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Thread: Cosell Talks: The Top 5 Wide Receivers in the NFL

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    Cosell Talks: The Top 5 Wide Receivers in the NFL

    Cosell Talks: The Top 5 Wide Receivers

    by Greg Cosell

    http://nflfilms.nfl.com/2012/07/12/c...content_stream

    If one thing has become clear in this age of social media, itís this: everybody likes lists and rankings. For those who have followed me on Twitter or read my columns on TCIPF, you know that my personal inclination is to take lists for what they really are: a functional means by which to collate detailed and comprehensive material, and present it in an overly simplistic manner. You canít argue that they are fun, and thereís no question they generate vigorous and energetic debate.

    In that spirit, I have relented. I will rank my top five wide receivers entering the 2012 season. Again, and I know itís become my mantra, please read my reasoning, and the substance behind my choices. As always, this is more a discussion of the players than a strict list.



    Here my top five:
    5. A.J. Green
    4. Steve Smith
    3. Larry Fitzgerald
    2. Calvin Johnson
    1. Andre Johnson

    The first point to notice: the size of four of the top five receivers. Only Smith is shorter than 6-foot-3 and weighs less than 210 pounds. That speaks to the evolution of the wide receiver position in the NFL. Look at the majority of the first-round selections in the NFL draft the last number of years ó A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Jonathan Baldwin, Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd. The big wide receiver is in demand. In 2011, the Falcons traded up 21 spots, in addition to surrendering numerous draft picks, to select Jones with the sixth overall pick. Jones is just shy of 6-foot-3 and comes in at 220 pounds. Size matters.

    That leads to A.J. Green at No 5. Heís almost 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds. He does not look that big on film. He has elements of Randy Moss as a vertical receiver, with his long fluid stride, his excellent body control and leaping ability, and his soft hands. Green, much like Andre Johnson, moves like a smaller man. But heís a smoother, more elegant athlete, a glider with deceptive separation and acceleration. His ease of movement belies his explosiveness. This year marks is his first real NFL offseason, and I would expect Green to improve significantly, particularly at the small details of the position, like beating press coverage. Thereís no question Green has an elite skill set with his combination of size, movement and hands. So itís no surprise that heís already in the conversation regarding the leagueís top wide receivers.

    My inclusion of Steve Smith at No. 4 might surprise some, but Iíve studied him for a long time, and I always felt he had special attributes. There is no tougher wide receiver in the game; physicality and explosiveness define him. Smith might be short (heís 5-foot-9) but heís not small, and he plays with an edge that never relents. He has elements of finesse due to his dynamic quickness and short-area burst, and heís strong and powerful as a result of his body type and his uncompromising desire. Heís always made tough catches in traffic. Heís elusive with the ball in his hands, with the run-after-catch ability of a punt returner, which he has been in his career. There might be no better route runner versus man coverage than Smith. He can run past corners vertically, and he can run away from them across the field. Vertical speed, lateral explosion, physical strength and mental toughness: you normally donít see that combination of traits in one receiver. You could argue that not even the top three embody each of those characteristics in the all-inclusive way in which Smith does.

    What always strikes me about Larry Fitzgerald is heís much faster than people generally acknowledge. Heís the definition of the phrase, ďhe plays fast.Ē He caught a 73-yard touchdown early last season against the Redskins, and he ran away from DeAngelo Hall. I asked Steelers corner Ike Taylor about Fitzgerald in the spring, and the first thing he said was Fitzgeraldís speed is deceptive, that he plays like he runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.

    Where Fitzgerald is truly special is his understanding of the subtle details of the position, the disciplines that separate merely talented receivers from becoming top receivers. Fitzgerald is a master of those nuances. He understands how to use pace, tempo and stride length with his vertical stem to set up off-coverage corners. He has a great feel for how different routes are run, and how alignments or splits impact how you run those routes. Heís physical off the ball versus press coverage. He disguises his routes very well. Heís adept at establishing inside position on in-breaking routes, and using his size and body position to shield defenders. Thereís no one better at those finer points of receiving than Fitzgerald.

    There are similarities between Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Both have outstanding ability to go up and highpoint contested balls, both have the flexibility to contort their bodies to make tough catches, and both track the deep ball very well. The difference would be that Calvin Johnson does it more with length, whereas Fitzgerald does it with power and strength. And the given that needs no further discussion: Fitzgerald has the best hands in the NFL.

    I understand that many, if not most, would have Calvin Johnson at the top of the list. In 2011, he joined Randy Moss as only the second receiver in NFL history to gain 1,600 yards and score 16 touchdowns in a single season. While Calvin Johnson was accomplishing that, Andre Johnson spent more than half of last season on the sideline with a hamstring injury. Out of sight, out of mind. It was easy to forget how special Andre Johnson is, at the same time being reminded weekly of Calvin Johnsonís outstanding play.

