Enough with the constant search for NFL talent. Gil Brandt is going to try something different: building the perfect player at five key positions by combining the traits of some of the top players in the league today. The series concludes with the perfect wide receiver, updating the receiver that was constructed last summer.
The perfect wide receiver would have ...
... the hands of Odell Beckham Jr.
Everybody's looking for guys with big hands and a significant catch radius. Beckham can -- famously -- put on a show, especially when it comes to one-handed grabs. And, of course, the Giants star translates that into big-time production, having collected 187 catches over his first two seasons in the NFL, second only to former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry (194) for the most receptions in a player's first two seasons in league history. When you need a play on third-and-13, Beckham finds a way to haul the ball in.
Classic example: Cris Carter.
... the speed of DeSean Jackson.
We're not just talking about pure, straight-line speed here -- we're talking about speed as it applies on the football field. In fact, you don't necessarily have to be fast in the traditional sense to be a speedy receiver -- just think of Jerry Rice, who didn't post extraordinary times but could never be caught from behind. So we want someone who can use his blazing speed to get behind defenders to get open, and also to break away from the pack after the catch. The Redskins' Jackson is one such player, as is John Brown in Arizona, who cracked the 1,000-yard mark in Year 2 last season.
Classic example: Bob Hayes.
... the quickness of Jarvis Landry.
Landry has the quickness to compete on throws that other, less fleet-of-foot receivers wouldn't even have a chance on. That is, he uses his quickness to get to the ball, then uses his great hands to bring it in. He didn't run well at the NFL Scouting Combine, posting a 4.77-second 40-yard dash (though he did pull a hamstring in Indy), which kept him from being drafted as highly as he perhaps should have been. Because ultimately, the late-second-round pick has proven he can stick his foot in the ground and separate. In addition to setting the mark for most catches in a player's first two NFL seasons, as mentioned above, Landry has racked up 1,915 receiving yards with the Dolphins.
Classic example: Lance Alworth.
... the height of Brandon Marshall.
As with speed, height is about more than a simple measurement; rather, it's about being able to take full advantage of your height on the field. You can be plenty tall, but if you don't know how to exploit that advantage, it's not going to do much for you. The 6-foot-4 Marshall isn't always going to be the tallest player out there, but he always plays big. The Jets veteran knows how to use his height and size to great effect, having posted eight 1,000-yard campaigns in his 10 NFL seasons. He has great timing and a rare knack for getting the ball.
Classic examples: Calvin Johnson and Harold Carmichael.
... the big-play ability of Julio Jones.
A big-play receiver makes significant contributions in tough situations, enabling his team to keep drives alive. You need to be an athlete, you need to be competitive, you need to have all the traits we cover here -- and you also need to know how to perform when it counts. I don't think anybody comes close to Jones' ability to make big plays; consider that 2015's receiving yards leader has posted a whopping 56 receptions of 20-plus yards over the past two seasons. In the end, the multiple draft picks Atlanta gave up for the right to select the ultra-athletic Jones almost looks cheap, given the Randy Moss-type impact he has on the field. Jones has put up an impressive 240 catches for 3,464 yards over the past two seasons despite everyone keying on him and double-teaming him. Last summer's exemplar of big-play ability remains the king of this category.
Classic example: Randy Moss.
... the route-running ability of Antonio Brown.
It is very difficult for the opposing defensive back to read what Brown is going to do; on the flip side, the Steelers receiver excels at reading and exploiting the approach of the individual covering him. Brown is deceptive and creative, and he has great timing. Plus, he's very much in sync with his quarterback, who knows exactly how to get the ball to him; it's almost like Brown and Ben Roethlisberger are telepathically linked. Brown's route-running ability played a large part in his becoming the first player in NFL history to post 125-plus catches in consecutive seasons.
Classic example: Steve Largent.
... the blocking ability of Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is, hands-down, the epitome of what you want as a blocker at the receiver position. He's still a very good receiver at 32 -- he still has very good hands and can make plays. But the bottom line with him is, he appears to simply love football, and he'll do anything to help the Cardinals, including whatever he has to do to make Arizona's ground game go. Blocking is all about attitude, and Fitzgerald has the attitude you need: He'll block anybody, and it's as important to him as catching passes.
Classic example: Keyshawn Johnson.
... the strength of Dez Bryant.
Bryant is freakishly strong, making him tough to engage coming off the line. He's like a wide receiver in a linebacker's body. Many a defensive back has tried to cover him only to be knocked off the ball. Bryant is especially problematic for smaller defenders. I had no choice but to make the Cowboys receiver one of the two holdovers from the last edition of this exercise.
Classic example: Michael Irvin.
... the competitiveness of Steve Smith.
If you're going to be a good receiver in the NFL, you have to be competitive. Smith has many of the qualities described here, but the Ravens veteran truly embodies competitiveness; he's probably the most competitive receiver there is, even at 37. He's always jawing with his opponents and -- more importantly -- making big catches. Even last year, when an Achilles injury cut his season short, Smith caught 46 passes for 670 yards in just seven games.
Classic example: Jerry Rice.