AFC East: Michael Irvin
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 They're sterling -- if a little outdated and discounted by time.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.
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.
Brandon Marshall and Brian Hartline offered differing viewpoints Tuesday on Miami sports-radio station WQAM.
The Dolphins are 18th in the waiver order, meaning 17 teams would need to pass on Moss before they had a chance to get him.
"I don't know what we'll do, but I welcome him with open arms," Marshall said, "and I think that'd be good to open things up for us receivers: Brian Hartline, [Davone Bess] and myself.
"He brings something special to a team, and he's one of the best. I think we have such a young segment, group that he can teach us how to be pros and how to get better. So I would love to have him."
Hartline obviously disagrees with Marshall's take on Moss. Hartline is the receiver who would be watching from the sideline if Moss joined the Dolphins.
"Overall, as a football fan, I would say no" to Moss, Hartline told WQAM host Gino Torretta, the Heisman Trophy quarterback. "Maybe a lot of Miami people might not like that, but if you look at our team ... I don't think he's the part we're missing.
"He can make big plays and warrant coverage. If he comes in, all you're going to look at all game is Cover 2. You're going to have Brandon on one side, probably Randy on the other, and you're going to have two high safeties the entire game and Ricky [Williams] and Ronnie [Brown] should eat everybody alive. That'd be the assumption.
"But, for us, if you think about longevity, you want to win now ... I don't think that an addition of a Randy Moss necessarily changes our team a whole lot. If we are missing a piece, that's not the piece we're missing."
He just has to wait his turn.
For the fourth time, the legendary Buffalo Bills receiver was a semifinalist who didn't make the cut. Receiver Jerry Rice, running backs Emmitt Smith and Floyd Little, guard Russ Grimm, defensive tackle John Randle, linebacker Rickey Jackson and cornerback and esteemed coach Dick LeBeau were selected Saturday for the class of 2010.
Nobody expected Reed to be honored with Rice and Smith on the ballot for the first time. That left two fewer spots available for the others.
But there were some interesting developments in this year's selection process that bode well for Reed's candidacy in 2011.
There had been a belief among Hall of Fame voters Cris Carter must be inducted before Reed could make it. But for the first time, Reed finished ahead of Carter in the process.
When the list of 15 semifinalists was pared down to 10, Carter and Tim Brown (in his first year of eligibility) didn't advance. Reed did after failing to make the final 10 last year.
And as Reed's career numbers continue to slide down the all-time list each season -- a tight end passed him this year, and Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Hines Ward probably will knock him out of the top 10 next year -- there was concern Reed's credentials would dim.
Maybe that won't be the case.
Reed caught 951 passes for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. He went to four straight Super Bowls. Had the Bills won one of them, the chances for his induction would be moot. He'd probably already be in.
"It's not just about how many you caught, but when you caught them," Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network's induction show. "To go to four Super Bowls, that means all of your catches meant something. So hopefully he will be here one day."
Ochocinco sat down with the NFL Network after Pro Bowl practice Wednesday. On the panel were host Rich Eisen and analysts Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin.
Revis' name was broached almost immediately.
"We have a guy that's had one great season, and we want to label him a shutdown corner," Ochocino said.
Sanders interrupted, "He is that, Chad."
"Child, please," Ochocinco replied. "When you came into the game, you did it over a period of time. He's got to put in years."
Ochocinco's contention was that the phrase "shutdown corner" can't be earned in one season. He had support from Irvin, but was antagonized by Sanders throughout the interview.
"He had a good game," Ochocinco said.
"Two of them," Sanders added with a smile.
"Child, please, on that first game," said Ochocinco, who was pulled at halftime along with the Bengals other top players.
"He's good, but the people around him also make him good. Nobody talks about that front line, putting pressure on the quarterback with in two seconds where that ball's got to come out of there.
Eisen asked Ochocinco for his thoughts about the one-on-one interview Sanders did with Revis before the Jets played the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs. In a name-association drill, Revis called Randy Moss and Terrell Owens slouches.
Ochocinco looked astonished.
"Is he for real?" Ochocinco said.
Six days in, they're reportedly going to look at another arm to come in and compete.
That should worry Dolfans. Their team has taken a quarterback in the second round of the past two drafts.
Even more disconcerting is that the Dolphins might be thinking about signing Quincy Carter, who hasn't played an NFL down since 2004 because of drugs.
Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin reported Wednesday on his radio show in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that the Dolphins will give Carter a workout Friday in Davie, Fla. Irvin has been a mentor to Carter, who will turn 31 in October.
"I see Ricky Williams playing again," Carter told the Palm Beach Post before checking into a South Florida rehab facility in December. "I only failed one test. Ricky failed about five or six."
Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells developed a fondness for Carter when they worked together in Dallas. Parcells inherited Carter in 2003. Carter won the starting job over Chad Hutchinson and guided the Cowboys to a 10-win season and the playoffs.
But Carter was gone the next training camp because of a failed drug test. The New York Jets picked him up. He started three games, completed 60 percent of his passes and threw three TDs with one interception.
Then -- poof -- out of the NFL.
Carter lasted one month in the Canadian Football League. He was arrested for marijuana possession in Dallas in 2006. He was arrested for possession again while playing last year for the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, an arenafootball2 squad.
"His compulsion to smoke was more important than his contract and his career," another confidante, Hollywood Henderson, told the Palm Beach Post.
Carter completed his rehab and transitioned into a halfway house not far from the Dolphins complex in Davie, Fla. His goal when he entered treatment was to reclaim his NFL career.
"I need to work on myself and I also want to get back into the NFL," Carter said in December. "Ultimately, I want to begin a new life and do the right thing -- have joy in life rather than dragging myself down by smoking."
Parcells might be ready to give him his shot.