I stopped taking the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2011 seriously as soon as I found out that Washington’s Donovan McNabb was ranked 100th. Yes, the same player who was benched in favor of Rex Grossman got more votes from his peers than Tramon Williams, who was arguably the second-best cornerback in the league last season. Still, the series is generating plenty of buzz – something the network desperately needs in an offseason devoid of news thanks to the lockout. The latest buzz surrounds one of our own. Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero Greg Jennings somehow came in at No. 74 – behind 14 other wide receivers. That’s just ridiculous. And before you call me a homer, take a listen to what a former player and a current NFL insider had to say.
So where does Jennings rank among his fellow wide receivers? There’s obviously no definitive way to rank players, but after much thought, here’s my top 10:
1) CALVIN JOHNSON (Lions) – How good is he? Good enough to catch 77 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 TDs with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton at quarterback for the majority of last season. The former Georgia Tech star has unreal talent and it’s scary to think of the numbers he’ll post with a healthy Matthew Stafford (that’s an oxymoron for you) throwing him the ball.
2) LARRY FITZGERALD (Cardinals) – Here’s another receiver who put up big numbers (90-1,137-6) without a quarterback. The former Pitt star is blessed with size, speed, power and an incredible work ethic. He’s also an extremely unselfish wide receiver (there’s another oxymoron for you). The fact that he kept reasonably quiet while Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall took turns throwing balls at his feet and over his head was impressive.
3) ANDRE JOHNSON (Texans) – This guy plays with a very good quarterback (Matt Schaub), but he’s the only quality receiver on the team. That means he can expect to be double-covered on every snap. Nevertheless, the former Miami star almost always finds a way to get open – especially in crunch time. His size and extremely strong hands make him virtually impossible to defend – something his 86 catches for 1,216 yards and 8 TDs can attest to.
4) RODDY WHITE (Falcons) – After a slow start to his pro career, the former Alabama-Birmingham star has been spectacular for the past four seasons. Like Johnson, he’s never had a big-time partner, but that will change next season with the addition of rookie Julio Jones. By the way, this is the player Green Bay would’ve draft in 2005 had Aaron Rodgers not been available at 24.
5) GREG JENNINGS (Packers) – He’s by far the least physically gifted of the top five receivers, but nobody in the league runs better routes. The former Western Michigan star uses his brain as much as his feet to get open. Watching him set up defenders is a thing of beauty. His final numbers (76-1,265-12) were very impressive even though he started last season as an afterthought to tight end Jermichael Finley. You can be sure that won’t happen again.
6) DWAYNE BOWE (Chiefs) – He quietly put up huge numbers (72-1,162-15) in 2010. Those stats are even more impressive when you consider that KC is a running team whose next best receivers are Chris Chambers and Tony Moeaki. The former LSU star is a big target with deceptive speed. He has the potential to be as good as anyone, but he’ll need to grow up. He’s already been suspended by the league (drugs) and benched by his team (attitude).
7) REGGIE WAYNE (Colts) – He benefits from playing with Peyton Manning, but he’d be a premier receiver on any team and with any quarterback. The former Miami star is similar in many ways to Jennings, although at 32 he’s nowhere near as dangerous after the catch as the Packers’ star. Nevertheless, he still runs picture-perfect routes and his ability to think along with his quarterback should allow him to stay highly productive for at least a few more seasons.
8) MIKE WALLACE (Steelers) – Even after catching 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 TDs, this third-year player is still flying under the radar. And I do mean flying. The former Ole Miss star might be the fastest receiver in the league. He’s very good now, but he’s still extremely raw. It’s scary to think of what he’ll be able to accomplish once he gains more experience. Suffice it to say he’ll be a defensive back’s worst nightmare for 60 minutes (I couldn’t resist).
9) BRANDON MARSHALL (Dolphins) – Here’s another receiver who played without a quarterback last season, but unlike Johnson and Fitzgerald, his numbers suffered. The former Central Florida star scored only 3 TDs after finding the end zone 10 times in ’09. Still, he managed to catch 86 passes for 1,014 yards from two of the most inaccurate QBs (Chad Henne and Tyler Thigpen) in the league. That’s a testament to his superb physical skills.
10) DESEAN JACKSON (Eagles) – He only had 47 receptions in 14 games, but he averaged 22.5 yards per catch. The former Cal star is one of the most feared offensive players in the league and one of the few little receivers who defensive coordinators have to game-plan against every week. He’s almost impossible to cover if he can get a free release off the line. He’ll move up on this list as soon as he refines his routes and decides to go all-out on every snap.
Best of the rest:
11) Santonio Holmes (Jets)
12) Vincent Jackson (Chargers)
13) Steve Smith (Panthers)
14) Wes Welker (Patriots)
15) Hakeem Nicks (Giants)
16) Miles Austin (Cowboys)
17) Brandon Lloyd (Broncos)
18) Steve Smith (Giants)
19) Marques Colston (Saints)
20) Sanatana Moss (Redskins)