Knowledgeable football fans have the urge to say that the best way to build a team is in the trenches, via the offensive and defensive lines. This is true in a sense, but it also goes unnoticed that many of the top tier teams have also made high draft investments into the wide out position (It is also surprising to see the number of Super Bowl contending teams that had O-lines composed mostly of low draft picks, but that's for another fanpost).
Generally, good teams have good QBs and an O-line that is at least average. They also tend to have a play-maker good enough to either dominate one-on-one defensive match-ups, or force the defense adjust to them, allowing secondary options to be more effectively used. In other words, someone that is feared by the opposing defenses and makes everyone around them better.
Lets take a look at some of the teams who either made the playoffs last year, or are very likely to make the playoffs this year:
New York Giants: Eli Manning- Hakeem Nicks (1st round 2009), Mario Mannignham (3rd round 2008), Rueben Randle (2nd round 2012)
Detroit Lions: Matt Stafford- Calvin Johnson (1st round 2007),Bradon Pettigrew (1st Round 2009)
Obviously, draft position of your receivers is not the only factor allowing teams the chance to make the playoffs. Some have great defenses. Several have great running games. Then you do have other teams who picked WRs early, yet still suck (i.e. the Raiders).
However, it is interesting that most of the good teams saw the WR/TE position as being important enough to invest multiple high draft picks into it. A number of teams paired the young QB they drafted with good receiver and tight end talent. It's worth noting that the Panthers have not taken a WR in the first round in over 10 years. Their last attempt at using a 2nd round pick on a WR was in 2007.
I love Smitty, but he is in the twilight of his career. He has had down years in 2 of his past 3, and seems more focused on going MMA with opposing CBs.
I like LaFell, but his skill-set is limited to being a great supporting actor, not the lead. Another play-maker would allow him to get lost by defenses even more for his patented clutch big plays.
I am curious about the the potential of Gettis and Adams, but tempered by the fact that their perceived potential was not enough for them to get drafted any earlier.
I believe Cam is at a crucial juncture in his career, and needs another young play-maker at wideout to help make his game more explosive. Cam's style is to hold on to the ball too long if the coverage is tight, not pick you apart with precision passes. A WR who can get quick and constant separation would do wonders for his style of play- even more so than improved pass blocking. Though the Carolina Panthers have a lot of major needs, I am pulling for them to invest an early pick this year into a wide-receiver.