See that smile?
Maybe he knows what we should all know.
While doing some research on my last article—where I compared how the Detroit Lions added players in their first two years of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles, and Drew Bledsoe with the New England Patriots among other teams—I stumbled across something that might be exciting to see unfold.
While Dallas and Indy both rebuilt around a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback with Troy Aikman and Manning, both teams had a young wide receiver on the team already with Michael Irvin and Marvin Harrison, respectively.
In both cases, when they paired up with the QB, they formed a Hall of Fame duo, but neither WR had distinguished themselves before they had an entire offseason to work with the quarterback.
Let's look at the Dallas situation first.
Irvin was drafted the year before Aikman and head coach Jimmy Johnson came on board, and had a decent rookie season with 32 receptions for 654 yards and five TDs, while starting 10 games.
He was headed toward another decent season in his second year and Aikman's rookie season, when he was injured after six games and out for the season. His stats were six games, 26 receptions, 378 yards, and two TDs.
That's a pace of around 70 receptions, 1,000 yards, and five TDs. Another decent year but nothing really special.
In that offseason, Irvin was still recovering from injuries and didn't get the chance to work with Aikman in his first full offseason.
In his third and Aikman's second season Irvin ended up with only seven starts and 20 receptions. Kind of a lost season for the duo, maybe the "white house" wasn't the best rehab location for "the playmaker."
After that season things changed dramatically. Irvin and Aikman had an offseason to work together and it showed the next season when they teamed up for 93 receptions, 1,523 yards, eight TDs, and Pro Bowl berths for both.
Crushed by the Lions in the playoffs.
That wasn't a mistake typing it twice, I just liked the way it sounded. Of course, they had a QB and we didn't so things changed a little after that game, but it sure was nice when it happened.
Know what? I don't think you guys will mind so I'm going to say it again.
The Cowboys were destroyed by the Lions with Eric Kramer at QB, and the threat of Barry Sanders behind him, 38-6.
Man that felt good.
Anyway, back to our feature.
Irvin and Aikman never looked back, that 93-reception and 1,523-yard season parlayed into five consecutive Pro Bowls and a Hall of Fame career for Irvin.
Oh yeah, three championships in four years, too.
With the Colts, Marvin Harrison was a two-year veteran with a couple of decent years when they drafted Manning.
With an average of 69 receptions and 851 yards in those two years he was an established NFL wide receiver, but he wasn't making any travel plans to Hawaii at the end of the year.
In Manning's rookie season, Harrison came up with 59 receptions for 775 yards and seven TDs.
Of course, he missed four games with injury.
Is this stuff starting to sound familiar?
Young WRs who were good, but not great before the QB got there.
Both WRs injured during the QB's rookie season?
Are we ringing any bells yet?
So what did Harrison and Manning team up for after they had a full offseason to work together?
How about 115 receptions, 1,663 yards, and 12 TDs.
That was the first of eight consecutive Pro Bowls for Harrison, and what should be a future bust in Canton, Ohio.
Are we seeing a connection here?
The young QB had that time to build a relationship with the WR and things just explode.
Think this was just two examples?
Check out Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, if you want a little history lesson. Even Joe Montana and Dwight Clark, though Clark doesn't deserve to be in this discussion of great WRs.
Though the roles were reversed with David Carr and Andre Johnson, it wasn't until they had that offseason together that things clicked.
It's not just WRs though, Bledsoe and the tight end Ben Coates did the same thing—decent in the QB's rookie year, but give them an offseason to work together and things just click.
With the Eagles, tight end Chad Lewis went from 20 total receptions in his first two years to 69 receptions and a Pro Bowl berth in McNabb's second year.
By the way, both Dallas and Indianapolis had tight ends step up in the second year for them, too. Jay Novacek went from a previous career-high of 39 receptions to 59 in Aikman's second year, while Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard picked it up nicely for Manning.
Another coincidence was both the Colts and Cowboys added a first-round pick running back in year two of the Aikman and Manning eras—hmmm.
But this was suppose to be about how top QB and WR duos have formed, and it's pretty obvious that they need a good offseason's work first.
Neither team made a significant change at the other WR spot to free up their guy. It was simply building that chemistry that did the trick.
Some people are starting to question Calvin Johnson a bit, just how good he is after all. But they were asking the same questions about Irvin and Harrison at one time, and things turned out pretty good for them.
I got a feeling that Johnson will be just fine for the Lions and history says that starts this year.
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