Ranking and Analyzing the 10 Best Wide Receiving Corps in the NFL
Lazy Journalism is a serious disease.
It affects a vast number of writers who claim the title of journalists across the whole world. In reality these people are not journalists, more often than not they are casual fans who don't know what the meaning of the word research is or just want to inflate their own ego by promoting their own team.
Lazy Journalism is often found in ranking lists. Ranking wide receiver corps is an easy place to simply pick the best quarterbacks in the league and go from there...
Well now that the rant's over, I guess I'll find out if anyone actually reads these introductory slides.
Hmmm how long until someone calls me out for being a lazy journalist in the comment section below? I'll take comment seven.
Here are the 10 best wide receiving corps in the league.
10. Denver Broncos
Receivers: Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, Jabarr Gaffney, Demaryius Thomas.
I'm struggling to believe that I'm writing this myself. This Bronco receiving corp is like the no-name offense. You may not like it but there is no denying their production.
Brandon Lloyd's breakout season has undoubtedly elevated this group's reputation. Lloyd had always been a reliable receiver in the NFL until last season. His journeyman career in the league eventually landed him in the right system to take advantage of his skills.
Llyod is a good route runner with solid but not overwhelming quickness and speed. His consistency catching the ball when it is thrown in his direction is what made him a star last season. Lloyd had almost 1,500 yards last season and averaged 18.8 yards per reception. Usually players with such a high average will have a handful of receptions of 50+ yards. Lloyd went over 50 yards once during last season.
He is an odd type of receiver in that he is a possession guy that repeatedly catches the ball down the field. He doesn't hit home runs but he does take chunks of yardage with almost every reception.
Lloyd and Gaffney before this past season were those type of receivers who would always have found a job in the NFL without ever setting the league alight. Last season that changed for both players. Lloyd stole the headlines but Gaffney and Eddie Royal expertly complemented each other within the Broncos' offense.
Each of the three are similar but they are all so well-rounded that their limitations do not show. Royal is the only specialist of the group as he excels as a possession receiver in the slot. If this group is to take their game to the next level then they need to contribute more touchdowns. Lloyd led the team with 11 but Royal and Gaffney only chipped in with five.
The injury riddled Demaryius Thomas could push this receiving corp over the top. Thomas is not a technically sound receiver as he cannot run a route tree. However, his physical talents and ability to get down field and win the jump ball against cornerbacks would be exactly what the Broncos are missing.
The uncertain quarterback situation in Denver could cause problems for this unit repeating last year's successes. However at this point, we cannot refuse them their place on the list.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
Receivers: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper.
The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the most talented receivers in the league and I'm not talking about DeSean Jackson. Even though Jackson receives most of the national acclaim coming out of Philadelphia for his high flying and exciting play, the best receiver in Philly is Jeremy Maclin.
Maclin is an outstanding receiver from a technical point of view. He runs great routes and catches the ball well no matter the situation. Maclin led the team in touchdowns last season with 10. He is the perfect complement to Jackson as he works the intermediate and short routes with great expertise.
A former first round pick, Maclin can also beat a defender deep. That is not his role in the Eagles' offense however. He still managed a season-long reception of 83 yards during a monster game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6. Maclin is only entering his third season but has already established himself as an outstanding player in Philadelphia. His combination of size, speed and agility as well as his football IQ should make for a long career in the NFL.
That is not to take away from the talent of the man that plays across from him. DeSean Jackson may at times be overly confident but that confidence comes from his talent. He is the best deep threat in the league averaging 18.3 yards per reception through his three year career. That average peaked last season as he finished with 22.5 yards per reception.
Jackson is a match up nightmare; there is not a cornerback in the league that can stay with him when he streaks down the sidelines. He may need to develop other parts of his game (his career high is just 62 receptions in a single season) but as long as he has that speed he will continue to get into the end zone.
The Eagles need to improve their depth at receiver to get higher on this list. Jason Avant is a reliable player but not explosive enough to move them towards the best receiving groups in the league. If Avant can continue his current level of production and Riley Cooper improves to become the team's third receiver then they will be closer to a top five group. However until that happens this group will go no higher than where they sit.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Receivers: Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, Donte Stallworth (I expect the team to let Housh walk), Torrey Smith.
