The AFC West has not seen a great amount of talent at the wide receiver position over its semi-recent history. Sure, we have names like Rod Smith and Tim Brown but as far as depth of talent at the WR position, our division has been weak at best. That's not to say we haven't seen some talent stop by for a season or two. Jerry Rice and Randy Moss were both Raiders' experiments that either flamed out or played terribly.
Now, the AFC West is full of a bunch of young talent and a few seasoned veterans. We are beginning to see the emergence of potential stars like Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Baldwin, Jacoby Ford, and Eric Decker; all of whom have potential that has barely been tapped.
The affects of free agency have already taken one of the top Wide Receivers in the AFC West to the NFC in Vincent Jackson, while bringing in Saints second hand man Robert Meachem. Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, it is quite possible that the AFC West doesn't have a single WR in the active top 10.
The WR position can be a tricky one to predict as every year a Victor Cruz or Laurent Robinson comes out of nowhere to have a Pro Bowl season but in this study we are going to once again see where the Broncos rank in terms of talent and depth at the WR position against their AFC West opponents.
For the purpose of this study I've broken down the top 3 WR's for each team by a few statistics aggregated over the past two years of play.
They include: Games Played (GP), Receptions (REC), Yards (YDS), Average Yards Per Catch (AVG), Touchdowns (TD), and First Downs (FD).
The WR's will be ranked individually for this first part, but the goal of this study is to give each team's entire WR corp a final rank. Obviously, the relationship between the WR and QB is an extremely important one. Just like my skills as a handball player increase exponentially when I play with a guy like Jake Plummer, who's kept himself in professional handball shape for the past couple of years and diminish dramatically when I play with Elton John, so the relationship between a QB and his WR's go.
With introduction of Peyton Manning and the offseason progress of Carson Palmer, the foundation of the WR's success in our division is already stronger than it was even one year ago. WR's catch the ball and they now have QB's who often throw the ball. It goes without saying that the future is definitely brighter for many of these receivers who I've ranked rather low.
For the purposes of comparison, I've come up with what I believe are five of the best WR's in the game today and what their stats look like over the same categories and two season time period that I'm ranking our divisional WR's.
Take a second to consider these stats as a reference.
The Best of The Best
This is an elite group of guys that have all been locked down by their teams for a long time. The value of a game changing WR is almost that of a QB. Look at the number of catches and touchdowns these guys have. I give you these numbers simply as a benchmark for elite status as a WR in the NFL.
Here are my ranks of the top 12 WR's in the AFC West.
Ranking The AFC West Wide Receivers
I struggled with this list. Our division is full of so much potential. Potential that has, either due to injury or experience or both, has yet to really come close to being realized. That said, Dwayne Bowe tops the list as the longtime AFC West perennial Pro-Bowl talent. He has probably extended Matt Cassel's career with the Chiefs by his play alone.
So, after much number crunching, a couple of pizzas and a serious case of heartburn these are my overall team ranks.
1. San Diego Chargers
How much are we going to miss the Royal treatment? Considering how little Eddie Royal was a part of our passing attack over the past couple of seasons probably not too much. However, with a fresh start in a new town, it could be the very thing Eddie needs to turn his career around. I'll admit to being more than a little disappointed with his "right team" comment after getting traded to the Chargers but I feel that the Broncos signing Manning a week afterwards was karma enough. I'll always appreciate the player Eddie Royal was to the Broncos.
His commercials still sucked though.
It's impressive to me that the Chargers could lose their #1 WR in Vincent Jackson and still come out atop the AFC West ranks. That's either a testament to their depth or the rest of the AFC West's lack of it. Jackson, even while fighting injury, was still a touchdown machine for the Chargers. Malcom Floyd is cut from that same cloth and has a chance to prove his value as a true #1 threat. Meachem was a decent pickup who I believe benefited from a better quarterback than Philip Rivers in Drew Brees.
None of these names really strike fear in anyone, but they are all solid options for an always dangerous Philip Rivers. Assuming Champ locks down Floyd or Meachem, we may actually get to see some significant playing time for Eddie when the Broncos face off against the Chargers. I watched Champ on Eddie at Training Camp last year and trust me, Eddie doesn't want any part of that.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Dwayne Bowe tips the scales on this one. Dwayne Bowe is to Matt Cassel what Brandon Lloyd was to Tim Tebow. They have the skills to bridge the accuracy gap and allow a much wider margin of error for success. I'm looking for Bowe to have yet another monster year while his replacement, Jonathan Baldwin, gets up to speed.
