Around the NFL, wide receivers seem to be all the talk these days, especially this past week with the 300+ yard performance of Calvin Johnson. Megatron put on a show so flawless and dominant, teammate Reggie Bush took to the holy grounds of Twitter to proclaim Johnson the "Greatest receiver of all time!"
As all football fans know, Bush's comments step into controversial territory because the legend of the GOAT himself, Jerry Rice, looms large in the NFL consciousness.
Is Calvin Johnson the greatest receiver ever? Is he truly better than Jerry Rice? I say no. In fact, I'd argue Megatron isn't even the best receiver this decade.
If not Johnson, than who? Names like AJ Green, Larry Fitzgerald, and Brandon Marshall likely come to mind, due to televised analysts' perception of these receivers having the "total package" of size, speed and athleticism. Though I'd agree having this "total package" goes a long way towards making any receiver great, it certainly is not necessary. If we were to define the "greatness" of any offensive player, I would argue that the impact a player has on the success of their offense should determine their said "greatness."
Based on this premise, one wide receiver this century stands head and shoulders over his peers statistically. That player isn't Calvin Johnson, or Randy Moss, or Fitz, or Marshall, or Bryant, or even OchoCinco.
It's Wes Welker.
As you all know, Welker currently plays on a Denver offense that is on pace to for record-shattering numbers. This offense is so impressive, it's even being compared to the 2007 Patriots: an offensive unit that put up numbers like none before or since. What do these two teams have in common? That's right, ladies and gents, both those teams had Brandon Stokley. Just kidding. Both teams benefited from the services of Wes Welker (just making sure you were still paying attention.)
Most remember the 2007 Pats for the Hall of Famer Randy Moss, but it was Welker who led the team in receptions that year (112/ 1175/ 8.) Moss, who was above average at best in Oakland years prior, led the team in yards and TDs, but a deeper look at the statistics suggest Tom Brady and Moss were only able to reach their astronomical peaks due to the emergence of their star slot receiver from Texas Tech. Hogwash you say? Let's look at the numbers:
In the 5 years prior to Welker's arrival to New England (2002-2006) the Pats averaged 12th in total offense. During Welker's tenure in New England (2007-2012) their offense averaged a little under 3rd overall. Super Bowl champion Brady never led a top five offense prior to the 2007 season, but that same offense never fell out of the top 5 during during the years Welker and Brady were together. During those six years, other viable receivers came and went, including Moss, who faded into practical obscurity (HE WAS EVEN A TITAN FOR TEN MINUTES (still got the jersey)) yet the elite offensive production never at any point wavered.
If we were to hold Megatron under the same statistical scrutiny, we would see that Johnson also made an immediate and lasting impact, taking the 28th best offense (02-06) and moving them up 9 slots to 19th (07-now.) Both Welker and Johnson improved their offense by 9 spots, but the edge still goes to Welker due to the fact that he has been the integral cog to an elite offense every single year he has been a starter.
As indispensable as Welker has been in these past seven years, the Patriots believed him to be expendable. Welker went to Denver, and has elevated an already great offense into a previously unknown stratosphere, all while leading the team in receiving touchdowns. Meanwhile, New England sits at 14th in total offense and Brady is having what is likely the worst year of his career.
Is he 6'5" 240lbs with a 40 inch vertical and a 4.3 40? No, but Wes Welker is the greatest wide receiver of the 21st century due to his impeccable instincts, shifty elusiveness, trustworthy hands and unparalleled route running.
... but you know, that's just like, my opinion man. What's yours? (Place your top 5 receivers this century in the comments below:)