Mind the Stepchildren

November 16, 2003
Mind the Stepchildren

by Keith Weiland

After going scoreless for two games and change, I figured the Bills were due. Turns out the Texans had plenty left in Banks.

Former teammate Jeff Posey made certain David Carr was writing checks his body couldn’t cash when he sacked the second-year quarterback in the endzone for a safety on a delayed blitz. Enter veteran backup Tony Banks to offer his team an extended line of credit, and the Texans make yet another deposit into their win column.

For all of Banks’ heroics, the star of the game was undeniably rookie wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson’s touchdown reception showed why he has so much promise for this franchise. He busted through the arm tackles of three would-be Bill defenders, powering his way to the go-ahead score. Johnson has clearly ascended to the role of the team’s best wideout, remarkable for a rookie who still had a year of collegiate eligibility remaining when he declared for the draft.

But whither the team’s other two receivers, Jabar Gaffney and Corey Bradford? Combined with Johnson, they make up one of the league’s most dangerous receiver trios, but their involvement of late has been noticeably absent.

I know I’ve been down this road before, at least with Gaffney, when discussing his role in the offense. I thought he had a chance this year to really establish himself before Johnson eventually took over. Problem is Johnson has been very good very early, perhaps too early for Gaffney’s development. As Texans fans, we are lucky to have such a “problem”.

I noted that Gaffney lacked maturity during his rookie season, something in which I later saw improvement during this summer’s training camp. It translated onto the field in the opening game against the Dolphins, in which all three receivers played crucial roles in the victory. Though I still see that increased maturity from Gaffney, his numbers on the season aren’t reflecting that leap.

2002: 41 catches, 483 yards
2003 (10 games): 29 catches, 355 yards
2003 (projected): 47 catches, 568 yards

An improvement? Barely.

Sure, some of Gaffney’s catches have been taken by Johnson, but Gaffney’s stats understandably “suffered” to some extent in 2002 because he was catching passes from a rookie quarterback behind a notoriously weak offensive line.

Should we have expected more to this point from Gaffney, the first pick of the second round? Probably not. His rookie stats were among the best in the league, and Gaffney still has oodles of time on his side, especially considering that he also came out early. His progress is headed in the right direction, but after a somewhat promising start to the season, Gaffney seems to have slowed stat-wise since the bye week.

Also, considering that this season Bradford’s only had 16 receptions himself after leading the wide receivers a year ago, even with Johnson around now there still should be enough balls for Gaffney to distinguish himself, right?

Despite the sluggishness of the numbers, Gaffney is showing off some sticky hands. He has some clutch grabs, including one on third down from Sunday’s game against the Bills that he made with one hand.

I really like comparisons of Gaffney to Keenan McCardell, now a member of the Buccaneers. McCardell, coincidentally, was a pick by general manager Charley Casserly back in 1991 when he was with the Redskins. McCardell didn’t really blossom until 1996 when he joined the Jaguars, following an extended stint with the Browns. Still, McCardell was blossoming not with the team that drafted him, but with his third team. As the 33rd overall pick in the draft, I’m not sure how long the Texans can wait for Gaffney’s breakthrough.

As for Bradford, his 2003 season is quickly becoming an afterthought. He has two or fewer receptions in all but one game this season. Bradford’s hit the home run ball three times, and compared with other third receivers in the league, he would be amongst the best and most dangerous. Problem is Bradford isn’t getting paid what most third receivers are making.

To be fair, there are two other legitimate reasons for Gaffney’s sluggish stats and Bradford’s frequent disappearances. First would have to be the emergence of running back Domanick Davis. In addition to giving the Texans a viable ground attack, he’s also a reliable outlet receiver in the passing game.

That leads us to the second possible reason: Carr is still learning himself. Making his way through all of his progressions to find his third or fourth option is something he either doesn’t have time to do or doesn’t yet have the experience.

Regardless of the reasons, the trio may not coexist much longer. Considering that Bradford only has one more year after this one on his contract, it’s quite possible he isn’t re-signed. And with a 2004 cap figure of nearly $2.3 million, the possibility exists, however remote, that the Texans may decide to part ways with Bradford after the 2003 season ends.

Gaffney, on the other hand, doesn’t figure to go anywhere for awhile. At less than $800,000 next season, his cap figure is more than affordable.

But don’t expect the Texans to let him get too comfy as the team’s number two option though. Derick Armstrong, currently fourth on the depth chart, could start to push Gaffney as early as next year’s camp.

Plus, what if one of those many top flight college wide receivers starts to slip next April into the second or third round of the draft? It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Texans pounce at the opportunity to select the best player available in one of those rounds, even if it is at wide receiver, despite all the needs they have on defense.

Tune in, drop out… It’s crunch time, when the best players begin to really separate themselves from the rest. Think anyone on these two squads might do just that?

Marlin Jackson   Jackson  

Ohio State @ Michigan, 11:00am CT, ABC – Plenty of NFL-caliber talent on this field, but I’m interested in seeing two of the best corner prospects in the whole country in this matchup. For the Buckeyes, junior Chris Gamble (6’2″ 180) may be the most instinctive player on the field. Still raw as a corner, his athletic ability more than makes up for it at the college level. Will that continue to be the case in the NFL? And for the Wolverines, some think junior Marlin Jackson (6’1″ 190) has slipped a little this season in his move to safety. While he has been bothered by a minor leg muscle injury, I’m not so sure that’s the case. Better watch on Saturday to see for yourself.

For those of you who don’t know who Keith Weiland is, he’s the very successful, very disease free gentleman standing by the mini bar.