Ranking the NFL's 10 Most Explosive Deep Threats

Bruce ChenAnalyst ISeptember 9, 2013

Ranking the NFL's 10 Most Explosive Deep Threats

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    What defines a good "deep threat" wide receiver? 

    Is it a fast 40-yard dash time or how about YAC (Yards-After-Catch)? Maybe we can just chalk it up to how many yards a receiver puts up in any given season

    Like everything else in sports, the definition for the "best" in a given category is murky and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 

    Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears is one of the fastest players in the NFL, yet we don't consider him a good receiver or a "deep threat".

    Obviously, Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions led the league in receiving yards last year, but to simply label Megatron a "deep threat" belittles his talents and accomplishments.

    So the following 10 wideouts will be evaluated on their "deep threat" potential as merited by some combination of the above three criteria, along with route-running and hands. 

Pierre Garcon

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    On paper, Pierre Garcon has everything needed to be a premier deep-threat.

    He can take the top off the defense with legit sub-4.4 40 speed, he has adequate size at 6 feet, 210 pounds and he sported a YAC of 14.4 in his first season with the Washington Redskins. 

    The guy throwing him the ball isn't bad either. Robert Griffin III has one of the more accurate deep balls in the NFL.

    The problem with Garcon? He developed a horrible reputation for bad hands when he was with Indianapolis, often drawing the ire of Peyton Manning for being unable to catch perfectly thrown balls. 

    He also has had injury problems. He played just 10 games last season, many of them on a bad toe, which is kind of important given that speed is his best asset. 

    That said, Garcon's speed, size, and route-running will allow him to become one of the NFL's leading deep-threat wideouts. 

Jordy Nelson

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    Jordy Nelson is perhaps the most underrated receiver on this list.

    He's been in Greg Jennings' shadow for the last couple of seasons and even with Jennings now in Minnesota, everyone is anointing Randall Cobb as the man in Green Bay.

    The 6'3'', 215-pound Nelson doesn't get enough credit for being the deep threat for one of the best offenses in the league.

    In his last full healthy season, Nelson compiled a whopping 15 touchdowns with a 18.6 YAC in 2011.

    You can guess what happened next. The 2012 season was an injury-bug year for Nelson, who he missed six games and caught just seven touchdowns.

    With Jennings gone in Green Bay, Nelson has a chance to become the true No. 1 receiver for the best quarterback in the league. He's big, a great route-runner and has amazing hands. 

Demaryius Thomas

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    Size, speed, and Peyton Manning throwing you the ball is the perfect recipe for some huge numbers and a very explosive deep threat.

    Demaryius Thomas caught 10 touchdowns last season with 1,434 receiving yards on countless Manning bombs. He's No. 10 on the YAC list with 15.9, but his 6'3'', 229-pound frame could call for a climb on that list.

    He's the best deep threat and top wideout on potentially the best offense in the AFC, maybe the NFL. Thomas only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be. 

Rob Gronkowski

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    Gronk's numbers speak for themselves. He's scored 38 touchdowns in three seasons with the New England Patriots and sports a YAC identical to Pierre Garcon's at 14.4 for 2012. 

    In 2011, or his last full season healthy, Rob Gronkowski averaged 82.9 yards per game. That's good for sixth overall in the league, and he's not even a wide receiver. 

    The fact that he's a tight end only makes Gronkowski's gaudy numbers even more impressive. 

    Like Garcon, injuries are his problem. He missed five games last year and had multiple surgeries in the offseason. If he can stay right, he could be the most dominant pass-catcher in the NFL. 

Mike Wallace

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    This is a deep-threat list, so Mike Wallace needs to have a place on this list. 

    He ranks fourth on the YAC list at 17.2 and is the true definition of a home run threat. We can talk about 40 yard dash times, but for my money, nobody is more fun to watch in terms of open-field speed than Wallace.

    He doesn't rank higher on this list for a somewhat sub-par 2012, something that didn't deter the Miami Dolphins from giving him a $60 million contract this past offseason. 

