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The draft and the Canton Factor

It’s great to have the first pick in the NFL draft — as the Bucs have on five occasions, including this year. But it’s almost as great to have the sixth pick, believe it or not. And you’d be amazed at how much mileage teams have gotten out of the 34th pick.

Walter Jones, the last of the 11 No. 6 picks voted to the Hall.

Walter Jones, the last of the 11 No. 6 picks voted to the Hall.

Let me explain myself. I’m talking about the number of Hall of Famers each pick has yielded — its Canton Factor, if you will. That’s what everybody is trying to do at the top of the draft, right? Hit a home run. Find a player for the ages. And there’s no pick like the first pick for that. An even dozen players taken No. 1 are in the Hall, 12 in 79 drafts (with more, such as Peyton Manning, to come).

This, of course, is hardly surprising. Drafting may be an inexact science, but general managers and scouts aren’t complete dullards. Give them first crack at the available college talent, and they can usually find a guy who can walk and chew gum, sometimes all the way to Canton.

What is surprising is some of the other stuff my research turned up. For instance, the second-best pick for Hall of Famers is the sixth (11). The 34th pick (4), meanwhile, has produced more HOFers than the seventh (1!) and ninth (3)* picks and as many as the 10th. Here are the selections with the highest Canton Factor:


● 1st (12) — QB Troy Aikman (Cowboys, 1989), DE Bruce Smith (Bills, ’85), QB John Elway (Broncos, ’83), RB Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers, ’78), DE Lee Roy Selmon (Bucs, ’76), QB Terry Bradshaw (Steelers, ’70), RB O.J. Simpson (Bills, ’69), OT Ron Yary (Vikings, ’68), RB Paul Hornung (Packers, ’57), C-LB Chuck Bednarik (Eagles, ’49), RB Charley Trippi (Cardinals, ’45), RB Bill Dudley (Steelers, ’42).

● 6th (11) — OT Walter Jones (Seahawks, ’97), WR Tim Brown (Raiders, ’88), WR James Lofton (Packers, ’78), RB John Riggins (Jets, ’71), DE Carl Eller (Vikings, ’64), CB Jimmy Johnson (49ers, ’61), RB Jim Brown (Browns, ’57), QB Y.A. Tittle (Lions, ’48), C-LB Alex Wojciechowicz (Lions, ’38), QB Sammy Baugh (Redskins, ’37), T Joe Stydahar (Bears, ’36).

● 2nd (10) — RB Marshall Faulk (Colts, ’94), RB Eric Dickerson (Rams, ’83), LB Lawrence Taylor (Giants, ’81), RB Tony Dorsett (Cowboys, ’77), DT Randy White (Cowboys, ’75), OG Tom Mack (Rams, ’66), OT Bob Brown (Eagles, ’64), LB Les Richter (Dallas Texans, ’52), RB George McAfee (Eagles, ’40), QB Sid Luckman (Bears, ’39).

● 3rd (10) — DT Cortez Kennedy (Seahawks, ’90), RB Barry Sanders (Lions, ’89), OT Anthony Munoz (Bengals, ’80), LB Dick Butkus (Bears, ’65), WR Charley Taylor (Redskins, ’64), DT Merlin Olsen (Rams, ’62), RB Ollie Matson (Cardinals, ’52), RB Doak Walker (N.Y. Bulldogs, ’49), QB Bobby Layne (Bears, ’48), DE Claude Humphrey (Falcons, ’68).

● 4th (9) — OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens, ’96), LB Derrick Thomas (Chiefs, ’89), DE Chris Doleman (Vikings, ’85), DE Dan Hampton (Bears, ’79), RB Walter Payton (Bears, ’75), OG John Hannah (Patriots ’73), DT Joe Greene (Steelers, ’69), RB Gale Sayers (Bears, ’65), QB Otto Graham (Lions, ’44).

● 5th (8) — LB Junior Seau (Chargers, ’90), CB Deion Sanders (Falcons, ’89), CB Mike Haynes (Patriots, ’76), TE Mike Ditka (Bears, ’61), QB Len Dawson (Steelers, ’57), T George Connor (Giants, ’46), WR Elroy Hirsch (Rams, ’45), RB Steve Van Buren (Eagles, ’44).

● 8th (6) — OT Willie Roaf (Saints, ’93), OG Mike Munchak (Oilers, ’82), DB Ronnie Lott (49ers, ’81), RB Larry Csonka (Dolphins, ’68), WR Lance Alworth (49ers, ’62), OL Jim Parker (Colts, ’57).

● 11th (5) — WR Michael Irvin (Cowboys, ’88), WR Paul Warfield (Browns, ’64), DE Doug Atkins (Browns, ’53), RB Frank Gifford (Giants, ’52), DT Leo Nomellini (49ers, ’50).

● 18th (5) — WR Art Monk (Redskins, ’80), FS Paul Krause (Redskins, ’64), RB John Henry Johnson (Steelers, ’53), T Bruiser Kinard (Brooklyn Dodgers, ’38), RB Tuffy Leemans (Giants, ’36).

● 10th (4) — DB Rod Woodson (Steelers, ’87), RB Marcus Allen (Raiders, ’82), OT Ron Mix (Colts, ’60), RB Jerome Bettis (Rams, ’93).

