The passing game still runs the National Football League. To succeed, your team needs to throw the ball efficiently and prevent the opposition from doing so. Yes, this is something that's been mentioned before in this series. It's worth reiterating because it's a simple, crucial truth. Just look at how this past season played out. Super Bowl LII came down to a team with the greatest quarterback of all time against a team with a pass rush that made life hell for those it faced. Some of the best teams in football during the 2017 campaign chased a title with a pair of players entrenched on offense to spearhead the goal of winning through the air.
We can use the objective Next Gen Stats data gleaned from the tracking chips placed inside each player's shoulder pads to uncover layers of powerful insight about some of the top passing weapons in the NFL. Whether it be how much quarterbacks lean on their most effective wideouts or how they perform in crucial segments of the game, we can now quantify aspects of football that we've always just talked about anecdotally. Here, we'll run through the 10 best quarterback-wide receiver connections from the 2017 NFL season. (Yes, this means duos that are expected to change because of offseason player movement were considered for their efforts with their 2017 teams.)
*NOTE: Unlike the rest of the pieces in the "Next Gen Top 10" series, the ranking in this one was decided purely by my subjective decision. All of the data provided was gathered without bias from the tracking chips, but I decided how to order the players. You can actually get mad online at me this time. *
Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks just missed the cut. Ultimately, since tight end Rob Gronkowski is the top target for Brady and the biggest difference-maker in the New England Patriots' pass-catching corps, Brady and Cooks fell behind Wilson and Baldwin. However, Cooks deserves a bundle of credit for sliding right into a prime spot in the rotation after being traded to New England last offseason and thriving, something that hasn't always happened with new receivers on this team. Cooks led all wide receivers this season with 16 deep-ball receptions. His presence brought a vertical influence to the New England offense, as Brady saw his intended air yards average rise to 9.4 last season after finishing at 8.6 in 2016.