    Iím splitting hairs here, but hereís why I give a healthy Andre Johnson the slight edge over Calvin Johnson. Andre Johnson is more purely athletic and explosive. When you watch him on film, you see the quickness, lateral agility and short-area burst of a much smaller man. You forget that heís 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. Heís built like a linebacker. Talk to many receivers and defensive backs in the league, and they will tell you that his combination of size, speed and sheer athleticism is off the charts. They have never seen another receiver like him.

    What you immediately notice on film is how explosive he is off the line of scrimmage, whether itís against press or off coverage. He puts instant pressure on the defense. His ability to stop and start, change direction and get in and out of breaks with instant acceleration is extraordinary. His play speed is the best of any receiver in the NFL. He can blow the top off of any coverage.


    I have felt that Andre Johnson has been the best receiver in the NFL for a number of years. Playing in Houston, for a team that only made the playoffs for the first time last season, has not enhanced his national recognition.

    Calvin Johnson is a bigger man than Andre Johnson, and looks it on film. At 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, he has unique size, which helps in a number of ways. First, it creates an unusually wide catching radius. As a corollary, you could make the argument that Calvin Johnson has better and more consistent hands than Andre Johnson. He snatches the ball with very strong and powerful hands. The second way in which Calvin Johnsonís size is a major factor is stride length. Thatís what allows him to be such an imposing vertical threat. If he has free access off the line of scrimmage, he eats up ground incredibly quickly. Sometimes he looks like he has taken two steps, and heís covered 15 yards. I remember that 73-yard touchdown he caught against the Bears on ďMonday Night FootballĒ last season. It came against Cover 2 defense, a coverage specifically designed to prevent deep passes over the top. Calvin Johnson exploded past safety Chris Harris on his corner/post route. Thereís a vertically explosive element to his game that is not the result of a timed 40 speed, but rather size and stride.

    Like Andre Johnson, who has been doing it for years, Calvin Johnson has now become an effective slot receiver. I saw that more last year than in previous years. What Calvin Johnson also has is great body control and flexibility. He can make difficult and contested catches, which also augments his deep ability. He can both outmaneuver and outreach defensive backs. As I said, the difference between Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson is microscopic. In the what-have-you-done-lately world in which we live, itís easier to visually access Calvin Johnsonís greatness. Itís more recent and immediate.

    One thing is certain in todayís NFL: itís become more a game of pitch-and-catch than ever before, and that increasingly places a premium on the wide receiver position.



    Published: July 12, 2012

    Filed Under: Greg Cosell, Inside the Game

  2. #2
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    Any list that doesn't have Calvin Johnson at #1 has ZERO cred.

    Steve Smith at 4? Uh ok.

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    Quote Originally Posted by detjetsfan View Post
    Any list that doesn't have Calvin Johnson at #1 has ZERO cred.

    Steve Smith at 4? Uh ok.
    Why is that? Because of his outstanding physical abilities or any specific reason.

    By the way Jerry Rice on NFL live last week had Larry Fitzgerald as his #1 and Megatron immediately after him.

    Here's Rice's top five receivers heading into 2012:

    1. Larry Fitzgerald
    2. Calvin Johnson
    3. Andre Johnson
    4. Roddy White
    5. Steve Smith

    AJ drops to # 3 and Steve Smith to 5.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FijiJet View Post
    Why is that? Because of his outstanding physical abilities or any specific reason.

    By the way Jerry Rice on NFL live last week had Larry Fitzgerald as his #1 and Megatron immediately after him.

    Here's Rice's top five receivers heading into 2012:

    1. Larry Fitzgerald
    2. Calvin Johnson
    3. Andre Johnson
    4. Roddy White
    5. Steve Smith

    AJ drops to # 3 and Steve Smith to 5.
    Jerry Rice probably just sees himself in Fitz because they are similar players so he has a rooting interest in him. Fitz and Rice were neither great physical specimens they just had great game speed, amazing conditioning and work ethic and precise route running.

    Call me nuts but I'm taking Calvin Johnson over Larry Fitzgerald.

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    Our boy Hill will soon be in that conversation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slikmojet View Post
    Our boy Hill will soon be in that conversation.
    ... We call dream in the summer.

    One boy who will never crack top 10 let alone 5 ... holMEs.

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    Within the next 5 years Dez Bryant will be in the top 2.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FijiJet View Post
    Why is that? Because of his outstanding physical abilities or any specific reason.

    By the way Jerry Rice on NFL live last week had Larry Fitzgerald as his #1 and Megatron immediately after him.

    Here's Rice's top five receivers heading into 2012:

    1. Larry Fitzgerald
    2. Calvin Johnson
    3. Andre Johnson
    4. Roddy White
    5. Steve Smith

    AJ drops to # 3 and Steve Smith to 5.
    I agree with this one more, however there are so many WRs that could be put at #5 instead of Smith. Smith had a "comeback" type of year last year with Newton.

