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Dez Bryant climbing ATL's wide receiver rankings

Every Thursday, Chris Wesseling rolls out the power rankings for one specific NFL position.

So far, we have ranked the top running backs, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, tight ends and defensive tackles in the league. This week, we turn our attention to the NFL's best wide receivers.

Instead of straight rankings, this format will feature tiers so as not to be as arbitrary.

This is not a fantasy football cheat sheet, nor is it an attempt to predict which players will finish with the best statistics this season. The premise is which wide receiver I would want for the 2013 season. Although statistics, scouting reports and other factors such as durability were considered, the criteria was based primarily on game film from the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Click here for our offseason wide receiver rankings.

Top shelf: Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson

Calvin Johnson isn't running as many deep threats this year, but he's just as dominant as ever. ... Bryant was the best player I saw in preseason action, and he's carried that excellence over to the first five games. He can't be handled by any cornerback in man coverage. ... Jones was off to a better start than any receiver before he re-injured his surgically repaired foot. The Falcons' offense is about to go into the tank without his ability to draw and produce against double teams.

After toasting Charles "Peanut" Tillman in the season opener, Green has been slowed by Ike Taylor, Sam Shields, Joe Haden and Aqib Talib. Big trouble comes soon for the Bills, Lions and Jets in the next three weeks. ... Thomas is 98 percent of Julio Jones. ... Marshall's numbers are down because he's no longer targeted on 40 percent of Jay Cutler's passes.

Nelson is the most overlooked offensive superstar in the NFL. Despite essentially missing five games last season, Nelson is second only to Bryant with 25 touchdowns since the start of the 2011 season. Like Hall of Famer Cris Carter, Nelson is the best "boundary" receiver in the game. He's uncanny on back-shoulder throws from Aaron Rodgers, as you can see in video to the right.

Fitzgerald's big plays are missing this year. I'm blaming the hamstring injury, which means he should be rounding into peak form in the next week or two. ... Andre Johnson is a Hall of Fame talent, but he hasn't been a major red zone weapon for three years.

Next level: Victor Cruz, Torrey Smith, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, Roddy White

Cruz plays 75 percent of his snaps in the slot and isn't consistently beating double teams. Those are the only two issues keeping him from the first tier. ... As evidenced by the video to the right, Smith has become a complete receiver this year. Formerly a deep-threat specialist, he's been as dangerous after the catch as any wide receiver through five weeks.

Vincent Jackson desperately needs a quarterback upgrade. ... DeSean Jackson is a perfect example of thriving in a system tailor-made to his strengths. ... Garcon carries the Redskins' passing game on his back. ... This might be the last season for Wayne and Welker at "next level" before they slide to "solid starter."

White would be in the "just a guy" category if this was based purely on 2013 film. He's earned the benefit of the doubt that he will bounce back once he's over his ankle sprain and hamstring injury.

Pro Bowl potential: Randall Cobb, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Josh Gordon, Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery

Cobb is Percy Harvin Lite. ... Wallace is valuable to the Dolphins for his ability to draw extra coverage, but he still disappears too often. ... Hilton is about to overtake Wayne as the most valuable receiver on the Colts' roster. ... Gordon has special ability, but he has to prove he can master a full route tree, work like an NFL player and stay off the dope.

Shorts is leading the NFL in targets and is 12th in receiving yards, even though he has no quarterback. He and Blackmon are the building blocks of a depressing Jaguars offense. ... A jump ball freak, Jeffery has the potential to become the best receiver in Bears history, according to Brandon Marshall.

Solid starters: Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Eric Decker, Marques Colston, James Jones, Danny Amendola, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Brian Hartline

Nicks would have been categorized as "top shelf" two years ago, but he hasn't shown the same speed and separation ability since then. Antonio Gates' renaissance suggests it's way too premature to rule out a return to pre-injuries form. ... Smith still has the dangerous after-catch ability that has always made him a headache for defensive backs, but he's the flip side to DeSean Jackson. Cam Newton never hits him in stride with room to run, and he's hamstrung by Mike Shula's unimaginative offense.

Colston has fallen behind Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles in the Saints' pecking order, topping 75 yards just twice in his last 16 games. ... Amendola can be a premier slot receiver if he stays healthy for a 10-game stretch. ... Jennings and Bowe aren't moving as well this season. ... Johnson is essentially a slot receiver in Doug Marrone's offense. ... Boldin is the Tony Gonzalez of wide receivers. He can't get open against top corners, but he still make plays at the point of the catch. ... Tate has emerged as Seattle's top receiver and one of the best post-catch threats in the NFC.

Upstarts: DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, Kendall Wright, Denarius Moore, Michael Floyd, Justin Hunter, Rueben Randle, Chris Givens, Kenbrell Thompkins, Markus Wheaton, Keenan Allen, Terrance Williams, Aaron Dobson, Kenny Stills, Jermaine Kearse, Marlon Brown


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Woods is the most complete receiver in this group. ... I believe Patterson has the highest ceiling, as a poor man's Julio Jones. ... I hope for the sake of Rams fans that Austin ends up fulfilling his potential as more than a souped-up Dexter McCluster. ... Wright has found the post-catch explosiveness that was missing as an out-of-shape rookie.

Titans coaches and players swear by Hunter's special talent. ... The Steelers desperately need to get Wheaton more involved as a second player to complement Brown. ... Allen is starting to show why he was once viewed as a first-round talent in the draft. ... Just as Cruz once did, Kearse has showcased a knack for high-pointing "50-50" balls in tight coverage.

Best of the rest: Sidney Rice, Vincent Brown, Andre Roberts, Jeremy Kerley, Doug Baldwin, Nate Washington, Donnie Avery, Jerome Simpson, Rod Streater, Stephen Hill

A healthy Rice has a No. 1 receiver skill set, but he's been outplayed by Baldwin this season. ... Brown is starting to come on strong as a potential go-to receiver for Philip Rivers. ... Kerley has been the Jets' top asset in the passing game for two seasons. ... Washington showed a good rapport with Jake Locker in September. ... Avery and Simpson both are playing much better this year than last.

Just a guy: Lance Moore, Ryan Broyles, Emmanuel Sanders, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Julian Edelman, Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn, Leonard Hankerson, Brandon Gibson, Greg Little, Brandon LaFell, Mohamed Sanu, Jason Avant, Santana Moss, Ace Sanders, Austin Pettis, Davone Bess, Marvin Jones, Riley Cooper, Harry Douglas, Kenny Britt

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Moore has disappeared this season. ... Broyles has a bright future in the slot, but he is still working his way back from ACL surgery. ... Sanders belongs in the slot, not outside. ... DHB is too inconsistent. ... Morgan is best known for his blocking skills.

Ginn actually has been underutilized in the Panthers' offense. ... Little is a drop machine. ... Sanu has shown a knack for making plays in the end zone. ... Cooper is one of the least effective starters in the NFL. ... Britt is coming off the worst five-game stretch I've ever seen from a wide receiver. The position can't be played any less effectively.

Trainer's room: Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree, Miles Austin, Santonio Holmes, Malcom Floyd, Nate Burleson, Jacoby Jones

A healthy Harvin is the most dangerous slot receiver, after-the-catch threat and kickoff returner in the NFL. ... Crabtree was making the leap to "top shelf" status before Achilles tendon surgery. ... Tony Romo just had the best game of his career, with Austin on the sideline. ... Holmes has been a cancer the past few years.

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