Underrated Wide Receivers 101


Whenever I’m about to play against one of the top receivers in the league, I always get a reporter or somebody who asks me if I’m going to prepare differently. Because, you know, it’s A.J. Green, or it’s Julio Jones. So of course I must prepare differently because they’re so good, right?

I don’t.

I prepare exactly the same as I would for anybody else.

Last season, I broke down A.J. and Julio as two of the toughest receivers I’ve ever covered. But today, I’m going to break down five guys who didn’t make that list. Because it’s not just the guys who put up big numbers who are difficult to cover. There are plenty of receivers who do a lot of little things — the things that don’t show up in the box score — that can make life difficult for a DB on every snap.

These are just some of those guys.

Jermaine Kearse

When people highlight the most clutch receivers over the last … I don’t know, five or six years, I never see anybody include Jermaine Kearse, and I’m not really sure why.

I guess people forget that he caught the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 2013 NFC championship game against the 49ers to help send us to the Super Bowl.

Or that he caught the game-winner in overtime against the Packers in the 2014 NFC championship game to send usbackto the Super Bowl.

Or that he made a ridiculous catch in the Super Bowl against the Patriots to put us at the five-yard line with like a minute left in the game.

Just based off those plays alone, it’s safe to say that Jermaine is clutch.

And ridiculously underrated.

But it’s not just that he has a knack for making big plays. Overall, he’s an incredibly crafty receiver who does all the little things right. He’s sure-handed, consistent and he’s very adept at using his hands to create separation. He has this subtle kind of chicken-wing move that he uses — it’s just a slight push-off, like an elbow or forearm nudge as he’s cutting at the top of his route — and it helps him create a little extra bit of separation. And sometimes that’s all a receiver needs to make a play.

He’s also great at catching the ball out in front of him so it’s difficult for DBs to get their hands in there to break up the pass. He’s 6’ 1’’, so he’s not huge, but he uses every last bit of his length to catch the ball out away from the defender.

But that’s just who Jermaine is. He’s the kind of guy who gets the absolute most out of what he’s been given. And he’s definitely a receiver who doesn’t get his due.

Stefon Diggs

He’s what some guys might call a thundercat — a young kid who comes into the league and is incredibly explosive. He’s fast, he’s quick, and he’s a home run hitter. He can burn you on a deep route or he can catch a slant and take it 70 yards.

But what really stands out is his double move. He is so dangerous in the flats and on short routes, so you have to respect his first move — which sets up his double move really well.

Let’s look at a play he made early in his rookie season — I remember seeing it when I was studying before we played the Vikings later that year.

First, you see the athleticism and the great hands with that incredible catch. But if you look at his route from a different angle, you can see how he got so wide open in the first place.

He really does a great job of selling the out route and waiting for the DB to commit before breaking off downfield.

We played him twice his rookie year, and we locked him up pretty good. But he’s a heck of a football player. He’s already had a few big games this year, so I don’t think he’ll be underrated for too long. He’s really developing into a big-time threat.

Golden Tate

He’s a handful at the line of scrimmage. He’ll block you off the line and he’ll be physical at the touch point. He’s got great hands, and he’s a sneaky good jumper, too. He’s only 5′ 11″, but he’ll go up and get a jump ball over a bigger corner with the best of ’em.

But what makes Golden Tate so dangerous is that once he catches the ball, he’s as elusive as any receiver in the league. He breaks a ton of tackles, and he just knows how to make guys miss.

I remember when he was still with us in Seattle and he caught a screen against the Vikings where he made four dudes miss — made two of them run into each other, which was pretty funny.

You can see how he gets those two guys to commit, then he puts on the brakes and makes them look silly.

And earlier this season, he had a play — also against the Vikings — where he had a great run after the catch for a game-winner in overtime.

It was an awesome play that gave his team the win, but just like that screen pass, it’s also a perfect example of what makes him so dangerous. He has the presence of mind and the body control to stop on a dime when he has the safety barreling down towards him, but also the strength and toughness to straight-up throw the second guy to the ground and break away for the touchdown.

There are a lot of guys who are tough to bring down because they’re strong, and others who are fast and elusive.

Then you got players like Golden Tate, who are both.

Marvin Jones

One thing I always talk about is the subtle things that occur within a route that the average fan might not notice or appreciate. The pulls. The pushes. The tugs.

Marvin does a lot of those things really well.

Look at this play:

Jeremy Lane has him covered. He’s right in his pocket. And then all of a sudden, Marvin gets a step on him at the last second to make the catch.

It’s really hard to tell from that camera angle, but I’m pretty sure he just gave Jeremy a little jersey tug so he could pull past him and get position. Whatever he did, it worked, because he got that little bit of separation he needed, without drawing a flag.

Those little nuances to his game are what make Marvin such a crafty receiver.

Throw in the fact that he’s deceptively fast, he’s a smooth route-runner and he has a great set of hands, and he’s always a tough matchup.

Julian Edelman

He’s not the biggest, strongest or fastest guy, but he plays hard and he plays the game the right way. He does the dirty work. He’s blue collar, and he’s tough as nails.

Late in the game when we played the Patriots in the Super Bowl, he caught a pass on a dig route, and Kam Chancellor came in and gave him everything he had — it was a big hit … I was pretty sure Edelman was knocked out.

Then he got up and started running.

I don’t know how he survived that hit without at least letting go of the ball.

Look at it from this angle:

Yes, he was down by contact. But man … for him to get up and keep running after taking that hit?

That’s one tough individual.

Whenever you talk about the Patriots, people talk about the system. They had Wes Welker there before, and now with Edelman out, they’re using Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola pretty effectively in that slot role. I think that’s why Edelman is usually left out of the discussion of best receivers in the game — because of the system.

But I think he’s more than just a system guy. You just don’t see a lot of wide receivers bring that kind of toughness to their game, especially at his size. And as a defensive player, that’s something that I definitely respect.

We’re all here in the NFL because we can play, so you can’t sleep on anybody in this league. Especially these five guys, because they’ll flat-out make you look bad.

Thanks for reading. And if you haven’t checked out my Out of Context series yet, I’ve been bringing it all season long, and I’m still going strong.