As July approaches, teams are gearing up for training camp and the 2010 season. Questions of who will make the cut are on the minds of coaches, players, and fans alike.
So while the offseason continues, let's see who makes the cut to get on the list of top 10 wide receivers in the AFC.
The Young Bucks:
Mike Wallace—Pittsburgh Steelers: 756 yards and six touchdowns on 39 catches in 2009.
Mike Sims-Walker—Jacksonville Jaguars: 869 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 catches in 2009.
Kenny Britt—Tennessee Titans: 701 yards and three touchdowns on 42 catches in 2009.
The man formerly known as Chad Johnson still has the goods judging by his 2009 performance.
His schizophrenic play over the course of the last several years has him bringing up the rear in terms of the top 10 receivers in the AFC, and would have put him in the honorable mention category if highbred tight end/receivers were added into the equation.
In terms of production NO. 85 pulled in 72 receptions for 1,047 yards in 2009. While he may not be the 100 catch, 1,500 yard a season guy he once was, Ochocinco still found a way to put on his one-man circus act in the end-zone nine times last season. Say what you will, but putting enough points on the board to be tied for fifth in the AFC in touchdowns gets your name mentioned in a list of top 10 receivers.
Off the field issues and injuries have plagued the Bengals in recent years. For the first time in what seems like a decade the Bengals are coming into the season healthy, and having had a great off-season.
The addition of a running game in 2009 with Cedric Benson forced teams to stay home and defend the run. This opened up the passing game and Ochocinco reaped the benefits.
The death of teammate Chris Henry has seemed to have a sobering effect on the team. Having had a great draft, adding some key pieces in the off-season, the Bengals have a chance to navigate through the tough AFC North with a winning record once again in 2010, and the athlete formerly known as Chad Johnson would be a major part of that.
Vincent Jackson emerged as the leading receiver in San Diego last season with 1,167 yards (tied for sixth), and was elected to his first Pro Bowl in the process.
Jackson made the most of his 68 receptions (15th) by scoring nine touchdowns (tied for fifth) and averaging 77.8 yards per game (sixth).
Perhaps his most outstanding stat in 2009 was his 85.3 first down percentage. His ability to move the chains was a league best for any player with a minimum of 20 catches.
The three-time Pro Bowler is entering his first season in the AFC, and promises to pick up where he left off in the NFC with the Cardinals.
Despite several major injuries in the last few seasons, Boldin became the fifth-fastest player to reach 7,000 yards receiving in a career in 2009.
Missing time brought his numbers down slightly, but Boldin managed 84 receptions (fifth in NFC) for 1,024 yards (11th NFC) and four touchdowns.
Running back Ray Rice led the Ravens in receptions last season with 78, but with the emergence of Rice as a runner, Boldin and Derrick Mason should form a formidable one-two punch for Baltimore.
His addition to the Raven’s 18th ranked passing offense will make a big difference for Joe Flacco and company in 2010.
Santonio Holmes is another player with incredible athletic ability and potential that perhaps loves his extracurricular lifestyle more than his career.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Holmes in the first round of the 2006 draft out of Ohio State. Since then, Holmes has gradually progressed into one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the league.
Holmes combines soft hands with great speed and the superb ability to control his body under the most difficult circumstances. His corner of the end zone catch in Super Bowl 43 earned him a Super Bowl MVP award.
Holmes had 79 receptions (eighth) for 1,248 yards (fifth) and five touchdowns during the 2009 campaign.
Continual off the field issues, including domestic violence and drug use, prompted the Steelers to trade Holmes to the New York Jets for a fifth round pick in the midst of a four game suspension to start the 2010 season.
If Holmes can manage to right the ship off the field, he will undoubtedly prove to be a steal for a fifth round pick as he climbs this list and becomes a Pro Bowl player sooner rather than later.
If there was ever a player that embodied the mentality of a city and a team, Hines Ward is that player.
The toughest receiver in the game, Ward is an extra offensive lineman on the outside in terms of run blocking and is consistently among the top 10 receivers in every statistical category.
Ward finished the 2009 season with 95 receptions (sixth) for 1,167 yards (sixth) and six touchdowns (T13th). Ward’s consistent productivity (72.9 yards/game) has led to new heights in the Steelers passing game despite the lack of running production.
