Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon have exploded in their second NFL seasons and have set the stage for another "who's better?" debate at the wide receiver position. What's interesting, though, is that unlike the famed war of words featuring A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones , Jeffery and Gordon were vastly overlooked as they made their way through college and into the pros.
They were recruited to play college ball in 2009, and according to Rivals, Jeffery was the No. 13 wideout in the class, behind names like Morrell Presley, Terry Hawthorne and Andre Debose.
Gordon wasn't even the top-ranked Gordon in his class, as Michigan signee Cameron Gordon came in at No. 36, while Josh was rated as the 70th-best receiver that year.
Crazy, isn't it?
He had his fair share of off-field troubles after high school, troubles that led to him being dismissed from the Baylor program and not playing at all during the 2011 season. Jeffery was lauded as a top prospect after a robust 88-catch, 1,517-yard, nine-touchdown sophomore season at South Carolina, but as a junior, his numbers decreased significantly.
When pictures surfaced of an "overweight" Jeffery, the savage draft nit-pickers were out in full force.
Although he finished his three-year college career with over 3,000 yards receiving at 16.6 yards per catch with 23 total touchdowns, many thought he had a weight issue—or maybe a work-ethic issue—and wasn't worth a top pick.
So, the 2012 draft began, and Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, and A.J. Jenkins went ahead of Jeffery in Round 1.
Brian Quick was the first selection of Round 2, and 10 picks later, Stephen Hill was grabbed by the New York Jets.
Finally, at No. 45 overall, Jeffery went to the Chicago Bears.
Gordon took a more atypical route to the NFL, as he entered the 2012 supplemental draft in July, along with seven other players who dealt with eligibility regulations and weren't picked in April's draft.
After every team said "no thanks" in the first round, the Cleveland Browns couldn't pass up Gordon in the second, even though it meant they'd forfeit their second-round choice in 2013.
Both flashed as rookies.
Jeffery caught 24 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns in 10 games. Gordon played in all 16 outings and finished with 50 receptions for 805 yards with five touchdowns.
This year, each player has emphatically hushed his critics.
Despite the horrible quarterback carousel in Cleveland, Gordon has already reeled in 64 passes for 1,249 yards with seven touchdowns. Jeffery's had Jay Cutler and Josh McCown as a quarterback this season and has Brandon Marshall across the formation, but he's made 70 catches for 1,109 yards and five scores.
Only Calvin Johnson has more receiving yards than Gordon, and only Kenny Stills—who's hauled in 41 fewer passes—has a higher yards-per-catch average than Gordon's 19.5.
Remember though, Gordon was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 campaign due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, therefore, his 124.9 yards-per-game average is the best in the NFL.
Jeffery is fourth in receiving yards and averages nearly three more yards per catch than Marshall.
Though neither are dynamic, quick-twitch athletes off the line, Gordon wins with an exquisite blend of size and speed. At 6'3'' and 225 pounds, he's a 4.4 to 4.45 guy who can separate and also make catches in traffic.
Jeffery, however, is the epitome of the "open when not open" receiver.
At around the same size as Gordon, the Bears wideout runs in the 4.45 to 4.5 range, but he attacks the ball and high-points it as well as anyone.
While speed is a fantastic attribute for any receiver to possess, the ability to consistently make contested catches in tight coverage might be more valuable.
Gordon's on pace for 85 receptions, 1,665 yards and nine touchdowns. Jeffery's on pace for 93 receptions for 1,479 and seven scores.
With established receiving stalwarts like Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne entering the twilight of their tremendous careers, Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon look to be ready to step into the elite receiver ranks for many years to come.
(Images courtesy USA Today and Sports Illustrated)