New Orleans Saints WR Ted Ginn

Legends of DVOA: Drew Brees' Bombers

Drew Brees has had many, many memorable weapons over the years: some bona fide superstars (most recently Michael Thomas), homegrown heroes who rose from nowhere (Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas), erratic but breathtaking talents with outsized reputations (Jimmy Graham, Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey), some unique all-purpose players (Darren Sproles, Alvin Kamara, and yes, Taysom Hill), and a few guys who might have slipped your mind until you read this sentence (Deuce McAllister, Brandin Cooks before he began wandering the league).

And then there were Brees' Bombers: designated deep threats such as Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and others. They didn't catch many passes. They often wore the "disappointment" label, and not just because they gave fantasy owners fits. Yet Henderson led the NFL in DVOA twice, Meachem would finish in the top five twice, and a pair of their more recent successors would sneak to the top of the leaderboard by becoming the targets for Brees' very occasional shots downfield.

This is the story of a narrowly defined role in an outstanding offense led by a Hall of Fame quarterback, and also of the men who filled that role.

A Sort of Domecoming

Devery Henderson was a Louisiana high school state champion in the 100- and 200-meter sprints who attended LSU on a track and field scholarship. He walked on to the Tigers football program, started his career at running back, and moved to wide receiver as a junior. He caught 23 passes as a junior, including the famous "Bluegrass Miracle"—a last-second 75-yard tip-drill catch-and-run after Kentucky head coach Guy Morris had already been congratulated with a Gatorade shower.

Henderson caught 53 passes for 861 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior year for the 13-1 Tigers while teammate Michael Clayton went 78-1,179-10. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Clayton 15th overall in 2004, while Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, and Reggie Williams were selected among the top 10 picks. The Saints selected Henderson 50th overall. It was a deep receiver class.

It's easy to forget how irrelevant the Saints were at the start of this century. Jim Mora's teams, with their Dome Patrol linebacker corps, began fading after the 1992 season. Mike Ditka arrived in 1997, bringing the Saints lots of headlines and Ricky Williams, plus a coaching style and personnel philosophy that was a decade out of date and left the roster gutted. Jim Haslett replaced Ditka, led the Saints on a fluky worst-to-first playoff run in 2000, then fell back to .500 immediately and stayed there, finishing between 9-7 and 7-9 for four forgettable years.

Henderson joined an offense led by Aaron Brooks, who was exciting but turnover-prone. Donté Stallworth and Joe Horn made the Saints strong at wide receiver, Deuce McAllister at running back, but Haslett's defenses were mostly dreadful after 2000. The Saints had no real identity.

Henderson engaged in a contentious holdout from his rookie training camp. He found himself deep in the doghouse when he eventually signed and was activated for just one game as a rookie. College teammate Clayton, meanwhile, caught 80 passes in his first season with the Bucs. The Saints signed free agent Az-Zahir Hakim to challenge Henderson for the No. 3 receiver role, and despite pulling a hamstring in the preseason, Hakim opened the season ahead of Henderson on the depth chart.

Then came Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans and the surrounding communities were devastated. The Superdome became an overcrowded emergency shelter. The Saints played home games in the San Antonio and at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. They practiced in the Alamodome parking lot and on high school fields. The vagabond Saints finished 3-13. Henderson caught 22 passes as the No. 4 receiver behind Stallworth, Horn, and Hakim, but few were paying attention to the Saints on the field. The real question was whether the franchise would return to New Orleans at all.

The Saints marched back home, of course. Sean Payton replaced Jim Haslett as their head coach. Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush came aboard with the second overall pick. (Yes, the award was later "vacated." Whatever.) At quarterback, the Saints caught a break when Miami Dolphins doctors advised their team against signing the young free agent with the bum shoulder who was about to lose his job to third-year prospect Philip Rivers. With Drew Brees in the fold, the Saints completed one of the most dramatic makeovers in pro football history, even as their home city and region still reeled from the devastation of Katrina.

The Brees-led Saints went 2-0 in a pair of road games to start the 2006 season. Then came a triumphant return to the Superdome. Green Day and U2 performed before the game. A national audience tuned in seeking signs of a return to "normalcy." The Atlanta Falcons played like they knew they were mere jobbers for the evening. Steve Gleason's blocked-punt safety set the tone for an unforgettable night, but Henderson scored the first touchdown of the 23-3 Saints victory on a gorgeous reverse: Brees-to-Bush-to-Henderson, with Brees lead-blocking on the 11-yard score.

