AFC East: James Lofton

NFL Any Era: Darrelle Revis

January, 24, 2012
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Jerry Rice and Darrelle Revis ESPN.com IllustrationWould Hall of Famer Jerry Rice manage to escape from "Revis Island"?
Starting this week, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine are working together on a comprehensive series that examines which current NFL players could thrive in any era. Tuesday's group included New York Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.

A panel of Hall of Famers created their top 20 and Revis came in at No. 15. Here were some comments:
JAMES LOFTON: "Sometimes the promotion of 'Revis Island' can enhance or even supersede someone's image. When you watch this guy play, how is he able to move the receiver off his spot? It's like Superman strength. Darrelle Revis has that same type of strength. When he puts his hand on a receiver, the receiver that is headed there ... is now over there. It's really slight and really subtle, and he's not pushing off, but he's just so strong and compact, he just moves them off their route."
JOHN RANDLE: "When you watch him, he's a quiet killer. Like a sniper because he's drawing attention to himself, but you know that receiver is not going to have a good game. That receiver is shut down. The quarterback looks out there and goes, 'Well, my No. 1 is down. Let's look to my No. 2.'"

This was a good selection by the panel. Revis' elite coverage skills and hand-eye coordination would thrive in any era. In fact, due to many rule changes that favor high-scoring offenses, this is the most difficult era in NFL history to be a corner. But Revis is doing just fine.

I've said before in the blog that Revis is on his way to being an all-time great. It's clear that current Hall of Famers are taking notice. We will have more on ESPN.com's Any Era project later in the week as other players in the AFC East are revealed.

Canton must wait for Reed and Martin

February, 5, 2011
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Andre Reed and Curtis Martin received bad news about their Pro Football Hall of Fame bids.

Reed and Martin were among the 15 finalists for induction, but neither AFC East star made the cut Saturday when the next induction class was determined.

[+] EnlargeAndre Reed
US PresswireAndre Reed has been a finalist five times but the former Buffalo receiver will have to wait to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The 2011 class includes running back Marshall Faulk, tight end Shannon Sharpe, defensive end Richard Dent cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol. Senior nominees headed to Canton are linebackers Chris Hanburger and Les Richter.

Reed has been a finalist five times. For the second year in a row, the Buffalo Bills legend finished ahead of Cris Carter and Tim Brown in the selection process, which pares down the group of finalists from 15 to 10. Reed made the top 10, while Carter and Brown did not.

But Reed didn't make the next cut to five. That's the group the selection committee makes a final yea or nay vote on, with 80 percent agreement required for induction. The committee approved all five.

Reed will have to wait to join his former teammates already honored in Canton: quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy.

Reed made 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns and played in four consecutive Super Bowls. He's known as one of the best yards-after-catch receivers in NFL history, perhaps second to only Jerry Rice, and among the grittiest over-the-middle threats.

Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler. He posted 13 seasons with at least 50 receptions, tied for second all-time. He's tied for third in postseason history with five 100-yard games. His 85 postseason receptions rank third.

Martin, a star running back with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, was on the ballot for the first time. His former coach, Bill Parcells, advocated Martin be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Martin ranks fourth in all-time rushing yardage behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, a pretty good crew -- if you're into that kind of thing.

Martin rushed for 14,101 yards and scored an even 100 touchdowns, 90 on the ground and 10 more off catches. He ran for 1,000 yards in 10 straight seasons, the second-longest streak in league history. Martin was the 1995 offensive rookie of the year and made five Pro Bowl rosters.

Carter was another Hall of Fame finalist with an AFC East connection, albeit barely. Carter finished his career with the Miami Dolphins, catching eight passes over five games in 2002. His 130th and final touchdown was with Miami.

That gave every AFC East club a link to Saturday's selection process.

Polian bangs drum for more Bills in Canton

February, 4, 2011
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Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre ReedGetty ImagesJim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were key cogs in four Bills Super Bowl teams put together by former Bills GM Bill Polian.
Can a team put too many players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Bill Polian doesn't think so.

Polian assembled the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls. Five members of those teams already have bronze busts in Canton: quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Bills owner Ralph Wilson has been enshrined, too.

"It seems like every second or third year somebody gets inducted into the Hall of Fame and we have a reunion and get to reflect on it," Polian told me Thursday night. "It's a big family that has stuck together and still stays in touch.

"It's a blessing. To be associated with guys like that? It's a special, special group."

Polian insisted more Bills belong in the Hall of Fame and is bothered that wide receiver Andre Reed hasn't gotten in yet. Reed could get the Canton call Saturday. He is among the 15 finalists who will be evaluated by the selection committee for five openings on the 2011 class.

"It's shocking to me that he's not viewed as a shoo-in Hall of Famer," Polian said. "Andre Reed was our biggest big-play player on a team that went to four Super Bowls. How he could not be included in the Hall of Fame when he's one of two guys who dominated is beyond me.

"Go with the facts. Don't go with perception. Go with reality because if you go with reality, you have to say Andre Reed belongs, without question. To me, it's just baffling."

That would give the Bills five Hall of Famers who played or coached all four Super Bowl teams. Lofton played on only three of them. Bills owner Ralph Wilson also has been inducted.

Put that group up against the New England Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in four years.

"The teams are comparable," Polian said.

There aren't that many slam-dunks from all three of New England's championship rosters.

