With the 2014 season coming to a close, many teams are busy reassessing their players and talents for either the off-season or the playoffs. Many wide receivers in the NFL have had bright, and some dark, spots throughout the season. This list illustrates 10 of the most dominant receivers heading in to the playoffs. This list isn't based on numbers, or prior dominance, but simply who has the most impact and presence down the field in each and every game they have played in the latter half of the season.
10. Steve Smith
Steve Smith has made his presence known since his move to Baltimore in the off-season. While not posting the numbers of other receivers, his game is emphasized by highlight real catches and an attitude. Steve Smith is the premier target in a passing game lead by Joe Flacco and his cannon of an arm. This tends to work to Smith's favor in that he can usually come down with the big time passes that Flacco likes to toss his way. Steve Smith has shown his seniority and superiority in Baltimore and imposed his will on plenty of opposing defensive backs. At 5'9 and 195, Steve Smith predicates his game on electric route running and superb hands. The Ravens will rely heavily on him to help lead this team in to the playoff picture and succeed through the air.
9. DeAndre Hopkins
With the Texans struggling at QB, and doubtful to head in to the playoffs, Hopkins stock is pretty dismal. Despite Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the Texan's offense, Hopkins managed to emerge as a big play start his season. He has struggled through injuries, but has proven that at 6'1 and 218 he can be a physical receiver down the numbers and create physical mismatches against corners. In just his second season, Hopkins has created value for himself that few other receivers have accomplished this season. With rookie Tom Savage taking the reins in Houston, Hopkins is doubtful to see much more spectacular play potential, but he has proven himself this season nonetheless.
8. T.Y. Hilton
Hilton has become Andrew Luck's number one man in Indianapolis, and for good reason. At 5'9, 178, many think that Hilton doesn't have the size to create big plays. Quite on the contrary, this is where he excels. Hilton has big time play potential with his precise route running and hard-to-tackle attitude. T.Y. is the guy when going down field often as well, being as he can burn most defensive backs in a matter of seconds. While undersized, Hilton is a well packaged receiver, and the heir to Reggie Wayne's throne in Indianapolis. In just his third season, he and Luck have forged a go-to bond that has reaped quite a plethora of benefits as the Colts stand on the precipice of another year of playoffs. Hilton will be the feature receiver for the Colts in this year's playoffs and for good reason.
7. Golden Tate
Golden Tate has emerged as a star receiver alongside superstar Calvin Johnson in Detroit. After a somewhat mundane season in Seattle last season, Tate has broken out in his 5th season. While much of his success can be attributed to other teams focusing coverage on Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate has shown off his big play potential this season. He has become the most targeted receiver in the Lion's roaring offense, and for a good reason. At 5'10, 195, Tate is just as much a threat slipping and sliding through defenders after the catch as he is down the stretch with the ball in the air. Tate can continue to build upon this success, and will prove to be an integral part of the Lion's offense should they reach the playoffs.
6. Jordy Nelson
Nelson, in his 7th season, has become a serious threat to opposing defenses. While Nelson has always been an outstanding receiver, his play this season has been complimented by a number of factors. Playing across from Randall Cobb, and the MVP level Aaron Rodgers has played at this season have both contributed largely to the success Nelson has seen this season. Despite these contributions, Jordy Nelson has shown off his stride and ability to pass the back line of the defense to make get open on multiple occasions this season, and has had one of the most consistent seasons of his career. With fellow star receiver Randall Cobb executing the short and clean routes, Nelson has had the opportunity to utilize his size at 6'3, 217 to make big time catches and get open over backs with shorter legs. Green Bay will need Nelson to continue to make big plays heading in to the playoffs if they want to see a Superbowl crowd.
5. Demaryius Thomas
Just a season after Denver's Superbowl run, Thomas stands poised to catch passes from Manning well in to 2015. This time, receiver Emmanuel Sanders has helped to compliment and take heat off of Thomas, giving Manning multiple threats down the field. At 6'3, 229, Thomas is a physical receiver with strength and speed to match his route running. Thomas is the kind of receiver that can come down with almost any pass, contested or not. While Thomas has risen to prominence under Peyton Manning's arm, he has always had the size needed to be an elite red zone and down field threat. Heading in to the playoffs, Manning and the Bronco's will need Thomas to continue playing at the next level that he has consistently for the past few seasons.
4. Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant is a receiver who will be on lists similar to this one time and time again. Bryant, with all of his diva-esque traits, is a star much like the symbol on his helmet. At 6'2, 220, Dez can do it all. He has the physical ability to go up and get the ball, and the size to shed tackles. Bryant has been Romo's go to receiver for some seasons now, and he makes it hard to not notice him. Often when teams meet he is the most talented player on the field. Dez Bryant has superior route running skills that he couples with his speed to regularly get open, and the hands to regularly make the catches zipped his way. While suffering from some character issues, there is no doubt that Dez Bryant is one of the most well known faces of the Cowboys franchise, and deserves a nod in almost any receivers list. His team will look to him to encompass almost all of their passing game heading in to the post season.
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
The rookie. Almost everyone has made an opinion on OBJ at this point in the season, you either love him or hate him. While it is highly controversial having him this high on this list, nobody can doubt his absolute dominance since he has emerged in New York. Since coming back from his early season injury issues, Beckham has been the number one receiver for the Giants, and has continued to come up big for them. He's made his name nationally know with a catch that many call "the catch of the century", and he has continues to put in stunning performances week in and week out. All while being in just his first year of the NFL. While New York has been eliminated from playoff contention, Beckham still manhandles any defense he comes across with outstanding route running skills, fantastic speed, and uncanny hands. Weighing in at 198 and 5'11, OBJ is not the biggest player on the field, but he sure plays like it.
2. A.J. Green
A.J. Green has made his name in the vast talks of NFL wide receivers. With elite speed and route running abilities, Green plays with an attitude for a reason. Standing tall at 6'4, Green can go up to get passes from Andy Dalton, and almost always comes down with it due to his powerful hands. Green has been a competitor week in and week out for the Bengals, terrorizing opposing double teams and schemes like he's getting paid for it. Which he is. In his fifth season, Green is in his prime and will continue to shine in years to come. He's been able to tear up opponent backfields and will look to continue this success going in to the playoffs. Should the Bengals make the playoffs, Green will be the spearhead of an otherwise average passing attack.
1. Antonio Brown
The big number one, yet one of the least mentioned premier receivers in the NFL. Antonio Brown can quite literally do it all. Residing in Pittsburgh with Big Ben, Brown has managed to stay in the lead of the passing yardage race for quite some time now. In a team that is known for it's stalwart defense and bruising run game, the Steeler's passing attack is often overlooked. Antonio Brown came out of nowhere when he started posting premium stats last season. Brown is a receiver that can run exact routes, with quick cuts and excellent hands. He rarely drops a pass, and is rarely not targeted in the Steeler's passing game. With Martavis Bryant emerging as a threat alongside him, Brown can only go up from here. Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger will continue to count on Brown to catch passes in to the playoffs, and be the star receiver for a team that is on fire right now.