New Orleans Sants senior writer John DeShazier picks the Top 5 wide receivers New Orleans Saints will face in 2015:
- Some people may be ready to strip from Calvin Johnson the title of Best NFL Receiver. I'm not. Megatron is poised to bounce back from an injury-plagued season in which he missed three games, was slowed in several others, and still managed to catch 71 passes for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns for the Lions. He probably isn't the same receiver he was in 2012, when he had 1,964 receiving yards. But he's still a physical freak (6-feet-5, 236 pounds) who can singlehandedly pulverize a defense.
- Dez Bryant is nipping at Johnson's heels for top billing at wide receiver in the league, and there's a legitimate argument that Dallas' emotional wideout has surpassed Megatron. I won't go that far – yet. But Bryant is a physical monster in his own right (6-2, 220) and clearly, he is a force. Last year he caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns and the last three seasons, he has averaged 91 receptions for 1,312 yards and 13.7 touchdowns. This year, he may be counted on even more because the Cowboys didn't re-sign running back DeMarco Murray, who led the league in rushing last season. With unproven backs running the ball, the offense may tilt more heavily toward Bryant and this season's numbers could look better than last year's.
- If not for Johnson and Bryant, then Atlanta's Julio Jones might be the hands-down, best receiver in the league. And the Saints have to see him twice a year. The Falcons' most potent offensive threat is entering the phase of his career where, for the next five or six years, he could post numbers that will challenge any five- or six-year stretch for any elite receiver. Last year he caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. He only played five games in 2013 because of injury but in '12, he caught 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jones, too, is big (6-3, 220) and fast, like Johnson and Bryant. He'll be among the steady diet of top receivers that the Saints will face.
- The only player on this list who isn't physically imposing is T.Y. Hilton. But don't let the small stature (5-9, 178) of the Colts' receiver deceive. He's Andrew Luck's top target for a reason – he can shred defenses with the best of them. Hilton caught 82 passes for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns last year, after posting a line of 82-1,083-5 in his 2013. Hilton can stretch the field and break open a game, which are characteristics that opposing defenses have taken note of in his first three seasons.
- On one hand, Odell Beckham Jr. doesn't have enough skins on the wall to be on such a list, ahead of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Atlanta's Roddy White or Washington's DeSean Jackson. On the other, in Beckham's rookie season, the New Orleans native caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns – in 12 games. So while Fitzgerald and White are on the decline, and Jackson's production may be hindered by Washington's quarterback conundrum, Beckham not only has Eli Manning throwing passes to him, but also will have Victor Cruz back from injury to line up on the other side and draw some of the attention away from Beckham. He's a rising star, it appears.
Photos of Brandin Cooks from the 2014 season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)