It’s no secret: sports fans are enamored with rankings. Whether its preseason rankings, all-time franchise rankings, or power rankings, the arrangement of teams, players, games, or anything else sports-related into a numerical hierarchy is and will continue to be a much bigger deal than it needs to be.
It’s not surprising, then, that the recent unveiling of the NFL’s top 100 players—even in arguably the most news-filled offseason in the history of the sport, one that included Peyton Manning’s free agency saga, Tim Tebow’s trade, Saints bounty-gate and, most recently, the death of Junior Seau—is a hot topic of debate amongst NFL fans. The list is voted on by players and includes a mix of all positions. To no one’s surprise, it’s quarterback heavy, even including Jets backup Tim Tebow at #95.
If Tebow was included in the list—just four spots ahead of Tony Romo (#91), no less—how much stock should we really put into it? Probably very little.
Still, I was a bit surprised to see Hakeem Nicks’ name appear during the release of players #81-90 on Wednesday night. Nicks (#90) is the lowest ranked wideout in the top 100, rating lower than Jordy Nelson (#80), A.J. Green (#77) and DeSean Jackson(#71).
Let me reiterate: this means nothing. It’s a crime that Nicks is ranked this low, especially when you consider the fact that the list reportedly includes 14 receivers. From a pure performance standpoint, the 2009 first-round pick is easily a top-ten receiver, and it’s not even a debate. In 2011, he hauled in 76 receptions and seven touchdowns, including a career-high 1,192 receiving yards.
Nicks is the biggest, strongest, most athletic wideout in the NFC East, with the Larry Fitzgerald-like ability to outjump defenders for catches that he simply shouldn’t be making. This year’s divisional playoff game at Green Bay is the finest example, when Nicks vaulted himself over Packers DBs Charles Woodson and Charlie Peprah, turning Manning’s pre-halftime Hail Mary heave into seven points.
More importantly, Nicks led the NFL in postseason receiving yards with 444, proving that he makes big plays when they’re needed most. Playing alongside Victor Cruz doesn’t hurt, of course. But Nicks was a stud before Cruz emerged as an elite wideout last season.
I might be slightly more accepting of Nicks’ ranking if the receivers above him were actually more deserving of their exalted positions. Thing is, they’re not.
DeSean Jackson caught 58 passes for 961 yards in 2011, down from his 1,056 yards and six touchdowns in 2010. Jackson has yet to eclipse Nicks’ totals from 2012, and for all of his explosiveness and big play capabilities, he’s never been anything more than a deep threat. He lacks maturity, too, and never was that more evident than last season, when he held out of training camp (the holdout ended on August 8), was deactivated for the Eagles week 9 game against Arizona after missing a special teams meeting, and received a $10,000 fine after flipping a ball in the direction of Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell following a 50-yd catch. Nicks has never engaged in such foolish, immature behavior, let alone give off even the slightest suggestion of off-field misconduct.
Nelson went to his first Pro Bowl last season, and has developed into one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league. And Green, one of the central cogs in Cincinnati’s rebuilding project, took the league by storm in 2011 with his elite athleticism and explosiveness, becoming the first rookie receiver to go to the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003.
Needless to say, the three wideouts ranked ahead of Nicks are excellent players, undoubdtedly worthy of a spot on the top 100 list. But for Nicks to be ranked below all of them is puzzling, to say the least.