Who are the best wide receivers in the NFL? ESPN’s Bucky Brooks ranks his top 25.
The top 10:
1. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: The ultimate offensive weapon has almost single-handedly carried the Panthers’ offense the past two seasons. Smith’s outstanding speed, quickness and leaping ability enable him to take over a game, which sets him apart from the rest of the receivers. With a league-best 13 100-yard performances in the past two seasons, Smith has proven to be a dominant force despite lacking a complementary playmaker on the offense. His dominance will continue as he and two-time Pro Bowl QB Jake Delhomme form the foundation of the Panthers’ new offensive attack.
2. Chad Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals: The flamboyant playmaker has led the AFC in receiving yards for four consecutive seasons. As a polished receiver with excellent speed and hands, he has thrived as the favorite target of Carson Palmer in the Bengals wide open offense. Still showing a penchant for getting deep, Johnson led the league with eight receptions over 40 yards last season. With Palmer rounding back to Pro Bowl form, expect Johnson to continue to post big numbers.
3. Roy Williams, Detroit Lions: As the “go-to guy” in Mike Martz’s high octane offense, Williams had a breakout season in 2006 with over 1,300 receiving yards and a league-leading 24 receptions over 20 yards. A big, physical receiver with outstanding athleticism and hands, he finally showed the dominant ability that everyone expected when he entered the league. Teaming with Mike Furrey and rookie Calvin Johnson, in the Lions’ version of “The Greatest Show On Turf”, Williams will see more single coverage this season, which spells big trouble for defenses.
4. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts: A polished route runner with excellent quickness and burst, he sets the standard for consistency at the position. As the lead receiver in one of the league’s most dynamic offenses, he has posted eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Even with the emergence of Reggie Wayne, there’s no reason to think Harrison won’t continue to be as effective in 2007.
5. Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys: The controversial superstar led the league in touchdown receptions in 2006, but suffered a down year by his standards. Though his season totals should have earned him Pro Bowl accolades, his high number of drops diverted attention away from his positive impact on the Dallas offense. Fully recovered from a wrist injury and playing in an offense that will accentuate his strengths, he will have a big season as Tony Romo’s favorite target in 2007.
6. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: The Texans’ "one-man show" hauled in 103 receptions without a legitimate threat on the other side. With an outstanding combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson overpowers smaller defenders in one-on-one match-ups. Though he is sure to see a lot of double coverage, he should see his production rise with new quarterback Matt Schaub under center.
7. Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre‘s No. 1 target is one of the most underrated receivers in the league. An outstanding playmaker, Driver has posted over 1,200 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons. After earning his first Pro Bowl nomination, he is finally beginning to get the recognition he deserves. With limited weapons in the backfield, Driver may shatter his career highs in receptions and yards in 2007.
8. Javon Walker, Denver Broncos: After posting a 1,000-yard season in his first season as a Bronco, Walker has established himself as Jay Cutler‘s favorite target. A vertical playmaker, he excels at double moves and deep routes off play action. With Travis Henry commanding attention in the backfield, Walker and Cutler should hook up for several big plays in 2007.
9. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals: This two-time Pro Bowler has been a dominant force since stepping into the league. Boldin has two 100-catch seasons and three seasons with over 1,200 receiving yards in his four-year career, and few defenders have found a way to slow him down. Using his outstanding athleticism to make up for unpolished route running skills, he does most of his damage as a runner after the catch. With promising Matt Leinart directing a new wide open attack, Boldin will continue to be a force in 2007.
10. Randy Moss, New England Patriots: Once viewed as the best receiver in the league, Moss has fallen from his perch at the top. After displaying lackluster effort and sloppy route running last season, his reputation as one of the premier deep threats has been tarnished. But he is poised to bounce back with a strong season in 2007, when he’ll team with Tom Brady to form a lethal big-play combination.
It’s hard to deny any of these guys are elite receivers, although I’m hard pressed to put a Detroit Lion ahead of Marvin Freakin’ Harrison. And I’m not sure Randy Moss deserves to be considered a top 10 guy until he puts together another good year; it’s been awhile.
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