Ranking the 10 Most Intimidating WRs Heading into NFL Week 2
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As we enter Week 2 of the NFL season, Week 1 further endorsed the notion that wide receivers have become the most intimidating players on NFL offenses—sorry, running backs. But who are the most intimidating receivers?
In order to rank such players, I will evaluate them on the methods by which they strike fear into opposing defenses: scoring touchdowns and making big plays.
Also, production history and quarterback play will be determining factors.
What about a sleeper like Demaryius Thomas?
Let's find out. Here are the 10 most intimidating receivers entering Week 2.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com
Honorable Mentions: Jordy Nelson, Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker
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With 100-plus receptions in five of the last six seasons, Wes Welker definitely ranks among the league's most feared wide receivers.
One of the most revered slot receivers in the league, Welker should continue to thrive in Denver with Peyton Manning at the helm.
Often overshadowed by the same Manning during his time in Indianapolis, Reggie Wayne showed last season that his production wasn't merely a product of playing with Manning.
His 106 receptions and 1,355 receiving yards last year were the second-highest of his career.
While Jordy Nelson may not compare to these two in receptions, he certainly trumps this duo in big-play ability.
With a career average of 15.2 yards per catch, highlighted by his 18.6 average in 2011, Nelson's big-play ability isn't matched by too many receivers.
Nonetheless, for all their acclaim, this threesome falls just short of making the list. For all the receptions Welker and Wayne have accumulated, they haven't caught very many in the end zone.
Wayne only scored five touchdowns last season, trailing Welker by one.
Nelson didn't fare much better in that category last season, as he only had seven. Still, he is only two years removed from his 15 TD campaign in 2011.
What Nelson lacks is consistency. He makes big plays when he gets his hands on the ball, but as his 48 receptions last year attest to, that's not very often.
10. Vincent Jackson
Even with a sub-par quarterback, Jackson's play draws rave reviews from opposing defenders.
As numerous defenders allude to in the above video, Vincent Jackson makes his living on making big plays.
Much like Nelson, Jackson doesn't get his hands on the ball at an elite rate—to the dismay of his fantasy owners, I might add—but he does gain a lot of yardage when he does, evidenced by his 19.2 yards per catch last year.
He's not too bad in the touchdown department either, as he's had at least eight scores in three of his last four seasons.
Still, even with such production, you can't help but feel underwhelmed. With the size and speed Jackson possesses, you'd think he'd have more catches, and certainly more touchdowns with his 6'5" frame.
It appears that what's holding Jackson back is the inconsistent play of his quarterbacks. It was Phillip Rivers in San Diego, and now it's the enigmatic Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay.
As Larry Fitzgerald can tell you, now matter how talented the receiver is, he will always be at the mercy of his quarterback.
So, while Jackson may have the tantalizing talent that warrants a higher ranking, he falls victim to mediocre quarterback play and finds himself as this list's Mr. Irrelevant.
9. DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson's elusiveness and speed make him one of the most intimidating receivers in the NFL.
Yes, this diminutive dynamo has had his share of drops—and alligator arms when going over the middle—but boy can he take the top off a defense.
Furthermore, as the above footage of his walk-off punt return touchdown against the New York Giants indicates, Jackson in open space is as deadly a receiver as there is in the NFL.
Add in the fact that he is now playing in a Chip Kelly offense designed to exploit his talents, and Jackson has to rank as one of the NFL's best big-play threats.
Still, like Vincent Jackson and Nelson, Jackson doesn't register many receptions. Even worse, he hardly ends his big plays in the end zone.
Jackson only caught two touchdowns last year and four in 2011.
Luckily for Jackson, his saving grace is his quarterback.
While Vincent Jackson certainly has DeSean Jackson beat in touchdowns, he doesn't have the better quarterback throwing to him.
Michael Vick may have problems staying healthy, but he doesn't have issues throwing the football.
All the reason to reward DeSean Jackson with the No. 9 spot.
8. Larry Fitzgerald
With a capable quarterback in tow, Fitzgerald can now return to striking fear into defenders.
Once the most intimidating receiver in the game, Fitzgerald fell on hard times after Kurt Warner's retirement.
From Kevin Kolb's health woes to the inability of Arizona's other quarterbacks to throw away from opposing defenses, Fitzgerald fell victim to sporadic quarterback play.
While Carson Palmer certainly isn't Warner, he is an upgrade over Arizona's past cast of characters under center, as Fitzgerald notes in the slide video.
With Palmer tossing Fitzgerald two touchdowns in the opener, he is already halfway to matching his dreadful 2012 total of four scores.
Still, while I expect him to produce more scores, his quarterback situation isn't on par with the remaining receivers.
Palmer's addition may allow him to be more intimidating then the DeSean and Vincent Jackson's of the world, but he still falls short of joining the elite class of intimidators.
7. Demaryius Thomas
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With elite size and speed, Thomas is one of the few receivers who rivals Calvin Johnson from a physical standpoint—for an option offense, Georgia Tech can sure turn out some specimens at receiver, can't they?
Add in Peyton Manning as his quarterback, and Thomas finds himself in position to become the league's most feared receiver.
