DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions warms up prior to the start of the game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on November 24, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
SB Nation ranks every team's set of receivers, starting with Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions.
Wide receivers are an interesting group to rank. There are really only a handful of truly elite players at the position, which is true of almost every position, I suppose. Nevertheless, teams and the pundit class still assume that the next Calvin Johnson can just be plucked off a tree like a ripe peach in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Fortunately for teams there are plenty of pretty good receivers out there, guys that are more than capable of playing a starring role on a team. A number of teams feature a player at that level paired with a capable group of role players to form a well-rounded unit. Oh, never underestimate the value of a good quarterback to make his receivers better either.
Related: Offensive Line Rankings
Here is how we ranked the wide receivers for all 32 NFL teams. I will be anxious to hear your thoughts on the list in the comments.
Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in football right now, hands down. The man is incomparable, and still only 26 years old. He averaged 105 yards per game, led the league with 1,681 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. There is no reason to think his numbers will look much different this season. Titus Young should replace Nate Burleson this season as Detroit's second-best receiver. Ryan Broyles could turn some heads if he gets healthy this season.
Top Option: Calvin Johnson
Raise your hand if you thought Jordy Nelson was going to have 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011? Not many hands out there. Greg Jennings could also get back his old title as the Packers' top receiver too with a full season of play. Randall Cobb's main contribution is returning kicks and punts. Donald Driver is back, at 37 years old. There were trade rumors about James Jones, but no takers. He could still get moved as teams shore up their depth prior to the season or even closer to the deadline.
Top Option: Jordy Nelson
DeSean Jackson gets all the attention, by demand, but Jeremy Maclin is Philadelphia's best receiver. He would have broken the 1,000-yard mark last year had injuries not hampered him down the stretch. Jackson is a top-notch receiver himself with big play ability. Jason Avant has been a good possession type operating out of the slot. Rookie Marvin McNutt is a player to keep an eye on this year.
Top Option: Jeremy Maclin
If Hakeem Nicks plays a full 16 game season, it is not a stretch to think he could top 1,300 yards. Victor Cruz came out of nowhere last season with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. The pair gives cornerbacks nightmares. This year's breakthrough player in New York could be second-round steal Rueben Randle, who had as much raw talent as any wideout in the draft.
Top Option: Victor Cruz
The combination of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown reminds me of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce from the days when St. Louis used to be relevant. Wallace hit career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Who knows about his status for 2013, but for now he still looks like Roethlisberger's top option. Jerricho Cotchery could get some more balls thrown his way with Hines Ward out of the picture.
Top Option: Mike Wallace
I have a certifiable man crush on Julio Jones. I think what you saw from him in 2011, his rookie year, is a fraction of what he can do, what he will do this season for the Falcons. He has everything needed, from size and speed to hands and smarts, to be one of the five best wideouts in the NFL. Roddy White is no slouch on the other side of Jones, and both should top 1,000 yards this year. Atlanta has Harry Douglas in the slot, who reached career-best marks in catches (39) and yards (498).
Top Option: Julio Jones
Was there a more perfect combination of two draft picks than A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in 2011? Green has all the makings of a top receiver, and could cement his status in 2012. The Bengals added Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in the draft, both capable of making contributions right away. Keep an eye on Armon Binns, an undrafted rookie last year, who has played well in spring work.
Top Option: A.J. Green
The Cardinals get a big bump from the mere fact they have Larry Fitzgerald on the roster. Having found a connection with interim John Skelton, Fitzgerald topped 1,400 yards for the fourth time in his career and the first time since 2008. He only found the end zone eight times. Early Doucet caught 54 passes for 689 yards, enough to get a two-year extension. Early reviews on first-round pick Michael Floyd leave you wondering if he can make an impact this season. If he can, the Cardinals will have a very good group of receivers. Now, about that quarterback ...
Top Option: Larry Fitzgerald
Wes Welker caught at least 111 passes four times in five seasons since joining the Patriots, leading the league in receptions in three of those seasons. The Patriots added Josh McDaniels-favorite Brandon Lloyd who could be particularly effective as Tom Brady's man down the field. They have Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth rounding out the unit.
Top Option: Wes Welker
There is underrated, and then there is Malcom Floyd. You wonder how the Chargers' season might have been if Floyd had not missed four games from Weeks 9-12. Out from Vincent Jackson's shadow, he should be the man this year. Free agent pickup Robert Meachem joins the fold to give the Chargers a nice 1-2 punch. Look for Vincent Brown to contribute more in the Chargers' potent downfield attack.
