Let me start by saying this: Comparing players and teams from different eras is an impossible task. You’re shuttering just thinking about the “Dream Team” comparisons you’ve finally gotten over from this past summer. There's no need to instinctively mute your television or close out your browser, I'll be gentle.
Games change drastically over the course of a decade, and these radical differences become more apparent the further back you go.
At one point not long ago, a 265-pound guard was considered massive. Look just a little further before then, and this player was unheard of. Now, a player with this much mass is a tight end or perhaps bound for the Division II and III ranks.
And then there are the incredible shifts in the games themselves and systems that are conducive to certain players. The ball is thrown more at every level now, much more, and that’s not a trend that is expected to change anytime soon.
When discussing college players, there’s also a hazy interpretation of how we view them. Do we assess strictly their college careers, or are we taking into consideration their physical ability and professional accolades? It’s impossible to separate this with an entire catalog for some, an established but incomplete resume for many and an even further incomplete but impressive start for others.
One thing is clear, however, when discussing the greatest college wide receiver duos of all time: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee deserve your utmost attention in this discussion, and they could very well be the best we’ve ever seen.
The Case for Woods-Lee
In the last 14 games together, Woods and Lee have scored a combined 36 touchdowns. Woods is only a junior—although with Barkley’s impending departure, this likely will be his final season at USC—and Lee is only entering his first few games as a collegiate sophomore, which is still quite difficult to fathom. He might be the best non-QB offensive weapon in college football, and he’s only been doing this for about a year. Scary.
The two accounted for 27 touchdowns in 2011 and have racked up a staggering nine total touchdowns in only two games this season. If you were curious to what their 2012 pace equates to over the course of a full season, the answer would be 54 regular-season touchdowns.
This number will not be reached, but hitting 40 combined TDs scored is a video-game-esque milestone I wouldn’t bet against with Pac-12 defenses on the horizon.
They’re much different players, and Lee is probably the better overall athlete. Picking one is like having to choose between a Bentley and a Ferrari, although Woods is a more polished receiver at the moment.
This gap, however, is closing drastically. They complement each other incredibly well, and both will be fantastic pro players if they can stay healthy. Their college production needs no further backing; it’s absolutely off the charts.
There are cases to be made for other wideouts (Keenan Allen, Sammy Watkins, Marquess Wilson, Tavon Austin), but these might be the two best pass-catchers in the game, each lining up on separate sides of the field.
It’s unfair, really.
Both will likely be first-round picks—although injuries, especially in the case of Woods, could derail this. Lee has a chance to be taken near the very top of the draft.
As for duos that could top them...
The Best of the Best (or at Least a Start): What They're Up Against
Where to begin, and really, there’s no possible way we could get through every wide receiver duo worth a mention. I dug deep through the archives, polled the fine and resourceful Twitter nation and took a trip in the way-back machine (although it’s really not all that way back) to assemble some other worthy receiving duos.
One thing is very obvious sorting through this all. The massive change in philosophy and developments of newer, more pass-oriented offenses have made this a discussion that centers on the past two decades. There are cases to be made outside of it, but it’s clear that this shift (which is still shifting) drastically favors these tandems now.
There will be worthy twosomes left out—and as always, you’re encouraged to add in your selection—but the discussion of Woods-Lee versus everyone else begins here.
Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss (Miami, 2000)
A disgusting duo on a ridiculous team, and yes, Andre Johnson caught three passes this season as a true freshman. They also had Jeremy Shockey at tight end.
The pro resume is strongest here, and Wayne and Moss scored only 17 touchdowns on the season. Through two games, Woods and Lee are more than halfway there.
(Yes, there’s much more here than just numbers; we’ll get to that).
Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony (Florida, 1996)
These two accounted for nearly 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns combined in a single season, while wideout Jacquez Green—and we’re talking about extra credit only here—added more than 600 yards and nine scores.
Ah, good ole Steve Spurrier, and oh, how I miss style points.
Hilliard was a fantastic pro, while Anthony only played five seasons in the NFL. From a college standpoint, however, these two were prolific.
Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola (Texas Tech, 2007)
If you’re looking for true video-game receiving yardage, then this Mike Leach-fueled duo is for you. How about these numbers: 243 catches, 3,207 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns—in a single season.
The team finished the season with well under 1,000 yards rushing, and this was your ultimate system combo. Still, this is the pinnacle of system perfection.
Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith (USC, 2006)
You could make a solid case for Mike Williams and Keary Colbert on this list as well, but Jarrett's and Smith’s collegiate production over a three-year stretch was incredible.
The two tallied up more than 5,800 receiving yards and 61 touchdowns in this time, which is hard to wrap your head around. They played for future first-round quarterbacks, and the numbers certainly show that.
(More) Extra Credit: Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromashodu (Auburn, 2005)
Their numbers are somewhat pedestrian compared to the rest (nine touchdowns, under 1,000 yards combined), and they have no place in a “greatest WR duos of all time" conversation.
However, if we were focusing on the greatest duo names of all time, these guys would get first, second and third. Those are fabulous names by their lonesome. Teamed up, they're impossible to top.
The Final (Well, Not So Much) Verdict
When your quarterback is Matt Barkley and you play in a Lane Kiffin offense that will throw the ball more than just about every team it plays, you have some significant advantages. This is devil’s advocate in the simplest form, although playing in a great offense and having a talented quarterback is entry-level material to even be considered on this list.
If they can both stay healthy over the course of the entire year, their performances will likely shatter anything we've see up until this point. This will likely be their final year together, but two years at such an absurd level could be more than enough to call them the greatest of all time.
For now, however, I’m not willing to place that label on them. Not yet. Doing so would be an insult to some of the incredible performances above (as well as others), and it would also close a book that is nowhere close to finished.
There's so much more to see.
If the two were to never play a game together again, they would still be very much a part of this discussion. That's how good they've been. And if they keep up this pace, they will stand alone at the top, and it may not be all that close.
I guess we'll find out.
To be continued…