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Turner describing a route. I think.

Turner describing a route. I think.

With Norv Turner, you know what you’re going to get. Turner was fired in San Diego after the Chargers failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three years, but as usual, Turner was able to find a nice landing spot. He’ll be the Browns offensive coordinator in 2013, which will mark his 29th straight year in the NFL. Turner started as a receivers coach with the Rams in 1985 and hasn’t been out of work for very long ever since.

And while he has a reputation for having great running games, he also has habit of sending his receivers down the field. That’s no accident. Ernie Zampese, a longtime assistant under Don Coryell, became the Rams offensive coordinator in 1987, and Turner’s teams have been running a variation of the vertical Coryell/Zampese system ever since.

I ranked all players (minimum 500 receiving yards) in yards per reception in each year since Turner was united with Zampese in ’87. In six of those seasons, one of five different Turner receivers led the NFL in yards per reception. In addition, Turner’s top receiver (in terms of YPR) finished in the top five in that metric thirteen more times. The table below shows the rank of the highest-ranked receiver (in terms of YPR) in Turner’s offense in each of the last 26 years.

YearTitleTeamYPR RankPlayerRecYdTDYPR
1987Wide Receivers/Tight EndsLos Angeles Rams6Ron J. Brown26521220
1988Wide Receivers/Tight EndsLos Angeles Rams5Aaron Cox28590521.1
1989Wide Receivers/Tight EndsLos Angeles Rams1Flipper Anderson441146526
1990Wide Receivers/Tight EndsLos Angeles Rams1Flipper Anderson511097421.5
1991Offensive Coordinator/QBsDallas Cowboys10Michael Irvin931523816.4
1992Offensive Coordinator/QBsDallas Cowboys5Michael Irvin781396717.9
1993Offensive Coordinator/QBsDallas Cowboys2Alvin Harper36777521.6
1994Head CoachWashington Redskins4Henry Ellard741397618.9
1995Head CoachWashington Redskins5Henry Ellard561005517.9
1996Head CoachWashington Redskins1Henry Ellard521014219.5
1997Head CoachWashington Redskins1Leslie Shepherd29562519.4
1998Head CoachWashington Redskins12Michael Westbrook44736616.7
1999Head CoachWashington Redskins4Michael Westbrook651191918.3
2000Head CoachWashington Redskins2Albert Connell39762319.5
2001Offensive CoordinatorSan Diego Chargers10Curtis Conway711125615.8
2002Offensive CoordinatorMiami Dolphins1James McKnight29528218.2
2003Offensive CoordinatorMiami Dolphins14Chris Chambers649631115
2004Head CoachOakland Raiders10Doug Gabriel33551216.7
2005Head CoachOakland Raiders5Randy Moss601005816.8
2006Offensive CoordinatorSan Francisco 49ers5Antonio Bryant40733318.3
2007Head CoachSan Diego Chargers10Chris Chambers35555415.9
2008Head CoachSan Diego Chargers4Vincent Jackson591098718.6
2009Head CoachSan Diego Chargers4Malcom Floyd45776117.2
2010Head CoachSan Diego Chargers4Malcom Floyd37717619.4
2011Head CoachSan Diego Chargers1Malcom Floyd43856519.9
2012Head CoachSan Diego Chargers3Danario Alexander37658717.8

Even in 2012, when seemingly everything went wrong for Turner and Philip Rivers, Danario Alexander still ranked third in the NFL in yards per reception. Only twice has Turner failed to have a receiver crack the top ten in yards per catch. Once came in 2003, when a washed up Jay Fiedler and Brian Griese quarterbacked the Dolphins (this was the year Ricky Williams had 392 carries). The other time was 1998, but in that season, Turner’s team fielded two receivers who ranked in the top thirteen in yards per reception (Michael Westbrook and Leslie Shepherd).

In seven of the last eight seasons, five different Turner wide receivers have ranked in the top five in yards per reception. In 2009, both Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd ranked in the top five in yards per catch, giving Turner eight top-five YPR receivers in the last eight years.

In Cleveland, the resident deep threat is Josh Gordon. In one season at Baylor, Gordon averaged 17.0 yards per catch while teaming with Robert Griffin III. Gordon sat out the 2011 season after transferring from Baylor (after failing multiple drug tests and being arrested), and then entered the NFL in the 2012 supplemental draft. As a rookie, Gordon ranked 8th in the league in yards per reception (16.1) and caught 50 passes for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns. He had good chemistry with fellow rookie Brandon Weeden, and the two connected on four touchdowns of 30+ yards last season, trailing only Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton for most such scores in the league. With Trent Richardson serving as the prototypical Norv Turner back and trying to fill the Emmitt Smith/LaDainian Tomlinson/Ricky Williams role, Gordon should serve as the counter weapon to that attack. Few offensive coaches in 2013 run vertical offenses, but Turner has always liked to mix in the deep pass to go along with a punishing ground game. Here’s what the Akron Beacon Journal had to say last week:

From what Gordon’s seen so far, the new offense will be unrecognizable compared to the West Coast system used by previous Browns coach Pat Shurmur and his staff.

“Defenses will be shocked to say the least with how much we’re running down field,” Gordon said. “I’ve never ran this much as a wide receiver ever in my life, and that’s a good thing. And not just me, everyone from the slot guys to running backs, everyone’s got passing plays in the system.”

One thing that wouldn’t shock me: seeing Gordon lead the NFL in yards per reception in 2013.

  • James

    “One thing that wouldn’t shock me: seeing Gordon lead the NFL in yards per reception in 2013.”

    So close!

  • Clint

    Almost! Led the league in yards though. Still a pretty decent call! Nobody was this bold in their Josh Gordon predictions. I definitely wasn’t. He was a HUGE deep threat, so your point itself was spot-on.