Jack Ham: One of four 34th picks who are in Canton.

Jack Ham: One of four 34th picks who are in Canton.

● 34th (4) — LB Jack Ham (Steelers, ’71), CB Lem Barney (Lions, ’67), DB Yale Lary (Lions, ’52), OT Mike McCormack (New York Yanks, ’51).

*The only Hall of Famer drafted seventh is C Bulldog Turner (Bears, ’40). The only HOFers who went ninth are OG Bruce Matthews (Oilers, ’83), RB Lenny Moore (Colts, ’56) and RB Hugh McElhenny (49ers, ’52).

Some other discoveries:

● The 24th and 25th picks haven’t given us any Canton-quality players — yet. In the case of the 24th, that figures to change whenever Ed Reed (Ravens, 2002) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers, 2005) come up for consideration, but nobody taken at 25 seems very Hall-worthy . . . or is even likely to get endorsed by the Veterans Committee. In fact, 25 has been a virtual black hole. The best selections at that spot: NT Ted Washington (49ers, ’91) and WRs Stanley Morgan (Patriots, ’76) and Boyd Dowler (Packers, ’59).

● Second-round picks might be good values salary-cap-wise, but they don’t produce nearly as many Hall of Famers as first-round picks. The breakdown:

HOFers drafted from 1 through 32: 121

HOFers drafted from 33 through 64: 32

● That said, the 48th pick yielded a Hall of Famer two years in a row in the 1980s: C Dwight Stephenson (Dolphins, ’80) and DE Howie Long (Raiders, ’81). The second round of that ’81 draft, by the way, had three players who wound up in Canton: LB Mike Singletary (38th, Bears), Long and LB Rickey Jackson (51st, Saints). By that measure, it’s the best second round ever.

● I love this: The third pick in the ’48 draft was QB Bobby Layne (by the Bears). The third pick in ’49 was RB Doak Walker (by the New York Bulldogs, though he ended up with the Lions). Both are in Canton, but even better, they were high school teammates at Highland Park in Dallas. (Another high selection who played at Highland Park: Lions QB Matt Stafford, who went No. 1 in 2009.)

FYI: The Jets are sitting with the sixth pick (good karma), the Bears with the seventh (bad karma, though they did get Turner there), the Panthers with the 25th (really bad karma) and the Bucs with the 34th (really good karma, especially since it’s a second-rounder).

Yup, Tampa Bay has the first selection and the 34th. Pretty sweet.

Now we just have to wait for Roger Goodell to say, “Gentlemen, start your draft boards.”

Ndamukong Suh’s next 5 years

The Dolphins just handed Ndamukong Suh the key to their safe-deposit box: a 6-year, $114 million deal ($60 million guaranteed) that dwarfs his original 5-year, $60 million contract ($40 million guaranteed) with the Lions. (And let’s not forget: His rookie contract, under the old CBA, enabled him to earn a lot more than the second pick in the draft can now.)

In situations like this, the Albert Haynesworth Effect — a player getting buried in free-agent dollars and suddenly losing his enthusiasm for his job — is always a concern. There probably isn’t a team in the NFL that doesn’t have a horror story like that.

But an equally pertinent question is: What’s the likelihood Suh’s next five years will be as good as his first five? Because by paying Suh franchise-quarterback money, the Dolphins are saying, unequivocally: We think this player is still ascending. We think he’ll be worth more — substantially more — from 2015 to 2019 (and even 2020, if it comes to that) than he was from 2010 to 2014.

Here’s the thing, though: If you look at the top defensive tackles in recent years, you’ll see that’s rarely the case — in terms of sacks, at least. Granted, there are many ways to evaluate a player at Suh’s position, but certainly pass pressure is a big part of it. In today’s game, especially, a DT had darn well better get to the quarterback (if he wants to have much value of the free-agent market, that is).

Anyway, check out these well-known defensive tackles — and the sack totals they posted in their First 5 Years vs. their Second 5:


Years Defensive tackle Teams(s) 1st 5 2nd 5 Diff.
1985-93 Keith Millard Vikings/3 others 51.0   7.0  -44.0
1990-99 John Randle Vikings 48.0 58.0 +10.0
1983-92 Bill Pickel Raiders/Jets 43.5 12.5  -31.0
1997-06 Trevor Price Broncos/Ravens 42.5 34.5    -8.0
1995-04 Warren Sapp Bucs/Raiders 42.0 37.5    -4.5
1996-05 La’Roi Glover Saints/2 others 42.0 29.5  -12.5
1988-97 Michael Dean Perry Browns/Broncos 41.5 19.5  -22.0
1992-03 Dana Stubblefield 49ers/Redskins 39.5 14.0  -25.5
1993-04 Bryant Young 49ers 37.0 29.5    -7.5
1992-01 Chester McGlockton Raiders/2 others 35.0 12.5  -22.5
2003-12 Kevin Williams Vikings 34.0 22.5  -11.5
1987-96 Henry Thomas Vikings/Lions 34.0 38.5   +4.5
1994-03 Dan Wilkinson 49ers/2 others 32.5 17.5  -15.0
1990-99 Cortez Kennedy Seahawks 32.0 25.0    -7.0

Suh has 36 sacks through his fifth season, so I limited the list to guys who were in that neighborhood at that point in their career. I also didn’t include erstwhile Eagle Andy Harmon (38.5 sacks) — because he didn’t last much more than 5 years. At any rate, we’ve got two gainers (Randle, Thomas) and 12 decliners (ranging from -4.5 to -44) — not the most encouraging odds for the Dolphins.

