Monday, June 13, 2011
Posted: 2 p.m.
By Reuben Frank
Welcome to our fifth edition of this summers Most Overrated and Underrated Eagles of All Time.
This week we look at Eagles wide receivers. Remember, we're not looking for the worst receivers in Eagles history (Michael Timpson? Billy McMullen?) or the biggest busts (Freddie Mitchell? Mike Bellamy?). Were looking instead for guys who history has not judged quite correctly.
Next Monday: Defensive linemen.
Cris Carter as a starter with the Eagles: 42 catches for 683 yards and 8 12 TDs per season.
James Thrash as a starter with the Eagles: 55 catches for 675 yards and five TDs per season.
That pretty much says it all. Carter went on to enjoy great success with the Vikings, but here? His numbers as an Eagle are pretty similar to those of James Thrash, the poster child for wide receiving mediocrity. He was a marginal receiver with a drug problem and only rarely showed glimpses of the player he would later become.
Carter spent three seasons with the Eagles. He rarely played as a rookie, and in his two years as a starter, he averaged only 2.6 catches for 42 yards per game.
The last 11 games of 1988, his first year as a starter with the Eagles, Carter averaged 40.6 yards per game. The last 13 games of 1989, his last year as a starter, he averaged 27 yards per game.
In two playoff games in an Eagles uniform, Carter had three catches for 33 yards.
Buddy Ryan got blasted for years for releasing Carter before the 1990 season and famously pronouncing, All he ever did was catch touchdowns. But the truth was, when Carter first tested positive, Buddy told him he would cut him if it happened again. It happened again, and Carter was gone.
To this day, Carter credits Buddy Ryan for saving his career and maybe his life. Hes spoken for two decades now about how he got help for his addiction problem thanks to Ryan.
Carter went on to enjoy a terrific (but still overrated) career with the Vikings. With the Eagles, he was nothing more than James Thrash with a drug problem.
Freddy and Calvin. Calvin and Freddy. They came in together in the 1990 draft, they played together through the whole Rich Kotite Era and they left almost together, both playing their last full season in Philly in 1995.
Freddy and Calvin. Calvin and Freddy. Its impossible to think of one without the other. Their names are forever linked in Eagles lore.
The thing is, they werent equals. Fred Barnett was a two-time 1,000-yard receiver and a Pro Bowl pick. Calvin Williams was neither.
Calvin has kind of piggybacked on Freddies success, but Calvin Williams was no Fred Barnett. In fact, in his six full seasons with the Eagles, he averaged 48 catches for 639 yards. For the sake of comparison, Todd Pinkston who Eagles fans love to hate averaged 43 catches for 659 yards in his four full seasons.
So the universally despised Pinkston averaged 20 more yards per season than the revered Williams.
During his six years as an Eagles starter, Williams ranked 33rd in the NFL in catches and 30th in receiving yards and 37th in yards per catch. Williams did have a nice knack for getting into the end zone, and his 34 TD catches are fifth-most in franchise history.
But as far as overall production, the reality just doesnt match up to the perception. And thats the essence of what overrated-underrated is all about.
It was just a few weeks into the 1990 season, and legendary Eagles receiver Mike Quick had suffered a broken leg in a win over the Vikings at the Vet. At the time, we didnt know Quick would never play football again.
All we knew at the time is what Randall Cunningham said after the game.
Asked how the Eagles could possibly manage the rest of the year without Quick, Cunningham grinned broadly and told us that everything would be OK because ... I heard Kenny Jacksons coming back.
In Randalls mind, Kenny Jackson was a star and his return would help offset the loss of the peerless Mike Quick. Jackson had been the fourth pick in the 1984 draft, and Jackson and Cunningham immediately hit it off in 1985, Cunninghams rookie year.
Jackson was big and fast and looked like a star. Only problem was he wasnt very good. In four years as a starter, Jackson managed just 117 catches for 2,067 yards and 10 touchdowns. That ranked him 84th in the NFL during that span in catches, 51st in yards and 68th in touchdowns. As a starter.
As unproductive as Jackson was early in his career, things quickly got far worse. He lost his starting job in 1988 and since he was reluctant to go over the middle, he really had no function as a third receiver. The Eagles released him in 1988 and after opening an overrated restaurant in South Jersey, he spent some time with the Oilers before Quick got hurt in 1990 and Buddy Ryan brought him back on Cunninghams urging.
How did Jackson do replacing Quick the rest of the year? One catch.
In fact, Jackson caught just nine passes without a TD in his final four NFL seasons. But was he overrated? In Randalls eyes he sure was!
His name is rarely included when the greatest receivers in Eagles history are mentioned. Quick. Carmichael. T.O.
The numbers say he belongs.
