There's never been a better time to catch passes in the NFL. Or to be a fan of pass-catchers. Seven receivers topped 1,400 yards last year and 24 went over 1,000. Yet the number of high-profile divas has only decreased.
Calvin Johnson's arrival in the NFL kick-started an era full of quiet, physical wideouts who look like defensive linemen but run like track stars. Players like Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Alshon Jeffery would make defenders from previous eras look like grade schoolers.
So let's rank the best of them. Note that rookies weren't included. There's no point in guessing.
Megatron is on his way to Canton if he stays healthy. Green is the premier deep ball receiver in the league, but he is stuck with one of the worst vertical-passing quarterbacks in the league. Julio Jones is this generation's Terrell Owens without the off-field annoyance. Or the drops.
Gordon is not expected to be available this season, but he's still eligible to play as of this writing. So we're ranking him based on his on-field play last season, which was nothing short of sensational. He's a true top-five talent.
Perhaps we're the only ones that care about the difference between All-Pro and Pro Bowl, but there is a difference. This group is incredible, but we don't expect them to be as consistently dominant as the top group. Andre Johnson looks like he's been slowing down just until the point he beats you deep. Jeffery and Marshall are the best tandem in football, but Jeffery is the one that is more worrisome in one-on-one coverage because he can win deep.
Nelson is bizarrely underrated despite playing on such a high-profile team. He makes as many uncatchable grabs as anyone. Brown is a Swiss army knife receiver that can line up anywhere and embarrass you after the catch. He's like DeSean Jackson with more versatility. Fitzgerald should still have good years left in him if he sticks with coach Bruce Arians.
Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, and Mike Wallace aren't necessarily the guys to target over the middle on third-and-6, but deep speed still pays in the NFL. Wallace should bounce back in Miami this season, and he still has a defined skill set that is very valuable. Garcon is probably ranked too low on this list, but drops and injuries were an issue before last year. He's as aggressive in every aspect of his game as any receiver in the league.
Crabtree should be much better this year another season removed from Achilles surgery. Allen could have a Reggie Wayne-like career if things break well. Harvin would be ranked a tier higher if he could stay healthy. Cruz and Decker are outstanding starters that aren't quite "No. 1" receivers. Floyd's spot this high is a bit of a projection, but he's already challenging Fitzgerald as the top option in Arizona.
San Francisco 49ers fans should be thrilled. Wide receiver was an issue for the team not long ago; now they have three top-30 wideouts. Boldin doesn't need to get open to make catches. Stevie Johnson is a similar player in many respects -- more crafty than explosive -- but he's in the prime of a solid career as a starter. Colston is a similar player to Boldin in a lot of respects. Wayne is only this high out of respect for his career. It will be tough to bounce back from a torn ACL.
Kendall Wright could rack up 90 catches per season for a while in Tennessee without people noticing; he's the type of player that would be a star in the slot if he played for New England or Denver. Cobb is the perfect "space player" for the NFL in 2014. Just get the ball to him in space and figure out the rest later. Bowe is a good starter that is paid like a superstar. White has transitioned nicely into the second half of his career as a heady receiver that catches passes from virtually any position. Hilton is the new school DeSean Jackson. Patterson, on the other hand, is a player making his own mold. We couldn't be higher on him. Jones has the skill set to be a No. 1 receiver.
Solid starters: Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin, Greg Jennings, Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Cecil Shorts, James Jones, Brian Hartline, Golden Tate, Steve Smith, Robert Woods, Andre Roberts, Emmanuel Sanders, Jeremy Kerley and DeAndre Hopkins.
Some of the players listed here are technically "No. 3" receivers, but that's a starting position in today's NFL. Welker is on the downslope of a brilliant career in the slot. Edelman, Roberts and Kerley can carry the torch for underrated players from the slot. Nicks was terrible last season in New York, but he's a good bet to bounce back with the Colts. The Vikings overpaid for Jennings. We'd rank Smith lower potentially, but we're afraid of what he might say.
Quality, with a catch: Mike Williams, Danny Amendola, Doug Baldwin, Justin Hunter, Andrew Hawkins, Tavon Austin, Riley Cooper, Chris Givens Rueben Randle, Denarius Moore, Terrance Williams, Rod Streater, Kenny Stills, Malcom Floyd, Harry Douglas, Jarrett Boykin, Markus Wheaton, Jerricho Cotchery and Nate Washington.
Mike Williams could either be a No. 1 receiver or out of the league in two years. Of this group, Hunter has the best chance to experience an Alshon Jeffery-like breakout in 2014. Credit goes out to Cotchery and Washington for such longevity. Washington has been playing above replacement-level despite expectations since 2006.