Of course, every player is different, particularly in the Internal Wiring Department. Maybe Suh will prove to be one of the exceptions. But chances are better Miami will be glad that “only” $60 million is guaranteed.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Dolphins are betting $114 million that  Ndamukong Suh will keep doing this to quarterbacks.

The Dolphins are betting $114 million that Ndamukong Suh will keep doing this to quarterbacks.

One-for-one trades

LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso.

Trades don’t get any more stripped-down than that, do they? My guy for your guy — period. No draft picks. No throw-in players to balance the scales. No contingencies of any kind. Just . . . one for one. May the best man win.

You forget how unusual these deals are, especially since the advent of free agency. Teams don’t need to trade for players anymore — not as much, anyway. They just have to wait for their contracts to expire. Draft choices, not live bodies, have become the most popular form of currency. They get swapped and swapped and swapped some more until nobody can remember who got traded for what.

Which is probably how general managers prefer it. Who wants to be reminded, year after year, of the boneheaded move he made when he traded X for Y? When you exchange picks for players, there can be much more of a smoke-and-mirrors effect. Keeping track of those can be like that scene in Chinatown when Jake Gittes pores over the real-estate transactions in the Hall of Records. (“So that’s who the Bucs ended up getting for the guy — Jasper Lamar Crabb!”)

So the McCoy-Alonso deal is notable for two reasons: first, because the Eagles willingly traded an in-his-prime running back, one who won the NFL rushing title in 2013; and second, because they received not draft selections from the Bills but an outside linebacker, arguably the league’s top rookie two years ago (before he blew out his knee and missed last season).

A straight-up swap of Known Players. What a novelty.

Naturally, I felt compelled to put together a list of other memorable one-for-one trades in NFL history. You may have other favorites, and I welcome additions, but here are 10 that come to mind:


● 2005 — WR Laveranues Coles from the Redskins to the Jets for WR Santana Moss.

Santana Moss snares one vs. the Lions.

Santana Moss snares one vs. the Lions.

This was one of the weirder deals. Coles, after all, had left the Jets after the 2002 season to play in Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ’n’ Gun” offense in Washington. But Spurrier quit a year later, Joe Gibbs returned for a second term as coach and Laveranues decided he’d be happier back in New York. So the Redskins exchanged him for Santana Moss — and were they ever glad they did. Over the next decade, Moss caught 581 passes for 7,867 yards and 47 touchdowns. Coles played four more seasons with the Jets before they cut him and had 289 receptions for 3,439 yards and 24 TDs.

Winner: Redskins.

● 1989 — RB Earnest Byner from the Browns to the Redskins for RB Mike Oliphant.

Byner needed a change of scenery after his crushing fumble in the 1987 AFC title game, which followed him around in Cleveland wherever he went. The Browns obliged by sending him to Washington for Oliphant, the Redskins’ super-speedy third-round pick in ’88. Byner had two 1,000-yard seasons in D.C., went to two Pro Bowls and was the leading rusher on the 1991 championship team. Oliphant touched the ball exactly 25 times in Cleveland (playoffs included) before his career petered out.

Winner: Redskins.

● 1984 — RB James Brooks from the Chargers to the Bengals for FB Pete Johnson.

Brooks, a situation back behind Chuck Muncie in San Diego, blossomed in Cincinnati, making four Pro Bowls and retiring as the Bengals all-time leading rusher with 6,447 yards — a total surpassed only by Corey Dillon’s 8,061. (He also was a terrific receiver and ferocious blocker, as Boomer Esiason can tell you.) Johnson, more the sledgehammer type, had had some fine years in Cincy, but at 30 he was pretty used up. He played just one more NFL season — and just three games with San Diego before being dealt to the Dolphins, who needed a short-yardage guy for their ’84 Super Bowl run.

Winner: Bengals.

● 1980 — QB Ken Stabler from the Raiders to the Houston Oilers for QB Dan Pastorini.

Ken Stabler

Ken Stabler

Stabler was 34, Pastorini 31, and neither had much left. The Oilers were hoping The Snake, coupled with Earl Campbell, would finally get them to the Super Bowl, but he threw 28 interceptions in 1980, second most in the league, and had two more picks in the first round of the playoffs as Houston lost to — of all people — Oakland. By then, Pastorini had suffered a broken leg and been replaced by Jim Plunkett, who quarterbacked the Raiders to the title (and to another in 1983).

Winner: Oilers (though neither team got what it was looking for).

● 1977 — QB Ron Jaworski from the Los Angeles Rams to the Eagles for the rights to TE Charle Young.

Jaworski, a three-year veteran, had thrown only 124 NFL passes when Philadelphia acquired him for the unsigned Young, who had already been to three Pro Bowls. Charle never went to another. Jaworski, meanwhile, led the Eagles to four straight playoff berths (1978-81) and one Super Bowl.

Winner: Eagles.

● 1976 — WR Charlie Joiner from the Bengals to the Chargers for DE Coy Bacon.

