2014 NFL Free Agency: Top 10 Wide Receivers
Entering the 2014 season the NFL has become more pass oriented than ever before. A plethora of up-and-coming quarterbacks are competing with the established old-guard to see who can be the face of the league from year to year. As great as the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have played over the past decade; neither they nor any of the game’s rising stars would be able to have the level of success they have enjoyed without top level talent surrounding them.
This year, the wide receiver position is one of the more talent laden of the free agency crop. From young up and comers such as Dexter McCluster, Golden Tate, and Eric Decker to established veterans like Anquan Boldin and James Jones, there are a surplus of options on this year’s market. Here are my choices for the top 10 free-agent wide receivers in 2014 from 10 to 1.
10) Kenny Britt, 25, 6th season, 6' 3" 223lbs
Career: 157 REC 2,450 YD 19 TD
Kenny Britt was by far the player I wrestled with the most over his inclusion. When on the field Britt has shown a level of talent that can be matched by few in the game today.
It is because of his potential that he was able to sneak on to the list, but Britt is by far the biggest Gamble at wide receiver in free agency; if he can remain on the field, Britt could pay huge dividends.
Sidelined by both injuries and off the field concerns (run-ins with law-enforcement) have prevented Britt from playing a complete season outside of his rookie year. In 2013 Britt played in 12 games, recording only 11 catches for 96 yards and zero scores. The talented but troubled wide receiver has clearly fallen out of favor with the Titans coaching staff. The up-and-down quarterback situation Britt has been forced to endure during his NFL tenure has not helped to his numbers.
There will be at least one team in the league willing to roll the dice on signing a (hopefully) productive Kenny Britt. Teams that are the most likely suitors include Oakland, Tennessee, St. Louis, where his former head coach, Jeff Fisher, now controls the team and is in need of an impact player to complement his young receiving corps.
9) Jacoby Jones, 29, 8th season, 6'2" 215lbs
Career: 194 REC 2,602 YD 14TD
Jones is a seven-year veteran coming off a two-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens. The former Houston Texan has proven an invaluable member of the special teams game as well as a proven receiver in Baltimore. Jones has proven to be a durable player missing only 9 games over 7 seasons (four of which were due to knocking knees with a teammate this season on a punt return) and is a solid number two wide receiver. Despite the time missed he still managed 37 catches for 455 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2013.
While Jones possesses breakaway speed he really needs to play with a true number 1 wide receiver to have a solid breakout season. While talented Jones does not possess the skill set to carry a teams passing game as the number one option. Most likely destinations for Jacoby Jones include Cincinnati, San Francisco and Atlanta.
8)Dexter McCluster, 25, 5th Season, 5’8” 170lbs
Career: 172 REC 1,500 YD 5 TD
Many people will look at those numbers and ask how is this guy number eight on a top ten list? It is McCluster's versatility that bumps him over Jones and Britt to the eighth spot. McCluster has lined up at every conceivable skill position on offense for Kansas City over the past four seasons, and coupling that with his production in the return game (three punt returns for touchdowns in four years, 4 returns of 40+ yards) makes McCluster a valuable open market commodity.
McCluster has shown steady improvement over the years, as his receiving totals have climbed from 21 catches for 209 yards his rookie season to career highs of 53 receptions for 511 yards and 2 TD in 2013.
In the proper system McCluster could be a big play waiting to happen if his coaching staff knows how to maximize his abilities. Most likely destinations include New England, Jacksonville, and remaining in Kansas City.
7) Hakeem Nicks 26, 6th Season, 6’1” 208lbs
Career: 311 REC 4,622 YD 27TD
Hakeem Nicks served as a stalwart for Eli Manning and the Giants offense over his first three seasons in the league. The talented wide receiver managed to top 1000 yards receiving twice while scoring 24 touchdowns during that span. The last two seasons have been markedly different however, as the emergence of Victor Cruz dropped Nicks to number two on the depth chart. Since that time Nicks has managed only 109 receptions for 1,588 yards and 3 scores (the three TDs were all in 2012).
Injuries have played their role in Nicks’ declining production levels, as he has yet to manage playing a complete 16 game season. The injury questions and the apparent decline of Nicks’ production have some teams wondering whether he was a product of system and not as good as originally advertised, or if he just needs a fresh start to regain the stature he held earlier in his career. The teams that make the most likely destination for Nicks are Oakland, New England, and Atlanta.
6) James Jones 29, 8th Season, 6’1” 208lbs
Career: 310 REC 4,305 YD 37TD
Number six on the list has comparable career numbers to Nicks, but lacks the name recognition of the Giants’ wide out. James Jones has played his entire career in Green Bay, hauling in passes from both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers (not a bad list of QBs to play with). 2012 served as Jones’ breakout season as he tallied (at the time) career highs in catches (64), yards (784), and touchdowns (14).
The Packers had hoped to continue building on that success in 2013, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury in midseason, leading to a revolving door at quarterback until his return (the team had three different quarterbacks during Rodgers’ absence). Jones’ performance was greatly affected by the Rodgers injury and saw his touchdown numbers plummet from 14 to 3, despite setting a new career mark for receiving yards in 2013.
Jones has proven a durable player missing only 8 games in seven seasons, and played full campaigns in five of those years. A team looking for a veteran receiver with speed on the edge could do much worse than James Jones in free agency. The Jets, Jaguars, and Raiders are likely destinations should James leave the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.