The Baltimore Ravens were not on this list last season. On paper they had one of the best receiving corps in the league. However their reluctance to use Donte' Stallworth's speed to stretch the field meant their receivers didn't complement each other. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason were too similar in style while TJ Houshmandzadeh is simply slow and past his prime.
The addition of Torrey Smith has changed all that. Smith arrives with the reputation as a burner from Maryland. The Ravens will have a downfield threat next season whether it be Smith or Stallworth. This is exactly what they need for the continuity of their offense.
Without a player to force safety help, interceptions, such as Ryan Clark's in the playoffs, would never have happened. A deep threat to take the top off the defense is a vital piece of any offense. The Ravens realized that and added one in the draft.
Those players will open up space for Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.
I have always looked at Boldin like a younger, more physical version of Mason. Boldin has amazing upper body strength which makes him resemble a running back more than a receiver. His tough-nosed style of play perfectly fits the Ravens offensive identity.
Mason may not have the big play potential that Boldin carries with the ball in his hands but his consistency catching the football has made him one of the best possession receivers in the league. For a long time Mason had to carry the load essentially on his own in Baltimore but now as age begins to take its toll on the receiver he is a great complementary piece of one of the best offenses in the league.
If the Ravens start to use more four wide receiver formations next season then the opposition would be in a perilous position. Donte Stallworth may have become somewhat of a forgotten man but he was once a star receiver for both the Eagles and Patriots while still only being 30 years old.
With Stallworth and Smith looking like the perfect complements to the proven veterans in Boldin and Mason, this receiving corps couldn't be kept off this list.
Depending on how Joe Flacco improves heading into next season, this offense could become one of the most explosive in the whole league as teams try to manage the receivers, Ray Rice and the talent at tight end.
7. Green Bay Packers
Receivers: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb.
I don't expect James Jones to return. He will likely get a big offer from elsewhere.
This group with Jones was much higher on this list entering last season. However without Jones and another year added to the tires of Donald Driver has hurt. The addition of Randall Cobb will make or break this unit this year and he should fit well. However nothing is certain when adding new pieces to a championship puzzle.
Greg Jennings was recently ranked as the 14th best receiver in the NFL by NFL Network's list of Top 100 players (partially decided by the players). That is l-u-d-i-c-r-o-u-s. I can name you Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Roddy White off the top of my head who are the only receivers that are better than Jennings.
Jennings does it all. He is built like a running back with the speed of a deep threat. His hands are outstanding and he can run every route. Technically he is sound and statistically he is up there with the best: over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Obviously the Packers don't run through a focal point as Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around, which only makes Jennings statistics even more impressive.
Donald Driver was once a feared receiver across the whole league. Last season however was his first season in seven years without eclipsing 1,000 yards. Driver has noticeably slowed down which shouldn't be taken as a knock against him. He is 36 years old and should be commended for his continued quality play this late in his career.
However he is no longer a legitimate number two receiver heading into this season. Driver is a brash receiver that relied on his physical prowess to play his game. He is similar to Jennings except that he doesn't have the as good technique. He may be relegated to the team's third choice receiver next season.
Jordy Nelson will likely be the man that steps into that role. Nelson was impressive as a third choice receiver for the team but remains unproven as a starter. He has soft hands and the ability to shake defenders but won't consistently hit home runs or take big chunks away from the defense.
Nelson is definitely a serviceable receiver but Aaron Rodgers will be delighted to see Jermichael Finley return next season as he will serve as a huge piece of the offense.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Receivers: Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, Blair White.
Realistically Peyton Manning could probably take a guy off the street and make him look like an NFL receiv...oh wait he already has: Blair White.
Obviously Peyton Manning makes the Colts' offense tick, however the talent of their receiving corp is outstanding when fully healthy. The Colts have four legitimate starters on their roster who also complement each other perfectly.
Reggie Wayne is obviously the all-around talent with a possible Hall of Fame bust in his future. Wayne is the best route runner in the league. Defenders cannot stick with him even though he has been doing the same thing for a decade. Wayne is 32 years of age but still had 111 receptions and 1,355 yards last year.