Henderson would then miss the next three games with an injury. He would catch just 32 passes while getting upstaged by a hotshot rookie: not Bush (who did collect 1,367 scrimmage yards), but seventh-rounder Marques Colston, who exploded with 70 catches for 1,038 yards. Colston's preseason emergence resulted in Stallworth getting traded to the Eagles, but Colston, Horn, and Bush were all targeted more often than Henderson.

Yet it was Henderson who led the NFL in 2006 with a DVOA of 39.1%, higher than teammates Colston and Horn, higher than Marvin Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Terrell Owens, or anyone else.

Maximum Impact

DVOA is essentially a rate stat, and even the most sophisticated rate stats can be skewed a bit by smaller sample sizes. The top five wide receivers in DVOA in 2020 (Will Fuller, Julio Jones, Rashard Higgins, Nelson Agholor, and Chris Godwin) were all targeted less than 100 times in a year when 42 total players were targeted 100 times or more.

We could increase the minimum threshold for the DVOA leaderboard here at Football Outsiders from 50 targets to 75 or 100, but we would risk losing important information by doing so. Fuller started 11 games last year and was an important free-agent acquisition this year. Relegating him to the "backups" section of our leaderboards would defeat one of the purposes of DVOA: highlighting elements of a player's/team's performance that cannot be easily spotted in the raw data.

Henderson was targeted just 54 times when he led the NFL in DVOA in 2006 and just 56 times when he led the league again in 2008. He also led the league in yards per reception in both seasons, with 23.3 and 24.8, respectively. He averaged 13.8 yards per target in 2006, 2.7 more yards than the No. 2 receiver in the league: his teammate Horn. In 2008, he averaged a whopping 14.2 yards per target; Steve Smith finished second in the NFL at 11.0. When you average 13 or 14 yards per appearance in the play-by-play, advanced metrics are bound to love you.

Henderson was Brees' designated deep threat in those seasons, as the yards per target make obvious and anyone who remembers that era can confirm. Brees' arm was not spectacular even in his prime, but the presence of Colston and many others allowed him to pick his shots downfield. Payton also drew up a variety of play-action bombs, often with Brees rolling out, that gave Henderson and others time to get deep and Brees plenty of space to step into his throws.

Play-action bombs can be most effective on first down, when both offenses and defenses are programmed to think about remaining "on schedule" with 6- to 8-yard gains, not a big play. Henderson caught 10 of 22 first-down passes for 261 yards (26.1 yards per catch) on first downs in 2016, 11-of-21 for 360 yards (a whopping 32.7 yards per catch) in 2018.

That said, Henderson truly earned his DVOA crowns on third downs. Henderson converted 10 third downs on 14 targets and averaged 22.2 yards per catch on third downs in 2006. He converted 11 of 15 third down targets in 2008, averaging 25.6 yards per catch. Colston was a third-down machine from the day he entered the league (a stunning 24 conversions as a rookie), but Henderson made the most of his targets.

DVOA for receivers is also a situational stat, and of course it's greatly impacted by the quarterback. Colston and others handled most of the possession chores for the late-2000s Saints. Bush and other running backs worked underneath. Henderson worked deep. We didn't have average depth of target numbers for his prime seasons, but it clearly hovered in the "way, way, WAY downfield" range.

A DVOA trophy in Football Outsiders' fledgling years did nothing for Henderson's reputation as a disappointment, however. He was not a crafty route runner and dropped more than his share of passes. The Saints were looking for more consistency and flexibility than Henderson was offering, so they doubled down on deep threats in the 2007 draft.

Dueling Deep Threats

Robert Meachem was a football and basketball star in high school in Oklahoma who outraged Sooners fans by choosing to play football at Tennessee instead of remaining in state. His early college career was wiped out by a knee injury and he earned a reputation for mixing big catches with big drops in his first two seasons on the field. He came into his own in his redshirt junior season, going 71-1,298-11 with 18.3 yards per catch. He ran a 4.39s 40-yard dash at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds at the 2007 combine, and the Saints drafted him 27th overall.

