Like me, perhaps you shook your head when New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz tacked 67 yards to a seven yard catch for a 74-yard score in Last Sunday's showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. The play is a reminder that quarterbacks attempt passes. Receivers must complete them.
How do the Giants find players like Cruz while the Washington Redskins seem flummoxed by the whole process? If you are a Redskins fan, it's enough to know that Vinny Cerrato had free rein to run the team without benefit of Joe Gibb's training wheels or help by a football-knowledgeable owner in 2008 and '09.
Cerrato made poor wide receiver choices in Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in the 2008 NFL Draft. But, there is more to it than that. The Redskins have struggled to find young wide receiver talent since the end of the Gibbs I era. The Giants and teams like the Steelers made better choices that were immediate hits.
Washington first-round pick Desmond Howard (1992) was a bust as a receiver. He made his name as a special teamer with the Packers. The Redskins signed Howard at the close of the Gibbs I era when Charlie Casserly was the GM subordinate to Gibbs more or less.
Michael Westbrook (First round, 1995), another Casserly pick, never matched his college performance or Draft Day hype as a pro, though he was more productive than Howard was. Rod Gardner (First round, 2001) had near as many touchdowns (22) in fewer seasons as Westbrook did (26). Marty Schottenheimer selected Gardner but was given a single season to work with him.
Who knew we would miss Rod Gardner? Washington's troubles in the passing game stems from its failure to replace Gardner as the No. 2 wide out.
The playmaking receivers who make it big show up early in their NFL career. They are not necessarily first round selectees.
Cruz was an unheralded, undrafted prospect from lightly regarded UMass who blew up as a first year player (In NFL parlance, that means he is in his his second season). New York's Hakeem Nicks was a 2009 first round selectee. Cruz and Nicks combined for 158 receptions, 2692 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Pittsburgh's wide-outs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown combined for 141 receptions for 2301 and 10 touchdowns. Wallace was a 2009 third round pick. Brown was a 2010 sixth-rounder from Central Michigan.
Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin (first round, 2009) and DeSean Jackson (second round, 2008) combined for 121 receptions for 1,821 and nine touchdowns. The Redskins bypassed Jackson and Eddie Royal to select Malcolm Kelly. Maclin and especially Jackson's falloff from their 2010 performance, when they scored 16 TDs, is much of the reason why the Eagles missed the playoffs.
Washington's top two wide receivers were 10-year veteran Jabar Gaffney and 11-year vet Santana Moss who together caught 114 receptions for 1,531 yards and nine touchdowns. Moss' skills were in visible decline last season.
Washington has long odds to land Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck in the 2012 NFL Draft. Landing a playmaking wide-out may be the true goal for the 'Skins.
Here are the take-away points.
1. The top two wide receivers must combine for about 150 receptions for 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns for a passing offense to excel. Tight ends and backs do not count. It must be the wide-outs.
2. If a wide receiver is going to be a star, he shows sign of it as a first year player, that is, by their second NFL season. Dynamic passing offenses have young wide receivers performing at a high level on their first NFL contract.
3. Teams with stable front offices running a consistent strategy make better wide receiver picks that get off to a fast start.
Bill Parcells famously said, "If I'm going to be asked to cook the meal, I'd like to be able to pick the groceries." Parcells won Super Bowls with the Giants when George Young, New York's 19-year veteran GM, picked the players. Kevin Colbert called the shots in the Steelers front office since 2000. The Steelers made the playoffs in eight of his 11 seasons, winning two Super Bowls along the way.
The Eagles run one of the better front offices in the league. Andy Reid has an outsized role in running that office. It should not surprise you that the Eagles did not fire him. For all of his success, however, Reid has yet to win a Super Bowl. His combined role as de facto GM and head coach conspires against him. Reid's mentor, Mike Holmgren, did not lead Seattle to the Super Bowl until the team forced him to give up his GM role to focus on coaching.
Joe Gibbs was no more successful in returning the Redskins to the Super Bowl than Reid has been in Philly. Coach Mike Shanahan, like Gibbs and Reid, picks the groceries. That's not an ideal front office set up, but it beats Snyderrato any day.