Now that the NFL Draft is over, we are in for about three months of pure speculation and debate. In a good way to add fuel to the fire, we will go through every position and rank the top ten players at each position. Before making the rankings, first it should be clarified how these players are ranked. These aren’t players with the best statistics from last year, or with the best teams around them. It isn’t the best play per contract, or the young but unestablished vs. old and experienced debate. It is more so a projection of talent and determining that if a game was in two weeks, and I had to pick a player to be on my team, who would I take over the other. It comes down to a gut opinion, but having watched nearly every snap of the NFL in the past two years via NFL Game Pass I do have confidence in my opinions. At the end of the day it is another discussion of debate so check it out and let me know what you think.
1. Antonio Brown
In 2014 Brown set the Steelers record for most catches in a season and ranked third on the all-time list. In 2015, he played without his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for four games and broke his own record, and now sits in second and fourth for most catches in a season. He seems to now be in a tier above the rest of the league for the time being. What separates him is really his footwork. He is so deceptive and smooth with the way he moves and every step is perfectly calculated and made. It is like art watching him run routes, and he paints all over the field as the best wide receiver in the league.
“Nuk” called his breakout on Hard Knocks before the season, and he now sits as the second best receiving threat in the league. It is one thing that he finished third in catches and yards, and ninth in touchdowns, but to do it with the quarterbacks he did was really impressive. It could be argued Brown could not do what he is doing with the quarterback play of Hopkins, and it is his ridiculous catch radius that makes him the next best threat. He doesn’t usually drop passes, and with WIll Fuller and Braxton Miller drafted it now takes away potential double teams, and even triple teams that he saw last year.
3. Odell Beckham
Beckham set the record for most yards over a two-year period to start a career, and he did it by missing four games to start his career. He also ranks second behind Randy Moss for most touchdowns to start a career. Beckham is amazing due to his route running, and freakish athletic ability. He is similar to Hopkins in which his ability to make contested, or inaccurate catches is better than anyone on the else in the league. What Hopkins has over Beckham is really just playing strength, and mental toughness. For Beckham to only be in year two, there is a good chance he can work on his issues and become one of the most complete wide receivers in the league.
Of any of the wide receivers listed so far, Jones is the most physically complete. Jones is a horse and it helps him to be one of the most effective players with the ball in his hands. He also has the size and ability to play contested balls that makes him one of the great deep threats in the league. Last year Jones was fed the ball, seeing 203 targets but still churning out a 67% completion rate. He is not quite as dynamic as the names above him, but on a complete player scale he is in the group of the elite of the league.
5. A.J. Green
Green is underrated mainly because of how consistent he is. He never sets records or gets targeted at unreal rates, but what he has done is produced in every year of his NFL career at a top tier rate. Green averages 83 catches, 1,234 yards and nine touchdowns per season in his five year career. He also always seems to make the 90-yard touchdown play that ties the game or takes the lead for their team. With that consistency and big play ability, it is almost a let down not to have him higher.
6. Dez Bryant
Bryant could arguably be the number two wide receiver, and he may prove it this year, but off of a season that featured foot surgery, this is the best spot for him currently. Bryant has the size of Julio Jones, but has the ability to make contested catches in the same tier as the Beckham and Hopkins crew. In nine games Bryant only caught 31 balls, and completed less than half of the targets thrown his way. Still, he did not have Tony Romo for the large majority, and injuring his foot in week one almost guaranteed that he would not be a top five wide receiver this year. Coming back from injury and at a loaded position he will have to prove he belongs, but he is talented enough that it should not take long to see that Dez is back.
7. Allen Robinson
Robinson is an ascending up and comer and may be moving up on the list as the weeks go by. What is going well for Robinson to start is that he led the league in touchdowns last year. While many point to the Jaguars offensive success to playing garbage time football, it should be noted that it was his quarterback, Blake Bortles who was the reason for the Jags playing so much garbage time. He is also the reason why Robinson had to make so many acrobatic and head scratching plays. He doesn’t have top notch breakaway speed, but he did put up 1,400 yards with a 17 yards per catch rate and that can show to not just his acrobatic catch ability, but his ability to extend and make big plays.
8. Brandon Marshall
Marshall has been as consistent as you can ask for about the past ten years. That is why now at 31, it is a bit of a surprise to see he is coming off of a year in which he had the second most catches of his career, by nine catches, and he has second highest yards, only six off of his career high, and that all comes with his most touchdowns in his career. Marshall is an offense that is sustained around him feeding him in short targets and letting him take advantage of space created. You then look to Ryan Fitzpatrick last year and tend to wonder whether or not Fitzpatrick is the most talented quarterback Marshall has played with. This summer, Marshall claimed Kyle Orton was the best quarterback of his career. You then look to see he has played with only Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Patrick Ramsey, Chris Sims, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen, Chad Pennington, Matt Moore, J.P. Losman, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, and Jimmy Clausen and you start to wonder how true that statement was. For him to stay so consistent, have a career year past the point where people would label him in his “prime” and do it with such quarterback play makes him a lock on the list.
9. Jordy Nelson
This is a tough one because Nelson had not played a single game in 2015 ,but it is even tougher to keep Nelson off of the list. Coming into the season he was a top five wide out in almost any persons list. With Hopkins really taking a step forward last year, it may not ring as true, but in his last appearances he was considered right there with Antonio Brown for the best footwork in the NFL. Over his last two healthy years he has averaged 1,417 yards and ten touchdowns. While many can point to his stats having to do with playing with Aaron Rodgers, it should be mentioned that while Rodgers was elite this year in his play, his completion percentage fell from 65 to 60, he threw for 500 less yards on 52 more attempts, his touchdowns went down by seven and his interceptions are the highest they have been since 2012. To say that Rodgers may miss Nelson is an understatement.
10. Larry Fitzgerald
It was tough but the 32-year old future Hall of Famers still makes the cut. The biggest pluses for Fitzgerald has be that he is probably the best blocking wide receiver in the game, and also the consistency factor. Fitzgerald as he aged is like a pitcher who lost velocity. How he replaced the velocity was instead to become deadly accurate and paint corners. He know longer can manhandle opponents in a Julio Jones type of way, but he converted over 70% of the targets he was given, he works in the slot and underneath coverages and he makes hay in the ways that he knows he can. It is tough to knock the career greatness, and the overall ability of Fitzgerald, and in one of the deepest positions in the NFL, he still finds a way into the top ten.