Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah is getting into the Olympic mindset early this summer, handing out NFL Podium Awards for the top three players at each position group. Remember, this list is based on where these players are ranked heading into the 2012 season. Today, he takes on wide receivers.
This is another position that is incredibly deep with talent. Seventeen different wide receivers eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2011. If you polled all 32 general managers and asked them to name the best three players at this position, there would likely be a strong consensus with regard to the top two. However, for that third spot, you'd probably come up with at least 10 different names. It comes down to what flavor you're looking for ...
There isn't much debate involved with this selection. "Megatron" has more than lived up to his nickname. For all the heat Detroit Lions fans have placed on former general manager Matt Millen, they owe him some credit for not passing on this once-in-a-lifetime talent. Last season was the finest of his career. All he did was catch 96 balls for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. In the era of bend-but-don't-break defense, he led the league with 10 grabs over 40 yards. This offseason, the Lions made the smart decision to make him the highest-paid player in league history.
In talking to executives and coaches around the NFL, you won't find a player more highly regarded than Fitzgerald. His work ethic and enthusiasm for the game is unmatched. As a player, he just continues to get better each and every year, despite some sloppy play at the quarterback position in Arizona. Last season, he caught 80 balls for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns. His average per catch (17.6) was the best of his eight-year career. He has already been selected to six Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro on four occasions. He is one of the few receivers capable of taking over a game. In his only Super Bowl appearance, he caught seven passes for 127 yards and two scores. His late, 64-yard touchdown had the Cardinals in position to upset the heavily favored Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII (before, of course, Ben Roethlisberger's remarkable connection with Santonio Holmes).
I'm sure this selection will raise some eyebrows. There are up to a dozen candidates who qualify for this spot, but I believe Green will outperform them all in 2012. After being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Georgia product faced lofty expectations. He exceeded them all with the performance in his rookie campaign. He helped lead the Bengals to the playoffs by grabbing 65 balls for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. He also averaged 16.3 yards per catch. Green was rewarded for his success by being named to the Pro Bowl; he was the first rookie wide receiver to earn that honor since Anquan Boldin was selected in 2003. He is a rare talent, and I fully expect him to be the top receiver in the AFC for a long time.
Others considered:Andre Johnson, Houston Texans; Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants; Wes Welker, New England Patriots; Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons; Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers; Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers; Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers; Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles; Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs.