Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Thomas: These are the toughest receivers I ever covered

Clark Judge

(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Emmitt Thomas interview, fast-forward to 1:06:20 of the attachment above)

Hall-of-Fame cornerback Emmitt Thomas faced dozens of outstanding receivers in his 13-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and coached hundreds more in his 38 years as an NFL assistant coach.

So we asked him: Who was the toughest guy to cover?

“I’m going to say Paul Warfield and Fred Biletnikoff,” he said on a recent Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Two different guys with the respect that Warfield was quicker and faster, where Biletnikoff was real crafty. Those two guys were tough duty on Sunday afternoon.”

Both are in the Hall, with Warfield a first-ballot choice in 1983 and Biletnikoff elected on his fourth try as a finalist in 1988.

Warfield was an eight-time Pro Bowler, a seven-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion, NFL champ, 1970s’ all-decade choice and two-time receiving touchdowns leader. He’s also in the Browns’ Ring of Honor and the Miami Dolphins’ Honor Roll.

Biletnikoff was a two-time AFL all-star with the Oakland Raiders, a four-time Pro Bowler, 1972 first-team All-Pro, 1971 NFL receptions leader, AFL champion, Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP.

When he left the NFL after the 1978 season, he was the league’s all-time leader in playoff receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches and was so unforgettable that the NCAA annually gives its most outstanding Division I receiver the Biletnikoff Award in honor of the former Raiders' great.

Thomas played in the same division both in the AFL and NFL as Biletnikoff, so he knows plenty about him. But, as he conceded on the Talk of Fame Network interview, he didn’t cover him as much as the Chiefs’ other cornerback, Jim Marsalis.

Nevertheless, what he saw of Biletnikoff he never forgot. And that went double for Warfield.

“I look at these guys now,” said Thomas, “and the guy that really kind of looks like him a little bit -- body-wise (and) size -- is the receiver from the Denver Broncos -- No. 10 (Emmanuel Sanders).

"Warfield was crafty. He was tough. Quick. Athletic. Freddie wasn’t as fast but he was a route running machine. Those two guys kept you busy on Sunday afternoon.”

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2
brian wolf
brian wolf

Yes, young NFL fans need to watch footage of the great Paul Warfield to see how feared he was amongst defensive backs. Despite playing on teams that ran the ball first, he was the ultimate weapon at Wide Receiver. Its no coincidence that he played on the last Browns team to win a championship in 1964, and the last Dolphin team to win a championship in 1973.

Was suprised that Thomas didnt mention Warren Wells of the Raiders as well. Wells mostly lined up against Thomas while Biletnikoff went up against Marsalis or Williamson. That secondary for the Chiefs had its finest day in the 69 AFL Championship game. I listened to the NBC radio broadcast and couldnt believe how they kept stoning the Raider offence, every time it kept coming closer to their endzone. The secondary intercepted four passes and held Wells and Biletnikoff to just one catch !

Clark Judge
Clark Judge


Brian, I remember when I was in a debate (OK, argument) with two Terrell Owens fans, and they told me he was one of the two or three best WRs of all time. And they asked me who was better … other than Jerry Rice. Well, first of all, I said T.O. wasn't even the best WR of his generation. He was a second-team all-decade choice to Randy Moss and Torry Holt. Then, I said, let's start with Don Hutson, Rice, Lance Alworth, Paul Warfield … and when I said Warfield, they started laughing … saying you gotta be kidding. Look at his numbers; what a joke. Well, seeing was believing. These guys weren't all that young, either, but apparently they forgot that the game has evolved into a pass-happy league where passing and receiving numbers are inflated. Warfield was a great, great receiver. But because he wasn't of the ESPN era or wasn't a diva he's dismissed by fans who should know better. The NFL's changes to the game haven't been kind to its history, but if you saw Warfield you wouldn't forget him.

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