Ranking true No. 1 pass-catchers

Which receivers are truly deserving of the distinction? We stack them up

Updated: April 7, 2014, 9:46 AM ET
By Matt Williamson | ESPN Insider

Calvin JohnsonJoe Sargent/Getty ImagesAmong pass-catchers, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is in a league of his own.

The term "No. 1 receiver" is often thrown around loosely, but to me, there certainly are not 32 No. 1 receivers in the league just because every team has a favorite target. (In fact, the Chicago Bears have two No. 1 receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.) This came up during the DeSean Jackson trade and free-agency discussions; as good a player as Jackson is, I don't consider him to be a No. 1 pass-catcher.

Defining this term isn't a cut-and-dry thing. But I look at it this way -- a No. 1 receiver needs to be able to do everything well in the passing game:

• They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
• They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
• They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
• They must display the above traits with consistency.

Below is my list of players that I consider to be No. 1 pass-catchers (there are a couple of tight ends on the list), ranked in order from 1-14.


Stands alone at the top

1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

This is just a special player in all areas of his immense game. Already an all-time great, Johnson is the epitome of what a No. 1 receiver truly is. He is one of a kind.


Who can match up with these two?