Giving an accurate take on the career of Donovan McNabb is a tricky matter. He was a sensational, mobile quarterback in his prime, from about 2002-2009, but later on, he did not battle Father Time with the tenacity we've seen from other great athletes. He rarely turned the ball over, which gets overlooked. His mark of 37,276 career passing yards is 21st all-time (which puts him ahead of the Bills' K-Gun maestro Jim Kelly). His 234 touchdown passes outrank the late-blooming Steve Young. A six-time Pro Bowler, McNabb was 0-1 in Super Bowls, just like Dan Marino, a nine-time Pro Bowler. There are more factors to consider when assessing McNabb's legacy, but in his favor, one hypothetical lingers: What if he had better wideouts in his arsenal?
Consider the '04 season, in which McNabb completed 64% of his passes for 3,875 yards, 31 scores through the air and just 8 picks, and posted a career-best 104.7 rating. Having All-Pro Terrell Owens as a target took his game to another level. Unfortunately, the next season found T.O. in diva mode, bickering about his contract. Philly didn't give in. Mid-season, it became such a problem that Owens was suspended for the rest of his tenure with the team. With lesser receivers, McNabb's performance dropped slightly and understandably. By the time speedsters Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson arrived on the scene, the mojo wasn't quite what it used to be. After Philly came the onset of Father Time. His last two years were inglorious. And speaking of inglorious, let's take a gander at the sorry state of McNabb's receivers.
15 Charles Johnson
This standout from the University of Colorado starts the countdown because of the perspective he provides: He's the best of the worst and he really wasn't that great. Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 1994, Johnson made the move east to Philadelphia in 1999. Rookie Donovan McNabb only started six games that year (as backup to current Eagles' Head Coach Doug Pederson). As the new millennium turned, McNabb took the reigns. Johnson was his most productive wideout, totaling 56 receptions and 642 yards. The team went 11-5 and optimism began to soar, but where the receivers were concerned, that stat line was a sign of things to come. An omen.
Johnson had a respectable career, but he was a harbinger for young McNabb. Upon retiring in 2002, Johnson had accrued 354 catches for 4,606 yards and 24 touchdowns in almost a decade. He barely exceeded 1,000 yards in 1996, but that was an anomaly; he never really rose above the rank of a middling starting WR. He was not at McNabb's disposal during the quarterback's third season in the league. If you're into this sort of thing, you've got to get a load of the mediocre options McNabb had after Johnson. But first, let's remember #5's other starting receiver in the year 2000.
14 Torrance Small
This Alcorn State alum had a run in pro football that was strikingly similar to that of Charles Johnson, whom you might remember from entry 15. Both were journeymen, serviceable wideouts who surprisingly found their way onto the 2001 Patriots team that upset the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. When it was all said and done, Small totaled six fewer catches (346) and four fewer receiving yards (4,602) than Johnson. Small caught more TDs, 31, but in 2000, Small was the second fiddle, that's just how it played out.
There was also the issue of Small's catch rate--receptions divided by targets--which declined every year from 1996-2000. Advanced stats magnified his weaknesses. In Y2K, Small was targeted 94 times, with only 40 catches to show for it. That's a lousy catch rate of 40.6%. Considering that they won a playoff game with a QB in his second season, the Philadelphia story that season was uplifting. But the team overhauled at their WRs moving forward. Like Johnson, Small didn't return for the 2001 season. At the risk of being super crude, can you believe the Eagles once had a receiving duo of Small/ Johnson?! Yikes. Changes were made. Yet, things pretty much stayed the same.
13 James Thrash
Credit James Thrash for going undrafted in 1997 and still persevering in the league until 2008. His work ethic exceeded his talent, but let's break down his career totals: 290 receptions for 3,646 yards and 22 touchdowns. Thrash lasted a while, but he averaged less than 25 catches and two TDs per year. From 2001-2003, it was hard to say who McNabb's top receiver was, but Thrash was in the discussion... And for Eagles fans, it wasn't a thrilling conversation.
He set personal bests in 2001 with 63 grabs, 8 for scores, and 833 yards. During his stint with McNabb in Philadelphia, he averaged 675 receiving yards and 5 TDs. On a more mediocre level, his catch rate was 53.4% in those three seasons. So, when McNabb aimed a pass at Thrash, the hope of a completion was barely better than a coin flip. When Philly landed the immense talent/ colossal ego of T.O., it was clear that Thrash was expendable. He finished his modest talent/ humble ego tenure in the NFL in Washington.
