When do you know a receiver has secured his spot among the NFL's elite? How about when he racks up 91 yards receiving plus [si_launchNFLPopup video='901b128111594e1f90d21bcc67bb0f95']a ridiculous one-handed touchdown grab[/si_launchNFLPopup] in a road win ... and it feels like nothing out of the ordinary.
Such is the latest chapter in A.J. Green's story.
Green turned in another ho-hum dominant performance on Sunday, as his Bengals secured an absolutely essential victory in Kansas City, 28-6. Not that Green needed a strong outing against the bumbling Chiefs to prove his worth. He played a huge role in Cincinnati's surprising 2011 turnaround, topping the 1,000-yard receiving mark to help the Bengals make the playoffs.
This year, he's been even better. Despite drawing immense amounts of attention from opposing defenses, Green simply continues to pile up numbers. His Week 11 showing brought him to 64 receptions on the season (one shy of his 2011 total), with more than 900 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns.
Even more incredibly, he's now scored in nine consecutive games -- including in a Week 7 loss to Pittsburgh, Green's worst statistical day as a pro, when his lone 8-yard catch landed him in the end zone.
Somehow, it still feels like Green gets overlooked when the discussion turns to the NFL's top wide receivers. Maybe some of that has to do with him playing in Cincinnati, which is hardly the center of the NFL's media universe. But still, it's time to give Green his appropriate due.
Without taking anything away from guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and so on, the case could be made that Green is the top receiver in football right now. He may wind up leading the league in touchdown receptions and is on pace to finish in the top 10 for both catches and receiving yards.
Even beyond that, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find any non-quarterback in the league who positively impacts his team as consistently as Green does. Teams search high and low for go-to receivers -- just ask the Bears, who were desperate for years before prying Marshall away from Miami.
Not only did Green fill that role from Day One in Cincinnati, but also he did so while playing alongside a quarterback in Dalton who was thrown into the fire.
Heading into Sunday, since the start of 2011, Green had been on the receiving end of nearly 25 percent of the Bengals' completed passes. And as was evident on that TD catch Sunday, he mostly does his work with two or three defenders in his face.
Green could get even better, too -- a scary thought for Cincinnati's foes -- if the Bengals continue to work to uncover some complementary weapons. Andrew Hawkins (out Sunday with an injury) has provided help in the form of 34 receptions this season, while Jermaine Gresham does a solid job at tight end.
Add another one or two threats, however, and the Dalton-Green combo could grow even stronger. Maybe then Green would be a national headliner, like many of his receiver compatriots already are. Regardless, there may not be another pass catcher in the league doing his job any better than the Bengals' second-year star.