Position Power Rankings  

 

Jimmy Graham tops list of best red-zone threats

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Every week, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position. So, we covered running backs and safeties. This week, we turn our attention to the league's best red-zone threats.

On to the rankings:

1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints: For all of the serious football fans lamenting the fact that LeBron James chose the hardwood instead, the NFL presents Graham as the freak athlete posting up defensive backs like a power forward in the end zone. Flip on Game Rewind for last week's game at Cleveland, and you will see Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden clinging to Graham's legs like a toddler. This is your ultimate mismatch.

2. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Megatron is the only active player with four seasons of at least a dozen touchdowns. He would have even more if not for bad luck and a nonsensical going-to-the-ground rule named after himself.

3. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: No player pulls in a greater percentage of red-zone targets. Bryant succeeds in tight spaces with a my-ball mentality, physicality, impressive catch radius and extraordinary strong hands.

4. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: Gronk has rewritten the early-career expectations for tight ends as Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson did for quarterbacks and running backs in the 1980s. He broke the mold. A fully healthy Gronkowski is the most lethal red-zone weapon in the game. Outside of a four-game window from Weeks 7-11 last season, we haven't seen that version since he led all 2010-2012 players in red-zone touchdowns (29), quarterback-to-receiver completion percentage (72.2) and yards after contact per reception (2.54).

5. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Davis leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (53) since the start of the 2009 season. That's not even counting the playoffs, where he has averaged 75 yards and a touchdown per game. With 4.38 speed, a 42-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-8 broad jump, Davis has the most impressive measurables of any tight end in history.

6. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: There once was a time when Marshall was among the least effective red-zone threats, dropping a half-dozen end-zone passes in one year alone with the Dolphins. Over the past three years, though, no player has more touchdown receptions. Marshall showed off his repertoire in an upset win over the 49ers, reeling in a leaping one-handed catch, boxing out a defender and coming down with a fade pass.

7. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Five years ago, Fitzgerald would have been the unanimous No. 1 choice. Post-Kurt Warner quarterbacks artificially deflated his numbers. Now Carson Palmer is reluctant to target the team's best receiver in tight spaces where Fitzgerald does his best work. He might be catching passes from a different quarterback in 2015.

8. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: Hall of Famer Cris Carter was the model boundary receiver. Nelson is today's version, specializing in back-shoulder catches while keeping his balance on the sideline or the back of the end zone. Aaron Rodgers' passer rating on throws intended for Nelson has been 150.2, 130.3 and 111.6 over the past three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

9. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: Like fellow former college hoopsters Graham and Tony Gonzalez, Cameron is a hyper-athletic mismatch who specializes in acrobatic catches in traffic. Contested passes are his bread-and-butter. With better quarterback play, Cameron would be a household name pulling in double-digit touchdowns.

10. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Thomas has 16 touchdowns in 16 career starts. That's a scary proposition for safeties and linebackers considering the former Portland State basketball player is just now starting to feel comfortable on the gridiron.

Honorable Mention: A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Antonio Gates, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Vincent Jackson, Kyle Rudolph, James Jones

Poised to make the leap: Justin Hunter, DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Keenan Allen, Zach Ertz

The latest "Around The NFL Podcast" recaps every Sunday game from an upset-heavy Week 2 in the NFL, and considers what RGIII's injury could mean for the Redskins.

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