The Myth of the No. 1 Wide Receiver


It never stops. Once a big name wide receiver starts making trade demands, it becomes a topic of conversation among media and fans alike. Until an Eagle receiver rolls up a 1500 yard, 10 touchdown season, the debate over whether or not a true number one pass catcher exists in Philly will continue.

The latest malcontent wideout to ache from his belly is Brandon Marshall. Of course, he’s late to the whining wide receiver party. Boldin, Ocho and Braylon have been in attendance for months. Welcome aboard, Mr. Marshall. Hope you can find space among all those inflated egos. It won’t be easy.

Do the Birds really need a receiver with Marshall’s unquestioned talent to get them over the proverbial top? Are DeSean and Curtis and Maclin and Avant really enough for the present and future? More importantly, is a legit number one receiver key to capturing that elusive Lombardi Trophy? There’s only one way to find out. Open up the history books and check the numbers.

I could go back to through all the past 43 Super Bowl winners, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Pro Football has changed over the decades. Obviously, the great dynasties of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s featured prolific pass catchers like Swann, Stallworth, Rice and Irvin, but the current dynasty sitting in New England has proven that championships can be won without fielding top-notch receiving talent. And that team from western Pennsylvania is right alongside.

Let’s take a look at this decade’s champions to see how they stacked up in the wideout department.

Year/TeamLeading ReceiverNumbers
2000 RavensShannon Sharpe67/810/4
2001 PatriotsTroy Brown101/1199/5
2002 BucsKeyshawn Johnson76/1088/5
2003 PatriotsDeion Branch57/803/3
2004 PatriotsDavid Givens56/874/3
David Patten44/800/7
2005 SteelersHines Ward69/975/11
2006 ColtsMarvin Harrison95/1366/12
Reggie Wayne86/1310/9
2007 GiantsPlaxico Burress70/1025/12
2008 SteelersHines Ward81/1043/7

If you throw out Petyon Manning’s Colts from 2006, you have a group of average to good receivers, but none that I would – based on their regular season statistics – place in the elite category. There are four players who eclipsed 1000 yards, but none more than Troy Brown’s 1199 in 2001. The other two Patriots’ title teams were led by receivers with less than 900 yards.

Now, you can argue Tom Brady’s greatness, and the dominant defenses of the Ravens and Bucs as the main reasons for winning their respective Super Bowls, but the point is, a true number one receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss or Terrell Owens isn’t the key to winning. None of the above players led the league in receiving the year they won it all. Harrison in 2006 was the closest; he finished second.

Brown was ranked 10th overall in 2001; Keyshawn 16th in 2002; Ward 29th in 2005; Burress 29th in 2007 (Curtis finished 23rd); Ward was 14th last season. You don’t need a top 5 guy to win a championship. All you need are one or two guys who can make plays consistently. DeSean Jackson totaled 912 yards as a rookie; Curtis 1110 in 2007. I think it reasonable to assume both are capable of surpassing a 1000 yards in 2009. If either (both) accomplish this feat, it will be right in line with the numbers recorded by past Super Bowl winning receivers.

The only receivers ranked in the top 10 in 2008 to make the playoffs were Fitzgerald, Boldin and Roddy White. Randy Moss and Wes Welker set the record books ablaze in 2007, only to lose in the Super Bowl. The truth is, big name wideouts like Moss and Fitzgerald are a luxury. In a fantasy football addicted environment, 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns looks a helluva lot sexier than 1050 yards and 7 touchdowns. But more often than not, it’s the latter statline that ends up with the ring.

Do the Eagles need a Brandon Marshall type receiver to win a championship? No. Would one help their cause? Yes. But even if they had one, there is no guarantee it would result in them playing in February. So, if you are among the local and national media clamoring for a “number one receiver,” or just an average fan who enjoys the view from the bandwagon, it’s time to end your pointless crusade.

The Eagles aren’t interested in the big name receivers. For the simple fact that they don’t need one.

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