Meachem showed up for rookie camp out of shape. He sprained a left ankle, then needed surgery to clean up an old injury to his right knee. He was unimpressive when he finally returned to the field and ended up inactive for the entire 2007 season. It was a missed opportunity: by November, Henderson had dropped eight passes and was losing playing time to David Patten, while Bush was proving to be less than advertised as an all-purpose weapon. With no big-play threat, the 2007 Saints fell to 7-9 after a playoff appearance the previous year. Brees finished just 10th in the NFL in DVOA. He would never finish that low in the rankings again.

Meachem was still in the doghouse in 2008. He was activated for the first time when Colston suffered an injury in the season opener. But it was Lance Moore, a former undrafted rookie who bubbled up from the special teams, who would become Brees' favorite target in Colston's absence. Meachem and Henderson ended up sharing the deep threat role, combining for 44-1,082-6 with 24.5 yards per catch. While Henderson again led the NFL in DVOA among qualifiers, Meachem led the league among non-qualifiers (10 to 49 targets) with a downright silly 64.8%. For a pair of disappointments, they were sure making the most of their targets.

The 2007-2008 Saints didn't make the playoffs, but they were amassing an overwhelming arsenal of weapons. The sturdy Colston and shifty Moore complemented each other and the deep threats well. Undrafted rookie Pierre Thomas and Broncos castoff Mike Bell began siphoning touches from Bush, who was beginning to look like a better concept than a player. Former Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey joined the team in 2008. A great offensive line coalesced around guard Jahri Evans.

With an offense that was suddenly unstoppable, the Saints won 13 regular season games in 2009 and defeated Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. It was Meachem's turn to sneak to the top of the DVOA rankings, finishing second to Vincent Jackson of the San Diego Chargers. Colston finished sixth that year, Henderson just 24th.

Like Henderson in 2006 and 2008, Meachem proved lethal on first-down deep shots, going 15-2938 with 19.5 yards per catch on 25 targets. Meachem also led the league in yards per target with 11.3; Colston finished 10th at 10.0 and Henderson 12th at 9.7. For perspective's sake, Randy Moss led all of Tom Brady's Patriots receivers at 9.2 yards per target, while Reggie Wayne led Peyton Manning's Colts targets with 8.5. What Brees, Payton, and the Saints did in 2009 was truly unique. And Henderson and Meachem were a huge part of it.

Deeper and Deeper

Meachem and Henderson would split the deep-threat role for the Saints again in 2010 and 2011. Meachem finished fourth in the NFL in DVOA in 2010. The Saints recorded their highest offensive DVOA in history in 2011 (33.5%), higher even than in the 2009 Super Bowl season. Colston finished fifth in DVOA that season, Meachem ninth, Moore 10th, and Henderson 20th. Jimmy Graham, in his second NFL season, finished ninth among tight ends.

Then the aughts version of Brees' band began to break up. Meachem signed a four-year, $25.5-million contract with the Chargers after the 2011 season. It was a hefty deal for the time, and the Chargers quickly regretted it. Meachem caught just 14 passes for the Chargers and was cut before the start of the 2013 season. He returned to the Saints for two more uneventful years.

Henderson remained with the Saints in 2012, then signed with Washington late in free agency in 2013. He was released early in training camp. The one-time contract holdout with a reputation for costly drops lasted nine years in New Orleans and ended his Saints career as a respected veteran and one of the few players on the roster with memories of the Katrina era and the pre-Payton, not-so-good old days.

With Henderson gone and Meachem fading, fifth-round rookie Kenny Stills took over as Brees' designated deep threat in 2013. Stills caught 32 of 50 targets for 641 yards, 20.0 yards per reception, and five touchdowns as a rookie. It was a very Henderson-like stat line, right down to his yards-per-target: a league-leading 12.8, 2 yards higher than second-place Doug Baldwin. Stills ended up leading the NFL in DVOA with precisely the minimum number of qualifying targets. He finished third in DVOA in 2014 before moving on to the Dolphins.

Veteran speedster Ted Ginn would arrive in 2017 to become Brees' deep threat. Ginn was perfect for the role: no receiver in recent history was more likely to beat his defender by 5 yards but let a sure touchdown bounce off his hands. Ginn mostly held onto the ball in 2017, producing a 53-787-4 stat line on 70 targets that year. It was a Meachem-like stat line, and Ginn finished second in DVOA.

