Divas, show-boaters, lazy, overrated; all characteristics that may apply to a lot of NFL Wide Receivers. But not the players on my list. Let’s review the candidates.
Editor’s Note: This is part five of my journey to determine the one player, at each position, I’d want over all the rest. Still to come: DB and QB. Apologies to the offensive line, special teamers, and fullbacks. It’s not that I don’t appreciate you, it just wouldn’t be much fun to write about you. Sorry.
Remember, contract, age, fantasy value, and whether or not I despise the player will not influence my decision, nor will statistics and popularity. There’s no mathematic formula. Only my humble opinion.
Also, apparently I have confused some folks. (The title probably hasn’t helped. My bad on that one.) I’m not ranking the best players at each position. I’m picking who I’d want on my team. Is Ndamukong Suh the best defensive lineman in the NFL? Not yet. Would I rather have him than anyone else? Yes, Yes I would. Comprende?
The current crop of wide receivers is underwhelming, to say the least. There are plenty of good receivers, but few great ones. Riley Cooper just missed the cut.
Here we go. In reverse order.
5. Reggie Wayne
Product of his quarterback? Please. He’s caught 100+ balls three out of the last four seasons. He hasn’t missed a start in eight years. Since Marvin Harrison turned thug life retired, Wayne has been the most consistent and reliable playmaker for the Colts. I’ll gladly welcome Reggie Wayne to my team, even if he turns 33 in November.
After Dallas Clark went down to injury last season, Wayne was forced to perform against double teams while working with practice squad players around him. And he still managed to terrorize opponents. Wayne reads a defense like a quarterback, always finding the soft spot and settling in until Peyton Manning gets him the ball. His longevity can be attributed to his persistence in avoiding unnecessary hits. Unlike DeSean Jackson, who dives when a defender is still five yards away, Wayne only hits the turf voluntarily when nothing more can be gained. Fewer hits mean longer, healthier seasons. I expect more of the same in 2011.
4. Roddy White
Go outside, tie a friend to your hip and tie another friend to a 30-foot rope that’s connected to your leg. Now, try to create enough space between you and your friends to lead the NFL in receptions. That was Roddy White’s 2010 season. Lacking a true second receiver, combined with the slow decline of Tony Gonzalez, White was forced to carry Atlanta’s aerial attack. With defenses geared to contain him, White amassed 115 receptions (1st in NFL) for nearly 1,400 yards (2nd in NFL) and 10 touchdowns (7th). Is he as good as Reggie Wayne? Maybe not. However, at this stage in his career, I’d prefer the younger, more physical White.
While his on field accomplishments are certainly impressive, I’ll always remember Roddy White as the guy who wore this shirt following the arrest of one Michael Vick. Good times.
3. Calvin Johnson
Charles Rogers. Roy Williams. Mike Williams. It was only a matter of time before the Lions finally found a star receiver. If he were healthy more often, Johnson may already be considered the NFL’s best. Johnson relies more on brute force and athletic ability than precision routes and brains. He’s more similar to a linebacker running down the sideline than a wide receiver. Despite his mammoth size (there’s a reason they call him Megatron), Johnson is fast enough to run past corners and his unbelievable size and leaping ability make any jump ball a no contest. If he ever has the same quarterback for a full season there’s no telling how good he could be. Unfortunately, in Detroit, that’s a very big “if.”
2. Andre Johnson
With all due respect to the player at #1, if I had to win just one game and could pick any receiver I wanted, it would be impossible to pass on Andre Johnson. If you think I’m crazy, go back to last season and watch the tape of his performances against the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens. When Johnson is at the top of his game, opposing defensive backs are helpless. Johnson out-leaps cornerbacks and runs through safeties. More importantly, he shies away from the showboating, laziness, and look-at-me tendencies that plagued some of the game’s best receivers over the last decade. Plus, Johnson isn’t afraid to mix it up. Cortland Finnegan’s head can attest to that.
1. Larry Fitzgerald
I still have nightmares of Larry Fitzgerald galloping through the Eagle defense in the 2009 NFC Championship game. The ghastly sight of Quintin Demps falling over himself as Fitzgerald hauled in the backbreaking flea-flicker still stings. As we all witnessed during that epic playoff run in 2009, Fitzgerald can single handedly change the outcome of a game. And, as we witnessed in 2010, a quarterback carousel headlined by Derek Anderson is all it takes to render the NFL’s most outstanding receiver irrelevant. (By the way, the numbers Fitzgerald put up in 2010 were incredible considering the schleps he had throwing him the ball. I mean, at some point, the Cardinals should have switched their offensive philosophy to 80% Fitzgerald, 20% plays to set up Fitzgerald. In the NFC West, that’s a recipe for a division title.)
The most appealing thing about Fitzgerald is his style. He’s big, he’s athletic, and he’s not afraid of big moments or exposing himself to go after the ball. Like Andre Johnson, he’s quiet and humble, too. Instead of filming reality shows, begging for the ball, or holding out for more money, Fitzgerald goes about his business and does it better than anyone else. His hands are the best I remember since Jerry Rice. His body is Harold Carmichael-esque. If Kevin Kolb is any good, Fitzgerald will light up NFL cornerbacks like it’s the 2009 playoffs all over again.
Miles Austin – I was a huge, huge Miles Austin fan after the 2009 season. (And by fan, I mean, I thought he was going to be a great player. I hate all Cowboys. Don’t forget that. Ever.) Then he came back with a so-so year in 2010. Granted, everything in Dallas was a mess in 2010, so maybe Austin was simply collateral damage. Regardless, I couldn’t put him on the list based on one outstanding season.
[Remember when I listed, “divas, show-boating,” etc… and then boldly said, “not on my list”? Remember that? Well, I was referring to the actual list. Here come the divas…]
DeSean Jackson – As a receiver, Jackson probably doesn’t crack the top 10. But as a playmaker, he’s at the top of the list. Therefore, I had to include him in some capacity. Find me a player that makes defenses shudder more when they see him on the field. You can’t. His speed is unmatched, and, as annoyingly cocky and arrogant as he is, he backs it up with is play. His versatility in the offense cannot be understated, either. Does he need someone to kick him in the rear and remind him he may not even be the best receiver on his own team? Absolutely. Would you gladly welcome him to your team, baggage and all? Of course. Don’t even lie.
Take your pick – I couldn’t decide.
Brandon Marshall; an amazing talent, scary between the ears, though.
Wes Welker; too one-dimensional for my taste. It’d be interesting to see him without Tom Brady.
Dwayne Bowe; NFL’s current version of Chris Carter – all he does is catch touchdowns.
Gregg Jennings, Mike Wallace; speedsters that carried my fantasy teams in 2010, but also disappeared for stretches (especially you, Jennings).