Chicago Sun-Times

Clearing up the issue of the Bears and a No. 1 wide receiver

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Got a good question in the mailbag last week and I thought it would make a good post on its own.

Q: Could you please explain what a No. 1 receiver is. Is he the one that catches most of the passes? Can he be a No. 1 if he doesn't catch 100 in a season? Is he the one that leads the team in receiving yards? Perhaps he's the "go to guy?" The most reliable? Best hands? Is he the fastest receiver on the team? Is it similar to having a No. 1 defensive end, or maybe an offensive tackle or guard. Is there such a thing?

Is it better than having two or three equally talented and dependable receivers? Wouldn't it be better to keep a secondary guessing who's gonna get the ball? Could a tight end be a No. 1 receiver? If not, why? Basic terminology says there is a tight end and a split end. I understand how it has changed to wide out, and could the slot receiver (the back in a pro set formation?) be a number 1? How many NFL teams actually have a number 1 receiver?

In all seriousness, I don't understand and wish someone would explain it. Although I've always heard the term and thought I understood, I really don't. I'm sure I'm not the only one out here. I think there are an awful lot of people that only pretend to understand because it's cool to throw around cool terms in a conversation and are ashamed to admit that they don't.

Please help,
Pete J., Mt. Prospect

A: Well, Pete, I'm not going to claim to be the No. 1 authority on this subject, and I think it's fair to say a No. 1 wide receiver is many things to many different people. Let me just say that the definition of No. 1 wide receiver, in my book, is an elite wideout who could start for any team in the league. I like to think of a No. 1 wideout being a "blue" in scouting terms, and a blue is an elite level player who could start for all 32 teams. By that definition, of course, it's fair to say the Bears do not have a No. 1 wide receiver. A blue receiver is going to be someone who can stretch the field vertically and has all of those traits you rattled off. A No. 1 wide receiver is one who had a chance to impact the game on every down. He can't be a guy who just catches a lot of balls, or gets a lot of catches in the red zone. He needs to be a player that on a weekly basis the opposing defense is very concerned about. Right now, the Bears don't have one. They're hoping they can forge that player between Devin Hester and Johnny Knox.



Would it be better to have a No. 1 or three equally talented and dependable receivers? To each his own, but you can sign me up for the elite talent every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Blues are the players that make the biggest difference on Sundays. Remember when the Carolina Panthers came in to play the Bears in the 2005 playoffs? Can you name the wide receiver who started opposite Steve Smith? Keary Colbert. The Bears knew who was getting the ball and they couldn't stop him. Smith has been an elite talent for a long time. If you're referring to the Bears, I'd be careful saying they have three equally talented and dependable receivers at this point. Devin Hester has been good. Earl Bennett and Knox basically have four games of experience each. They've been productive thus far and all three are on pace for a little more than 750 yards receiving.

The No. 1 receiver is going to pass the eye test almost every time out. Remember what Calvin Johnson did vs. the Bears? That's a No. 1 wideout. Andre Johnson in the season finale last season? Ditto. Even when the Bears had Marty Booker in his prime, combining for 197 receptions in 2001 and 2002, I would not have put him that category. Quite simply, Booker wasn't a dominant player who could take over a game, and he didn't stretch the field vertically. Very good? No doubt. Elite? No. Can a tight end be a No. 1 wide receiver? No. He's called a tight end for a reason.

So how many true No. 1's are there in the NFL right now? Every man's list is going to be a little bit different. I've always said a good ballpark figure is about a dozen. Who would I put on there as locks right now?

Larry Fitzgerald
Vincent Jackson
Greg Jennings
Andre Johnson
Calvin Johnson
Brandon Marshall
Randy Moss
Chad Ochocinco
Steve Smith
Reggie Wayne
Roddy White

Who are maybes on the list?

Antonio Bryant. He posted legitimate numbers last season, but has a bad knee right now and there have always been character questions.
Derrick Mason. You could make a strong case he filled that role last season, but he's probably too old to make the grade.
Terrell Owens. His skills have deteriorated some, no question, but he was a beast at one time.

