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Top 10 New NFL Batterymates

The SportsXchange

In a National Football League built for passing, it should be logical that the most important offseason moves are those that best match up quarterbacks and receivers, in the draft, with trades or through free agency.

But it's not quite that simple. Just putting the best-looking wide receiver with the best-playing quarterback doesn't necessarily make the best marriage.

Looking at candidates for the Top 10 New NFL Batterymates -- to borrow a baseball term -- the most obvious considerations would include wide receivers Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace and Wes Welker.

They all attained a level of greatness with their former teams. Question is, will that reputation survive in a new relationship?

Harvin, traded to Seattle from Minnesota, already has an injury issue, creating doubt that he will team with second-year quarterback Russell Wilson to dominate the NFC West.

Wallace, formerly with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the feared deep threat for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, is getting to know second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Miami.

And Welker jumps from one future Hall of Fame quarterback to another -- from New England's Tom Brady to Denver's Peyton Manning.

So how does that work out for the 2013 season?

There is one team with a bunch of new pass-catch combos that didn't quite make the top-10 list, the Buffalo Bills.

Whether the Bills' starting quarterback is EJ Manuel or Kevin Kolb, the team opened camp with 13 receivers, including two rookie receivers worth watching in Roberts Woods (41st overall pick) and Marquise Goodwin (78th overall).

Goodwin was not only the fastest player in the draft, but is tied with Denver's Trindon Holliday with the fastest 40-yard time at an Indianapolis Combine, 4.21 seconds.

With input and training camp updates from team correspondents for The Sports Xchange, here is a look at how the Top 10 New NFL Batterymates might pan out for 2013:

10. Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler to TE Martellus Bennett.

Bennett signed a $20 million, four-year deal with the Bears after one season with the New York Giants. Bennett was one of the top tight ends available in free agency. Finally a starter, he set career highs with 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns with the Giants in 2012 after spending his first four NFL seasons in Dallas as a backup to Jason Witten. For his career, he has 140 catches for 1,472 yards and nine scores. Bennett has the athletic skills and a reputation for big plays, but has not been consistent. Now in a full-time starting role, he will be expected to make 60 catches or more and help the Bears rediscover a position they haven't emphasized since trading Greg Olsen. Cutler and Bennett must properly assimilate the cerebral approach of head coach Marc Trestman.

9. Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder to WR Greg Jennings.

The Vikings tried to pluck a plum from division rival Green Bay, but may wind up with a prune. The Vikings paid 30-year-old, injury-prone Jennings $47.5 million over five years. This is the same Jennings who missed eight of the Packers' first 11 games last season, had abdominal surgery and, well, isn't that enough? But perhaps even more of a problem here is that Ponder has looked bad early in training camp. That could invite an early hook, pushing Kansas City Chiefs retread Matt Cassell into the starting job. Either way, the best pass-catch tandem here may become any quarterback to rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 29 overall pick, Tennessee).

8. Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Tannehill to WR Mike Wallace.

Expectations are ridiculously high after Wallace signed a free-agent contract worth $60 million. But the only thing that contract guarantees is $30 million for Wallace. He spent the last four years catching 235 passes for 4,032 yards and 32 touchdowns for Pittsburgh. That includes 27 receptions of 40 yards or longer. His smooth and deceptive speed burned many a defense, but that was with Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback. They were a perfect pair, especially on broken plays. Roethlisberger would scramble around and launch a long-range missile that Wallace caught on the horizon. The Dolphins use a variation of the West Coast offense, which Tannehill is grasping well. But can Wallace run disciplined routes? It certain won't accentuate his established strength -- burning defenses deep on broken plays.

7. St. Louis Rams: QB Sam Bradford to WR Tavon Austin.

As the No. 8 overall draft pick, Austin arrives with heavy expectations, such as being compared to Percy Harvin for versatility. It is a heavy load Austin can handle as a returner. But he may need time as an NFL receiver. The 5 8 1/2, 175-pound Austin led the nation with an average of 198 yards total offense last year, his first primarily as a wide receiver after playing running back since high school. However, his goodbye speed (4.28 seconds in 40 yards) was featured at West Virginia in coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid offense, a variation of the old Run-and-Shoot (USFL Houston with Jim Kelly), with four receivers, two on the outside and two in the slot. Austin caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards in that scheme last year. It will be interesting to see how quickly he adjusts to the NFL and how many ways the Rams find to make him Bradford's favorite weapon.

