NFL Rankings: The top 15 WRs who are 25 and under heading into start of 2023 season

The wide receiver position is absolutely loaded in both fantasy and reality.

It’s so hard to put together any sort of position ranking list without feeling like you left someone off or slighted a really good player or two. And yet, I’m going to give it a shot … and I absolutely feel the guilt mentioned.

After pouring hours into charting a ton of the guys drafted the last few years for Reception Perception, I decided to sit down and rank the top 15 wide receivers who'll be 25 years old or younger heading into Week 1 of the 2023 season (not including rookies).

One note: These are not simply fantasy rankings — you can find those here — rather, this is how I view these guys as pure individual NFL players removed from the context of their situation.

1 - Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Jefferson is the easy choice to lead this list and he is in the discussion right now with Davante Adams to be the best wide receiver in football, period. He’s one of the two or three best route runners in the game and can win at all three levels. There are no limitations to his game.

There was plenty of talk about him playing in “The Cooper Kupp Role” once Kevin O'Connell took over the offense but that didn’t happen. Jefferson was sent in motion pre-snap more often but played in the slot less than he did in 2021.

It’s wild that Jefferson is already an inarguably elite player at the position and is just heading into Year 4. He could crack 2,000 yards at some point in his career.

2 - Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Chase must be represented at some level when ranking the top five wide receivers in the NFL. He is a truly elite talent. He doesn’t have any holes in his game; he’s good at everything. We know about the explosive YAC ability and his ability as a ball-winner. However, he’s one of the most underrated route runners in the NFL right now. Chase gets open at a high rate despite running a ton of go routes and has a detailed approach to the game as a technician.

Chase plays in an aggressive offense where he’s the clear alpha receiver and is tethered to one of the top quarterbacks in the league. It’s truly a dream scenario for a “checks all the boxes” talent.

3 - CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys bet big on Lamb taking a leap to alpha-No. 1-wide-receiver status in 2022 and they were greatly rewarded. Lamb shows the ability to dominate as a slot man, where he takes over half his snaps, but has also mastered working as an X and flanker receiver. Dallas asks a lot of him — and he delivers.

The Cowboys have surrounded Lamb with a better cast in the receiver room this year. Brandin Cooks is a perfect speed flanker to fill a big need for this offense and Michael Gallup should be healthier a full year-plus removed from his ACL tear. Nevertheless, their world will revolve around Lamb.

4 - DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

Fellow Eagle A.J. Brown is an elite No. 1 wide receiver (who'll turn 26 this June, thus excluding him from this list). His teammate is fighting to be considered among the best 1B receivers in the game. Smith primarily lined up as the X-receiver for Philly and is one of the better press-coverage-beating wide receivers around.

Smith stresses defenses vertically and has outrageous body control. He would be the WR1 on the majority of teams across the league. The Eagles receiver duo is quite an enviable pairing.

5 - Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

If you only care about raw stats, you’re going to hate Aiyuk being ranked this high. I can’t stress how misguided it is to only focus on production when evaluating wide receivers. Aiyuk runs the most difficult routes on this offense and is a menace to guard in man coverage. He’s explosive with the ball in his hands and managed to develop his route running by leaps and bounds since entering the league.

I’m fully convinced that, in the right set of circumstances, he could be a 1,500-yard type of receiver.

Aiyuk will face an uphill battle to be a primary fantasy wide receiver playing in the run-leaning 49ers offense alongside such steep target competition. But he has all the tools to be a primary No. 1 wide receiver and is one of the most valuable players in that passing game.

6 - DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

Metcalf is the lone player on this list drafted prior to 2020 — and he still won’t turn 26 until December. He’s an underrated route runner and is a chore to clamp up on the perimeter in press coverage. Don’t forget about how good he is just because some other younger guys are nipping at his heels in the receiver ranks. I can’t wait to see the Seahawks wide receiver trio in action now that Jaxson Smith-Njigba is in town.

7 - Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Much like Smith and Aiyuk, Higgins could be the No. 1 receiver for a ton of teams across the NFL. The Bengals are not going to trade him — I don’t blame them and would hate it if they did — but if they ever did put him on the block, teams would line up to acquire his services. Higgins is a throwback style of X-receiver who can separate at an above-average level and win combative contested catches in the air.

