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Mel Kiper Archive

Tuesday, March 8

Year of (big) Wide Receiver

It's an understatement to say this is the year of the wide receiver in college football.

Players such as Michigan State's Charles Rogers, Texas' Roy Williams, Miami's Andre Johnson, Washington's Reggie Williams and Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods -- as well as freshmen phenoms such as USC's Mike Williams and Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald -- have all taken over games, proving to be the primary difference-makers in a number of contests this season.

What allows for mismatches against the cornerbacks they work against is a combination of athleticism and size. Of this group of wideouts, the average height is 6-3¼ and the average weight is 211 pounds.

Mike Williams
USC freshman WR Mike Williams has made plenty of impressive catches this season.
The challenge for defensive coordinators at both the college and pro level is finding cornerbacks who are capable of matching up effectively in one-on-one situations. Good luck! In the 2002 NFL draft, only one early-round CB was 6 feet or taller: Miami's Mike Rumph.

Rumph has struggled mightily during his rookie campaign with the 49ers, as he's exploited in coverage on a regular basis.

This year, no elite pure college CBs check in at 6 feet or taller. That's why Bethune-Cookman free safety Rashean Mathis is getting so much positive commentary. A likely projection to CB in the NFL, Mathis is listed at 6-0½ and 190 pounds, giving him a better opportunity to match up physically with big, athletic receivers.

You just can't find big CBs with the feet, hips, turning motion, ball skills and overall talent to perform at a Pro Bowl level on a year-to-year or even game-to-game basis. That's why the NFL might have to consider some rule changes to provide cover men with a better opportunity to get the job done. Allowing contact up to 10 yards before the ball is in the air would be a start, as would a shift in the mindset of officials who seem to look for any opportunity to penalize the defensive player.

In recent years, just about every rule change has been geared to assist the offense. Maybe we've gone too far. With so many incredibly gifted wide receivers who will be moving to the NFL in the next few years, the concern would be that games become pitch-and-catch contests that put defenses in dire straits.

To go a step further, just take a look at the argument that the NFL's current overtime system is unfair. Critics constantly harp on their belief that it's unfair that both offenses aren't guaranteed an opportunity for at least one possession. This tells me that, in their minds, they believe the defense has no chance. Basically, they feel that winning the coin toss ensures victory. But this is an erroneous belief touted by those who dislike the current NFL overtime system.

These are the facts: Since the NFL's current sudden-death OT system began in 1974, the team that won the toss scored on its first possession (and thus won the game) only 28.2 percent of the time. In 242 of the 337 overtime games since the current system took effect (through Week 13 this season), both teams had at least one possession.

I'm not going to repeat what I've written about how, in my opinion, the college overtime system is clearly the worst possible scenario. But suffice to say I would prefer the game ending in a tie to the ridiculous setup that's currently in place at the collegiate level.

Either way, with so much high-level, wide-receiver talent ready to enter the NFL, scoring will continue to rise, with very few incomplete passes by top-flight or even average signal-callers. That is, unless the NFL incorporates a few rule changes to assist the defense and at least make for a more level playing field.

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