Did I leave someone off the list? Maybe. There are certainly scores of more talented wideouts in the league. But true No. 1 wideouts? They're hard to come by. That is why the Bears and a score of other teams were hopeful Plaxico Burress wasn't headed to jail. I hope that clears it up, or at least gives you an idea what one man's opinion is.

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27 Comments

I just saw Roddy White demolish the 49ers with 200 yds receiving, I can vouch for him being a No. 1. The Bears have their work cut out for them next Sunday, let's hope they're up to it.

I'd add Colston and Bowe to the list of No. 1's, and Holmes as a maybe.

I've always thought a #1 receiver meant a dominant receiver. One who demands a double team, can stretch the field as well as take a short pass and turn it into a big gain on his own. Your prototypical #1 is between 6-2 to 6-5, 200-220lbs, and can run a 4.4 or lower 40. Basically a freak. Yeah, these guys don't grow on trees. Here's my top 5 in the league right now.

1. Andre Johnson
2. Larry Fitzgerald
3. Randy Moss
4. Brandon Marshall
5. Calvin Johnson

True, Chicago doesn't have one, but the Bears can win with what they have. It takes more than a #1 receiver on offense to win, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, and Brandon Marshall all proved that last season. None of these guys were in the playoffs last year. Jerry Angelo has said, and I agree, most of the time you have to use a first day pick to land one [a #1 receiver]. Had Chicago kept their 1st rounder, they would have tooken Jeremy Maclin, a soon to be #1. After the Cutler trade [and a #1 QB is way better than a #1 receiver by the way] I was hoping Chicago would take Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi, he might turn out to be the surprise of the draft, and would have given Chicago the big split end type they currently lack. Although Angelo didn't do to bad nabbing up one Mr Johnny Knox in the 5th. I like the group Chicago has, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett are both turning out to be pretty good receivers. Bennett has great hands, and Knox is a play maker. Chicago can win with what they have, I'd work on that offensive line before worrying about a #1 receiver. It starts up front, not outside, and Chicago needs better play from their line, especially inside at guard. The receivers are fine GO BEARS!!

Ah, Biggsy, you scholar you. What you fail to take into account is Jerry Angelo's draft philosophy. He will look for a #1 pick who, even with a plethora of talent around him in the same position, will have the greatest tendency to be mediocre. I call it the Michael Haynes/Chris Williams Rule. Jerry will look for a receiver who has the route-running skills of Troy Williamson, the speed of Mike Williams, the hands of Sydney Rice, the teamsmanship of Terrell Owens, the strong moral fibre of Brandon Marshall, the dedication to the game of Randy Moss, the level head of Chad Ochocinco, the height of Steve Smith, the leaping ability of Anthony Gonzalez, and the strength of Darrius Heyward-Bey. And he has to be from Oklahoma University. And have at least one bad knee. And preferably have played defensive back for his first two years.

More worried about drafting starting offensive linemen next year than wide reciever . The line play this year isnt good . If not for Cutlers mobility we would have alot more sacks.

This unit is failing

First lets protect our QB so he can last a season and give Forte some running lanes, then lets look to the recievers

Knox looks like a tween Marshall/Royal with Cutler.
I do not believe we have a No. 1 WR. Cmon, look at T.O./Moss/Fitz/Johnson etc.... we have no where near that caliber WR. We can win with what we have but we need all cylinders clicking D/ST/O.
But wouldn't it be unreal to have a Marshall/Fitz with Cutler. wow
or TO
But I have to agree I'd work on the line first, (which I thought JA already did. huh) Knox looks like he is the real deal for sure. See Marshall over the defender catch? That's what I'm talkin bout!

cmon Brad , I thought what I wrote bout the identity issues was funny! It was a joke, cmon.... :)

Not only are Devin Hester and Johnny Knox not number one wide receivers, they never will be number one wide receivers. There are no #1 wide receivers in the league with their body types and receiving styles. They both could be exceptional slot receivers and veristile weapons on offense, but they are not and will not be number one wide receivers. The prototype #1 is a big, strong, fast go up and get it wide receiver. Even Steve Smith is a physical presence who can fight off a DB to go up for a ball--and he's more the expection than the rule for #1s.