12 Michael Jenkins
Best known for his stint in Atlanta, where pairing with Roddy White made him the less daunting assignment for opposing cornerbacks, Michael Jenkins gradually totaled 354 grabs for 4,427 yards and 25 scores in his eight-year career. He wound up in Minnesota, after Favre had at last retired but before the Vikings returned to playoff contention, along with the suddenly aging McNabb. The year was 2011. It was a 3-13 disaster and McNabb lost his job to rookie Christian Ponder after week six.
The McNabb/ Jenkins tandem was an eyesore. The QBs yards per completion fell to the lowest it had been in almost a decade and his play-making mojo vanished as the Vikes started the season 1-5. As for Jenkins, he wasn't terrible, but he was a decidedly unexciting player at a position known for sparking excitement (Heck, at least James Thrash had an exciting name). Jenkins was a possession receiver who rarely caught TDs, never surpassed 800 yards in a season, and made a glamorous skill position seem dull. He retired in 2012, a year after Donovan.
11 Kevin Curtis
In an otherwise underwhelming career, check out this one blip on the radar for Curtis: 77 grabs, 1,100 yards, and six touchdowns. He accomplished that in 2007 with #5 slinging him the rock (And the trend of lowly catch rates continued for McNabb's targets as Curtis posted a 57%). The optimal term for this guy is "blip on the radar." After the fallout with T.O. but before the arrivals of Maclin and Jackson, there was Kevin Deevon Curtis. Blip.
His production with his first team, the Rams, suggests that Donovan McNabb was a better QB than Marc Bulger, but there's more to the story. In a transitional era for Philly, Curtis was able to do what the likes of Thrash and Todd Pinkston could not and that's top a grand in receiving yards. McNabb targeted him an excessive 135 times in '07. The trouble was that injuries befell Curtis the next season, and the one after that, and when a teammate is suffering from a sports hernia here and a strained calf there, working on timing and chemistry is a lost cause. But at least Curtis remains a great value pick in a fantasy draft of Madden '08, if you want to be a nerd about it.
10 Jason Avant
Like the namesake of this article, Avant is a Chicago native--and who knows? Maybe that enhanced their chemistry. Avant spent a few years behind Maclin and Jackson on the depth chart, but he certainly contributed in a non-starter role, often keeping the chains moving as a possession receiver. If not spectacular, he was steady. In 2009, Avant was good for a catch rate of 70.7%, which is an efficient mark for a third-or-fourth receiver.
Avant's trouble was finding the end-zone. Of his 346 career snags, only 13 resulted in points. That's only 3.8%, if you want to get mathematical and also round up. He lacked the speed to stretch secondaries deep, which was OK, considering the other burners lined up wide. Unfortunately, dents were starting to appear in McNabb's armor at the apex of Maclin/ Jackson/ Avant, and his leadership skills came under fire. McNabb made the Pro Bowl in 2009, but a season later, Avant was catching passes from Kevin Kolb and then Michael Vick. Fallouts happen in The City of Brotherly Love.
9 Todd Pinkston
It's stunning to look back and realize that Todd Pinkston only played for five years. He's remembered as a starter on some very good Philly teams that made the postseason. In fact, Pinkston started 61 out of 64 regular-season contests from '01-'04... and that was it. In '05, he tore his Achilles early in the preseason, which marked the beginning of the end. He never so much as played a down in the NFL again. The injury notwithstanding, though, there was plenty of reason to doubt Pinkston's ability as a pro receiver.
Pinkston had a reputation for shying away from contact and shunning routes over the middle of the field. This helped contribute to his woeful catch rates, which fell to 41.9% in 2003. In his best season, a year earlier, his line was 60/798/7, but he still only reeled in 53.1% of his targets. Now, Donovan McNabb is the proud owner of the fourth-lowest interception percentage of any quarterback with at least 1,500 attempts and that speaks volumes about his accuracy. It also tells us that his receivers didn't always hold up their end of the deal. Pinkston started constantly, but not because he was a good wideout. He did so because of the Eagles' ongoing weakness at the position.
