When we reminisce about the best parts of growing up, we don’t talk about recess as much as we should. Take a minute to think about how stoked you would be a bell went off twice a day at work just so you could go mess around with your colleagues. Recess might be the most underrated part of childhood.
No matter where you grew up, there were some go to games every kid played at recess: four square, basketball, hopscotch, you know them all. Every school also had some games unique to them. For example, at my school we invented a game called squash where we’d throw one of my buddies’ soccer socks at each other in a mix between dodgeball, tag, and king of the hill.
The premier game of choice for me and my friends, however, was football. Every time there was a blizzard (Salt Lake City doesn’t get snow days) I’d show up to school in my San Francisco Terrell Owens jersey. I knew my buddies were also going to show up in their Titans Steve McNair and Tampa Bay Warrick Dunn jerseys, and once recess hit, it was game on.
Obviously you had the kids who wanted to play quarterback on these snowy afternoons. You know the type: no real passion for the game, they were only trying to show off for the popular girls at school. The real ballers, however, knew running back was the position to play. If you got lined up at running back you had the validation that your peers knew you were the go guy, the best athlete on the playground.
That’s how it used to be at the highest levels of football as well. While I was growing up, the biggest stars in both high school and college, and then going on to the league were running backs: LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Reggie Bush, Marshall Faulk, and, of course, Adrian Peterson. Guys making plays up the middle, to the edge, off short passes and making people miss... running backs looked like the athletes we all wanted ourselves to be, and we rewarded them for it: As recently as 2005, 7 running backs had a cap hit over 5.5 million: Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Rudi Johnson, Curtis Martin, Jamal Lewis, and Ahman Green. Just one receiver did: probable future Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce.
If you look around the league today, however, a lot of the biggest stars are in the 6’3” 220 pound range and playing outside the hashes: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins. There’s Antonio Brown at a shorter size doing things unheard of from the slot, but for the most part, outside receivers run the game. We could get into a whole thing on why Art Briles and Chad Morris are to blame for this... maybe I’ll make that a summer article. Long story short, though, is that prototypical number one receivers are the biggest non-QB studs in football right now.
For UNC, Dazz Newsome is coming in to contradict this notion. Coming in at a stout 5’11” and 185 lbs, Newsome doesn’t exactly fit the Julio Jones “hulk” mold, but there’s a really good chance that Newsome is the number one receiver for the Tar Heels this year.
The possibility of Newsome leading Carolina in receiving is a result of several factors, not least of which is that he’s just a really good football player. It does help, however, that Newsome’s career is blossoming right in the middle of a second culture change in offensive philosophy.
Just like Art Briles and Chad Morris have a big part in a shift in focus from running backs to receivers, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid might be considered the founding father of the 6 feet and under club.
Reid looked around the league and saw that guys as dominant as Jones, Hopkins, and Megatron before them, guys who can catch over DBs with the route running agility, hands, and speed to not get taken advantage of on the field, don’t exactly grow on trees. They’re great to have, sure, but you need a lot of things to come together to strike gold on one of them.
What you find a lot more commonly, however, are 5’10” track guys who you can draft late because they don’t meet the traditional receiver measurements. Taking advantage of this fairly untapped talent pool is just one of the latest ways moneyball is in play in the NFL. These guys had previously been relegated to the slot or gadget roles (or been Steve Smith), but Reid, starting with De’Anthony Thomas, put guys with unique speed and after-catch instincts outside regardless of size disadvantages. Thomas has had an uneven career, but Reid’s idea has seemingly struck gold with Tyreek Hill. Hill, who was fourth in the NFL last year in both receiving yards and touchdowns, was a 5th round pick for a combination of off-field issues and his diminutive size. Right now, he’s only taking up 1% of the Chiefs’ cap, though that figures to balloon once his rookie contract’s up. His first round classmates, meanwhile, including Corey Coleman and Josh Doctson, cost 150% more per year and have been less effective. And Hill doesn’t win simply by out-physicalling or out-athleting his opposition. There’s plenty of that, but Reid schemes him to do things that his size and speed allow for uniquely. Remember this not-Hail Mary? It’s something that a coach has to think of, which doesn’t make him universally valuable, but it’s also something only he can do.
That’s a roundabout way of explaining that Dazz Newsome is going shine in Phil Longo’s offense. Last year it seemed at times like Anthony Ratliff-Williams suffered from Calvin Johnson syndrome, where he was the focal point of both the offensive and defensive game plans, with mediocre (at best) quarterbacking to boot. No matter how talented you are, it’s hard to excel under the circumstances Ratliff-Williams was in last season.
That won’t be the case with Newsome this year. Phil Longo’s offense is designed to spread the ball around so that the defense can’t hone in on one player. Newsome is also hopefully going to be lined up all over the field, both as an outside and slot receiver. He’ll probably even be in the back field once in a while, seeing how well he did on jet sweeps last season. In some offenses, receivers just stick to one side. Arizona Cardinals receiver Kevin White, for example took less than five snaps lined up not as the outside receiver on the left side of the formation his entire senior year at West Virginia. Even at Longo’s last stop, in Ole Miss, D.K. Metcalf fell down draft boards for playing exclusively on the right. A.J. Brown, though, claimed he could have played from wherever he wanted if the rest of the offense had been at his level. Newsome’s flexibility, alongside his teammates learning to adjust to different spots, will allow Longo to exploit defensive mismatches.
He’s also going to benefit from Carolina’s deep receiving corps. Phil Longo has a ton of personnel options to mess around with and keep defensive coordinators guessing.
Starting with the Syracuse game last year, Newsome went on a tear to finish the season. He’ll benefit from a full offseason after being a productive player, which is different than off season where you’re fighting for a starting position.
When Dazz Newsome leads Carolina in receiving this year, you’ll know that his talent and production are part of it, but he’s also part of a larger revolution in football. Newsome is just one of many representing for all of us in the 6 feet and under club, and thankfully, he’s doing it in Blue Heaven.