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Ranking the AFC North wide receivers: Difficult decisions

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Who is the best wide receiver in the land of the AFC North?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It is exceedingly difficult to pick a divisional wide receiver leader when the AFC North boasts two of the best wide receivers in the entire National Football League. But, as we all know, injuries, suspensions and other factors render this a very fluid situation, and what is true today (just barely) may not be true tomorrow.

As a Cincinnati native who bleeds orange and black, it is hard for me to admit that there may be a better wide receiver on the planet than Adriel Jeremiah Green. And, except for an injury that sidelined Green for the last six games of the 2016 season, I still might not be making that leap.

But there is no arguing with statistics. Let’s get to our rankings of the AFC North wide receivers!

1. Antonio Brown

Even by today's pass-happy standards, what Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers has done over the past four seasons has been remarkable.

It started in 2013, when Brown caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. But in 2014, he did even better, hauling in 129 receptions for 1,698 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns.

The following season, Brown set career bests in both catches (136) and yardage (1,834) and recorded 10 touchdowns. Brown missed one game in 2016, but even then he topped 100 catches for the fourth straight season and recorded 12 scores.

During that four-year span, Brown has averaged 120 receptions for nearly 1,600 yards and double-digit touchdowns. His 481 total receptions during that time is more than any other receiver’s four-year total in NFL history.

Since 2013, Brown has also set league records for most receptions in a two-year span (265) and a three-year span (375). He boasts the most catches by any NFL player in his first six (526) and seven years (632). Last year, Brown became only the second receiver to post four consecutive seasons of at least 100 receptions.

All told, Brown has been selected to the Pro Bowl on five different occasions. He was named first team, All-Pro three teams and made the second team once. He lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2014 and in receptions in 2014 and 2015. Brown was ranked as the top wide receiver and the fourth best player on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.

2. A.J. Green

A.J. Green was selected in the first round with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Green made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Bengals, becoming the first rookie receiver to make a Pro Bowl appearance since Anquan Boldin in 2003. From 2011 to 2013, Green caught more passes (260) than any other player in NFL history during their first three seasons, a record that was later broken by Odell Beckham, Jr.

By the end of his rookie season, Green had recorded four 100-yard games and led all NFL rookies in receptions and receiving yards, catching 65 passes for 1,057 yards in 15 games, in the process setting a Bengals’ franchise record for yards receiving by a rookie. He also scored seven touchdowns, which trailed only Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons among rookies.

On December 18, 2011, Green and fellow rookie quarterback Andy set an NFL record for yards and receptions by a rookie quarterback/receiver tandem. In 2012, Green caught touchdown passes in nine consecutive games to establish an NFL record for receivers. He gained more than 100 receiving yards in five different games that season and was selected to his second Pro Bowl in his second year in the league.

In 2013, Green set new career highs for receptions with 98 and receiving yards with 1,426, which was the second highest total in Bengals history. He also scored 11 touchdowns and had six 100-yard games, including a franchise record five consecutive from Week 6 to Week 10.

Despite missing three games and nearly all of two more, Green still recorded his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season during the 2014 season, finishing the year with 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Green finished the 2015 season with 86 receptions, 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns. During the AFC Wild Card game against the Steelers, he caught five passes for 71 yards and recorded his first postseason touchdown reception. He earned his fifth straight Pro Bowl nomination and was ranked 16th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.

In 2016, Green sustained a tear to his hamstring early in a Week 11 loss and missed the final six games of the season. He still finished the year with 66 receptions, 964 receiving yards, and four touchdown receptions in only 10 games. The 2016 season was Green's first without 1,000+ yards receiving. Despite the injury, Green was named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl, though he couldn’t participate for the first time due to the injury. The Week 11 injury was an unfortunate end to what could have been Green’s best year in Bengals stripes.

3. Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace recorded his third 1,000-yard receiving season of his career last year for the Baltimore Ravens, finishing with 1,017 yards receiving on 72 receptions and scored four touchdowns.

His best season came in 2010, his second year in the league, while with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That year, Wallace caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards, and average of 21 yards per catch, and accounted for 10 touchdowns. Wallace made the Pro Bowl in 2011 when he recorded 72 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight scores.

Wallace continued to experience success after signing as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins prior to the 2013 season. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 2015, but responded with the fewest catches, yards and yards per reception of any season in his career.

Wallace experienced a career renaissance with the Ravens in 2016 and looks to continue that success this year.

