Blog Entry

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

Posted on: February 24, 2012 5:11 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 1:29 am
The 2012 free-agent wide receivers is a stacked group of players. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the wide receivers.

Everyone knows the NFL is a passing league these days and that you need an elite quarterback to succeed. But take a look at the teams who made the playoffs in 2011 and you might just realize that having talented wide receivers is a must too. (Just ask Eli Manning.)

Only the Ravens, 49ers and Broncos bucked the trend, and there are mitigating circumstances. Each of those teams is run-heavy, and each of those teams has burned an early-round pick on a wideout -- Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree and Demaryius Thomas, respectively -- in the last three years. So it’s not like they’re not trying here.

The need for wideouts was especially glaring amongst the NFL’s dregs: the Jaguars, Rams, Browns, Vikings, Redskins and Buccaneers all have something on common besides their terrible records.

Good news, then, for those teams -- this free-agent class is absolutely stacked with talented wideouts. A good portion of them could be franchise-tagged, but the guys who make it to the market are going to get straight paid.

1. Wes Welker

Breakdown: Welker’s considered the perfect fit for the Patriots, and it’s hard to argue: his numbers working in New England’s system since 2007 are absolutely bananas. 111 catches, 1,221 yards and six touchdowns ... on average. “The Patriot Way” might mean one thing on the field and at press conferences, but in the front office it means not over-paying for veterans who want too much money. That’s what Welker is right now, as he’s reportedly seeking $14-15 million per year, more than the Pats have probably invested in all their wideouts in a long time. Franchise-tagging Welker has “hold-out” written all over it, and there’s a common belief that Bill Belichick will call Welker’s bluff and let him test the market.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Jets, Rams, Bears

2. Mike Wallace

Breakdown: Wallace is a restricted free agent and what happens to him this offseason is one of the more fascinating storylines to emerge from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the Steelers simply tender Wallace at their non-franchise-tag max, a team in need of a deep threat could negotiate a deal with Wallace. Pittsburgh would have the right to match, but they’re in a major cap quagmire right now; if the team offering Wallace the contract simply front-loaded the deal, it would be nearly impossible for the Steelers to retain him.

They’d get a first-round pick in return, and you can bet Kevin Colbert will turn it into something nice. But there’s no better way to hurt your competition than by taking one its best players. Good news emerged for the Steelers on Thursday, as they restructured Ben Roethlisberger's contract and may have gotten under the cap. Now they just need to whack another $10 million off their total and Wallace, who is just 25 and has averaged 66 catches, 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns the past two seasons, can "finish his career" in Pittsburgh.
Potential Landing Spots: Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, Bears

3. Marques Colston

Breakdown: Colston’s the rare player who re-negotiated his rookie contract after just two years. But that’s what happens when you crank out back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 yards and establish yourself as Drew Brees’ top target. Colston’s no longer the true No. 1 option in New Orleans -- Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles were more involved in the passing game in 2011 -- but he’s got the tools of an elite wide receiver. And at age 28 and as the only guy not sweating a franchise tag, he’s going to get paid like one too.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Rams, 49ers

4. Dwayne Bowe

Breakdown: Bowe was a 50/50 shot to make it to the market, because the Chiefs also needed to retain cornerback Brandon Carr. But then KC landed Stanford Routt after the defensive back was discarded by the Raiders. That gives the Chiefs some flexibility with Bowe; they can franchise tag him and try to re-sign Carr later. Bowe’s a hulking presence on the field and a physical receiver capable of acrobatic and explosive plays.