Head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are surefire Hall of Famers. Beyond that, Adam Vinatieri has a strong case for his heroics, but there are no guarantees for kickers. Jan Stenerud is the only Hall of Fame kicker or punter. Maybe defensive end Richard Seymour or cornerback Ty Law will be considered.

Beyond that, much of the Patriots' roster was comprised of semi-stars such as linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, who went to one Pro Bowl apiece, and transients.

That the 1990s Bills will send more players to Canton than the 2000s Patriots is fascinating to me. It shows how incredible the Patriots have been at navigating free agency and the draft to maintain a consistent winner with a fluctuating roster -- and how truly magnificent that collection of talent was for Buffalo.

"That'll never happen again," Reed told me last week. "You won't see an assemblage of players like that -- at least not in Buffalo. I know that."

Bill Polian
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFormer Bills GM Bill Polian thinks seven players from Buffalo's 1990s Super Bowl teams should be Hall-of-Famers.
Those Bills teams also featured offensive linemen Kent Hull and Jim Ritcher, linebackers Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan and Darryl Talley and special-teams star Steve Tasker.

Polian is an advocate of Tasker's induction into Canton, too.

"Steve Tasker was, pound-for-pound, the greatest special-teams player ever to play," Polian said. "If you value special teams, then Steve Tasker belongs in the Hall of Fame. I am also an unabashed Ray Guy fan.

"I've seen every player that's played in this game since 1977, and I can tell you Ray Guy literally changed the game -- as did Steve Tasker."

So that would make at least seven Hall of Famers from the 1990s Bills if Polian had his way.

When you consider how much talent Polian gathered with the Bills -- and his success with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts since then -- there's no way you can't consider Polian himself.

But for now, Andre Reed is on deck.

"Andre is clearly, clearly, clearly deserving to be inducted," Polian said. "By any measure in the era he played, Andre Reed is a Hall of Famer."

Andre Reed has strong Hall of Fame case

February, 2, 2011
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Andre ReedUS PRESSWIREFormer Bills receiver Andre Reed finished his career with 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 TDs.
Receptions come a lot cheaper these days.

The game has changed, and all you need for proof is a glance at Paul Warfield's career stats. He caught more than 50 passes once. He gained more than 1,000 yards once. In some of his Pro Bowl seasons, his numbers wouldn't have justified a roster spot in your 10-team fantasy league.

Yet Warfield is considered one the most dangerous receivers NFL history, a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.

"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," Warfield said this week from his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work.

"I'm from the old-school generation. You might be termed a wide receiver, but you should be a football player first."

Steve Largent is another example of how stats don't quantify a receiver's worth like they used to. Largent retired after the 1989 season as the NFL's all-time leading receiver with 819 catches. He, too, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Twenty-one years later, Largent ranks 20th in receptions behind such names as Derrick Mason, Torry Holt, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad and fullback Larry Centers.

In 1985, only four players had caught 600 passes. The list is 55 players long now.

"It doesn't necessarily undermine a player's ability to get into the Hall of Fame because he had great stats or doesn't have great stats," Largent said Monday from his office in Washington D.C. "You're looking for a guy who was the total package."

With that in mind, you might consider Andre Reed's stats if you choose when deciding if he belongs in the Hall of Fame. They're sterling -- if a little outdated and discounted by time.

To both Largent and Warfield and other legendary receivers, Reed qualifies for Canton without even looking at the numbers.

"I saw the value Reed had to that team not only as a receiver, but also as a leader," Largent said. "There are some attributes you don't keep statistics of, but you become aware of as one player watching another play the game."

Reed is Largent's "total package" and Warfield's unequivocal embodiment of "football player."

"It's long overdue for Andre," Warfield said.

Reed is among the 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists who will learn Saturday whether they will be included in this year's induction class.

The star Buffalo Bills receiver has been a finalist five times. There's a belief this year offers his best chance yet. In previous years, he has shared the ballot with at least one receiver who took precedence because they were icons (Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin) or had been waiting longer (Art Monk).

Reed could become the sixth Hall of Famer from a team that went to four straight Super Bowls but failed to win one.

Already enshrined are Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Wide receiver James Lofton also is in Canton, but he didn't play on all four Super Bowl teams, and is more closely associated with the Green Bay Packers.

"I was a part of something special, and I'll take that to my grave," said Reed, 47. "We were a family. But the Hall of Fame, I don't know how I would react. It would be a validation of your work and what you did.

"Hopefully on Saturday I can be in that fraternity with them, but every year it's a tough ballot."

The other finalists include running backs Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis, receivers Tim Brown and Cris Carter, tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf, defensive ends Richard Dent, Charles Haley and Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol.

The Hall of Fame's 44-member selection committee will decide Saturday. The group includes NFL writers, one representative per franchise, 11 at-large voters and one from the Pro Football Writers Association. The committee will pare the group of 15 finalists down to 10 and then to five. At that point, a vote will be held, with 80 percent agreement needed for induction.

Up to five modern-era candidates may be elected each year. First-time nominees Faulk and Sanders are virtual locks to get inducted. That leaves three spots available for Reed and the other finalists to get in.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan will make the case for Reed's induction. It's a compelling one.

"He certainly had a great career, one of the great clutch receivers," Warfield said. "He was consistent, one Jim Kelly could always go to and always find open in a situation where they're trying to make a big play. He's an all-encompassing receiver."

Reed was third on the NFL's all-time receptions list when he retired after the 2000 season with 951 catches, behind only Rice and Carter. Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a superstar on a team that won four conference championships in a row.

