NFL Nation: Eight in the Box 032913

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver, and what still needs to be done?

Chicago Bears: If I were in charge of the Bears, wide receiver isn’t a position I would pursue unless a prospect I really liked dropped in the draft and was just too good to pass up in the middle rounds. I really like what I saw from Alshon Jeffery in his rookie season, and his role should expand dramatically in 2013. Brandon Marshall, of course, is one of the best in the business, but the Bears were too reliant on him last season and need to spread the ball around more. Devin Hester has proved to be really only a return man, but he still could see some snaps on offense, and Earl Bennett remains a Jay Cutler favorite and a solid-if-unspectacular third wideout. Again, a middle- or late-round pick would be welcomed, but Chicago doesn't need substantial help at this position.

Detroit Lions: In Calvin Johnson, the Lions have the league’s best wide receiver. He is an unstoppable force in the prime of his fantastic career. The Lions have used a bevy of early-round picks on this position, so you would think they would be stacked at wide receiver. But that really isn’t the case, because they wisely parted ways with Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles is injured once again. Broyles tore his ACL on Dec. 2, so counting on him as an opening-day starter probably isn’t wise. But if Broyles returns to full health, he is an excellent wide receiver prospect and a great complement to Johnson. Nate Burleson and Mike Thomas have had success in this league and might be adequate until Broyles returns. Still, the Lions need help here, even though the addition of Reggie Bush, with his great receiving skills, lessens the concern. Offensive tackle and defensive end are much bigger needs than wide receiver, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Lions used a third- or fourth-round pick at this position.

Green Bay Packers: Greg Jennings is now a Viking and Donald Driver has retired, but Green Bay is still quite strong at this position. Jordy Nelson is just 27 and is a fine blend of size, reliability and big-play ability downfield. James Jones caught 64 passes last season, 14 of them for touchdowns. He is unlikely to match such lofty touchdown production, but you could do far worse than Jones as your third receiver -- and Green Bay employs a lot of three-receiver sets. The star in the making here is Randall Cobb. Cobb is a big-time playmaker who excels in the slot and can align in pretty much any spot in the formation, including at running back. As he and Aaron Rodgers continue to develop a great feel for each other, Cobb will rank among the most productive wide receivers in the game. The Packers’ top three wideouts are extremely strong, but Green Bay really has nothing outside these three. Expect Green Bay to add a bargain free agent and a draft pick before the season starts to round out the depth chart.

Minnesota Vikings: Although the Vikings picked up a first-round pick in the process, losing Percy Harvin was definitely a big blow to Minnesota’s offense. Adding Jennings helps for sure, but I have my doubts about whether he is still a true No. 1 wideout. Harvin is the superior player. But the Vikings do have two first-round picks, and one of those selections must be used at this position. The most probable name is Keenan Allen, whose stock probably will soar between now and draft day. But maybe Tavon Austin will slip in the first round and the Vikings will make a move to go up to snag him as Harvin’s replacement. Or possibly the Vikings will trade back a bit and secure a prospect such as DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Hunter or Robert Woods. Assuming Minnesota uses a first-round pick at this position, that shouldn't eliminate the notion of using another pick in the fourth or fifth round on a wideout. Also, a free agent such as Domenik Hixon could be a fine addition to Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Simpson is loaded with ability, so I didn’t criticize the Vikes for bringing him back, but to call him unreliable would be generous. Wright is very intriguing, though. He isn’t Harvin, of course, but he was used in some similar ways while Harvin was out of the lineup last season -- and Wright looked very good in those situations. Obviously, the Vikings need more at this position, but when opening day rolls around, I highly doubt wide receiver will be a weak position for Minnesota.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Baltimore Ravens: This is the most glaring need on offense. The Ravens traded Anquan Boldin, their leading receiver for the past three seasons, and have yet to replace him. Torrey Smith is the only remaining wide receiver on the Ravens who caught more than 30 passes last season. Jacoby Jones can stretch the field, but he's considered more of a returner than a receiver. Owner Steve Biciotti recently said a committee is going to fill the void. The options -- Tandon Doss, David Reed, Deonte Thompson, and Tommy Streeter -- have totaled 17 career receptions and one touchdown. The lack of proven talent has to be a concern. The Ravens could also split out tight end Dennis Pitta and use him more in a wideout role. It wouldn't be surprising to see Baltimore take a wide receiver early in the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green is the best receiver in the division and is among the top five in the NFL. He has 162 catches in his first two seasons, which is the second-most in NFL history. The supporting cast looks promising, although no one has established himself in the league. Only one other wide receiver (Andrew Hawkins) had more than 18 receptions last season. Mohamed Sanu, a third-round pick from a year ago, is expected to become the team's No. 2 receiver. Coach Marvin Lewis said Sanu is ahead of where Chad Johnson was after his rookie season. The Bengals believe Marvin Jones, a fifth-round pick last season, has good upside. Whether the Bengals use an early draft pick on a wide receiver will show their level of confidence in this young group.

