1. Jeremy Maclin
Jeremy Maclin missed all of 2013 with injury and was terrible in 2012, grading out 101st out of 105 eligible, but he bet on himself with a 1-year, 5.5 million dollar deal in free agency last year and it paid off in a big way. Maclin had career highs across the board in Chip Kelly’s offense, despite quarterback problems, catching 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked wide receiver. He’s still a bit of a one year wonder in terms of being a top level receiver but, he’ll get a good amount of money this off-season.
2. Torrey Smith
Torrey Smith has played all 64 games since he’s been in the NFL, starting the last 62 of them, and he’s been decently productive with 213 catches for 3591 yards and 30 touchdowns. Only going into his age 26 season, Smith is a fantastic deep threat, but he’s not particularly good at anything else. He’s still an inconsistent route runner and has caught just 117 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He’s also never graded out higher than 37th among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in any of his 4 seasons in the league. He’ll probably be paid around 7 million dollars annually (between what Golden Tate and Eric Decker got last off-season) and that’s probably a little rich for him. He’s probably out of the Ravens’ price range too.
3. Andre Johnson
Johnson is going into his age 34 season coming off the worst statistical season of his career in terms of yards per game since his rookie year. He’s is currently #12 on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, but even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Johnson is a declining player who could soon become a rapidly declining player and was just cut by the Texans to save 8.5 million in cash and cap space.
4. Michael Crabtree
Crabtree was seen as a steal when the 49ers drafted him 10th overall in 2009, but he never really lived up to expectations. He looked like he was on his way towards living up to those expectations in 2012, when he caught 85 passes for 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns on 118 targets (72.0%) and 433 routes run (an average of 2.55 yards per route run), grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked wide receiver. He was even better down the stretch that season, catching 61 passes for 880 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final 10 games, including playoffs. That’s 98 catches for 1408 yards and 13 touchdowns over 16 games. However, he tore his Achilles the following off-season and was never the same. He caught just 19 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown in 5 games in 2013 (34 catches for 487 yards and a touchdown if you count playoffs) and then was even worse on a per game basis in 2014. He played all 16 games, but caught just 68 passes for 698 yards and 4 touchdowns on 102 targets (66.7%) and 474 routes run (1.47 yards per route run). His per game yardage numbers in 2014 were the worst of his career and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 95th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible. 2012 remains his only 1000+ yard season and he’s graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in 3 of 6 seasons, including each of the last 2 seasons and his contract year was arguably the worst year of his career. There’s bounce back potential in a different offense, but he’s a strong candidate to get overpaid.
5. Percy Harvin
Harvin was cut by the Jets to save 10.5 million in cash and cap space this off-season. He’s been a disappointment since signing a 6-year deal worth 63 million 2 off-seasons ago. He missed all but 1 game with injury in Seattle in 2013, reportedly caused locker room problems that got him kicked out of Seattle, and combined for 51 catches for 483 yards and a touchdown in 2014 between the Seahawks and the Jets. Even in brighter times in Minnesota, he never went over 1000 yards in a season, missed 10 games in 4 seasons with injury, and had issues at times with his coaching staff.
6. Dwayne Bowe
From 2007-2012, Dwayne Bowe caught 415 passes for 5728 yards and 39 touchdowns in 88 games in his career, despite playing with the likes of Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn at quarterback. Alex Smith over the past two seasons has been easily the best quarterback he’s had in his career, but Bowe has put up 57/673/5 and 60/754/0 slash lines in 2013 and 2014 respectively, since the Chiefs signed him to a 5-year, 56 million dollar deal. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Bowe was suspended 1 game for a marijuana arrest in 2014, which voided any guaranteed money he had for 2015. The Chiefs saved 11 million in cash and 5 million in cap space by letting Bowe go.
7. Steve Johnson
Johnson has proven in the past that he’s more than capable of being a starter, putting up 1000+ yard seasons in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Even though he’s going to be 3 years removed from his last 1000+ yard season in 2015 and even though he combined for less than 1000 yards in 2013 and 2014, Johnson is still relatively young (going into his age 29 season) and he was very efficient in limited action for the 49ers in 2014. Despite limited playing time, Johnson graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked wide receiver, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher. He caught 35 passes for 435 yards on 49 attempts (71.4%) and 204 routes run (2.13 yards per route run).
8. Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns as a 2nd round rookie in 2008, but combined for just 138 catches for 1361 yards and 5 touchdowns from 2009-2012 combined. Royal bounced back over the past 2 seasons though, catching 47 passes for 631 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2013 and 62 catches for 778 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2014, grading out above average in both seasons. Royal should get a decent amount of money on his next contract to be someone’s #2 or #3 wide receiver.
9. Cecil Shorts
Cecil Shorts, a 2011 4th round pick, once looked like a very promising young receiver. After a rookie year where he didn’t see the field much (179 total snaps and 2 catches), Shorts caught 55 passes for 979 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2012. He was even better than those numbers suggested, as he did that despite missing 2 games with injuries and not playing more than 50% of his team’s snaps until the team’s 6th game of the season. He ran 423 routes on the season, giving him 2.31 yards per route run, 8th in the NFL, and he did that despite playing with the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at quarterback. However, injuries prevented him from taking that next step. He missed 6 games with injury in 2013 and 2014 combined and averaged 60 catches for 667 yards and 2 touchdowns per season. He’s never played a 16 game season in his career, playing 50 out of a possible 64 games in his career and being limited in many others. He’s talented and could post solid numbers somewhere with a better quarterback, but durability is a big concern.
10. Kenny Britt
The 2009 1st round pick looked on his way to a promising career in 2010 and 2011. After averaging 1.86 yards per route run as a rookie in 2009, Britt averaged an absurd 3.07 yards per route run in 2010 and 2011, catching a combined 59 passes for 1064 yards and 12 touchdowns on a combined 347 routes run. However, a torn ACL suffered 3 games into 2011 derailed his career big-time. He averaged just 1.49 yards per route run in 2012, his first year back after the injury. In 2013, his final year in Tennessee, he was a train wreck. He only caught a third of his 33 targets, with 11 catches for 96 yards and he dropped 7 passes. He averaged just 0.48 yards per route run on 201 routes run. He bounced back in 2014 with the Rams, catching 48 passes for 748 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he still won’t draw much interest on the open market with his injury history and his 9 career arrests. He’d be wise to re-sign in St. Louis and stick with Jeff Fisher, who was his coach in Tennessee and under whom he’s always played his best football.