The top five would probably consist of Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and yes, Brandon Marshall (in no particular order).
Some might argue for Reggie Wayne to be in the top five, but it’s difficult to make that argument. He has the best quarterback of all-time throwing to him, and let’s not kid ourselves – Peyton Manning can make anyone look like a superstar. All you have to do is look at Austin Collie’s touchdown total this season and ridiculous statistics from yesterday.
How much of Wayne’s career is a product of his own talent and making and how much is a product of catching passes from Manning is difficult to gauge.
In addition, the current guys I have in the top five are all big and tall. DeSean Jackson is an elite talent primarily because of his speed but does speed alone put him in the top five or ten? He is dynamic, explosive, and almost impossible to cover but he lacks the size and strength to be a possession receiver and only has average hands.
The rest of the top ten would probably have to include Reggie Wayne and Carolina’s Steve Smith. Marques Colston, Miles Austin, Sidney Rice, Anquan Boldin, and Roddy White have legitimate claims, as well.
Where does that leave Wes Welker? He is absolutely the best slot receiver in the game, but how would you even rate that when comparing him to wide receivers who are well-rounded with no perceivable weaknesses?
Which brings me back to Marshall. With the exception of the Johnsons (Fitzgerald doesn’t have the speed), Marshall is probably the most complete receiver in the NFL. He doesn’t have the straight line speed that some of the other elite receivers do, but he builds up speed and has long strides, which make it difficult for defensive backs to catch up to him when he gets behind them.
The most impressive thing about Marshall is how physical he is with his sheer size and strength. It’s extremely difficult to cover someone who can simply outmuscle you for a catch every time despite defensive positioning or ball placement.
Those who know me know how much I love Moss. However, he has never been a physical receiver. While Marshall simply runs over people and is difficult to bring down because of his strength, Moss relies much more on his speed and big play ability.
I think the debate poses an interesting question. How do you rate a receiver like Steve Smith who clearly has the speed to be a deep threat, but also the strength and physicality to be a great possession receiver over the middle and in traffic despite his 5’9″ frame?
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter. The comments section is open for discussion.