Since Calvin Johnson’s reign of dominance from 2011-2014, there hasn’t been a receiver who has earned the distinction of being the undisputed best wide receiver in the NFL. Back in 2013, it appeared as though A.J. Green was the first guy in line for the title, as he was voted number nine on the NFL’s Top 100 Players list. Green, the highest-ranked receiver on the list outside of Megatron was coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 1,350 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, as well three consecutive Pro Bowl nods and two straight second-team All-Pro nominations.
Since then, injuries and a lack of notoriety took a hit on Green’s rank in the pecking order, as receivers like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and even Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins entered the conversation as guys who could potentially be the best. And while Brown was very close to pulling away from his competition, he hadn’t gotten even close to as far ahead as Johnson once stood above his competition.
So the debate as to who is the best wide receiver in football is still wide open. And like I mentioned, there isn’t a definitive correct answer to this debate — Brown, Jones and Green are all in the mix, while Beckham and Hopkins have seemingly taken a step or two back this season. With a stellar 2016 season so far, Mike Evans also has a strong case to make, but a lack of longevity will hurt him until the wideout puts up better numbers more consistently.
When it’s all said and done, the debate on which receiver is the best in the NFL really comes down to Brown, Jones, Green and Beckham. Any of the first three pass-catchers mentioned has a legitimate case to make for himself, so it’s time to make the case for Green.
1. Green is a game-changer.
Here’s one statistic which really works in Green’s favor: Over the past two years, the Falcons are 7-6 in games Jones tallies 100+ receiving yards. In that same timespan, the Steelers are 8-4 when Brown does the same. The Giants are 4-6 when Beckham does it. Since Week 1 of last year, the Bengals are 6-1 when Green has a 100-yard game, with the only loss coming in the game Dalton left after fracturing his thumb on the first drive. During his career, the Bengals are 20-7 when Green tallies 100+ receiving yards.
Statistically taking over the game is one thing, but the difference between Green and his competition is that when the wide receiver makes plays, his team wins games. Now how much weight should be put into this argument is a question worth answering, but it’s interesting to note, at the very least.
2. The “surrounding talent” argument works in his favor.
Every Bengals fan knows Andy Dalton has elevated his game over the past two seasons. Some might still want to see what AJ McCarron can do, but this again goes to show where the national perception surrounding Dalton once was. It took the quarterback a few years to improve his decision-making, footwork and deep ball accuracy, but Dalton is now one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. That being said, both Brown (Ben Roethlisberger) and Jones (Matt Ryan) have had better quarterback play throughout their respective careers to date. Green, meanwhile, came into the NFL with a rookie quarterback, tallied over 1,000 yards, scored seven touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in his inaugural season. Not to mention, Green is the only of the three receivers to maintain his production with a backup quarterback.
Both Brown (Mike Wallace, Heath Miller) and Jones (Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez) have played behind and/or alongside some quality pass-catchers at some point in their respective careers. Green has done the same, but calling him a product of Marvin Jones or Tyler Eifert seems a bit much. Both the Steelers and Falcons have also boasted quality run games and offensive lines throughout the majority of Brown and Jones’ respective careers.
The bottom line is that knocking a player for the players he’s forced to play with does not make sense, and even if it did, Green hasn’t had any more advantageous of a situation than the other wide receivers in the conversation.
3. The longevity argument strongly supports Green.
We’ve all heard it by now, but in Green’s first five years, he made five Pro Bowl appearances after recording five seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards, despite oftentimes missing time to or playing through injuries. The only other receiver with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to open an NFL career is Randy Moss. Not to mention Green is the only of the three who has never been a number two wideout (hence benefitting from single-coverage) in his career.
4. Green’s 2016 season has been his best year yet.
Through seven games the wideout leads the NFL in receptions (50), ranks second in receiving yards (775), third in receptions of 20 or more yards (13), second in receptions of 40 yards or more (5) and third in first downs (31). Jones is unquestionably having the best statistical season of the three, but Green has held his own against some great competition, facing — and dismantling — some talented secondaries along the way. It seems like forever ago, but Green made Darrelle Revis look like just a guy in Week 1. He has three games with at least 160 receiving yards under his belt, while Jones has two and Brown has zero.
5. Things should only get better for Green as the season goes on.
Green has to be eager, as tight end Tyler Eifert is finally back on the field. He’ll command a ton of attention, especially in the red zone, which is where Green hasn’t seen the ball all that much this season. Green also faces a significantly easier schedule in the second half of the 2016 season, as the slate of corners he’ll face is less talented than that of which he’s faced so far. If Jeremy Hill is back like I believe he is, things could get even better for Green. Sure, there will be more mouths to feed in the Bengals’ offense, but the wide receiver will surely put up some gaudy numbers.
I’m in no way saying Green is definitively the best wide receiver in football. He hasn’t separated himself from the pack, yet. But neither have Brown, Jones or anyone else currently trying to make a case for the title. That being said, Green looks like he’s on the fast track to eventually separating himself from the pack. Winning a tough matchup against Josh Norman in Week 8 (if he plays) would be a surefire way for the wide receiver to further his case. But for now, it’s time to sit back, relax and watch one of the NFL’s best receivers go to work.
We’ll just leave this here...