View Full Version : COVITZ-The trend of tall receivers

10-07-2007, 08:27 AM
The trend of tall receivers has reached its height in the NFL
By RANDY COVITZ | The Kansas City Star

A look at the 2007 NFL draft provided a glimpse into what the league has become.

Six wide receivers, including the Chiefs’ Dwayne Bowe, were selected in the first round, the most picks at any position. All six have the requisite speed and quickness.

Best of all, they’re big guys, ranging from Detroit’s 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson, the second pick of the draft, to Miami’s Ted Ginn, the runt of the litter at 5-11.

In today’s NFL, size matters at the wide receiver position as never before.

After Bowe, who is 6-2, caught eight passes for a franchise-rookie-record 164 yards last week at San Diego, and 6-5 tight end Tony Gonzalez leaped high over two defenders for the game-tying touchdown, Gonzalez found the perfect analogy.

“We were kind of like the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan and David Robinson, the Twin Towers,” the former basketball player said of the NBA champions. “Just throw the ball up in the air, and we’ll go and get it.”

It’s not just Bowe and Gonzalez who are going to great heights.

When the Jacksonville Jaguars visit Arrowhead Stadium at noon today, they’ll bring a group of towering receivers drafted in the last four years. The Jaguars used first-round picks on Reggie Williams (6-4); Matt Jones (6-6), who also played basketball at Arkansas; and tight end Marcedes Lewis (6-6), who was a highly recruited basketball player before choosing football at UCLA. Also, Ernest Wilford (6-4) was a fourth-round pick in 2004, and John Broussard (6-1) was a seventh-rounder this season.

“Even in college football, the receivers are bigger than the corners,” said Chiefs defensive backs coach David Gibbs. “I think growing up now, all the bigger guys play wide receiver, and they’re just as fast as (cornerbacks) are.”

Indeed, of the 48 wide receivers at the NFL scouting combine last year, 33 were 6 feet or taller, and the median heights of wide receivers during the drafts of 2004-06 was 6-1 3/8 .

“When you’ve got short corners out there, 5-9, 5-10, I don’t care how high they can jump, they’re going to lose the jump ball most of the time,” said former Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, an analyst for NFL.com. “The receivers keep getting taller. Speed is important, but the ability to run routes, catching it in a crowd and blocking is more important.

“The NFL is averaging over 50 passes a game. We have not had a week this year where we haven’t passed 54 or more percent of the time. The games in the league are so close, you can’t afford to lose one or two plays that costs you a touchdown.”

The trend is likely to continue.

“Of the top 10 corners rated in the draft coming up,” said Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson, “there are only three who are even 6 foot, and a couple are 5-8, 5-9.”

So it’s no accident that Houston’s Andre Johnson, who led the NFL with 103 receptions last season, is 6 feet 3, 222 pounds. Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson, the league leader last season with 1,369 yards, is 6-1.

Through four weeks this season, Cincinnati’s T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a broad-shouldered 6-1, 199, leads the league with 39 receptions; and Randy Moss, a rangy 6-4, 210, is enjoying a career renaissance at New England, leading the NFL in yards (505) with seven touchdown catches. That’s one more touchdown catch than the New York Giants’ Plaxico Burress, who is 6-5, 232, and two more than Houshmandzadeh.

As I’ve looked at these first four games, you could make a Randy Moss highlight reel out of what he’s able to do,” said Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel, whose club faces the Patriots today. “Defensive backs have had good position on him, but he’s able to go up and get the ball and make the play. Even sometimes when they think that they are running in stride with him, he just keeps running and extends and makes the play. He’s one of those guys who is hard to cover.”

While it’s true that Carolina’s Steve Smith, a 5-9, 185-pound mighty mite, led the league with 1,563 receiving yards and tied for the lead in receptions (103) and touchdown catches (12) in 2005, his type might be a vanishing breed.

“The small Steve Smiths, that guy is an exception,” Brandt said. “You have to be exceptionally good at what you do because everybody, absolutely everybody, is looking for tall guys.”


Otis Taylor was the first of his kind. Taylor, a member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame and a hero in Super Bowl IV, was big, at 6-3, 222 pounds. He had great leaping ability and sprinter’s speed during an era in the late 1960s and 1970s when the big receivers were slow and the small receivers were fast.

“The big difference between now and then is the bump and run,” said Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson. “In that era, you could grab the guy and hit him until the ball was in the air. Now, you supposedly get one shot within 5 yards.

“Otis was much like what I see in Bowe right now. When you see one-on-one coverage, and the ball is going in his direction, he’s going to get it.”

When 6-5 Cris Collinsworth entered the league as a second-round draft choice with Cincinnati in 1981, most teams were playing zone defenses, so offenses wanted bigger receivers to sit in zones and provide easy targets.