But just because the Bears don't have one doesn't mean they can't be successful without one. If you have an accurate QB who can spread the ball around and take what's given, you don't have to have a #1 receiver. In fact, it might be better no to have one because then a defense (or worse, injury) can take him out of the game and you then you have nothing left. It's like a problem you hear about a lot with the Tampa Two. It relies too much on having an incredible three technique tackle, and if that individual is ineffective for whatever reason then the whole defense falls apart. Football is ultimately a team sport and if you rely too much on an individual, the whole team can suffer.

Another good case in point is the fact that Detroit has had a slew of guys who either were or were projected to be a #1 receiver in the NFL. Look where it got them? A good system with interchangable parts trumps invidual talent in this case.

Santonio Holmes is awfully close to being a number 1 for Pittsburgh.

Free agency or trade seems to be the only way the Bears will land an true #1, maybe next year with Brandon Marshall if Denver lets him get away.

The Bears have a good core of receivers and who knows just maybe if they keep progressing enough talent to take the division and win some playoff games.

Lets hope and see.

If this is the definition of #1 receiver, then all the hype about Cutler not having a #1 receiver to throw to, and therefore just another offensively unproductive year for Bears makes even less sense to me. Most of the teams in the NFL don't have #1 receivers. The Steelers won the Superbowl without one. The Patriots won several Superbowls without one. The Saints are the best offense in the league and don't have one. Sure, I would love for the Bears to have a #1 receiver. Who wouldn't want that for their team? But the mantra of "Cutler's great, but he doesn't have a #1 receiver" seems a little silly.

Good article, and I hate to nitpick, but Anquan Boldin is one. Please don't tell me it's because he's Fitzgerald's teammate. Boldin was doing it before Fitzgerald arrived.

Well, people here are correct in their definitions of a #1 receiver, in my opinion. A go to guy who can make the plays while being doubled. Someone who can take, say, a Kyle Orton pass (no offense meant Kyle; I have always been a big fan of yours, and wish you continued success,) and turn it into a huge gain. A Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson.

That said, while the Bears may not exactly have that at this moment in time, Jay has been doing a pretty good job in getting our guys the rock, and they've been making big plays on their own. Knox has been phenomenal thus far, Bennett is starting to show why people were so high on him, and while Hester still has a long way to go, he's been making good progress. Throw in Olsen and Forte (get him the rock more, please,) and we could have a potent offense. Now we just need a better O-line.

Really you think the Roddy White is a #1 Wide Receiver?
Is best game this season prior to yesterday's rapeing of San Fran was against Carolina in Week 2 with 6 receptions and 1 TD. That was his only TD until yesterday. One day does not make a #1 receiver. Last year he had a total of 7 TDs. If he has an exceptional year this year, maybe we can add him to the list. Sure he has potential to be a "#1" but for now I think we can safely place him in the maybe list.

Boldin, you have to be kidding me, he is on my FF team and sits the bench in crucial games. I like him alot as a No. 2 but not No. 1, Look at the FF drafts, he NEVER goes as a No. 1 WR.
I like Boldin but at 2.
Bills need a LB we need a WR (Evans) (TO?

I didn't want to really vote for any of these options. My first choice was that we didn't have any #1 receivers and that I agree Jay is doing a good job of spreading it around but the 2010 draft isn't going to bring us a #1 receiver either. We need to shore up both our O-Line (most importantly), D-Line, and secondary before we even think about our WR core. Also, we don't have a first round pick next year which makes it even more important to fill these holes prior to thinking WR. Our WR core has played very well so far. Throw in, arguably, the best 3 TE core in the league and a very nice pass catching RB I think our passing game is fine. A backup to Forte that can be relied upon is a higher priority as well than getting a #1 receiver at this point. Unless we stumble upon one late in the draft ala Colston I don't see us getting one in the next few seasons.

Nice to bring this up, but I strongly disagree with your definition.

But if this is indeed the case, than I think it also demonstrates why the No. 1 receiver concept is overrated.

If a team has a collection of players who with consistently, enable a QB to move the ball downfield, and, among them, offer a variety of skill sets that a Defensive Coordinator must account for, a team does NOT need a so-called No. 1 receiver.

All they need are productive, consistent receivers. And this is especially true with a running team.

Frankly, if you look at the teams that have recently won and played in the Super Bowls, no matchup featured two teams with so-called No. 1 receivers.