Top Option: Malcom Floyd
Related: Running Back Rankings
Ranking the Saints receivers feel strange since they use weapons like Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles as such a big part of their passing game. Marques Colston gets unfairly written off as a product of the system here. He has five seasons of more than 1,000 yards in six years, and the Saints inked him to a five-year, $40 million deal before he even got a whiff of free agency. They round out the group with Devery Henderson and Lance Moore. Rookie Nick Toon has the size and hands to be a factor right away.
Top Option: Marques Colston
12. Dallas Cowboys
Miles Austin should bounce back nicely after missing five games last season, a sure bet to get back over the 1,000-yard mark as Tony Romo's top option not named Jason Witten. Dez Bryant has the talent to be the best receiver on the team, but he has to deal with a truckload of baggage in his personal life. Dallas is counting on undrafted second-year player Andre Holmes and Kevin Ogletree to round out the depth chart, which could leave them in a pinch if Austin's health is an issue.
Top Option: Miles Austin
The Bucs spent big this offseason, forcing fans to double check and make sure that this was in fact the notoriously tight-fisted Buccaneers. One of those acquisitions was Vincent Jackson, who gives the team an unquestioned top receiver. Less focus on Mike Williams might be just what he needs after a disappointing follow up in his sophomore season. Preston Parker is a name to know heading into the season, and his emergence could make Arrelious Benn the odd man out when cuts start happening.
Top Option: Vincent Jackson
14. Tennessee Titans
Talented, but troubled Kenny Britt now has eight run-ins with the law since turning pro in 2009. At this rate, the Titans might be lucky to get that many games out of him in 2012, with suspensions and three knee surgeries. Fortunately, Tennessee also has Nate Washington, who had 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns last year. First-round pick Kendall Wright will get plenty of opportunity this year.
Top Option: Nate Washington
15. Houston Texans
Houston gets pushed up the rankings by the mere presence of Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers in the game right now. Unfortunately for the Texans, Johnson is 31 and coming off a season in which he only played seven games. Kevin Walter is the number two, and rookie DeVier Posey looked rough around the edges in spring work. Houston leans on their running backs, but you still wonder about the decision not to find a better receiving option behind Johnson.
Top Option: Andre Johnson
Dwayne Bowe had a solid season in 2011, but it was off the mark he established the year before. With free agency looming and Matt Cassel returning, he could be in for a big year. Steve Breaston accumulated 785 yards and a pair of touchdown on the other side of Bowe. Jonathan Baldwin needs to improve on his 41 percent catch rate from his shrug worthy rookie campaign. Keep an eye on Dexter McCluster working in the slot this season.
Top Option: Dwayne Bowe
17. Oakland Raiders
Don't look now, but Darrius Heyward-Bey finally became more than just a 40-time last season, catching 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He has the talent to post those kind of numbers again. Denarius Moore projects as the top receiver in Oakland this season after finishing strong last year. He could be another Mike Wallace type player.
Top Option: Denarius Moore
18. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens should have sought some help at receiver, but their run-heavy approach made is less of a priority. Anquan Boldin still has the top job locked down. He has yet to top the 1,000-yard mark since joining the Ravens. He turns 32 this season. Torrey Smith has the speed to take the top off a defense. If he improves his routes in his second season, he could be Flacco's leading receiver. Their biggest addition was the yeoman Jacoby Jones.
Top Option: Torrey Smith
19. Denver Broncos
This will be an interesting group to watch this season. If Tim Tebow deflates receiver stats, Peyton Manning can inflate the numbers like Weimar interest rates. Demaryius Thomas is the logical bet to lead the group. My money is on Eric Decker, who runs better routes, to top the stat sheet in the receiving category. Free agent addition Andre Caldwell has the ability to cause some damage from the slot.
Top Option: Eric Decker
I just cannot buy into all of the talk about Randy Moss looking like a man born again. Then again, maybe San Francisco's better catering scene has him rejuvenated. Michael Crabtree has to be the top receiver for the 49ers. He reached new highs with 73 receptions and 880 yards last season, so maybe this is the year he puts it all together. The addition of Mario Manningham gives them someone to stretch the field after Josh Morgan left. Surprise first-round pick A.J. Jenkins has been hammered in the media for his struggles in spring practice. He might not even see the field much this season.
Top Option: Michael Crabtree
Related: Tight End Rankings
Washington went with a strength in numbers approach to the position this year, not wanting to sabotage Robert Griffin's rookie season with the flotsam and jetsam they had at receiver last year. Pierre Garcon is the top option. He had 70 catches and 947 yards with whatever abomination the Colts had at quarterback last year. Can Josh Morgan finally break out? Reliable Santana Moss is there too. Leonard Hankerson's season ended just as it got started last year, and he figures large in the team's future.
