NFC West: James Lofton


While Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were debating Terrell Owens' alleged diva tendencies in the video above, I was revisiting notes from our 2008 package on all-time great NFL receivers.

Owens ranked ninth on the list even though our seven panelists -- Hall of Famer Raymond Berry, former Green Bay Packers receiver and longtime scout Boyd Dowler, longtime coach/executive Mike Holmgren, Hall of Fame defensive back Ken Houston, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, former receiver Keyshawn Johnson and Packers general manager Ted Thompson -- were not unanimous in their support.

Owens, released by the Seattle Seahawks this week, would be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2017 class unless he plays this season. He has Hall of Fame numbers across the board: sixth in receptions, second in receiving yards, second in receiving touchdowns.

A sampling of what our panelists said back in 2008:
  • Dowler: "Terrell Owens drops too many passes. He probably drops too many passes to be on this list, but he makes so many that are so good, it's incredible. The ones he drops, he comes right back. I can't eliminate him. He is so big and so strong. You talk about how the guy has to be tough. Well, he is the epitome is toughness. To play when you are hurt and don't miss games, it isn't good enough to just go out there. If you go out there and play, you have to play the same. Some guys are capable of doing that. Some guys are not. Coach Lombardi used to tell us some guys can't play with a hang-nail. Some can play with a broken leg."
  • Houston: "Paul Warfield was a tough guy. Lance Alworth was a tough guy. Quiet as he was, he took a lot of beatings for the balls he caught. And then you go with Charley Taylor, I thought was extremely tough. James Lofton was, I like to say, a mean receiver. He would fight you. He'd catch it and he took quite a few hits before he got the ball. Back then, you couldn't run across the middle and catch the ball without fighting your way across the middle first. And I guess the guy that I would put in that category from today's receivers is Terrell Owens. To me, if I had to pick a receiver out of today's guys, I'd pick him over Randy Moss because he's tough. Say what you want to about him, he will go across and catch the ball. It's probably going to end his career because of it, but I've seen Randy and he's great -- I love to watch Randy Moss -- but I've seen him kind of deny some passes across the middle where he just didn't want to go in there and catch those kinds of balls. And so to me, that guy is a throwback, Terrell Owens."
  • Moon: "Bigger defensive backs can't stay with him because of his quickness. Smaller defensive backs can't stay with him because of his strength. He can just bully them around. And once he catches the football, he is so dangerous afterwards because he is so big and he knows how to run with the football after the catch. And again, he's been in three different offenses with San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas and he still continues to put up numbers. Some guys, you can say they are system guys. Even though he has kind of been in the same system two of those places, still, when you change teams, it can be a little bit difficult if you are not a great player."

That was a sampling. I'm sure we'll be revisiting this one when Owens finally does become eligible for the Hall.
Ed from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., thinks the St. Louis Rams have sufficient draft needs to stand pat at No. 6 and select a player that falls to them. He thinks there's no reason to panic if Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is not available.

"There are two first-rounders to use for the next two years, and free agency might be kinder to the Rams next season," Ed writes. "This will take some time to get right."

Mike Sando: Offensive players currently on the Rams' roster combined for 10 touchdowns last season. Marshawn Lynch (13) and Beanie Wells (10) had at least that many for division rivals. Finding players to score touchdowns has to be the Rams' top priority as they help Sam Bradford and, of course, win games.

Quite a few projections suggest that Blackmon and Alabama running back Trent Richardson will not last past the fifth pick. In that case, we're seeing LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne listed as a logical Rams choice based more on value than need.

Adding Claiborne would not help Bradford directly. But the draft does go beyond the sixth overall pick. The Rams also hold the 33rd and 39th choices. They could use those second-round choices to trade up into the first round for a shot at a wide receiver. They could even trade one of the second-rounders for a 2013 first, giving them three next year.

Teams have drafted eight receivers from 30th through 42nd since 2008, a range that approximates where the Rams are scheduled to pick. The eight: Arrelious Benn, Kenny Britt, Brian Robiskie, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy and Eddie Royal.

Blackmon would not be a sure bet at No. 6, but the list of receivers drafted in that slot shows the potential value. James Lofton (1978), Tim Brown (1988) and Torry Holt (1999) were the last three receivers taken sixth until the Atlanta Falcons, led in part by new Rams general manager Les Snead, selected Julio Jones in that slot last year.


Charles from Atascadero, Calif., wants to know which pick the San Francisco 49ers received for safety Taylor Mays, who was traded during training camp last offseason.

Mike Sando: The 49ers will receive a 2013 seventh-round choice. That is why there was no additional pick for San Francisco when the 2012 draft order came out.


