Making the Grade – Wide Receivers, 2008-2010

| July 12, 2011

Last week we shifted our focus to the defensive linemen of the NFL, and this week we’re shifting back to some offensive players. After already looking at the Quarterbacks and Running Backs, next in line are the Receivers, so it’s to them we turn our attention.
 
Now, given how much receiving is a focus on analyzing wide receivers, we’ve altered the weighting of our grades so that all other areas (pass blocking, run blocking and rushing) are worth a quarter that of actual receiving. Also, to cut the field down, we took the average number of snaps from the five who played the most in the past three years, and set the qualifying bar at having played at least 66% as many.
 
With no need for any further intro, let’s get right to this list that considers post season play.
 
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

When the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald was our top ranked receiver after a monstrous year and tremendous post season. He still found himself near the top (seventh) when the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals went to the playoffs, and improved on that with a sixth place finish last year despite some horrible quarterback play. Essentially, whether you’re feeding him caviar or out of the garbage, Fitz is a receiver hungry to make the most of any opportunity. The best hands of any of the top receivers.

Grade:  +52.8
 

2. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans

Johnson has never topped our receiver rankings, but he’d the model of consistency with second (2010), third (2008) and fourth (2009) place finishes to his credit. A physical mismatch for most defensive backs, you can shade a safety over to him and it makes no difference to a player with his gifts. His 2010 year may be his most remarkable to date – to play that well, yet carry an ankle injury through most of the season. Somehow, he’s getting better.

Grade:  +52.58
 

3. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

There are a number of perks to playing with Peyton Manning. Being first in the queue when credit is handed out isn’t one of them. You only need watch the inconsistent performances of Pierre Garcon to realize just how good Reggie Wayne is. Safe hands and always where his quarterback expects him to be, Wayne isn’t a great player because he plays for the Colts, he’s just a great player.

Grade: +46.38
 

4. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers

Incredible, given that Jackson missed most of the 2010, that he can still feature so highly. But he does, and a lot of it comes down to what he can do down the field. Had ridiculous 18.8 (2008) and 17.0 (2009) yards per reception averages as he became the league’s premier deep talent for the Chargers. A great shame he missed so much of last year because we’ve seen him get more dominant with each year of experience under his belt.

Grade:  +39.93
 

5.  Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers

Back in 2008, Smith finished as our top receiver. This year, he ranked a lot closer to the bottom. You can apportion some of the blame to the quarterbacks he worked with, but his hands deserted him and he showed signs of slowing down. So this coming year will be a big one for him, and if he can match what he did in 2008 and 2009 then watch out league.

Grade:  +36.83
 

6.  Derrick Mason, Baltimore Ravens

Typifying the solid steady hand at receiver, Mason isn’t the type to wow you often but he just does what is asked of him and does it so well. His decision not to retire was a good one for the league, as even if he doesn’t replicate that ’08 form, he’s still better than most receivers out there.

Grade:  +32.8
 

7.  Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers

He hasn’t always had the surest of hands but he showed up when it really mattered to become a key part of the Packers winning a Super Bowl. Still, he had a bigger role in getting them there with a outstanding second half of the season. Will probably never be in the company of the Fitzgeralds and Johnsons of this world, but consistently one of the top receivers year-in and year-out.

Grade:  +30.65
 

8.  Santonio Holmes, New York Jets

His misdemeanors off the field don’t hurt him in this ranking, except for the misstep that probably cost him an even better 2010 than he ended up having. Has made a number of spectacular post season grabs that will live long in the memory, along with some great in-season work that probably doesn’t get the appreciation it’s due.

Grade:  +28.45
 

9.  Wes Welker, New England Patriots

He gets thrown so many balls his way you forget how many dropped passes Welker has had. It’s the biggest knock on his game and why he isn’t higher here. His ability to gain separation and find the sweet spot in zone defenses is as good as any, with Welker in some respects redefining a type of receiver everyone wants on their roster. As close to uncoverable on short and intermediate routes as there is.

Grade:  +25.93
 

10. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons

Once upon a time a laughing stock, White has turned his game around massively (even though it’s mind-boggling how a wide receiver picks up that many penalties). May never have the best hands in the league, but works exceptionally well on the sidelines to make tough grabs look routine. Has imposed himself more on games as his relationship with Matt Ryan develops.

Grade:  +27.75

 
 
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  • ntahan

    Ummm…You’re missing the #1 WR!
    No matter which QB, no matter how many guys covering him, and especially in the clutch!!

    CALVIN JOHNSON

  • Neil Hornsby

    Don’t forget this is a three year study and whilst he was superb in 2010 (and our #3 ranked receiver) he didn’t crack 1000 yards in 2009 and in 2008 he had a horrendous amount of drops (13).
    I think it’s a fair bet that next year he’ll crack this list

  • ntahan

    You’re gonna have drops when you are triple teamed (not exaggerating)
    2008 he had 1331 yards and 12 TDs. Steve smith had almost 18% drop rate.
    Welker had 14 last season(13%), and santonio had 11.5% drop rate.
    all 3 in the bottom 15, so i think it’s safe to say drops aren’t are critical in this list as one may think.
    and if you are gonna take out a top WR because of 1 bad season (2009) then you have to complete remove Steve Smith from here, as well as Greg Jennings, whom had a worse 2009 than Calvin.
    V-Jack played 5 games last year, and his 2008 season wasn’t so outstanding.
    This is almost as much robbery as Calvin’s week 1 TD!

    • uppercut

      just for reference, these are based on total PFF-grades over 2008-2010 (those #s under the paragraphs) – guys weren’t added or removed based on judgement over a good/bad season (ex: VJ had good enough total grades over the 3 years to rate that high — in 08 his (reg season) total was 14.2 (actually 4th best, and his 11.9 passing was 8th best), to Calvin Johnson’s .1 –> he only had 4.2 passing/receiving grade, and had negative for running & penalties. Then in 09, Johnson only had 6.1 passing & had negative in blocking & penalties. Even when just looking at passing grades, before this year (ie: 08 & 09 – regular season) Johnson was only 22nd in combined passing-grade among WRs (VJ was tied for 4th with Larry Fitzgerald). What would be the better question for you to ask is why Johnson had such (relatively) low passing grades (specifically 09 since 08 he had so many drops).

      On that note (isolating passing from total), it’d be interesting to see the ranking based on total passing grade (not total-total grade). Yea, you guys say “they’re out there for every run play too”, but I think current rules place more value on the passing game. Plus it’s where WRs make their biggest contribution anyway. The same would be interesting for QBs (running is a nice bonus, but being able to pass the ball is what counts). Sure, you could say not looking penalties doesn’t show the correct picture, but you could just list a guy’s passing total (WR or QB), and note in the description if he’s penalty prone.