Out of all the positions to assess for the free-agent class of 2012, there is no position that is deeper than wide receiver, even with a number of key potential free agents being signed to transition tags prior to the NFL deadline last week.
The deep class includes Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace (restricted free agent), Marques Coltson, Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, Larent Robinson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, Lee Evans, Early Doucet, Josh Morgan, Deion Branch, Braylon Edwards, Roscoe Parrish, Steve Smith and Plaxico Burress. These receivers can help some of the struggling NFL offenses that need an extra weapon or two.
My surest bet for wide receiver is Vincent Jackson. Jackson sat out 11 games in 2010 due to a holdout, so his production that year was down. But for the last three years that he played the full season, Jackson produced at least 1,000 yards in receptions each of the three years. He has caught 272 passes in his career for 4,754 yards and 37 touchdowns. He averages 17.5 yards per catch in his career.
Jackson was tied for No. 6 in the NFL with 21 catches of at least 20-plus yards. If you are looking for a big play receiver who offers a big target, Jackson is your best bet.
As for my backup choice, I am going with restricted free agent Mike Wallace. Wallace is more of the vertical threat type of wide receiver that will stretch the field for you. He won't be running a lot of patterns over the middle of the field because that is not who he is. But he will come up with a number of big plays and his career average of 18.7 yards per catch has to be exciting for any potential employer to envision how he can impact their offense.
Wallace has only been in the NFL three years, and is already averaging eight touchdowns and over 1,000 receiving yards per season.
True enough, if a team decides to extend an offer to Wallace that Pittsburgh can't match, they will have to surrender a first-round draft pick to the Steelers in addition to paying Wallace handsomely. The Baltimore Ravens or New England Patriots might be willing to surrender their late first-round pick to make that kind of a move.
Some might prefer Marques Colston over Wallace, but Colston isn't that solid in gaining separation from defensive backs, and that is one asset you want to have for an expensive receiver, especially if you desire somebody that is a sure bet.