His play was made even more impressive by the fact that he and Pierre Garcon were the only healthy starters at the skill positions for the majority of the season. Wayne is a clutch receiver that can overcome double teams or find the soft spot in zones at ease. He is easily one of the best receivers in the league.
Garcon has played across from Wayne predominantly since the start of last season. He is a player that has struggled with drops but can make spectacular plays and make defenders miss with the ball in his hands. Garcon is still a young receiver who could break out heading into his third season. His shiftiness in the open field will always make him a valuable commodity to the Colts either way.
While Garcon struggles with drops, the Colts have the perfect player to pick up where he leaves off. Austin Collie is a fearless possession receiver whose willingness to make the tough catch over the middle may shorten his career. He went out last season because of concussions but has shown in only 11 starts that he is going to be a star in the league if healthy.
Collie catches the ball naturally and can repeatedly lose defenders in man coverage or find the soft spot in a zone. He is stronger than he looks but is never going to overpower defenders. Collie is similar to Steve Smith of the Giants, but with less explosion and even safer hands.
The forgotten man on this receiving corp is Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has essentially not played over the past two seasons. His five receptions this year are the only ones he has had during two injury-riddled seasons.
Nonetheless Gonzalez entered this league as a first round pick for a good reason. His physical gifts are overwhelming. During his short time on the field for the Colts, Gonzalez played a lot bigger than he is listed (6'/193 lbs.). His large wingspan was complemented by his long stride that allowed him to make plays down the field. He was never going to be a possession receiver for the Colts but while he did manage to get on the field he thrived on picking up chunks of yardage to help his team.
The only issue the Colts' offense faces is injuries. With a clean bill of health, this is the second most talented offense in the league. However, their reliance on Dallas Clark and Peyton Manning opposed to the quality of their receivers keeps them out of the top five.
The fact that this team still made the playoffs without a healthy receiving corp is telling.
5. Dallas Cowboys
Receivers: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Kevin Ogletree.
There is no doubting that Jason Witten is the Dallas Cowboys' fourth receiver. However, officially he is a tight end and therefore he does not count under this list's parameters. Nonetheless the Cowboys' three big-name receivers get them into the top five...barely.
Miles Austin is probably still the consensus leader of the group but Dez Bryant showed as a rookie that he is the most talented of the trio. Either way, Austin remains a fantastic possession receiver with the ability to find the end-zone repeatedly. In two seasons he has 18 touchdowns despite playing for substantial time without his starting quarterback as well as missing seven starts two years ago.
Austin broke out in 2009 and continued to perform at that level into this season. His physique allows him to play the game aggressively while his ability to out-muscle defenders for position on the football always stands out when you watch him play. Austin is the team's possession receiver and has the reliability and consistency to carry that tag for years to come.
There is a possibility that Roy Williams will be cut from the team as his inconsistency coupled with the team's trust in Sam Hurd or Kevin Ogletree to step up to a more prominent role could make him expendable.
However, Williams still has one good year in him. Should they keep him, he would likely slip down to third choice receiver which would allow him to take advantage of lesser matchups. Williams would be a great option on the jump ball against most nickel corners in the league.
The real gem of this receiving corp is Dez Bryant. Bryant reminds me so much of Terrell Owens, that is the Terrell Owens that played in Philadelphia rather than the Cowboys. It's no surprise that Bryant's ankles have such problems supporting his gigantic frame. His speed and ability to make sharp cuts is what makes him such an amazing return specialist.
He uses this special teams part of his game as a receiver also. Bryant has great hands and routinely catches the ball with his massive hands. Once it is in his hands he is looking to take on all comers. Bryant was fantastic in his rookie season despite a lot of drama in Dallas as well as his own injury issues before the season. If he returns healthy, expect him to rise to the upper echelon of receivers in the league this year.
To be fair to Tony Romo, he doesn't make excuses but he definitely doesn't have any these days.
4. New York Jets
Receivers: Jerricho Cotchery, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith.
When you consider this team also has Dustin Keller, it's frightening how good they could have been if Mark Sanchez was further along in his career. For the purposes of this article I am presuming that each of the receivers return.
There is no doubt that Santonio Holmes is the star of this bunch of receivers. Holmes can do it all and gives the team an explosion that not many players in the league can. His elusiveness and clutch play in Pittsburgh endeared him to the Steelers' fans for years before being traded to the Jets.
