The Top Five: Best Wide Receivers in the NFL

Bob Cunningham@BCunningham215Senior Analyst IJuly 15, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

A lot of folks will claim that wide receiver is the most overrated position on the field. Not just the players, but the position itself.

They say this because of the success that was had before the wide receiver was even a position on the depth chart. Which, of course, is true.

However in today's NFL, the wide receiver is just as vital to a team's success as any other position on the field. Want proof? Ask a guy like Donovan McNabb about his receivers during his career, then ask guys like Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner.

Vast difference in the caliber of talent, and a difference in the rings. A combined two rings between Manning and Warner, and none for McNabb.

Receivers today must be fast. It's part of the job description now-a-days with cornerbacks getting more and more athletic each year. Guys like Jerry Rice and Cris Carter got away with only decent speed because of their phenomenal route-running.

Today, that may not work so well.

Just ask these guys.

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5. Steve Smith (Carolina Panthers)

85 games started, 509 games started, 7,348 yards, 14.4 YPR, 43 TDs, 42 carries, 273 yards, 2 TDs, 4-time Pro Bowler and 2-time All-Pro

At only 5'9 and 185 pounds, Smith has effectively destroyed the idea that a receiver must be 6'2 in order to be successful.

His speed and leaping ability make him one of the trickiest receivers to cover. Most corners will have a size advantage, but once he leaves his feet his can make himself seven feet tall without really trying.

Even in what was a run-first offense for the Panthers this past season, Smith was able to gain over 1,400 yards on only 78 receptions, an incredible 18.2 yards per reception.

However with only eight, seven, and six touchdowns over the past three years respectively, he doesn't get into the endzone quite enough to be any higher on this list.

4. Randy Moss (New England Patriots)

164 games started, 843 receptions, 13,201 yards, 15.7 YPR, 135 TDs, 25 carries, 159 yards, 6-time Pro Bowler and 4-time All-Pro

Moss came into the league and immediately lit it up.

1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns earned him rookie of the year honors, beating out the great Peyton Manning.

Those numbers of course came off the arm of the great Randall Cunningham. When Cunningham stepped out of the light, he was replaced with Daunte Culpepper who, let's not forget, was very good during his time in Minnesota.

He produced very well in Minnesota, but was unheard of in Oakland, so much so that many people figured his career was over. That was, until the Patriots came calling.

Then, with Tom Brady throwing him the ball, broke Jerry Rice's single-season touchdown record* on the way to helping the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

The point is, Moss only produces when he has a great quarterback throwing to him. Now most will say that the case is the same for any wide receiver. Not true, as I would reference you to Herman Moore.

Moore went to four consecutive Pro Bowls and three consecutive All-Pro teams with the likes of Scott Mitchell and Dave Kreig throwing to him. Also, to stick with the Lions theme, let's not forget Calvin Johnson (foreshadowing alert).

That being said, when Moss is on, he's one of the best in the game.

*Rice set his record in 1987, a strike-shortened 12-game season. He had 22 touchdown receptions in those 12 games. Moss had 23 in 16 games.

3. Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)

26 games started, 126 receptions, 2,087 yards, 16.6 YPR, 16 TDs, 7 carries, 51 yards, 1 TD

It's unbelievable to think that this kid missed the Pro Bowl last year.

In only his second season as a starter, Johnson was able to haul in 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Did I mention that he played on the winless Detroit Lions team?

Through the entire mess that was the record-setting 2008 Detroit Lions, Calvin Johnson was not only a bright-spot of the team, but of the entire league.

Yes, they had to throw a lot because they were always (and I mean always) down almost immediately, but they still needed someone to catch the ducks that the carousel of quarterbacks were throwing wildly into the air.

He was always there to bring it down, and probably saved Dan Orlovsky's career by making him look a whole lot better to the Texans than what he actually is.

It's pretty safe to say that this kid is going to do some spectacular things before his time is over.

2. Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals)

76 games started, 426 receptions, 5,975 yards, 14 YPR, 46 TDs, 3-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro

Up until last year, Fitzgerald may have been the most underrated player in the game, but that is no longer the case.

He put on a show for everyone with his record-setting postseason, showing the country that he can carry a team at the receiver position.

His leaping ability, and his overall ability to get the ball at its highest point is unmatched by any receiver currently in the league, and perhaps ever in the league. Not to mention the fact that he's superb at running after the catch and making guys miss in open space.

The combination of size (6'3 225), speed, leaping ability, agility, and football intelligence make him incredibly dangerous, and a headache for defensive coordinators and defenders alike.

Expect to see this guy in the Pro Bowl year after year after year after year after...

1. Andre Johnson (Houston Texans)

86 games started, 486 receptions, 6,379 yards, 13.1 YPR, 33 TDs, 3-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro

While Larry Fitzgerald has Anquan Boldin to take some pressure off of him, Andre Johnson has always only had average guys across from him.

Guys like Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are fine receivers, but they're not Boldin, and they don't scare a defense like Boldin will.

Also, while Matt Schaub is a good quarterback, he's no Kurt Warner. Not to mention the fact that Johnson has never had Schaub for an entire season and performed at a high level even with first-round bust David Carr throwing the passes.

Apart from 2007 where he missed seven games, Johnson has been able to stay healthy and play at a consistently high level, even without a consistent quarterback.

Johnson is great at catching the ball in traffic, as well as going up and getting the ball at its highest point. In terms of pure strength, he may be the most powerful receiver, which is why he's so good at tearing the ball away from defenders.

Look for this guy to explode this year. Probably somewhere around 110 catches, 1,500 yards, and around 15 touchdowns.

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