A good sports debate — unlike the ones we usually hear the screaming talking heads on TV holler about on a daily basis — is the greatest quarterback class of all-time.
When it comes to the all-time great wide receiver draft classes of all time, the list is relatively short. There’s 1996 and the 2009 one. But both are being blown out of the water by this year’s class
The ’96 class is like the 1983 QB class: five first-round picks, a few potential Hall of Famers, and notable names from top to bottom. You’ve got Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Marvin Harrison, Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer, Muhsin Muhammad, Terrell Owens, Bobby Engram, Jermaine Lewis, Joe Horn, and undrafted gem and eventual Super Bowl winner David Patten. Of the five first rounders — Johnson, Glenn, Kennison, Harrison and Moulds — there wasn’t a single "bust."
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In ’09, there were six first-round wide receivers, with only the first one not making an immediate impact. Darrius Heyward-Bey’s still in the league and has had some big games, but certainly didn’t warrant being the No. 7 overall pick. After him, in order, came Michael Crabtree (solid), Jeremy Maclin (solid), Percy Harvin (solid), Hakeem Nicks (solid), and Kenny Britt (solid). In later rounds, Mike Wallace, Julian Edelman, Austin Collie, and Brian Hartline were also drafted in 2009.
Those are two solid classes, but just don’t have the same sizzle or depth as the one we’re seeing this year. First, the facts. This is the first season in NFL history that five rookie wide receivers have at least 500 receiving yards through Week 10. Seven different rookie wide receivers already have at least five touchdowns. That’s already the most for an entire season.
Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins couldn’t be a more different wide receiver than Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans. Both are off to torrid starts. Brandin Cooks, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin, the other three taken in the first round, quickly have evolved into the top wideouts on their respective teams. In the past two weeks, Beckham, Jr. leads the NFL with 264 receiving yards. Evans is second with 249.
Then there’s Watkins’ teammate at Clemson, the Steelers’ 6-foot-4 Martavis Bryant, who despite being a healthy scratch for the first six games of the season, is tied for the most touchdowns (six) in the NFL since Week 7.
Jarvis Landry’s making plays in Miami, while Bruce Ellington’s been a special teams ace in San Francisco. Donte Moncrief stepped up when Reggie Wayne was out of the lineup in Indianapolis. Both Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson were having big rookie years in Jacksonville, before Robinson was lost for the season with a broken foot. Undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel’s become one of Brian Hoyer’s go-to guys in Cleveland, Michael Camapanaro’s making plays in Baltimore, and Davante Adams is answering with production when called upon in Green Bay.
When you consider that three second-round picks — Jacksonville’s Marqise Lee, Denver’s Cody Latimer, and Seattle’s Paul Richardson — haven’t even gotten going yet, you realize there are more than twenty wide receivers in this draft class who can end up making a significant impact in this league.
Arizona’s John Brown just broke R.C. Owens’ 57-year NFL record of game-winning touchdowns in a season with his fourth on Sunday. Jordan Matthews had a career night in Philadelphia on Monday with seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Panthers.
When it comes to quarterback draft classes, there’s a debate worth having. Wide receivers? We’re 10 weeks into the NFL season, and it’s an open and shut case. This is the best group we’ve ever seen.
WEEK 11 NFL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
In advance of Brian Hoyer versus Ryan Mallett this weekend, who are the two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks who have backed up Tom Brady in regular season games? (Key words: regular season)
THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
Each week, we direct you to a throwback jersey worth purchasing. In honor of Hoyer-Mallett, here’s another Patriots backup to remember. Yes, the 1999 Michael Bishop jersey you’ve been wondering about is being sold online.
Now, on to the picks.
Week 10 Record: 8-5
Overall Season Record: 97-49-1
Buffalo at Miami: Buffalo cornerback Leodis McKelvin came out and told reporters after Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs that the Bills would travel to Miami on Thursday and "go out and beat that ass. Point blank. Period." I love that. Both teams are coming off bad losses in which they had games in hand, a week ago. Both teams are 5-4 and at a crossroads for the season. Miami’s home, but I like Buffalo in a must-win road game. The defensive line is playing well enough to give Tannehill the same kind of trouble the Lions did, the Bills beat the Dolphins badly in Week 2, and well, Leodis McKelvin!
