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Best new QB-WR combos for 2024 NFL season: C.J. Stroud-Stefon Diggs among most promising duos

What an offseason it's been for receivers.

The NFL saw wideout after wideout get paid, from Michael Pittman Jr. to Nico Collins to DeVonta Smith to Jaylen Waddle to Amon-Ra St. Brown to A.J. Brown to Justin Jefferson. All of this reset the WR market, and with several more pass catchers looking for new deals, we're not done yet. Couple the paydays with seven receivers going in the first round of a deep draft, including three in the top 10, and these are heady times from every angle for the position.

For decades, it's been common knowledge that quarterback is the most vital position in sports. This offseason, NFL clubs acknowledged the growing status of receivers, nudging them up the ranks.

With that backdrop, let's take our yearly look at the fresh batteries peppering the NFL landscape. This time around, I've broken our examination of new QB-WR connections into two sections: veteran combos and rookie-veteran combos. Given the importance of this rookie class of quarterbacks and receivers, I felt it necessary to provide space to examine some first-year players heading into the 2024 season.


Houston Texans
QB C.J. Stroud · WR Stefon Diggs

In 2023, C.J. Stroud authored one of the best debut campaigns we've seen from a quarterback, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading Houston to a division title and a resounding playoff win. The Ohio State product seemed to have every answer, particularly as the season wore on, combining a propensity for big-time throws in crucial spots with a veteran-like ability to avoid the kinds of turnover-worthy plays that generally haunt first-year pros.

The best part: Stroud accomplished everything despite his muddled surroundings. His offensive line was shuffled more than a deck of cards in Vegas, yet you would have barely known, given how the QB navigated pressure. The running game didn't provide consistent support until weeks into the season. And every single one of his pass catchers missed games, including Nico Collins (two games), Tank Dell (six) and tight end Dalton Schultz (two). In the dim light, the rookie shined, lifting what was mostly an average roster from worst to first in the AFC South.

In walks Stefon Diggs, fresh off his sixth consecutive season with 1,000-plus receiving yards. It says something about Diggs that he just generated 1,183 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, yet it was considered a down year. Perhaps the 30-year-old lost a step. Perhaps his focus has waned. Perhaps.

At the very least, the Texans paid relatively little in their trade for Diggs to find out if he has a fifth straight Pro Bowl in him. When right, Diggs owns the route-running ability to beat any corner. He can threaten any level and has the hands to come down with everything. Diggs provides the Texans with a perfect complement to Collins and Dell and gives Stroud a go-to veteran at key moments.

Even if you want to view this as a gamble for Houston, given the apparent bumpiness toward the end of Diggs' tenure in Buffalo, the risk is penny-slots-level low with the upside of a million-dollar jackpot.

Atlanta Falcons
QB Kirk Cousins · WR Drake London

By , Kirk Cousins' rehab from his 2023 Achilles tear is going swimmingly, but there will still be questions about how the quarterback, turning 36 in August, bounces back. What we do know is that, before the tendon popped last October, Cousins was playing the best ball of his NFL tenure and was on pace for career highs in yards and touchdowns. He was doing that in a QB-friendly Vikings offense while supported by a solid offensive line and excellent weapons.

In Atlanta, Cousins finds some of those same buttresses. The Falcons boast a top-five O-line. We're projecting when it comes to new coordinator Zac Robinson's offense, but if it is indeed close to Sean McVay's, it should be similar enough to the one Cousins operated in Minnesota under fellow former McVay assistant Kevin O'Connell. And while the weapons aren't what Cousins had last year, Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson sure aren't chopped liver.

London showed over the past two seasons that he can produce despite substandard QB play. Catching passes from Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke, London led the Falcons with 850-plus yards in each campaign. Yes, in today's NFL, falling short of the 1,000-yard mark is nothing to smile about, but given that London was catching passes from backups masquerading as starters, you can forgive the optimism. With a legit quarterback throwing him the pigskin, London should see his production skyrocket.

The skill sets of Cousins and London mesh perfectly. The QB prefers working the middle of the field, which is also where the 6-foot-4 wideout excels. London should feast on crossers and deep digs -- staples of McVay-style offenses -- that funnel into Cousins' happy zone.

Toss in upgrades with field-stretcher Darnell Mooney and speedster Rondale Moore threatening other areas, and London should find more free grass than he did in the previous offense in Atlanta.

Kansas City Chiefs
QB Patrick Mahomes · WR Marquise Brown

I went back and forth on whether to highlight this duo or Patrick Mahomes/Xavier Worthy. For this exercise, I went with the veteran combo, but I do think Mahomes/Worthy could produce at a similar level as Mahomes and Marquise Brown.

Last season, Mahomes guided a patchwork receiver group to another Super Bowl title, with a big helping hand from tight end Travis Kelce and the Chiefs' shutdown defense. Imagine what he can do with actual weapons.

Brown has his flaws. The 2019 first-round pick has cleared the 1,000-yard mark in just one season so far, and he posted a career-low 574 yards in 14 games with Arizona last season. He spent his first three campaigns in the run-first Greg Roman offense alongside Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. Then, after a trade to the Cardinals, he shared the field with Kyler Murray in just 10 full games over two seasons. Not exactly ideal situations for maximizing production.

