It’s not a secret that improving the secondary was the biggest focus of the Dallas Cowboys over the offseason. Not only did the defense put forth a franchise-worst effort in 2020, but the schedule also doesn’t appear to let up at all in 2021. The group of Wide Receivers the Cowboys will have to try to stop is ridiculous. They will face Terry McLaurin and Kenny Golladay twice a year within their division, and those two elite talents don’t even crack the top five toughest WR matchups. Let’s take a look at those.
No. 5 – Calvin Ridley – Atlanta Falcons – Week 10
I had a really tough time deciding who to slot in as the No. 5 toughest WR in the 2021 slate of games. Ultimately, Calvin Ridley barely edged out other top talents like Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, DJ Moore, and his teammate Julio Jones. Ridley had a full-on breakout season in 2020 as he was one of the few bright spots on a struggling Atlanta Falcons team.
In 2021, Ridley racked up 1374 yards and nine touchdowns on 90 catches. You don’t have to turn back the calendar too far to remember the last time Ridley showed Cowboys fans what he is capable of, as hauled in seven catches for 109 yards and two TDS in last year’s week two matchup in AT&T Stadium. Ridley is a dynamic field stretcher, as he tied with Travis Kelce and Justin Jefferson with 23 catches of 20+ yards in 2020.
No. 4 Justin Jefferson – Minnesota Vikings – Week 8
Speaking of Justin Jefferson, he comes in at No. 4 on this list. Jefferson burst onto the scene as a rookie, pouring salt in the wounds of Eagles fans everywhere who watched their front office select Jalen Reagor instead of Jefferson in the 2020 draft.
Justin Jefferson hauled in 88 catches for 1400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his dazzling rookie campaign. As previously mentioned he tied for the lead league in 20+ yard catches with 23, and was extremely consistent with nine games of over 80+ receiving yards.
No. 3 Michael Thomas – New Orleans Saints – Week 13
In a few months, this ranking could look silly as we are only one season removed from Michael Thomas’s record-setting 2019 season with 149 catches and over 1700 yards. However, some legitimate questions are surrounding the Saints offense which is enough for me to slide him down to No. 3 on the toughest WR match-ups in 2021.
Thomas dealt with injuries and inconsistent QB play in 2020 but was an absolute monster in his four previous seasons in the league. Before a down 2020, Thomas had finished with over 1000 yards and at least 90 catches every single year. However, there are still questions surrounding who will be taking snaps at QB for the Saints, which is enough to drop him down the list for now.
No. 2 Tyreek Hill – Kansas City Cheifs – Week 11
There is not a lot that I can tell you about Tyreek Hill that you don’t already know. He is arguably the fastest player in the entire league and he has the luxury of catching passes from the most talented QB in the league. He has anchored the Chiefs’ passing attack en route to two straight Super Bowl appearances, and they have extra motivation after coming out flat and getting smacked in the big game last year.
In 2020 Hill finished with 1276 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 87 catches, good for over 14 yards per catch. The Cowboys’ lone match-up against Tyreek Hill came back in 2017 when he finished with two catches on four targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. This game will be a good barometer to truly gauge how much our secondary improved from last season and how it currently stacks up when trying to stop the most explosive passing attack in the NFL.
No. 1 DeAndre Hopkins – Arizona Cardinals – Week 17
I truly believe that DeAndre Hopkins is the most talented Wide Receiver in the entire NFL. Even in a season where Michael Thomas was breaking the record for most catches in a season, I was still firmly on Hopkins Island when the discussion of the most talented WR came up. With at least 1100 receiving yards in four straight seasons and over 100 catches in the last three, no one is as consistently productive as Hopkins from the WR spot.
In his first season with Kyler Murray throwing him passes in Arizona, Hopkins hauled in 115 catches for 1407 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The Cowboys did a solid job of slowing Hopkins down when they squared off in 2020, limiting him to two catches on eight targets for 73 yards, but the Cardinals dominated, 38-10.