Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown

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Silverman: Usual Suspects Brown, Jones, Hopkins At Top Of WR Rankings

Steve Silverman
August 07, 2018 - 5:00 pm
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The top wide receivers in the game all combine amazing athletic ability and skill, but one thing seems to separate Antonio Brown from the rest of the league’s best pass catchers.

There is a certain hunger that surfaces in Brown in the fourth quarter of every close game that allows Brown to turn defeat into victory. He is clearly on a path to the Hall of Fame and will rank among Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Lance Alworth as one of the best receivers ever. No, he won’t be the No. 1 guy in that group – Rice was the best, and Moss is second – but Brown belongs with these all-time greats.

OTHER RANKINGS: QB | RB

In this installment of the best current players at each position in the league, I look at wide receivers -- the top game-changers at that position. No players can turn a game more quickly in their team’s favor than the best receivers, as they can create a certain panic in the defense when they establish dominance and string big plays together.

1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers 

Most of the receivers on this list are big men who combine their size with speed and strength. Brown is fast and strong, but he's only 5 feet 10 inches and 181 pounds. Nevertheless, he consistently makes big plays for the Steelers while facing double coverage and serving as the focus of the opposing defense. No Steelers opponent goes into any game without having a plan to slow down Brown, and almost none of them succeed. Brown has finished first or second in receptions in each of the last five years.

He has also been remarkably healthy throughout the majority of his career, having avoided significant injury until he had a partially torn calf muscle last year that kept him out of the final three regular season games. Even though he was far from 100 percent, Brown still caught seven passes for 132 yards and two TDs in Pittsburgh’s playoff loss to Jacksonville. He caught 101 passes for 1,533 and nine touchdowns in the regular season, and the belief here is that’s merely a jumping-off point for what he can do this year.

2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Jones is a remarkable athlete for a man who checks in at 6-3 and 220 pounds. In addition to winning the fight on a jump ball with the defender because of his strength, he will find a way to come down on balance and quickly break away at top speed to make a big play even bigger.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones
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While Jones will amaze the fans in the stands quite often, teammates and coaches would like to see a little more consistency from him. He had four 100-yard receiving games last year, including a 12-catch, 253-yard effort against the Buccaneers in Week 12, when he found the end zone twice. However, he caught just two passes for 24 yards the following week against the Vikings.

Jones has had just one double-digit TD season in his career, and he had just three scores last year. He can dominate at any time, but he is not as consistent as Brown.

3. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

Hopkins has established himself as a great receiver even though the Texans’ quarterback situation has been murky.

He was on fire in 2011, when he caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns, but when the Texans decided to turn the QB position over to Brock Osweiler, it was bad news for Hopkins. He finished that season with 78 receptions for less than 1,000 yards.

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Hopkins bounced back nicely in 2017 with 96 catches for 1,378 yards and 13 TDs. He is extremely elusive after making the catch, and that makes him difficult to bring down because, at 6-1 and 217 pounds, he is not a huge man. Hopkins has a tremendous burst and often leaves tacklers grasping at air in their attempts to tackle him.

He will win the physical battle because he is stronger than he appears.

4. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

Injuries have been the biggest thing that have prevented Allen from joining Brown and Jones at the top of the wide receiver list. He lacerated his kidney midway through a brilliant 2015 season and suffered a torn ACL in Game 1 of the 2016 season.

Allen caught 67 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in eight games at the time of the kidney injury three years ago. He was finally back to full health last year when he caught 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns from Philip Rivers.

The 26-year-old Allen is nearly unstoppable, and he is a motivated player who wants to build on what he did last year. He has the ability to turn the Chargers into AFC West champions and Super Bowl contenders.

5. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

If these rankings were about athletic ability and potential, the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. would not only make the top five, he would be able to give Brown and Jones a run for their money. But ODB creates far too many distractions and has proved to be undependable at this point in his career.

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Thielen is a glue-fingered pass catcher who knows how to get open and make big plays when his team needs them most. An undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State in 2013, Thielen came into his own in 2016 with a solid 69 receptions for 967 yards and four touchdowns before establishing himself as an elite receiver last year with 91 catches for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns.

The Vikings have upgraded at quarterback this season, adding Kirk Cousins. He should quickly establish an excellent rapport with Thielen. Look for the receiver to blow by the 100-reception mark this season.

6. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

7. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

8. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

9. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

10. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy​