Aside from quarterback, the wide receiver position is the most debated position in the NFL. Whether you have Fitzgerald one, and Andre Johnson two, or whether you still pay homage to Moss and give him the #1 spot, the love affair with this position is never-ending. Words like diva, prim donna, and even narcissist have been associated with those that play this position. Yet still they are the most loveable and the most hateable players in the NFL. Chad 85 is no doubt my favorite player in the league from pure spectator standpoint, and while T.O. is as easy to hate as Hitler (too harsh there?), he is no doubt a physical specimen that should be thrusted into the discussion of a top 20 all time athlete.
In this column, I attempt to rank the wide receiver position in an AFC East that has gone through a complete makeover, most noticeably at this position.
1) New England Patriots- I can hear Jets fans cringe and give me a million reasons why they should be number one. I merely answer in the form of a question, who is YOUR #1? The New England Patriots have what essentially 30 other team don’t in the NFL, and that is a great quarterback. With Tom Brady throwing passes, this receiving corps becomes better than everyone in this division and in my opinion, 90% of the league. Randy Moss will need to be leaned on much more this year, and will have to step up if this team wants to continue to stay atop this division. Double-teams will not be a surprise as he has been dealing with them since he was drafted. Julian Edleman has shown signs that he can be arguably as productive as Welker from a reception standpoint. The areas where he needs to improve are after the catch. What separates Welker from the rest of the league is his RAC, it is single-handedly the most valuable stat for a receiver when comparing like players. Losing Welker cannot be ignored, it will hurt, especially on third downs and cheesy awkward furniture commercials.
The supporting cast for Moss is severely in question by the rest of the league. Will the two rookie tight ends that New England drafted pan out? To this question I give an emphatic maybe. I see Gronkowski out of the Jason Witten mold and Hernandez is sort of a wild card in my opinion. He isn’t the big target that you want in a tight end, but he makes up for it with athleticism and talent. Torry Holt is an enigma himself. Was the awful offense he was a part of in Jacksonville the reason for his poor numbers, is it his age catching up to him, will Tom Brady revive the once stellar career of the most consistent wide out of the early 2000′s? No one knows the answer to this, but you can’t teach hands, and that will be the last thing to go on an aging wide receiver. You have to include running backs in this discussion and that is where I think some of the proverbial slack will be picked up. Kevin Faulk is a very reliable target out of the backfield and should help on those third downs they will miss with a Welker-less cast.
2) New York Jets- Now the Dolphins fans start to cringe. I digress, The New York Jets are loaded with weapons. The biggest issue I have with this position is consistency. Braylon Edwards is a shell of his 2007 self, and Santonio Holmes still doesn’t get it. The duo no doubt has the talent and skill set to excel in this league, but they get in their own way when it comes to succeeding. Edwards has had the drops for the past three seasons and Holmes is turning into the next character spotlight issue. New York is a much different place than Pittsburg and while Big Ben can fine trouble there, you have to think Holmes will be kept close to his head coaches huge belt. After exploding onto the scene with his performance in the postseason for the Steelers, former super bowl MVP Santonio Holmes is too good to take off his head phones on a plane? This doesn’t seem like a big issue I know, but how big of an issue is it to take them off for 10 minutes on a runway? Holmes needs to grow up fast if he wants to be a star in this league. His famous, “that’s how you be great” quote after the second best catch in super bowl history, is in complete contradiction to the situation I just mentioned. A few phrases I can think of in regards to the plane incident; “that’s how you be stupid”, or “that’s how you get fined”, how about “that’s how you let your team down”.
I don’t see a number one receiver on this roster merely two 2′s and a solid three in Cotchery. Cotchery is very under-valued in my opinion and with a different QB he could put up some serious numbers. Dustin Keller is key to the success of this group. He has shown flashes of greatness at the position and has the athleticism to line up all over the field. His production can take the pressure off of the edges and allow his receivers to flourish. Ladainian Tomlinson will be a check down machine for Sanchez this season and his addition will help this team convert third downs. The growth of this group is no doubt stunted by its young quarterback. The growing pains that he goes through will directly affect this team. Moving forward I am intrigued to see how both Sanchez grows as a leader, and this wide receiving corps grows as a unit and not as individuals. The chemistry of this team will be closely watched and it may be the critical factor in the success of this team, or its demise.
3) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins no doubt made the biggest splash this off-season with the addition of Brandon Marshall. He immediately adds credibility to a group that has had none in the past five seasons. Marshall is a matchup nightmare and carries the term beast for a reason. The 6’4″ 230lb target will no doubt help his young quarterback, as well as the rest of his teammates. Averaging 101 catches in the last three seasons will be challenged this year to a team that has a run first mentality. It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Dan Henning will utilize his new weapon, and try to balance Miami’s offensive attack.
While Marshall’s supporting cast is no doubt weaker than the two teams listed above, the ceiling is also higher in my opinion. Davone Bess is an amazing slot receiver who should no doubt benefit from the Marshall signing. He led the Dolphins in receptions last season and is a sure-handed option for Chad Henne. Bess finished only second to Steve Smith from the New York Giants in third down conversions last season. Brian Hartline is listed in ESPN’s 3 sophomores to watch list this season for a good reason. Hartline came on strong last season and made some huge plays for Miami down the stretch. In my opinion he will win the starting role opposite Marshall this year. Greg Camarillo will be the fourth option for this unit and while he lacks the physical attributes of the other three in this group, he competes with his hands and non-stop motor. Camarillo did not drop one pass last season! He most notably made two huge third down catches in the Monday night victory against the Jets on the game winning drive.The tight end position for Miami is a big question mark. With the huge focus on the running game last season, the tight ends were required to stay in and block most of the time. They were also left in on passing downs for an extra blocker to give the young quarterback more time to throw. This season the middle of the field should open up and it is up to Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos to produce in order to keep defenses honest. Haynos will be an interesting piece in the passing game this season. He is 6’8″ and has proven to have solid hands. If his blocking improves it will get him more snaps and opportunities to produce from a receiving standpoint. Both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have contributed in the past as viable options out of the backfield and that should continue. Chad Henne now has the weapons in place to show the NFL what he’s got. This year will prove as a great measuring stick for this young quarterback and his future development.
4) Buffalo Bills- Don’t worry Bills fans, I will be rating the defensive backfield and special teams soon enough. The Buffalo Bills wide receiving corps have been victim to its bad quarterback play much like the Miami Dolphins in the past. The Terrell Owens experiment failed miserably last year and Lee Evans has not had a formidable teammate on the other side of him since an aging Eric Moulds. Evans can be a game changer at times, but there are other times when he fails to show up. I blame the front office more than anyone for the fall from grace that started in the mid 90′s. In recent years, this team has not produced an offense with a consistent aerial attack. Evans has not been able to produce consistently because he has not had a consistent quarterback, or coordinator for that matter.
The second option at receiver for the Bills looks to be in the form of recovering first round pick James Hardy. Hardy is a huge target at 6’5″ and his torn ACL in week 15 of his rookie season was a huge set back to the receivers development. Hardy made his way back to the team last season in week 16 and tallied one catch for 9 yards. This season Hardy, along with the Bills front office, hopes to be that guy across from Evans making an impact. C.J. Spiller could very well lead this team in receptions this year. Trent Edwards, if he wins the job, loves to check down to the back, and with Spiller’s explosiveness, he could be the feature in a lot of the Bills packages this season. The tight ends for this team are a mystery, just like the starter for the upcoming season.
Filed under: NFL, Patriots | Tagged: AFC East, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes | 3 Comments »