There seems to be a receiver evolution occurring in the NFL today. The league’s elite wide receivers have the same daunting athletic abilities of receivers past, but there is a new trait becoming increasingly more common amongst today’s stars. Height.
The top ten receptions leaders of all time average 6’1.8” in height. The newest and tallest member quickly climbing the rankings of the club is Randy Moss at 6’4”. Moss will go down as one of the top receivers of all time, and rightfully so. Moss’ skill set arguably made Daunte Culpepper a Pro-Bowler and handed Tom Brady the best statistical QB season of all time.
Moss’ height and length separates him from the rest of the wide receivers in history. It is the asset that has allowed him to go up for any ball at any time and grab it out of the sky. It has given his quarterbacks the ability to throw it up or even short arm a pass with a decent chance of it turning into a touchdown.
At 6’3”, Terrell Owens is also a point of emphasis. While lacking the length of Moss, Owens’ height and strength have made him one of the most difficult players to defend both on deep balls and after the catch.
In the past few years, similar receivers have been emerging.
Andre Johnson (6’3”) – It is difficult to make an argument against Johnson being the best receiver in the league today. He has led the NFL in yards and/or receptions in three of the last four years (only played nine games on ’07). He is strong, athletic, and is a bull on yards after the catch.
Calvin Johnson (6’5”) – Johnson is not going to break any records on a Detroit team that has struggled to produce a decent offense. He was able to finish first in TD’s in 2008 and fifth in yards, an impressive stat figuring the lack of weapons he’s had around him.
Johnson is no doubt a player any team would salivate over the opportunity of acquiring, but the Lions refuse to let him go. It’s a shame overwhelming double coverage could cost us a chance to see his arsenal of skills more often.
Brandon Marshall (6’4”) - It’s only been three games and Brandon Marshall’s impact on the Miami Dolphins is already quite evident. With a 2-1 record, it seems to be the Dolphins defense that may be a problem rather than the offense.
Marshall has finished top five in receptions in the last three seasons (he’s only played four) and is on pace to do the same things this year. Like Andre Johnson, Marshall is an after the catch beast.
Vincent Jackson (6’5”) – Jackson’s suspension/contract struggles have unfortunately made him irrelevant so far this year, but at 27 we will no doubt see him again. Jackson had 1000 yard seasons in each of the last two years and is averaging a remarkable 17.2 yards per reception on his career.
Jackson’s numbers last year were the highest of his career and his impact on San Diego’s offense has quickly been confirmed in the first few games this year. Upon his return, Jackson will be a constant threat.
At 29, Andre Johnson is the oldest of the group, but they all have significant playing time left. Granted, if the strength and athletic ability that each of these players embody did not exist, the height would not be as much of a factor.
The tall receiver’s greatest advantage is in the defensive match-ups. With NFL cornerbacks averaging around 5’11” in height, going up against a 6’4” receiver makes for a long day. Big receivers are menacing on short routes, using their strength to box out smaller defenders or elevate above them.
WR is not the only position where this wave of change might be occurring. Tight ends are now becoming more problematic for defense than ever.
Antonio Gates (6’4”) is now the chief example and model for this (It was previously Tony Gonzalez – 6’5″). Gates is strong enough for tight end duties, but his size and speed make him one of the game’s ultimate threats. Gates is the Chargers number one weapon and has posted eight TD’s or more in every year but his rookie season. He has already reached the end zone four times in his first three games this year.
Up and coming versatile tight ends like Jermichael Finley (6’4”) are following suit. The Packers have been splitting Finley on the outside and he has been Aaron Rodger’s favorite target over the middle and to the sidelines. Chicago S Chris Harris tried to put a big hit on Finley early in the third quarter Monday against the Pack, but it was Harris who wound up going down.
The league’s top defenders are able make up for their size deficit by smothering and crowding their opponents, but the big guys are just as hard to defend on passes as they are to take down after the catch. The time may come where organizations are looking for a bigger breed of secondary.
About the Author
Written by Zachary Stanley
By the end of the fall I will have obtained a Bachelor's degree from Ithaca College. I have been blogging for quite some time and am greatly enjoying my various responsibilities in this field. I am currently a Feature Celtics Columnist and a Featured Sports Contributor for two different sites. I am also a couple weeks from opening up my new blog site, CelticsNotes.com.