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- Wide Receiver Rankings: AFC's Threats

Chris Pokorny July 17, 2005
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

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If you have a good quarterback on your team, there's a good chance that there are some great wide receivers to throw to on that team. Sometimes though, receivers struggle when there's a lot of people competing for playing time around them. In the NFL, there are many types of receivers. You've got the possession receivers, the long ball men, the slot guys, those who come in the clutch when you need it most, and those who include all of these tangibles.

Before we start the rankings, here are some receivers that made a surprise impact on the NFL last year:

Mushin Muhammad was simply outstanding for the Carolina Panthers. Without Steve Smith on the other side of him, he became one of the elite receivers in the NFC, as well as the go to guy for Jake Delhomme.

Nate Burleson was the alternative to Randy Moss, but I'm sure a lot of people would only think about Moss when they heard the Vikings would be coming into town. Burleson proved to be a consistent receiver when Moss went down, and could shine even more without Moss for an entire season.

Rookie wide receivers typically don't have outstanding seasons, but I think there's quite a few that can make an impact this year. Between the rookies drafted in the first round, I'm only choosing one to really put his name on the radar screen.

The Vikings got rid of Randy Moss and gained rookie Troy Williamson. Culpepper often likes to throw the deep ball, which is an area in which Williamson is supposed to excel. The Vikings are known for having an explosive offense at times, so Williamson is more likely to succeed over Braylon Edwards on the Browns, Mike Williams in Detroit, or Mark Clayton in Baltimore.

After making the Pro-Bowl two seasons ago, Anquan Boldin fell off the radar screen with an injury last season. Even when he did play, he wasn't able to produce as well as the year before. With a veteran in quarterback Kurt Warner throwing to him this year, Boldin should have a turn around season.

Lee Evans was known for his speed last year, and it's time that he steps up in his sophomore season. New quarterback J.P. Losman may feel more comfortable throwing it to Evans if he feels that teams are covering Eric Moulds too good.

Now that the sleeper picks are settled, it's time for the rankings by division. Remember that these are based on how well they will do with their team this year, not necessarily who is the most talented.

AFC East - No Household Names
There are big-name receivers in the NFL like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Hines Ward, Chad Johnson, Torry Holt, and a few others. None of them are in this division, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of talent. There's a reason the Patriots made the Super Bowl the past few years without those big name players.

1. Lavernous Coles - New York Jets - In my opinion, Coles did much better with the New York Jets than he did with the Redskins. Pennington and Coles had good chemistry with each other, and that will be re-freshened this year. Pennington didn't have a reliable weapon last year, but this year he has it.

2. Deion Branch - New England Patriots - Branch could be a star in the making. He's been one of Tom Brady's favorite targets the past few years. Even though Brady loves to spread the ball out to everybody, I wouldn't be surprised if Branch got a few more looks than everyone else does this season.

3. Eric Moulds - Buffalo Bills - Moulds has dealt with Drew Bledsoe for the past few years, so he'll have to make the adjustment to J.P. Losman. Now that Evans is in his second year, teams won't double Moulds as often, which will allow him to make some more big plays for the Bills. If Losman struggles to find a target in games, Moulds will make sure Losman finds him.

4. Chris Chambers - Miami Dolphins - The talent is there for Chambers, he just hasn't seemed to get over the hump and breakout. If doesn't help that he played on a bad Dolphins team last year, or the fact that there isn't a reliable quarterback on the team. Who knows though, maybe Feely or Frerotte will do better under head coach Nick Saban.

5. Lee Evans - Buffalo Bills - Evans cracks the list as the best "second man" in the division. His speed should allow him to make some unique plays for the Bills. Maybe it'll seem like the Peerless Price/Eric Moulds team that did so well a few years ago.

6. Justin McCariens - New York Jets - Although the Jets would have liked more production from McCariens last year, he didn't do too bad in his first season with the Jets. Coles should be more of a threat alongside McCariens than Santana Moss was, so McCariens may seem some more red zone opportunities.

7. David Givens - New England Patriots - Projected to be the Patriots other starting wideout this season, Givens has come in the clutch for the Patriots in the past. He takes the spot of David Patten, and with how often Brady likes to spread the ball around, Givens will get a variety of passes thrown to him.

7. Marty Booker - Miami Dolphins - Booker hasn't been able to match his big season that he had with the Chicago Bears since coming to Miami, but he hopes that new head coach Nick Saban will change that. Booker was a 1,000 yard receiver in the past, but he won't get near that type of figure with Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael on the same line.

