As sports fans, we're fond of hypotheticals. We've all seen compiled our fantasy squads and all-time teams and wondered how an undefeated 2006 Bronco team would rate against the 2009 version. Well, OBNUG will be taking it one step further over the next few weeks. We're going to be assembling the perfect theoretical Bronco team by mashing up the best traits of the best all-time players into hybrid super Broncos. So if you've ever wondered how Ian Johnson would've fared with Antwon Carter's calves...this is your kind of series. We'll begin playing God after the jump.
First off, we'll be assembling the perfect Bronco wide receiver by slicing and dicing some greats from the past and present. Mind you, this "slicing and dicing" is purely theoretical, so nobody call the cops or anything. When thinking about what makes a great receiver, three things come immediately to mind: Hands, speed, and route-running. Most elite receivers will have 2 out of these 3 traits, while the best of the best will have all 3. Let's dive in and assemble the perfect Bronco receiver...Igor, hit the lights.
We'll start here because it'll be our shortest journey. Igor probably won't even break a sweat and we won't have to fire up the Delorean at all.
The candidates: Jay Swillie, Jerard Rabb, Jeremy Childs, Austin Pettis
The donor: Austin Pettis
They said that the number 1 that Jay Swillie wore during his tenure stood for "first down", and Swillie certainly hauled in his fair share of first downs and big plays from both Bart Hendricks and Ryan Dinwiddie. No one will forget Swillie's heroic TD grab against an 8th rated Fresno State in 2001. The guy was money...but not on the same level as Jerard Rabb. Rabb showcased his abilities in his two years with the Broncos—catching clutch first downs in traffic, going up for crucial two-point conversions, and famously catching (and then one-hand palming) a lateral pass from Drisan James in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Rabb also wore number 1, and he might have been our top hands man if a lowly frosh that played alongside Rabb his senior year hadn't fulfilled his potential the following years. Yes, Jeremy Childs is near the top of the list to donate our FrankenBronco's hands—and to be honest, he probably would be a good match for our route-running needs as well. Childs came on strong after the epic 2006 season; quickly becoming a go-to receiver for Taylor Tharp and Kellen Moore and flummoxing defenses with his uncanny ability to make tough catches look easy. Look no further than the Broncos' 2008 game in Oregon's Autzen Stadium to see how good this guy's hands really were. Double coverage, triple coverage...didn't matter—Childs was that reliable (off the field, unfortunately, not so much). If JC hadn't unwisely left after his junior year, he might have gotten even better...but alas, Childs bolted and our short, short memories have all but forgotten him as they guy who now dons the #2 jersey hit his stride. Austin Pettis, in my humble opinion, has the best hands I've ever seen on a Bronco receiver. The new "Mr. First Down" caught a TD in the Broncos first 10 games of the season and the All-WAC first-teamer proved nearly impossible to cover (right, Idaho?). A corner fade route to Austin Pettis is the closest thing to undefendable you are likely to find on a football field...unfortunately, it is called surprisingly little.
Possessing this trait will often get the player the "deep threat" tag, and to be sure...it's an important one. A fast receiver can get open, even against the best corners. If the QB has the right touch and a big arm, speed can absolutely kill in any level of football. Whose feet are we after?
The candidates: Winky White, Legedu Naanee, Titus Young
The donor: Titus Young
Was Winky White one of the fastest Bronco receivers ever? I have no idea. All I do know is that when I watched the Broncos as a kid, it seemed like that guy had wings. White had 264 receiving yards against Nevada back in the day and had nearly 2,000 yards receiving in his Bronco career (1987-1990). Put up stats like that, and chances are, you were pretty quick. In the Broncos more recent past, Legedu Naanee stands out as a man with more well-documented speed. The QB-turned-WR was big, strong, and fast (a nice combo for a receiver), Naanee might not have looked it, but the 4.4 40 time that he put up at the '07 combine confirmed it...Naanee could really move. Our speed donor does look fast...and proves it week after week. Titus Young is a burner, plain and simple. He can and will get open, and if Kellen Moore is on his game, Titus is going to the endzone. Heck, Titus' first ever touchdown as a Bronco (as a true frosh, no less) was a 53-yard bomb against Weber State. I don't know that Young's 40 time has been confirmed, but in Fall camp he routinely gave Kyle Wilson all he could handle, and Wilson's speed is at an elite level. With Young's improved ball security, and off-field problems sorted out, 2009 saw him become just the eighth Bronco receiver in history with 1,000 yards in a season.
When you aren't the fastest guy on the field, but you are one of the most productive...you're either lucky or a great route-runner. The following chaps put up some great numbers in their careers, and it was their precise routes and attention to detail that got them the accolades and the caught their QBs attention. We're going back a little ways for our route running ability, so we're flipping on the flux capacitor and getting the Delorean off the blocks.
The candidates: Don Hutt, Ryan Ikebe, TJ Acree, Lou Fanucchi
The donor: Ryan Ikebe
Don Hutt still holds the Bronco record for receiving TDs (30) in a career. He may have Austin Pettis' broken ankle to thank for that. During Hutt's time with the Broncos he was a receiving machine, hauling in 189 passes for over 2,700 yards and our aforementioned slew of TDs. Hutt looked one of the BeeGees (they all looked like that in the 70s), but padded his stats with precise routes...making the best of targets for legendary Bronco QB Jim McMillan. Ryan Ikebe played for the Broncos when they still were rocking Division 1-AA and sitting atop the Big Sky Conference. Ikebe was another unassuming receiver that was always in the right place at the right time. Ikebe is the current Bronco record-holder for career-yardage with 2,752...and his 27 career TDs aren't too shabby either. With Tony Hilde slinging the rock...Ikebe made opposing DBs look silly time and again and in 1994 flummoxed his defenders all the way to the national championship game. If you are more of a recent addition to the Bronco bandwagon, the name TJ Acree should at least ring a bell. Acree was not the fastest or the biggest player to come out of Pocatello, Idaho, but he played like he was once he got to the Blue. Acree's route-running was absolutely textbook, and time and again earned him adulation from coaches and players alike. Some may forget that he was named Fort Worth Bowl MVP in 2003, but no Bronco fan will forget Acree slipping free against BYU in 2004 for the go-ahead TD late in regulation. Lou Fanucchi's YPC was sick. During Fanucchi's time with the Broncos (1999-2002), the diminutive Italian caught no less than 131 passes for 2,554 yards (a 19.49 yard/catch average). If you're a fan of the Tyler Shoemaker "SHOE" cheer after a grab...you have his predecessor Derek Schouman to thank, who in turn has Fanucchi to thank, whose "LOU" cheer might have started the whole shabang as we know it.
So there you have it, we've made a Bronco receiving monstrosity that simply cannot be stopped (lest it's by villagers with pitchforks and torches). If you think I made a glaring omission, let's talk it out, no need to fight about it. Until next week, Igor, shut'er down.