Mike Wallace stats

Season Team Games Receiving Rushing Fumbles
Season Team Games Receiving Rushing Fumbles
GP Rec Att FUM
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 39 5 1
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 60 5 1
2011 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 72 5 1
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers 15 64 5 2
2013 Miami Dolphins 16 73 3 0
2014 Miami Dolphins 16 67 4 2
2015 Minnesota Vikings 16 39 1 0
2016 Baltimore Ravens 16 72 5 1
Career 127 486 33 8

4. Jeremy Maclin

A Pro-Bowl selection while with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, Jeremy Maclin signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 after being a surprise cut by the Chiefs in the spring.

Maclin’s best season came in 2014, when he recorded 1,318 yards receiving on 85 receptions with 10 touchdowns. In 2010, in just his second year n the league, Maclin caught 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led the league in Red Zone receiving touchdowns with seven, tying New York Giants wide receiver and NFC East rival Hakeem Nicks.

Maclin was signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015, and responded with 87 receptions for 1,088 yards and eight scores. He was hampered by injuries in 2016 and managed only 44 catches for 536 yards and two touchdowns over 12 games. He was a surprise cut by the Chiefs this summer.

Jeremy Maclin stats

Year Team Games Receptions Targets Yards Avg. Long TD First downs Fumbles Fumbles lost
Year Team Games Receptions Targets Yards Avg. Long TD First downs Fumbles Fumbles lost
2009 PHI 15 56 91 773 13.8 56 4 34 0 0
2010 PHI 16 70 116 964 13.8 83 10 45 1 1
2011 PHI 13 63 97 859 13.6 59 5 43 1 1
2012 PHI 15 69 122 857 12.4 70 7 36 1 1
2014 PHI 16 85 143 1,318 15.5 72 10 56 0 0
2015 KC 15 87 124 1,088 12.5 61 8 49 2 1
2016 KC 12 44 76 536 12.2 44 2 29 0 0
Career 102 474 769 6,395 13.5 83 46 292 5 4

5. Kenny Britt

Prior to joining the Cleveland Browns in free agency this season, Britt spent 2016 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, where he recorded the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Britt finished with 68 receptions for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns.

Probably his best season came in 2010 as a member of the Tennessee Titans when he averaged 18.5 yards per catch on 42 receptions and scored nine touchdowns.

6. Brandon LaFell

Brandon LaFell signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016 and ended up having a strong season with 64 receptions for 862 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers compared favorably to Marvin Jones, the man he replaced. In 2015, Jones recorded 65 receptions for 816 yards and four scores.

LaFell began his career in 2010 with the Carolina Panthers, and set a team record on in 2011 when he caught a 91-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

LaFell’s biggest season came in 2014 with the New England Patriots when he caught 74 passes for 953 yards and seven touchdowns. Injuries derailed his 2015 season before he was able to rejuvenate his career last year with the Bengals.

7. Sammie Coates

Sammie Coates started the 2016 season by catching a 40-plus-yard pass every week for five straight weeks. But Coates suffered a hand injury in game six of the season and served as not much more than a decoy for the remainder of the season.

8. Tyler Boyd

Tyler Boyd was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round, 55th overall, of the 2016 NFL Draft. Boyd responded with one of the best rookie seasons of any Cincinnati Bengal not named A.J. Green when he caught 54 passes for 603 yards and one touchdown. Those totals were fourth best among all rookie receivers.

9. Corey Coleman

Corey Coleman was drafted 15th overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft. After missing the first six games of the season with a broken hand, Coleman finished with 33 receptions for 413 yards and three touchdowns, although he never had more than five receptions in a game. He’ll look to take on a bigger role in his second season and very possibly with a new quarterback.

10. Martavis Bryant

The Steelers receiver was suspended for the entire 2016 NFL season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Even though Bryant has still not been fully reinstated by the league, his skill set demands that he receive mention among some of the top receivers in the division.

Bryant spent the first six weeks of his rookie season of 2014 on the inactive list. He was finally activated in week seven, and his first career reception went for a 35-yard touchdown. Bryant hauled in a record six touchdown passes through his first four career games and finished the season with 26 catches for 549 yards and eight scores. His 21.1 yards-per-reception average was best among NFL wide receivers.

Bryant was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season and missed game five with a knee injury. He still finished the season with 50 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns.

With our player rankings shared, which AFC North team do you believe boasts the best wide receiver unit? Keep in mind, rookies were not included here and Bengals rookie John Ross may soon become a top playmaker among the division.

Poll

Which AFC North team has the best wide receiver unit?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Baltimore Ravens
    (15 votes)
  • 73%
    Cincinnati Bengals
    (658 votes)
  • 1%
    Cleveland Browns
    (12 votes)
  • 23%
    Pittsburgh Steelers
    (215 votes)
900 votes total Vote Now