By 2018, Brees' arm was fading, Ginn's hands turned back into granite, and Payton's offense became increasingly tailored to Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and an even higher-percentage short passing game than the one Brees had orchestrated a decade earlier. Deep shots became more and more of a rarity, though they did not disappear completely: rookie Tre'Quan Smith finished eighth in DVOA among non-qualifiers in 2018 in a role somewhat reminiscent of the one Henderson and Meachem once shared.

Consistently Inconsistent

Henderson now runs a youth football camp in Louisiana. Meachem became a high school football coach in New Orleans in 2019. Colston founded a professional developmental services company, was involved in the CBD business for a while, and announced in 2020 that he was joining the New Orleans University faculty as an adjunct professor. Moore is a Saints analyst for a New Orleans television network. If the Saints receivers ever want to have a reunion, no one will have to drive very far.

Kenny Stills has been trapped in Adam Gase and Bill O'Brien offenses since leaving New Orleans. He is a free agent at press time. Ginn was released by the Chicago Bears after playing sparingly last year; he's likely to retire. Michael Clayton, Henderson's LSU teammate who appeared poised for superstardom after his rookie season, was never able to follow up on his early success. He now runs a charitable foundation and has covered the NFL internationally for Sky Sports.

It's undeniable that Brees' Bombers were critical to the Saints' success over the years. It's also clear that the role itself mattered more than the player. Brees' deep threats were a little like Tom Brady's slot receivers: anyone who fit the mold was likely to have success in the role, even if he dropped a pass here or there. But while Brady's fan favorites posted gaudy reception totals and became the subjects of ill-conceived Hall of Fame debates, Henderson, Meachem, and the others were considered third fiddles in their best seasons and disappointments in their worst.

I cannot help but wonder, looking back on what Henderson, Meachem, and others did for the Saints a decade or so ago, what Brees might have accomplished with someone such as Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, or DeSean Jackson in the designated deep threat role. It's easy to imagine a 50-touchdown season in 2011, and perhaps another Super Bowl appearance, if Brees' best downfield receiver was a little more reliable. Then again, Holmes, Wallace, and Jackson each earned reputations for being less-than reliable in various ways. That's the nature of being a vertical-threat receiver. Those who can get open on deep routes and do much more become superstars. Those who can get open on deep routes but little else can become frustrated teases, even in a system that allows them to focus on what they do best.

If they are remembered at all by non-Saints fans, Henderson and Meachem are afterthoughts for a great team, or as a pair of guys who torpedoed your fantasy team by scoring 50-yard touchdowns on your bench, then going without a catch when you started them. DVOA rehabilitates their legacies a bit. It also reminds us that Brees was, in his own way, a great deep passer, and that Payton was a brilliant game-planner who knew just when to stop rope-a-doping defenses with a million short passes and wallop them with a haymaker.

Finally, Henderson and Stills' DVOA crowns, and Meachem's and Ginn's top-five finishes, remind us that while intricate high-percentage short passes are great, there's nothing better for an offense than a long touchdown. It's even OK to drop a few of them if you can get open for lots of them. Deep threats can appear to be inconsistent because they sometimes vanish from the stat sheet when defenses scheme to erase them. Yet Brees consistently helped his deep threats reach the top of the DVOA lists for a decade. It's a great example of how advanced metrics can shed new light on teams, tactics, and, in this case, some under-appreciated players.


22 comments, Last at 30 Jun 2021, 3:44pm

1 Oh my God, Brees and DeSean…

Oh my God, Brees and DeSean Jackson would've just lit up the league.

One of the things about deep threats is that when players don't catch the ball it usually gets called a "hands" issue, and really, it's not - for deep passes, it's usually more ball tracking than ball catching. When receivers miss catching it, it's because they end up reaching, stretching, or twisting in weird ways at the end because they misjudged where the ball was going to be.

DeSean was an *elite* deep ball tracking WR. He was pretty good in other roles at his peak, but if he could've been on an offense to really highlight that, he would've been *exceptional*.

3 Ball tracking versus catching

I was a receiver in HS that relied on hands and moves (because I have no speed). IMO, the difference in angles between how the ball arrives is what makes it harder to catch. When you are making a grab on a shorter pass, generally it is being thrown either directly at you (like a hook route) or to your side (like on a slant or crossing route). On these type routes, you have the opportunity to look the ball into your hands with little head/eye movement. On a post route, this is still mostly true; but on a go route, the ball comes more over your head and at the very end, it drops very quickly--unlike any route of =<20 yards. IMO, that's part of the reason that fade routes in the end zone are low percentage--not only is the WR trying to track the ball, but fight off the CB as well, AND keep his feet inbounds. At least on go routes, you have more time to do all of this.