8. David Terrell - New England Patriots - Terrell and Brady played in college together, so this move could be considered a sleeper pick. Terrell didn't come through as the Bears number one man last year, but he'll get less pressure as the Patriots slot receiver or fourth man.

9. David Boston - Miami Dolphins - I'm sure a lot of people don't even realize Boston is on the Dolphins due to the fact that he was injured all of last season. It's tough to say how he will rebound, but he was always a threat as a starter when healthy. If Chambers or Booker go down or under-perform, Boston could easily climb this list. As a third man though with a slumping Miami offense, he's ranked lower than his potential.

10. Troy Brown - New England Patriots - There's a chance that Brown could be used in the passing game more often this year if the Patriots don't use him as a cornerback. That would obviously increase Browns value, especially since he was never a bad receiver in the first place. With so much depth though, his opportunities could be limited to trick plays or four to five receiver sets.

11. Roscoe Parrish - Buffalo Bills - Parrish just barely cracked my rankings where I give a comment, since I've heard that he's a rookie that he can stretch the field. Mini-camp reports are that he's got speed and can pose as a deep threat down the field, which can set up some nice connections between Losman and himself.

The Rest(in order): Jerricho Cotchery, Josh Reed, Bryan Gilmore, Sam Aiken, Bethel Johnson


AFC North - Two of the Best, Two Full of Depth
Over the past few seasons, Hines Ward and Chad Johnson have proven to be two of the NFL's best receivers. The Ravens improved their receiving options greatly while the Steelers lost Burress. Meanwhile, the Bengals and Browns have plenty of depth at the position.

1. Hines Ward - Pittsburgh Steelers - Although the Steelers don't have the dangerous combination of Ward and Plaxico Burress anymore, that doesn't mean Ward will have a drop in productivity. In fact, it could pick up. The Steelers will rely on Ward to make tough catches, which he's very good at doing. Known as one of the best possession receivers in the NFL, Ward could even get the call for more deep balls, which was usually saved for Plaxico Burress in years past.

2. Chad Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals - It was tough to rank the energized trash talker below Ward, but it had to be done since the Bengals have a more talented group of wide receivers at the moment. With so much depth, the Bengals won't have to rely on Johnson to do everything. That won't stop him from making his spectacular catches or showboating his way into an end zone though.

3. Derrick Mason - Baltimore Ravens - I can't wait to see how Mason does with the Ravens, since he will be Kyle Boller's first true number one receiver since he's been with the team. The move, which can be considered one of the most underrated moves in the off-season, will test if Boller is the future quarterback of the Ravens. Mason has proven himself in the league already and should have a good season, but not as good as his best times with the Titans.

4. Andre Davis - Cleveland Browns - The Browns really missed Davis after his injury last season. He's known as a huge playmaker, including his 99-yard reception from Jeff Garcia last year. When healthy, there's no doubt that Davis could get close to cracking a 1,000 yard receiving season.

5. T.J. Houshmandzadeh - Cincinnati Bengals - Believe it or not, I finally learned how to spell this guys name without looking it up. Last year, he became a solid threat as the second receiver for the team. There were games where he even came through more than Chad Johnson did, which says something about your productivity.

6. Braylon Edwards - Cleveland Browns - It's tough for a young receiver to get used to the NFL sometimes, but Edwards shouldn't have too much pressure on him with a veteran quarterback and depth at the receiving position. Edwards should be the starter; after all, he was the third overall pick in the draft. Like most rookies, it's tough to say how well they'll do until they step onto that field for the first time.

7. Antwaan Randle El - Pittsburgh Steelers - He'll have some big shoes to fill as the replacement to Burress, but Big Ben enjoyed finding Randle El last season in the slot. He won't have a problem catching some balls deep down the field, but I'm not too sure how he'll do on a play where he's hit hard and needs to hang on. That's why you've got Hines Ward on the other side though. I'm sure he'll still be involved in many trick plays though, which is one of his strengths.

8. Dennis Northcutt - Cleveland - Northcutt could easily be swapped with Antonio Bryant on this list, but I think Northcutt will have a surprising season. He didn't do anything spectacular as a starter when the Browns had injury problems, but he also didn't have the best of quarterbacks getting him the ball. With his versatility on the field in the past, he will make some plays.

