Stacking Up the Top 10 NFL Wide Receivers
In the new pass-happy, offensively oriented modern NFL, we have seen a new emphasis on the pass-catching skill positions like never before.
For the past couple of seasons, we have seen an increasing number of wide receivers take shots at all-time records (like Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson this year with yards and touchdowns), as the NFL's new quarterback and receiver protections take their toll on the defensive aspect of football.
This run-and-gun age of football has given rise to a new generation of talented young wideouts who join some of the remaining top veterans as the best receivers in football.
Here's a look at the NFL's top 10 wide receivers
10. Steve Smith (CAR)
Steve Smith is currently experiencing a career revival down in Carolina with sensational rookie Cam Newton under center.
During the dark years of Jake Delhomme's career, Smith practically fell off the map with 982 and 554 yards from 2009-10.
In spite of those down years, thanks to Cam Newton, we are once again seeing what Smith is capable of. He is averaging 18 yards per catch, and has already gone well over 1,200 yards in 15 games during this 2011 season.
The most prolific receiver in Carolina Panthers history became the NFL's 35th player to ever record 10,000 career receiving yards.
His 404 yards in the 2003 postseason rank only behind Jerry Rice's 409 in 1988 and Larry Fitzgerald's 420 in 2008.
This four time pro-bowler has plenty left in his tank
9. Brandon Marshall
Since joining the Miami Dolphins last season, his talk has subsided but his play has not.
Since joining the NFL in 2006, Marshall has failed to record 1,000 yards only one time, and that was his 20-catch rookie season. He currently sits at 6,054 career receiving yards just six seasons into what is sure to be an extremely memorable NFL career.
From 2007-09 he recorded three straight 100-catch seasons.
Marshall is an incredible threat at any level of the football field. He can kill defenders out of the slot or going deep, and his enormous 6'4'' frame gives him an advantage over smaller corners. He throws his 230 pounds around as well, and former AFC West rival Brandon Flowers once even called Marshall a "defensive lineman playing wide receiver."
8. Wes Welker
It could be argued that Wes Welker doesn't belong in the top 10. It could also be argued that he actually belongs much higher in the top 10.
This all depends on how much you think Tom Brady affects the level of play for his receivers.
Brady is a terrific quarterback, but Welker is no ordinary receiver.
A slot receiver in both physical stature and skill set, Welker has gone above and beyond what anyone could have ever expected from the undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech.
With three consecutive 110-reception seasons, he is the only receiver in NFL history with at least 110 receptions in any three years. He caught 500 balls in his first 70 games with the New England Patriots, an NFL record.
Since joining the New England Patriots in 2007, Welker leads the NFL in receptions and is in the top-five for overall receiving yards.
Granted, he is clearly Tom Brady's favorite target, but it takes more than a great quarterback. The speedy Welker can get open at will and is fast enough to take it deep after the catch.
7. Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace is arguably the fastest wide receiver in the NFL, and definitely in the top-five overall players in terms of pure speed.
Wallace doesn't need to have fantastic route-running skills. He just needs to streak out wide and wait for Ben Roethlisberger to loft one over to him. He burns defensive backs frequently, making him a coverage nightmare. His speed makes him nearly impossible to overthrow.
He has quickly helped Pittsburgh Steelers fans forget the loss of former Super-Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes with his terrific production. He has 24 receiving touchdowns and 3,047 yards for his career with three games remaining in his third NFL season.
Wallace is averaging an astounding 18.9 yards per catch over his three seasons, including an NFL top-five 16.7 for the 2011 season.
After having done so much in such a short time, it is clear Wallace has nowhere to go but up.
6. Hakeem Nicks
One of the youngest receivers on this list, only completing his third NFL season, Hakeem Nicks has already developed into a prolific threat.
After posting solid rookie numbers on limited snaps, he had a sensational sophomore campaign, going over the 1,000-yard milestone and catching 11 touchdowns.