Health is a concern for the 27-year-old wideout coming off another , but if anyone can help him reach new heights, it's Mahomes.

Brown is anecdotally thought of as a field-stretcher, which can be an accurate description. He owns the speed to win deep and perhaps will show that off more with Mahomes. But where he's won more consistently in his career is in the intermediate 10-19-yard range. For his career, Brown boasts a 61.1 reception EPA on targeted air yards on intermediate passes, per Next Gen Stats. On throws of all other distances, he's in the negative EPA. Luckily for Brown, Mahomes does his best work on intermediate throws.

It's easy to envision an offensive setup in K.C. where Worthy plays the role of blow-the-top-off speed receiver while Brown patrols the intermediate level. This would give the Chiefs the ability to pester defenses consistently at every level.

New York Jets
QB Aaron Rodgers · WR Mike Williams

In a vacuum, this pair would be higher. A four-time MVP with a propensity for making ridiculously accurate throws heaving pigskins to a boundary maven who can make contested catches? Sounds like a match made in heaven.

But football isn't played in a vacuum. In reality, both players are coming off significant injuries that threaten not only their individual futures but their ability to build chemistry.

Mike Williams is he'll be ready for Week 1, but missing offseason work could put the former Charger behind the eight ball to open the season. He's turning 30 in October, and he's struggled to stay healthy for most of his career, including each of the past two seasons, playing just three games in 2023 thanks to a torn ACL. Williams is a field stretcher who opens up the entire offense and a red-zone weapon. Playing opposite stud Garrett Wilson, Williams should see a trove of advantageous matchups when he's on the field.

Likewise, Aaron Rodgers is coming off an Achilles injury that famously wiped out all but four snaps of his 2023. His participation in offseason work says he's full-bore heading into training camp. But projecting a 40-year-old quarterback coming off a major injury is a precarious game. Rodgers owns the mentality to prove every doubter wrong. On the flip side, Father Time is undefeated.

Even before the injury, Rodgers' deep ball seemed to wane. In 2022, his final season with the Packers, he generated a 28.6 percent success rate on passes of 20-plus air yards and a -1.4 total EPA on such balls. Was that a product of subbing Davante Adams out for a bunch of young WRs in Green Bay, or has Rodgers lost more than a smidge?

Pittsburgh Steelers
QBs Russell Wilson/Justin Fields · WR George Pickens

At this point, there isn't much of a quarterback competition in Western Pennsylvania. Every report suggests it's Russell Wilson's job to fumble away. Regardless of whether Wilson or Justin Fields ends up being the QB1 in 2023, both are upgrades on Kenny Pickett, so we can combine them for this exercise.

Wilson showed last season in Denver that he can still make plays and avoid turnovers. If he keeps the offense on schedule and splashes in some big plays, he'll fend off any push by Fields. The question is, for how long, particularly if the offense struggles to open the season? Would Mike Tomlin move to the younger, more dynamic Fields at the first sign of trouble?

The QB question does nothing to dampen the optimism surrounding the upside of George Pickens as WR1.

The third-year pro is the obvious alpha in a wideout room with Van Jefferson and 2024 third-round pick Roman Wilson as the next-best options. Pickens is coming off a campaign in which he put up 1,140 yards despite less-than-ideal quarterback play in an offense that didn't exactly funnel the ball his way.

A boom-or-bust player, Pickens generated five games of 100-plus yards (four over 125) and five games of 25 or fewer yards last season. If he can raise the floor, his production should shoot upward. Pickens led the NFL with an average of 18.1 yards per catch in 2023, and while that number likely comes down with more volume, it underscores the wideout's ability to win downfield. A contested-catch stud with vise grips for hands, Pickens can make his quarterbacks right even when they throw into traffic. He's also spectacular at the back-shoulder catch -- which should work well with Wilson.

Pickens last season for his maturity and . The Steelers displayed faith that those issues won't continue for the 23-year-old by trading away Diontae Johnson and making Pickens the clear-cut No. 1 wideout.

We know Arthur Smith's offense can funnel targets to one wideout -- see: Drake London -- so expect the Steelers to lean heavily on Pickens, particularly early in the season, until their rotation shakes out.


Arizona Cardinals
QB Kyler Murray · WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

It's been so long that sometimes we forget how dynamic Kyler Murray can be when healthy and playing with a big-time target. Remember back in 2021, when Murray generated a Pro Bowl season dropping bombs to DeAndre Hopkins? That year, Murray slung 41 big-time throws in 14 games, per Pro Football Focus, second-most behind Tom Brady (42 in 17 games).

Since then, injuries have derailed Murray -- and the weapons around him when he returned in 2023 were extremely lacking.

But April's draft brought Marvin Harrison Jr., a ready-made pro who immediately becomes the No. 1 option. Harrison comes with an NFL pedigree, a workmanlike mentality and the talent to push for a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie (no easy feat in the star-studded WR field).

I expect Murray to force-feed the ball to Harrison plenty, similar to how he treated Hopkins early in his career.

