Thus far in the 2013 off season, little has generated more anticipation and excitement for the Broncos' fans than Denver's signing of free agent wide receiver Wes Welker. The addition of Welker means that the Broncos have three wide receivers on the roster, each of whom gained over 1000 yards during the 2012 regular season.
Fans were also excited to see this since it portends an improvement to a passing offense that in 2012:
Stood in the Top 10 among 2012 NFL teams in every significant passing statistic, except 40+ yard passing plays.
Stood in the Top 5 in Yards per Game, Completion Percentage, Yards per Attempt, Passing Touchdowns, First Down Percentage, 20+ Yard Passing Plays, Fewest Sacks and Passer Rating.
Adding another weapon to that potent of a passing attack was greeted with great acclamation among Denver's fans. Now the question becomes: Will we see the Broncos become the fifth team in NFL history to feature three 1000+ yard wide receivers in a single season?
That's right, there have been four times that a team has featured a trio of 1000-yard wide receivers:
|1989||Washington||Gary Clark (1229)||Art Monk (1186)
||Ricky Sanders (1138)||Mark Rypien/Doug Williams|
|1995||Atlanta||Eric Metcalf (1189)||Bert Emanuel (1039)||Terance Mathis (1039)||Jeff George|
|2004||Indianapolis||Reggie Wayne (1210)||Marvin Harrison (1113)||Brandon Stokley (1077)||Peyton Manning|
|2008||Arizona||Larry Fitzgerald (1434)||Anquan Boldin (1038)||Steve Breaston (1003)||Kurt Warner|
Now, technically, this feat has been accomplished six times. The 1980 San Diego Chargers featured a trio of 1000-yard receivers, but their group consisted of wide receivers John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner along with tight end Kellen Winslow. The 1981 Chargers also could claim to have had three 1000-yard -- WR Charlie Joiner, TE Kellen Winslow and WR Wes Chandler -- though Chandler played the first four games (and gained 285 of his 1142 yards) with the New Orleans Saints. This article will concentrate on the four teams that accomplished this feat with a trio composed of just wide receivers who played for that team for the entire season.
1989 Washington Redskins: Gary Clark (1229), Art Monk (1186), Ricky Sanders (1138)
The 1989 Redskins were coming off a 1988 season in which they finished with a 7-9-0 record and a 3rd place finish in the NFC East. Quarterbacking duties had been split between Doug Williams and Mark Rypien, due to injuries to Williams. Monk, Clark and Sanders all played during the 1988 season but only Sanders surpassed the 1000-yard mark. Due to their third place finish and the method used to schedule the following season, Washington was set to face three teams that had finished in 1st place in their division in 1988 (Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle), two 2nd place finishers (New York Giants and Denver), two 3rd place (Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Raiders), three 4th place (New Orleans, Phoenix Cardinals and San Diego) and two 5th place (Dallas and Atlanta).
In 1989, with Rypien as the primary quarterback (Williams subbed during four games), Gary Clark led the receiving corp with 79 catches for 1229 yards and 9 touchdowns. Art Monk added 1186 and 8 touchdowns on 86 catches. Ricky Sanders completed the trio by catching 80 passes for 1138 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Redskins finished the season with a 10-6-0 record and in 3rd place in the NFC East. They did not make the playoffs.
Their wins came over Philadelphia (finished 2nd in the NFC East), New Orleans (4th NFC West), Phoenix twice (4th NFC East), Chicago (4th NFC Central), Seattle (4th AFC West), Dallas (5th NFC East), Tampa Bay (5th NFC Central), San Diego (5th AFC West) and Atlanta (5th NFC West).
Washington's losses came at the hands of the New York Giants twice (1st NFC East), Denver (1st AFC West), Philadelphia (2nd NFC East), Los Angeles Raiders (3rd AFC West) and Dallas (5th NFC East).
Three of the teams they faced made the playoffs following the 1989 season -- New York, Denver and Philadelphia. The Redskins went 1-3 against these teams (they lost to New York twice). Washington went 1-4 against teams that finished either first or second in their own divisions, 1-5 against 1st through 3rd place finishers. They went 9-1 against teams that finished either last or next to last in their own divisions.
