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Grab bag: Game’s best WRs ride first-round pedigree

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Eighteen receivers made NFL Network's "The Top 100: Players of 2011" list, which comes to about half the teams in the league being represented at the position.

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As when I ranked the best quarterbacks and running backs over the last few weeks, the wideouts will be grouped into categories of five and put in alphabetical order. For example, Group A is my top five receivers in alphabetical order, meaning I don't necessarily believe the fifth player named is the fifth best receiver.

Each of the 50 receivers listed either has an (^) for guys on the rise, (>) for players maintaining their status and (v) for those on the decline.

I considered the last two seasons for the majority of the stats below to get a better picture of consistent production.

Group A

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (>): In the past two years, he posted 187 receptions and 19 touchdowns. He had 90 catches this year without Kurt Warner as his quarterback or Anquan Boldin to take pressure off of him.

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2. Andre Johnson, Texans (>): He has 187 receptions and 17 touchdowns the last two seasons.

3. Calvin Johnson, Lions (>): He put up 144 receptions and 17 touchdowns with three different quarterbacks between 2009 and 2010.

4. Reggie Wayne, Colts (>): He has the most receptions over our sample size (211) to go with 16 touchdowns. He also has 892 yards after the catch.

5. Roddy White, Falcons (^): Has 200 receptions and 21 touchdowns.

Group B

1. Miles Austin, Cowboys (^): A major scoring threat and one of only two receivers (Wes Welker) to total 1,000-plus yards after the catch over the past two years.

2. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (^): He has 19 TD receptions in his last 27 games.

3. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (>): He's a big play waiting to happen and one of only two receivers with a 20-yard average the past two seasons. He has 20 total touchdowns over that time.

4. Vincent Jackson, Chargers (>): The holdout hurt his numbers, but he was franchised by the Chargers for a reason.

5. Greg Jennings, Packers (^): He has 144 receptions and 16 touchdowns and is on the verge of exploding now that Aaron Rodgers has become an elite QB.

Group C

1. Marques Colston, Saints (>): He's a matchup nightmare in the perfect offense. He has 154 receptions and 15 touchdowns. He works an inside seam route that can't be stopped.

2. Santonio Holmes, Jets (>): He has the speed to be a threat on every play, but the Steelers let him go for off-the-field issues. He has 131 receptions and 11 touchdowns to go with an average of 15 yards per reception.

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3. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (>): While he's produced 187 receptions and 13 touchdowns, his YAC dropped from 527 yards in 2009 to 238 in 2010.

4. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (^): The sky is the limit for this kid after posting 126 receptions and 17 TDs in his first two seasons.

5. Mike Wallace, Steelers (^): Speed kills, and this guy has plenty of it. His 20.3 yards per catch during our two-season sample size is the best in the NFL.

Group D

1. Anquan Boldin, Ravens (v): Still a tough yards-after-the-catch guy. He has 148 receptions and 11 touchdowns for two different teams the past two seasons.

2. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos (v): Was 2010 a sign of things to come, or is he the guy who caught two touchdowns in the previous four years combined?

3. Steve Smith, Panthers (v): One of the most intense, tough receivers in the game. Staying healthy has been his issue. Probably not in Carolina in 2011 but will help a team like the Raiders or Bears.

4. Wes Welker, Patriots (v): A machine in the slot but drops a few passes on occasion. He still has the second-most receptions over the past two seasons (209) and has 432 catches since 2007.

5. Mike Williams, Bucs (^): He found the end zone 11 times as a rookie. Another year like that, and he would have more receiving touchdowns over two years than any receiver on this list.

Group E

1. Donald Driver, Packers (v): Is just 42 yards away from becoming the all-time receiving yardage leader for the Packers and still has gas in the tank. He finds a way to make a big play when Green Bay needs it most.

2. Santana Moss, Redskins (v): An underrated, shorter receiver who never promotes himself like others do. He had 93 receptions last year and led all receivers in YAC with 505 yards.

3. Terrell Owens, Bengals (v): Say what you want about T.O. and how he has bounced around the league, but he still produces if you can put up with his antics. Between stops in Buffalo and Cincinnati, he has 127 receptions and 14 touchdowns. He can still help a team.

4. Sidney Rice, Vikings (^): If four-year players turn out to be free agents when we have a new CBA, he will be one of the most in demand. He has Randy Moss qualities. In his last 22 games, he has 100 receptions, 10 touchdowns and just under 16 yards a catch.

5. Hines Ward, Steelers (v): He's like Donald Driver: A tough, reliable vet who gets the job done whenever asked. In the last two seasons, he has 154 receptions and 11 touchdowns. When will Father Time catch up with him? After watching "Dancing with the Stars" ... not yet!