9. Mark Clayton - Baltimore Ravens - I hope you're not asking why Clayton, drafted in the first round, isn't ranked higher than some of the guys above. Last year, the Ravens starting group may not have even cracked my top ten receivers in the AFC North. Just because they made two additions this year doesn't mean that Clayton will have a huge season. You have to put blame on Kyle Boller for not getting the job done. Besides, Todd Heap and Derrick Mason will already take time away from the rookie.

10. Antonio Bryant - Cleveland Browns - Bryant's ranking all depends on which job he wins. There's still a chance that he could even be a starter, which would raise his stock value without a doubt. His problem in the past has been dropping the easy passes though, which I'm not too sure Romeo Crennel wants to deal with. On the other hand though, he's had games where he makes several deep catches down the field.

11. Kelly Washington - Cincinnati Bengals - Washington is another one of the guys who Palmer will love to throw to. He won't get nearly as many chances as Houshmandzadeh will, but he should pile on another average type of season.

12. Cedrick Wilson - Pittsburgh Steelers - Playing as the main guy on a bad 49'ers team last season, Wilson had a fair season. He'll come to the Steelers challenging for the third or fourth receiving position. He can also make some catches deep down the field, which may be favorable to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The rest(in order): Peter Warrick, Clarence Moore, Fred Gibson, Randy Hymes, Chris Henry, Lee Mays, Frisman Jackson, Patrick Johnson


AFC South - Six Over 1,000, Three on One Team
It's not too often that six receivers in a division have over 1,000 yards receiving. It's unheard of when one team has three of those receivers. It happened last year in this division, making it so much more difficult to figure out who should go where heading into this season.

1. Marvin Harrison - Indianapolis Colts - Harrison at this moment is my vote for the best receiver in the NFL. His relationship and connection with Peyton Manning is unbelievable. Harrison is a lock for over 1,000 yards and probably 12 or more touchdowns heading into any season, and there are not a whole lot of people that can stop him.

2. Drew Bennett - Tennessee Titans - As bad as the Titans were last year, it was amazing to see Bennett and Billy Volek hook up for two or three touchdowns per game. Had Doug Johnson not started the final two games, Bennett may have matched Harrison's 15 touchdowns. Being the official number one man this year without Derrick Mason, Bennett hopes that McNair can deliver the same production that he did when he was a co-MVP two years ago.

3. Reggie Wayne - Indianapolis Colts - Manning can make just about anybody look good. That's nothing against Wayne at all, because Wayne certainly proved himself a worthy target of Manning last year. It'll be difficult for Manning to reach the same milestone as he did last year, but I believe he could do even better. Wayne's production won't go down at all; it'll either stay the same or go up.

4. Andre Johnson - Houston Texans - Even though I've ranked Johnson fourth in the division, I think this could be the year where he really breaks out into one of the league's elite. He's shown signs of making it to the next level, but he hasn't reached it yet. We'll see if he can take over games like a Terrell Owens or Randy Moss this year. David Carr needs to get him the football on a more consistent basis.

5. Jimmy Smith - Jacksonville Jaguars - With Byron Leftwich on the verge of possibly having more of a breakout season, Smith and the rest of the Jaguars receivers will be ready. Smith caught over 1,000 yards last year on an offense that struggled at times. If the Jaguars new offensive system works out, Smith can finally add more touchdowns to his career as well.

6. Brandon Stokley - Indianapolis Colts - Here's what I mean. Usually on a team, it's very hard to have your second receiver get over a thousand yards receiving. Stokley is the slot man, having over 1,000 yards receiving and ten touchdowns, yet he's ranked number six. As much as I'd love for Stokley to have the same production, I think he'll fall just below 1,000 yards and ten TD's this year if Manning gets Troy Walters and Ben Hartsock involved.

7. Tyrone Calico - Tennessee Titans - Injured most of last season, Calico will get the starting role this year opposite of Bennett. Calico was thought of as one of the biggest "sleeper" picks in football last year before he went down. Now that he's getting his chance, he'll have to prove everyone why he was getting that praise in the first place.

8. Matt Jones - Jacksonville Jaguars - Will the experiment fail? Only time will tell as Matt Jones makes the transition from quarterback to wide receiver. Jacksonville took him early for a reason - they plan on using him, failure or not. Everyone's eyes will be on him this season, as one of the most interesting stories in football unfolds.

9. Reggie Williams - Jacksonville Jaguars - Look for last years draft pick to get more involved in the offense this year as well. There's a chance he could be the starter, but you have to wonder if Matt Jones will overshadow his involvement in the offense.