1995 Atlanta Falcons: Eric Metcalf (1189), Bert Emanuel (1039), Terance Mathis (1039)
The 1994 Falcons finished 3rd in the NFC West with a 7-9-0 record and failed to make the playoffs. Jeff George was the starting quarterback for the season. Emanuel and Mathis were both Falcons in 1994, with only Mathis surpassing the 1000-yard mark. Eric Metcalf played for the Cleveland Browns in 1994. Their 3rd place finish put them in line in 1995 to face three teams that had finished 1st in their divisions (San Francisco - twice, Dallas and Miami), two teams with a 2nd place finish (New Orleans - twice and New England), one 3rd place finisher (Arizona), three 4th place finishers (Los Angeles Rams - twice, Detroit and Buffalo) and two 5th place finishers (New York Jets and Tampa Bay). It is important to note that the Carolina Panthers (whom Atlanta would play twice in 1995) did not exist as a franchise in 1994.
In 1995 with Jeff George passing the ball, newly acquired Eric Metcalf led the receiving corp with 1189 yards and 8 touchdowns on 104 catches. Mathis added 78 catches, 1039 yards and 9 touchdowns. Emanuel rounded out the trio of 1000-yard wide receivers with 1039 yards and 5 touchdowns on 74 catches. Atlanta finished with a 9-7-0 record and 2nd place in the NFC West. They lost 20-37 to Green Bay in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Atlanta's wins came over Carolina (4th in the NFC West), New Orleans (twice, 3rd NFC West), New York Jets (5th AFC East), New England (4th AFC East), Tampa Bay (5th NFC Central), Detroit (2nd NFC Central), St. Louis (5th NFC West) and San Francisco (1st NFC West).
The Falcons lost to: San Francisco (1st in the NFC West), St. Louis (5th NFC West), Dallas (1st NFC East), Buffalo (1st AFC East), Arizona (5th NFC East), Miami (3rd AFC East) and Carolina (4th NFC West).
Five of the teams Atlanta faced in 1995 made the playoffs that year. The Falcons went 2-4 against those teams, beating Detroit and San Francisco while losing to Buffalo, Miami, Dallas and San Francisco. Atlanta went 1-3 against teams which finished first in their respective divisions. They went 3-1 against teams which finished 2nd or 3rd and compiled a 5-3 record against teams that finished 4th or 5th.
2004 Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne (1210), Marvin Harrison (1113), Brandon Stokley (1077)
Indianapolis, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, finished strong in 2003. The Colts posted a 12-4-0 record to take 1st place in the AFC South. They defeated Denver 41-10 in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, went on to down Kansas City 38-31 in the Divisional round before dropping the AFC Championship game to New England 14-24. Out of the trio of Wayne, Harrison and Stokley, only Harrison topped 1000 yards. That first place finish gave them a 2004 schedule which featured four teams that had finished in 1st place in their divisions (New England, Green Bay, Kansas City and Baltimore), three 2nd place finishers (Tennessee - twice, Minnesota and Denver), two third place finishers (Oakland and Chicago) and four 4th place (Jacksonville - twice, Houston - twice, Detroit and San Diego).
The Colts stormed through the 2004 season, Manning's connection with his receiving trio was excellent. Wayne caught 77 passes for 1210 yards and 12 touchdowns. Harrison added 1113 yards and 15 touchdowns on 86 catches. Stokley, working out of the slot, caught 68 passes for 1077 yards and 10 touchdowns. Indianapolis again finished with a 12-4-0 record and another 1st place finish in the AFC South. For a second consecutive season, they downed the Broncos (this time 49-24) in the Wild Card round. Indianapolis lost to New England 3-20 in the Divisional round.
Indianapolis' wins came over Tennessee (twice, 4th in the AFC South), Green Bay (1st NFC North), Jacksonville (2nd AFC South), Oakland (4th AFC West), Minnesota (2nd NFC North), Houston (twice, 3rd AFC South), Chicago (4th NFC North), Detroit (3rd NFC North), Baltimore (2nd AFC North) and San Diego (1st AFC West).
The Colts lost to New England (1st AFC East), Jacksonville (2nd AFC South), Kansas City (3rd AFC West) and Denver (2nd AFC West).
They went 3-2 against the five teams they played which also made the playoffs (San Diego 1-0, Denver 0-1, Minnesota 1-0, Green Bay 1-0, New England 0-1). Against teams which finished first in their respective divisions, Indianapolis went 2-1, beating Green Bay and San Diego while losing to New England. They went 3-2 against 2nd place finishers with victories over Jacksonville, Minnesota and Baltimore and losses to Jacksonville and Denver. The Colts posted a 3-1 record against 3rd place finishers (Houston 2-0, Detroit 1-0, Kansas City 0-1). They swept the 4th place finishers 4-0 (Tennessee 2-0, Oakland 1-0, Chicago 1-0).