The Pick: Bills 23, Dolphins 19
The final: Dolphins 22, Bills 9
Minnesota at Chicago: The Bears are in full-on dumpster fire mode. The defense couldn’t stop a thing Sunday night in Green Bay, and I don’t know if there’s a guy in that locker room — Jay Cutler, Jared Allen, Brandon Marshall, anyone — who’s going to get the team together and ensure a strong finish. Allowing a combined 80 points in back-to-back first halves is not something you just shake off. I know the Jets found a way to stop the bleeding a week ago, but this isn’t the Jets and Marc Trestman isn’t Rex Ryan. A win for the Vikings would put them at 5-5 with three consecutive home games to follow.
The Pick: Vikings 31, Bears 20
Houston at Cleveland: The Brady Backup Bowl! Ryan Mallett gets his first career NFL start on Sunday, and I’m curious what we see. He hasn’t started a game since Arkansas’s Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State on Jan. 4, 2011. The last time the Browns were in first place this late into a season was 1994. Bill Belichick was the team’s head coach, Vinny Testaverde was the quarterback, and the Jack Pardee-coached Houston Oilers were still a part of the four-team AFC Central. So yeah, it’s been a while. But I think they keep it up. Oh, and the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts this week in 1994? Boyz II Men with "I’ll Make Love to You." Good football music.
The Pick: Browns 24, Texans 16
Seattle at Kansas City: The Seahawks lost defensive tackle Brandon Mebane for the remainder of the season, and that’s a bigger loss than anyone could imagine. Mebane was the heart of the team’s defensive line and was a big reason why opposing teams have had such a difficult time running against Seattle this year. The Seahawks have won three straight and have looked good doing it, but I think Kansas City holds down the fort at home, winning its fifth straight game. As the season progresses, they get better and better.
The Pick: Chiefs: 31, Seahawks 26
Atlanta at Carolina: See what I wrote about Chicago up above? Copy and paste for the Panthers. It’s over. And it’s not all on Cam Newton. He’s clearly injured, but he’s getting no protection from what’s been the worst offensive line in football. He was sacked nine times on Monday, and the Panthers used their sixth different offensive line combination of the season in the loss. The Falcons were 2-6 and written off after the London loss to Detroit, but guess what? They’re now 3-6, one game out of first place in the division, and own the tiebreaker over the Saints. The NFC South!
Cincinnati at New Orleans: The Saints hadn’t lost a Sean Payton-coached home game in 19 consecutive outings before losing to the 49ers. I don’t see the Saints losing two in a row in the Superdome. Andy Dalton’s nightmare from last Thursday night very well could carry over into this one.
The Pick: Saints 31, Bengals 20
Tampa Bay at Washington: The Redskins take the field against a struggling Tampa Bay team that just can’t seem to close out games. The Redskins have played the Buccaneers 11 times since 2000, and the two teams play yet again next year. I’d say this is a big rivalry, but it’s not. I’d say there’s some juice in this one, too, but that’d be a bit of a fib as well. Redskins win.
The Pick: Redskins 27, Buccaneers 21
Denver at St. Louis: While the Colts and Patriots duke it out on Sunday night, the Broncos have the rare early noon start against one of the better defensive lines in the league. As good as St. Louis’s D can be, though, their offense just can’t hang with this Broncos team. The Rams offense has combined for just 34 points over the past three games and Austin Davis, who played nobly at the start of the season, wasn’t taking this team to the playoffs. Will Shaun Hill? It won’t be easy. Beating Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson is one thing. Peyton Manning’s another.
The Pick: Broncos 28, Rams 17
San Francisco at New York Giants: For all the doom and gloom about the 49ers emanating out of the Bay Area this season, things do seem OK on paper. The team has a 5-4 record, plenty of NFC West games left on the schedule, and has the second-ranked defense in the league. Patrick Willis is out for the season, but 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith is back with the team and rookie Chris Borland has been more than a serviceable replacement for Willis. The 5-11, first-year player has 35 tackles in his past two starts subbing for the perennial Pro Bowler. The Giants usually get up for games against the 49ers and the home crowd could use a win after their last few weeks, but I don’t see it. New York can’t stop the run; that’s what San Francisco specializes in.
