Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
17 May 2012
by Mike Tanier
Spring is a time for true love. And Suh love.
Ndamukong Suh will be starring in a reality dating show called The Choice next month. Suh and other contestants will hear "pitches" from hopefuls and then select, sight-unseen, their choice of whom to date. It’s like speed dating for the blind, or Internet dating with the advantage of getting to hear the other person’s voice before that awkward Applebee's bar meeting and without the false impression you get from a decade-old photograph of the suitor’s more attractive sibling.
Oh, the drama. Suh may be forced to spend an evening with someone homely, which would be awful for such a sexy beast as Suh, and even worse for the producers. The "pitches" are probably made via audio recordings, so the contest favors unusual-looking women with deceptively sultry voices. An NPR radio personality could probably coax Suh straight to the altar before he gets a peek and realizes she looks like Al Franken in a straggly wig. After a quick "I do" Suh spends the rest of his life growing kale and curly-leaf basil in his backyard garden, without pesticides, which may be a fitting punishment for his crimes.
This would be the point in the essay where I make some quips about Suh’s reputation for violence. Those jokes would then prompt a few comments accusing me of unfairly projecting a handful of late hits on the football field onto Suh’s personal life, trivializing the issue of domestic violence in the name of a cheap gag, etc. Rather than invite such criticism, I invite you to make a long list of all the men you would never, ever, let your daughter date. Axl Rose. Eminem. Various serial killers and terrorists. Some high-ranking members of the political party you hate. The Joker. That dude down the street who only seems to own cut-off jeans. Metta World Peace. You are getting to Suh, aren’t you? He’s in your top 50. You got to him before you got to that kid who now runs North Korea, didn’t you?
As for the lazy joke that trivializes domestic violence, I will leave that to the Huffington Post: "Of course, a fiery personality isn't always a bad thing on a date." That’s what I did wrong in my dating days! I was polite, generous, and funny, but I did not spear anyone. Live and learn.
Suh’s driving record also makes him less-than-coveted boyfriend material, though being reckless and crashing into things isn’t always a bad thing on a date, maybe. The Huffington Post article reveals that a beauty queen named Rima Fakih is also involved in the reality show, and she was arrested for speeding in Michigan with an open bottle of champagne and a blood alcohol level of 0.19. Fakih would be my kind of woman if she did not look like a Kardashian clone. Our cultural idea of beauty is somehow collapsing to the point where girls who look and act like they work the weekend shift at Piercing Pagoda are considered sex symbols.
The producers of The Choice missed an obvious opportunity: Suh should date Fakih, cameras following them on a non-stop drunken thrill ride, preferably on closed-off streets.
The producers also made the mistake of thinking of Suh as a "celebrity." We know him very well around here, but John Q. Reality Show Viewer probably does not focus much on interior line play when watching football, if he watches football and not Cupcake Wars on Sunday afternoon. (Suh and Fakih can enter cupcake contests together. And Suh can beat the holy living s*** out of Justin Willman when he loses!) Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco made great reality fodder because they are attention-craving goofballs who had already made names for themselves among fans of the inane. Suh is not quite Kroy Biermann obscure, but he reeks of "fifth choice" for this type of endeavor.
The problem the producers faced is that many of the best reality television football options are married. Ben Roethlisberger is married now. In fact, Roethlisberger just earned his college degree. He is Benjamin Button, doing everything backwards: first Super Bowl rings, then marriage, then a college degree. Next year pimples, then the simple lessons of Sunday school, many years too late.
Even incoming rookies are often married, which is old news for most fans. Ryan Tannehill is married to aspiring model Lauren Ufer, who is gorgeous of course. Ufer works her way into many photos with her husband, because she is an aspiring model, and because no one wants to look at Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland. Ryan and Lauren could star in one heck of a reality show, surrounded by wacky characters and unlikely situations. It could be called "a typical Dolphins season."
Who does that leave? Mark Sanchez? He may appeal to the wrong demographic, or more disturbingly, vice versa. Someone from the Falcons? Hard Knocks tried to focus on the Falcons this year. Poor Hard Knocks. Thomas Dimitroff would have tried to make it a fashion show. Tony Gonzalez would have tried to make it a cooking show. Asante Samuel would bounce off a camera tripod and fall to the ground. At some point, the Real Housewives of Atlanta crew, shooting Biermann, would run into the Hard Knocks crew, shooting Corey Peters or somebody, and everyone will take a long, sad look at his or her career choices. They will then apply for jobs on The Choice.
