A.J. Green and 6 NFL Receivers Who Will Have Elite Years in 2012

Jacob Betzner@@JacobBetznerCorrespondent IIApril 16, 2012

A.J. Green and 6 NFL Receivers Who Will Have Elite Years in 2012

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    Two Cincinnati rookies enjoyed an extremely proficient first year in the NFL last season.

    The Bengals selected wide receiver A.J. Green out of the University of Georgia with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and Texas Christian University quarterback Andy Dalton with the third pick (35th overall) in the second round.

    Green and Dalton connected 65 times for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns in the 15 games Green played.  The 23-year-old surpassed Cris Collinsworth's franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie and fell only two catches short of breaking Collinsworth's record for receptions by a rookie.  Green fumbled only once and managed to recover the football.

    Green recorded these gaudy stats while playing against tough Steelers and Ravens defenses two times each.

    The NFL selected both players to play in the 2012 NFL Pro Bowl where Green caught a touchdown pass from Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    Green possesses the ability to post similar numbers in 2012, especially with a year of development with Dalton.

Antonio Brown

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    In his second year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Antonio Brown stepped up in a big way. 

    Besides compiling 1,062 yards returning kickoffs and punts for the "Black and Gold," Brown caught 69 passes for 1,108 yards, making him the first player in NFL history to finish with over 1,000 return yards and receiving yards in a single season.

    The former Central Michigan Chippewa scored two touchdowns.  His scoring contributions should increase next year as he develops into an elite red zone receiver for Ben Roethlisberger.

    The Steelers hope Brown fits into the role of a "go-to receiver" with the release and subsequent retirement of future Hall of Famer Hines Ward.

Darrius Heyward-Bey

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    Third-year Oakland Raiders' wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey boosted his stats exponentially last season. 

    The former Maryland Terrapin took in 64 receptions and finished 25 yards short of the 1,000-mark.

    With former Heisman trophy winner and two-time Pro Bowler Carson Palmer now under center for Oakland, Heyward-Bey is capable of boosting his numbers even higher.

Victor Cruz

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    After a successful career at the University of Massachusetts, the New York Giants signed Victor Cruz as an undrafted free agent before the start of the 2010 season.  Cruz appeared in only three games with the Giants that season.

    In 2011, Cruz finished near the top of the league leaders in receptions chart.  The undrafted free agent finished with 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns and was named to the All-Pro Second Team by the Associated Press.

    Cruz's six-catch, 178-yard performance against the New York Jets in Week 16 helped the Giants secure a playoff spot, and his 10-catch, 142-yard outing against the San Francisco Giants in the NFC Championship game propelled the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI.

    Cruz shows no signs of stopping in 2012 as the Giants look to defend their Super Bowl title.

Julio Jones

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    In his first professional season with the Atlanta Falcons, the 2011 sixth-overall draft pick recorded 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Dubbed a "can't miss" prospect before committing to the University of Alabama, Jones proved to be an elite receiver with the Crimson Tide, doubling as a kick and punt returner in addition to wideout duties.

    Jones gives Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan a big target with his size, speed and range.

    Jones is poised to produce even more, as long as he doesn't fall victim to the "sophomore slump."

Dez Bryant

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    The Dallas Cowboys released former Pro Bowler Roy Williams, hoping second-year player Dez Bryant could fill the role of starting receiver.

    Bryant accepted the challenge by pulling in 63 catches for 928 yards and crossing the goal line nine times.

    Tony Romo often looked for Bryant on big plays.  As the Dallas quarterback and the Cowboys look to rebound after a disappointing, up-and-down, 8-8 2011 season, Bryant will be looked upon to be even more of an impact player.

Demaryius Thomas

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    Demaryius Thomas made it clear he isn't going to be missing Tim Tebow this season in Denver.

    The 24-year-old Georgia Tech graduate suffered an Achilles tendon injury prior to the start of the 2011 season, an injury several doctors suggested might force Thomas to miss the entire season, and he recorded only 32 catches for 551 yards.

    However, there's a new quarterback in the "Mile High City" for the 2012 season.

    Thomas, along with teammate Eric Decker, has the potential for a breakout year with Peyton Manning, a likely future Hall of Famer, throwing passes his way.