Cleveland Browns: For a second straight year, the Browns chose not to sign a free-agent wide receiver even though they have a need and the salary-cap room to do so. The Browns are set with two young, yet inconsistent, starters in Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Gordon, a supplemental second-round pick last year, showed flashes as being a No. 1 receiver. He brought back the big play to the Browns' passing attack, averaging 16.1 yards per catch. Gordon, who had seven games in which he caught two or fewer passes, can't disappear like he did at times last season. Little has the potential to be the complementary No. 2 target if he can cut down on his drops. Travis Benjamin, the fast but undersized work in progress, is the No. 3 receiver by default. After not re-signing Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs, the Browns have to draft at least one receiver to provide depth. The problem is, Cleveland has just one of the first 67 picks in the draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As expected, the Steelers let Mike Wallace, their leading receiver for the past three seasons, leave in free agency. Pittsburgh could have a predicament if Emmanuel Sanders, who is expected to replace Wallace, goes to the Patriots. The deadline is April 19 for the Patriots to extend an offer to Sanders, a restricted free agent. Antonio Brown has to step up and become the No. 1 target after 135 catches the past two seasons. He's a good fit in the short passing game favored by offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Right now, the No. 3 receiver is either Jerricho Cotchery or Plaxico Burress. The Steelers may have to draft a wide receiver in either the first or second round for the first time since 2008. Pittsburgh's depth has been depleted at this position. It was only two years ago when the Steelers went into the season with Brown and Sanders as their backup wideouts.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Denver

The Broncos made the biggest free-agency splash in the AFC West by signing New England slot machine Wes Welker.

He has led the NFL in receptions over the past six seasons and is joining a quarterback, Peyton Manning, who has long had a connection with his slot receivers. The Welker addition gives Denver arguably the best group of receivers in the NFL.

Welker joins young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Both players flourished while playing with Manning last season. With these skilled players, someone is going to be open. Finding a way to defend this trio will be a major task for every defensive coordinator that faces Denver.

Kansas City

This position is going to be in the spotlight because new head coach Andy Reid loves the passing game.

It all starts with top receiver Dwayne Bowe. There is a reason the new Kansas City brass gave Bowe a huge contract to keep him from leaving in free agency. Reid is going to build his passing game around Bowe. Bowe has big ability and can be a top receiver. Yes, he still drops passes and he has to show he will still be hungry after getting the big contract. But he can play.

The Chiefs made an underrated addition in Donnie Avery. He had 60 catches for the Colts last season. He can stretch the field. Reid will find ways for Avery to help. Reid is also a fan of tiny Dexter McCluster, who can line up in several different spots. Perhaps he can fill a DeSean Jackson-like role for Reid.

The team also has a slot option in Devon Wylie. A big question mark, of course, is 2011 first-round pick Jon Baldwin. He has made little impact. He looks good in camp but disappears on the field. Reid gave him a lukewarm endorsement recently. Baldwin has talent, but it’s time he shows it. I think we could see the Chiefs draft another bigger receiver in the middle rounds, but I think the team will try to rely on Bowe, Avery and McCluster this season and hope others develop.

Oakland

The Raiders have a familiar theme at this position. They are young and promising, but they are also unproven. That has been the story with this unit for a few years. They Raiders have loaded up on young receivers, but none have shown they can be a proven starter.

The team released 2009 No. 7 overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey this year. He joins fellow young, promising receivers Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy as those who have been jettisoned in the recent past after not fulfilling hopes. But the cupboard is not bare. Again, we need to see these players take the next step.

The two players who probably will get the first chance are Denarius Moore and Rod Streater. Moore, a fifth-round pick in 2011, had a decent season last year -- 51 catches for 741 yards and seven touchdowns. But he was inconsistent and didn’t make the expected strides after his rookie season. Still, he has ability, and the Raiders need him to show he can be a No. 1 receiver. Streater had 39 catches as an undrafted rookie. He looks very promising and is a hard worker. If Streater and Moore can grow together, the Raiders might be onto something for the future.

