Dylan’s top 10 wide receivers heading into 2015/16
Like my top 10 quarterbacks list, this selection of the top 10 wide receivers heading into the new season is based on an amalgamation of factors, from statistical evidence, strength and structure of the team around them, to the defining factor; personal enjoyment and desire to watch them play the game. Although historical evidence and longevity will be considered, as with the quarterbacks list this is about who I would choose to have going forward this year. So without any further unneeded clarifications, here are my top 10 wide receivers heading ton 2015/16.
10) T.Y Hilton
The first spot on this list was a tough choice in many ways. I entertained the idea of Mike Evans, who’s impressive rookie season could certainly be matched or even bettered in year two with the addition to Tampa’s offence of Jameis Winston, and also toyed with putting Emmanuel Sanders in, who had a terrific season in Denver. However, in the end, the choice at number 10 became quite clear cut when sticking to the thought process of not just last year’s performance, but ability to perform in 2015 both individually and as part of an offense as a whole. TY Hilton plays for the Indianapolis colts, and despite their abundance of pass catchers, I believe he is Andrew Luck’s brightest star and thus, is in line for a huge season this year. His catch percentage in 2014 of 66.7 was higher than such luminaries as Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones, and though he only recorded 7 touchdowns, his yards per reception figures of 16.4 were higher than any of the nine names who will feature after him. His ability to take the top off a defense was clearly illustrated by the amount of yards he gained on passes over 20 yards. He is a game changer for one of the best quarterbacks in the league and I expect big things going forward.
9) Randall Cobb
The best slot receiver in the NFL? There’s little doubt. 87.6% of Cobb’s routes over the last three years have been from the slot, and his rapport with quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes them arguably the best tandem in the NFL. In 2014 they combined to give Rodgers a QB Rating of 134.3 (1,287 yards, 12 TD, 1 INT), unparalleled elsewhere in the league. His statistics for 2014 are mightily impressive for a number two wideout, with his 1,287 receiving yards enough to list him 11th highest in the NFL and 12 touchdowns that sees him joint fourth. He recorded 603 yards after the catch, again, the fourth most among wide receivers, and totalled 18 missed tackles, more than every other receiver bar Golden Tate and Steve Smith. That’s a lot of stats showing why I rate Cobb so highly, and why the Packers fending off the alluring advances from lower ranked teams with big money to spend was so important this off-season. Cobb may not be as high profile as some other players on this list, but taking everything into account, including the fact that he is being thrown the ball by the very best in business, he is fully deserving of his spot among the elite at the position heading into 2015/16.
8) Demaryius Thomas
The first position we tackled in our series of ‘Top 10’ articles was that of quarterback (published last week and available for your delectation on Gridirongentlemen.com). In said article, I made the choice to leave one of the premier signal callers in the history of the NFL out due to legitimate concerns over his age and injuries. Starkly shown in the shambolic way he ended 2014, Peyton Manning is not one of my top 10 quarterbacks for 2015, and that fact, in conjunction with various other factors of course, has unfortunately meant that Demaryius Thomas slips all the way down to number eight here. Thomas’ figures for 2014 are both impressive and concerning. He compiled the second most receiving yards (1,619) behind Antonio Brown, and reeled in 11 touchdowns. However his 9 dropped passes were the most of any player in my top 10, and his accumulative catch percentage of 62.4 was the lowest of every other selection apart from Calvin Johnson. Thomas is the Broncos prized offensive weapon, adept both running deep and used in short screen pass situations, and he is vitally important to any success the franchise may have over the next few years. However, I don’t trust the man throwing him the ball, and with even more pressure on Demaryius after the departure of tight end Julius Thomas this offseason, I have my doubts over just how good his situation can allow him to be in 2015.