    He might tumble down further this list if Ryan Tannehill can't get him the ball, but Wallace figures to be one of the better deep threats in the league for a while. 

DeSean Jackson

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    DeSean Jackson is the fastest guy on this list, bar none. His slight frame and speed kind of relegate him to basically running mostly vertical routes, but that's what matters on this list. 

    There are highs and lows with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver. The biggest highlight probably was his walk-off punt return touchdown during the famous "Miracle at the New Meadowlands". The biggest low for him was definitely when he spiked the ball on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys. 

    Those two plays sum up Jackson pretty well. His speed and vertical playmaking ability can be breathtaking at times. Yet his inability to go over the middle prevents him from ever being a true No.1 wideout.

    But in terms of explosive, deep threat playmaking? There are few better than Jackson. 

Julio Jones

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    Julio Jones is one of the most exciting players in the NFL. The only way to describe him is that he is "a freak". The video is above is solid proof of that.

    Being a 6'3'', 220-pound receiver with great hands and route-running ability potentially makes you an NFL receiver, perhaps a No.1 receiver.

    Give him a 40-yard dash time of around 4.5 or 4.6, and he's a late first-round pick. Give him a 40 time of 4.35 and he could be a top-10 pick. 

    If you had told me his 40 time was 4.35 while running on a broken foot? Then you have the freak known as Julio Jones, and a good reason why the Atlanta Falcons traded so many picks just to move up in the first round to get him.

    The Falcons' offense was always good before Jones with the likes of Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, but the presence of an explosive deep threat like Jones has revived Gonzalez's career. For how good Gonzo is, you'd be kidding to not think that the guy is the beneficiary of safety help shifting over to Jones, and the same goes for White.

    In addition, Matt Ryan has evolved into one of the game's best quarterbacks with Jones in Atlanta.

AJ Green

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    Given that they were drafted two spots apart, we'll always be comparing Julio Jones and A.J. Green.

    The first rookie receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin, Green ranks ever so slightly ahead of Jones and everyone else for his route-running.

    He's slower than Jones, but nobody understands how to get open better than Green, and his otherworldly limbs and hands give him a ridiculous catch radius that Andy Dalton loves taking advantage of in the Bengals' passing game. 

    Numbers don't lie. Green had six games of 100 yards receiving or more last year. He's the king of consistency, hands, and route-running. 

    He doesn't just go deep because the Cincinnati Bengals need him all over the field, but the 6'4'' Green is more capable than just about anyone on this list of catching the long ball. 

Vincent Jackson

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    Vincent Jackson defines "deep threat". He's 6'5'', 230 pounds, runs like a gazelle and has unbelievable hands. 

    Yet, he isn't No. 1 on this list. V-Jax has an odd tendency to disappear in certain games despite his size and ability.

    But from 2005 to 2012, V-Jax has been the second in the YAC category with 17.8 yards after the catch. It helps that he played with the trigger-happy Philip Rivers and is now with the big-armed Josh Freeman in Tampa.

    He is the rare case of a big-money free agent signing actually working out. He produced 1,384 receiving yards and eight touchdowns while transforming the Buccaneers' offense. 

    It's no secret that the arrival of Jackson coincided with Freeman having his first 4,000-yard season, by far his best.

    Since the departure of Jackson from San Diego, Rivers has endured a huge fall from grace, as the San Diego Chargers' offense is a shell of what it used to be. 

Calvin Johnson

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    I actually toyed with the idea of not having Megatron at No.1. Then I realized how stupid it would be to not place him at the top of any wide receiver list. 

    On one hand, Calvin Johnson isn't really used exclusively as a deep threat for the Lions, who get him involved in any way possible in their offense with a variety of short, intermediate throws in addition to any bombs from Matthew Stafford.

    On the other hand, nobody is more effective when they do decide to throw it deep. PFF provides a free sample of their Signature Stats, and in the category of "Deep Passes", Johnson ranked No.1 and hauled in 21 of 23 possible "deep balls" while piling up 652 yards. 

    Megatron is simply the best.