At this point, smash-mouth football is about as prehistoric as a Tyrannosaurus Rex or network television.
To put it simply, the best teams have the best quarterbacks. And the best quarterbacks sling the rock more often than thrill-seeking cavemen.
If smash-mouth football was dying a slow and painful death before, the 2011 season may have finally aired it out of its misery. Four of the top six individual passing yardage totals in history were established this past season, including the top two (Drew Brees: 5,476, Tom Brady: 5,235). Quarterbacks also established a new record for average passing yards in a game with a 229.7 clip, breaking the brutally long-standing benchmark of 221.4 established way back in 2010.
Naturally, the players that benefit most from this passing pox epidemic are the wide receivers. Think about it. In the Stone Ages, most teams went with the traditional two-wide set.
Now, the slot receiver has replaced the fullback as the most hybrid position on the field. The most prolific offenses typically have as many as three, four or even five serviceable pass catchers on the field for almost every play.
Just look at the Super Bowl matchup this weekend. Eli Manning has a trio of big play wide receivers in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, while Tom Brady has perhaps the best slot receiver (Wes Welker) and tight end tandem (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) in the history of aerial attacks.
Pass catchers are to NFL teams right now what soap operas were to housewives in the mid-1990’s. You simply can never have too many, regardless of how similar they may seem.
Judging by the dynamic rookie seasons of big playmakers like AJ Green (6’4”) and Julio Jones (6’3”), all teams should now be on the lookout for that lethal, Calvin Johnson-like combination of NBA-size and Olympic-speed.
While searching for the next Calvin Johnson may be a fool’s errand, this year’s draft provides no shortage of wide-outs who fit that modernized prototype.