With an abundance of youth and talent at the wide receiver position, certain players will further emerge as exceptional talents this fall.
This list shows which five wide receivers are ready to become elite in 2012 and join the upper echelon of receivers. The game is getting younger, but talent is not diminishing whatsoever.
Don't get confused here: 2011 was no fluke for Jordy Nelson in a pass-happy offense.
Donald Driver is a Packers legend, but he is aging very quickly. Randall Cobb is explosive but still needs to develop. Greg Jennings is the Pro Bowler and big name, but Nelson might be the most important receiver on the field in 2012 for Green Bay.
Nelson recorded 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. While Calvin Johnson was receiving all of the national spotlight, and deservedly so, he only had one more touchdown than Nelson.
Nelson only recorded 68 receptions last season but averaged a fantastic 18.6 yards per reception. He has clearly proven how valuable he can be and will see an increase of passes thrown his way.
If Nelson was able to score 15 touchdowns with only 68 receptions, imagine what he can do with, say, 85 catches. In a pass-heavy offense, it is not out of the question that Nelson tops what he did last year. He may be slightly under the radar, but this phase won't last for long. Nelson is the real deal and ready to explode in 2012.
The aerial attack in Atlanta has long been Roddy White's show, but Julio Jones is on the verge of becoming the dynamic threat.
In 13 games as a rookie, Jones had 959 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, averaging a stellar 17.8 yards per reception. The running back is becoming less relevant in Atlanta, as Michael Turner is starting to wear down and Matt Ryan continues to develop as a quarterback. This should lead to the Falcons passing more often in the 2012 season.
White is the clear possession receiver, with two straight seasons with more than 100 receptions. Jones, however, is the clear deep-ball threat who has the potential to score on any given play.
Jones had a solid training camp and impressed in his limited preseason opportunities. He has a year of experience under his belt and is developing into a human highlight reel. As long as Ryan keeps throwing his way, Jones will emerge from White's shadow.
Antonio Brown did make the Pro Bowl as a returner last year, but he may be headed back in a different role this year.
Brown had a whole summer to be Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target as Mike Wallace held out. Sure, Wallace will contribute when he plays on Sundays, but a whole summer of uninterrupted chemistry between the quarterback and receiver may be too much to overlook.
Brown recorded 69 receptions for 1,108 yards and two scores in 2011. He has had plenty of time to continue to develop and has looked sharp this preseason.
In a Steeler offense without its top running back, the passing game should benefit. Brown is a touchdown threat and simply explodes downfield to make plays.
Since Roethlisberger has confidence in Brown going into the year, it should lead the receiver to put forth an over-the-top performance in 2012. He should be able to find the end zone a lot more often than he did last year and become truly elite.
Though Demaryius Thomas is receiving a lot of hype due to the arrival of Peyton Manning, it will be Eric Decker who takes center stage this season.
With Tim Tebow as his quarterback in 2011, Decker recorded 44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. With a Hall of Fame quarterback under center, Decker will break out and provide elite production for the Broncos.
Decker and Manning began working out together in the offseason—something Manning has done with his receivers in Indianapolis for years. And just look at how productive Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were in their time playing with Manning.
Manning will get the ball out of his hands quickly, which will give Decker many passes thrown his way. With the chemistry demonstrated throughout the preseason, the potential of this duo is very high.
Decker will have a load of catches and can attack defenses downfield. His versatility and precise route running will make him the favorite target of Manning, allowing him to top the solid year he had in 2011 and become elite.
Anquan Boldin is still a solid pass-catcher, but he is no longer the player he once was in Arizona.
Torrey Smith will become elite in 2012 in large part because it is a contract year for his quarterback, Joe Flacco. Flacco will want to show Baltimore how much he is worth, and Smith can help him out.
As a rookie in 2011, Smith recorded 58 receptions for 841 yards and seven scores. He tended to record his numbers in bunches, but should be ready to be consistently productive over the course of the 2012 NFL season.
Smith had two games of more than 150 yards last year, showing his big-play ability. As a sophomore, he has experience and knowledge under his belt, and should be the go-to receiver.
Boldin's role as the No. 1 receiver is starting to fade. Smith is a 23-year-old player with a lot of speed and potential. He's poised to turn his talents into steady production for Baltimore. Smith will become the clear No. 1 target in Baltimore, making himself a household name in the process.