By Delano Burnett
NFL Wide-Receivers have long been regarded as the divas of the NFL. Flamboyant and braggadocios, their immense talent and unique skillset are often matched only by their temperamental attitude and “just get me the ball” mindsets. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jordy Nelson are a few of the game’s elite receivers who seem to be content being quiet and just playing the game. However, they appear to be in the minority with regards to the typical demanding demeanor of the superstar wide-receiver in the NFL.
This past off-season produced a couple of attention-grabbing headlines surrounding the contract situations of the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant and the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas. Both players threatened lengthy hold-outs if their teams did not meet their individual contract demands. It actually became must-see TV at one point. The pundits, on TV, radio, and social media, provided plenty of speculation about the negotiations. But at the end of the day, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas both got their money. Money that was, in my opinion, well-deserved according to the numbers they both put up over the past couple of years. Last year Dez led the league in touchdowns with 16 TDs and Demaryius was second in total receiving yards with 1,619. Both have been selected to multiple pro bowl and Thomas played a key role in his team’s recent super bowl bid. Talent-wise, they are both easily ranked in the Top 7 of current NFL wide receivers.
Dez Bryant is not only a good player but also a leader on the Cowboys. It is easy to see that Dez provides the fire his team needs to perfectly compliment Tony Romo and Jason Witten’s mild-mannered personalities. Demaryius and Dez both provide excellent targets for both possessions and down the field. As it stands currently, there’s no way the Broncos or Cowboys can win without their star wide-outs. But this leads me to my next question, should teams be built to be so dependent on wide receivers? And can they expect to win the Super bowl this way?
I recently had an interesting conversation that sparked the idea that the wide receiver position might be slightly overrated in terms of how much they should be paid. The recent trend in the NFL has been the ongoing devaluation of the running back position. As a result, running backs are not paid anywhere near their worth considering how valuable running the ball continues to be in the NFL. When it comes to being a successful road team, I’ve always heard the term “defense and running the ball travels”, while great passing attacks don’t always travel as well, especially during the playoff grind. If you look at the last three super bowl winners, only one team had a wide receiver making more than six million dollars; and that was Anquan Boldin when he played for the Ravens. However, two of the three past super bowl winners did have elite level running backs on their teams in Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch.
Now, onto the defensive side of the ball. Seattle and New England were both top ten teams in “points allowed”. In fact, for the last three years Seattle has led the league in points allowed and coincidentally, they have played in back-to-back Super Bowls the last two seasons. The last great offensive team to win a super bowl was the Green Bay Packers in 2011, which led the league in points scored with 560. Lastly, look at what last year’s Super Bowl winner, the New England Patriots, did with a cast of second-tier wide-receivers.
Now I don’t want to come off as dismissive of the talent these wide receivers posses and the impact they make on games. In fact this might be the most talented crop of wide receivers the NFL has ever seen. I’m not sure if there's even an absolute best wide receiver in the league. The NFL Network has Calvin Johnson still rated the number one wide receiver even though he was injured this past year and his numbers were the lowest since 2009. Antonio Brown had the best numbers from last year and as talented and reliable Dez Bryant is, the NFL Network had Julio Jones rated ahead of him. You can make a strong case for any of those four wide receivers I mentioned as being the best in the league.
There are also a few young wide receivers from the 2014 rookie class who are quickly making a name for themselves. Everyone knows about Odell Beckham Jr. and the havoc he wreaked on defenses last year. His phenomenal play even earned him this year’s Madden cover, but there were others who put together great seasons as well. Mike Evans put up 1,051 yards and 12 tds, Kelvin Benjamin put up 1008 yards and 9 tds, and Sam Watkins, despite really shaky QB play in Buffalo, put up 982 yards and 6 tds. So like I said, there are a lot of really talented players at that position. Knowing this, I think we have to ask: does plethora of talent at this position also provide additional support to the argument that perhaps wide-receivers are over-paid?
Obviously, the NFL has changed into more of a passing league with all the rules that have benefited the quarterback and wide receiver; but typically, Super Bowl winning teams are not built around the wide receiver position.