Jeff from Las Vegas thinks the Seattle Seahawks should have been ranked higher than 22nd in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings. He points to their defense, running game and an upgraded quarterback situation in suggesting the Seahawks can challenge the 49ers for the NFC West title and possibly earn a wild-card playoff berth.

Mike Sando: I ranked Seattle higher than 22nd, but the Seahawks have quite a bit to prove. Matt Flynn offers hope, but no guarantees. Can he produce over a full season? Is he durable? Will offensive linemen Russell Okung, John Moffitt and/or James Carpenter be healthy enough to contribute? What about Sidney Rice?

These are subjects we can discuss in greater detail Wednesday when following up the item soliciting opinions on which team is best positioned to overtake the 49ers.

I'm expecting to hear from Arizona Cardinals fans then as well, if not in the mailbag (been quiet on the Cardinals front recently, but I know you're out there).

What precedent says about Randy Moss

March, 21, 2012
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The San Francisco 49ers cannot be sure what they'll get from Randy Moss in 2012.

Expectations are naturally low after Moss, 35, produced sparingly for three teams in 2010 before sitting out the 2011 season.

But what does history tell us?

With an assist from Pro Football Reference, I've put together a list of 20 productive seasons from receivers age 35 or older, ranked by most receiving yardage.

Jerry Rice was 35 when he suffered a career-threatening knee injury early in the 1997 season. He returned to catch 82 passes for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns the following season.

Rice shows up on the chart three times, most recently in 2002, when he had 92 receptions for 1,211 yards at age 40.

Rice is a special case, obviously. He was also less dependent than Moss on raw speed, which tends to be fleeting as players get older.

The odds are stacked against Moss, but other 35-and-up receivers have occasionally produced at a high level.

The case for Rice as the greatest ever

February, 3, 2010
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RiceGeorge Rose/Getty ImagesWide receiver Jerry Rice retired with his name all over the National Football League record book.
MIAMI -- Anyone advocating Jerry Rice as the greatest player in NFL history can bury the opposition in statistics.

Rice averaged 1,145 yards receiving and more than 10 total touchdowns per season -- for 20 NFL seasons.

Rice caught 69 touchdown passes -- more than the career totals for Art Monk, Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner, John Stallworth and numerous other Hall of Fame receivers -- during a five-season span ending in 1993. Rice then caught 28 touchdown passes over the next two seasons, more than half the career total for Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.

He retired holding NFL records for:

  • Touchdowns (208), receiving TDs (197), receiving TDs in a season (22), consecutive games with a TD reception (13), TDs in Super Bowls (8), receiving TDs in a single Super Bowl (3) and postseason TDs (22).
  • Receptions (1,549), consecutive games with a reception (274), receptions in Super Bowls (33) and postseason receptions (151).
  • Receiving yards (22,895), receiving yards in a season (1,848), receiving yards in Super Bowls (589), receiving yards in a Super Bowl (215), postseason receiving yards (2,245) and seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving (14).

Rice, whose selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a formality Saturday, probably enjoyed the greatest NFL career. He was probably the greatest wide receiver despite some arguments for Don Hutson. But was he the greatest player, period?

"Oh, yeah," Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said almost reflexively during Super Bowl media day.

Woodson, perhaps mindful of history as a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, then showed he could still backpedal a bit.

Brown
Getty ImagesWhen talking about the greatest players ever, Jim Brown needs to be in the conversation.
"I mean, he is definitely up there," he said. "I don't think one player is the greatest player ever, but he is in that water-cooler conversation. Now, if you say greatest receiver, absolutely. But the greatest player, to make him the most dominant player ever in NFL history or just say pro football history, that is a profound statement. But I can say that he will be in that argument time in and time out."

The conversation might include Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Sammy Baugh, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Hutson, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders among players no longer active. And that list is probably shortchanging defensive greats such as Deacon Jones and Dick Butkus.

But Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest defensive player of the current era, didn't hesitate in singling out Rice.

"I don't know what argument you are going to make why he is not," Lewis said.

And that might be what separates Rice from the rest. There really isn't a great case against him. No one played at such a high level for as long with such grace.

"Jerry Rice doesn't rank in the all-time greats," said Saints safety Darren Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowl choice and member of the 2000s All-Decade team. "He is the greatest receiver and maybe the greatest football player of all time."

Maybe?

"I can't comment on eras that I didn't perform in," retired cornerback Deion Sanders said, "but the era I performed in, Jerry Rice is the best football player to play in that era."

On what grounds beyond the numbers?

"Work ethic, precision, routes, physical toughness, awareness, that hunger," Sanders said. "Jerry stayed hungry until the day he retired."

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