2008 Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald (1434), Anquan Boldin (1038), Steve Breaston (1003)
Quarterback Kurt Warner replaced starter Matt Leinert early in the 2007 season and went on to lead the Cardinals to an 8-8-0 record. Though Arizona finished 2nd in the NFC West, the 8-8-0 record was not good enough to secure them a playoff spot. Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston all played for the Cardinals in 2007, but only Fitzgerald recorded a 1000-yard season. Arizona's second place finish gave them a 2008 schedule that included three 1st place finishers (Dallas, Seattle - twice and New England), three 2nd place finishers (Buffalo, New York Giants and Minnesota), four 3rd place finishers (San Francisco - twice, Washington, New York Jets and Carolina) and three 4th place finishers (Miami, St. Louis - twice and Philadelphia).
2008 was a "Cinderella" type season for the Cardinals. Kurt Warner had won the starting quarterback position from Matt Leinert. He went on to justify that coaching decision by connecting with Larry Fitzgerald 96 times for 1431 yards and 12 touchdowns, Anquan Boldin 89 times for 1038 yards and 11 touchdowns and Steve Breaston 77 times for 1006 yards and 3 touchdowns. Warner led the team to a 9-7-0 season which was good enough for a 1st place finish in the NFC West. They entered the playoffs with the second-worst record of any playoff team (only San Diego 8-8-0 had a worse record). Despite this, Arizona defeated Carolina 33-13 in the Divisional round before going on to down Philadelphia 32-25 in the NFC Championship game. The Cardinals lost to Pittsburgh 23-27 in the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals posted wins over San Francisco (twice, 2nd NFC West), Miami (1st AFC East), Buffalo (4th AFC East), Dallas (3rd NFC East), St. Louis (twice, 4th NFC West) and Seattle (twice, 3rd NFC West).
Their losses came at the hands of Washington (4th NFC East), New York Jets (3rd AFC East), Carolina (1st NFC South), New York Giants (1st NFC East), Philadelphia (2nd NFC East), Minnesota (1st NFC North) and New England (2nd AFC East).
Arizona faced five teams which made the playoffs following the 2008 season: Philadelphia, Minnesota, Miami, Carolina and the New York Giants. They went 1-4 against those teams with their lone win being over Miami. The Cardinals posted a 1-3 record against teams which finished in 1st place in their divisions (Miami, Carolina, New York Giants and Minnesota), the lone win coming against the Dolphins. They split their four games against 2nd place finishers (San Francisco 2-0, Philadelphia 0-1, New England 0-1). They posted a 6-2 record against 3rd and 4th place finishers with wins over Dallas, Seattle (twice), Buffalo and Seattle (twice) and losses to the New York Jets and Washington.
2013 Denver Broncos: Can Thomas, Decker and Welker Accomplish It?
Now the question becomes, can the Broncos have Manning, Thomas, Decker and Welker become the fifth team in NFL history to accomplish the feat of having three 1000-yard wide receivers in a single season?
Some things that might work in the Broncos favor include:
Having Peyton Manning return as the starting quarterback -- he accomplished the feat in 2004 with the Colts and had two wide receivers with over 1000 yards in 2012.
Like the 1995 Falcons, the Broncos have added another offensive weapon in Wes Welker. Unlike Metcalf who only had 436 receiving yards in 1994, Welker posted over 1000 receiving yards for New England in 2012.
**The schedule looks very similar to each of the previous four teams to post three 1000-yard receivers. In fact, it is eerily similar to the schedule of the 2004 Colts:
|2004 Colts||2013 Broncos|
|Divisional Games||AFC South||AFC West|
|Intraconference||AFC West||AFC South|
|Interconference||NFC North*||NFC East*|
|Based on Previous Finish||New England, Baltimore||New England, Baltimore|
*The 2003 NFC North teams and the 2012 NFC East teams both averaged 7.75 wins and 8.25 losses.
Working against the Broncos is a tough schedule and the fact that this is a very rare occurrence in the history of the NFL.
Here's to Denver becoming the fifth team to post three 1000-yard wide receivers in a single season (and hopefully a Super Bowl victory to cap it off).