The Steelers don't have one, but this definition. The Patriots only recently added one. The Bears did not have one. The Seahawks did not have one. And by your own definition, neither the Buccaneers nor Raiders would not have had one, since both teams had old or slow possession receivers.

And you could keep going back. Ravens? No. 2000 Giants? No. Dirty bird Falcons? No. Farve's teams? Only if you want to stretch the definition.

You can have your No. 1. I would much rather have a team with a solid TE -- which you discount in your definition -- a solid possession WR, a deep threat, and another solid WR. If you add a solid catching RB, that's even better.

This is what the Steelers have. This is what the pre-Moss Patriots enjoyed. This is what the Bears had during the Super Bowl year. This is what the Seahawks had.

And really, this is the type of situation the Bears have today.

Olsen needs to step up, but the team has already demonstrated it has two playmakers, a solid possession guy, a solid receiving running back, and a host of TEs.

As Wayne Chrebet, another solid non-No. 1 said, sometimes, a bunch of flashlights outshine the sun.

History indeed suggests that having such a receiver does not mean you will get to the Super Bowl.

Kevin you have to be kidding if you don't think Steve Smith is top 5, not his fault his QB sucks. Moss at number 3? Let me know the next time he takes over a game, he does not go over the middle, he does not block and he is pretty much a jump ball deep threat at this point in his career.

Brad, Jennings made your list and Wayne? I think Wayne is more a product of Manning then anything else, and poor Greg Jennings has had to deal with Bret Favre and Rodgers as his QB's.

Now look at Marshall, a bit of a head case. But in the last two Denver games I have watched him bail out his QB who under threw the ball twice and short another time. He turned one into a game winning TD, another into game changing TD and yet another into a game tieing TD. In each case he out jumped, out ran, and out muscled any one and everyone covering him. Thats a guy you want on your team.

Angelo says he is changing his ways, he brought in Cutler, he also not only has stated he would like to get a big reciever he showed it in his Plaxico intrest. Marshall is a FA after this season and I bet he still wants out of Denver at the end of the year. He would look really good in a Bears uniform. So would Vincent Jackson but I doubt the Chargers let him go. Denver will probably try to tag and trade Marshall. It looks like next year their will be no Salary cap, and the Bears do have a lot of money to use if they wish. You know Dallas will make a move and probably Washington. Angelo may go after him.

I don't watch Boldin everyday, so I'll defer to the scouts wisdom. But I will say that statistically, Boldin has the numbers of a #1 receiver. Though that comes with a caveat, he gets injured a fair amount. I definitely agree that Fitzgerald is a better receiver, but thats not saying a whole lot. Fitzgerald is the best, or at least top 3.

Here are the numbers for the two.
Fitzgerald 6th year 80 games 448 catches 6,235 yards 13.9 ypc 50 TDs.
Boldin 7th year 84 games 525 catches 6,748 yards 12.9 ypc 41 TDs.

Again these are pretty similar stats to Fitzgerald and Fitz is arguably the best in the game right now. Remember that Boldin had 1377 yards and 8 TDs in his rookie year, the year before Fitzgerald came into the league. So he's not just living in Fitzgerald's shadow.

I know this, if Vincent Jackson and Greg Jennings are #1 receivers, Anquan Boldin is a #1 receiver.

No. 1 WR; really, when somebody says "No. 1 WR," I just thought we were talking about a go-to-guy on the team. Fitzgerald, Marshall, the Johnsons and Smith; those are not No. 1 WRs for a team, those are elite WRs and elite players for the league.

For me, a No. 1 WR is a guy you can count on, the majority of the time, to make clutch catches at crunch time, and who can get himself in a position to make that play every single week. A No. 1 doesn't have to make THE CATCH every game, but the team has to feel comfortable trying to get the ball to him, and look to him as their best option more often than not in clutch situations. I think it's more a matter of the team believing that the No. 1 will make himself open and available to make the play when they need somebody to make a play. If the No. 1 can't make the play, the team says "Well, we gave it our best shot."

By this definition, a team could have more than 1 No. 1; like Moss and Welker in NE, Marshall and Royal in Denver, Ward and Holmes in Pitts, Jennings and Driver in GB, Harrison and Wayne a few years back, Ochocinco and Housh when they were together. TE:Tony Gonzales is a bonafied No. 1, and I might even add Dallas Clark.