7) AJ Green
2014 was AJ Green’s least productive year since he entered the NFL in 2011. This was in part due to the fact that he played just 13 games, and despite this handicap, he still caught for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns. Green is a master of the wide receiver position, with his ability to create separation, body control and freakish athletic ability to haul in passes second to none. His razor sharp route-running and deft movement in and out of his cuts is incredibly impressive and (like a player who will appear far higher on this list) I just absolutely love watching him play. His yards per game career percentage of 82.1 is enough to see him ranked third all-time, and all this has been achieved with a quarterback who is, quite simply, the epitome of average. I would have liked to have put AJ Green higher on this list, but contradictorily I was close to putting him one place lower, with the choice between Green and Thomas for the number seven spot very tough to make. I decided in the end to go with my gut, but after an inconsistent 2014 (albeit through injury) and a quarterback who I don’t trust to help him get to the ‘next level’ this is as high as I can put him.
6) Dez Bryant
Bryant has led the NFL in touchdowns for the last five season, amassing 56 scores over that time, including 16 last season, the most of any wideout. His prowess in the Red-Zone speaks for itself, and his physicality and ability to make defenders miss in space is a huge strength, shown by his 16 recorded missed tackles last year. Dez wants a big new contract, and 2015 is therefore in many ways a pivotal season in his career, leading me to believe we will see the best of him in 2015. His catch percentage of 65.2 was relatively average for the players who made this list, but his ball security is excellent, recording only five dropped passes and no fumbles in 2014. The fact he was such a weapon in the final third of the field brings perspective to the fact that his yards after catch figure of 373 is comparatively low, as his 15.0 yards per reception was higher than that recorded by Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham or Demaryius Thomas. All things considered, I am a fan of Dez, but I must admit that a hugely influential factor in placing him sixth on this list ahead of Demaryius Thomas is the fact that heading into 2015/16 I have more faith in Tony Romo to feed his prime receiver than I do in Peyton Manning to do the same. Dez is the focal point of the Dallas offence, which got much weaker at the running back position this off-season, which in turn could well force Tony Romo and the Cowboys to rely even more heavily on Bryant in 2015.
5) Calvin Johnson
One of the most recognisable and devastatingly productive wide receivers in NFL history, it felt strange placing Johnson as low as number five, but last year there were worrying signs that age, injury and poor quarterback play would now have to be considered when discussing Megatron’s career going forward. The 6”5’ receiver has missed five games over the last two years, and in many of his starts has clearly been way below par in terms of fitness, being used almost exclusively as a distraction or decoy. He still, obviously, has the raw physical attributes and stunning ability to stake a legitimate claim to be the best pure receiver in the NFL, but I just don’t believe the consistency is there enough for me to warrant putting him any higher. His 2014 catch percentage of 57.3 was by no means bad, but it was the lowest of any player to make this list, as was his yards after catch average. This, coupled with the fact he only recorded one solitary missed tackle all season would indicate to me his lack of ability to create space in the open field after the catch. Make no mistake, Calvin Johnson is still an incredible, freakish athlete, and if he returns in 2015 fully fit and back to his best, then placing him at number five on this list could well cause me to eat several helpings of humble pie, but this article takes into consideration not just individual skill and stats, but also the player’s teammates, and in particular, the quarterback involved. In this respect, Matt Stafford does not instill a great amount of faith, and I can’t help but foresee another season similar to 2014 for Johnson, a season of big plays and great performances, interspersed with injury setbacks and frustration.
4) Jordy Nelson
Like earlier entry Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson has a clear advantage when it comes to my top 10 wide receiver list, and it is quite simply that he plays with the best quarterback in the NFL, and also for my favourite team come to that. I rate Jordy highly, probably higher than a lot of people do, but I think his size and speed are underrated, and he is as dependable as they come, possessing excellent ball security. Nelson is student of the game, with a fantastic football brain and as previously mentioned, is nearly always perfectly in sync with his quarterback. He can be relied upon to contribute in every game, shown by the fact he caught for at least 50 yards in all but one of last season’s match-ups, and is equally adept both as a deep threat and as a short yardage receiver. This is illustrated by his yards after reception average of 15.5, which is higher than anyone else on this list bar T.Y Hilton. He has no serious injury concerns (his hip surgery this off-season was routine) and so I have faith in him to be on the field perennially in 2015. I toyed with the the placings of numbers four, five and six a lot when writing this article, but based on fitness, productivity and age concerns of the man in the number five spot, and the statistical evidence and comparative potential this season of the player at number six, I think I made the right call. All things considered (and even taking the green and gold tinted spectacles off for a second) the bottom line is, if you asked me if I would swap Jordy for Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant this year, I honestly don’t believe I would take the deal.