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Group F

1. Percy Harvin, Vikings (^): His production could slip with the quarterback situation in Minnesota. If Rice leaves, things could get worse. Between his 131 receptions and 15 total touchdowns, he's dangerous like DeSean Jackson.

2. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (^): Even though he plays in the shadows of DeSean Jackson, his numbers are comparable. He has two more receptions and just one fewer touchdown than his star teammate since 2009.

3. Randy Moss, Titans (v): It might be all over for the guy who played for three teams a year ago. He finished with a career-low 28 receptions. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he can get it going one more time because of his Hall of Fame career.

4. Jordy Nelson, Packers (^): Just re-watch the Super Bowl (nine receptions), and you know he's on the rise. I expect him to have a big year in 2011 after 21 postseason grabs.

5. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals (v): He is not the receiver he once was and comes with more issues than almost any player in the league. His three-year average of 64 receptions and 5.6 touchdowns might not be worth the grief to most teams.

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Group G

1. Michael Crabtree, 49ers (^): A talented receiver who needs an attitude adjustment to realize his potential. Better QB play would also help. He has 103 receptions and eight touchdowns since coming into the league in 2009, but is capable of a lot more.

2. Braylon Edwards, Jets (>): In Cleveland, he was known as a great athlete who dropped way too many passes. He's eliminated the drops in New York and has 88 grabs and 11 scores in 28 games since joining the Jets.

3. Lee Evans, Bills (v): Still the vertical threat for the Bills. He has seen more quarterbacks come and go than almost any other receiver but now has stability with Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Evans stays healthy, he could be back for a solid season and average close to 16 yards a catch. If not, he falls right off this list next year.

4. A.J. Green, Bengals (^): Although he hasn't played a down in the NFL, the talent is obvious. It all depends on who the QB is in Cincinnati.

5. Julio Jones, Falcons (^): He's going into the perfect situation: a tremendous quarterback and Roddy White on the opposite side. Jones will see single coverage all year long and should put up some impressive numbers as a rookie.

Group H

1. Danny Amendola, Rams (>): Some would say he doesn't belong this high. However, when you consider he had 85 receptions with a rookie quarterback and no featured wide receiver or tight end last year, it says something about him. Put him in a situation like New England, and he could have 100 receptions in the slot. In fact, St. Louis might plan to get him in the slot.

2. Stevie Johnson, Bills (^): Exploded with 82 receptions and 10 touchdowns last year. He is a hungry guy who had to fight his way into the NFL. Expect another very solid year. Duplicating his 2010 numbers would keep him on the rise.

3. Derrick Mason, Ravens (v): A solid veteran with 134 receptions and 14 touchdowns since 2009. He has 14 seasons under his belt.

4. Steve Smith, Giants (>): Even though he has to recover from injury, he has consistently produced when on the field. He's best in the slot but has played everywhere. In his last 25 games, he has 155 receptions and 10 touchdowns.

5. Mike Williams, Seahawks (>): Reinvented himself when he realized his career was over. He dropped weight and developed a work ethic. He only caught 44 passes from 2005-2007, was out of football for two seasons, and then returned to grab 65 balls last season. He will easily repeat that performance in 2011.

Group I

1. Steve Breaston , Cardinals (>): When asked to replace an injured Anquan Boldin a couple of years ago, the Cardinals didn't miss a beat. Even though he's a threat after the catch, his recent numbers have not been as impressive.

2. Nate Burleson, Lions (v): A solid complement to Calvin Johnson.

3. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (>): A polished receiver who always knows how to get a first down.

4. Pierre Garcon, Colts (^): A rising star who has 114 receptions and 10 touchdowns over the last two years.

5. Roy Williams, Cowboys (v): He never lived up to the billing, and the Cowboys overpaid to get him from Detroit. In his two full seasons with the Cowboys, he's averaged 15 yards a catch with 12 touchdowns.

Group J

1. Davone Bess, Dolphins (>): A solid slot receiver with big numbers (155 receptions and seven touchdowns in the last two years).

2. Dez Bryant, Cowboys (^): Lots of talent but needs to work on it from the neck up.

3. Austin Collie, Colts (^): A product of a great system or an emerging talent?

4. Johnny Knox, Bears (^): He will be moving up and out of this group by the end of 2011 in Mike Martz's offense. He has 96 receptions at 15.5 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

5. Lance Moore, Saints (>): Coaches know how good this guy is. He could get some solid offers in free agency if he hits the market. Throw out 2009, when he was injured, and look at 2008 and 2010. He had 145 receptions and 18 touchdowns over those two seasons.

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