2012 NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Wide Receivers

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Wide Receivers

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    Premier wide receivers are in high demand in today's pass-happy NFL. The fact that the New York Giants were able to rely on stud receiving trio Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham to win Super Bowl 46, has only increased this demand.

    There are some big names to choose from at the wideout position in the 2012 free agent class.

    Diminutive New England Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker is joined by the likes of San Diego Chargers deep threat Vincent Jackson and New Orleans Saints all-rounder Marques Colston as the elite names on offer.

    But there are also young up-and-comers looking to make their way and establish themselves amongst the upper echelons of the league's pass catchers. Players like Manningham and Buffalo Bills speedster Stevie Johnson headline the second tier of available flankers.

    Here is a ranking of the top 10 wide receivers available on the 2012 NFL free-agency market.

10. Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis Rams

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    For short time during the 2011 season, Brandon Lloyd was able to add a measure of playmaking ability to the St. Louis Rams' anemic offense.

    In only 11 games, Lloyd manage to tally 70 receptions for 966 yards. He posted a decent 13.8 yards per reception average and scored five touchdowns. Had Sam Bradford been healthy for longer, his connection with Lloyd may have led to more wins for the beleaguered Rams.

    The 6'0" 188-pounder runs precise routes and does not shy from going over the middle. He possesses deceptive vertical speed and is blessed with excellent hands and the ability to produce some truly highlight reel-worthy catches.

    There have been rumors linking the 30-year-old with a move to the New England Patriots and a reunion with Josh McDaniels. Lloyd enjoyed his best pro season under McDaniels in 2010, racking up 1,448 yards while the pair were with the Denver Broncos.

    But the rebuilding Rams should do all they can to keep Lloyd in St. Louis. The nine-year pro is the kind of weapon Sam Bradford needs to further his development and resurrect the ailing franchise.

9. Mario Manningham, New York Giants

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    If Mario Manningham opts to test the open market in free agency, it is sure to be a fruitful decision for the player who made the decisive play in Super Bowl 46.

    Despite his title game heroics, Manningham is still likely to remain behind prolific duo Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz for the New York Giants.

    But although he has consistently struggled to establish himself as a No. 1 receiver during his time in New York, Manningham possesses attributes that will make him appealing to a host of other teams.

    The 25-year-old has always been a dangerous deep threat. He has also often produced key plays in the biggest games for the G-Men, evidenced by the fact that he scored a touchdown in each of the Giants' three playoff victories.

    Manningham's vertical speed and big-play potential make him an enticing free agent prospect. A recent article on NFL.com suggests that the rebuilding Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have a strong interest in acquiring Manningham.

    It will be interesting to see if Manningham can make it as a primary receiver for an offense, or if he is destined to simply be a key situational contributor.

8. Randy Moss

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    Perhaps no wideout in NFL history has embodied such large quantities of pure talent and questionable temperament as much as Randy Moss. Out of football in 2011, it seems that Moss is ready for a grand return to the big stage.

    The unique ability to strike with a big play at any time and from anywhere on the field will always make Moss an appealing target. His tall, angular frame, vertical speed and long striding running style mean that he can probably still burn any defense.

    Despite just turning 35, if Moss can prove his commitment and attitude are right, NFL teams would be crazy to pass up on the big-play capability he offers.

7. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

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    After enduring a nightmare season with the Indianapolis Colts in the absence of Peyton Manning, 33-year-old Reggie Wayne could well become a casualty of the team's radical makeover.

    If the Wayne and the Colts do part ways, then the 11-year-veteran would surely command heavy interest on the open market. Few receivers in the league run routes as accurately and intelligently as Wayne.

    He has an excellent understanding of coverage concepts and how to expose them and is blessed with great hands.

    His age and potential salary demands might put some teams off, but Wayne still has the ability to be a primary receiver for any offense.

6. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Dwayne Bowe has the prototypical size teams love in the modern NFL wide receiver. The 6'2", 221-pounder is a tough and durable flanker who could command big money in this year's free-agency period.