Somehow he’s broken out twice in his short career (no, really, he has, even though he's just 27), and it’s scary to think what he could do in a high-octane offense with an elite quarterback. Don’t expect him to hit the market just yet though; the Chiefs can't afford to lose him in what should be a rebound year for KC's offense. He's well worth the $9.4 million.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs

5. Vincent Jackson

Breakdown: The Bolts reportedly want to pay V-Jax and keep him in San Diego long term. Which is a fantastic sentiment, but one that’s too tardy to get Jackson to take a deal that doesn’t max out his value. Because he was franchised in 2011, his franchise-tag salary for 2012 would be prohibitive. There’s some concern with his off-field history; Jackson's got a pair of DUI arrests on his record. But if A.J. Smith can’t lock him up between now and March 13, he’s going to make a boatload.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Chargers, Jaguars, 49ers, Rams

6. DeSean Jackson

Breakdown: The Eagles are expected to use the franchise tag on D-Jax, but there’s also a possibility that they’ll look to deal him elsewhere after locking him into that tag, which means another team would likely shell out an extension for the oftentimes troubling wideout. Howie Roseman said at the combine that the Eagles want to work something out long term with the receiver.

Jackson’s a home-run hitter and one of the most explosive receivers in the game, but he also feels like a powder keg at times. He’s held out from Eagles camp, he’s talked openly about wanting more money, he’s been vulnerable to injury and he’s been accused of not trying his hardest on the field at times. Will that change if he gets a big contract?
Potential Landing Spots: Eagles, Redskins, Bears

7. Brandon Lloyd

Breakdown: It’s considered a near lock that Lloyd will figure out a way to land with in New England; he’s hitched his wagon to new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. There’s good reason for that: McD is the guy who turned him into a Pro Bowler in Denver and salvaged his career. Lloyd would fit what the Patriots need well, as a wide receiver not named Ochocinco who can actually still stretch the field. But don’t count out the Rams -- Lloyd told us at the Super Bowl that with a new coaching staff in town, he’s certainly interested in sticking around and helping Sam Bradford grow.

There are some concerns with Lloyd. He's older (he'll turn 31 in July), the majority of his success came while working directly with Josh McDaniels. And there's Lloyd's 45.5 percent catch rate (according to Pro Football Focus, that's the fourth-lowest among wideouts who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps), which could be alarming. But you could also point to the quarterbacks -- Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton, a dinged-up Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens and A.J. Feeley, as the problem there.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Rams

8. Stevie Johnson

Breakdown: It’s hard not to be fascinated by Johnson. A seventh-round pick out of Kentucky, Johnson came on strong during the 2010 season, catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. He repeated the feat in 2011, posting similar, albeit slightly depressed numbers. But it’s also hard not to be frustrated by Johnson. He cost his team a pair of wins -- against the Steelers in 2010 and the Jets in 2011 -- thanks to dropped passes that came after aggressive touchdown celebrations (the drop against Pittsburgh was the week after his "Why So Serious?" shot at Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens).

Johnson says he’s done with those now, but the only way he’s going to get elite money ($8 million per year range) is if someone actually believes him. The one thing no one's talking about with Johnson, though, is his ability to put up big numbers against all-world Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. In four games against the Jets over the past two years, Johnson's piled up 19 catches for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His final performance against Revis in 2011 -- eight catches for 75 yards and a teeter -- should especially have, as Mike Freeman wrote in November, fellow AFC East coaches curious
Potential Landing Spots: Bills, Bengals, Rams, Jaguars, 49ers

9. Reggie Wayne

Breakdown: Lost in the whole Peyton Manning shuffle is the way that the Colts appear to be discarding Wayne, one of the organization’s all-time great receivers. Wayne grew up under Marvin Harrison, honed his craft with Manning and turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL. He’s clearly lost a step at this point, but if a team wants a veteran who can lead in the clubhouse and on the field, or simply someone who runs ridiculous precise crafts and works his tail off to prepare, Wayne’s going to be a fantastic addition. Belichick’s openly stated his admiration for Wayne, so New England’s not out of the question. He could also simply heading wherever Manning lands.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals, Jets

Honorable Mention: Laurent Robinson, Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham, Eddie Royal, Jerome Simpson, Pierre Garcon

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Since: Nov 10, 2006
Posted on: March 1, 2012 1:39 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

I love what Wes Welker brings to the table.  BUt the reality is he is not worth $14-15 mil a year, no WR is, with so many available this year.  Welker owes his success to his hard work, but more importantly,  his QB, Tom Brady.  Without Mr. brady slinging him the ball, no way he puts up numbers comparable to what he has done in NEw England on another team.  JUst don't see it happening.  Welker needs to decide, what is more important, the money, or the a little less and a chance to win.  His decision will tell me if he is still in the Patriot Way mold.  If not, Wes, thanks for memories!