"He was as dangerous a receiver as there is," former Bills quarterback Frank Reich said. "Versus press coverage, he was almost impossible to stop, coming off the ball. We always felt if they tried to play tight man on Andre it didn't matter who was guarding him. Any shutdown corner in the league in press coverage, Andre was going to beat him."

Reed was a force on the big stage. In 19 postseason games he had 85 receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns. He didn't score any Super Bowl touchdowns, but he did have 27 receptions for 323 yards.

In the Bills' epic comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 postseason, he made eight catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Reed is known as tremendously durable. He played 253 games, counting playoffs. He often darted into traffic to make plays in a crowd of defenders.

"No fear," Reich said.

Reed was one the greatest ever when it came to yards after the catch, second perhaps only to Rice.

[+] EnlargeAndre Reed
US PresswireAndre Reed, on playing for the Bills: "I was a part of something special, and I'll take that to my grave,"
"Most people that were on that team or played against us will remember how explosive he was in run-after-the-catch," said Reich, now Peyton Manning's position coach with the Indianapolis Colts. "He rivaled Jerry Rice in that category. Like Jerry Rice, his 40 time was good and probably not great. But there was nobody faster with the ball in his hands."

What put Reed's production in even greater context is a closer look at Buffalo's offense in the 1990s.

Many fans, even those who closely followed the Bills then, recall a prolific aerial attack. They remember Kelly running the no-huddle, K-Gun offense and slinging the ball all over the field to Reed and Lofton.

As Gaughan will point out again Saturday, the Bills ranked 17th in passing offense throughout Reed's career. In Reed's six prime seasons from 1988 through 1993, the Bills passed 51 percent of the time. By comparison, the Washington Redskins' famed "Hogs" offense passed 50 percent of the time when Monk was there.

Reed didn't have much receiving help either. He played with Lofton for four seasons, but Lofton was 33 years old when he joined Buffalo. In 1988, for instance, Reed's second and third receivers were Trumaine Johnson and Chris Burkett.

So far, the chief impediment for Reed's induction hasn't been his resume, but the other names on the ballot.

A wide receiver has been inducted each of the past four years, and in seven classes out of the past decade.

Gaughan noted there is room in Canton for at least two more receivers from the 1990s. A breakdown of membership shows seven receivers who predominantly played in the 1960s, four from 1970s, four from the 1980s and two from the 1990s.

Reed, Carter and Brown are the worthiest receiver candidates to join Rice and Irvin from that decade.

There's a velvet rope. This is Reed's fifth year as a finalist. Carter has been a finalist four times, Brown twice.

Reed apparently jockeyed to the head of the receiver line last year. In the selection process, Carter and Brown didn't make the top-10 stage, but Reed did.

That development has raised Reed's hopes for 2011.

"I'll be more nervous because of the way the voting went last year," Reed said. "I feel I'm more deserving of it. It was pretty close. The anticipation is enhanced this year."

But there are no guarantees. Several legendary receivers have waited longer than five years to get the Canton call. Don Maynard, John Stallworth and Monk got in on their eighth time as finalists. Lynn Swann was a finalist 14 times. The Seniors Committee was necessary to induct Bob Hayes 34 years after his last NFL game.

Reed admitted he has fantasized about the phone call too many times to count. He's even tried to research the moment.

"I've talked to a bunch of Hall of Famers who say when they get the call they're at a loss for words," said Reed, who plays a lot of golf and sells his own line of barbeque sauce in the San Diego area. "They don't know how to react.

"I'll just have to wait and see."

And hopefully not have to wait some more.

Stevie Johnson plans to make it fun again

December, 2, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A lot has happened since I started writing this Stevie Johnson story more than a week ago.

It looks nothing like what I intended, and yet it's about the same thing.

The Buffalo Bills receiver is a natural entertainer in shoulder pads. He comes from a musical family and was known as Stevie Styles at the University of Kentucky with rousing pregame poetry. Johnson projects on television. He has that innate ability to relate with an audience. He wants to move people, bring them joy.

Johnson was doing that a week ago. A colorful interview on Jim Rome's radio show included a freestyle rap that made him an immediate smash. Rome brought him back to appear on his television show. Johnson was on ESPN's "First Take." He was doing one-on-one interviews with outlets across the country.

[+] EnlargeSteve Johnson
Timothy T. Ludwig/US PresswireIt's been a whirlwind season for Stevie Johnson, who's on pace to break the Bills' single-season record for TD catches.
"I didn't really expect this much attention," Johnson told me last week at One Bills Drive. "I always knew I could produce anywhere as long as I got the opportunity, but how it's blowing up, I didn't see that coming."

His breakout season started the whirlwind. He was a 2008 seventh-round draft choice who had trouble getting on the field until this year, yet he's tied for third in the NFL with nine touchdown catches, two away from the club record. He had a streak of five games with a touchdown.

Johnson scored three touchdowns in a stunning comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11. His playfulness was revealed on his undershirt, lifting his jersey to reveal the hand-scrawled query "Why So Serious?" It was a reference to the Joker, and a tweak of former teammate Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco (aka Batman and Robin).

His stepfather, Andre Lewis, is a noted record producer in the Bay Area. So, using parlance to which he's well attuned, I asked Johnson how he prevents being a one-hit wonder.

"Continue being a student, knowing this isn't it," Johnson told me three days after the wild Bengals victory and four days before a perfectly thrown pass landed on the end zone turf, not in his hands for the winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Johnson's whirlwind turned tornadic. About an hour after he dropped what should've been a 40-yard touchdown in sudden death, Johnson tweeted his anguish in a message to God.

