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Ranking The NFL’s 10 Best Pass-Catchers

In today’s NFL, pass catching is no longer monopolized by wideouts. Sam Spiegelman looks at the top pass catchers in the NFL regardless of their position.

Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Graham lined up like a wide receiver, but he just got paid like a tight end. Nonetheless, he’s one of the NFL’s top pass-catchers.

Graham may top the list of elite NFL tight ends, but how does he stack up to the likes of a Calvin Johnson, a Brandon Marshall or a Percy Harvin?

Here’s a ranking of the top 10 pass-catchers in the league, regardless of position:

1. Calvin Johnson

Megatron is the NFL’s premier wide receiver today and one of the best to ever play the game. His unique combination of size, strength, and hands makes him a matchup nightmare for any defender.

Perhaps the most impressive feat about Johnson is the fact that he’s accomplished so much in his career without adequate receivers around him. He’s barely hindered by double teams.

2. Jimmy Graham

Some question whether Graham is a product of a prolific Saints offense and an elite quarterback. Those people are wrong.

Graham is a physical specimen, with unique size and pass-catching ability, and the ability to make plays from different spots on the field. He’s a red-zone matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and only the most gifted, athletic defensive backs can try to limit him.

3. Percy Harvin

We forget about how productive Harvin was on some poor Vikings teams, and even how dynamic he was in short stints with the defending champion Seahawks a season ago.

Harvin can catch passes as a traditional wideout, a slot receiver, or out of the backfield, and his impressive speed makes him a mismatch against most defenses. He can make plays out of pretty much every type of route.

4. Brandon Marshall

One of the twin towers in Chicago, Marshall has been an elite wide receiver for a long time. He’s big, he’s tall, and he’s physical, which is not always the case with today’s crop of wide receivers.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall has hauled in 100+ balls five of the past seven years, the lone exceptions being when he was in Miami. Still, he’s eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark every year of his career since his sophomore season.

5. Rob Gronkowski

Gronk’s presence has been missed in New England. He may be the more complete tight end compared to Graham, as he can block better and catch more traditional tight end routes.

He’s too big for defensive backs to shadow him, too athletic for linebackers to keep up with him, and most importantly he dictates how opposing defenses set up their pass coverage.

6. Dez Bryant

Bryant is one of the most athletically gifted specimens in all the NFL, and like the other players on this list, he has the ability to change the game.

Bryant has come into his own the past two years, recording more than 90 receptions and more than 1,200 yards each season, with 25 total touchdowns over that span. Like Johnson earlier in his career, Bryant is the only legitimate weapon on the Cowboys, and he almost single-handedly carries that offense.

7. LeSean McCoy

Earlier this month I argued why Shady McCoy is the superior running back to Adrian Peterson, with one of the chief arguments being his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

McCoy was one of only 10 NFL backs to have more than 50 receptions and surpass 500 yards receiving. He ranked first among backs with three 40-plus-yard catches and second with eight receptions of more than 20 yards.

8. DeSean Jackson

No receiver can take the top off a defense better than Jackson. The speedster makes his living on beating defensive backs for the long-ball, so he can’t be as dynamic of a game-changer as the others on this list, but nobody can go deep better.

Jackson ranked second only to Josh Gordon in 20+ yard receptions and Gordon/A.J. Green in 40+ yard bombs. Among players with 65 or more catches, Jackson ranked fourth with a 16.2 yard per reception average. He’s a one-trick pony, but he can break open the game.

9. Larry Fitzgerald

Have we forgotten about Fitzgerald lately? Like Marshall, he’s a physical wide receiver with outstanding hands and the ability to make difficult grabs in traffic. And for years, he’s managed elite statistics with a revolving door at quarterback in Arizona.

The issue is Fitz’s numbers represent a declining superstar over the past two years. It’s a product of being banged up, as well the emergence of Michael Floyd opposite him. Still, it’s hard to doubt his skills as one of the league’s top receivers.

10. Jamaal Charles 

Charles’ impact compares to that of McCoy as both change the offense because defenses need to account for him as both a running back and a pass-catcher.

Charles ranked fifth among backs with 70 receptions, but led all at that position with 693 receiving yards and a 9.9 yard-per-catch average. Also, Charles had eight 20+ yard receptions and two of 40+ yards.

Just missed the cut: Demaryius Thomas, Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, Vernon Davis, Julius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, A.J. Green

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