The list of wide receivers available in free agency in 2012 is one of the deepest and most talent laden in recent memory. Vincent Jackson, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson and Marques Colston are just a few of the more notable names potentially on the market. Any NFL team in need of help at the wide receiver position (and with the money to spend under the salary cap) will have the chance to immediately sign an impact player to bolster their roster. There are, of course, names on that list that will never actually hit free agency as their current teams will place the franchise tag on them. With the price to franchise the wide receiver position at approximately nine million dollars for 2012, some of the names rumored to be tagged are Welker, Bowe, Jackson and possibly Colston. There is still an impressive list of very talented receivers remaining if those four players do in fact receive the franchise tag. The top end free agent wide receivers will be quickly pursued and signed within days of the beginning of free agency in March, leaving the second and third tier talent to be picked over by the cost conscious general managers. Once the dust settles from the initial signing period of the big name wide receivers, there will be plenty of second and third tier free agents still out there to be had. So, let us take a look at some of those names further down the free agency list and the most favorable teams that player might sign with.
Robert Meachem is the consummate hot and cold player at the wide receiver position. As the number three (and sometimes number four) option in the high powered New Orleans offense, he has managed to score 24 total touchdowns in his four seasons. Despite never eclipsing more than 45 receptions in any season, he has still proven himself to be a very dangerous deep threat option, averaging over 16 yards per reception. Meachem has shown the capability to put up impressive numbers in limited use; he has never been targeted more than 73 times in a season, and now has the chance to move to a team that will give him the opportunity to shine. That team should be the New England Patriots, who are in desperate need of a deep threat at the receiver position. Ocho Cinco (or is it back to Johnson?) was an unmitigated bust last season for the Patriots and will not be back and will not be missed. Since the departure of Randy Moss, Tom Brady has been in need of a receiver to be able to stretch the field as a deep threat option while Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski work the middle. A wide receiver that can keep the safeties out of the box and back on their heels in coverage will make the Patriots offense that much harder to defend. Robert Meachem can thrive as that player for the New England Patriots.
Early Doucet is coming off a career best season in 2011 for the Arizona Cardinals, hauling in 54 receptions and 5 touchdowns. Struggling through a myriad of injuries since being drafted by Arizona in the third round in 2008, Doucet finally played all 16 games in 2011. The Cardinals seem poised to let Doucet explore the free agent market and move forward with Andre Roberts as their number two receiver. Doucet has only managed to catch 56% of his targeted passes, but has also worked with some shoddy quarterbacks over his tenure in Arizona. He managed to only play 7 games in 2008 with Kurt Warner at the helm and has suffered through the quarterback play of Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb in his four years in the desert. Doucet has flashed respectable over the middle skills, showing no fear putting his body at risk to make the grab. Hauling in 6 passes in the red zone in 2011, he converted 3 of those grabs into touchdowns. Early Doucet will never be a number one wide receiver in the NFL, but has the skill set to be a very productive number two threat. With the looming departures of Jerome Simpson (and his pending legal issues) and Andre Caldwell, the Cincinnati Bengals would be a perfect fit for Early Doucet . Doucet would be an affordable option for the Bengals, allowing them to spend more freely for Cedric Benson's replacement if they so choose. The return of Jordan Shipley to man the slot position would free up Doucet as the compliment opposite A.J. Green . Doucet is two years removed from hernia surgery and poised for a breakout season. With Green drawing double coverage from defenses, Gresham and Shipley patrolling the middle that would allow Doucet to be a veteran number two option for Andy Dalton and definitely improve the Cincinnati offense.
Plaxico Burress had a nice return season to the NFL with the Jets last year, but it appears to be a one and done situation. Odds are that Burress will only get better in his second season after his two year hiatus from the NFL. Plax had 8 touchdowns in 2011, despite only hauling in a total of 45 receptions. At 6' 5" and 232lbs, Burress is the quintessential red zone receiving threat in the NFL. He may never regain some of the speed and agility that he flashed as a younger player, but is still virtually uncover-able inside the 10 yard line. Burress has expressed an interest in playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, but would be much better served signing with the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco struggled mightily last season in getting the ball into the end zone. The 49ers attempted 11 more field goals than the next closest team (52/41) and a staggering 32 attempts from inside 39 yards. San Francisco needs to replenish their wide receiving corps as Josh Morgan and return specialist Ted Ginn Jr are both unrestricted free agents. Vernon Davis is an elite tight end in the league, but needs help on the outside and in the red zone to avoid double coverage. Plaxico Burress needs to be motivated and held to account to reach his full potential and no other coach comes to mind as the man to do that other than Jim Harbaugh. The San Francisco 49ers would be wise to bring Plaxico Burress on board to reach another level of offensive effectiveness and continue to dominate the NFC West.
The time has come for Pierre Garcon to ascend to number one wide receiver status in the NFL. Entering his fifth season, Garcon has improved his reception and yards receiving totals each season. Garcon has put up 16 touchdowns and over 2500 yards receiving while playing behind Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis. Showing big play potential as both a deep threat and yards after the catch option, he is ready for the promotion from number two receiver status. There is not a team in the NFL more in need of a true number one wide receiver than the Chicago Bears. Devin Hester is a rare talent as a return man in the NFL, but still an iffy proposition as a true wide receiver. Johnny Knox has flashed some skills the last few seasons, but will be trying to recover from a significant back injury. Dane Sanzenbacher looks like a fit at the slot receiver position moving forward, but the Bears desperately need someone to be Jay Cutler's go-to guy. Matt Forte is a great receiver out of the backfield, but Jay Cutler has not had a premier wide receiving option to throw to since joining the Bears. Pierre Garcon is primed and ready to be the number one wide receiver for the Chicago Bears in 2012.
While Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Stevie Johnson will garner the headlines in the wide receiver free agency frenzy, they are not the only game in town. Keep an eye on where Meachem, Doucet, Burress and Garcon sign because in the right environment they will be game (and season) changing additions to whatever team signs them.