Chicago Bears
QB Caleb Williams · WR DJ Moore

Caleb Williams was an easy choice for this list. He enters the NFL with highlight talent and big-play upside. He can search out explosives and make things happen with his legs. Combining creativity and accuracy, the rookie is tailor-made to play in this decade of professional football.

As with any young quarterback, there will be growing pains. Williams must quickly get comfortable reading defenses and making hiccup-fast decisions. He's already learned the hard way . The upside will be worth the bumps for a franchise with a history of Pro Bowl quarterback play that鈥檚 shorter than a toddler's bedtime book.

The more difficult question is which receiver to use in the pairing: DJ Moore, Keenan Allen or fellow rookie Rome Odunze? Each brings a different element to the offense that complements the others perfectly on paper.

I went with Moore. The returning top target has earned 1,000-plus yards in four of the past five seasons and generated 1,364 yards in last year's Chicago offense. If he can do that, he should thrive in the 2024 edition. Moore鈥檚 reliability and ability to win at all three levels make him a force. With Allen and Odunze in town, the 27-year-old wideout should see more one-on-one opportunities.

Throughout his career, Moore hasn't exactly played with fellow wideouts who command attention. DJ had his most productive cohort back in 2020, when Robbie Chosen was still going by Robby Anderson. Could the presence of two other targets siphon away chances and production? Sure, that's always a possibility. But I'm expecting this setup to actually free up Moore to be more explosive.

Buffalo Bills
QB Josh Allen · WR Keon Coleman

The Bills are asking Josh Allen to do more with less, similar to what the Chiefs asked of Patrick Mahomes the past few seasons.

The exits of Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis put the Bills receiver corps in flux. Coleman, a second-round pick, projects as a go-to target. Khalil Shakir is the most accomplished returner, and Buffalo filled the gaps with a bunch of veterans who have question marks. Curtis Samuel, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Chase Claypool, Mack Hollins, and KJ Hamler will battle for reps.

Allen showed down the stretch last season that he can spearhead an offense even if the No. 1 target is waning. He'll be asked to do so again.

Coleman should mesh well with Allen. The rookie excels at contested catches, which is good because Allen is known for trying to thread a pinhole. The biggest knock on Coleman is that he doesn't generate a ton of separation. But as long as he's making contested catches, the need for an open window might not be as significant with Allen as it would be with other QBs.

This duo is higher on the list because Coleman profiles as the clear favorite to lead Buffalo in receiving this season. The Bills will try to spread the ball around more than they did in the past, but Coleman still likely becomes Allen's go-to guy.

Minnesota Vikings
QB J.J. McCarthy · WR Justin Jefferson

If it weren't for the looming possibility that Kevin O'Connell could start the season with Sam Darnold under center, this duo would be higher on this list. Personally, if I bought a new, expensive boat, I wouldn't keep it tied to a dock for the first few weeks of sailing season to float around in my refurbished dingy. Alas, I'm not a boat owner. Or football coach.

Whenever McCarthy eventually takes over under center, he's set up better than any other rookie quarterback. He's playing with the best receiver in the NFL, another first-round wideout in Jordan Addison, and he鈥檒l have a Pro Bowl tight end in T.J. Hockenson once the vet returns from injury. He has a stout offensive line with two solid tackles, including left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who is on his way to becoming one of the best at the position. Lastly, McCarthy gets to play in an O'Connell scheme that has proven to be very QB-friendly.

Jefferson has proven he's QB-proof. Last season, in four starts without Cousins down the stretch, he put up three games of 84-plus yards, including outings of 141 and 192 yards with Nick Mullens as his primary passer. Despite getting doubled teamed, Jefferson's route-running ability allows him to get open against any coverage. He's a nearly unstoppable force that should help make the rookie's life exponentially easier.

Washington Commanders
QB Jayden Daniels · WR Terry McLaurin

Frankly, I debated the merits of spotlighting Jayden Daniels-Terry McLaurin, Daniel Jones-Malik Nabers and Trevor Lawrence-Brian Thomas Jr. In the end, I landed on the Commanders' duo because I know McLaurin is a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, and I trust Daniels' upside.

The Heisman Trophy winner brings dynamic ability, which he'll need behind a questionable offensive line. When most rookies get into trouble, what do they do? Target their trusty veteran.

McLaurin has shown over the years that he can get open and produce, regardless of his quarterback. Since he entered the NFL in 2019, the wideout has played with 10 starting quarterbacks: Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy, Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, Garrett Gilbert, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Wentz and Sam Howell. Despite that list, only in his rookie year did McLaurin not surpass the 1,000-yard barrier (he had 919 yards).

Now imagine what he can do with a quarterback as talented as Daniels.

The second overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft comes to the league with plenty of experience, having started 55 games over five college seasons. So, while we expect growing pains, the 23-year-old has more depth of knowledge than your average first-year starter.

Defenses are sure to key on McLaurin, given the questionable surrounding weaponry, but that's been the case his entire NFL career. McLaurin has led the Commanders in receiving yards in each of his five pro campaigns. The closest No. 2 in any year was 389 yards behind him (Curtis Samuel in 2023); overall, the average gap between him and Washington's second-best pass catcher has been 513.8 yards.

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