Plus, think about the hand placement--on a shorter route, the receiver is making a "circle" with his hands for the point of the ball to go into as he grabs the larger part in the middle. On a deep route, it's falling from above--so both hands are under the ball, creating more of a "basket." I've only been to one NFL practice session ever, but it would be interesting to go to several and chart the "completion percentage" on just practice passes, with or without a defender. I'd bet good money that the deeper routes are still completed less, obviously separating whether there's a defender or not, and whether it's a "team" drill or just 1v1 for the WR & CB.

10 The angle of the pass is…

The angle of the pass is exactly what I was arguing about in several of the Super Bowl threads here. People were saying "if the receiver hadn't dropped that pass from Mahomes!" I was making the point that the Buccs D was still not getting enough credit and that Mahomes attempted heroics might have hurt KC's chances. The angles the ball was coming at the receiver because of the weird release angles and off platform throws and how close the defenders were, forcing body shifts, or blocking vision for an extra half second meant it wasn't a drop even if it hit the receiver in the hands. It was a great a defensive play and still a great athletic achievement by the QB and receiver for the ball to even hit the hands, but it wasn't a really a pass that was going to be caught. It may also have been an ill advised football play despite the talent it showcased but that's wandering off point. Several of those passes were still rising when they got to receiver because of how they were thrown, that is seriously not something you deal with much as a receiver, even most leaping catches where the receiver is going up to get the ball, the ball is coming down. There was a leaping "drop" where the ball was still going up, that's weird.

21 This comment should be…

This comment should be required reading. Mahomes dedication to playing hero ball in the face of that 2-deep coverage over and over again was a recipe for failure, a recipe that Mahomes and Reid cooked up together.

11 It's not a perfect compare…

It's not a perfect compare but I think we can get an idea about what a more reliable deep threat, like Jackson, might have looked like with Drew Brees throwing to them. As Tanier points out when you can do more than be a deep threat you get used for more, and that happened some in the case I'm going to make, but I think it does still illustrate the point. There is a somewhat underrated deep threat that had Aaron Rodgers throwing to him, Jordy Nelson. I think the skill that Jordy Nelson had with body control and ball tracking were underrated and are some of the best I've every seen. I'm not sure he is really underrated in the grand scheme though, he is well regarded and a 10 year career is bit short for top WR, also his peak was only 5 years. So yeah he isn't on the same level but his peaks were pretty spectacular. Since 1983 there have been 9 times that I found a 25% or higher DVOA on 150 or more passes. Only 1987 didn't have any receivers with 150 targets. 150 is more common now, of course, but it's a decent sample size (I'm doing this by hand since I don't have access to the DVOA database so it's a lot of tabs and sorted tables not going to count the sample but I'm sure it's over 100 for the 38 years covered.)  Also yes it's arbitrary round numbers.

Jerry Rice -29.5% on 150 in 1994
Micheal Irvin -  30.6% on 165 in 1995
Marvin Harrison - 26.2% on 164 in 2001
Randy Moss - 25.0% on 172 in 2003
Steve Smith - 29.9% on 150 in 2005
Randy Moss - 28.8% on 160 in 2007
Calvin Johnson - 32.1% on 158 in 2011
Jordy Nelson - 26.8% on 151 in 2014
Antonio Brown - 25.7% on 181 in 2014

Rice, Irvin, Harrison, Johnson, and Moss are HoF.  Steve Smith and Antonio Brown have cases. Jordy Nelson is not a HoF WR (give him an uninjured 2015 like his 14 and 16 and add maybe 3 more years like his first 3 and last 2 so that he has a 6 year peak and a 13 year career and then he might have a case, maybe). But you leverage his deep threat ability with a reliable QB, even while asking him to do more than just go deep and you get a performance that lines up with Hall of Famers. He was the the top target in 13, 14, and 16 (with no injury probably in 15 as well but as mentioned lost that season to an ACL) so like I said not the best comparison but he was still over 10 yards/target in 13 and 14, in 16 it was down to 8.9. Also Brees did not have as good of a deep ball as Rodgers so even though Brees had a lot more attempts total I'm not sure the deep attempts, even with Jackson would have been as high. But still.