Nicks is neither the tallest nor the fastest of wide receivers. However, he is deceptively strong, and able to beat press coverage with ease as he uses his superior weight and strength on defensive backs.
He is also a terrific route runner, and has developed a very fast chemistry with Eli Manning, which has shown in his ability to be right where Manning puts the ball when he is targeted. This has led to many of his touchdowns.
Most impressively of all, Nicks' hands measure an area of 10.5 inches. To put that number in perspective: Jason Smith and Andre Smith (both offensive linemen), have hands measuring 9.75 inches, despite them both being 2-3 inches taller than Nicks and outweighing him by 100-plus pounds.
In his hand, a football looks more like a baseball.
5. Roddy White
Roddy White is quietly one of the NFL's most prolific pass catchers. From 2007-10, he led the NFL in receiving yards with 5,158, making up the bulk of his 7,178 career receiving yards through 2011.
He holds several Falcons franchise records, and is quickly moving with Matt Ryan towards the record books as a quarterback-wide receiver duo. White plays like he is much bigger than his six-foot frame, which works when you have his kind of athletic ability.
The easiest indicator of White's elite status is his three straight Pro-Bowl selections from 2008-10, and he is likely heading for a fourth straight in 2011, having gone over 1,000 yards for the season already.
4. Greg Jennings
When we talk about Greg Jennings, we're talking about a guy who can put the team on his back at will.
All jokes about the YouTube video aside, Jennings is a great veteran who helped Brett Favre to one of his most prolific seasons ever in 2007.
He also has been the No. 1 target of a guy named Aaron Rodgers.
Jennings is averaging 15.9 yards per catch for his career, has already racked up 49 career touchdowns and 6,171 yards since coming to the NFL in 2006.
He is only going to continue to get better and manages to be one of the league's most prolific receivers despite playing in an offense where five receivers are catching a good number of passes per game.
3. Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald became one of the highest paid wide receivers ever this season (eight years, $120 Million), and deservedly so.
He hit the map during Kurt Warner's final magnificent run at a Super Bowl, where he set the all-time record for yards in a single postseason with 420, though he had been an incredible receiver up until that point anyway.
Fitzgerald is currently fourth all time in the NFL for career yards per game with 76, and he has plenty of time to build on that.
With 9,361 career yards and 72 touchdowns, Fitzgerald is one of those receivers who can make any quarterback look good thanks to explosive playmaking ability.
Just ask John Skelton.
2. Andre Johnson
It feels wrong to place Andre Johnson at No. 2 on this list, but injuries as frequent as his cannot be ignored in a game that moves as fast as the NFL.
Johnson is one of the most talented receivers to ever grace the NFL, and narrowly missed becoming the only player to record three straight 1,500 yard seasons. He is currently first all-time in the NFL for career receiving yards per game (80.7), and is a five-time Pro Bowler.
Johnson still has the physical ability for his talent to keep him in top-three conversation, despite missing eight games of the 2011 season with hamstring injuries.
Johnson will retire years from now as one of the most productive receivers of all time,and almost single-handedly turned the Houston Texans into a relevant team during Matt Schaub's breakout seasons.
If not for his penchant for injury, he would likely still top this list.
1. Calvin Johnson Jr.
Calvin Johnson, also known as Megatron, proved in 2011 that he is the standard for NFL wide receivers.
Already well on his way to becoming the best Detroit Lions' wideout ever, Johnson combined with a healthy Matthew Stafford this season to show everyone just what you can do when you are 6'5'', 240 lbs and have a boatload of talent.
Johnson has a ridiculous 42.5 inch vertical leap, which combined with his speed qualifies him as a physical freak. His size allows him to dominate defensive backs, and his speed allows him to break away from them. It becomes pretty difficult for a defensive back to stop a catch when they need a stepladder.
This season he tied an NFL record by recording multiple touchdowns in four straight games, and took the NFL record for most touchdowns through the first four games of the season (8).
At 26 years old, Johnson Jr. has absolutely nowhere to go but up and should dominate the NFL for years to come.