JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker(notes) knows where the topic is going. Even after his impressive breakout season in 2009, Sims-Walker is the leader of a receiving corps that doesn't get a lot of respect.
In fact, in this informal ranking of every receiving corps in the league, the Jaguars come in at No. 28 overall.
"I'd call us young, but we have a chance to be really good," said Sims-Walker, who had 63 receptions for 869 yards and seven touchdowns last season after struggling with injuries his first two years on the way to only 16 receptions.
Perhaps, but the Jags are a team woefully short on experience and not much on talent after the high-profile failures of Matt Jones(notes), Reggie Williams(notes) and Jerry Porter(notes) over the past few years. Hopefully the lessons Sims-Walker learned from Torry Holt(notes) in Holt's one season in Jacksonville will stick. Certainly, Holt left a much stronger impression than Jones, Williams and Porter.
"With Reggie and Matt, it was all about Sunday, that's all they worried about," Sims-Walker said. "With Torry, it was all about doing every little thing you possibly could to be ready for Sunday. Get it right in practice. If you had an extra hour for film study, get in there and do it, even on a Saturday night before a game.
"You had to get it right today because tomorrow wasn't promised to you. If you dropped a ball in practice, Torry was right there saying, 'Come on, we gotta pick it up.' If [quarterback] David [Garrard] threw a bad pass, [Holt] would get on him, too."
Now, Sims-Walker and the rest of the Jaguars are in a battle to prove that even without Holt, who was let go after one season and now is in New England, they can be an adequate receiving corps in what is increasingly a passing league.
"In this league today, running supplements throwing," said San Francisco wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who has spent 20 years in the NFL. "It wasn't always like that and running is still a necessary thing. You have to be able to pound it down there when you get inside the 10[-yard line].
"But you're throwing it to get there."
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski knows firsthand the consequences of being able to pass with consistency.
The Bengals were ninth in rushing (128.5 yards per game) last season. However, the dependence on the ground game eventually caught up with them when they got to the playoffs.
"We had so much turnover on the offensive line that we realized we were a substantially better run-blocking team in the early going," Bratkowski said. Sadly, when the late Chris Henry broke his arm in Week 9 against the Ravens, that set back the efficiency of the offense and the Bengals were eventually shut down in the playoffs by the Jets.
"We missed that ability to be able to stretch the field and open things up," Bratkowski said.
That's why the Bengals signed wide receiver Antonio Bryant(notes) and selected tight end Jermaine Gresham(notes) in the first round of the NFL draft. There has been a pointed plan to rebuild the passing attack because that's the way of the NFL.
For further proof, look no further than the top of the receiving rankings put together below. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last season, all rank in the top 16 of receiving corps (wide receivers and tight ends). Not every good team has a truly elite wide receiver, but all of them at least have serious depth:
2. New Orleans Saints: The champions go five deep with Marques Colston(notes), TE Jeremy Shockey(notes), Devery Henderson(notes), Robert Meachem(notes) and Lance Moore(notes). And they just added promising TE Jimmy Graham(notes).
3. San Diego Chargers: When you start with the best TE (Antonio Gates(notes)) and most consistent deep threat (Vincent Jackson(notes)) in the league, your foundation is really good. Depth has slipped, but only a little.
6. Arizona Cardinals: Losing Anquan Boldin(notes) hurts a lot and the TE spot is thin, but Larry Fitzgerald(notes) is a great anchor. Steve Breaston(notes) is better than people think and Early Doucet(notes) showed up big in the playoffs.
7. Houston Texans: Like Arizona, when you start with a great one (Andre Johnson(notes), in this case) it's hard to go wrong. Kevin Walter(notes) helps, but TE Owen Daniels(notes) must return from knee injury.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Roddy White(notes) is a step below the likes of Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson and Tony Gonzalez(notes) is closer to the end, but they're still really good. Depth is the biggest concern.