6. Arizona Cardinals: QB Carson Palmer to WR Larry Fitzgerald.

Although Fitzgerald admits he needs to learn the intricacies of new head coach Bruce Arians' offense, he also says he feels better about this season than he has since former quarterback Kurt Warner retired in 2010. Palmer is the reason. Fitzgerald is viewed as one of the best wide receivers in the league, evidenced by his rating as the No. 23 best overall player in the NFL Network poll. That is down from No. 14 in 2011, but only because he has not had a good quarterback. Enter Palmer, who managed to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns for a horrible Oakland Raiders offense last season. He is especially impressive on deep passes. The talents of these two should rank higher on this list, but the offensive line needs to prove it can do its part first.

5. Kansas City: QB Alex Smith to WR Dwayne Bowe, et al.

There were a lot of San Francisco 49ers fans who were aggravated when coach Jim Harbaugh stuck with Colin Kaepernick last year after Smith returned from being out with a concussion. Smith was an outstanding quarterback for the 49ers, with 13 touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 104.1 when he was benched permanently. His strengths are avoiding mistakes and accuracy on short-to-medium passes. He throws a decent long ball, but nothing that defenses lose sleep over. Smith was acquired in a trade and should vastly improve the Chiefs' passing game under new head coach Andy Reid. Bowe is the best receiver on the team and it will be interesting to see how much he benefits. Bowe is at his best as a deep threat. But he does well on other routes, has great hands and Smith will hit those hands often.

4. Seattle Seahawks: QB Russell Wilson to WR Percy Harvin.

This is where this tandem was rated before the announcement of Harvin's hip problems. Not coincidentally, it was Harvin's health issues -- migraines, ankle, leg -- that prevented this new tandem from being in the top three. Also, Harvin is a slot receiver whose best patterns are inside and Wilson is the shortest starting quarterback in the league, so getting the ball to Harvin quickly would mean Wilson needs his offensive line to provide a passing window. When Minnesota traded Harvin to Seattle, it was one of the hottest deals in the offseason, one which some thought could tip the balance of power against San Francisco in the tough NFC West division. But it may be moot unless Harvin finds a way to get on the field.

3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Colin Kaepernick to WR Anquan Boldin.

The 49ers acquired Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens for depth and insurance. It paid off faster than they wanted when No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree was knocked out, probably for the season, with an Achilles injury that required surgery. Now in his first full year as the starting quarterback, Kaepernick's top wide receiver is Boldin, who provides a big, strong target. Last year, Crabtree was Kaepernick's favorite target and he is a different style receiver with outstanding quickness, speed and hands. But Boldin is sure-handed, so if Kaepernick can get him the ball, these two should work well together. Helping their cause is the best offensive line in pro football and one of the best catching tight ends, Vernon Davis.

2. New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady to WR Danny Amendola.

Although it seems as if coach Bill Belichick and Brady have a plug-and-play offense in which players are just interchangeable parts, Amendola will certainly get plenty of opportunity to show he is not just the Patriots' latest widget. With injuries and other issues depleting the tight end position, a key part of this scheme, Amendola should be a prime weapon on the seam routes that Brady uses to tear apart defenses. Amendola is stepping into the slot spot vacated by 100-plus-catch-a-year Wes Welker, who felt dissed by the team's offer and bolted for the Denver Broncos. Amendola showed traits while with the St. Louis Rams that were similar to Welker, but in order to catch 100 passes in a season he will need to stay healthy, something he has often failed to do. He played in only 42 of a possible 64 games at St. Louis and just 12 of 32 the last two seasons. Regardless, the Patriots gave him a five-year, $31 million contract, far less than they offered Welker.

1. Denver Broncos: QB Peyton Manning to WR Wes Welker.

This appears to be a can't-miss matchup as what is possibly two future Hall of Famers take a late-career shot at another Super Bowl with another team. In his second year with Denver, Manning is still a tall, accurate passer who eats up defenses with quick passes to slot receivers (among others). Welker defines what a slot receiver is, evidenced by his catching more than 100 passes in five of his last six seasons with the New England Patriots. His quickness and route running were always among the best in the league. His hands were flawless until a couple of memorable drops in the last two seasons, which were only remembered because of the shock of seeing him drop a pass, even a bad one. In what may be an interesting historical footnote, the Patriots actually agreed to a deal with Welker's replacement, Danny Amendola, before they allegedly lost Welker in his free-agent signing with Denver. The Broncos' deal with Welker, technically announced a day after the Amendola signing, was similar to the Patriots offer two years, $12 million, but the Broncos offered a little more guaranteed money.
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