Quarterbacks might be the stars of our pass-happy era, but you can't run a truly prolific offense without someone to throw the ball to -- which is where premier receivers enter the picture.
For all the energy expelled on discussing and searching for the ideal signal-caller, there is nothing like having a stud No. 1 to fuel an aerial attack. What if you could take the best aspects of some of the top receivers in the NFL today and combine them, Frankenstein-style, into one player, building the perfect receiver?
That's what I tried to do below, listing the key attributes I'd want to see in my ideal receiver.
The perfect receiver would have ...
... the hands of Larry Fitzgerald.
One thing you want is a guy who has big hands, and it's little wonder that one of the most reliable receivers in the league also has sizable mitts. Fitzgerald's hands are a big reason he's considered a clutch guy. He hardly drops the ball; consider that the Cardinals standout has 909 catches, the most in NFL history by anyone through their age-31 season. Fitzgerald barely edges out former Arizona teammate Anquan Boldin, who also has elite hands. Classic example: Cris Carter.
... the speed of Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas came into the league as a guy with plenty of straight-line speed, but he hadn't yet accumulated much route-running experience, given that Georgia Tech didn't throw the ball a ton. Now the Denver Broncos stud knows how to run routes, which makes him that much more dangerous. He doesn't need fancy moves to rack up the yards; he can just catch the ball and run away from everybody. When you're as big and as fast as Thomas, it's going to be very hard to catch you. Classic example: Bob Hayes.
... the quickness of Odell Beckham Jr.
When I was with the Cowboys, we felt quickness was absolutely crucial. Long speed is one thing, but quickness can also help guys separate from the pack; it really helps you get open if you don't have to throttle down when making your cuts. Beckham -- who posted a 6.69-second three-cone and an impressive 3.94 short shuttle at the NFL Scouting Combine -- uses his quickness to get open and get away from people, as we saw in his stellar rookie campaign with the Giants. It's too bad he doesn't play his home games in an indoor stadium. Quickness and short speed, which is typically measured in 10-yard splits, go hand in hand; Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Atlanta's Julio Jones also stand out in this area. Classic example: Lance Alworth.
... the height of Calvin Johnson.
You need a big guy who can jump up and grab the ball, and the 6-foot-5 Johnson -- who recorded a vertical jump at Georgia Tech's pro day of 42.5 inches -- is exactly that. The Detroit Lions star might not be a perfect route-runner, but he doesn't have to be; a lot of times, he can simply take the ball away from the smaller guy covering him. Classic example: Harold Carmichael.
... the big-play ability of Julio Jones.
Jones -- who, frankly, is about as close to a perfectly well-rounded receiver as we have today -- posted an NFL-best 31 catches of 20-plus yards last season, which is truly exceptional. He's also posted 15.6 yards per catch for his career and notched 17.8 yards per catch as a rookie, the top mark over the past 15 years by a first-year pro with 50-plus catches. Two things that help the Falcons standout make big plays: his elusiveness and inimitable athleticism. Jones posted a 4.39 40, a 38.5-inch vertical and an 11-3 broad jump -- still one of the better individual marks of the past 10 years -- at the combine, which makes for quite the imposing mix. Classic example: Randy Moss.
... the route-running ability of Randall Cobb.
Cobb does not have the measurables of an elite receiver, with a 4.46 40, a 33.5-inch vertical and a 7.08 three-cone. The Packer actually appears a lot quicker on the field than he is, largely because of his route-running prowess. When looking for a route-runner, you want someone who can come out of his breaks without hesitation and doesn't slow down to make a cut; a guy like that can get from Point A to Point B and Point C much more efficiently than a guy who has tons of straight-line speed but isn't as nimble. Precision is crucial. If a receiver's supposed to run a 17-yard out, that's what he has to run; he can't be sloppy and run a 16- or 18-yard out. Cobb checks off all those boxes. Classic example: Steve Largent.
... the blocking ability of Brandon Marshall.
A lot of receivers shy away from contact, but having a wideout who can block can really positively impact the running game. Just consider what Marshall's block of Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee did for a scrambling Josh McCown in the Chicago Bears' 45-28 win over the Cowboys in 2013. It's all about attitude; for the new Jets receiver, blocking appears to be a labor of love. Classic example: Keyshawn Johnson.
... the strength of Dez Bryant.
Strength isn't quite as important for receivers as it is for, say, running backs, but if you're talking about building the perfect pass-catcher, let's make sure our final product can shake off tacklers like it's nothing. This Cowboy really has a knack for breaking tackles and escaping the grasp of defenders who attempt to bring him down. Classic example: Michael Irvin.