    Bowe has established himself as a reliable target during five seasons in Kansas City. In 2011, he caught 81 passes for 1,159 yards and scored five touchdowns. The 27-year-old is at his best when using his physicality to out-muscle cornerbacks and create separation.

    Bowe has had disciplinary issues in the past, including several run-ins with former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley.

    A recent report on espn.com indicated that the Chiefs may place the franchise tag on Bowe. It remains to be seen how the precocious but volatile receiver would react to that news. 

5. Wes Welker, New England Patriots

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    His critical drop in the Super Bowl shouldn't diminish Wes Welker's free-agency value. The normally sure-handed 30-year-old wideout has topped 100 receptions in four of the last five seasons.

    Welker excels at finding the soft spots in zone coverage. His deceptive quickness and excellent acceleration are enough to get him free from most defenders, particularly in underneath areas.

    Welker is often wrongly considered to be a receiver strictly consigned to collecting short-range and intermediate gains. But the eight-year veteran can offer some legitimate big-play capability, evidenced by his 99-yard touchdown reception against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 of last season.

    The New England Patriots will probably franchise-tag Welker. But if there is even the slightest doubt about his future with the AFC Champions, Welker will have a long list of suitors vying for his services.

4. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

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    No player in the league offers a greater big-play threat than DeSean Jackson. The 5'10", 175-pound flanker has awesome vertical speed, enabling him to get behind any defense. Jackson is also a lethal punt returner who opposing teams kick to at their peril.

    The 25-year-old has been at loggerheads with the Philadelphia Eagles over a new contract for some time now. The discontent these negotiations fostered in Jackson led to him being benched for turning up late to a team meeting and poor performance.

    The Eagles could still place the franchise tag on Jackson in order to keep him in Philadelphia. Any other teams interested would have to be certain his attitude is right for next season, before making a large investment in a player whose numbers have declined since 2009.

3. Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills

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    Stevie Johnson should be in high demand from several teams if he cannot reach an agreement on a new deal with the Buffalo Bills. Johnson has the potential to be one of the league's elite receivers.

    The 6'2", 210-pounder has the speed to stretch any defense and also possesses the strength, instincts and anticipation to be equally effective underneath.

    Johnson's end-zone histrionics often get him into trouble and appear to have caused him to fall foul of Bills head coach Chan Gailey.

    But if he can stay focused, the 25-year-old is a player on the rise, having topped 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.

    Johnson is a receiver who wants the ball when the game is on the line. With more discipline and better concentration, he could be the main play-maker on a number of teams.

2. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers

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    The apparently never-ending saga of Vincent Jackson's contract with the San Diego Chargers seems set to rumble on again this offseason.

    The Chargers placed the franchise tag on Jackson in 2011, but are understandably reluctant to do the same again this year and have to pay Jackson $13.7 million.

    A dubious fitness record and an ugly holdout saga count against a lucrative long-term deal for Jackson. But the 6'5", 230-pounder offers a vertical threat not many other receivers can match.

    Last season, Jackson hauled in 60 passes for 1,106 yards, at an impressive average of 18.4 yards per reception. He also chipped with nine touchdowns.

    Jackson possesses elite, game-changing speed and has the size and leaping ability to beat any defensive backs on deep routes.

1. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints

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    Marques Colston has to top the list of free-agent wide receivers. The 28-year-old has had no contract or holdout issues or spats with coaches and is not blighted by injury or age concerns.

    The 6'4" 225-pounder has just quietly assembled a prolific and consistent record of production in six pro seasons. He has the strength and toughness to be a major asset over the middle, coupled with the speed and size to threaten any defense vertically.

    Colston has exceeded 1,000 yards in five seasons and is as sure-handed as any wideout in the league. He is a natural fit as a No. 1 receiver in any offense.

    If the Saints lock up too much money retaining quarterback Drew Brees and left guard Carl Nicks, Colston could command a major salary in free agency.