In 1976, Joiner had yet to emerge as a Hall of Fame receiver (totals for seven seasons: 164 catches, 2,943 yards, 18 touchdowns). Bacon was probably considered the better player because of his pass-rush ability (in the days before the NFL kept track of sacks). Well, Charlie wound up in Canton after being teamed with Dan Fouts and Don Coryell in San Diego, where he racked up 586 more receptions. But Coy, let’s not forget, had two Pro Bowl years in Cincinnati before being traded to the Redskins (with CB Lamar Parish) for a first-round pick.

Winner: Chargers (but both clubs made out well).

● 1965 — WR Tommy McDonald from the Cowboys to the Los Angeles Rams for P-K Danny Villanueva.

Yup, the Cowboys swapped a Hall Fame receiver — admittedly, a 31-year-old one — for a punter-kicker. But keep in mind: They had just added Bob Hayes to the roster and figured they were in good shape at wideout. McDonald had 1,036 receiving yards in his first season with the Rams, third most in the league, and was voted to his sixth and last Pro Bowl. He followed that with another solid year (55-714-2) in ’66 before moving on to the Falcons. Villanueva filled a void in Dallas but was just an ordinary kicker (longest field goal with the Cowboys: 42 yards) and didn’t punt as well as he had in L.A (40.4-yard average vs. 44.3).

Winner: Rams.

● 1965 — CB Fred “The Hammer” Williamson from the Raiders to the Chiefs for CB Dave Grayson.

Fred Williamson cardOn the surface, it seemed like a fair trade: the mouthy Williamson, a three-time AFL All-Star, for Grayson, also a three-time AFL All-Star. Grayson was two years younger, though — 26 to Fred’s 28 — and had more of his career ahead of him. Williamson did help Kansas City get to the first Super Bowl in 1966, but Grayson helped Oakland get to the second Super Bowl in ’67 and led the AFL in interceptions the next year. By then, Freddie was out of football and on the verge of becoming a Hollywood action star.

Winner: Raiders.

● 1961 — QB Y.A. Tittle from the 49ers to the Giants for DL Lou Cordileone.

It’s easy, from a distance, to laugh at this trade, but Tittle was almost 35 and Cordileone had been the 12th pick in the previous year’s draft. Besides, San Francisco was experimenting with a shotgun offense, which required a quarterback who could run, and Y.A. certainly didn’t fit that description. At any rate, he had an amazing Second Act in New York, guiding the Giants to three straight championship games (all, alas, losses), while Cordileone bounced from the Niners to the Rams to the Steelers to the expansion Saints to oblivion.

Winner: Giants.

● 1960 — CB Night Train Lane from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Lions for K Gerry Perry.

Another swap of a Hall of Famer for a kicker! It just shows how much importance teams were beginning to place on the kicking game. Lane, though 32, was far from done. He went to three more Pro Bowls with Detroit and intercepted 21 more passes (to finish with a total of 68). Perry had a nice first season in St. Louis (13 field goals, tying him for fifth in the league) but was well below average after that.

Winner: Lions.

You can see how dangerous these player-for player trades can be. Many of the deals were one-sided, sometimes ridiculously so. The McCoy-for-Alonso swap — which will be official next week, when the 2015 business year begins — might also prove regrettable for one side or the other. We’ll know better in a season or two.

Note: The famous Sonny Jurgensen/Norm Snead trade in 1964 isn’t listed because it involved two other players. The Redskins also got DB Jimmy Carr in the deal, and the Eagles got DB Claude Crabb (no relation to Jasper Lamar). Granted, it was essentially a Jurgy-for-Snead swap, and fans always looked at it that way, but Crabb had intercepted six passes a rookie and, entering his third season, could have made up for the imbalance between the quarterbacks. (He didn’t.)

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, prosportstransactions.com

After a stunning trade, LeSean will be doing his running for the Bills next season.

After a stunning trade, LeSean McCoy will be doing his running for the Bills next season.

Statistical curiosities of 2014 (Part 2)

The Broncos might have bombed out in the first round of the playoffs again, but — sorry if this sounds like a Holiday Inn Express commercial — they did have two 1,400-yard receivers. Demaryius Thomas finished with 1,619 and free-agent addition Emmanuel Sanders with 1,404, making them the fourth such tandem in NFL history. Here’s what the group looks like:


Year  Team (W-L) Receivers, Yards Result
1995  Lions (10-6) Herman Moore 1,686, Brett Perriman 1,488 Wild card
2000  Rams (10-6) Torry Holt 1,635, Isaac Bruce 1,471 Wild card
2005  Cardinals (5-11) Larry Fitzgerald 1,409, Anquan Boldin 1,402 Missed playoffs
2014  Broncos (12-4) Demaryius Thomas 1,619, Emmanuel Sanders 1,404 Won division

Also, for the first time this year, the NFL had three 1,000-yard rookie receivers. That makes eight rookie receivers with 1,000-plus yards since 2003. Why is this notable? Because there were only 12 in all the seasons before that (AFL included).