    A lot of the productivity of the WRs depends on the QB, and the offense that's run. LF being able to do what he does with Skelton and Kolb back there is extremely impressive IMO.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by BRONX JET View Post
    Within the next 5 years Dez Bryant will be in the top 2.
    He's a stud, 100%. He's got to get his injury bug thing under wraps.

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    Who cares really....

    #24 shuts down all of them with ease

    Sent from my SGH-T679 using Tapatalk 2

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    fitzgerald is the only wr i've seen recently who can dominate a game. of course that was when warner was throwing him the ball. i don't see where steve smith should be on the list. he certainly was great but he's also been around a pretty long time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sameoldjets View Post
    fitzgerald is the only wr i've seen recently who can dominate a game. of course that was when warner was throwing him the ball. i don't see where steve smith should be on the list. he certainly was great but he's also been around a pretty long time.
    There's no doubt that Smith is getting extra credit for doing what he does at his size. He is the 15-year-old girl in a talent contest against a bunch of adults...some judges want to push her through just because she's able to compete at that age (in his case, size) and not because she's actually better.

    Nice that the Jets finally have somebody with the size and athleticism to compete for a spot on that list - they haven't had that since Toon. Not saying Hill will get there, but at least he's physically capable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sameoldjets View Post
    fitzgerald is the only wr i've seen recently who can dominate a game. of course that was when warner was throwing him the ball. i don't see where steve smith should be on the list. he certainly was great but he's also been around a pretty long time.
    Smith had a comeback type year, as I said earlier. 33 years old, and he put up 79/1,394/7TDs. He hasn't had a year like that since 2008.

    I would expect a drop off this year. Just my opinion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sg3 View Post
    Who cares really....

    #24 shuts down all of them with ease

    Sent from my SGH-T679 using Tapatalk 2

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    Quote Originally Posted by sg3 View Post
    Who cares really....

    #24 shuts down all of them with ease

    Sent from my SGH-T679 using Tapatalk 2
    Finally; an awesome well placed post

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    Randy Moss has been the greatest wide receiver since Jerry Rice. Calvin Johnson is turning/developing into the greatest wide receiver since Randy Moss. All in all; he's something special in the making, to say the least. You can not have a list of the top receivers in today's game without having Calvin Johnson as the number one/bar setter. It'll be easy to rank Andre Johnson as my number two, especially when based off years of past production. With all that said, with Andre Johnson being 31 after coming off an injury which caused a career low in receptions, receiving yards and reception TD's? I'll have to rank Johnson a little lower. Now, if he's able to bounce back into yet another strong season? It'll be hard to rank any WR over the two Johnson's moving forward. Well, that's outside of Larry Fitzgerald. He's top two moving forward. As far as A.J Green is concerned? I believe he's the truth, and in my eyes, can position himself as a top 5 wide receiver with another stand out season here in 2012. But I'm not willing to rank a 2nd year wide receiver, due to an outstanding rookie season, as a top 5 NFL Wide Receiver. The position is too stacked in regards to overall talent, where I'll have to see another year of top of the line performance out of A.J Green.

    1.) Calvin Johnson.
    2.) Larry Fitzgerald.
    3.) Mike Wallace.
    4.) Andre Johnson.
    5.) Brandon Marshall.

    I also have WR's such as Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, Roddy White, Steve Smith, Wes Welker and Greg Jennings rated very highly.

    Santonio Holmes a little lower.

    Now, these are only a few of my favorite up and coming WR's, the one's that I've enjoyed watching (in regards to overall ability) are Percy Harvin, Jordy Nelson, Victor Cruz, Dwayne Bowe, Julio Jones, Jeremy Maclin, A.J Green and DeSean Jackson.

    In closing, Mike Williams of the Bucs is one of the most talented but yet most underrated WR's around. Syracuse kid. He's a steal of a 4th round draft selection. A 6' 3", 229 pound Demaryius Thomas has all the makings for a beastly outside #1 Wide Receiver. Now that Tim Tebow has been replaced by an all-time great Manning, I'm anxious to see the different types of ways that we'll see Demaryius attack/dominate the sidelines. Kid has the ability/potential to become a full blown steal in regards to Fantasy Football.

    Now thinking about it, this league is full of 'top shelf' WR talent. Hopefully one of these days we'll be able to include Stephen Hill into these types of topics of discussion.
    Last edited by NY2FLDWC85; 07-15-2012 at 12:59 PM.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by WestCoastOffensive View Post
    Finally; an awesome well placed post
    why thank you, kind mod sir

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by sg3 View Post
    why thank you, kind mod sir
    Blind squirrel theory.

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    There are so many good receivers in the NFL. You could take any one of them and put them 3-5. Welker (you have to based on his numbers, they are sick), Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Bowe; all are better than Steve Smith imo.

    1. Calvin Johnson
    2. Larry Fitzgerald
    3. Andre Johnson
    4-5 Any of the above wide receivers.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuidoYaztremski View Post
    Blind squirrel theory.
    Sandy vagina theorist.

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