Last week on Musketfire, there was a lot of good conversation driven by my ‘Top 5 Running Backs’ piece, and I thought why not try to generate more discussion, with a top five wide receivers piece. Here are the five best wide receivers currently in the NFL in my mind.
1. Calvin Johnson
Much like Adrian Peterson with the running backs, I don’t think there will be much disagreement among readers with this pick. Johnson is a freak of nature, and there really is nobody to compare him to in today’s NFL. The closest “freak” I can think of, is Rob Gronkowski. Johnson has all the tools you need to be an elite receiver in football. He has the speed, he has the athletic skills, he has the knowledge, and his ability to go up and snatch the ball out of the air is unprecedented in the league. His numbers in 2012 were simply unreal. He finished the 2012 campaign with 122 catches, 1,964 yards, five touchdowns and a 16.1 catch average. Those statistics are unbelievable, especially considering the fact that he was the only reliable weapon on that Detroit Lions offense. Every week the opposing defense’s main goal would be to stop Johnson, and every week Johnson went out there and produced. Barring any major injuries, I honestly do not think that anybody will be able to dethrone Johnson as the best receiver in football for quite a long time.
2. Larry Fitzgerald
When you write a piece like this, where you have to stack up certain players against each other, stats are always put into play. However, it is very hard to do this for Fitzgerald, because of the quarterbacks that he has been forced to play with. Fitzgerald finished the 2012 season with 71 receptions, 798 yards, and four touchdowns. Those statistics don’t jump out at you. In fact, they seem like the kind of stats that an average receiver would put up in the NFL. But Larry Fitzgerald is much more talented than these numbers make him look. He isn’t the fastest guy in the league, but he makes up for it with his jumping ability, his great route-running skills, and the best hands in the NFL as far as I’m concerned. The problem for him over the last couple of years, has been the quarterback delivering the football. In 2012 he had to deal with Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley. That isn’t exactly a star studded group. If Fitzgerald has a guy like Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, I think he would have shattered Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record. Fitzgerald does get Carson Palmer for the 2013 season, and even though Palmer isn’t what he used to be, he is definitely an upgrade over what Fitzgerald had to deal with in 2012.
3. A.J. Green
Despite being only 24 years old, A.J. Green has rapidly climbed the ranks of the NFL’s best, and now sits in the top three of the elite receivers in the league. He has all the tools necessary to be a productive receiver, and in the coming years I think his numbers will absolutely explode. Green has a height advantage over pretty much every cornerback in the league, as he stands at 6’4. This isn’t even putting into play his very impressive jumping ability. So when it comes to jump balls, the defensive back really does not have much of a chance. Last year he racked up 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns while catching nearly 100 balls. He did this with young quarterback Andy Dalton running the Bengals offense, and while I think Dalton is definitely a solid player, he still hasn’t mastered the deep ball. Green hasn’t let this hinder his ability to take the top off of the defense, and that really speaks volumes in my mind.
4. Andre Johnson
What can you say about Andre Johnson. In today’s NFL, he is considered an old guy at 31 years of age. But he still manages to out-produce nearly everybody at the receiver position. The only guy ahead of him in total receiving yards last year, was the man at the top of the page, Calvin Johnson. Andre caught 112 passes for nearly 1,600 yards last season. That is pretty impressive for an “old guy”. He is a big fella, as he stands at 6’3 and weights in at around 230 pounds. He knows how the game of football works, and he will eat a young secondary alive. His speed isn’t what it used to be, but he still will beat a lot of the defensive backs that try to derail him on the field. I do think that Johnson benefited a great deal from a terrific running game behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate in 2012. But anytime a guy puts up nearly 1,600 receiving yards, while having to deal with a quarterback like Matt Schaub, you have to give him a lot of credit.
5. Wes Welker
This last selection was easily the toughest one for me. It came down to either Welker, or Julio Jones. Both of these guys put up great numbers last year. Welker had 118 catches for 1,354 yards and four touchdowns, while Jones finished the year with 79 catches 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. But in my eyes, the deciding factor was Welker’s durability. I mean, this guy is 32 years old and in 2012, almost every single route he ran was over the middle, where he would be unceremoniously dumped by a safety, or a linebacker. However, he never seemed to come out of the game for the Patriots. He got up, and went back into the huddle to do it all over again. Football players like Wes Welker are a rare breed, and they don’t come around very often. Welker is a team player, and he does his job every time he steps onto that football field. Everybody knows about his great hands, his quickness, and his ability to run an insanely specific route. But what sets him apart from every other slot receiver, and most outside receivers, is his toughness, and his willingness to go out every day and lay it all on the line.