Small receiver Jacoby Ford has big-play capability, but he is injury prone. Still, he will get a chance to show he can help. Juron Criner, a fifth-round pick last year, was a camp star and made a few plays in the season. He has a chance to develop as well. The Raiders have a lot of needs, but I can see them adding another receiver to the mix. Again, this group is full of potential. Now it’s time Oakland gets major production from that potential.

San Diego

The Chargers can use some receiving help. They have other needs, but I can see them taking a receiver as early as the second round. If the season started now, Malcom Floyd would be the team’s No. 1 receiver and he is more of a No. 2 receiver.

But there is hope. Danario Alexander made an impact last season. He was a former prospect who fell through the cracks because of injuries. He is a restricted free agent, and it wouldn't be out of the question for another team to sign him to an offer sheet. The Chargers would like to keep him. He has great size, big ability and he forged a nice chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers.

The team is also excited about Vince Brown. He missed all of last season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason. He came on strong as a rookie and will have a role. There also are Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. Both signed last year and both gave minimal production.

They will be given a chance, but the Chargers want to see Alexander and Brown continue to develop. It would not hurt the team to go find a young receiver it could try to develop quickly.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver, and what still needs to be done?

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have one of the best starting combinations in the league in Roddy White and Julio Jones, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. White and Jones are as good as most No. 1 receivers, and that creates matchup problems for opposing defenses, especially when you factor in the presence of tight end Tony Gonzalez. What has been mildly disappointing is that the Falcons haven’t gotten more out of their third receiver. Harry Douglas was used primarily in the slot last season. He has big-play potential but was limited to 38 catches and one touchdown. There is no serious challenger to Douglas on the current roster. That means the Falcons could look for an upgrade in what remains of free agency or in the draft.

Carolina Panthers: The team might not be sitting still at this position. It’s very possible the Panthers could use an early draft pick on a receiver because it’s time to start grooming an heir apparent to Steve Smith. He still is the No. 1 receiver, but his age is due to catch up with him at some point. Brandon LaFell has established himself as the No. 2 receiver but doesn’t look as if he’s a candidate for anything more. The No. 3 receiver spot is wide open after Louis Murphy departed via free agency. The team has some young options in Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards. But the Panthers recently signed Ted Ginn Jr. He primarily was a return man in San Francisco the past three seasons. But he contributed as a receiver in Miami before that. Ginn has a chance to win the third receiver job.

New Orleans Saints: There could be change on the horizon in New Orleans’ wide receiver situation. Veteran Devery Henderson is a free agent, and it appears unlikely the Saints will bring him back. The Saints still have veterans Marques Colston and Lance Moore, but several young players are going to have a chance at significant playing time because the Saints use a lot of three- and four-receiver sets. Joseph Morgan flashed potential at times last season. But the player to keep an eye on is Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season because of injury. Toon might have the inside track on the third receiver job and eventually could develop into a starter.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs are well set with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as their starters. But the real competition should be for the No. 3 receiver spot as the team continues to try to give quarterback Josh Freeman everything he needs to succeed. Tiquan Underwood emerged as the No. 3 receiver last season, and he has a chance to stay in that role. But the Bucs brought in Kevin Ogletree to compete with him. Ogletree did some good things in Dallas last season and might be just starting to reach his potential.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver, and what still needs to be done?

Buffalo Bills: The Bills are decent -- but not great -- at wide receiver. The biggest thing in Buffalo's favor is the team has a consistent threat in Steve Johnson. He is the only receiver currently in the AFC East with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Johnson may not be a game-breaker, but he is productive. The biggest issue for the Bills is getting someone to successfully pair with Johnson. Buffalo let go of slot receiver David Nelson and former starter Donald Jones, who signed with the Patriots. The Bills still have high hopes for 2012 third-round pick T.J. Graham, who was inconsistent as a rookie. Buffalo still needs to find a more consistent starter via the draft or free agency.

