Receiving Line A parade of savvy wideouts is coming into its own as the NFL's latest generation of sure-handed pass catchers

December 24, 2001

Kevin Johnson
BROWNS

DRAFTED: Second round in 1999, from Syracuse

VITALS 25, 5'11", 195 pounds

2001 NUMBERS: 65 catches, 893 yards, eight touchdowns

PROFILE: Has excellent hands and quickness to beat press
coverage, is adept at finding openings in zones and makes
impressive adjustments to ball, especially on deep throws. A
less-than-impressive training camp had him on trading block
during preseason, but has turned things around and become
Cleveland's chief threat.

MEMORABLE GAME: Caught six passes for 113 yards and a touchdown
in victory over the Bengals on Nov. 25, avenging the Browns'
earlier defeat to cross-state rival.

ONE MAN'S OPINION: "When he gets off the line, he can accelerate
and create separation," says Cardinals cornerback Corey Chavous.
"Being a former [high school] quarterback probably helps him,
because he knows what to look for against defenses."

--Jeffri Chadiha

Troy Brown
PATRIOTS

DRAFTED: Eighth round in 1993, from Marshall

VITALS 30, 5'10", 190 pounds

2001 NUMBERS: 90 catches, 1,095 yards, five touchdowns

PROFILE: Late bloomer has already exceeded totals from
breakthrough year in 2000, when he caught 83 balls for 944
yards. Not known for speed but runs precise routes and excels at
making yards after catch. Third in the AFC in punt return average.

MEMORABLE GAME: Caught 11 passes for 117 yards in
come-from-behind overtime win over San Diego on Oct. 14, in game
that started Patriots on surprising run for the playoffs.

ONE MAN'S OPINION: "He's a crafty guy who knows what defenses
want to do against him," says Falcons cornerback Ashley Ambrose.
"People think receivers need to be big and fast, but look at
Troy--that's just not true. He's always been tough to cover
one-on-one."

--Josh Elliott

Laveranues Coles
JETS

DRAFTED: Third round in 2000, from Florida State

VITALS 23, 5'11", 190 pounds

2001 NUMBERS: 43 catches, 606 yards, six touchdowns

PROFILE: Bitter at having been passed over early in draft after
department-store caper--he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor
charge--the previous fall, has used that snub and 4.35 speed to
burn foes for 15 yards per catch in his first two seasons. While
Jets develop his intermediate game, they're still struggling to
get him the ball deep.

MEMORABLE GAME: In come-from-behind victory over the Dolphins on
Oct. 14, he had five receptions for 77 yards and two touchdowns.

ONE MAN'S OPINION: "When he came into the league, I had an image
of a straight-line guy who'd drop too many passes," says Bills
director of pro personnel John Guy. "He's an excellent route
runner, has much-improved hands and is a solid receiver over the
middle and on the deep balls. He's becoming the total
package."

--Peter King

James Thrash
EAGLES

DRAFTED: Not selected after playing at Missouri Southern; spent
first four seasons with Redskins; signed with Eagles last March

VITALS 26, 6 feet, 200 pounds

2001 NUMBERS: 51 catches, 664 yards, seven touchdowns

PROFILE: One of Washington's few bright spots last season,
catching 50 passes for 653 yards. He stretches defenses with
superior speed, is good downfield blocker and has emerged as
wideout threat Donovan McNabb was missing a year ago.

MEMORABLE GAME: In second game for Philly, caught 10 passes for
165 yards and two touchdowns in victory over the Seahawks.

ONE MAN'S OPINION: "He can find holes in the zone," says Cowboys
defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. "He's not exceptionally fast,
but he has great separation ability. It's a deceptive speed. You
see him coming and think he's not going that fast, but then he's
past you."

--J.E.

Marty Booker
BEARS

DRAFTED: Third round in 1999, from Northeastern Louisiana

VITALS 25, 5'11", 215 pounds

2001 NUMBERS: 78 catches, 845 yards, eight touchdowns

PROFILE: In college, converted from quarterback to wide receiver
as a freshman; physical threat over the middle and has speed to
go deep.

MEMORABLE GAME: In 27-24 win over the Bucs on Nov. 18, caught
seven passes for 165 yards, including touchdowns of 28, 44 and 66
yards.

ONE MAN'S OPINION: "You watch tape on him, and you see he's a
tough guy with excellent hands," says Falcons cornerback Ray
Buchanan. "But he also plays bigger than he is and is a very
deceptive route runner. What he probably does best is run after
the catch. He never goes down after the first hit."

--P.K.

Hines Ward
STEELERS

DRAFTED: Third round in 1998, from Georgia

VITALS 25, 6 feet, 197 pounds

2001 NUMBERS: 80 catches, 862 yards, three touchdowns

PROFILE: Started games in college at wideout, quarterback and
running back; lacks receiver pedigree of teammates Plaxico
Burress and Troy Edwards but is Kordell Stewart's go-to guy; his
speed and size are nothing special, but he's a smart player who
runs precise routes; fierce blocker.

MEMORABLE GAME: Had his first 100-yard receiving day on Nov. 18
against the Jaguars, catching nine passes for 112 yards and a
touchdown in 20-7 Pittsburgh win.

ONE MAN'S OPINION: "He's the complete player," says Titans coach
Jeff Fisher. "He'll catch, he'll run after the catch, and he's
as devastating a blocker as I have seen play in the NFL in a
number of years. Just ask defensive backs around the league."

--Michael Silver

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS (JOHNSON) COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MANNIELLO/SPORTSCHROME COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER COLOR PHOTO: PAUL CHAPMAN/BRSP

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