2009, his 2nd year he was 41.4% DVOA on 31 targets, 10.3 ypt. In 2011, his breakout year and the last year he really was mostly just a featured deep threat he was at 13.2 yards per target, 18.9 per reception, and had a league leading 52.9% DVOA on 96 targets. This is another short list of players that broke 50% DVOA as a qualified receiver and Nelson was 21 targets more than any of the others. Eyeballing things even for non qualified receivers breaking 50% DVOA is rare.

John Taylor - 56.3% on 75 in 1989
John Taylor - 51.3% on 74 in 1993
Tim Dwight - 51.8% on 50 in 1999
Dennis Northcutt - 60.5% on 51 in 2002
Jordy Nelson - 52.9% on 96 in 2011
Malcolm Floyd - 52.0% on 70 in 2011
Tyler Lockett - 66.4% on 70 in 2018

I think he shows what a very good deep threat can do in an offense that can utilize it. Yes Nelson was more than just a deep threat but it was his primary role in that offense even in the years he lead the team in targets and was used like a traditional WR1 and asked to run all kinds of routes.

I think we could have seen numbers like Nelson did for Brees to Jackson. Jackson would have been more than just a deep threat too, but would have been primarily leveraged for that. So yeah that would have been awesome to watch, just like it was awesome to watch Rodgers to Nelson.

John Taylor is a better Henderson for those late 80's early 90's San Fran teams. He was 12.7 yards/target in the 93 season and it looks like 14.3 for 89. He's a better player with a great QB in an offense that only took occasional deep shots it's a very good compare to Brees and Henderson. He was targeted more and did more with it. At least that's how I vaguely remember him as my memory is getting fuzzy for those years.

Also I knew Locket was awesome in 2018, but I guess it didn't register that he is the DVOA king for qualified receivers. Though the yards per target numbers for the Locket, Dwight, and Northcutt seasons do stick out as outliers on their PFR pages. Nelsons year not quite as much. Same with Floyd it was a standout year for him, but it doesn't jump way out of line. Taylor I covered, best DVOA years but nothing that was out of line with his career.


So just a potential result of what could have been with a Brees to Jackson. really would have been fun 

15 This is what you get from (insecure) Packer fans:

An article about Drew Brees Deep threats through the years turns into a referendum on Jordy Nelson (and then Aaron Rodgers vs Drew Brees).

Did anyone put down Jordy Nelson?

Drew Brees not as good a deep ball passer? well...

per PFF:
"Pro Football Focus has tracked quarterbacks’ deep passes (defined as passes thrown to targets more than 20 yards downfield) since 2006. That year, Brees led the league in passing yards and touchdowns on deep throws, going 32 for 58 with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’d go on to lead the league in deep throw passing yards four more times (2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012), completions on deep throws four times (2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012) and touchdowns on deep throws seven times, including six straight years from 2008 to 2013. For his career, 10.8 percent of Brees’s throws have been to targets deeper than 20 yards downfield."

And I have actually stopped, finally stopped trying to illustrate what kind of deadly weapon Tyler Lockett is, and has always been...and...that (on the field, during a game) he may the fastest NFL player, including Metcalf and Hill...I stand by my the games.

17 So the whole point I was…

So the whole point I was making is that Drew Brees with a more reliable deep threat would have been awesome. That someone like DeSean Jackson (or even Jordy Nelson himself) would have put up numbers like Jordy Nelson did with Rodgers if they had played with Brees and how fun that would have been to see.

You latch onto the one line that things might possibly be adjusted a bit because the total number of deep passes may have been different I knew Brees threw more total passes but Rodgers generally had a higher deep pass completion percentage so wasn't sure exactly how that would work out and didn't want to dig into that at that time.

My whole point in pulling up the numbers was to try an illustrate how awesome the "what could have been scenario" might have looked. Rodgers to Nelson was the most familiar comparison to me of what a Brees to "insert reliable deep threat here" could have looked. So I'm insecure because I thought Brees could have made a receiver put up Nelson like numbers?

Clearly I worded things in my post wrong if you came away with that impression. My homerism is in my name. What I have direct experience with is like 80% Packers, 20% rest of the NFL (heavily Bears influenced in the 80's, heavily Chiefs influence in the 2010's for that non Packers part). So yeah when I think about how awesome a Drew Brees to someone else combo might have been a Packer is going to be the comparison. 