So reality producers are stuck with the likes of Suh. To crank up Suh’s star factor, he needs famous guest stars, or at least the aid of a little stunt casting. Suh should be forced to date extreme tanners who breastfeed their far-too-old children so viewers can get the most prurient bang for their buck. With the "voice only" format of The Choice, Suh would have no idea that the honey-voiced chanteuse he chose likes to spend her free time twirling on a spit at Boston Market, then picking junior up from school and inviting him to latch on for a little pre-dinner happy meal. That would be a television date for the ages: a penalty-prone defensive tackle trying to make small-talk with a woman who is using ultraviolet bulbs to burn grill marks onto her cheeks and a couple of kindergarteners clamped onto her bosoms like lampreys. I would hate to be Jay Cutler on the Sunday afternoon after that Saturday night fiasco.
Extreme tanning is, of course, both terrible and ridiculous. Extreme breast feeding ... on the one hand, the lactation thought-and-boob police do a great job in neonatal units of making exhausted new mothers feel like war criminals if they dare to shake up a bottle of formula with the idea that maybe, just maybe, some mechanism should be in place for someone besides themselves to nourish their infants, say at 4 a.m. or during the workday. On the flip side, my mom likes to tell stories about how Zi’ Mariette breast-fed cousin Carmine right up to his wedding day, because they were poor and lived on a farm, which grew food, but apparently not well enough.
I am reluctant to judge lifestyle choices, so if modern suburban women want to emulate early 20th century Italian immigrant peasant farmers, so be it. And of course, once something is on the cover of Time, all enlightened folks are supposed to both recognize it as an issue and celebrate it as an unusual lifestyle choice with rich rewards. Can someone put a middle-aged full-time sports blogger on the cover of Time so I can get a little tolerance? People look at me funny when I drop my kids off at kindergarten in midday wearing a Brian Moorman jersey.
I don’t own a Brian Moorman jersey, though I saw one at the local farmer’s market on Saturday. A Bills punter jersey at a South Jersey event: it does not get more random or obscure than that. Say, is Moorman single? Is he interested in a reality dating show? Punter Love .Alas, Moorman has found punter love with his wife, Amber. It looks like Suh is the best choice for The Choice.
What an awful title. Television has gotten a little lazy with titles. The Choice. The Voice. The Event. The Announcement. The Decision. The Thing. Stuff Happening. Marginal Entertainment Option #5472. A Twitter follower suggested that a Suh dating show should be called Unnecessary Loveness. That’s a show we could all enjoy.
But who has time for television in spring? There is love in the air, with rookie quarterbacks looking double-deluxe awesome at rookie camp while their foxy wives cheering them on. It is graduation season, even for nontraditional students, and Roethlisberger is as non-traditional as they come. The warm winter and long spring caused strawberries and punter jerseys to bloom early in New Jersey. It’s too nice outside my window right not to speculate on a Lions defender’s love life.
Come the dog days of summer, I will be glued to my set.
1. Ollie Matson
Matson won a silver medal in the relay and a bronze medal in the 400 meters at the 1952 Olympics, just before start of his Cardinals career. So he had international-caliber speed, and he weighed 220 pounds. Matson was arguably the most athletically-gifted player in the NFL, or at least second to Jim Brown, and his gifts show when you look at his receiving statistics (he averaged over 18 yards per catch in his best seasons) and his return numbers (26.2 yards per kick return, nine career return touchdowns).
Matson’s rushing totals look pedestrian, however, because a) he played in the era of 12-game seasons; b) he lost one season to the Army; and c) the Cardinals were a little over-committed to old-fashioned T-formation football at a time when most teams were adapting to something more modern. Early in his career, Matson shared carries with Johnny Olszewski and other backs like Emmett King, Dave Mann and Emil Sitko, with running quarterbacks like Charley Trippi and Lamar McHan eating further into the rushing totals. Over time, the rotation gave way to Matson and Olszewski, but the Cardinals were almost always awful, so Matson played for a string of two-to-four win teams with a previous-generation offense. Just his luck. By the time he got to the Rams, they stunk, too.
Matson made the Hall of Fame, but in another set of circumstances, he might have been considered one of the best running backs in NFL history.