The assumption was that he was blaming God for making him drop the pass. Johnson clarified the next day, claiming he merely was making a rhetorical appeal.

Johnson's drop-and-tweet Sunday launched him into the media mainstream in a way he never wanted. Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel included Johnson jokes in their Monday night monologues. Johnson was a topic on "The View" and celebrity gossip site TMZ.com. He was the lead story on CNN.com's religion page.

I met up with Johnson again Wednesday at his locker stall. I'm no psychologist, but it appeared the incident was behind him. He was smiling again, confident he had adequately explained his poorly calculated tweet -- even though he still couldn't explain the drop.

As he beat Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and looked skyward over his left shoulder, he saw the ball on its way and could tell by the trajectory.

"Money," Johnson said, re-enacting the play in the locker room. He held his hands out for the imaginary ball. "I got this. It's over."

From there, he doesn't know how the ball didn't land into the palms of what Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips (he didn't get the "Why So Serious" reference, by the way) told me "were some of the strongest hands I've ever seen." The tip of the ball somehow glanced off Johnson's right upper arm and fell incomplete.

I wondered if Johnson knew the story of Jackie Smith, the Hall of Fame tight end who dropped a pass in the end zone against the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. The Dallas Cowboys had to kick a field goal and lost by four points.

Johnson said he wasn't familiar with Smith's tale, so I sent Johnson a link to a story about him. What struck Johnson most was that it was Smith's last play in the NFL.

Johnson will have more opportunities, including this year. With five games left, he's only two touchdown receptions from Bill Brooks' club record of 11.

"This Johnson boy has emerged," legendary Bills receiver Andre Reed said. "He catches the ball well in traffic. He finds seams in defenses. He's very confident about what he's doing and that's No. 1 what you have to have when you go out there. Plus, [Bills quarterback] Ryan Fitzpatrick is looking for him. Defenses are going to pay attention to him."

How amazing that a kid who didn't play football until he was a junior in high school and didn't play receiver until he got to college is on pace to score more touchdowns in a season for the Bills than Eric Moulds or Reed or James Lofton or Frank Lewis or Haven Moses or Elbert Dubenion.

When I mentioned that a week ago, I was more surprised at his reaction than I was at the fact he might break the record. It was almost as though he didn't realize how impressive the record would be.

"So you're saying, like, if I get these two touchdowns, I'll be the single-team leader in touchdowns? When you say Lofton, Reed and Moulds, that's huge. That's unbelievable," Johnson said.

"When I came into the season, I wasn't thinking about scoring 15 or 13 touchdowns or getting a record. I was just trying to fill a vacancy and be the guy next to Lee Evans to make plays."

There's a lot of aw-shucks in Johnson, and that's what makes him so easy to root for.

Phillips, the head coach at Kentucky who was Johnson's position coach there, explained how Johnson struggled in his transition from San Francisco to Lexington because he couldn't be with his future wife, Britney. She moved there to be with him, got a job, centered him.

"That says a lot about a young man who's going off to college," Phillips said. "He's a big-time family guy. He loves his daughter, loves his wife. From the day he got here, all he talked about was getting his [future] wife out here with him."

Johnson expressed a similar sentiment Wednesday, noting by the time he walked up to Britney in the kitchen after Sunday's heartbreaking defeat, he was all smiles -- because it was better than crying.

Why so serious?

"After looking at this season," Johnson said, "it's pretty evident: 'OK, Stevie. You probably can make some noise in this league. Just go out there next Sunday and do it again.' You can't be settled. I have to continue to prove to myself I can be with those guys."

Bills' 21-point road recovery worth a look

November, 22, 2010
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Nearly 17 years ago, the Buffalo Bills pulled off the greatest comeback in NFL history. That's not just my opinion. The Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Network have declared what transpired in January 1993 as the most epic rally the league has seen.

The Bills beat the Houston Oilers despite trailing by 32 points at halftime.

The stakes weren't nearly as high and the deficit not quite as deep Sunday. But the Bills pulled off a victory almost as astonishing in Paul Brown Stadium.

The Cincinnati Bengals led the Bills by 21 points early in the second quarter and 17 points at halftime. Then the Bills morphed into another team in the second half, scoring 35 unanswered points to turn a blowout defeat into a rout.

Some facts and figures pertaining to another epic Bills comeback:
  • Elias Sports Bureau notes it was the first time in NFL history a team at least seven games under .500 came back from a 21-point deficit to win on the road.
  • Also from Elias, the 18-point victory was the largest margin in NFL history by a team that trailed by at least 21 points.
  • It was the third time in franchise history the Bills won after falling behind by 21 points.
  • The 24 points Buffalo allowed in the second quarter were the third-most in club history. The 21 points Buffalo scored in the fourth quarter were sixth-most.
  • For the ninth time in Bills history, they had a 300-yard passer (Ryan Fitzpatrick), 100-yard receiver (Steve Johnson) and a 100-yard running back (Fred Jackson).
  • For only the fifth time, a Bills quarterback has two four-TD games in one season. Jim Kelly did it three times, Joe Ferguson once.
  • Buffalo's 49 points were their second-most of the past 19 years.
  • The last seven times the Bills have scored at least 40 points, it has happened on the road.
  • Strange stat to me: The Bengals haven't beaten the Bills since 1988.
  • Another strange stat: Even with all the great receivers Buffalo has had (Andre Reed, James Lofton, Jerry Butler, Eric Moulds), Johnson's three touchdown receptions put him only two behind the club record for most in a season. Bill Brooks had 11 in 1995.

