If you want to fully appreciate the evolution of professional football, you have to watch the game within the game. Because while there are still 11 players on both sides of the ball, the deployment, specialization, and valuation of those players changes constantly.
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For example, the most notable offensive change in modern football has been the devaluation of running backs. Once seen as the focal point of a strong and successful offense, the workhorse back has gone the way of the single-bar facemark. In its place, a running-back-by-committee approach has become the default.
And it seems like one NFL general manager believes wide receivers will soon follow that path.
One anonymous GM reached out to Peter King, whose Football Morning in America column shares an eyebrow-raising conversation snippet:
“I could see the receiver position becoming like running backs,” the GM told King. “Get as much out of the receiver in his first contract and then, after four or five years, let him go and draft another one high. There are so many good receivers now, I’m not sure they’re all going to get paid going forward.”
This seems like a very significant comment, especially given the source, but we’ve also been trending this way for a few years now, right? As more high school offenses use 3-4 WR sets as base packages, colleges have followed suit. And as those offenses have spread from the amateur level to the pros, we’re now seeing the trickle-down effect impact the highest level of the game. History has an odd way of repeating itself.
All of this makes for a fascinating sidebar to keep tabs on if you’re into following the growth of the game. But it also gives us something to keep in mind as the Bears continue to build out their roster.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Bears are trying their hand at creating a modern NFL offense. And once again, they’re starting that process without a premier wide receiver. New Ryan P in charge, but the same problems persist.
On the surface, the recent NFL Draft didn’t do much to help matters. Chicago’s football team came away with just one draft pick that was used on a receiver in what was widely deemed a deep draft class. But maybe, given how things are currently trending, that is less of a bug and more of a feature. I suppose there is a reality in which the draft unfolding as it did is indicative of the changing landscape of the receiver position. Because it would make sense that teams unable to land that ace receiver at the top would pivot to an alternative of loading up on role-playing receivers to fill in the gaps.
You know, just like how teams were piecing together running back rooms featuring different types of role players.
Maybe we’re in the beginning stages of NFL teams trying something new. Are we about to see more Deebo Samuel type players (i.e WRs who are just as likely to take a handoff as they are to run a go route)? And are we going to see them at the expense of Allen Robinson types (i.e traditional WRs who line up out wide and run traditional route trees)? We’ll see.
This could be the beginning of GMs shifting to find the wide receiver equivalent of loading the wideout versions of power backs, change-of-space players, gadget guys, and a pass-catchers out of the backfield. I’m not sure what those positions will look like for receivers. No one does. After all, we’re in the early stages of this thing. Possibilities seem endless at this stage.
But if this is the direction the NFL is moving toward, then we’ll need to exercise patience when it comes to the Bears building a receivers room around Justin Fields. So stay tuned. We might be at the ground floor of the NFL evolution’s next wave of change.