2 One of my many crazy…

One of my many crazy hottakes. Darren sproles was the scariest running back for a defensive to face in the last 20 years. The guy was such a mismatch as a receiver that it negated whatever marginal value he brought as a rusher. He just needed to go to an offense that was willing to utilize his skill set

4 Skill set


Kamara is a better runner than the other two, but Sproles was a better receiver than Bush. Personally, I don't think Bush leaned into his skillset enough--by the time he made the NFL, he was too used to relying on his speed over everything else. He had the one great game against the Cardinals (first playoff game on the way to the SB), but otherwise just didn't ever put it together. IMO, he could have been exactly what Kamara is now. 

7 You watch more Saints games…

In reply to by Joseph

You watch more Saints games than I do, but I definitely felt like Sproles was the scarier receiving back than Kamara. That 2011 Saints offense was terrifying and got most of their mileage in the passing game out of Graham and Sproles. 

14 Kamara vs Sproles

Kamara is the better rusher, and it's not close. I think Sproles was a scarier receiver b/c of Jimmy Graham. I would guess over 80% of TE routes are <15 yards, with the Kelce/Gronk types being on the lower end of the range. Thus, unless Graham was split out wide, he was going to occupy at least one LB in any type of zone, and plenty of man coverage too. So now you put Sproles 1v1 w/a LB--impossible for most LB's. Right now, the Saints don't have a good enough TE/slot WR to occupy underneath defenders, which allows them to focus more on Kamara--and he still puts up great receiving numbers for a RB. If Trautman (rookie last year, now #1 TE) can be just ok, this will open up the underneath routes for Kamara just a step more--and that's all he needs.

6 Remember that crazy playoff game Sproles dominated

There was a playoff game the Chargers won, where Darren Sproles was dominant – along with (I swear) Mike Scifres

Sproles had over 300 total yards.  A hundred rushing, ~50 receiving, another hundred in kick returns, and another 50 or more in punt returns.  I'd never seen anything like it in the NFL; it was like how people would talk about Gale Sayers (who was before my time).

And then the few times Sproles would fail to get the first down, Scifres would flip the field with a 50-yd punt.  I think literally every punt he had that day was over 50 yards – he might have gone over 60 a couple times – except when they were across midfield, and he had to kick short.  Then he pinned them inside the 10.  Sproles was great that day, but I swear the most impressive display might have been the punting.  Amazing.

Weird, cool game.

16 Its ok if you do, but do…

Its ok if you do, but do Ravens fans still rejoice in every gut wrenching Colts playoff loss?


I don't remember my anti-Indy bias being much of a factor in terms of rooting interest for that particular game.  In 2008 (thanks Pat for the reference to the exact game) I was still a little mad at AJ Smith and Spanos for firing the Big Schott, and probably wanted them to fail spectacularly in the playoffs.  Sproles & Scifres won me over for that one game, just by being so damn amazing.  Sticks out as probably the greatest performance by a punter that I've ever seen.

My sense is that the most rabid anti-Indy feeling around Charm City has largely faded in recent years.

Back in the early 90s, most NFL fans around here would say "I got two favorite teams: [blank] and whoever's playing the Colts."  Blank would usually be one of the teams with a "national" fanbase: Cowboys, or Steelers, maybe Niners, someone like that.  Or the team their family rooted for back wherever they moved here from.  But the "and whoever's playing the Colts" was very consistent.

That didn't go away immediately when the Ravens started playing.  It all came welling back up in a nasty, heated tone for the playoff matchup in 2006 (I mean after the 2006 season).  TV in the week leading up to the game was full of images of Mayflower moving vans and whatnot; the Ravens were one of the top seeds in the conference; the town was wound to a fever pitch.  And then a devastating loss. 
(I personally think the hangover from that loss persisted into the following season, and ultimately led to Billick getting canned and Harbaugh coming in.)

But, that was a while ago.  I think most Ravens fans (and I personally) have developed a little more, uh, largesse of spirit the last 5-10 years.