"There's no quit in this team," Fitzpatrick said. "You really saw that in the second half. When you get that first win, then you start learning how to win, and everything starts falling into place. What a great team effort."

You pick: Moss greatest deep threat ever?

September, 8, 2010
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It was Tom Brady's turn to throw bouquets at Randy Moss.

On Monday, Moss said he felt unwanted and underappreciated by the New England Patriots. In the past 48 hours, coaches and teammates have been heaping praise on him.

The man who will benefit most directly from a happy Moss had his say Wednesday.

"There's only one Randy Moss that would ever play this game," Brady said. "He's probably the greatest downfield receiver in the history of the NFL.

"I mean, those catches that he makes when he runs 65 yards down the field and you throw it and he just runs and catches it. That's impossible to do. I've asked him 'How do you do that?' And he says 'I don't know, man. I've been doing it for a long time.' He has some special skills that nobody is really gifted with."

Greatest downfield threat in NFL history? That's quite a statement.

With that in mind, I wanted to open the floor for a discussion on the subject in the comments section below.

Here are some alternatives who popped into my head.
  • Jerry Rice: automatically comes to mind in any receiver debate.
  • Warren Wells: John Madden calls him one of the greatest players he coached. In 1969, Wells averaged 26.8 yards per catch with 14 touchdowns on only 42 catches.
  • James Lofton: averaged over 20 yards a catch five times in his Hall of Fame career.
  • Bob Hayes: Olympic gold-medal sprinter revolutionized the game. He averaged 26.1 yards a catch in 1970 and is said to have been the reason bump-and-run coverage came to be.
  • Willie Gault: Olympic-caliber sprinter averaged 20.0 yards a catch for his career.
  • Harold Carmichael: at 6-foot-8, the four-time Pro Bowler was a basketball player in cleats.

Best of the AFC East teams ...
  • Paul Warfield, Dolphins: averaged a franchise-record 21.5 yards a reception in five seasons.
  • Wesley Walker, Jets: averaged more than 20 yards a catch eight times, twice as many seasons as Don Maynard did with Joe Namath slinging it.
  • Stanley Morgan, Patriots: first six NFL seasons had averages of 21.1, 24.1, 22.8, 22.0 and 23.4 yards.
  • Lee Evans, Bills: aside from Lofton, biggest deep threat in Buffalo of the past 20 years even if the numbers don't show it.

Again, this isn't a definitive list. I've done this off the top of my head to get us going. Maybe Moss is the greatest deep threat of all-time. Maybe not. Let's talk about it.

Canton awaits Andre Reed eventually

August, 6, 2010
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Andre Reed knew this wasn't going to be the year he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were eligible for the first time, and both were no-brainers. Space is limited in each class, and the voters weren't going to induct two receivers.

But Reed views 2010 as a step in the right direction. The legendary Buffalo Bills receiver won't get into the Hall of Fame this weekend, but he's walking up the front steps.

[+] EnlargeAndre Reed
US PresswireAndre Reed finished his playing career with 951 receptions.
Reed this year finished among the 17 semifinalists a fourth time. Although the board of selectors didn't vote to enshrine him this year, he finished in the top 10, something he'd never done before.

"My phone was blowing up when we got to the final 10," Reed recalled of the selection process, which concludes Super Bowl weekend. "I hadn't gotten to the final 10 yet. You're only a stone's throw away then."

He also received more votes than Cris Carter for the first time, indicating Reed's candidacy is on the rise.

Reed's case is an interesting one that has been explored on this blog before. When the seven-time Pro Bowler retired in 2000, he ranked third all-time with 951 receptions. He has slid to eighth and probably will drop out of the top 10 this year. Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Hines Ward are closing in.

"That's just how it is," Reed said. "A lot of guys are going to have a lot of catches. The game has changed. Now it's pass to set up the run. Before it was run to set up the pass. But maybe catches won't be as much of a factor. It'll be how many championships, how many times did you go to the Super Bowl? It'll be more team-oriented because anybody can catch 800 balls nowadays.

"In 1989, I caught 88 balls. That was a career year. These guys are catching 100 balls left and right now. Wes Welker had 100 balls three years in a row. Is Wes Welker going to be a Hall of Famer? I don't know. It's an accomplishment to catch 100 balls a year, but ...

"Keyshawn Johnson caught 800 balls, but nobody really talks about him. Great receiver, but do you put him in? Steve Smith? Keenan McCardell? Those guys are on the wayside."

Reed was the best receiver on a team that won an unprecedented four consecutive conference titles. The Bills couldn't manage to win one Super Bowl, but that hasn't barred Reed's teammates from the Hall of Fame.

Twenty years from now there likely will be more inductees from the Bills of the 1990s than the New England Patriots of the 2000s. Already in are quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. So is James Lofton, who spent four seasons with Buffalo.

"I played in the best era of wide receivers ever, if you ask me," Reed said. "All the guys that are in my era are Hall of Famers. The next group of guys will be Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss.

"They'll be arguing about those guys, but it'll be a different argument because of how the game has evolved."

While folks are formulating those arguments, Reed is content to wait his turn.

"I'm humbled by it," he said. "I don't trip and say 'Aw, man!' If it's going to happen, it's not on my time. It's on somebody else's.

