Posted: Thursday June 23, 2005 5:49PM; Updated: Friday June 24, 2005 4:14PM
Ricky Sanders joined Art Monk and Gary Clark to form a group nicknamed "The Posse" in the '80s.
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Still, new offensive schemes caused problems for the referees, because in the West Coast scheme, officials had to pick up the fullback and tight ends and it wasn't clear when players were going to block or when they would go out for a pass. But according to NFL officiating legend Art McNally, who was a consultant on the film, the problem was even more pronounced when three or more receivers got downfield in a hurry, stretching the referees' responsibilities. There was always the danger someone would go long and not have a official watching him because he thought his assignment was elsewhere.
Obviously, if the officials had trouble keeping track of offenses, defenses were going to have issues as well. Right now, the hot trend appears to be the use of three-receiver sets. I have a few theories as to why.
Recent rule changes, mainly last year's re-emphasis on the illegal chuck have helped wide receivers get downfield.
The NFL's a copycat league, and who wouldn't want to mimic the Colts' offense, which had three 1,000-yard receivers last year -- not to mention incredibly effective tight ends and a star running back?
Wide receivers are coming out of college bigger, faster and stronger. Since Randy Moss exploded as a rookie in '98 after being drafted No. 21 overall, receivers are more likely to be picked high in the first round than running backs. In the last three drafts, eight receivers have been selected in the top 10, and an average of five receivers have been picked in the first round. Several players who might have ended up at a different position such as tight end or defensive end proved they could play receiver in college. Lions rookie Mike Williams was recruited by several schools to be a tight end, but chose USC because it promised he could play wide receiver. There are also a number of smaller tight ends that play more like receivers and are having great success of late.
Three-receiver sets force defenses into nickel and dime packages and get massive run-stuffers like San Diego's Jamal Williams and Oakland's Ted Washington off the field, freeing up a little room for the running game.
Lions coach Steve Mariucci made a strong statement about the three-receiver set by taking Williams at No. 10 in this year's draft. Mooch had talked about using a three-receiver set in San Francisco with Terrell Owens, J.J. Stokes and Tai Streets, but his personnel wasn't quite good enough to make it a complete success.
With 3,400 combined receiving yards in 2004, the Colts' Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley are the most prolific trio in the league. But given the current trend, will Indy's receivers remain the most lethal triumvirate? Here are my top five three-wide receiver sets for 2005:
5. Raiders (Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry): Moss and Porter is a pretty fearsome duo on paper, but Curry could be the element that makes the Raiders' offense unstoppable. Curry is recovering from a torn Achilles' heel that ended his 2004 season, but is reportedly running and will be full strength by the season. Oakland believed in Curry enough to sign him to a contract extension this offseason. If he gets back to where he was last year, the Raiders have three home-run threats. Considering you have to double-team Moss, Porter and Curry will have great opportunities -- and Kerry Collins has the arm strength to hit them long.
4. Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson): A year before Mariucci selected Mike Williams, Arizona coach Dennis Green surprised folks by taking Fitzgerald with the No. 3 pick in the 2004 draft. The Cards had just selected wide receivers Johnson and Boldin in 2003, and both showed enormous potential. All three are outstanding players, but the team's offense still has question marks -- can someone, perhaps rookie J.J. Arrington, provide a running game, and does QB Kurt Warner have anything left? Based on Green's history, there's reason to believe the Cardinals will be able to put some points on the board and these young receivers will lead the way.
3. Lions (Roy Williams, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams): How many receivers in the league are over six-feet tall and can run an under-4.3 40-yard dash? At least half of them -- Rogers and Roy Williams -- are Lions. And Detroit added another physical freak -- Mike Williams -- in the draft. Look for Mariucci to line Mike up in the slot and use his size as a very effective possession receiver, while Rogers and Roy menace defenses downfield. Add a slightly over-the-hill Marcus Pollard at tight end and running back Kevin Jones and the Lions should be hard to stop. Two potential issues: Rogers' injury history and instability at quarterback. An early call to Jeff Garcia over Joey Harrington might help the young stud receivers.
2. Rams (Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Kevin Curtis or Shaun McDonald): Several commentators have pointed out that the Rams have had trouble replacing Hakim in their slot position and the offense has come down to earth a little. Then St. Louis selected Curtis and McDonald in the third and fourth round of the 2003 draft. Both appear to be developing into potential weapons at the third-receiver spot. The No. 1 and No. 2 spots are still in good shape with Holt and Bruce -- as long as you don't ask Bruce to go out long -- and either Curtis or McDonald adds an element of speed that makes the Rams dangerous once again. Curtis appeared to be the guy in last year's playoffs, combining for 235 receiving yards in two games, but McDonald also had his moments and will be in the mix.
Brandon Stokley, who caught 68 balls for 1,077 yards and 10 TDs last year, is part of one of the NFL's most successful three-receiver groups.
1. Colts (Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley): Is it the system or the receivers? Offensive coordinator Tom Moore is one of the best, QB Peyton Manningis the best, tight end Dallas Clark is an emerging star and running back Edgerrin James is one of the better RBs in the league. But don't underestimate the talent of this receiving crew. All three are fast, good route-runners and sure-handed. Whenever you watch a Colts game, one of the three always seems to be wide open 30 yards down the field. That's what happens when an offense has so many ways to kill you and your quarterback's ball-fake fools cameramen and defenses on virtually every down. History says Manning will have difficulty topping his 49-touchdown record, but look for huge seasons from Harrison, Wayne and Stokley once again. Now, if they can somehow translate this into some success on a cold field in Foxboro ....
Other Trios To Watch
Patriots -- Remember that Sirius Radio commercial in which David Givens, Deion Branch and Troy Brown all say, "I thought I was Tom Brady's favorite receiver"? Take Brown and Patten (signed with Washington) out of the equation and add a receiver to be named later, because you never know which Patriots pass-catcher is going to have a big afternoon.
Bengals -- The Bengals re-signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who forms a solid one-two punch with Chad Johnson. Peter Warrick should be fully recovered from a broken fibula and knee problems, and is still plenty good for a third option. But if Warrick can't stay healthy, rookie Chris Henry out of West Virginia might be a surprise later in the season.