Miami Dolphins: Entering the offseason, this was Miami's biggest weakness. Several weeks later, it's one of the team's deepest areas. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland did a solid job of landing wide receivers in free agency. First, Ireland re-signed 2012 leading receiver Brian Hartline. Then, Ireland went out and landed former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace and former St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson. The Dolphins are now four-deep at the position with Wallace, Hartline, Gibson and slot receiver Davone Bess. Add to the group new pass-catching tight end Dustin Keller, and you have a formidable cast of skill players around second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

New England Patriots: The Patriots lost two starting receivers from last season. They cut Brandon Lloyd and allowed Wes Welker to leave to the Denver Broncos in free agency. New England signed Danny Amendola to replace Welker in the slot, but the outside positions remain open. As we mentioned earlier, the Patriots signed Jones from Buffalo. New England also added 10-year veteran Michael Jenkins this week. But is that enough? The additions of Jones and Jenkins most likely reduces the chances of Lloyd's return to New England. The only exception would be if Lloyd got very little interest elsewhere and would be willing to re-sign with the Patriots on a team-friendly contract. New England also could take a receiver high in the NFL draft. Some of the possibilities include Keenan Allen of Cal, Baylor's Terrance Williams or Aaron Dobson of Marshall.

New York Jets: The Jets have questions at wide receiver, but the hope in New York is that answers are already on the roster. Former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes is returning from a season-ending foot injury, and the Jets are counting on Holmes to still be a No. 1 receiver. Also, 2012 second-round pick Stephen Hill has size and speed but was inconsistent as a rookie. The Jets expect Hill to make the jump in his second season. If all goes well with these two players, New York should be decent at receiver. Jeremy Kerley proved last year that he's solid. But Kerley is best in the slot. The Jets need a little luck and good health at the position to be competitive in 2013. Adding another receiver via the draft for depth purposes wouldn't be a bad idea.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant broke out in a huge way in the second half of his third NFL season and finished the year with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. If he can keep himself in one piece, he's one of the top wideouts in the league. Miles Austin is the perfect complement on the other side -- good enough that defenses have to pay attention to him but not the kind of guy who's going to complain if Bryant gets more catches. Austin has to keep his hamstrings healthy, and if he does the Cowboys have a top one-two wide receiver combo. Dwayne Harris came on strong last year as a No. 3 wide receiver, and guys such as Cole Beasley and Danny Coale could provide intriguing depth. Dallas could look to add a veteran wide receiver to its mix heading into training camp in case the young guys don't produce, but it's not a high-priority issue.

New York Giants: The Giants are at work on a long-term contract with restricted free-agent wide receiver Victor Cruz, who has 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns the past two seasons (not counting playoffs). They'd like to keep Cruz, but he wants No. 1 wide receiver money, and the Giants to this point only seem willing to make him the highest-paid slot receiver in the league. That's mainly because they view Hakeem Nicks as their No. 1 wideout, and Nicks' contract is up at the end of 2013. The Giants would like to find a way to keep Cruz in the slot, which means they'll need to develop someone like 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle or recent free-agent signee Louis Murphy as the outside guy opposite Nicks. They'll also need to get Nicks through the season healthy. But their biggest need right now at wide receiver is new contracts for Cruz and Nicks.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have the top-level speed everyone thinks new coach Chip Kelly wants in his offense. Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson and newly signed Arrelious Benn provide depth. Benn and Cooper provide size. The Eagles are deep at wide receiver and probably won't be looking to add. But it's a prove-it year for Maclin, who hasn't been able to stay healthy or produce like the first-round pick that he is. Much also will be expected of Jackson, who was playing well before getting hurt last season, assuming Kelly can find ways to get the ball in his hands more consistently.

Washington Redskins: The big questions at receiver in Washington are whether No. 1 wideout Pierre Garcon will be all the way over the foot problems that cost him so much time last season and who will step up as the No. 2 on the opposite side. Garcon was a difference-maker when he was on the field, and if he can put in a full 16-game season, he should produce in accordance with his 2012 free-agent contract. Santana Moss returns, somewhat surprisingly, for another year as the veteran slot man. Aldrick Robinson is a useful deep threat. And the Redskins' coaches like a lot of things about Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan -- they'd just like at least one of them to show starter-caliber consistency on the side opposite Garcon. Wide receiver is a position of strength throughout the NFC East, and I wouldn't think you'd see the Redskins or any of the division's other teams pushing to add here.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd comprise a solid top three. LaRon Byrd and Kerry Taylor are the only other receivers on the roster. First-year coach Bruce Arians has said receiver is one position he doesn't worry about. Floyd's continued development after an encouraging finish to the 2012 season will be important. The former coaching staff envisioned moving Roberts to the slot, with Fitzgerald and Floyd on the perimeter. That could still happen. Arians also plans to move Fitzgerald around the formation the way he moved Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis last season. Drafting a receiver for depth would make sense, but there's no need to chase one early. The Cardinals released veteran Early Doucet, who struggled with drops last season.