Since: Sep 17, 2010
Posted on: February 29, 2012 4:13 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings


The Vikes are not on the list because they clearly are rebuilding(the passing game), and trying to keep it young.  They already have one of the most dynamic receivers in Harvin, and for the other main receiver spot, I suspect they plan to address it with the draft.  Remeber, because of the new CBA, they can get a very quality WR in the draft much cheaper than free agency.   

Since: Sep 30, 2008
Posted on: February 29, 2012 4:09 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

i agree, There are a lot of teams that needed to be mentioned. Only a handful of teams have more than (1) good option to catch football and New England is not in that category. I'd like to see Cincinatti pick up someone to offset AJ Green and Gresham. Welker would be that guy, Get it done Mike, open the pocket book for a change. If you get the players, the fans will actually show up.

Since: Sep 11, 2007
Posted on: February 29, 2012 9:14 am

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

And just how are the Vikings not on any of these lists?

Since: Feb 28, 2012
Posted on: February 28, 2012 9:41 pm
This comment has been removed.

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Since: Sep 9, 2006
Posted on: February 28, 2012 8:28 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

If Reggie Wanye goes to New England, we should just stop watching football. No pride anymore. Guys really think he'd make a move like that? Oh yeah, and Wes will come over to the Colts and Manning will go to New England to fight for the starting job there.

Since: Dec 28, 2011
Posted on: February 28, 2012 3:54 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

How do you list the Browns as having a glaring need for a receiver and then not list them once as a "Potential Landing Spot" for any of the top 9 free agents?  Especially for DeSean Jackson, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles when Tom Heckert was their General Manager, so there is an obvious possibility of him landing in Cleveland with Tom Heckert now the Browns General Manager.  The Browns also have significant cap space and need a #1 receiver to couple with Greg Little and Mo Massaqai, which are both #2 and #3 receivers, respectively, at best.  With all the speculation around the Browns making a run at the #2 draft pick (from St. Louis) to grab RGIII, you would think they would at least have to give up their two first round picks, which means they clearly aren't taking a receiver in the early part of the draft.  Thus, it's even more of an argument that they will be active in free agency and definitly be a "Potential Landing Spot" for at least one or two of these top 9 free agent receivers.

Since: Jun 8, 2007
Posted on: February 28, 2012 2:30 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

So, is "BEARS" actually coded into the Potential Landing Spots field, or do you just copy and paste?

Since: Feb 28, 2012
Posted on: February 28, 2012 10:41 am
This comment has been removed.

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Since: Jun 20, 2010
Posted on: February 28, 2012 3:36 am

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

Please stop comaparing Robert Griffin III to Michael Vick, that is an insult to the young man. Griffin is 100 times the man that dog killing scum bag is and is a thousand times more intelligent than Vick has ever even dreamed of being.  I can't wait to see what he does in the NFL, but as a Rams fan there is no way the Rams trade Bradford and keep Griffin.  No matter how you look at, it just doesn't make sense and nothing against Griffin, but he hasn't been proven and Bradford even with a crappy team and last years injuries is a proven as you can get for a QB in the NFL.  He's a hard worker, has a really good head on his shoulders and he is the future of the Rams, especially when you consider the Rams will be coming back to LA in 2015.  

Like I said I am a lifelong Rams fan and I believe they will not screw up this draft and will end up with a lot of extra picks and WR Blackmon by the end of the first round in this 2012 draft.  If for some reason they don't get Blackmon, they will end up with DB Claiborne which is not bad either.  I can't wait for the draft, just really hope the Rams don't mess it up and make picks that will help them build a contender for years to come. 

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