8 Reggie Brown
As a rookie during Philly's rocky 2005 campaign, Reggie Brown got more playing time due to the T.O. saga. Catching 43 balls for 571 yards got him off to an okay start in the league. His sophomore season was his best as he posted a line of 46/816/8 and showed big-play ability with 17.7 yards per catch. He was considered the team's #1 wideout when he earned a lucrative multi-year extension in 2006. That deal was supposed to expire in 2014. Brown's final appearance in a game was in 2009. Something went wrong.
Injuries took their toll on him in '08, and suddenly he was fending off rookie DeSean Jackson for #1 status. Jeremy Maclin was added to the receiving corps the next year, which meant more competition and with $10 million guaranteed in the bank from that aforementioned contract, we can only surmise that Brown got complacent rather than motivated. The Eagles traded him to the Buccaneers for a sixth-rounder before the 2010 Draft, but Brown never played a down in Tampa. Still, I'll bet it's nice to get a check for $10 million.
7 Greg Lewis
During his six years as a lesser cog in the Eagles' aerial attack, Lewis caught 127 balls for 1,699 yards and 7 TDs. With a shade over 21 receptions per campaign, he was less effective than Thrash and Pinkston. As we've covered before, 2005 saw a reversal of fortunes for Philly due in large part to the petulance of Terrell Owens. His discontent was like a virus. The team went from the best in the NFC to last in the NFC East with a woeful 6-10 record. In lieu of T.O., Lewis was forced to step up; he started all 16 games. How did that work out?
Well, it's true that Lewis had a career year with 48 receptions for 561 yards, but those are lackluster numbers for a starting wideout with a Pro Bowl QB. Worse, let's examine that Achilles heel of many McNabb receivers: The catch rate. In 2005, Lewis was targeted 105 times, which was way too many for a pass-catcher of his caliber. His efficiency hauling in throws was a downright ugly 45.7%. No wonder Eagles fans booed Owens with insane levels of disdain whenever he returned to Lincoln Financial Field as a Cowboy. The difference between the '04 and '05 Eagles spoke volumes about Owens' talent. But it's a shame how he went about making that point.
6 Roydell Williams
The only Roydell in the history of the NFL (and maybe the world), Williams actually led the 2007 Titans in receiving--with a modest 55/719/4... but still. The next season, the New Orleans native was not brought back. He resurfaced in 2010 on the Washington Redskins, where his path crossed with Donovan McNabb. It was a gut punch of a season for McNabb, who had been traded to a division rival. Philly hosted a playoff game without him. Other downers were apparent. For the first and only time in his illustrious career, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns (14:15). McNabb's rating fell to 77.1. Father Time was banging on his door.
As for Roydell, he too had seen better days than the ones he had in Washington. A three-sport star who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and made All-District in basketball in the Big Easy, the Tulane alum still holds the Conference USA record for receiving touchdowns in a career with 35. He found the end-zone just six times in the pros, however. In 2010, he caught 8 passes for 109 yards and no scores as the Skins went 6-10. Our QB protagonist endured another year. Williams did not.
5 Freddie Mitchell
Packers fans everywhere are rolling their eyes and groaning: That guy. Freddie Mitchell was on the receiving end of a McNabb pass on the 4th-and-26 completion that helped extend a Divisional Playoff game for the Eagles, who went on to win in overtime in a classic that the Pack squandered on January 11th, 2004. After the conversion, Mitchell popped up excitedly and enacted the title belt-around-the-waist gesture. After the game, he gave a self-righteous press conference. It was the strangest thing, though, because Freddie Mitchell was an awful receiver.
He had 90 catches for 1,263 and five TDs, which would be an impressive season, but that is what Freddie managed in his four year career. From 2001-2004, aside from one amazing play, Mitchell was less effective than both Thrash and Pinkston. To an even greater degree, he emphasized their need of an Owens-level talent for McNabb to target. He's like David Tyree of the Giants, but without a Super Bowl ring. Or, in wrestling terms, Freddie Mitchell was a jobber who swaggered like he was The Rock. Years before he got busted for tax fraud, he made one legendary catch. Philly fans remember. And Green Bay fans will never forget.
