Both the wide receiver and tight end position have become more crucial in football as the game has progressed. They have become sought after and further involved in offensive game plans. The talents of these players are extraordinary, so their responsibilities and volume have increased in a tremendous fashion. These two players were part of the new wave at their positions that now see today: The dominant, Antonio-Brown-like receiver , and the big, Gronk-esk, receiving tight end.
Wide Receiver: Lance Alworth
In an era where the forward pass became more prevalent than ever before, Lance Alworth terrorized AFL defenses through the air. Alworth played nine of his eleven professional seasons with the then San Diego Chargers, and the other two with the Dallas Cowboys. Alworth stood at six feet, one-hundred-eighty-four pounds, and played the Flanker position, as it was called in the AFL. The Flanker was another name for an outside receiver. Each regular season spanned only fourteen games during the ‘60s, a handicap that many overlook while evaluating the individual statistics of the early years of football. Alworth was without question the greatest receiver of his era, and further was one of the finest wideouts the game has ever seen.
Alworth’s dominance took the league by surprise in his second professional season, as he gathered a total of 1,205 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games, while earning First-Team All-Pro honors. At age 23, he had set the expectation for seasons to come as one of the best Flankers in the game already. He exceeded his career forecast in the coming seasons, as he erupted for six straight First-Team All-Pro seasons and seven straight Pro Bowl campaigns from 1963-1969. In that time, he lead professional football in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in three respective seasons. Statistically, he towered over opposing receivers as he carried an otherwise unimpressive Chargers team to two playoff appearances and one AFL championship. His contributions to the Chargers’ organization and to the game of football were indisputable as he became to ultimate matchup nightmare.
Alworth is often overlooked in the grand scheme of wide receiver comparisons simply because he played such a long time ago. With the captivating stardom of wideouts during the ’80s-’00s, fans often neglect the best of previous eras of football. So why did I choose Alworth over other early talent such as Steve Largent or Don Hutson? Because Alworth’s play was both voluminous and influential. Unlike Hutson, Alworth’s defenses had years of experience defending the pass and expected it frequently, opposed to when Hutson played, a time dominated by the run game, leading to unexperienced pass coverage, and little pass execution and frequency. Hutson’s stats were minute compared to Alworth’s, which in no way damages his legacy, however, it highlights Alworth’s more difficult competition and influence on his team’s success as larger than Hutson’s. Largent on the other hand, had consistently good stats, however, he never attained the level of superiority over his competitors that Alworth did. He only had one First-Team All-Pro season to Alworth’s six. Largent was not nearly as impactful on his generation of football. Other than Jerry Rice, Alworth is the only clear-cut greatest receiver of his age. Alworth’s impact should not be forgotten, but is often lost through the flamboyance of wide receivers today. These two comparisons illustrate his specific advantages over Hutson and Alworth, however, they also emphasize why he should be considered a top-5 receiver of all time.
Tight End: Todd Christensen
Unlike all others on this list, Todd Christensen is not in the hall of fame, and is ineligible to be selected in future years. Christensen played for a tough and talented Raiders’ squad in the ‘80s alongside Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen. Christensen was a massive presence on the field at six-feet three-inches, two-hundred-thirty pounds, wearing number forty-seven. Christensen was a vital part of his team, leading the Raiders in receiving for four straight seasons, winning a Super Bowl in the midst. Christensen is not a household name at all, making him uniquely undervalued at his position. He played high-quality football for only six years, explaining why he is not known by many. However, those years were immensely impactful for his team.
Christensen had three 1,000 yard seasons in four years spanning from 1983-1986, and in the one of which he did not achieve this feat, he reached 987 yards. In that time, he had two first-team All-Pro seasons, and led the league in receptions twice. As a tight end, big numbers were hard to come by, remarkably so in the ‘80s, as tight ends were not usually as versatile as today, and especially with such a renowned running back in Marcus Allen. However, Christensen was the soul of the passing attack in the mid-’80s, as he helped the Raiders to their second Super Bowl in 4 years. Uncoincidentally, he lead the league in receptions with 93 in their Super-Bowl-winning 1983 campaign, racking up 1,247 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 games. His presence on the field was most definitely impactful. It is very difficult for a tight end to create a winning effect on his team, but Christensen did it extremely effectively.
Christensen is unknown by many and is under appreciated because of his short-lived career. But, I feel he should still be disputed amongst the top tight ends of all time because of his dominance during his healthy playing career. He was by far the best weapon in the passing game the Raiders had. His career numbers are modest compared to greats like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez, but allthesame his stats were outrageous for such a small dose of a starting role in the NFL. Although Christensen played for a short time in the NFL, his contributions were irreplaceable, and his talents were far superior to most others in his era. Therefore, I believe he should be recognized more fluently throughout the football community as a top-10 tight end of all time.