Every year, we get new reminders for just how important it is to surround your quarterback with the right talent. Just take the quarterbacks from the class of 2018. While Cleveland's Baker Mayfield was thriving in 2020 behind a great offensive line and with the right coaching staff, Sam Darnold's third and final season with the Jets was a waste of time. Baltimore's Lamar Jackson spent most of a playoff loss to the Bills patiently waiting for any one of his receivers to get open, while Buffalo's Josh Allen enjoyed having Stefon Diggs on his side of the field.
Of course, while Super Bowl LV came down to a dismal Chiefs offensive line, let's consider who got there. Kansas City has surrounded Patrick Mahomes with some of the best weapons in football for each of his first three seasons as a starter. Tom Brady looked like a new man in Tampa Bay, where he went from playing with a tired group of receivers in New England to an embarrassment of riches in Florida. This stuff matters.
Let's do something that doesn't really matter but is still fun anyway: We'll rank each of the league's 32 teams by their skill-position talent without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme. That's a very important caveat! Imagine if you took each team's running backs and receivers and dropped them into an average offense with an average coach and an average starting quarterback. Who would have the best offense in football?
Here are a few other things to keep in mind before we get started:
This is about only 2021 performance. We're not considering a player's contract status, cap hit or long-term prognosis. We want to field the best possible group of weapons for a 17-game season in 2021. Since we don't know how rookies will turn out, we're using draft status and history to inform their chances of making an impact.
Wide receivers are weighted more heavily than running backs or tight ends. The league values wide receivers by giving players at the top of that market much larger deals than their friends at running back and tight end. The top average annual salary for a running back is Christian McCaffrey's, at $16 million per season. At tight end, George Kittle is tops at $15 million. Twelve different wideouts are on multiyear deals averaging more than $16 million per year. As a result, I've weighted wideout talent as more significant than similarly gifted players elsewhere, although there's a bigger drop-off between the top tight ends and the players in the second and third tiers at that position.
Not everybody who was considered gets mentioned. I focused on a team's top six weapons on offense and used depth beyond that top six as a tiebreaker. In the interest of making it possible to finish this piece before the season begins, though, I'll only be mentioning the most notable or interesting (to me) players on each roster.
We'll start with the bottom of the barrel and work our way to the best group of weapons in football. You can probably guess where we'll begin: