When building a team, a baseball general manager tries to sign the right blend of home-run hitters and contact hitters. It's no different when it comes to building a receiving corps in the NFL.
Teams need receivers who can change the game with a big play downfield, and they need receivers who will keep drives alive by making critical catches underneath. The roles are very different, as are the required skills. Below, we look at the top-five vertical receivers and the top-five possession receivers.
Of course, there is the rare receiver capable of doing anything asked of him. As you would expect, those receivers are some of the most recognizable names in the league, including Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt Randy Moss and Chad Johnson. All five excel at creating separation deep, getting open underneath and producing after the catch.
Such versatility is rare, however, so we've focused on the best in the two basic categories:
Five-best vertical receivers
Laveranues Coles, Washington
Opposing defense will be forced to play more eight-man fronts now that Clinton Portis is in the Washington backfield, and the Redskins are expected to show a greater commitment to the running game this year. With opposing safeties forced to play closer to the line, they won't be able to provide as much help to their corners over to the top.
Veteran QB Mark Brunell does an excellent job of selling play fakes, and Coles, one of the fastest receivers in the league, is nearly impossible to catch from behind. As a result, Coles should make plenty of big plays off play-action. If defenses try to get physical and press him at the line, Coles has the agility to beat the bump and get behind the corner quickly. In fact, the best way to limit Coles' production is to keep him in front of the defense and tackle him quickly after the catch.
Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay
Although the Buccaneers' version of the West Coast offense is predicated on quick-hitting passes, Galloway should continue to stretch defenses. WRs Michael Clayton, Tim Brown and/or Keenan McCardell, and RB Charlie Garner are all at their best running short-to-intermediate routes. They will force opposing secondaries to crowd the short-to-intermediate zones, which will help open up the vertical routes for Galloway when Tampa Bay does decide to throw downfield.
Don't be fooled by Galloway's age, either. Few 32-year-olds have the speed to create quality separation from corners when running vertical routes, but he is an exception, as his 19.8 yards per catch last year showed.
Chris Chambers, Miami
Chambers' name probably wouldn't have appeared on this list had David Boston remained healthy and Miami not traded for Marty Booker. With Boston in the lineup, the Dolphins could have used his combination of size and speed to stretch the field. Booker is an excellent possession receiver in his own right, but Boston is more of a downfield threat. As a result of Boston's absence, Chambers will need to make more plays in the vertical passing game.
Booker will draw enough attention to create some single coverage matchups for Chambers on the other side. Although Chambers doesn't have the speed of a Coles and can't always run away from corners, it doesn't matter. Miami isn't afraid to throw to Chambers when he is covered by one defender, because he has the bulk and outstanding body control to consistently make the tough catch in traffic.
Justin McCareins, N.Y. Jets
Expect McCareins, who averaged 17.3 yards a catch last year, to make a significant impact in his first season with the Jets, as he will benefit tremendously from playing opposite WR Santana Moss, who is coming off a breakout season. Moss is at his best catching the ball underneath and excels at turning short gains into big plays.
Opposing secondaries will have to account for Moss on every play, which will draw attention away from McCareins and open up the vertical routes. McCareins doesn't show ideal burst off the line, but his speed is deceiving, because he steadily builds steam. Even when he fails to get over the top of the corner, he has the height and leaping ability to win most jump balls.
Andre Johnson, Houston
Although Johnson's 14.8 yards-per-reception average last year was somewhat disappointing, he still deserves to be mentioned here. The Texans' struggled to establish a consistent ground attack until RB Domanick Davis cracked the starting lineup midway through October last year. Before that, defenses were able to keep their safeties back and protect against the big play.
Now that Davis has established himself as the primary back and Houston should have more success running the ball, opposing defenses won't have the same luxury. They will have to line their safeties up in the box at times, and that will give the speedy Johnson more opportunities to make the big play once he gets past the corner.
Five-best possession receivers
Hines Ward, Pittsburgh
While Ward doesn't have ideal speed, he is one of the most consistent receivers in the league, catching at least 94 passes in each of the last three seasons. A corner will often try to press a receiver who lacks speed, because he isn't afraid of getting beat deep, but that approach rarely hinders Ward.
Ward plays with a mean streak and is an extremely physical receiver who won't get pushed around. He does an excellent job of shielding the defender from the ball when he is unable to create separation, and his hands are among the best in the league. In addition, Ward benefits from a supporting cast that complements him well, as defenses are hesitant to double him because of the playmaking ability of Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El.
Derrick Mason, Tennessee
The departure of McCareins has weakened the Titans' depth at receiver and put more pressure on Mason, who caught 95 passes last year. However, Mason should continue to be productive because of his route-running skills and ability to create after the catch. If opposing corners try to press Mason, he has the quick feet to beat the jam and is extremely dangerous after the catch.
Playing off the line doesn't help, either. Mason explodes off the ball and is a crisp route runner who excels at getting open quickly. In addition, Mason has been the team's leading receiver in each of the last two years and clearly has a strong relationship with QB Steve McNair. With McCareins gone, McNair will look for Mason that much more.
Anquan Boldin, Arizona
A knee injury is expected to keep Boldin out for the first eight weeks of the season, and he will be sorely missed after setting the rookie record for receptions with 101 last year. Boldin is an excellent route runner and, for such a young player, does a great job of adjusting to the coverage.
With continued improvement in his recognition skills and the addition of Larry Fitzgerald opposite him, Boldin should pick up right where he left off if he can come back 100 percent healthy. Fitzgerald may be a rookie, but opposing defenses will have to account for his awesome combination of size, speed and athletic ability.
As a result, defenses will play their safeties a little bit deeper, opening up the shorter routes for Boldin. In addition, TE Freddie Jones is expected to play a bigger role this year. He has the receiving skills to draw some attention over the middle and away from Boldin.
The Cowboys are counting on some big catches across the middle from Keyshawn Johnson.
Keyshawn Johnson, Dallas
The average Jets fan may have thought Johnson would be one of the game's biggest playmakers when New York made him the first pick overall in 1996. In fairness, Johnson has made some big plays, registering 110 receptions of longer than 20 yards during his career. However, he has caught just nine passes that have gone for 40 yards or more since entering the league and isn't the type of receiver who is going to consistently make plays downfield.
Johnson's size and power are probably his biggest attributes. He has the wide frame to shield defenders from the ball, the height to win jump balls and the strong hands to tear the ball away from defenders. His ability to break tackles and pick up yards after contact also makes him productive after the catch. With Johnson's history with QB Vinny Testaverde and head coach Bill Parcells, he'll play a big role in what should be a fairly conservative Dallas offense.
Steve Smith, Carolina
Smith's lack of height hinders him in the vertical passing game, but he is extremely fast and will make the occasional big play downfield. Millions watched as he sprinted past the New England defense for a 39-yard touchdown reception late in the second quarter of last year's Super Bowl.
With Carolina's running game forcing opposing safeties to creep to the line, corners frequently give Smith a cushion in an effort to keep him from getting behind them. Smith takes little time to reach his top speed, allowing him to use that space to get open quickly, and he is extremely elusive in the open field. He is also tough for his size and isn't afraid to go over the middle.