Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top 15 NFL Wide Receivers Heading In to 2012

As the NFL season draws nearer and nearer, I've decided to help kick off this new blog of mine by doing top player lists for different positions in the NFL. We continue at wide receiver with a top 15.

15. Dez Bryant, Dallas - Ever since the Cowboys traded up to get him in 2010, Bryant has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that followed him came from his electric career at Oklahoma State.  Last season was a marked improvement on '10; Bryant caught 63 passes for just over 900 yards and nine touchdowns, which shows his ability, physical tools, and massive potential.  But talented as Bryant is, he continues to have off the field issues and was plagued by hamstring woes last season.  He could have 1,200 yards this year, but he could also have 700.
14. Marques Colston, New Orleans - A model of consistency over his seven-year career, Colston has amassed at least 1,000 yards receiving in all but one pro season, only failing to do so when he played 11 games in 2008.  He's not particularly fast, but is smart enough to get open and uses his long reach well. Colston struggled a bit with injuries last season to his knees, and those are always a concern, but he's earned a top-15 spot with his constant excellence.
13. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City - Bowe eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards for the second consecutive campaign last season, but only caught five touchdowns compared to his 15 in 2010-11.  That's why he may not have made headlines last season, but Bowe draws double coverage almost every play as KC's lone true ball-catching threat and still puts up big numbers.  He could be higher on this list if Matt Cassel wasn't throwing him balls.

12. Julio Jones, Atlanta - Jones is 6'3", 220 and runs a 4.39 40.  A beast in the open field, Jones led the NFL in average yards after the catch last year because of that terrifying size and speed combination despite missing time with hamstring woes.  Even with that missed time, Jones almost had 1,000 yards and scored eight touchdowns.  His performance is probably limited by Mr. Reliable on the other side of the field, but Jones has immense potential and can both possess and go for the big play.
11. A.J. Green, Cincinnati - Green had a better first season than his fellow big name rookie receiver, Jones, because of both need and health, but is still right next to Jones in terms of ability.  Green, like Jones, is big and fast and uses both of those assets to be a force deep and in possession.  With sophomore quarterback Andy Dalton improving, Green will get more chances to showcase his skills this season and could crack the top 10.
10. Brandon Marshall, Chicago - On the field, Marshall is one of the best and most talented wideouts in football.  He has five consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards, four of which have topped 1,200.  He has five consecutive seasons of 80 or more catches, three of which were 100-plus grab seasons.  And he's done all of this, especially over the last two years, with little as his quarterback.  Now he reunites with Jay Cutler, the man who helped make him a star.  The reason he is this low, however, his his crazy behavior off the field that could get him suspended literally at the drop of a hat.
9. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants - Nicks recorded his second consecutive 1,100-plus yard season last year, doing it while only playing in 15 games (and 13 the year before).  He is not terribly fast, but he is a big man, is very difficult to bring down once he gets running, and didn't fumble once last season.  As Eli Manning's top target in both possession and deep down the field, Nicks is reliable and young - though he does have issues staying healthy from time to time.
8. Steve Smith, Carolina - The elder statesman of this list, Smith has been one of the best in the business for a decade, but lost his excellent reputation the two seasons prior to last because of the garbage that he had throwing him the football.  With Cam Newton under center, Smith got right back to doing what he does best - using his "incendiary" speed to break ankles and get open in any area of the field.  Smith isn't that big at only 5'9", but he doesn't need to be and though he will eventually slow down, he'll still get his as Newton's primary target.
7. Greg Jennings, Green Bay - Jennings wasn't even the best receiver on his own team last year (that accolade went to Jordy Nelson), but prior to that "disappointing" campaign, in which he had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, and would have had one last year if he hadn't missed three games.  Jennings is trusted by Aaron Rodgers and consistently has been excellent in all facets of his position throughout his career.  Not particularly fast or big, he is smart and uses that to his advantage well.
6. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh - Arguably the premier vertical threat in football, Wallace is as fast as they come and uses his speed to break free of defenders and record big play after big play.  As electric as he is in the open field, Wallace is also improving his route running and saw his average yards per catch drop by 4.4 last season and still had almost 1,200 yards - refuting the idea that all he can do is run by defenders and catch the deep ball.  Still, he needs to be a little more consistent to be a top-five guy for this list.
5. Roddy White, Atlanta - White led the NFL in targets last season and only Wes Welker caught more passes.  That alone puts him in the top five, but there is one very concerning stat - he led the League in drops last season as well - with 14.  But his numbers speak for themselves - zero missed games in his career; five consecutive seasons of 80-plus catches, 1,100-plus yards, and six-plus touchdowns.  At age 30, Jones is nearing the age many wideouts fall from elite status, but until Julio Jones overtakes him, White has a top-five spot.
4. Wes Welker, New England - In his career as a member of the Patriots, Welker has only had one season in which he did not top 110 receptions and 1,100 yards - the one season he didn't, he was recovering from a shredded knee.  The best slot receiver in football by a significant margin, Welker has a magnificent rapport with Tom Brady and has become one of the most consistent pass-catchers in the NFL.  He can make plays down the field, too, but is best at being a tremendous safety blanket for Brady and the Pats' machine-like passing offense. Welker shows no signs of slowing down after his 1,500 yard campaign in 2011-12.
3. Andre Johnson, Houston - Last season was a lost cause for Johnson because of injuries, but few receivers are as physically gifted as this former Miami Hurricane.  Johnson has caught more than 100 balls three times, gained more than 1,100 yards five times, and scored eight or more touchdowns four times in his career.  He's big, fast, strong, can run routes well, and can dominate a game when he is engaged.  If he can stay healthy, another elite season (and maybe several more) are in the cards for Johnson - he proved how much he had left with his excellent playoffs last winter.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona - Fitzgerald's consistency is nothing short of incredible.  In his nine-year career, Fitz has only failed to surpass 1,000 receiving yards twice - his rookie season and when he played 13 games in 2006.  He has four 1,400 yards seasons in that time frame, including last year with John Skelton (!) throwing him the ball.  He catches 80 or more passes almost every year and has never caught fewer than six touchdowns in a season.  Fitzgerald is a complete receiver and only takes the #2 slot on this list because of age.
1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit - An absolute physical freak, Johnson has 4.4 speed in a 6'5", 240-lb. frame and has maximized these physical tools to be the most dominant receiver in football today.  With a healthy Matt Stafford throwing him the ball, "Megatron" finally let loose for a 96-catch, 1,681-yard, 16 touchdown season last year and at age 26, he probably still has room for growth.  That's really all you can say about him, but he is clearly the best at his position and though he probably won't score 16 again, he could get more yards.

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