Top Option: Pierre Garcon
The Panthers are another one of those teams with a clear star receiver and a bunch of question marks behind him. Steve Smith looked like his best days were behind him until Cam Newton showed up. He had 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, the first time he topped the 1,000-yard mark since 2008. Rookie Joe Adams adds even more speed to the lineup. Brandon LaFell may be the key to success. He could be in for a breakout in his third season.
Top Option: Steve Smith
Reggie Wayne is well past his prime, but does not appear to have reached his expiration date. The Colts were wise to re-sign the veteran receiver to work with top pick Andrew Luck. Slot guy Austin Collie did well with Peyton Manning at the helm, and could be productive with another talented quarterback. They added draft picks T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, a pair of smallish speedsters from the slot.
Top Option: Reggie Wayne
24. Buffalo Bills
For all the headline free agent moves Buffalo made this spring, the most significant step they took on offense was a contract extension for Stevie Johnson, their top receiver. He of the ill-advised touchdown celebrations has topped 1,000 yards in both of his last two seasons, scoring 17 touchdowns during that time. Behind him, it's sort of a mish-mash, with David Nelson and Donald Jones rounding out the group. Rookie T.J. Graham possesses nice speed, but could take some time to adapt.
Top Option: Stevie Johnson
Few prospects elicited the kind of debate that Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon did this year. His off-field struggles make you wonder, but he should, at worst, be a solid possession guy, which is nothing to take for granted given Jacksonville's recent struggles at the position. The football world is about to find out if Laurent Robinson was just a one-year wonder in Dallas. Staying healthy is a bigger challenge for Robinson, who does have talent. Mike Thomas moves down to his rightful spot as a third receiver.
Top Option: Justin Blackmon
26. Seattle Seahawks
Sidney Rice played in nine games last season, a step up from the six he played in 2010. How many game Rice will play in 2012 is hottest prop bet in the Northwest outside of Mike Leach's future grizzly kills. A pair of shoulder surgeries do not bode well for Rice's start to the season. Doug Baldwin came out of nowhere to lead the team with 51 receptions, 788 yards and four touchdowns. Seattle is hoping Golden Tate can produce in his third year. Ben Obomanu is the next best receiver on the roster.
Top Option: Sidney Rice
27. Chicago Bears
Adding Brandon Marshall was a solid move to help quarterback Jay Cutler. It's still pretty thin behind Marshall. Chicago took a chance on Alshon Jeffery, who earned the scorn of draft pundits following a poor season at South Carolina and rumors of weight problems. If he plays up to his talent, Chicago's receivers could be a very different group. Beyond those two this is a group thin on talent.
Top Option: Brandon Marshall
28. New York Jets
Santonio Holmes made more headlines for his locker room presence than his work on the field. He has yet to match the production he had in Pittsburgh, but he also went from Ben Roethlisberger to Mark Sanchez. WIth the Jets showing an odd desire to sabotage their quarterback situation this year, this group could struggle. With rookie Stephen Hill, the Jets could have a deadly downfield passing attack.
Top Option: Santonio Holmes
If Percy Harvin wants to think of this as a contract year, this would be a great time to finally crack 1,000 receiving yards. The unloved receiver is the only established player at the position. Free agent addition Jerome Simpson is a capable contributor, once he serves his suspension. Rookies Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have plenty of upside.
Top Option: Percy Harvin
30. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland needed any number of things during the offseason, including help at wide receiver. They are counting on Greg Little to take a big step forward in his second season. Little, according to Pro Football Focus, had just a 54 percent catch rate and a troubling 14 drops. Supplemental draft superstar Josh Gordon might be the most talented receiver, but how much he can contribute this season is in doubt after he missed all of last year. A less receiver-needy team would have dumped Mohamed Massaquoi.
Top Option: Greg Little
31. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins lost Brandon Marshall, replacing him with notable has-been Chad Ochocinco (who plans to change his name back to Chad Johnson). Brian Hartline is now in line to be the top receiver. Slot man Davone Bess was second fiddle to Marshall on the stat sheet. The Dolphins did add two receivers in the draft, B.J. Cuningham in the sixth-round and Rishard Matthews in the seventh.
Top Option: Devone Bess
32. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have been hurting for receiving help since before they drafted quarterback Sam Bradford with the top pick in 2010. They may have found an answer in second-round pick Brian Quick who does possess a nice set of skills, but he the leap from Appalachian State to the NFL could be too much for overcome as a rookie. Slot receiver Danny Amendola was Bradford's go-to guy in the past, but he offers little in the way of playmaking ability. fourth-round pick Chris Givens has 4.3 speed ... and two surgically repaired ACLs. The rejuvenation of former Giants receiver Steve Smith might be their best hope to improve the passing game.
Top Option: Danny Amendola