            1,000-YARD ROOKIE RECEIVERS SINCE 2003

Year   Receiver, Team Rec Yds Avg TD
2014  Odell Beckham, Giants 91 1,305 14.3 12
2014  Mike Evans, Bucs 68 1,051 15.5 12
2014  Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers 73 1,008 13.8 9
2013  Keenan Allen, Chargers 71 1,046 14.7 8
2011  A.J. Green, Bengals 65 1,057 16.3 7
2006  Marques Colston, Saints 70 1,038 14.8 8
2004  Michael Clayton, Bucs 80 1,193 14.9 7
2003  Anquan Boldin, Cardinals 101 1,377 13.7 8

What this suggests is that quarterbacks aren’t the only players coming out of college these days who are more advanced in the passing game. Their receivers are, too — and like the QBs, are capable of making a more immediate impact in the pros.

Consider: Since 2003, there have been eight 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 15 1,000-yard rookie rushers. From 1932 to 2002 — which is as far back as statistics go — there were 12 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 46 1,000-yard rookie rushers.

In other words, where before it was much more common for a rookie to rush for 1,000 yards (an almost 4-to-1 ratio), now it’s only somewhat more common (slightly less than 2-to-1). And as time goes on, given the devaluation of the running game, the gap may continue to shrink.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

Marvin Lewis and the perils of January

The Bengals have made the playoffs in six of Marvin Lewis 12 seasons. You’d think congratulations would be in order — first for surviving a dozen years in any coaching job, and second for steering his team to the postseason so often. But Lewis’ 0-6 record in the playoffs has folks wondering, rightfully, whether he’ll be working in Cincinnati much longer. This is, after all, the Not For Long League. It’s not enough to just win, baby. You have to keep on winning, baby, into January and beyond.

Not that he’ll take any comfort in this, but Lewis is hardly the first coach to trip over that final hurdle. Heck, there are guys in the Hall of Fame who tripped over that final hurdle — and several others who rank high on the all-time victories list. Indeed, if there were a Misery Index for coaches, it might look something like this:


Span Coach (Titles) Teams Regular Season Playoffs
1986-01 Jim Mora Saints, Colts 125-106-0, .541 0-6, .000
2003-14 Marvin Lewis Bengals 100-90-2, .526 0-6, .000
1955-74 Sid Gillman (1) Rams, Chargers, Oilers 122-99-7, .550 1-5, .167
1931-53 Steve Owen (2) Giants 151-100-17, .595 2-8, .200
1966-77 George Allen Rams, Redskins 116-47-5, .705 2-7, .222
1984-06 Marty Schottenheimer Browns, Chiefs, 2 others 200-116-1, .613 5-13, .278
1973-86 Don Coryell Cardinals, Chargers 111-83-1, .572 3-6, .333
1992-06 Dennis Green Vikings, Cardinals 113-94-0, .546 4-8, .333
1973-94 Chuck Knox Rams, Bills, Seahawks 186-147-1, 558 7-11, .389
1967-85 Bud Grant Vikings 158-96-5, .620 10-12, .455
1994-14 Jeff Fisher Oilers/Titans, Rams 162-147-1, 524 5-6, .455
1996-08 Tony Dungy (1) Bucs, Colts 139-69-0, .688 10-12, .455

(Note: If you want to be technical about it, Grant won the NFL championship in 1969, then lost the Super Bowl to the AFL’s Chiefs. Also: Schottenheimer’s other teams were the Redskins and Chargers.)

That’s 12 coaches with 100 regular-season victories who have lost more playoff games than they’ve won. Four are in Canton (Gillman, Owen, Allen and Grant) and another has been a finalist (Coryell) and may eventually get elected. Clearly, then, a poor postseason record doesn’t have to be a reputation-killer for a coach. (And yes, Gillman’s and Owen’s situations are much different from the others’. All but one of their playoff games was a title game — back when that was the extent of pro football’s postseason.)

The biggest problem for Lewis, obviously, is the goose egg. Aside from Mora, everybody else in the group had at least one notable postseason. Owen, Gillman (AFL) and Dungy won titles; Grant, Allen and Fisher reached the Super Bowl; and Schottenheimer (three times), Coryell (twice), Green (twice) and Knox (four) all made multiple trips to the conference championship game.

As for Lewis and Mora, well, Jim probably said it best:

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Just how sizzling is Julio Jones?

We had one of those classic TV moments Monday night in the fourth quarter of the Packers-Falcons game. Julio Jones was tearing up the Green Bay secondary, had just gone over 200 yards, and Jon Gruden said something like, “I don’t know what the record is for receiving yards in a game, but . . . .”

I’ll stop there so you can fully appreciate the willing ignorance of those words. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect football analysts to be walking encyclopedias, especially former coaches. Flipper Anderson cardCoaches live such a hermetic existence that I’d surprised if many of them know the price of milk. For a guy like Gruden, it’s his grasp of X’s and O’s that matters most.

Still, this isn’t exactly a $1,000 Jeopardy! question. You’d think Jon or his partner, Mike Tirico, would at least be aware that the record was somewhere in the 300s, and that Jones was well short of it. Typically, though, they had to wait for someone on their support staff to prompt them: Flipper Anderson holds the mark with 336 for the Rams against the Saints in 1989.

To me, it’s yet another example of how little respect is paid to pro football’s past. Here you have two well-known sportscasters, both earning millions a year, and they can’t even be bothered to familiarize themselves with a few numbers — I’m sure 336 isn’t the only one — that might come in handy during the course of the evening, that might help them provide some Instant Context.

