With "The Top 100 Players of 2011" winding down, it got us thinking: Who are the greatest players of the new millennium, the Y2K era? Since 2000, broad developments in NFL strategy have taken place, as well as the specialization of the players who fit into these new schemes. So who has thrived most in the league's ever-evolving environment?
Today, Jason La Canfora and Elliot Harrison start fast with the best at wide receiver. Got an opinion of your own? Sound off in the comments section below.
La Canfora: A case for Randy Moss
I have a hard time not going with Randy Moss here. It's not my heart or mind leading me to this conclusion, as much as my eyes.
Seems to me Moss came along and changed the way we see wide receivers. Certainly, there had been other superior, tall receivers before (Michael Irvin for one), but never before had I seen such a jaw-dropping combination of size, speed and football intellect. Moss was a total package.
Moss made some things seem possible that really didn't seem that way before he came along. Oh, and when he really came to play, when he wanted to bring it every snap, there was no one better. He clearly wasn't as consistent as others in this era, like Marvin Harrison or Andre Johnson. But honestly could you say anyone was better than Moss at his best?
I don't feel like I could.
Sure, there was the ugly ending in Minnesota, the ugly ending in Oakland, the shocking ending in New England, the even-more-ugly-the-second-time ending in Minnesota, and the utterly forgettable stint in Tennessee. But in terms of pure talent, the ability to take over a game, and simply go up and get a ball or run past someone or smell the end zone, I'm not sure Moss had a peer. His body control and sense of the ball's location, the timing of his jumps and his uncanny knack for adjusting to it in mid-air all strike me as things no one else was quite doing like he did.
The sad thing, of course, is if Moss had sustained his heights and played with the same focus and motivation for the duration of his career, then, well, there really wouldn't be any debate here at all, would there?
Harrison: A case for Andre Johnson
It's funny that, as well known as he is, his name still doesn't have the luster that Larry Fitzgerald or Terrell Owens does. There's little debate that Johnson's the best in the game right now, but taking a larger look at what he's accomplished, two things stand out to me that other wideouts can't match.
First, his back-to-back 1,500-yard campaigns of 2008 and 2009 were quite the rarity. Only Jerry Rice has had two consecutive seasons of 1,500 yards or more. Think about that: The guy averaged almost 100 yards a game and, despite having a giant bull's eye on his chest, came back and did it again. Let's just say opposing defensive coordinators aren't rotating coverage to Kevin Walter's side.
The second accomplishment that boggles the mind is how he's managed to make a name for himself despite playing for the NFL's newest team. The average person can't name 10 players on the Texans, and yet players, GMs, opposing coaches, and fans will tell you that A.J. is the man.
Still, some of those fans didn't know who Johnson was in 2006. Yet, he was already one the league's premier pass-catchers back then. Like Anquan Boldin or Randy Moss, Johnson was good out of the gate, catching 66 passes for 976 yards on one of the worst teams in the league.
And talk about no help, here are some of Houston's running backs during Johnson's tenure: Domanick Williams, Ron Dayne, Samkon Gado, and Ahman Green. Until the coming out party of Arian Foster last season, there wasn't really a guy to take the pressure off the passing game.
Physically, Johnson is a freak in the way that Calvin Johnson is. A.J. is so big and strong, and combines it with desire. That's where he separates himself from other great wide receivers, such as Moss. Johnson plays so hard and just overpowers people. That's why Darrelle Revis called him "a beast."
If I haven't convinced you yet, since Johnson came into the league in 2003, he's averaged 79.7 receiving yards per game, most in the NFL. And he's still going strong.