Friday, January 27, 2012

Stars and Legends: Wide Receivers

Until recently, running backs have been considered the stars of football, at least statistically.  The current generation of team offenses has been primarily run-first, using the philosophy that the running game should be established first.  This makes defenses respect the run, giving the quarterback time in the pocket to find receivers when circumstances dictate a pass.  It also sets up defenses to be vulnerable against passes. 

The 2011 season has been an unusual one, however, in that offenses have been using their quarterbacks’ throwing skills to their advantage, relying more and more on the passing game.  This has turned the spotlight on the wide receivers of the league, and giving previously unknown receivers, like Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, opportunities to have break-out seasons.

In honor of this development, the latest installment of Naptime Huddle’s “Stars and Legends” series takes a look at the best wide receivers in the NFL today, and the best from yesteryear. 


Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions, 2007 to present):  Calvin Johnson (nickname “Megatron”) attended Georgia Tech and was drafted second overall by the Lions in 2007.  He has become quarterback Matthew Stafford’s go-to receivers and has amassed huge receiving totals every year he has been in the league; since his rookie season, he has had over 1,000 receiving yards each year except for one.  The one exception was 2009 when he missed two games.  However, he still managed to catch 67 passes for a total of 984 in that season.  This season he led the NFL with 1,681 yards, off of 96 receptions, including 16 touchdowns.  He has been named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams each of the last two seasons.

Wes Welker (Miami Dolphins, 2004-2006; New England Patriots, 2007 to present):  Wes Welker attended Texas Tech and was not drafted after he graduated in 2004.  He was signed by the San Diego Chargers as a free agent, but released after the first game of the season.  With the Dolphins, Welker was primarily and special teams player, earning impressive statistics in all facets of special teams, including kicking (having been a prolific kicker in high school).  Against the Patriots in 2004 he became only the second player ever to return a kickoff and a punt, kick an extra point and a field goal and make a tackle in one game.  Welker did not flourish as a receiver until being traded to the New England Patriots in 2007, where he has become Tom Brady’s favorite receiver.  Since joining the Patriots, Welker has been selected to either the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams (or both) every year and has led the league in receiving three times.

Andre Johnson (Houston Texans, 2003 to present):   Andre Johnson attended the University of Miami and was selected third overall by the Texans in the 2003 draft.  If you are new to football, you might wonder why Andre Johnson is on the list.  After all, he only caught 33 passes for 492 yards this year.  However, the 2011 season was an aberration for Johnson; he missed nine games due to injury and the quarterback situation in Houston was anything but stable.  In several of the games he did play, he had a rookie quarterback in T.J. Yates.  If you look at his total body of work, however, it’s clear that he belongs in the discussion.  With over 700 catches for 9,656 yards and 52 touchdowns, Andre Johnson is among the league’s elite receivers, especially considering that he has been plagued with injuries in several seasons, including this past one.  He is currently first in the NFL for receiving yards per game over a career, with 80.7 yards per game.  Johnson has five Pro Bowl and four All-Pro selections to his credit and has led the league in receiving yards twice— in 2008 and 2009—only the second player to do so in consecutive seasons.

Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals, 2004 to present):  Larry Fitzgerald attended the University of Pittsburgh and, after his sophomore year, was selected third overall in the 2004 draft by the Arizona Cardinals.  He is currently fourth in league history for receiving yards per game over a career, with 76 yards per game.  Fitzgerald has been selected to the Pro Bowl and amazing six times in his seven-year career, and named an All-Pro four times.  He led the NFC in receiving yards in 2008 and was an instrumental part of the Cardinals team that made it to their first Super Bowl that year (they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23).  Other than his rookie year, Fitzgerald has had at least 1,000 yards receiving every year except in 2006, when he missed several games due to injury (he still managed 946 yards).

Tune in next week when we’ll take a look at the wide receiver legends throughout NFL history.

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