I mean, you’re covering a game. Why wouldn’t you know, off the top of your head, what the record is for receiving yards in a game? Is it really too much to ask? (Or is such “minutiae” the province of unpaid interns?)

OK, I’ve had my say. Let’s get back to Jones and the real subject of this post: hot receivers. In back-to-back games, the Falcons’ go-to guy has had 189 receiving yards against the Cardinals and 259 against the Packers – 448 total. How many receivers in NFL history have had a better two-week stretch than that?

Well, it depends on how you define “better.” In terms of yards, I’ve found five, all in the 2000s:


Year Receiver, Team First Game Second Game Yards
2013 Josh Gordon, Browns 237 vs. Steelers 261 vs. Jaguars 498
2013 Calvin Johnson, Lions 155 vs. Bengals 329 vs. Cowboys 484
2012 Andre Johnson, Texans 273 vs. Jaguars 188 vs. Lions 461
2011 Calvin Johnson, Lions 244 vs. Packers 211 vs. Saints* 455
2006 Chad Johnson, Bengals 260 vs. Chargers 190 vs. Saints 450
1989 John Taylor, 49ers 162 vs. Falcons 286 vs. Rams 448
2014 Julio Jones, Falcons 189 vs. Cardinals 259 vs. Packers 448
1995 Jerry Rice, 49ers 289 vs. Vikings 153 vs. Falcons 442
1945 Jim Benton, Rams 128 vs. Cardinals 303 vs. Lions 431
1950 Cloyce Box, Lions 123 vs. Yanks 302 vs. Colts 425


I turned it into a Top 10 so I could include the two golden oldies, Benton and Box. Can you imagine having consecutive games like that in the ’40s and ’50s? Good lord.

Benton is a borderline Hall of Famer in my book. When he retired after the 1947 season, his 288 catches for 4,801 yards and 45 touchdowns were second only to Packers great Don Hutson.

Box football cardAs for Box, he played just six seasons of pro ball because of two stints in the military — the first during World War II, the second in Korea — but he did some serious damage in those six seasons. He had two hot streaks, in particular, that were extraordinary.

Hot streak No. 1: In the two games listed in the chart, Box had seven touchdown catches (3 vs. the New York Yanks and 4 vs. the Baltimore Colts). No other NFL receiver, not even Jerry Rice, has had more than six in two games.

Hot streak No. 2: In 1952 Box had three straight three-TD games (vs. the PackersBears and Dallas Texans). Nobody else has ever done that, either. In fact, the only other receiver to catch nine scoring passes in a three-game span, near as I can tell, is Art Powell of the AFL’s Raiders in 1963.

So if you’re talking “hot,” who has ever been hotter over a two-game stretch than Box, who caught 16 passes for 425 yards and 7 touchdowns (lengths: 17, 65, 21, 82, 67, 32 and 22 yards).

For that matter, who has ever been hotter over a three-game stretch than Box? His totals for his ’52 streak were 21 receptions, 490 yards and 9 TDs — giving him an average game of 7-163-3. Amazing.

Why don’t we rework the chart to account for touchdowns? After all, the scoreboard keeps track of points, not yards. Here’s how it would look:


Year Receiver, Team Yards TD
2013 Josh Gordon, Browns 498 3
2013 Calvin Johnson, Lions 484 3
2012 Andre Johnson, Texans 461 1
2011 Calvin Johnson, Lions* 455 3
2006 Chad Johnson, Bengals 450 5
1989 John Taylor, 49ers 448 3
2014 Julio Jones, Falcons 448 2
1995 Jerry Rice, 49ers 442 3
1945 Jim Benton, Rams 431 3
1950 Cloyce Box, Lions 425 7

*includes playoff game

How do you like Box now? His seven touchdowns are more than double the total of every other receiver except Chad Johnson, who scored five.

Not that Gruden and Tirico should know any of this. They’re busy men with a lot on their plates. But it would be nice if they had a rough idea of what the record was for receiving yards in a game.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

From the Lions' 1953 media guide.

From the Lions’ 1953 media guide.

The name’s the same

Spent the better part of the morning trying to put together sets of Triplets — quarterback, running back, receiver — who share the same last name (even if they didn’t play on the same club or in the same era). There was no fudging allowed, either. For instance, you couldn’t try to team Kerry Collins with Cris Collinsworth or Trent Green with BenJarvus Green-Ellis or, heaven forbid, Rob Gronkowski with Bruce Gradkowski. The receiver could, however, be a wideout or a tight end. The rules weren’t totally inflexible.

Anyway, it was harder than I thought it would be. There just aren’t many surnames that are very common in NFL/AFL history. I almost hurled my laptop, Frisbee style, when I was two-thirds of the way to paydirt with Jim and Leroy Kelly — Hall of Famers both — but couldn’t come up with a receiver any better than Reggie, the underwhelming tight end for the Bengals and Falcons.

Smith is another one. You’d think that would be a gimmie — Emmitt at running back, Jerry (or Jimmy or Steve or Rod or Jerry) at receiver and . . . good luck finding a quarterback worth a darn.