The Bears, even by this definition, do not have even the 1 No. 1.
The Bears are trying to make Hester that, but that's asking a lot of the guy, although I could agree that Hester is the closest thing we have to a No. 1 WR. Olsen might have the talent, but I'm not seeing that No. 1 dependability yet.

Knox? Please... He's still very raw as a WR and it's still very early for a team to be counting on him to make clutch catches week in and week out. I also think he's about to hit his rookie wall soon if he has not already (but I'm happy that his raw talent is allowing him to contribute and make plays big time for the team). Although, with his speed and quickness, he could and probably should develop into a solid threat.

There Bears aren't likely to draft a No. 1 WR next year. About half of No. 1's are drafted in the first round, and the Bears don't have a first round pick. Another quarter of them are taken in the second. The Bears hopefully won't be picking until late in that round, and WR probably won't be the top priority (at least it's not looking like it so far). Here's when the WRs mentioned here were drafted:

Brad's list of 11
1.02 Calvin Johnson
1.03 Larry Fitzgerald
1.03 Andre Johnson
1.21 Randy Moss
1.27 Roddy White
1.30 Reggie Wayne
2.36 Chad Ochocinco
2.52 Greg Jennings
2.61 Vincent Jackson
3.77 Steve Smith
4.119 Brandon Marshall

Other WRs mentioned
1.08 Plaxico Burress
1.23 Dwayne Bowe
1.25 Santonio Holmes
2.54 Anquan Boldin
2.63 Antonio Bryant
3.89 Terrell Owens
4.98 Derrick Mason
7.252 Marques Colston

Chad Ochocinco 2008 stats: 540 yds 10.2 yds/catch 13 games 4 TD
Plaxico 2008 stats: 454 yds 13 yds/catch 10 games 4 TD
Devin Hester 2008 stats: 665 yds 13 yds/catch 15 games 3 TD

But we all know who the number ones are right?

I guess once you've made a name for yourself, you always get mentioned. This is the fault of the national media. We forget what talent looks like because of the media attention.

#1 receivers have offensive strategies built around them. When that receiver goes down, the offense drops off dramatically.

Give me a solid core of guys who can move the chains in the air when necessary and run the ball! Forget the primadonnas who get all the attention for doing no more than the rest of their team mates.

Blaxico lolol

nice stats clown

Wow, what heady times for the Bears. 3-1 against a pretty mediocre schedule and so we turn our attention to whether whether we have a #1 receiver?

We could just as easily be 1-3.

I worry more about whether we can beat two teams with winning records while on the road.

I worry about whether we really have a run offense, because if we don't, Cutler's stats are going to nosedive over the next two weeks as teams play what appears to be a one dimensional Bears team.
Granted, it's a pretty good one dimenion, but defenses will adjust.

I also still question the space between Cutler's ears and whether he will hold up to the pressure of the offense always being on him. This was a QB who only needed to win one game down the stretch in 2008 and couldn't do it.

Can the dude handle the pressure? That's my biggest question.

Are there any good FA WR's after this year? I know B. Marshall will be. Any more? I don't think we'll get a #1 WR in the draft any time soon!

Think it's hard to find a quarterback? Look at Brad's numbers and assume No 1 Wide Receiver is equivalent to "Francise" Quarterback. I'd say it's harder to find the receiver and then for how long? They probably don't play as long in their career and they seem to be really hard to sign to a second contract.

I get a kick out of this notion that Angelo can just go pick up a No 1 receiver in the draft if they decide to burn an early pick. If you want to take this question to the next step, check and see what year the earliest on on Brad's list was drafted. Then go count how many total wider receivers were picked in the first or second round since then.

Do that and I'm betting you are going to see a really ugly number on how likely it is to hit on a receiver in the draft.

Agree MS - We have good young WR already they are fine but they need a great vet to go to the big game. To me Marshall is a priority, and he seems to be to JA as well, we tried for Boldin we tried for Plax, and who knows what went down with Marshall? Nothin to do but wait on that...

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on October 11, 2009 9:51 PM.

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