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The NFL: A Wide Receiver-Driven League?

Yahoo Contributor Network

These days in the National Football League, there's so much emphasis placed on the performance of the quarterback that you wonder if he's the only player on the field.

Of course that's not the case. But at times, you would almost think it is.

Today's NFL is pretty deep when it comes to wide receivers. And the numbers these players have put up in recent seasons have been phenomenal. Of course, today's rules have played a part in that production as well.

So here's the second of many looks at the other positions on the field and their importance. A one-man show is great in tennis, bowling and handball. It doesn't work when it comes to football.

This time we'll take a look at those aforementioned wide receivers. Who are the guys the quarterbacks rely on most and also make those signal-callers look better than advertised? Let's take a look:

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: It's hard not to mention "Megatron" first, especially after he comes off a season in which he led the NFL with 122 catches and set a new league receiving yards record (1,964) for a season. Johnson only totaled five touchdown receptions last season but where would quarterback Matthew Stafford be without him?

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: It was not a banner year for one of the game's great receivers but keep this number in mind: Fitzgerald caught just 4 touchdown passes and the Cardinals started four different quarterbacks in 2012. But it will be interesting to see the franchise's all-time receiving leader with Carson Palmer behind center.

Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: The Texans just added a wide receiver in the first round (DeAndre Hopkins) for the first time since Johnson was drafted in 2003. And it hasn't mattered who's thrown the ball to the Houston wideout because he's caught it to the tune of 818 receptions in 10 seasons, including 112 a year ago.

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts: It would be hard to ignore the impact Wayne had on rookie quarterback Andrew Luck last season. The veteran wideout had 106 of Luck's 339 completions and now ranks 10th in league history with 968 catches. This could be an interesting offense this season and Wayne could also be a big influence on wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: One of the league's best playmakers over the last 10-plus years has had a tremendous rapport with quarterback Cam Newton. Over the last two seasons, Smith has caught 152 passes and averaged 16.9 yards per catch in the process, the vast majority of that from Newton. And he doesn't appear to be slowing down…literally.

Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints: Because quarterback Drew Brees casts such a big shadow in the Crescent City, Colston is almost forgotten. But he got to New Orleans the same year as Brees. The former seventh-round pick has totaled 532 catches, 58 for touchdowns, in seven seasons and caught 80-plus passes four times in seven years.

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: A season ago, Marshall was reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler and it obviously felt good. The former Broncos' and Dolphins' Pro Bowler tied for second in the NFL last season with 118 receptions. But at times he seemed like Cutler's only reliable target. It will be interesting to see if another receiver emerges in the Windy City.

Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons: The former first-round pick has totaled 80-plus receptions and 1,110 or more receiving yards in six straight seasons, the last five as quarterback Matt Ryan's main target. White is the key cog in the three-headed Falcons' pass catching corps that includes wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Wes Welker, Denver Broncos: An undrafted free agent who struck it big in New England, Welker caught 672 passes in six seasons with the Patriots, including an NFL record 100 or more receptions five times. But will he become the same security blanket in the Mile High City for Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning?

Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers: If you can beat them, I guess they make you join them. Boldin is suddenly on his third NFL team and back in the NFC West. In February, he was scoring the first touchdown of Super Bowl XLVII for the Ravens. Now he hopes to aid young Colin Kaepernick like he did quarterback Joe Flacco in Baltimore.

There's plenty of talent at wide receiver in this league and young players like A.J. Green (Bengals) and Michael Crabtree (49ers) are starting to make their marks via the rapport with their young signal-callers. And where would many of the league's quarterbacks be without their pass-catching mates?

Are we leaving anyone out? In any case, this is a team game that requires many components to win a championship.

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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