The way we see it, it’s about more than just catches and yards–some receivers simply get more opportunities, some drop more balls, and some just get lucky. After all, what’s a better play: catching a 60-yard bomb without a defensive back within 20 yards of you because of a blown coverage? Or catching a ball in traffic short of the sticks and making a defender or two miss to pick up a valuable first down?
Our grading takes all of this and more into account, so here are our 10 top-graded receiver performances from 2011.
10. Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens: Week 8 versus Arizona Cardinals (+4.1)
A three-way tie with Pierre Garcon and Marques Colston also earning +4.1 scores, but Boldin’s higher receiving grade gives him the nod. The former Cardinal tore his old team a new one as he picked on the previously impressive A.J. Jefferson to the run of seven receptions (some of which defied belief) and 145 yards.
9. Devin Aromashodu, Minnesota Vikings: Week 13 vs. Denver Broncos (+4.2)
This is likely to surprise more than a few, with Aromashodu struggling in Minnesota–outside of this one encounter against the Broncos. His blocking in this game pushed his grade into the Top 10 (+1.2), but let’s not forget the 90 yards and six first downs (as well as drawing a pass interference penalty) that he picked up while dealing with some erratic quarterback play.
8. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons: Week 12 vs. Minnesota (+4.2)
The 120 yards White managed were less than what he picked up a week earlier. However, his performance against Minnesota was far more impressive. Tallying six first downs and a touchdown, including two big third-down completions in the fourth quarter, made this a memorable display.
7. Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders: Week 10 at San Diego (+4.2)
When Moore was good, he was very good and none more so when the Raiders traveled to San Diego on Thursday Night Football. The 123 yards and two touchdowns were incredibly impressive, but it was his remarkable grab with 13:20 to go in the second quarter that stood out more than anything from this game. Watch it, re-watch it, and then watch it again. It’s that good.
6. Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos: Week 4 at Green Bay Packers (+4.3)
Before the Broncos had enough of Lloyd, he was the one thing making their offense look remotely threatening. Just ask the Packers who just couldn’t stop the soon-to-be Ram from picking up 136 yards. This was also despite some of Kyle Orton’s finest erratic play. Lloyd picked up eight first downs (one of them was called back for a penalty) and gave Tramon Williams a tougher afternoon than just about any other receiver … bar one.
5. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Week 17 at Green Bay Packers (+4.5)
Sometimes the numbers do tell a story and the 244 yards Johnson gathered as he got the best of Tramon Williams is a prime example of that. He can’t be happy to have dropped a pass and given up an offensive pass interference penalty, but 12 positive grades (including three of the +1.0 variety) highlight a dominant day overall. Not his best work of the season, though.
4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Week 15 at Oakland Raiders (+5.0)
Just another 200-plus-yard-day as the Raiders couldn’t stop Megatron. In addition to his nine catches for 214 yards (with two touchdowns), Johnson drew two defensive pass interference penalties and another defensive holding. After a midseason lull, this game had Johnson returning to the type of beast mode that we’d see a lot of late in the season.
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Week 17 vs. Seattle Seahawks (+5.4)
You have to give credit to Fitzgerald in this game for simply not giving up. With the scattergun John Skelton throwing him the ball he was only able to catch 50% of the passes that came his way, but he turned 18 targets into nine receptions and 149 yards. Needed to break some tackles (three) and pick up some yards after the catch (67) to do it, but a display that showed no matter how bad your quarterback is, if you have talent it shines through.
2. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Wildcard Round at New Orleans Saints (+7.2)
One of the best performances at any position during the playoffs. Johnson can’t have been happy with the defeat, though he can’t fault his own effort that saw him catch 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He was simply dominant after the catch, breaking an incredible five tackles in one game. There were just 35 receivers who managed more than that during the entire regular season … and another 70 who played over 300 snaps who were unable to.
1. Wes Welker, New England Patriots: Week 3 at Buffalo Bills (+7.7)
The uncoverable Welker at his best. There were 19 times Tom Brady threw the ball his way, resulting in 16 receptions for Welker as he converted them into 217 yards and two touchdowns. Six defenders gave up multiple receptions to Welker who put on the kind of performance you just have to sit back and appreciate.
These grades include other aspects of wide receiver play like run and screen blocking, penalties, and even pass protection (on the rare occasion as receiver stays into block). If you’re looking for the Top 10-graded efforts based on pure receiving grades, they were as follows:
1. Wes Welker, Week 3 at Buffalo (+7.5)
2. Calvin Johnson, Wildcard at New Orleans (+7.2)
3. Calvin Johnson, Week 15 at Oakland (+5.6)
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Week 17 vs. Seattle (+5.5)
5. Hakeem Nicks, Week 4 at Arizona (+4.6)
6. Calvin Johnson, Week 17 at Green Bay (+4.5)
7t. Brandon Lloyd, Week 4 at Green Bay (+4.4)
7t. Denarius Moore, Week 10 at San Diego (+4.4)
9. Roddy White, Week 12 vs. Minnesota (+4.3)
10t. Anquan Boldin, Week 8 vs. Arizona (+4.1)
10t. Malcom Floyd, Week 17 at Oakland (+4.1)
10t. Kenny Britt, Week 2 vs. Baltimore (+4.1)