In today’s NFL it seems that everyone wants a #1 wide receiver. Someone who stands 6’4 and can seemingly catch anything thrown his way despite having cornerbacks and safeties draped all over him. It’s logical on the surface when you consider some of the recent rule changes that benefit the passing game and some of the sophistication that has worked its way into the offensive game plans. However, when you actually drill down into the numbers and look at the formula of how teams have developed into Super Bowl-winners, you see a much different picture.
One of the only complaints that I’ve read or heard about the 2012 team’s offense is that it didn’t get enough productivity from its pass-catchers this year. The Redskins had great balance this past season – four players with 35+ receptions and 500+ yards – but the team highs in receptions and yards were 48 and 633, respectively. The fact that nobody even approached 1,000 yards was used as evidence that the passing game isn’t quite ready to contend and that more resources (draft picks or salary cap money) need to be spent on the wide receiver position.
Out of curiosity, I started looking at how the past several Super Bowl championship teams distributed the ball (both during the season that they won the Super and the preceding season) to get an idea of how the Redskins compared. Below is a table that shows the past six league champions and the 1,000 yard receivers during both their Super Bowl season and the preceding season.
|Team – Seasons||Players with 1,000 Receiving Yards|
|Previous Season||Super Bowl Season|
|Ravens – 2011/2012||0||0|
|Saints – 2008/2009||0||1|
|Steelers – 2007/2008||0||1|
|Giants – 2006/2007||0||1|
What I found was pretty encouraging from a Redskin perspective. In general, the teams that have gone on to win league titles have spread the ball around much more than people might realize. In addition, the general trend is that the go-to receivers begin to emerge during the championship year, not the preceding season. Because of those factors, it’s not a stretch to believe that the Redskins’ passing game is right on schedule for a championship run in the coming seasons.
Over the past six seasons, five of the champs have boasted at least one 1,000 yard wide receiver (this year’s Ravens being the only exception). That wouldn’t surprise most casual fans as we correlate aerial attacks and scoring with winning. However, if you flip the calendar back just one season for each of those teams, you find that only two of them had 1,000 yard receivers in the year before their Super Bowl run. In short, four of the past six Super Bowl champions did not have a 1,000 yard receiver in the year before winning the Super Bowl. The conclusion is that it’s common for teams to spread the ball around and let their go-to receivers develop organically over time. In fact, all six of the 1,000 yard receivers during Super Bowl seasons above were all on the roster the year before the Super Bowl season. To me, this further weakens the argument for bringing in more pass-catchers during the off-season.
It seems that our Redskins are well-positioned to continue improving in the passing game without making a dramatic move for a wide receiver. If Pierre Garcon had stayed healthy, his output in the 10 games he played would have projected to a 70 catch/1,010 yard season. It’s not difficult to envision him stepping up to meet or exceed those projections next year. The Redskins have several other young wide receivers that can develop and grow along with their two young quarterbacks. Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan are also likely candidates to continue to develop within this offense. Hankerson specifically is entering his third year in the league, which has traditionally been the year that young wide receivers make huge strides. Combining those three with veteran Santana Moss and speedster Aldrick Robinson, the Redskins have more depth and production from the wide receiver position than they have had in a very long time.
Even though having a go-to wide receiver is comforting for a young quarterback, it is nice to know that Robert Griffin III (or Kirk Cousins, as needed) can throw the ball to almost any eligible receiver on the field on any given play. That capability prevents defenses from isolating trends or taking away main weapons on offense. Over time, this group should become one of the toughest receiving corps to defend in the NFL.