9. Philadelphia Eagles: Don't be surprised if this group rockets into the top five by the end of this season. TE Brent Celek(notes), DeSean Jackson(notes) and Jeremy Maclin(notes) should make life easy for new starting QB Kevin Kolb(notes).
10. Dallas Cowboys: Miles Austin(notes) and TE Jason Witten(notes) are the strength of this group and Patrick Crayton(notes) is underrated. If Roy Williams can show something and Dez Bryant(notes) can just show up, the Cowboys could be nasty.
16. New York Jets: If Braylon Edwards(notes) returns to Pro Bowl form and Santonio Holmes(notes) can get his head straight, this group could be awesome by December. If so, the Jets will be a serious contender.
17. New York Giants: They were better than expected last season, but that doesn't mean they're great. A lot of nice players, but nobody a defense has to worry about.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: The loss of the aforementioned Santonio Holmes is a brutal blow, although Mike Wallace(notes) showed promise last season. Hines Ward(notes) brings stability, but not much more at this point.
23. Chicago Bears: There are a lot of guys here who are interesting, from Devin Hester(notes) to TE Greg Olsen(notes) to Johnny Knox(notes). Too bad none of them is truly accomplished or looks like they ever will be.
24. Denver Broncos: After gutting a position that once looked really good, at least the Broncos have rookie WR Demaryius Thomas(notes) to pin some hope on. After him, it's a bunch of bit-part guys like Eddie Royal(notes) and Jabar Gaffney(notes).
25. Buffalo Bills: Much like good friend and former Wisconsin teammate Chris Chambers(notes), Lee Evans(notes) has spent a career teasing people with his talent. Sorry, but it's hard to believe he'll ever be truly great.
26. Seattle Seahawks: T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes), Deion Branch(notes) and rookie Golden Tate(notes) are all interesting in one way or another, but none of them is dominating or really even has the potential.
27. Oakland Raiders: TE Zach Miller is terrific, but when Louis Murphy(notes), a fourth-round pick last year, becomes your best wide receiver as a rookie, that's not good. Former first-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) was garbage last year.
32. Cleveland Browns: Mohamed Massaquoi(notes) led the Browns with 34 catches last season. That's not a typo, that's a testament to how far Cleveland's receiving corps has fallen in two years since it had Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius(notes).
Crabtree averaged 13 yards per catch last season.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)
• San Francisco wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said he's impressed with the work Michael Crabtree has done so far this offseason. "He's changing his body around a little to be more ready for what happens during the season," Sullivan said, adding that Crabtree was mighty impressive last season even without training camp or the first five games of the season. Crabtree, who held out until mid-October, finished with 48 receptions for 625 yards and two touchdowns. "If you expand that a little and think about what he might have done with a little training camp, he's probably a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie."
• Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti may dress on the flamboyant side, but he's not much for the spotlight. There's a reason for that. During a conversation with reporters at the NFL owners meetings in March, Bisciotti talked about what could be called his wealth and fame equations. "Ninety percent of having wealth is good and 10 percent is bad," Bisciotti said. "With fame, 60 percent of it is good and 40 percent is bad." In other words, wealth is a whole lot safer than fame.
• Interesting quote from San Francisco offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye about quarterback Alex Smith. "There's a tremendous change in him from the way he carries himself and walks in and out of the building with an air of confidence, a totally different guy. If you want to digress to when he came here a year ago and he was six or seven weeks into the year, it's a totally different guy. In terms of his confidence, familiarity with what he's doing, his sense of entitlement, I think all of those things are manifesting themselves right now because of the success that he had, even though some people may deem it as minimal or maybe even being a little suspect about it. For him, from what I've seen, there's been a tremendous change."
• For those interested in the behind-the-scenes history of the game, pick up The Unbroken Line by former NFL player Billy Joe DuPree and good friend Spencer Kopf. The book includes a forward by Mike Ditka. I've gone through the first few pages and it's clear the book will be a scathing look at the NFL Players Association from the 1980s to today.