"My friends and family are more upset about it that I am. When it's my time, it's my time."

Best Bills Team Ever: 1990

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, C Kent Hull, DE Bruce Smith, OLB Cornelius Bennett, OLB Darryl Talley, ILB Shane Conlan, CB Nate Odomes, ST Steve Tasker.

[+] EnlargeKelly
US PresswireJim Kelly threw 24 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions in 1990.
Analysis: The Buffalo Bills went to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s and lost them all.

Buffalo's best shot was its first, and not merely because it came down to a last-second field goal attempt that went wide right. That squad was its most complete on both sides of the ball.

The 1990 Bills are known as one of the best teams not to win the Super Bowl. Their 13-3 record is tied for the best in franchise history. They ranked first in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense. Kelly led the NFL in passer rating, Thomas led in yards from scrimmage and Smith was voted defensive player of the year.

The Bills rolled through the regular season. They went undefeated at home and seemed to be surging down the homestretch. They outscored their first two playoff opponents 95-37, but went up against the NFL's best defense when they met the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

The Bills led the Giants by nine points in the second quarter and held a two-point lead in the fourth quarter. But the Bills trailed by a point when Scott Norwood lined up from 47 yards away for what would have brought Buffalo its first major championship. The kick sailed wide of the upright.

Most impressive win: The Los Angeles Raiders went into the AFC Championship Game at Rich Stadium with only four losses while allowing an average of 16.4 points. The Bills annihilated the Raiders 51-3 with the help of six interceptions. The score was 41-3 at halftime.

Norwood not to blame: Did Norwood really choke? To claim he did is to suggest a successful kick was probable. The fact is, Norwood never had made a field goal longer than 49 yards in his six NFL seasons. That meant 47 yards was about the limit of his range. He made 6 of 10 attempts from 40-plus yards that season. The fateful attempt also was on grass, a surface he was kicking on for only the fourth time.

Honorable mention

1964: The Bills won their first of back-to-back AFL championships with a squad that ranked first in total offense and defense. They outscored opponents by an average of 11 points a game.

1991: The Bills rebounded from their "Wide Right" heartbreak, repeating their 13-3 record and reaching the Super Bowl again. They scored at least 34 points nine times.

1993: Buffalo won the AFC championship a fourth straight time. The offense ranked sixth in total yards, while the defense ranked fifth in yards allowed and had a league-high 47 takeaways.

The Big Question: Evans wasted in Buffalo?

May, 18, 2010
5/18/10
1:00
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Have receiver Lee Evans' abilities been squandered in Buffalo?


AP Photo/Mike GrollBills receiver Lee Evans hasn't lived up to his huge contract in Buffalo.
Two summers ago, the Buffalo Bills gave Lee Evans the third-richest contract for any receiver. The four-year extension was worth $37.25 million, with $18.25 million in guarantees. The deal put Evans behind only Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald financially.

The gesture was impressive, a sign of commitment from the Bills to a player on the rise. But the money hasn't been well-spent.

On another team, Evans would be worthy of the handsome investment. He has game-breaking speed and fantastic hands. He should own some dazzling stats.

Yet he never has been to a Pro Bowl, never has put together consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, never has cracked double-digit touchdowns -- all the things you'd expect from an elite receiver making elite money.

Evans, the 13th overall pick in 2004, flickered greatness. He was an immediate deep threat, scoring nine touchdowns and averaging 17.6 yards a catch as a rookie with Drew Bledsoe. Evans hasn't matched those numbers since, enduring a long list of offensive coordinators and substandard quarterbacks -- from J.P. Losman to Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Evans has topped 63 receptions once, when he established career highs with 82 catches for 1,292 yards in 2006.

Pro-Football-Refernce.com has a feature that compares players whose careers were "of similar quality and shape."

Through three seasons, Evans was compared to the likes of Andre Rison, Ernest Givens, Andre Johnson and James Lofton.

Six seasons into Evans' career, he's grouped with Ron Shanklin, Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, James Scott and Steve Watson.

Evans still has time to make something of his career, but his time in Buffalo has generally been a waste.

Three and Out: Buffalo Bills

August, 22, 2009
8/22/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Three quick hits on the Buffalo Bills:

1. The offense's success will rely more on the offensive line than Terrell Owens.

Owens has received a lion's share of the attention. Bills fans are fascinated with the future Hall of Famer. They're not used to players with Owens' credentials showing up as free agents. His presence will help receiver Lee Evans immensely, perhaps unleashing offensive elements not seen since Jim Kelly was throwing to Andre Reed and James Lofton. But their new no-huddle offense won't work if the line doesn't come together in a hurry. All five projected starting linemen will be in different positions from last year. Left tackle Langston Walker has been uninspiring in camp and through two preseason games. Injury-prone quarterback Trent Edwards can't exploit his weapons if he's running for his life -- or leaning on crutches.

Football Outsiders
The Football Outsiders use their unique brand of analysis to break down each of the league's 32 teams.
Buffalo Bills

2. Buffalo should be fine at running back while Marshawn Lynch is suspended.

Not many teams can lose a Pro Bowl back and still maintain its options. Lynch, one of the hardest runners around, will miss the first three games because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for various misdeeds. The Bills have reinforcements. I wouldn't be surprised to find Fred Jackson among the league total-yardage leaders heading into Week 4. Jackson is an underrated back who also excels in the passing game. Behind him is Dominic Rhodes, who kept the Indianapolis Colts' afloat last year while Joseph Addai was sidelined. Of course, Jackson's and Rhodes' production will depend on the offensive line's ability to open holes. But whatever the Bills' record is after three games, we likely won't be saying "Everything would be different if Lynch hadn't been suspended."