That is, if he can overcome his inconsistencies.
Yes, he posted 94 catches, 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
But he also turned in some duds.
Most notably being the four-catch, 13-yard performance he turned in against the Baltimore Ravens last year.
Seeing that he recorded five catches, 161 yards and two touchdowns against those same Ravens in the opener, Thomas may be on a path to correct such issues.
Still, to surpass elite receivers like Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson, Thomas will have to make such performances the norm.
6. Victor Cruz
Cruz could be a defenders' worst nightmare, if he had another quarterback.
While Cruz has one of the smallest sample sizes of any receiver listed, he has certainly produced in his brief NFL career.
Catches? Check, he had 86 last year.
Touchdowns? Check, who hasn't seen his salsa.
Big-play ability? Check, take a look at the video above.
Believe it or not, the thing keeping Cruz from ranking higher on this list happens to be two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.
While there is no doubting Manning as an elite quarterback, you can doubt whether or not Cruz is indeed Manning's favorite target.
Hakeem Nicks could very well be Manning's favorite receiver. He garnered more targets than Cruz in 2011, and although Cruz received more targets in 2012, that was due to Nicks missing significant time due to injury.
With Cruz not being the undisputed top receiver on his team, he has no choice but to be content with the No. 6 spot
5. Julio Jones
Couple 19 touchdowns in 20 career games with a propensity to make big plays and what you have is one Julio Jones.
As his NFL peers note in the above video, Jones has all the requisite skills to make defenders shiver.
But akin to Cruz, we again have another productive receiver who plays in a teammate's shadow.
Even though Jones' big-play ability is on par with Calvin Johnson and fellow 2011 draftee A.J. Green, with Roddy White garnering more of Matt Ryan's throws, Jones falls short of joining them at the top of this list.
While Jones' numbers are eerily similar to Cruz's—and in some cases, less than Cruz's—what gives Jones the ultimate edge is the quarterback.
Although, Manning put up better numbers than Ryan in the opener, history tells us that Atlanta has the more proficient aerial attack—courtesy of Ryan's lower interception rate.
This gives Jones, albeit by a hair, the nod over Cruz for the No. 5 spot.
4. Dez Bryant
With 12 touchdowns and 1,382 yards, Dez Bryant finally arrived last year.
So much so that many have pondered if he could be the most feared receiver in the NFL this season, like the NFL AM crew in the above video.
While he didn't have a season-opening performance that would intimidate many, his nose for the end zone has to be giving Andy Reid nightmares as he prepares his Kansas City Chiefs to play Dallas on Saturday.
Yes, his numbers don't differ much from Cruz and Jones, two players he has surpassed in these rankings, but his role in the offense does.
In being Tony Romo's favorite receiver, defenders have to fear that Bryant will expose them at some point, as he is sure to garner a lot of looks from Romo.
Still, while he tops that duo in targets, he doesn't match up with A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall or Calvin Johnson in terms of production.
Leaving Bryant glued to the No. 4 position.
3. A.J. Green
Now that we have reached the top three players on the list, it's time to split hairs in order to separate the cream of the crop.
While he's produced and made big plays—as his 97 receptions and 11 touchdowns last year indicated—A.J. Green has done so despite not having an elite quarterback throwing him the football.
Even without having a top-flight quarterback, his production history is just enough for Green to beat out Bryant for the No. 3 spot.
2. Brandon Marshall
While not known for speed, Marshall has mastered the acrobatic catch.
To no one's surprise, Brandon Marshall is the NFL's second most intimidating receiver.
Why you ask? Just look at him. A spitting image of Terrell Owens in his prime, Marshall isn't going to beat you over the top.
Instead, he'll take the short and intermediate routes and punish defenders with one of his patented stiff arms in route to the end zone, as shown in the above highlight tape.
While he doesn't have the best quarterback, with the fact that Jay Cutler will throw to Marshall in any coverage, defenders must fear that at any time they can fall victim to a big play from Marshall.
It's no shame in falling short to Megatron, but if Marshall does have a gripe, he should blame his lack of breakaway speed.
As I already mentioned, Marshall is more than likely to plow through defenders than run past them.
Because of this, there generally isn't a reason to fear Marshall on deep routes—an aspect that contrasts with Johnson's game.
1. Calvin Johnson
From making big plays to scoring on triple coverage, there isn't much Megatron can't do.
He's got the quarterback. Matthew Stafford already has a 5,000 yard season passing.
Production, you ask? He only set the record for receiving yards in a season with 1,964 yards last year.
Oh, and he also has 33 touchdowns the past three seasons.
The only saving grace for coordinators and defensive backs appears to be referees overturning—wrongfully, I might add—Megatron's touchdown receptions.
Speaking of touchdowns, it was the lone criteria in which Marshall and Green could take Johnson on, if you're looking at last year anyway.
Then you think about it. What do you fear more? A receiver who scores 11 touchdowns, like Green and Marshall, or, a player who can score a touchdown in triple coverage, like Johnson did in the above video?
Seeing that Johnson has claimed the top spot, it's clear that the answer here is the latter.