The abruptretirement of Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith last week focusesattention on the lack of receivers from the 1980s and '90s in the Pro FootballHall of Fame. Of the 17 modern-era wideouts enshrined in Canton, onlythree--Steve Largent, James Lofton and John Stallworth--played the bulk oftheir careers after 1980. Smith (above) finished with 862 catches, 43 more thanany receiver in the Hall. But his chances of seeing his bust in Canton areslim. Why? Because pass-heavy schemes like the West Coast offense that cameinto vogue during the '80s have inflated the league's reception numbers. Fiveplayers in NFL history have 940 or more catches, and all of them began theircareers after 1979. Only one of those five, Jerry Rice (1,549 receptions), is alock for the Hall. Cris Carter (1,101) may eventually get voted in, but TimBrown (1,094), Andre Reed (951) and Art Monk (940) will be lucky to makeit.
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After drafting252-pound strongside linebacker Bobby Carpenter, Cowboys coach Bill Parcellsmight finally have a linebacking corps to rival his great 1986 Giants unit. Hehas already compared weakside pass rusher DeMarcus Ware with Lawrence Taylor,and he's hoping inside guys Akin Ayodele and Bradie James (average weight: 248)can be the run-stuffers that Harry Carson and Gary Reasons were. But what madethat New York group tick was Carl Banks, who neutralized big tackles, coveredtight ends downfield and rushed the quarterback. That's Carpenter's job inDallas. Says Banks, who last year was a linebacking consultant at Dallas'straining camp, "No question Bill's been aiming to re-create thatunit."
Eager to see thosebig-name quarterbacks from the 2006 draft in action? Don't hold your breath.Matt Leinart, picked 10th, has veteran Kurt Warner starting ahead of him inArizona and coach Dennis Green saying, "Hopefully Matt doesn't play thisyear." The 11th pick, Jay Cutler, will be an understudy to Jake Plummer inDenver for a year, maybe two. Second-rounder Kellen Clemens is a project forthe Jets; Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey should make sure he doesn't seethe field until 2007. The most pressure to play a rookie QB might come inTennessee. If incumbent Steve McNair is traded to Baltimore, Billy Volek(above, 7, with McNair) will become the starter. Imagine the We want Vince!chants in Nashville if Volek, 30, a career backup with a 3--7 record as astarter, struggles at the outset. But No. 3 pick Vince Young, who's moving froma simple offense at Texas to coordinator Norm Chow's complicated rhythm schemeat Tennessee, will surely need a full season of playbook study. "I keeptelling him not to look too far ahead," says Chow. "Don't look at page10 before you understand page 2."
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PHIL COALE/AP (SMITH)
WADE PAYNE/ICON SMI (TITANS)