8 - Garrett Wilson, New York Jets

The top of the 2022 NFL Draft receiver crop is bunched in a big group to me. All three of the top guys drafted are very close but I’ll give the nod to Wilson right this second. He’s an outstanding route runner who separates at a high level even if he’s not the most conventional technician around. The more he played last year, the more comfortable he was obliterating man and press coverage outside.

Additionally, he’s a freaky mover after the catch. He just has so much juice. Wilson is the most obvious candidate to join the superstar receiver tier this coming season. Let's hope his recent, apparent injury in practice is nothing more than a tweak.

9 - Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints

Olave didn’t have the same amount of exciting moments during his rookie season as his old Ohio State running mate did in New York. However, while it may take a closer look to see it, he was just as good. Olave is a star-quality route runner who can separate at all three levels.

He didn’t get the type of layup targets most young wideouts do — he just dominated the intermediate area of the field as an explosive separator. If you’re looking for the next Stefon Diggs at the position, I think this is your guy.

10 - Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

Despite a very productive rookie season, it was clear there was still a ton of meat left on the bone for Waddle. He ripped it all off in Year 2. Waddle is an extremely intelligent player who adjusts well in zone coverage to free himself for his quarterback over the middle. He also adds intense speed and playmaking ability after the catch. If he gets even better dealing with physical press/man coverage on the outside, he’ll graduate to the superstar tier.

11 - Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts

I’m a huge fan of Pittman’s game. He’s a smooth separator on base NFL routes in the short and intermediate game and we’ve seen him be a big-time ball winner down the field. That element was missing from his game last year as the 2022 Colts played with a major roof over their head given the state of their quarterback room. Pittman was still quite productive and one of the few positive forces in that passing game.

I know some people are going to think I’ve massively overrated Pittman. That’s fine. We just need Anthony Richardson to be the guy to fully unlock his skillset and show everyone how wrong they are about this player. Pittman is a true No. 1 wideout.

12 - Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions

I love St. Brown’s game. Reception Perception subscribers know I was ahead of consensus on him as a prospect and for fantasy football last year. He’s the best emerging big-slot wide receiver in the game. The Lions receiver is smart, detailed and took a big step in his route running against man coverage in 2022. He doesn’t offer much on vertical routes — that’s fine, it’s just not his game — and that’s the reason I slotted him behind some perimeter receivers in these ranks. I think you can still go into Sundays totally prepared to feed him 10 targets per week as the engine of your passing attack.

13 - Drake London, Atlanta Falcons

London didn’t put up the same raw stats as Olave and Wilson but he similarly enjoyed a fantastic rookie season. He ran out as the Falcons' true X-receiver and separated at a strong level, especially on in-breaking routes. I think he’s the best breakout candidate at the wide receiver position this year and I’ll be drafting him a ton in fantasy football. The Falcons offense isn’t going to be the most run-heavy team in the NFL this year, as long as Desmond Ridder is functional. The quarterback played to that level to end last year and showed a strong connection with London.

14 - Jahan Dotson, Washington Commanders

Dotson’s rookie season is flying way under the radar. He has aggressive and strong hands in tight coverage. To put it more plainly, it’s stupid how good he is in contested situations at his size. Dotson is also a fantastic route runner, particularly against zone coverage, but he’s also shown excellent release moves against press coverage.

Dotson is already one of the premier No. 2 receivers in the league. It’s early to consider him a 1b to Terry McLaurin but if he is “this year’s DeVonta Smith” I won’t be shocked.

15 - Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Jeudy has absolutely not lived up to his billing coming into the league, is quite inconsistent and is living off his past reputation as a route runner. However, I think he’s a solid No. 2 type of receiver and is a flashy big-play threat at the position. He’s also been moved around by numerous coaching staffs far too often in his career. I don’t need to see him as a slot receiver anymore. Leave him at flanker and let him get free releases against off-man coverage. That’s when he’s at his best.

Just missed the list

I struggled mightily to decide between Jeudy and Christian Watson for the last spot. Ultimately, I think Jeudy is the better player right at this moment and has shown better against press/man coverage to this point. Watson can take another leap if he hones his route running; then, he'll be ready to shoot up this list. Elijah Moore and George Pickens were the next guys up for me but they need to develop their craft — in different ways — to leap a handful of these players. Rashod Bateman was one of my favorite prospects of the last few classes and has flashed immense ability as a route runner. He just hasn’t stayed on the field.