2. Ottis Anderson
The early Anderson was a dynamic power-speed-receiving back with a very long peak. He exploded with 1,600 rushing yards in his rookie season, and then slowly faded, dipping to the 1,300-yard level, then the 1,100-yard level. But all the while keeping his value as a receiver, staying durable, and keeping his yards-per-carry in the low fours despite a lot of usage. He receded to the point where Stump Mitchell took his place as featured back, and the guy who helped the Giants win the Super Bowl was just the shell of the early Anderson, a grinder Bill Parcells loved because he took care of the football (though the early Anderson fumbled a lot) and didn’t tap dance to the line. Anderson is a true Near-Hall-of-Famer; I wouldn’t kick him out if he got in.
Okay, Philadelphia trivia fans: Anderson was pounding out a 133-yard rushing game in a 14-11 Cardinals victory over the Eagles in September, 1983. The Vet did not sell out, so the game was not locally televised, so you had to listen to the game on local radio. WCAU, I believe. Anyway, the broadcast was interrupted for what breaking news story? First one to answer in the comment thread gets a No Prize.
3. Ernie Nevers
The Chicago Cardinals scored 20 offensive touchdowns in 1929. Nevers scored 14 of them. In 1931, he scored eight of the Cardinals 17 touchdowns. He also kicked most of his team’s extra points and field goals. Of course, he was also the Cardinals’ head coach in 1930 and 1931, and is probably best thought of as a player-assistant coach in his other seasons in Chicago. Did he call his own number a disproportionate amount of times near the goal line? Does it matter? The usual caveats about ancient-era players apply.
4. Terry Metcalf
The best Cardinals backs were often all-purpose backs, so their rushing totals do not leap off the stat sheet. Stump Mitchell, who earns honorable mention, was just that sort of back, as was Matson and the guy at No. 5. Metcalf was a runner-receiver-return man who, in his best seasons, gained a bit over 700 rushing yards, caught over 40 passes, and returned both punts and kicks, doing it all for good offensive teams (the Don Coryell Cardinals) in an offensively-depressed era.
Like the best Cardinals backs, he is overlooked by history because he played for the Cardinals. Matson’s reputation could benefit from a few more wins. Anderson played his best football at a time when Tony Dorsett, John Riggins, and Wilbert Montgomery were in the same division and taking their teams to Super Bowls. Metcalf was not in the same class as the best running backs of his era, but he was too good to overlook.
Metcalf’s son, Eric, played the same role his father played for the Browns before becoming a wide receiver for the run-‘n’-shoot Falcons. Terry and Eric were about the same player, size and talent wise. In the 1970s, you made Metcalfs the halfbacks in two-back offenses. In the 1990s, you move them into the slot.
5. Charley Trippi
The Paul Hornung of the Cardinals. Trippi was a three-way star for the great 1947 and 1948 Cardinals teams. He ran, caught passes, returned kicks and punts, punted a little, and played some defense for teams that went 1-1 in NFL title games. He remained productive, but the Cardinals didn’t, and by 1951 they had the bright idea of making him their quarterback. Trippi was not awful, but it was an awful idea, as most teams were starting to use dropback passers and a T-formation in which one or the other backs was a flanker: a two-back set, in other words. Trippi was still an old-school "pivot," the kind that was rapidly going out of style.
Like Hornung, Trippi is a Hall of Famer and all-time great based on the sum of his parts and his role on championship teams. Like Hornung, Trippi can be hard to evaluate as a pure running back because there is a halo around his accomplishments. But he was obviously very good.
Mitchell was a tiny scat back who spent several seasons returning kicks and running draw plays before the Cardinals realized what he could do. He then turned in a handful of seasons as a fun-to-watch sorta’ featured back.
John David Crow has a mammoth season in 1960 (1071 yards in 12 games) and scored 14 touchdowns in 1962. It was hard to leave him off this list. His fumble totals were high, a few of his productive seasons were in San Francisco, and what Metcalf did in the mid-1970s seems more impressive than what Crow did in the early 1960s. He is one of the best No. 6 or No. 7 backs we will encounter.
Johnny Roland and Jim Otis were big backs from the late 60’s through the mid 70s. Otis shared the backfield with Metcalf and often out-gained him on the ground, but Otis contributed nothing as a receiver. Roland is fourth on the Cardinals all-time rushing list, but I frankly never heard of him until I started researching this piece.
This is a very good list, and it will take several productive seasons for someone like Beanie Wells to crack it.
115 comments, Last at 30 Dec 2012, 12:01pm by timothy riecker