Fryar came to the Eagles late in his career. He was 34 years old and entering the 13th season in a career that had some highlights but had been somewhat disappointing. But he saved the best for last, and became a huge weapon on the 1995 and 1996 Eagle playoff teams.
After averaging 46 catches for 743 yards and five TDs in his first 12 NFL seasons, Fryar averaged 74 catches for 1,022 yards and 6 12 TDs in three seasons with the Eagles. And he did it despite playing with constant turmoil at quarterback Ty Detmer, Rodney Peete, Bobby Hoying and Koy Detmer were the four starters Fryar played with. Not exactly Randall, McNabb and Vick.
Nonetheless, Fryar is responsible for two of the greatest receiving seasons in Eagles history, with 88 catches for 1,195 yards in 1996 and 86 for 1,316 in 1997. No other Eagle wideout has ever caught more than 78 passes in a season, and Fryar caught mid-80s twice in a row. In receiving yards, those two years rank second and sixth in franchise history. Only Mike Quick has ever had more yards in a season than Fryar.
Fryar is one of only three wideouts in NFL history with consecutive 85-catch seasons after his 33rd birthday and one of only three in history with consecutive seasons with at least 1,150 receiving yards as well. Only three NFL receivers had more yards during that two-year span Rob Moore, Herman Moore and Jimmy Smith. Only six had more TDs.
Early in his career, Fryar was better known for his off-the-field problems than what he did on the field with the Patriots. By the time he got to Philly, he had become a model citizen, but his reputation was hard to shake, and because of that, Fryar is never considered one of the all-time greats. But when he retired in 2000, Fryar ranked fifth in NFL history in catches, seventh in yards and ninth in touchdown catches.
The Eagles didnt have much during the late 1990s. But they had the Rev in his mid-30s, which turned out to be the prime of his career.
When people look back today at Harold Carmichaels career, they make the mistake of putting his accomplishments in terms of modern-day receivers. Carmichael only had three 1,000-yard seasons. Carmichael only had more than 60 catches twice and only scored double-digit touchdowns once.
You have to remember, though, that most of Carmichaels career 1971 through 1984 was during the NFLs dead-ball era, when receivers werent putting up anything close to the the kind of crazy numbers theyre putting up now.
The simple truth is that during Carmichaels prime the nine-year span from 1973 through 1981 -- Carmichael was the best receiver in the NFL.
Nobody in the NFL had more receptions. Carmichael had 33 more than Ahmad Rashad.
Nobody in the NFL had more yards. Carmichael had 357 more than Cliff Branch.
Nobody in the NFL had more touchdowns. Carmichael had 12 more than Branch.
When he retired in 1984, Carmichael ranked fourth in NFL history in receptions, sixth in yards and sixth in touchdown catches and all but one of the guys ahead of him in any of those three categories have since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And if youre too young to remember how sure-handed Carmichael was, stop by training camp at Lehigh this summer (if there is training camp this summer). Carmichael, whos the Eagles director of player programs these days, will be out there. And he still catches everything thrown his way.
The rest of my body is about 90, Carmichael said recently. My hands are still 21.
To boil Todd Pinkstons entire career down to one unfortunate incident in Washington when it appeared that he was shying away from contact is unfair to a guy who proved time and time again that despite weighing just 165 or 170 pounds he wasnt afraid of contact and didnt mind getting hit.
Its not fair to focus on one negative play in anybodys career and dismiss everything else the guy has done.
Pinkston spent five years with the Eagles, and although he was never a star, he was a valuable deep threat and one of Donovan McNabbs most trusted receivers on several very successful playoff teams.
Pinkstons best statistical year was 2002, when he caught 60 passes for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns, ninth-most in the NFL. Not terrible.
But his most valuable season was 2004, when he caught so many deep balls from McNabb that he led the NFL in yards per catch and helped open up the middle of the field for Terrell Owens to have a career year.
From 2001 through 2004, Pinkstons four years as a starter, only three NFL players Eddie Kennison, Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer had a higher yards-per-catch than Pinkstons 15.1. And the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game all four years.
The biggest misconception about Pinkston is that he wasnt tough. Forget that one play in Washington for a moment and ask yourself this: How many times did the scrawny Pinkston take a vicious shot from an opposing defensive back and not pop right back up and flip the ball to the ref?
Pinkston filled an important role with the Eagles during their string of four consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances, catching McNabbs bombs and stretching defenses.
Pinkston also came up big in big games. From 2001 through 2004, only two players Hines Ward and Troy Brown had more postseason catches and yards than Pinkston and only Deion Branch and Reggie Wayne had a higher yards-per-catch average in the playoffs among players with at least 30 catches. In the Super Bowl, he was 4 for 82 in the first half before the doctors wouldnt let him play in the second half because of extreme dehydration. He tore his Achilles at Lehigh the next summer and never played again.
Related: Most overrated and underrated Eagles: DBs Vick gives commencement address to graduates