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.
|1987||Wide Receivers/Tight Ends||Los Angeles Rams||6||Ron J. Brown||26||521||2||20|
|1988||Wide Receivers/Tight Ends||Los Angeles Rams||5||Aaron Cox||28||590||5||21.1|
|1989||Wide Receivers/Tight Ends||Los Angeles Rams||1||Flipper Anderson||44||1146||5||26|
|1990||Wide Receivers/Tight Ends||Los Angeles Rams||1||Flipper Anderson||51||1097||4||21.5|
|1991||Offensive Coordinator/QBs||Dallas Cowboys||10||Michael Irvin||93||1523||8||16.4|
|1992||Offensive Coordinator/QBs||Dallas Cowboys||5||Michael Irvin||78||1396||7||17.9|
|1993||Offensive Coordinator/QBs||Dallas Cowboys||2||Alvin Harper||36||777||5||21.6|
|1994||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||4||Henry Ellard||74||1397||6||18.9|
|1995||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||5||Henry Ellard||56||1005||5||17.9|
|1996||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||1||Henry Ellard||52||1014||2||19.5|
|1997||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||1||Leslie Shepherd||29||562||5||19.4|
|1998||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||12||Michael Westbrook||44||736||6||16.7|
|1999||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||4||Michael Westbrook||65||1191||9||18.3|
|2000||Head Coach||Washington Redskins||2||Albert Connell||39||762||3||19.5|
|2001||Offensive Coordinator||San Diego Chargers||10||Curtis Conway||71||1125||6||15.8|
|2002||Offensive Coordinator||Miami Dolphins||1||James McKnight||29||528||2||18.2|
|2003||Offensive Coordinator||Miami Dolphins||14||Chris Chambers||64||963||11||15|
|2004||Head Coach||Oakland Raiders||10||Doug Gabriel||33||551||2||16.7|
|2005||Head Coach||Oakland Raiders||5||Randy Moss||60||1005||8||16.8|
|2006||Offensive Coordinator||San Francisco 49ers||5||Antonio Bryant||40||733||3||18.3|
|2007||Head Coach||San Diego Chargers||10||Chris Chambers||35||555||4||15.9|
|2008||Head Coach||San Diego Chargers||4||Vincent Jackson||59||1098||7||18.6|
|2009||Head Coach||San Diego Chargers||4||Malcom Floyd||45||776||1||17.2|
|2010||Head Coach||San Diego Chargers||4||Malcom Floyd||37||717||6||19.4|
|2011||Head Coach||San Diego Chargers||1||Malcom Floyd||43||856||5||19.9|
|2012||Head Coach||San Diego Chargers||3||Danario Alexander||37||658||7||17.8|
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.