- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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ESPN.com's NFL writers rank the top 10 wide receivers in the league today. Next week: Running backs.
Neither iconic receiver drew even one vote when ESPN.com asked eight panelists to rank the top 10 receivers in the NFL today.
"When three different teams can't use a player," AFC East blogger Tim Graham said of Moss in particular, "then he can't be considered elite anymore."
That's fine. Our top 10 list aspires to be one for the ages, not for the aged.
The Houston Texans' Andre Johnson, 29, edged the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, 27, for the top spot. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky made it so by ranking Johnson first on his ballot and Fitzgerald only ninth, five spots lower than any other panelist ranked Arizona's five-time Pro Bowl wideout.
"I have nothing against Larry Fitzgerald -- I think he's fantastic," Kuharsky explained. "I just found so many receivers to love, and consider most of the guys I put ahead of him as having more upside."
Divergent views on Johnson and Fitzgerald made this a hotly contested battle for the No. 1 spot. Johnson might have won in a runaway if NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas hadn't ranked the Texans' five-time Pro Bowler only sixth.
"I’ve got nothing against Johnson," said Yasinskas, who joined AFC West blogger Bill Williamson in ranking the Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White first overall. "In fact, if I had to go out and start a team from scratch, he’d get very strong consideration to be one of my wide receivers. But the reason I went with White was because I went off statistics and I went off success of teams when I filled out my ballot. Sorry, but another mediocre Houston season really didn’t excite me."
That was a tough sell in the AFC South.
"Andre Johnson is an incredible combination of power and speed, and I think of him as at the forefront of an anti-diva wide receiver movement, which is refreshing -- though not a big factor in his being No. 1 on my list," Kuharsky said. "In three seasons of covering him, I've never heard anyone talk of the smallest hole in his game."
Some of our NFC West fans might poke a few holes in Kuharsky's ballot. Giving Fitzgerald even a No. 5 ranking from Kuharsky would have moved Fitzgerald into the top spot.
More from Kuharsky in a bit. First, let's take a closer look at the rankings.
How we scored it: First-place votes were worth 10 points, second-place votes were worth nine, and so on.
Sixteen receivers drew votes.
Close calls: The Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace and the New England Patriots' Wes Welker each scored seven points, coming within three of tying the Miami Dolphins' Brandon Marshall for the 10th spot.
Seifert had Welker seventh. Williamson had him eighth. Yasinskas had Wallace seventh. I had Wallace ninth. John Clayton had him 10th.
"I like Mike Wallace’s game as much as anyone, but he only has one year as a starter and is still in the developmental stages," said AFC North blogger James Walker, who did not rank Wallace in his top 10. "Wallace’s route-running remains pretty raw, and he needs to continue working on his short and intermediate game to pair with his blazing speed. Once he does that, Wallace will be among the NFL’s best."
Holmes was ninth on Seifert's ballot and 10th on Graham's ballot. Kuharsky and Williamson had Vincent Jackson 10th.
"I think Vincent Jackson is a special talent," Williamson said. "Don’t be skewed by his holdout. This is a player who has a special blend of size and speed. He has terrific hands and he has a great chemistry with Philip Rivers. He can easily be a top-five receiver in a year."
Walker had Austin 10th. Yasinskas had Colston 10th.
"Miles Austin may be a forgotten player because he didn’t have his starting quarterback most of last season," Walker said. "But Austin still posted more than 1,000 yards receiving and his early numbers were off the charts when Tony Romo was healthy. Austin could have a big year in 2011 if everyone stays healthy."
Very shiny third wheel: The Falcons' White ranked among the top three on four ballots, matching the Texans' Johnson and trailing only Fitzgerald.
"I put White, who I thought had a shot at MVP in the first half of the season, No. 1 because I saw this guy single-handedly win games for the Falcons, who won 13 of them," Yasinskas said. "White’s numbers and Atlanta’s success speak for themselves, but White made perhaps the play of the season when he chased down San Francisco’s Nate Clements on an interception return and stripped the ball. That led to Atlanta’s victory. How many other wide receivers can win a game for you when they’re playing defense?"
I saw Arizona's Steve Breaston do it against St. Louis last season, but White is on another level as a receiver.
Do not forget about Calvin Johnson: The top four spots were clearly defined, with the Detroit Lions' dynamic wideout firmly in that group. He ranked among the top five on seven of eight ballots. Only Fitzgerald and White could make that claim.
Biggest debate: We're back to Fitzgerald versus Johnson, but not necessarily in that order. Seifert and Kuharsky in particular might need to borrow federal mediator George Cohen from the NFL labor mess to work through their differences.
Not really. Seifert put candor before rationalization.
"Andre who?" Seifert kidded. "No, seriously, sometimes in this job you can become narrowly biased toward the players you see most often. I believe I have covered one of Andre Johnson's 115 career games. That one was in 2003, I believe. You can watch all the highlights you want, but you tend to trust your instincts based on personal viewing. This was more a reflection of my own visual catalog than it was an assessment of Johnson's game."
Fitzgerald has spent more time than Johnson on the national stage, including when his 64-yard touchdown reception gave Arizona a late fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season. Fitzgerald managed 90 receptions during the 2010 season despite playing for a struggling offense.
"Context has to be factored in and Fitzgerald has the worst quarterback situation of anyone in my top 10," Kuharsky said. "I also put a lot of weight in yards per catch -- the only guys lower than Fitzgerald on my list in 2010 were Roddy White and Reggie Wayne."
Speaking of Wayne: Kuharsky ranked the Colts' wideout only seventh while acknowledging Wayne's consistent production.
"He showed hints in 2010 of starting to slip -- more drops, and a career-low 12.2 yards per catch," Kuharsky said. "That's not entirely in his control, I know. But he's less threatening deep than he used to be and that moved him down my list."
Playing with a Brandon: The Dolphins' move to acquire Marshall from Denver gave them the second-best Brandon on our list. The Broncos' Brandon Lloyd led the NFL in receiving yards while finishing with an 18.8-yard average and 11 touchdowns. He edged Marshall for the ninth spot.
Graham, our AFC East blogger, had Lloyd ninth. He did not include Marshall on his ballot, opting for Holmes in the 10th spot. Graham also left off Welker.
"Marshall and Welker had impressive reception totals, but it's difficult to put him in the top 10 when he scored only three touchdowns," Graham said. "The Dolphins had one of the NFL's worst red zone offenses. A top-10 receiver should be able to make a difference there. Marshall also had the lowest yards per catch of any receiver with at least 850 yards. Welker's average was lower even though half of his yards came after the catch. ESPN Stats & Information had him down for a league-high 11 drops."
Second opinion: Another Williamson -- not Bill, but Matt of Scouts Inc. -- liked our top 10 list overall, with a couple of exceptions.
"The one name that really seems to be missing to me is Hakeem Nicks," Matt Williamson said. "I can also understand why you guys would think it is just too early in his career to include him here, but I think I would take him over Dwayne Bowe or Brandon Lloyd, for sure. I also think Holmes would climb up this list in a different offense and Vincent Jackson and Miles Austin are much better players than this past season would indicate. I would also put Greg Jennings over Reggie Wayne."
Nicks nearly drew votes. Kuharsky had him ninth on an earlier version of his ballot. I would have ranked Nicks among the top seven if he hadn't missed three of the New York Giants' final six games last season. Maybe next year.