Jonathan Baldwin showed some flashes last year, namely his brilliant blind catch against Brian Dawkins' back that was ultimately overturned thanks to a pointless penalty. Still, for playing in 11 games last season Baldwin caught only 21 passes for one lone touchdown. He logged only 13 first downs. Perhaps he, more than any other WR on the Chiefs squad, will benefit from a more stable quarterback during his sophomore effort.
Steve Breaston is heading into his sixth year after having one of his worst years since his rookie debut. Breaston has never been much of a scoring threat and while his yardage is considerable, for a sixth year veteran he will soon be overtaken by younger, more explosive talent. Bye Bye to the Breast Man.
3. Denver Broncos
I'll probably get some flak for this one. To be completely honest, I've had great debates from people I respect insisting the Broncos are 2nd at worst in our division at the WR position. Had we retained Brandon Lloyd last season instead of trading his talent for almost nothing (a disturbing trend I'm noticing with our new FO) I believe, on top of us winning maybe another game down the stretch last season, we'd have the deepest WR corp in the division. We'd probably be the hands down favorite in the division. Lloyd was a playmaker that we simply let go and ultimately replaced with Andre Caldwell.
Now, I have nothing against Andre Caldwell but the guy is Top Ramen in a Campbell's league. He's loaded with the basics but there are no vegetables. Nothing of real substance here. I've heard some good things about him and some encouraging predictions that with Peyton Manning throwing to him he has a huge upside.
Well, I'm pretty sure with Manning throwing to me I'd have a huge upside. It already works in Madden so I know it has to be true in real life as well.
The bottom line is that right now the Broncos have no #1 WR. Demaryius Thomas has shown promise that he could be that guy... or he could just as easily not be that guy. This is a critical year for our 3rd year first round draft pick. One of the things I look forward to most about Peyton Manning leading this offense is that there will be a direct line of accountability between the QB and the WR's. Manning doesn't fluff any of his WR's pillows. There's no rookie QB respect his elder veteran receivers nonsense happening here.
One of my favorite Manning stories happened in December, 2010 during a Colts vs. Titans game. Up by a touchdown the Colts were primed to put the game on ice at the Titans 3 yard line on 3rd down. Peyton Manning finds a wide open Reggie Wayne in the endzone but at the last second the Colt's own Blair White came streaking across the back of the endzone and knocked the ball out of Wayne's hands. The Colts settled for a field goal. It was a real C'mon Man! moment.
After the play was over Blair White found a lonely area on the sidelines where Peyton Manning chewed him out. I mean Manning simply lit him up. Then, a few plays into their next offensive series Manning threw right back to Blair White. A great "I still believe in you" move.
There will be no shoddy route running under Manning. No inexplicable drops that go unaccounted for. Peyton Manning may have no interest in being a teacher to a younger QB, but the guy is absolutely a teacher to every one of his wide receivers and I think after this season the entire Denver Broncos corp will be the better for it. They will probably be the better for it right out of training camp.
There won't be a "lefty that throws a wobbly heavy ball" excuse now. Also, look for Eric Decker to have a monster season. The guy was a touchdown machine before Manning.
4. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are rebuilding. I'm going to probably say this about them in every one of these breakdowns. I'm a Carson Palmer fan. I think the guy is getting up there but still a solid starter in this league. I also think that D. Heyward-Bey could one day give us a season that would allow an argument to be made to support his first round draft status.
However, until such time as those things happen, the Raiders are continuing to build under completely new circumstances, with new coaches and new visions; and that combined with the fact that this year they currently have a draft made up almost entirely of Goodwill donation picks, I don't see this dramatic turnaround right away. They just need Palmer to stay healthy long enough to get those pieces in place.
Or hope that Terrell Pryor sold a jersey to the devil in return for a favor or two.
It seems to me the AFC West is primed to show off some young talent and how great would it be if the next Victor Cruz came from the Denver Broncos?