If you work at it, though, you can dig up some nice threesomes. Here are my nominees for:


Last name Quarterback Running Back Receiver
Young Steve* Buddy* Charle (TE)
Johnson Brad John Henry* Calvin
Sanders Spec Barry* Charlie* (TE)
Anderson Ken Ottis Flipper
White Danny Whizzer Roddy
Jones Bert Dub Homer
Green Trent Ernie Roy
Williams Doug Ricky Roy
Collins Kerry Tony Gary
Mitchell Scott Lydell Bobby*

*Hall of Famer

Only a few of these guys didn’t make at least one Pro Bowl or — in the case of pre-Pro Bowl players — all-pro team. Flipper Anderson didn’t, for example, but, hey, he holds the record for receiving yards in a game (336). In fact, he’s held it for 25 years, which is pretty remarkable considering how long receiving marks tend to last. And granted, Scott Mitchell was nothing special as a quarterback, but he did throw 32 touchdown passes one year for the Lions.

The first three listed are my gold, silver and bronze medalists. As for the others, you can order them however you like. I’m not sure it makes much difference. It’s kind of cool, by the way, that

Spec Sanders

Spec Sanders

Dub and Bert Jones are a father-son pairing. Dub, of course, is one of three NFL players to score six TDs in a game.

One last thing: I was fibbing about the no-fudging rule. Spec Sanders wasn’t technically a quarterback; he was a single-wing tailback for the New York Yankees of the All-America Conference in the ’40s. (He did play one season in the NFL, however, and intercepted 13 passes as a DB to lead the league.)

I included Spec because in 1947 he had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time, throwing for 1,442 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 1,432 yards and 18 TDs. (In his spare time, he ran a kickoff back 92 yards for another score.)

One day I spent a couple of hours on the phone with him, reminiscing about his playing days. He was utterly self-effacing, not the least bit impressed with his football feats. Just makes me want to keep his name alive.

From the New York Yankees' 1948 media guide.

From the New York Yankees’ 1948 media guide.

Tashaun Gipson’s six picks

How often are interceptions — the defensive kind — a topic of discussion in the NFL? Oh, every once in a while a DB will go wild, pick off three or four passes in a game, and you’ll think: How’d that happen? Did the Hot Tub Time Machine transport DeAngelo Hall back to 1962? Anything less than that, though, and . . .

So allow me to point out that, eight games into the season, Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson has six INTs. And while you’re stifling a yawn, let me also point out that six is halfway to 12, and nobody has had that many since Lester Hayes had 13 for the Super Bowl-winning Raiders in 1980. In fact, since ’81, when Everson Walls had 11 as an undrafted Cowboys rookie, nobody has had more than 10.

Here are the seven sneak thieves who’ve reached that total in the last two decades:


Year Defensive back, Team Int Yds TD
2007 Antonio Cromartie, Chargers 10 144 1
2006 Champ Bailey, Broncos 10 162 1
2006 Asante Samuel, Patriots 10 120 0
2005 Ty Law, Jets 10 195 1
2005 Deltha O’Neal, Bengals 10 103 0
2001 Ronde Barber, Bucs 10    86 1
2001 Anthony Henry, Browns 10 177 1

For those of you scoring at home, there are 31 Pro Bowls in that group – Bailey 12, Law and Barber 5, Samuel 4, Cromartie 3 and O’Neal 2. Three of them, moreover, had more than 50 career picks (Law 53, Bailey 52, Samuel 51) and another had 47 (Barber). That puts them in the Top 20 since 1978, the year the league started legislating against defense. So if Gipson reaches double digits, he’ll be in good company.

Hey, just trying to work up some enthusiasm for The Other Side of the Ball. It ain’t easy these days. After all, Night Train Lane’s record of 14 interceptions in a season has stood since 1952, when they played only 12 games, and hasn’t been seriously challenged in ages. Look at it this way: Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have thrown a combined six picks this year. That’s how many Gipson has. Impressed yet?

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Gipson at the start of his 62-yard pick-six vs. Drew Brees and the Saints.

Gipson at the start of his 62-yard pick-six vs. Drew Brees and the Saints.

Former NFL quarterbacks as head coaches

The rumblings are getting louder that Jim Harbaugh is on the way out in San Francisco. Jerry Rice is the most recent member of the Niners Family to pipe up. “I have heard some complaints from some players that he likes to try to coach with the collegiate mentality,” the Hall of Fame wideout told Newsday’s Bob Glauber, “and that’s just not going to work in the NFL.”

Boy, that’s a tough crowd in the Bay Area. Harbaugh takes over a team that has missed the playoffs eight years running, guides it to three straight NFC title games and one Super Bowl, and folks are starting to dump on him because (a.) the 49ers are off to a 4-4 start, and (b.) his coaching style is unorthodox by NFL standards.

His “collegiate mentality” has worked just fine up to now — unless you’re going to argue that it was his “collegiate mentality” that caused Kyle Williams to mishandle punts in the 2011

Jim Harbaugh in full throat.

Jim Harbaugh in full throat.

conference championship game, or that it was his “collegiate mentality” that kept his offense from putting the ball in the end zone late in Super Bowl 47, or that it was his “collegiate mentality” that prevented the Niners from winning a fourth consecutive game on the road at the end of last season (formidable Arizona to finish the regular season, then Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle in the playoffs).

