NFL’s Top Young Wide Receivers
By Greg Huseth
I don’t think many would argue that Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones isn’t one of the top four or five emerging receivers in the NFL. In a list of receivers named by Hall of Fame player Jerry Rice, Julio Jones is certainly in the top-6 of receivers in the NFL under the age of 26. I agree completely.
One of the writers at NFL.com has decided to not only have those top-6 players named, but to rank them one through six. His list is as follows:
"1. Victor Cruz (25), New York Giants: Strangely, the oldest of the bunch, but Cruz has quickly become the game’s most exciting slot receiver.2. A.J. Green (23), Cincinnati Bengals: Completely transformed Cincy’s offense and should only improve after a full offseason with Andy Dalton.3. Bryant (23): Does he want to be a great player? It’s tough to rank him this high until we know the answer. He has all the potential to lead Dallas out of the woods.4. Percy Harvin (24), Minnesota Vikings: I want to rank Harvin higher. He means so much to the Vikings, but durability remains an issue.5. Antonio Brown (23), Pittsburgh Steelers: Reliable and productive. Ben Roethlisberger knows he can count on Brown’s hands time and again.6. Julio Jones (24), Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons sold the house to acquire Jones and he didn’t disappoint. He’ll be leaned on heavily in 2012."
First of all, I would like to let the record show that Julio Jones is not 24, but is 23. I don’t really understand how a professional writer would get these ages wrong, but it is still a minor error of which I am guilty and am willing to overlook. His placement of Jones on the list is something I am not willing to overlook.
How can Julio Jones possibly be ranked 6th of the guys on this list? I suppose that we can only rank these players based on production, not on potential, in which case I understand why Jones could be behind a guy like Victor Cruz. Cruz has a massive season for the Giants working out of the slot. I couldn’t argue any wideout had a better 2011 than Cruz.
The rest of the guys in front of him are puzzling. All are fine receivers, but I doubt any of them (aside from A.J. Green) could match the production of Jones if he played a whole season, and certainly not if he plays up to his potential. Dez Bryant is a similar player to Jones, but he has been a tremendous underachiever and a liability off the field–something that Jones is not.
The one player who I can legitimately see being ahead of Jones on this list is Green. He brings a couple traits to the table that Jones does not. That being said, Jones brings some thing that Green does not. We can look at them in a fairly straightforward manner. Green has outstanding hands, makes catches at the highest point, rarely drops passes, and is an excellent route runner. However, he is not a very physical receiver and doesn’t block well. I would love him on my team. But lets look at Julio. He is also a very good route runner, he catches the ball at the highest point, and he has the same flair for the spectacular catch that Green does. He presents a large target for the quarterback in much the same way that Green does. The only thing that I can really detract from Jones is that he does sometimes drop passes. Yes, he can reel in fantastic catches on passes that receivers have no right making a play on, but sometimes he has some drops. I think it is something the Falcons can live with as long as he works on it. Lets not forget also that Jones is significantly faster than Green. At the combine, Green ran a 4.48 40 yard dash. Jones ran a 4.39 with a broken bone in his foot. I’d say he’s probably a fraction faster than 4.39.
The argument isn’t completely over, but I think comparing Jones and Green is the best comparison to make. Neither is significantly better than the other, and both have out of this world talent. If you were to go back and re-draft the 2011 class, I don’t think you could have gone wrong with Jones going to Cincinnati and Atlanta taking Green.
The travesty here is the exclusion of Hakeem Nicks from this list. Nicks is 24, and is an outstanding receiver. He is the Giants No. 1, and he is certainly Top-10 in the NFL. How he got left off this list is a mystery to me. Then again, lots of things about this list are a mystery to me.