Former Chicago Bear and current Carolina Panther Muhsin Muhammed is catching some flack for comments made that Chicago is where receivers go to die. While the comment is a little extreme, he’s not all wrong.
There hasn’t been a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Chicago since Marty Booker did his first tour here and that was a long time ago. It’s hard for any receiver to establish themselves in a town with so much quarterback controversy. Joey Galloway would be probably be more of a household name if not for all the quarterback issues in Tampa Bay.
But you know what? The last time I checked, football is a team sport. Receivers want to pad their stats and look good so they can get endorsement deals and be famous. Not every receiver has that opportunity and more often than not, every receiver trying to be that guy ends up hurting the team. Sometimes being a great receiver means making great blocks downfield so your running back can get longer runs. Sometimes being a great receiver means breaking off your route and getting a four yard catch when your quarterback is in trouble. Sometimes being a great receiver means catching the ball over the middle and taking the hit from the linebacker so your team can get a first down.
I’ve been talking to people for a while now how the receiver position in dying in the NFL. The age of Jerry Rice and the unstoppable receivers of his time appears to be in the decline, if not almost dead. There are only a handful of elite receivers left in the NFL and some of their egos are proving disasterous to their teams. After Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson, there is a big drop off of talent. Marvin Harrison used to be the best but he’s starting to look old. There are a few young guys like Reggie Wayne and Braylon Edwards to carry the torch, but each passing year there are fewer big time receivers in the NFL. So is it really the Bears fault? Look around the NFL, there are a lot of good receivers, but the number of great ones is dropping off.
The modern NFL is leaning towards offenses that feature a two-back system and have at least one huge tight end that can run just as fast as a receiver. It’s actually the evolution of the tight end that’s killing the receiver. Every team had that hard ass receiver that would go over the middle for six or eight catches a game, get killed by the linebacker, and the sick bastard loved it. Now everyone wants to be on the cover of a video game and can’t afford to hurt their pretty face.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The game of football demands for someone to take the open space defenses usually create over the middle to catch the ball and move the offense. Since receivers are no longer willing to do it, coaches have evolved ultra-tight ends that are big as houses but move like receivers. Their bodies allow them to take on linebackers and their talent allows them to make plays for the end zone. All over the country, coaches are finding these huge kids that are fast and good with their hands. Up until a few years ago they were probably put at fullback, defensive end, or linebacker. If he was drafted today, Mike Alstott probably would have been a tight end for Tampa Bay. Meanwhile the prima dona receivers sit on the sideline and watch their job dimish to a minimal role.
The evolution of the game has created faster linebackers and the old end around plays don’t have the effectiveness they used to. More offenses are using running backs with good hands to slide to the sidelines and give a place for the quarterback to dump the ball. Quarterbacks used to scramble around looking for receivers to break their route and make an amazing play. Those highlights are reserved for runnings backs now as they swing along the sidelines making dashing cuts for the endzone.
The dynamics of the game are changing and big play wide receivers are a dying breed. There will always be a select few that will collect the big money and get on the magazine covers. The sad part is their rarity will only drive up their value and force teams to dump money at a position they know will only have minimal impact. What good does a big contract for Bernard Berrian have for Minnesota if Tarvaris Jackson can’t even get him the ball? The Bears went with an approach that may become more common in the NFL. A rotating core of slot receivers that block downfield and make key third down plays to keep the drive going. The big plays are no reserved for running backs and tight ends, with receivers running a distant third.
Anyway you look at it, Muhsin Muhammad is right. Chicago is the place where receivers go to die, and so is every other city in the NFL.
Topics: Bernard Berrian, Braylon Edwards, Carolina Panther, Chad Johnson, Chicago Bear, Joey Galloway, Marty Booker, Marvin Harrison, Mike Alstott, Muhsin Muhammad, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Tarvaris Jackson, Terrell Owens