The NFL has transformed into a pass-first, matchup driven league, which has led to the development of several niche/specialty positions to take advantage of players' unique and diverse abilities. Some examples are the hybrid safety/linebacker position employed by the Giants (i.e. Deon Grant) in a 3 safety Nickel formation, the "Leo" DE/LB hybrid utilized by the Seahawks and exemplified by players like Bruce Irvin and Von Miller, and the RB/WR/Returner used by most of the dynamic offenses in the league. This last player has been called an "OW" or offensive weapon (the term Dexter McCluster used to refer to himself when asked what position he would play in the NFL). What defines an OW is their ability to line up at various positions on the offense, in the slot, in the backfied, and they are usually dynamic, explosive athletes, with great open field running ability, thus making them great in the screen game and as returners. These players are often the X-factor in many of the league's most prolific offenses. Now that the Giants have drafted their own OW in Odell Beckham Jr., I started thinking about where he would rank among the NFL's best OWs. Here are my thoughts, feel free to share yours!
1. Darren Sproles, Eagles- this guy is the paradigm OW. Runs and catches the ball, incredible elusiveness, return ability, and a threat to take it the distance everytime he touches the ball.
2. Desean Jackson, Redskins- although he's considered a #1 WR and is not as versatile as Sproles, what makes DJAX a special OW is his home-run ability and elite return skills.
3. Jamal Charles, Chiefs- yes, I know this guy is a lead back. But early in his career he was an excellent returner and still has some of the best hands for a RB. Reid lines him up in the slot sometimes. He is arguably the best home-run threat at RB in the league. Chiefs love their OWs, first utilizing Dexter McCluster in that role and now drafting D'Anthony Thomas.
5. Percy Harvin, Seahawks- another paradigm OW. But for injuries, he would be up there with Sproles.
7. Julian Edelman, Pats- this guy does it all, and at a fairly high level. The Pats just seem to manufacture OWs see Welker, Woodhead, and Edelman.
10. TY Hilton, Colts- poor man's DJAX.
11. Golden Tate, Lions- I could've went with Reggie Bush for the Lions, who is an original OW, but he hasn't returned kicks in a while. I went with Golden Tate because they signed him precisely for his versatility. Another player in the mold of Harvin and Cobb.
13. Dexter McCluster, Titans- classic OW. A poor man's Jamal Charles (that's why the Chiefs saw him as expendable).
14. Gio Bernard, Bengals- great hands for a RB. Bengals will utilize him a lot more in 2014. Similar to CJ Spiller.
18. Ted Ginn, Cardinals- just as good a returner (if not better) than Jones, but never developed into the WR he was projected to be. Nonetheless, he still contributes as a WR, especially with bubble screens and smoke routes.
19. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants- outside WR- check, slot WR- check, runs reverses- check, dynamic kick and punt returner- check and check. He won the Paul Horning award coming out of LSU for being the most versatile player in college football. Brandon Cooks has similar ability but didn't win that award, and is not as good a route runner. So excited about this guy!!!
21. Tavon Austin, Rams- if the Rams can figure out how to get the ball in this OW's hands...watch out.
27. Ace Sanders, Jags- showed as much promise as Tavon Austin last year, and was drafted several rounds later.
29. LaMichael James, Niners- the first from Chip Kelly's Oregon OW factory. However, he exemplifies the problem with OWs, mainly a player without a position. The Niners have apparently soured on this player, preferring more conventional RBs like Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore.
31. Jalen Saunders, Jets- this year's Ace Sanders. Austin is to Cooks as Sanders is to Saunders. Figure out the analogy :)
32. Robert Herron, Bucs- fits the description, but who is he? Deeeep sleeper.