3. Will the defensive line be a difference maker?

The Bills feature a formidable defensive tackle in Marcus Stroud, but they still were abysmal up front last year in their 4-3 alignment. They ranked 14th in team defense, but 22nd against the run. The only teams to record fewer sacks were the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. But the Bills think they can improve their pass rush dramatically with the help of a healthy Aaron Schobel and rookie Aaron Maybin. Schobel, a two-time Pro Bowler, missed 11 games with a foot injury. Maybin, the 11th overall draft pick, missed camp and three preseason games because of contract issues. If either of those defensive ends make an impact -- don't hold your breath on the yearling Maybin finding his stride this year -- and the Bills can get anything that resembles first-round value out of defensive tackle John McCargo, their D-line rankings could rise big-time.

For this weekend, Canton is South Buffalo

August, 9, 2009
8/09/09
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US Presswire
Bills legends Ralph Wilson Jr. and Bruce Smith were inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night.


CANTON, Ohio -- There was little doubt what anyone who stepped to the microphone needed to do to get a reaction from the crowd at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night in Fawcett Stadium.

Roger Staubach is no dummy. When he wanted to generate more applause for Bob Hayes' family, he announced they were from Buffalo. They aren't, but Staubach knew his audience.

Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs executive who spoke for the late Derrick Thomas, made it a point to remind everyone Marty Schottenheimer played for the Buffalo Bills back in the day. Schottenheimer, already an emotional mess from listening to the memories of the great linebacker, trembled even more when the fans cheered.
2009 Hall of Fame Induction
" Enshrinement Zoom Gallery
" HOF Speech Transcripts
" Ceremony has Bills flavor

And when Rich Eisen tried to tell some jokes about Rod Woodson and heard crickets, he should have just pumped his fist into the air and screamed "Buffalo!" Then he would have gotten a response. A big one.

Canton is the new South Buffalo this weekend.

Fans made the four-hour drive to watch two more of their Bills -- founder Ralph Wilson Jr. and defensive end Bruce Smith -- get inducted.

On Sunday night, the current Bills will play the Tennessee Titans in the annual Hall of Fame Game. It will be the Bills debut for future Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens.

Of the 12,695 fans in attendance Saturday night, a third reportedly hailed from the 716 area code.
AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Buffalo fans were in full force at Saturday's Hall of Fame inductions.

Not even a steady afternoon rain would deter them. Diehards wearing jerseys of almost every former Bills star you could imagine streamed into town to hear Wilson and Smith deliver speeches in their yellow jackets.

"Certainly feels like a home game," Smith said with a smile after he walked to the lectern. Calls of "Bruuuuuuuuuce" cascaded from the concrete bleachers.

Wilson and Smith bookended the evening. Wilson's presenter, ESPN's Chris Berman, played to the crowd by asking them to recite their favorite catchphrase with him: "No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills."

After Randall McDaniel, Hayes, Woodson and Thomas were honored, Smith went last.

His presenter, former Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, asked all the Bills who played on those Super Bowl teams to stand. Of course, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton and Marv Levy were on the stage. Mixed among the crowd were Darryl Talley, Andre Reed, Steve Tasker, Kent Hull, Will Wolford and others.

Bills fans, who haven't seen their team in the playoffs since the 1999 season, wistfully cheered each name as it was announced.

Smith's speech was wonderfully paced. He paid homage to his family and his mentors. He thanked the Washington Redskins and his agent. He mentioned each of his doctors by name.

Then, about 12 minutes into his speech, when he was supposed to be wrapping it up, he really got started, heaping praise on Buffalo.

"What a ride it was," Smith said before ticking off the accomplishments: four straight AFC titles, the K-Gun offense, the Comeback Game.

"And the record-breaking attendance set by the greatest fans in the NFL," Smith said.

Fawcett Stadium erupted.

"Thurman Thomas, you're undoubtedly the most complete running back of our era," Smith said while lauding his former mates. "My life would be a little less right if I didn't have you to laugh and joke with.

"P.S. I hid your helmet."

Fawcett Stadium erupted again. Without so many Bills fans in attendance, the crickets probably would have resumed chirping.

Patriot champs won't catch Bills in Canton

August, 8, 2009
8/08/09
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CANTON, Ohio -- The Buffalo Bills of the 1990s, those woebegone losers of four straight Super Bowls, are forming a squadron of Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Ron Vesely/Getty Images
Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas are two of five Bills from the 1990s who are Hall of Famers.

Defensive end Bruce Smith will be inducted Saturday night, giving those Super Bowl teams five representatives so far. Previously minted were quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton and head coach Marv Levy.

Wide receiver Andre Reed likely will join them (after a long wait). With enough support, special-teams stalwart Steve Tasker eventually could get in, too.

"It really shows you that people understand what we did, what we accomplished," Kelly said Friday at the McKinley Hotel. "What we accomplished is amazing."

Compare that haul with other clubs that won multiple Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers won four in the 1970s and have sent 10, and some critics say that's too many.

In January, I noted how relatively few players from the New England Patriots' three championship squads will get in. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are locks. Who's a shoo-in after that?