4 Devin Aromashodu
As a practice squad member or otherwise, Gbolahan Devin Aromashodu donned seven different uniforms from 2006-2013.(And yes, Gbolahan is his real first name. Sounds like the level three boss from a Zelda game, but it's no lie). His father was a Nigerian immigrant who loved football and young Gbolahan followed suit. Despite being drafted in the seventh-round by the Colts, failing to make the active roster, and then bouncing around an awful lot, he accomplished his dream of playing in the NFL.
Gbolahan belongs on this list, though. In his career, he managed just 78 receptions for 1,193 yards and five TDs. During McNabb's ignoble farewell tour with Minnesota, his stat line was a measly 26/468/1. As for his catch rate, it was an atrocious 31% that year. And if we go by receptions and yards, that was actually his best season. So, ouch... He retired with little fanfare after 2012. Let's review and conclude: Neat backstory of diversity in a beloved American sport, outlandish name that makes morons like me smile, not-so-good pro football player. That's Gbolahan Devin Aromashadu in a nutshell.
3 Hank Baskett
If it's a challenge to be widely known as a special teams guy with a career receiving line of 77/1,098/6, then surely, Henry Randall Baskett III has overcome such a challenge. Scoring some primo cuddling time with a Playboy Playmate and botching the recovery of an epic onside kick in the Super Bowl does wonders. The co-star of reality shows Kendra and Kendra on Top shared a locker room with Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. Let's get to the bottom of that life experience before Hank reminisces about it on Kendra on Top.
Donovan McNabb was still flourishing despite derisive whispers about his leadership ability in 2008, when Baskett achieved his highest marks. Kendra's main man had 33 receptions for 440 yards and he found paydirt thrice. His catch rate was surprisingly okay at 63.5%, but life is complicated and so he wound up playing for the Colts the next season, which led to his aforementioned blunder on the Saints' onside kick to start the second half. New Orleans claimed the momentum and never looked back. Baskett became a bit of a scapegoat. But it's hard to feel sorry for him. Even though we all know Holly was the prettiest one on The Girls Next Door, in the long run, Hank still did okay.
2 Anthony Armstrong
If you enjoy references to the Intense Football League, you are in luck. After his stint at Division II's West Texas A&M, Armstrong energized fans of the Odessa Roughnecks in 2006. From there he ascended to the Arena Football League, making plays for the Dallas Desperadoes. It's rare to go undrafted, earn some paycheck in indoor leagues, and graduate to the NFL after years of gutting it out, but Armstrong did exactly that. His pro career wasn't all that exceptional, though.
Whereas our main character McNabb was the second overall pick in the NFL, Armstrong took a much different route on their mutual journeys to becoming teammates on the Redskins in 2010. And although he was unable to sustain the production, Armstrong had a good season as a belated rookie. He snared 44 pigskins for 871 yards and three touchdowns. However--and forgive the redundancy here--but this McNabb wideout struggled with his catch rate. At 51.2%, he was scarcely more dependable than a novice at a game of roulette, which probably outweighed his knack for gaining big chunks of yards by averaging 19.8 per catch. Armstrong fought like hell to catch passes from a future Hall of Famer. And he still ranks second here. This nagging reminder that life is not fair has been brought to you by TheSportster.
1 Na Brown
Is he the best receiver that Donovan McNabb has ever had? Nah. Who's the worst? Na. The Eagles selected both men in the 1999 draft, McNabb in the first and Brown in the fourth. And only the former gave Philly the reason to party that coincided with that year. As a rookie, Na played behind the aforementioned vets Charles Johnson and Torrance Small. He was granted five starts, some with Doug Pederson at the helm, but he mustered only 18 grabs for 188 yards and a score. His snagged only half of his targets and his hauls were worth barely more than a first down on average.
The Eagles became so leery of his talent that he quickly lost playing time to the likes of James Thrash and Todd Pinkston, and if we recall nothing else from this foray, let's remember that Thrash and Pinkston were kinda bad. Na's career line of 34/363/2 represents the nadir that a sensational, mobile QB like McNabb had to throw to. When it comes to McNabb's legacy, consider him a more athletic but less prolific version of Warren Moon, which still places Donovan in the discussion of the 25 best quarterbacks ever. Is it right to begrudge him for not winning a Super Bowl? Or blame him because his teams never had premier receivers? Nah... All I gotta say is "Na."