, have their best football ahead of them.

This is preseason however, and we could certainly be singing a different tune in just a few weeks.