Rodney Harrison's candidacy will be debated. He was a great player, but only six-full time safeties ever have made it into Canton. Maybe Corey Dillon, Richard Seymour or Ty Law has an outside shot. Adam Vinatieri's heroics might not be enough. Only one kicker, Jan Stenerud, has been inducted.

No matter how much Patriot Nation loves Tedy Bruschi, he's not getting in.

Randy Moss and Junior Seau will get inducted, but they didn't play on any of New England's title teams.

"There's so much emphasis on winning Super Bowls, but it's what it takes to get there, too," Kelly said. "Sure, it's easy for me to say that because I didn't win one, but we didn't take the easy road. We took the long road many times, including the Comeback Game when Frank [Reich] was quarterback.

"There's no doubt more people are admiring what we accomplished during those days. They start really saying 'Wow' that we were able to get back there, especially since we lost. It would have been easy for us to not quite work as hard next time, to say 'Maybe it wasn't meant to be' after the second year and then the third year and then being able to do it four years in a row. Sometimes it amazes myself that we were able to keep together and pull together.

"For us, just getting over that one hump ... People talk about the dynasty of the Patriots," Kelly said. "Remember, they won two Super Bowls by a last-second kick. If we had one go through, who knows what would have happened?"

Tasker on HOF: 'I can't say I deserve it'

August, 6, 2009
8/06/09
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Two more Buffalo Bills are entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. The club's only owner, Ralph Wilson, and all-time sacks leader Bruce Smith will have their busts unveiled Saturday in Canton.
Getty Images
Steve Tasker went to seven Pro Bowls as a special-teams ace.

What other Bills from those Super Bowl years deserve inclusion? Andre Reed is an obvious response. His candidacy was debated on this blog when he was passed over again this year.

Now, let us consider Steve Tasker.

His listed position when he played from 1985 through 1997 was wide receiver. He finished with 51 receptions for 779 yards and nine touchdowns. That's one serviceable season's worth of numbers spread out over 13 years.

How Tasker contributed, however, couldn't be illustrated with stats. The 5-foot-9 missile was such an explosive special-teams player that the NFL created a position so it could send him to the Pro Bowl. He went seven times.

"Without a doubt, the greatest special-teams guy ever," said New York Jets linebacker Larry Izzo, who has been the special-teams selection to three Pro Bowls -- once for the Miami Dolphins and twice for the New England Patriots. "Steve Tasker revolutionized the game.

"We still watch tapes of him. [Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff] will throw on a clip of him as a gunner or on a kickoff team or blocking punts. You name it. He was a very unique player to be a player that put that kind of speed that he had and also the aggressiveness and style he played with."

I had the chance to speak with Tasker this week for a Smith retrospective that will run Friday. At the end of our talk, I asked Tasker if he thought he would get into the Hall of Fame.

"I probably will get considered again and probably won't get in again," Tasker said. "That's fine."

Special-teamers can't get into the Hall of Fame. Only one kicker, Jan Stenerud, is in. Ray Guy, considered the greatest punter of all-time, has been a finalist seven times but can't get voted into Canton. (I wrote a post in February about kickers and the Hall of Fame.)

"If anybody deserves to go into the Hall of Fame as a special-teams player, it's Steve Tasker," Izzo said.

What I found refreshing in listening to Tasker talk about his Hall of Fame prospects was his humility. So often when a Hall of Fame's latest induction class has been announced we hear the snubbed whine about not getting honored.

Tasker won't be one of those.

"It's an honor to be considered," Tasker said. "It's awesome I'm even in the conversation.

"When my friends go in, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson ... You watch them get inducted and there's no doubt any of them deserve to be there. It's hard for me to sit there and say 'You know what? I belong in there.' I can't sit there and say that. If the voters vote me in, I would be thrilled. But I can't say I deserve it."

The NFL Network compiled a list of the top 10 players not in the Hall of Fame. Tasker made the list. Reed did not.

The list also included Ken Anderson, Cris Carter, Bob Hayes, Alex Karras, Jerry Kramer, Jim Marshall, Ken Stabler, Derrick Thomas and Ricky Watters. Hayes and Thomas are going in this year. Carter's induction will happen soon.

"Every player who ever put on a helmet would like to be in the Hall of Fame," Tasker said. "Who wouldn't?

"But I enjoyed my career so much. I was on a great team. I don't get caught up in it too much because -- Hall of Fame or not -- I enjoyed every bit of it. I don't feel slighted at all because I didn't make the Hall of Fame. I just feel blessed to have been a part of the NFL."

Tasker's ego never would allow him to say he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

What do you think?

Does Doug Flutie belong in the Pro Hall of Fame?

August, 5, 2009
8/05/09
3:25
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Two more Buffalo Bills will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

  Flutie

Defensive end Bruce Smith and owner Ralph Wilson will join an honor roll that already includes Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, O.J. Simpson, Joe DeLamielleure, Billy Shaw and Marv Levy.

There has been plenty of debate about a couple of other Bills -- Andre Reed and Steve Tasker -- who might deserve inclusion.

Pod Vader (I can't believe I just typed that) asserts another name should be considered: Doug Flutie.

That's right, Bills fans. One of the most polarizing players in team history was discussed for a bust in Canton, Ohio, on ESPN's "Football Today" podcast Wednesday.

Pod Vader explains his nomination by stating it's called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Flutie's gaudy USFL and CFL numbers should be considered. And then there was Flutie's dropkick for the New England Patriots.

Podcast host Jeremy Green had fellow Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas propose nominees for future Hall of Fame classes. Other names broached: Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson and Rickey Jackson.

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