Yeah, that “collegiate mentality” is just a killer.

But that’s not the subject of this post. It’s just my way of beginning this post. The subject of this post is: former NFL quarterbacks who become head coaches in the league — and how Harbaugh is one of the few who have experienced much success. Going into Sunday’s game, he’s 45-18-1, postseason included. That’s a .711 winning percentage, far better than most ex-QBs have done.

If there’s anything we’ve learned over the years, it’s that former NFL QBs — despite their inherent genius, sixth sense, Pattonesque leadership ability and whatever other bouquets were tossed their way during their playing days — have no Special Insight into the game. They’re just as capable of turning out losing teams as the next guy, maybe more so.

Check out the regular-season records of the five modern Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have become head coaches in the league:


Quarterback, Played For* Coached W-L-T Pct
Sammy Baugh, Redskins 1960-61 N.Y Titans, ’64 Oilers 18-24-0 .429
Bob Waterfield, Rams 1960-62 Rams 9-24-1 .279
Norm Van Brocklin, Rams 1961-66 Vikings, ’68-74 Falcons 66-100-7 .402
Otto Graham, Browns 1966-68 Redskins 17-22-3 .440
Bart Starr, Packers 1975-83 Packers 52-76-3 .408

*Team he played for longest.

I’ll say it for you: Yikes. Of these five, only Starr coached a club to the playoffs – in the nine-game ’82 strike season.

Lesser-known quarterbacks, it turns out, have done a lot better on the sideline — though, again, none has been Vince Lombardi. Their regular-season records look like this:


Quarterback, Played For* Coached W-L-T Pct
Jim Harbaugh, Bears 2011-14 49ers 40-15-1 .723
John Rauch, N.Y. Bulldogs 1966-68 Raiders, ’69-70 Bills 40-28-2 .586
Frankie Albert, 49ers 1956-58 49ers 19-16-1 .542
Jason Garrett, Cowboys 2010-14 Cowboys 35-30-0 .538
Tom Flores, Raiders 1979-87 Raiders, ’92-94 Seahawks 97-87-0 .527
Allie Sherman, Eagles 1961-68 Giants 57-51-4 .527
Ted Marchibroda, Steelers 1975-79/’92-95 Colts,’96-98 Ravens 87-98-1 .470
Gary Kubiak, Broncos 2006-13 Texans 61-64-0 .488
Sam Wyche, Bengals 1984-91 Bengals, ’92-95 Bucs 84-107-0 .440
Harry Gilmer, Redskins 1965-66 Lions 10-16-2 .393
June Jones, Falcons 1994-96 Falcons, ’98 Chargers 22-36-0 .379
Steve Spurrier, 49ers 2002-03 Redskins 12-20-0 .375
Jim Zorn, Seahawks 2008-09 Redskins 12-20-0 .375
Kay Stephenson, Bills 1983-85 Bills 10-26-0 .278
Frank Filchock, Redskins 1960-61 Broncos 7-20-1 .268

*Team he played for longest.

If you want to add the Saints’ Sean Payton (77-43, .642), a replacement quarterback during the ’87 strike, to this list, be my guest. To me, he was a pseudo-NFL QB, but . . . whatever.

Anyway, this group at least has had its moments. Flores won two Super Bowls (1980/’83), Rauch (’67) and Wyche (’88) led teams to the Super Bowl, Sherman’s Giants went to three straight NFL title games (1961-63) and Marchibroda came within a Hail Mary of getting to the Super Bowl with the ’95 Colts (with — you’ve gotta love this — Harbaugh throwing the pass).

Obviously, this is a small sample size. Most former NFL quarterbacks, after all, don’t become coaches, don’t want to deal with the aggravation. They’d much rather pontificate about the game from a broadcast booth or TV studio — or cash in on their celebrity in the business world. And who’s to say that doesn’t make them smarter than the ones who so willingly hurl themselves back into the arena?

Still, Harbaugh, “collegiate mentality” and all, might be the best the league has seen. Does anybody really think, if he leaves the 49ers after this season to coach at his alma mater, Michigan, that pro football will be better for it?

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Harbaugh gets ready to uncork one for the Colts.

Harbaugh gets ready to uncork one for the Colts.

The Patriots and 50-point games

Scoring 50 points in an NFL game isn’t as big a deal as it once was, not with all these offense-friendly rule changes, but it’s still notable. The Patriots’ 51-23 win over the Bears today, for instance, was the seventh time they’ve reached 50 in the 2000s (since 2007, really). No other club has done it more than three times.

The Pats also have scored 50 in a game three years running. Only two other teams have managed that since the 1970 merger (one of whom did it four straight years). The exclusive club:


Years   Team Quarterback(s) Opponents (Score)
1991-94   49ers Steve Young Bears (52-14), Falcons (56-17), Lions (55-17), Falcons (50-14)
2012-14   Patriots Tom Brady Bills (52-28), Colts (59-24), Steelers (55-31), Bears (51-23)
1984-86   Bengals Anderson/Esiason Bills (52-21), Cowboys (50-24), Jets (52-21)

As you can see, all three teams had an outstanding quarterback, not just one who got hot every now and then. Young is in the Hall of Fame, Brady is headed there, and Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason were among the best of their eras.