Holmes has good size but great movement and adjustment to the ball. He can catch the ball two yards from the line of scrimmage and turn it into a fifty yard gain or streak down the sideline and run under the football for a big gain. Lining up across from Holmes is a terrifying prospect for any corner because you never know what he is going to do.
Braylon Edwards is an enigmatic player. He has struggled with drops throughout his career which can sometimes hinder his team. The thing about Edwards is if he didn't have those drop issues, which appear to be due to concentration rather than anything else, he could be an elite receiver.
Edwards' size and speed make him a matchup nightmare. He is a brilliant jump ball option with the potential to get into the end zone at any point. He is not a first choice receiver because of his lack of consistency but he is a more than viable second choice receiver on a team with four good options.
Jerricho Cotchery is one of the most underused players in the league. Cotchery is a fantastic possession receiver who is ignored in favor of the more explosive Holmes and Edwards by his young quarterback. Sanchez will soon learn that he can rely on Cotchery as much as he can Dustin Keller.
Cotchery is not going to explode into a game and break off a 50+ yard reception but he will consistently hurt you by working the underneath coverage. His consistency catching the football makes him the perfect foil for Holmes and Edwards who stretch the defense.
The most unpredictable part of the Jets whole offense is Brad Smith. It's a stretch to even call Smith a receiver as he plays quarterback, running back as well as kick return ace. Smith's elusiveness in the open field is brilliant and makes him another outstanding playmaker on the Jets offense.
Imagine if the Jets had even had an elite quarterback behind center such as Josh Freeman or Sam Bradford? The potential for what either of those players could have done with those weapons is mouth watering.
3. New York Giants
Receivers: Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, Derek Hagan, Jerrel Jerrigan.
Hakeem Nicks had a breakout season last year despite missing four starts. Nicks broke 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns. He has elite-level talent and will be one of the best receivers in the league this coming season.
Nicks is a receiver that can do it all. He's tall, agile and fast with reliable hands. He is not limited in any form which means complementing him with other receivers isn't a problem. The Giants have two receivers who give them the right mix to catch passes from Eli Manning.
Steve Smith was the team's best receiver last year racking up 107 receptions. Smith went on IR after Week 14 but had excelled in his role to that point. Smith caught four passes in every single game he played excluding the one he got injured in. He recorded nine receptions in a game twice despite only starting seven games.
Smith is a fantastic slot receiver because of his sure hands and quickness. What sets him apart however is his length. Despite being a slot receiver he has a big wingspan and stands at 5'11". When you place Smith on the field with Manningham and Nicks, the opposition defense cannot afford to have any short cornerbacks because each player has a great wingspan.
Manningham is the wild card in the Giants' receiving corp. He has great explosion and a nose for the end zone after scoring nine touchdowns last season. He has the capabilities to adjust to the ball and snatch it from the air as well as beat defenders with the ball in his hands. Manningham is the least consistent of the Giants' leading receivers but has big-play ability.
Manningham averaged 15.7 yards per reception last year and had two receptions greater than 80 yards. His down-field threat was evident all season as he had 11 games with a reception of at least 25 yards.
The Giants' fourth receiver spot for the coming season will fall between last year's fourth choice receiver—Derek Hagan—and this year's third round pick—Jerrel Jerrigan. Jerrigan is the relative unknown for the team as scouts have him listed as a slot receiver while Hagan is solid to the point that he isn't guaranteed to be replaced.
The team has a very good tight end in Kevin Boss—presuming he is re-signed—as well as a good pass catcher coming from the backfield in Ahmad Bradshaw, so the fourth receiver isn't a major issue in the Giants scheme.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Receivers: Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, Antwaan Randle El.
This frightening thing about this group of receivers is how well they complement each other. Mike Wallace is slowly taking over from Hines Ward as the team's first choice receiver even though he still remains one of the most clutch receivers in the league. Ward actually looks like he will the team's third choice receiver this coming season but not because of his own performance...
According to this article, as well as what I believed myself, the Steelers were going to rely heavily on Sanders in the Super Bowl. The reasoning behind this is the reasoning why Sanders is going to be a brilliant NFL receiver next year.