The Pick: 49ers 30, Giants 17
Oakland at San Diego: Where’s the win for the Raiders this season? I don’t see it. Their remaining schedule is as follows: at San Diego, home versus Kansas City, at St. Louis, home versus San Francisco, at Kansas City, home versus Buffalo, and at Denver. Do you see a win there? The Chargers have lost three straight games, but this is just what the doctor ordered to get them back on track.
The Pick: Chargers 27, Raiders 13
Philadelphia at Green Bay: From start to finish, Mark Sanchez played it perfectly on Monday night. Not only did he have the first 300-yard/0 turnover game of his career and lead his team to a convincing victory on "Monday Night Football", but he went to multiple cheesteak spots to celebrate on the streets of Philadelphia afterwards. Do you think that was a fluke? Think again. Sanchez looked comfortable in Chip Kelly’s offense, the defense was pursuing the quarterback as well as it has all season, and the offense put up big numbers despite just 13 carries from the running game. Everyone’s going to take the Packers in this one. Short week for Philly, Green Bay’s coming off a blowout, and Aaron Rodgers looks like Superman. I know the numbers. In four games at Lambeau this season, Rodgers is 4-0, with 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. But I like the Eagles. Don’t look now, but at 7-2 with guys on the offensive line getting healthy, Philly could have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Chip Kelly’s guys always show up for big ones; I expect them to shock the world on Sunday in a delightful NFC shootout.
The Pick: Eagles 40, Packers 34
Detroit at Arizona: If the playoffs were to start this week, Arizona and Detroit would be your No. 1 and 2 seeds in the NFC, both earning byes and home games in the divisional round. I’ve been riding both these teams in my picks the past several weeks and they’ve both just found ways to win. How about a movie about the 48 hours between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon for new Cardinals starting quarterback Drew Stanton? He fills in for Carson Palmer on Sunday, throws a game-winning touchdown pass, and learns he’s the starter the rest of the way after the game. And oh, his wife was overdue and ready to go into labor at any moment when all this was going down. He got to the hospital on Monday, she gave birth at night, and he was at the team facility, ready to go by Tuesday afternoon.
The Pick: Cardinals 24, Lions 20
New England at Indianapolis: During their five-game win streak, the Patriots are averaging more than 40 points, with Tom Bradypassing for 320 yards per contest while totaling 18 touchdowns and just one interception. Andrew Luck may put up better numbers this season (and in this game), but Brady seems to be playing on a different plane than either Luck or Peyton Manning the past two months. The Colts’ secondary features two players, Sergio Brown and Darius Butler, who spent time with the Patriots. The last time we saw Indianapolis, they were slicing the Giants defensive backs up. I just can’t see them doing that against Revis and Browner. Vegas likes Indy, but in a big spot on a Sunday night — especially when they’re the underdogs — I’m not picking against Brady and Belichick. We’ve had a bunch of clunkers on Sunday nights this season; this won’t be one of them.
The Pick: Patriots 34, Colts 28
Pittsburgh at Tennessee: I’m not sure what happened in New Jersey on Sunday, but it won’t happen again in Nashville. As spotty as the Steelers D has been this year, James Harrison and Brett Keisel won’t let Zach Mettenberger beat them. This has Steelers bounce-back written all over it.
You’re down on my Raiders, I know. Give us some hope, man. Some guys to watch over the upcoming few weeks in the college game that we can take number one?
If the Raiders continue to lose, they’ll have the first overall pick for the first time since they drafted JaMarcus Russell in 2008. I’ve got to think Derek Carr’s the guy and they won’t replace him after just one year. He’s shown flashes. They have needs all over the field, but I’ll give you a few names to watch over the final few weeks of the college season. Amari Cooper’s a big time wide receiver out of Alabama who I’ve seen compared to Jordy Nelson and Roddy White. The Raiders haven’t had a legitimate number one since the Tim Brown, Jerry Porter, Jerry Rice years. There’s the big kid out of USC, Leonard Williams, who can get to the quarterback. There’s a versatile defensive lineman named Randy Gregory out of Nebraska and then there’s Vic Beasley, the outside linebacker out of Clemson. My wildcard is Eddie Goldman, the big, rangy defensive lineman out of Florida State. I like him. Haven’t seen him in many mock drafts yet, but I know he’s got some fans around the league.
WEEK 11 NFL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie each backed up Tom Brady in New England. Tim Tebow did not make the regular season 53-man roster in 2013.