“Then the league went to a lot of man-to-man coverage,” said Collinsworth, an analyst for NBC Sports and HBO, “and you saw the Smurfs, the little guys in Washington, and the Three Amigos in Denver, and the short, quick guys who could make plays and run around.”

Teams defended the smaller receivers from run-and-shoot offenses with small cornerbacks before the proliferation of the West Coast offenses, which required bigger receivers such as Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson.

“A small wide receiver cannot play in the West Coast offense,” said former Oakland Raiders coach and longtime television analyst John Madden.

“We used to run a lot of deeper ins and outs, and comebacks and outside stuff. This West Coast offense came in, and it’s all slants and crosses and you’d better be a big guy.

“One, the quarterback has to be able to see you, and two, he’s going to lead you into some real collisions. It has to be a type of receiver who can run in there, know there is going to be a collision, catch the ball, maybe break a tackle, and make a long run.”

That’s what Bowe did for his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown last week at San Diego.

“One of the great assets Bowe has is the ability to make the catch and not go down,” Collinsworth said. “The play he made last week on that slant, breaking the tackle and running that thing into the end zone … he’s a physical player. He catches the ball, and he’s not going down.”


In recent years, the Chiefs have not been blessed with many big receivers. During 1989-98 under Marty Schottenheimer, the most productive wide receivers were smaller types such as Willie Davis and J.J. Birden.

When the club went to the West Coast offense, it drafted some bigger receivers in Lake Dawson, Chris Penn and Larry Parker, but they did not pan out. Andre Rison, the club’s MVP in 1997, was listed at 6-1.

Gunther Cunningham favored bigger receivers and corners during his two years as head coach. Derrick Alexander, who was 6-2, thrived in the system with a career year in 2000, catching 78 passes for 1,391 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2000.

The club also selected 6-3 Sylvester Morris in the first round of the 2000 draft, but after catching 48 passes as a rookie, including three touchdowns, Morris blew out his knee in 2001 and didn’t play again.

The Dick Vermeil era leaned toward the smaller, “quick-twitch” receivers, though Eddie Kennison, who is 6-1, produced two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Peterson realizes it’s time to get bigger at the position.

“My previous offensive coordinator didn’t like big, strong receivers; he liked short, little quick guys who can get out of their breaks quick,” Peterson said of Al Saunders. “That was his philosophy.

“The No. 1 criterion of a receiver is can he catch the ball? It doesn’t matter if he runs 4.2, if he doesn’t catch the ball, it’s a waste of time. The second thing is what does he do after he catches the ball? Can he make yards after the catch? Fast guys who can catch the ball usually do, but big, physical guys can also.

“Dwayne wasn’t the fastest receiver coming out of the draft, but he runs fast in his pads.”


What’s a poor cornerback to do?

Chiefs corners Ty Law and Patrick Surtain have 23 seasons and seven Pro Bowls between them, and at 5-11, they’re about an inch taller than the average corner in the NFL.

But they still give up nearly 6 inches to some of the taller receivers in the game.

“I’m a bigger body, so I try to put a body on him,” Law said. “Even though I’m not as tall, I’m a 200-pound body, and I can go body for body. You try to take a basketball principle for the most part, and ride those guys out.”

Surtain said: “The one thing about the big receivers is you can jam them. When you go against a 6-4 guy with speed every week … they’re like faster tight ends and able to use their bodies and wall you off. We’re at a disadvantage, but it’s why we’re the elite athletes in the league.”

So far, the football gods have not been able to develop many 6-foot-plus corners who can cover receivers effectively. In 2000, the Chiefs drafted 6-1 William Bartee in the second round and unsuccessfully tried to convert him from college safety to NFL corner. Another big corner from that draft, fifth-rounder Pat Dennis, failed to stick.

“You don’t see many like Albert Lewis anymore,” Peterson said of Lewis, a former Chiefs Pro Bowl cornerback who stood 6-2 and will be inducted into the club’s Ring of Honor next week.

Playing cornerback is a reactionary position, conducive to smaller athletes who are better at moving their hips quickly and changing directions.

“The receivers know where they’re going,” Law said. “They know when to make their breaks and come out of their cuts. A cornerback is taught and trained to stay low and react off them. When you have a lower center of gravity, you can react quickly as a smaller guy.

“So in a jump-ball situation, may the best man win.”

Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard will take his chances with those odds every time.

“That’s what the bigger receivers do in this league, they make a lot of plays,” Huard said. “They score touchdowns in the red zone in one-on-one coverage.

“You’ve got to take chances like that at times, and hopefully you put in a place toward the pylon where only your guy gets it, or it goes out of bounds.”

10-07-2007, 08:35 AM
Lenny suck ass Walls is 6-4 right?