The sure-handed Ward is known for his ability to move the chains in key situations, but his 15 plays for 20 plus yards (tie for seventh) and four plays of 40 plus yards (tie for sixth) tell the story of his veteran ability to run the vertical post in traffic.
With the suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first four to six games of the 2010 season and the trade of Santonio Holmes (Jets), Ward will undoubtedly be the focal point of the passing game early on this season.
Wes Welker is by all accounts one of the best receivers in the NFL.
While he is not the explosive touchdown machine that his teammate Randy Moss is, Welker is just as much of a game changer. He does all the little things right that keeps the New England offense on the field.
Welker led the league in receptions (123) and was second behind only Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans in yards (1,348) and yards per game (96.3).
His understated quickness and versatility allow him to lineup anywhere on the field in order to create mismatches and chew up tough yards over the middle and on third downs.
If not for his lack of touchdowns and the season-ending knee injury that he will be coming off of, Welker could have been ranked even higher because of his overall production.
There is no player in the AFC, or the NFL for that matter, with more physical upside. At 6’4”, 230 pounds, Marshall is as big as he is fast.
Marshall is known around the NFL as the hardest receiver in the league to bring down one-on-one, and has led the league in yards gained after first contact since 2006.
With 101 receptions (tied for second) for 1,120 yards (ninth), and 10 touchdowns (tied for second) in 2009 he became the fifth player in NFL history to have 100 receptions in three consecutive seasons.
Yet for every dynamic thing he brings to the field physically, there are just as many questions about his attitude and mental capabilities.
No one really knows if he is going to be the NFL’s version of Ron Artest, or if the shaky beginning to Josh McDaniel’s coaching career in Denver was just too much for him to handle.
With new surroundings in Miami after the offseason trade that sent two second round picks to Denver, Marshall has the opportunity to start fresh and continue his dominance.
With Ronnie Brown and Chad Henne getting healthy coming into training camp, Miami could turn some heads offensively this season with Marshall on the outside.
Now that he is completely out of Marvin Harrison’s shadow, the No. 1 receiver role suits Wayne extremely well.
Then again playing in a wide-open offense on a team that has the capability to have three to four 1,000-yard receivers doesn’t hurt either.
Wayne made his fourth consecutive AFC Pro Bowl team in 2009, and is consistently among the league leaders in touchdowns (tied for second with 10), yards (tied for third—1,264), receptions (fourth—100), and yards per game (tied for third—79.0).
Wayne’s ability to draw the double-team and stretch the field opens up the Indianapolis offense for Peyton Manning to make use of tight end Dallas Clark and his two young weapons in Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon.
Wayne may be the most consistent performer at the position since 2005. Even when playing second fiddle to Harrison part of the time, Wayne managed to average 91 catches and 1,256.8 yards a season.
Like old faithful, Randy Moss can be counted on to spring up season after season regardless of age or the team he plays for.
Once again Moss was in the top 10 in yards (third—1,264), touchdowns (first—13), yards per game (tied for third—79.0) and receptions (seventh—83) in 2009.
Moss pound for pound may still be the best wideout in the game. His instincts and intangibles are what allow him to be great even as he ages. The game will never pass him by, and mentally and physically he is still performing at a high level.
He will be playing for the final contract of his career this season. While the Patriots are not likely to pay him top dollar or give him anything longer than a three-year contract, other teams in the league will if he proves he still has what it takes.
2010 will be a league-wide audition for Moss, and his pride won’t allow him to be seen as anything less than a top five receiver statistically or in terms of ability when it’s time to sign the dotted line at the end of the 2010 season. Look for him to pick up where he left off in 2009.
Andre Johnson has become the premier wide receiver in the game today, and certainly the No. 1 receiver in the AFC.
He has led the NFL in receiving yards the last two seasons, including 1,569 yards last season. Johnson pulled in 221 yards more than anyone else in the league while averaging 98.1 yards per game in 2009.
Perhaps the most eye popping stat Johnson has to his credit is a league leading 22 plays of 20 yards or more. Johnson further solidified his deep-threat capabilities by notching nine plays of 40 or more yards, second only to Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson.
All of these stats are worthless if you don’t put the ball in the end zone, but Johnson is as much a finisher as he is a catalyst. His nine touchdown catches were the third-highest tally in the AFC.
At 28, Johnson is in the prime of his career. With another year of experience under his belt, and a team built to pass the ball, the possibility of Johnson having another league-leading season in 2010 is not hard to imagine.