Matching up to the 5'11" receiver is much more difficult than it first appears. Sanders is very fast and agile. He runs excellent routes after being taught by Jeff Reinbold at SMU. He also has extremely soft hands. Sanders' speed makes it very difficult to match up to him because he plays with an even greater speedster in Mike Wallace.
Wallace is entering his third year in the league and firmly established himself as an elite receiver during last season. His route running is surprisingly crisp considering it was looked down on coming out of college. His straight-line speed is easy for all to see but how it has translated to the NFL is astonishing.
He averaged 21 yards per reception last season but has no problem going over the middle or running complex routes to get open. He can adjust to the ball in any situation and has the consistency of a possession receiver when catching the ball. Despite a poor playoff showing, Wallace was a clutch receiver on third down for the Steelers during both of his first two seasons.
The obvious presumption nationwide is that Hines Ward's level of play is dropping off. He is 35 years of age and his numbers have begun to drop off. However any regular watcher of the Steelers will know that this is not the case. Ward's stats have fallen because of the emergence of the players around him.
For years he was the team's only legitimate receiving threat, a team that was always a run-first offense in the first place. Now the emergence of Sanders and, in particular, Wallace has pushed him down the pecking order. Not because of his play but because of their quality. Ward never had much pace to lose and has always been a player that relied on his route running to get open. He remains to this day the team's first option in clutch situations.
Antonio Brown rounds off the team's wide receivers. Brown's emergence during his rookie season mostly came on special teams but his play in limited snaps forced the Steelers to start to use him more often. His clutch play in the playoffs against the Ravens and Jets will be remembered by most but what stands out to me is the fact that he is a spark plug who has no downside in naturally catching the ball.
With Wallace, Sanders and Brown, the Steelers look like they will have the best receiving corp in the league over the coming years while already being one of the best as things stand.
1. New Orleans Saints
Receivers: Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson.
It may come as a surprise to some that the Saints have only four prominent wide receivers. However when you consider that the team had three pass-catching tight ends—Jeremy Shockey, David Thomas and Jimmy Graham—and four running backs—Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Ladell Betts and Julius Jones—with at least 10 receptions, it makes a lot of sense.
This is without even considering Chris Ivory's tough running, which will turn into Mark Ingram's tough running next season, which is why the Saints have the best offense in the NFL. That however is an article for another day.
The Drew Brees policy of throwing to the open receiver and not forcing the pass to his best receivers only works because of the talent that is at the end of his throws. It is not difficult to identify that Marques Colston is the team's best receiver but it is not as glaringly obvious with the Saints as it is on most other teams.
Colston is a perfect fit for the Saints scheme. He can run the complete route tree and has an incredible mixture of size and speed. His agility is outstanding for a player that stands at 6'4". This size and athleticism makes him a legitimate jump ball receiver while also being able to run crisp routes. Colston catches the ball consistently and is a receiver without any major flaws.
Colston is the team's tallest receiver which essentially is the only difference between he and the rest of the receivers on the team. Statistics are not the best way to analyze the Saints because of their willingness to find the open receiver. Colston was the only player to go over 1,000 yards last season and has done so four of his five seasons in the NFL. His only season without reaching that milestone came when he missed nine starts.
Statistically the team's second-best receiver last year was Lance Moore. Moore is a free agent this year but expect the Saints to re-sign him after letting Jeremy Shockey go. Moore is an all-around receiving talent but specializes as a possession receiver. He has the ability to make defenders miss with the ball in his hand which can lead to big gains.
Big gains also come from Devery Henderson. Despite a down year last season Henderson still averages 18.6 yards per reception throughout his career. Henderson's 77-yard touchdown reception in the playoffs reminded the team of his ability, which was lacking throughout the regular season.
Robert Meachem is a receiver that receives little acclaim nationally however he is a third choice receiver that would be an above-average second receiver on most teams. Meachem has reliable hands and runs good routes. Much like Steve Breaston in Arizona, Meachem is just waiting for his opportunity to move up the depth chart and gain the opportunities he needs to succeed.
The consistency and depth that the Saints' receiving corp is what makes Drew Brees philosophy of not favoring any target over another possible.