10. Corey Bradford - Houston Texans - It's a crapshoot when picking who the next best receiver is on the Texans, because it goes downhill after Andre Johnson. Bradford has some experience and has been fairly productive the past few seasons.

11. Troy Walters - Indianapolis Colts - I'm not exactly sure how often Manning will use the four receiver set this year, but Walters will definitely produce better this year than he did last year. That'd be obvious, seeing as he was injured all of last year. Anybody on the Colts is worth something, even James Mungro(that's for running backs though).

The Rest(in order): Troy Edwards, Jabar Gaffney, Ernest Wilford, Brandon Jones, Jerome Mathis, Cortez Hankton, Courtney Roby


AFC West - One Team Owns All
Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. What a combination. It may not seem as "dreamy" as a Randy Moss and Terrell Owens tandem, but it's damn good nonetheless.

1. Randy Moss - Oakland Raiders - Having this ranking, I'm banking on the fact that Moss won't be limping to the end zone on plays this year. Even when he limped though, he got open and made plays. Moss will love it when Collins throws the deep ball, and has Jerry Porter on the other side of him to take pressure off. It'll be interesting to see how Randy Moss acts in Raider Nation, but I don't see any drop in production.

2. Jerry Porter - Oakland Raiders - I was surprised that he didn't reach the 1,000 yard mark last year, but he came close along with his nine touchdowns. He performed much better when Kerry Collins was the quarterback anyway. I won't forget the game when he burned Champ Bailey three times for touchdowns in the snow. With Moss on the other side, it opens up an unlimited number of opportunities for both men.

3. Keenan McCardell - San Diego Chargers - After being involved in a holdout at the start of last season, McCardell was able to give the Chargers the spark that they needed. He only caught one touchdown and just under 400 yards, but his production will pick up this year. Drew Brees will have another year under his belt and will get the ball to McCardell a lot more often than his seven games last season.

4. Rod Smith - Denver Broncos - It can be considered a questionable move to rank Smith or Lelie under McCardell after the seasons they had last year, but I don't think they will perform that much better than Keenan will. Smith, the veteran, will continue to give Denver the same type of consistent performance that he gives them every year.

5. Ashley Lelie - Denver Broncos - Lelie had an impressive season last year, nearly having the same type of season that Smith had. These two are interchangeable, with the exception that Lelie is younger. Jake Plummer's inconsistency as a quarterback won't allow Lelie to have a better season than he did last year.

6. Reche Caldwell - San Diego Chargers - It's too bad Caldwell got injured after an excellent start last year, because he was becoming the talk of the Chargers. He should be healthy this season, ready to pick up where he left off last year. He was known for making the big plays down the field.

7. Freddie Mitchell - Kansas City Chiefs - Call me crazy, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mitchell performs the best out of the Chiefs receivers this year. He underachieved in Philadelphia big time, but the pressure if off with Kansas City. I believe he'll be able to resurrect his career and eventually become one of the starting wideouts for the Chiefs.

8. Eddie Kennison - Kansas City Chiefs - With Morton gone, Kennison will be the most familiar receiver to Trent Green. Kennison has the same type of season every year, so I don't expect him to break out or do anything special.

9. Jerry Rice - Denver Broncos - It's unknown how much Rice has left in the tank, but he'll get plenty of looks as long as he's still playing. Besides, there's no one else on the Broncos that is even close to Rice's caliber besides the starters listed above.

10. Ronald Curry - Oakland Raiders - Curry has a good chance to be the third man after Moss and Porter, which could definitely open up the field for him. If teams under estimate Curry, then he could produce some sub-par numbers.

11. Eric Parker - San Diego Chargers - Although he's small, he produced fairly well for the Chargers last year. He'll lose playing time with Caldwell coming back and rookie Vincent Jackson getting some looks though.

12. Dante Hall - Kansas City Chiefs - I had to list Hall. I could be under estimating his value if he is able to become one of the teams starting receivers, but I don't think he can handle all of the hits. That doesn't mean he can't make some electrifying offensive plays here and there though.

The Rest(in order): Vincent Jackson, Doug Gabriel, Marc Boerigter, Darius Watts, Kassim Osgood, Samie Parker, Chris Horn

That's it for the AFC wide receiver rankings. For some teams, the focus was on one man. For others, it was based on depth. Is it better to have one guy do all of the work, or a group of guys contribute to everything? If you base it on the Super Bowl champions, then I would base it having a solid group. Due to the length of this column, I will be saving the NFC for another day. Stay tuned though, as it won't be too long before it appears.

-Chris Pokorny


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