  • Winning a second Super Bowl helped :-)
  • And the Ravens beat both Indy (in Baltimore) and Peyton Manning (in Denver) in the playoffs, on the way to that SB.
  • Illogically, the way Peyton Manning's career ended helped: injury, comeback, Mile High Miracle, him finally getting his second ring.
  • The 10-yr drought of losing to Indy finally ended; the 25-yr drought of losing *IN* Indy finally ended.  Did you know this past year's game was the first time the Ravens have won in Indy?  Crazy.
  • It's hard not to like Frank Reich (who of course led the Maryland Terps to the biggest comeback win in college football history WAYYY back in 1984).  Good coach.
  • There was a big profile on Jim Irsay in The Athletic last month, which talked about how hard he's worked to not be like his dad.
  • Sometime within the past ~5 years, a threshold was passed where the franchise has been in Indy for longer than it ever was in Baltimore, which is mind-boggling to me.

Another six years or so, and the Ravens will have been in Baltimore for longer than the Colts were.  Time marches on; it just doesn't matter quite so much. 

The stuff that still rankles is historical.  Seeing Johnny U and Raymond Berry and Gino Marchetti and Bert Jones at al listed as part of the history of the Indianapolis franchise, is annoying  The Colts name itself was chosen by a fan contest in Baltimore, and I think the idea was to reference the city's history in horse racing (Preakness) and horse-breeding.  So there's a scab about Cleveland getting to keep their team's name & colors & history, but Baltimore not.  I personally won't use the Indy franchise's name.  But: overall it really is starting to be ancient history. 

No, I don't think there's any particular rejoicing over struggles for Indy.  For Ravens fans, the biggest focus of schadenfreude BY FAR is whatever is going on with the Steelers.  :-)

13 2008 season Wild Card vs…

2008 season Wild Card vs Indy, to be specific.

It actually wasn't just that Scifres was constantly booming 50 yard punts (one of them was only 38 like you mentioned, but it was still a great punt). He actually had done that the year before, too, when they won vs. Indy as well. But that year, those punts were middling, since they were paired with 10+ yard returns every time.

But in 2008, basically every one was inside the 20, with virtually no return. Colts started from scratch on every drive. They had 84 more yards in regulation and ended up with exactly the same point total.

5 Correction

"Henderson caught 10 of 22 first-down passes for 261 yards (26.1 yards per catch) on first downs in 2016, 11-of-21 for 360 yards (a whopping 32.7 yards per catch) in 2018."

wrong years.

Good stuff though.

18 OK, some history

"The Brees-led Saints went 2-0 in a pair of road games to start the 2006 season. Then came a triumphant return to the Superdome. Green Day and U2 performed before the game. A national audience tuned in seeking signs of a return to "normalcy." The Atlanta Falcons played like they knew they were mere jobbers for the evening. Steve Gleason's blocked-punt safety set the tone for an unforgettable night, but Henderson scored the first touchdown of the 23-3 Saints victory on a gorgeous reverse: Brees-to-Bush-to-Henderson, with Brees lead-blocking on the 11-yard score."

1) Green Day and U2 played at halftime. The Goo Goo Dolls were the pregame act.

2) Steve Gleason's blocked punt was recovered by Curtis DeLoatch for the game's opening TD.

3) No one could hear #2 because of how incredible the crowd was that night. Expect the same on opening day against Green Bay.

20 The crowd that night

In reply to by Sophandros

As a NO native and Saints fan since I was a kid, I still get misty eyed seeing the clips of that play. I was watching from in a hotel somewhere near Syracuse NY--I'm sure anyone above my room and 2 doors down either way heard my screams. If the crowd for week 1 against GB is even 80% of that night, Jordan Love won't be able to hear his own voice (presuming it's not Rodgers). The Falcons could have played 12 men on both sides of the ball and I think they would have lost.

Aside: I was at a Saints game once when they had that dumb rule about the crowd being quiet. It didn't help much then, and there's no way a ref could have implemented that rule on that special re-opening night.

19 A Unique Experience

The Saints home opener in 2006 was something to behold. I have never seen a stadium that electricifed and I don't know if it mattered who lined up for the Falcons that day. I have sometimes felt the whole sports bring people together in tough times thing gets oversold but in that case it really seemed to and its something to remember watching and seeing just how it felt with them.

22 Madden 05

Really enjoyed this piece, Mike.  Devery Henderson was my dude in the ultra-competitive Madden 05 franchise mode that my group of friends and I played in our first year out of high school.  Super quick, catching deep balls or racking up a ton of YAC.  Loved it.