NFC West: Wayne Chrebet

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks parted with one of the best slot receivers in franchise history when Bobby Engram departed this offseason. They might have gained one of the best in the league when they signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh from the Bengals.

Jets coach Rex Ryan, who faced Houshmandzadeh twice per season as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, shared his thoughts on Seattle's newest receiver Tuesday during the AFC coaches' breakfast at the NFL owners' meeting.

Ryan: "He's a great player, one of the top slot receivers in football. ... He's bigger than most slots, so he is unusual that way. It's funny. Wayne Chrebet used to be murder in the slot. You could not cover Wayne Chrebet if he was in the slot. If you put him outside, you could cover him. If you put him inside in that slot, nobody could cover him. That is kind of the way you feel about Houshmandzadeh. When he is in the slot, you can forget it. You had better have two guys on him."

Ryan's glib humor came through at the end of his commentary when he added, "I don't like his hair, but he is one of the good guys."

Ryan also described Houshmandzadeh as a solid route runner. Another head coach I spoke with on background questioned that part of Houshmandzadeh's game. Whatever the case, Houshmandzadeh has caught lots of passes consistently. I expect that to continue once he gains Matt Hasselbeck's trust by being in the right place and making the difficult catches.

As for Engram, new Chiefs coach Todd Haley singled out Engram's ability to work from the slot as one of the reasons Kansas City wanted him.

Size serves Fitzgerald, Boldin well

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
10:11
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
 Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
 Anquan Boldin, left, and Larry Fitzgerald caught 318 passes combined during their first two years in the league.

Saints receiver Marques Colston, recently sidelined by thumb surgery, holds the record for most receptions during the first two seasons of an NFL career. Two NFC West receivers -- Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin of Arizona -- rank among the top four.

Fitzgerald caught 161 passes during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, seven short of Colston's record. Boldin caught 157 in 2003 and 2004, fourth-best behind Colston (168), Fitzgerald and Saints running back Reggie Bush (161). Former Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet ranks fifth with 150 catches in 1995 and 1996.

These records were set recently for a few reasons. One, the short passing game has become far more prominent in recent NFL history, increasing the number of "cheap" receptions. Two, rules changes almost always favor offense. Three, the NFL expanded from 14-game seasons to 16-game seasons in 1978, giving modern players opportunities previously unavailable.

Few receivers make an impact right away. Colston, Fitzgerald and Boldin are big receivers. I think that reflects the diminished value speed holds at the position. Rules changes have convinced most teams to abandon straight man coverage. Receivers have a harder time lining up and beating defensive backs off the line. They must be able to find openings in the defense. They must be able to absorb big hits after the catch.

Fitzgerald and Boldin can do this better than most. That explains why they started fast and why they've remained so productive.

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