Yeah, it's close. Frankly, I think it's a lot closer than the early voting on our Fired-up Friday poll indicates. I'm thinking maybe the Eagles fans all got to the poll first and the gap will close as Cowboys and Giants fans work to help their teams catch up. But when I look at the wide receiver groups in the NFC East and rank them, it goes like this.
The Redskins really aren't even in the discussion, and that shouldn't offend anyone. These other three teams have receiving corps that rank among the best in football, and picking between them is probably nothing more than a matter of taste.
I went with the Giants because I think the three guys we're talking about -- Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham -- fit their roles so perfectly. Nicks is the big, sure-handed downfield and red-zone target, a young but supremely skilled receiver who, I believe, will be talked about a year from now as the best receiver in the division. Smith is the possession man, Eli Manning's super-reliable safety net and short-yardage target. Those 100 catches two years ago were no fluke. That's who a healthy Smith is. (A healthy Smith, I said, yes. We'll get to that in a second.) And Manningham is the home-run threat -- a clear No. 3, but a No. 3 with incredible potential on any given play.
The only thing holding me back on this pick was of course health, as Smith's knee injury makes him a question mark for the upcoming season and Nicks has missed games due to injury in each of his first two seasons. But I decided to take injuries out of the equation for purposes of these rankings and rank them the way I'd rank them if each group were fully healthy. You're welcome to factor health into your rankings. We each apply our own standards.
Matt Williamson, when he did this a while back, took the Cowboys, and he told me this morning he stands by his rankings. Matt just thinks Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are too incredibly gifted to pass up for the top spot, and that Roy Williams as a No. 3 is no slouch. I agree that Bryant has what Williamson calls "jaw-dropping" talent, but he worries me for other reasons. And while I think Austin is the best overall WR in the division right now, he did have a down year and I think Nicks will pass him in 2011 if he stays healthy and they, you know, have a season.
As for the Eagles... hey, I love what DeSean Jackson brings, and I'm a huge fan of Jeremy Maclin's speed. But I can't buy Jackson as a true No. 1 when he only caught 47 passes last year and, as Williamson points out, caught three or fewer in half of his team's games. Could Jackson be an 85-catch guy? Sure. And if he were, and he were producing over those 85 catches at the same rate at which he produces over 45, he'd be a Hall of Famer. But the fact is, he's not catching 85 balls a year. And as brilliant as he is with the ball in his hands, it's just not in his hands enough for me to value him and the rest of this crew over what they have in Dallas and New York. Maclin is coming on strong and could emerge as the No. 1 in Philly before long. Jason Avant, for me, ranks third among the No. 3 WRs in this discussion. So as I said, it's close, but for me the Eagles run third in this race.
So that's my take on it. Hope you guys are enjoying it. Keep at it, keep voting and TRY to play nice.