St. Louis Rams: Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis are the top three. Nick Johnson and Raymond Radway are the only other receivers on the roster. The Rams are eager to develop young players. Givens had five receptions of at least 50 yards during his 2012 rookie season, matching the combined total for wide receivers from every other team in the division. Pettis made a difference around the end zone. The Rams still must add to the position after letting Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson leave in free agency. Having two first-round picks should give the Rams an opportunity to consider a highly rated prospect at the position. It's clear the team is committed to youth regardless. We should remember, too, that recently added tight end Jared Cook lines up at receiver quite a bit. He made all but six of his 42 receptions from the slot last season.

San Francisco 49ers: Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are clearly the top two receivers. Mario Manningham is coming off ACL surgery, took a pay reduction recently and might not figure prominently this season. The 49ers, like the Rams, could use more contributions from a receiver drafted early in 2012. A.J. Jenkins, chosen 30th overall and three spots before the Rams selected Quick, did not catch a pass during his rookie season. What's ahead for him? The 49ers aren't saying much. No one is quite sure. Coach Jim Harbaugh recently sounded more excited about former practice-squad wideout Ricardo Lockette, whose size-speed combination sets him apart from most prospects. Lockette flashed ability with Seattle previously, but his career never took off with the Seahawks. Kyle Williams, Chad Hall, Joe Hastings and Marlon Moore are the other receivers on the roster.

Seattle Seahawks: The addition of Percy Harvin changed the outlook for the position quite a bit. He and Sidney Rice appear to be the top two receivers, but Golden Tate is gaining momentum heading into his contract year. Rice and Tate each caught seven touchdown passes last season. Both averaged 15-plus yards per reception. Doug Baldwin needs improved health to factor as a slot receiver. Even then, opportunities could be scarce. The team thinks Phil Bates and former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams have the potential to become contributors. Bryan Walters, Charly Martin and Jermaine Kearse are the other receivers on the roster. Drafting for the position would help for long-term planning given Tate's contract situation. Also, injuries have limited Harvin, Rice and Baldwin at times in recent seasons. Rice did stay healthy last season, however.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver, and what still needs to be done?

Houston Texans: Work is needed here. Kevin Walter was released and the great Andre Johnson will turn 32 in July. Everyone else from this group is highly unproven. Lestar Jean, DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin have each shown glimpses of being competent NFL wideouts, but again, they are extremely unproven. Posey is currently nursing an Achilles injury and will not be ready for the start of the season. Not only should the Texans consider using an early draft pick on a player like DeAndre Hopkins or Robert Woods, two prospects who are further along in their development than most incoming rookies, but signing a proven player like Domenik Hixon or Brandon Lloyd also makes a lot of sense.

Indianapolis Colts: Gone is Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne is 34. T.Y. Hilton had a very promising rookie season and I am high on LaVon Brazill, whose role should expand in his second season. Wayne is clearly still playing at a very high level, but adding one more veteran here, preferably a guy with size and deep speed for the Colts’ heavy downfield passing attack, would be prudent. The name most linked to the Colts of late is Darrius Heyward-Bey. This would be an excellent fit. Although Heyward-Bey has never lived up to (and probably never will) to his high draft selection, he can help a team with his downfield abilities.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars need everything right now, so you would not think wide receiver would be high on their want list considering Justin Blackmon’s rookie season was promising and Cecil Shorts has emerged as a starting-caliber NFL wideout. But with Laurent Robinson gone, the cupboards behind Jacksonville’s starters are quite bare. Also, Shorts’ concussion situation (he suffered two in a month and was put on injured reserve late in the 2012 season) is certainly an area of concern. But again, this team needs help all over the roster, and with no stud wide receiver in this draft, the earliest Jacksonville will add receiver help is Round 2. Fortunately for the Jaguars, this is a deep draft at the position, so adding a mid-round prospect along with a late free-agent signee (maybe like Julian Edelman or Austin Collie) would be a logical.

Tennessee Titans: Kenny Britt is a very difficult player to count on because of his off-the-field activities and difficulty staying on the field due to health. But he is also capable of being one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Kendall Wright is a keeper and could be on the verge of a breakout sophomore season. Wright’s play in 2012 was one of the most promising things about Tennessee’s season, but Nate Washington’s play wasn’t up to his usual standards. Maybe a slot guy like Edelman or Collie would be a good fit here, or a free-agent project like Ramses Barden, but more likely, the Titans will draft a wide receiver in the third or fourth round to come in as their fourth receiver and provide some insurance for Britt’s antics.

SPONSORED HEADLINES