Breaking Down the NFL's Most Dominant Receivers Heading into 2012 Season
It's no secret that Calvin Johnson is the most dominating, intimidating and skilled wide receiver in the NFL. He's not the only one capable of terrorizing defenses, though, and one of his peers in 2012 is an up-and-coming star who's set to blow up this season.
First, I'd like to define what dominance is for NFL wide receivers.
Production is a major part of the equation—specifically I'll be looking at yards, yards per catch, yards after the catch and touchdowns scored. Broken tackles are also highly regarded in my book, and they will be part of the equation as well.
The other thing I look at in this equation is how frequently opposing teams have to double team the players. Finally, I'll take into consideration how often a receiver drops passes. Reliability is key.
Here are the top three most dominant wide receivers as we head into the regular season in 2012.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
If any receiver has a chance to catch some of Jerry Rice's lofty career marks, it's Johnson.
Johnson led the NFL last year in yards, averaged 17.6 yards per catch, 5.46 yards after the catch and was second behind Rob Gronkowski in touchdowns with 16. Additionally, he tied Roddy White and Wes Welker with 77 first downs, broke 14 tackles and only dropped seven passes (h/t Pro Football Focus).
Which record will Megatron break in 2012?
Every team in the NFL double-teams Johnson to some degree, and some teams will box three guys around him, just to be safe. He is a threat to go the distance on any given play, regardless of how many would-be defenders are draped around him.
At the age of 26, Johnson is entering the prime of his career. If Matthew Stafford can somehow manage to avoid getting snake-bitten by injury this season, Johnson has a legitimate chance to break Rice's single-season record of 1,848 yards and Randy Moss' single-season touchdowns total of 23.
The Cardinals are going to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2012, but Fitzgerald is still going to have a monster year. He was "blessed" to have the same two stooges the Cardinals call quarterbacks tossing him the rock in 2011, and by some miracle managed to finish the season among the top receivers in the NFL.
Fitzgerald finished the year with 80 catches for 1,411 yards (17.6 yards per reception and 6.12 yards after the catch) and eight touchdowns. He had defenders whiff on 14 occasions, 61 of his 80 total catches resulted in first downs, and for the entire season, Fitzgerald only dropped three passes.
Since the departure of Anquan Boldin a couple of seasons ago, the Cardinals have failed to bring in a viable No. 2 receiver to complement Fitzgerald. As a result, teams routinely bracket him with two and three defenders, boxing him in. Still the man comes through, time after time, catching balls that lesser mortals couldn't even touch.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
I can't gush enough about what I'm seeing from Jones right now. He was a phenomenal addition to the club in 2011, but what he did last season is but a precursor of bigger things to come.
Last year, Jones had trouble hanging onto balls, dropping eight passes. From what I've seen thus far during the preseason, he' much more focused and has improved that aspect of his game.
He still had a big year as a rookie, hauling in 54 passes for 959 yards (17.8 yards per catch and 7.8 yards after the catch) and eight touchdowns. He made 12 defenders miss, and 34 of his 54 catches resulted in first downs.
Which receiver will have the biggest year in 2012?
Through the three games he played in during the preseason, Jones looked unstoppable. He caught 13 passes for 240 yards (18.5 yards per reception) and one touchdown. He will end up being the league's best deep threat in 2012, and he's going to catch upwards of 12-plus touchdowns.
The one thing Jones has going for him that these other two are lacking is his counterpart, Roddy White. In every other way, he's going to prove their equal, and I'm looking forward to watching the Falcons' offense take off in a major way in 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed
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