3) Julio Jones
Over the course of his four years in the NFL, Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones has received for 4,330 yards and 26 touchdowns, despite missing the majority of the 2013 season with a foot injury. To put into perspective just how talented and consistent he’s been when fit, he has the highest yards per game average of anyone; ever. His monstrous average of 88.4 is a yard more than Calvin Johnson and 7.2 yards more than AJ Green in third place. His injury record may have caused me to drop him lower than number three on this list, but after suffering so badly in 2013, he rebounded stronger than ever last year, and though he was limited to 15 games, produced the most productive year of his career to date, catching 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. This gives me faith that another year down the line, still only 26 years old and striving for a huge new contract, we can expect huge things from Julio in 2015. He is lightning quick, perhaps a hair slower than Megatron, but faster than Dez Bryant or AJ Green, to name but two comparable players, and his agility and elusiveness as a runner in space is illustrated by the 16 missed tackles he recorded last season. He plays with a consistent and talented quarterback in Matt Ryan, on an Atlanta team that I believe will definitely improve this term. The tools are all there for a monster season in 2015 for Jones.
2) Odell Beckham Jr
The greatest wide receiver rookie season of all time? Possibly. Despite missing the first quarter of the Giants 2014 campaign, Odell Beckham Jr finished up only eight yards and five touchdowns short of the record setting 1998 season of four-time All Pro Randy ‘The Freak’ Moss, compiling an incredible 108.8 yards per game compared with Moss’ 82.1. Despite his lack of game time, Beckham totaled 1,305 yards, enough for a top 10 berth, and all the while being routinely double teamed and targeted by defenses on a Giants team missing number one wideout Victor Cruz. He has terrific hands, illustrated by the fact he only recorded two dropped passes last year, and his speed and elegant, pin-point route-running is a thing of beauty. Everyone has seen ‘The Catch’, so the genius of it hardly needs to be explained, but it was not just this one glorious feat of athletic wizardry that has led me to anoint Beckham as my number two receiver, no, it is the fact that he may well be the best pure athlete I have ever seen. In 2015/16 I expect nothing less than a continuation of his phenomenal, record breaking achievements of a year ago, and I will enjoy watching every second of it. For those who don’t agree with me placing him so high (and obviously I am aware there will be plenty of you who don’t) it is that last point that is most key in deciphering why I would want him on my team more than (nearly) any other receiver, and actually toyed with making him my number one choice. Odell Beckham Jr is just an absolute thrill to watch, and beyond all the facts and stats, that is the most important thing of all.
1) Antonio Brown
The league leader in receiving yards (1,698) with the second most touchdowns (13) to boot, Antonio Brown had the best season of his career in 2014. In fact, it was good enough to rank sixth all-time for single season receiving yards, and second all-time for single season receptions. Brown has an incredibly reliable pair of hands, dropping just five passes all season and notching a catch percentage of 72.5%, the second highest on this list behind Randall Cobb, who was targeted 53 fewer times. His superb agility and footwork in the open field is authenticated by his 17 missed tackles, more than any other player in my top 10, again bar Randall Cobb, and his 615 yards after catch was a figure bettered by only one other receiver on the list, Denver’s Demarius Thomas. A downfield threat and a perfect weapon for short screen passes, he is the most complete receiver in the NFL heading into 2015. Even though he has been selected to the pro bowl on three occasions, it’s been a struggle for Brown to fully establish himself as one of the leading wideouts in the game, but now there can surely be no doubt that the sixth round draft pick entering his sixth NFL season has finally done so. Brown has improved statistically with each passing year, and with Ben Roethlisberger coming off the back of his most productive outing of a distinguished 11 year career, the pieces are firmly in place for the two to set the AFC alight once again in 2015.
Agree? Disagree? As always feel free to comment, like, share and review at all the usual places, and find me on Twitter @Dylanbaker1986