Allen Robinson and NFL history’s most cursed wide receivers

ARob and the most cursed wide receivers in NFL history | 1-5

5. Louis Lipps, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980s

Lipps was the best player for the worst Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the modern era.

Lipps was the 23rd overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft and quickly became a Pro Bowler. He accomplished that in Lynn Swann’s former role as the Steelers’ deep threat opposite John Stallworth. Sadly, Terry Bradshaw and most of the other Steel Curtain greats were gone by then. As a result, Lipps caught his touchdown passes from Mark Malone, David Woodley, and Bubby Brister. Meanwhile, the Steelers slid further and further from relevance.

Stallworth’s presence cut into Lipps’ early-career production, and injuries later took their toll. The Steelers unceremoniously cut Lipps during a contract dispute when Bill Cowher took over as coach in 1992.

Lipps crept back into the public consciousness last year when Chase Claypool began breaking some of his Steelers’ rookie records and generating some similar highlights. Lipps was one of the best Steelers’ wide receivers of all time. His unfortunate twist of fate forced him to be more of a trivia question than a legend.

4. Rob Moore, New York Jets/Arizona Cardinals, 1990s

Moore graduated from Syracuse with one year of eligibility left in 1989. According to the rules of the era, he had to enter the supplemental draft. There he was the first overall pick by the New York Jets. The moral of the story, kids? Stay in school. EVEN AFTER YOU GRADUATE.

But seriously, the Jets of the early 1990s went through a series of bad ideas. Bruce Coslet, a not-ready-for-primetime Pete Carroll, fading Ken O’Brien, aging Boomer Esiason, a fellow named Browning Nagle, and so forth. Moore stuck around until 1994 when the Jets traded him to the Phoenix Cardinals for a first-round pick and running back Ron Moore.

Yes, the Jets traded Rob Moore for Ron Moore. It’s a Jets thing the rest of us cannot hope to understand.

In comes Buddy Ryan

Moore (the one we care about) joined a Cardinals team coached by Buddy Ryan, who was doing Buddy things to their offense. He preferred creaky old game-manager quarterbacks like Steve Beuerlein, Jay Schroeder, Dave Krieg, at that point in his career. Moore persevered and had a few excellent seasons for the Cardinals, catching 97 passes for 1,584 yards and 8 touchdowns when Ryan was gone and Jake Plummer was his quarterback in 1997. When Plummer, head coach Vince Tobin and the 1990s Cardinals were the salad days of your career, it’s a good sign that your career was somewhat cursed. 

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Moore had a last laugh of sorts when on-field Cardinals footage of him was used for Rod Tidwell’s character in the film Jerry McGuire. Other wide receivers may have reached Super Bowls or made all-decade teams. Moore got to appear in a movie with Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr.! So maybe Allen Robinson will get to be in a Marvel movie someday. Let’s hope it’s not titled Jack Easterby and the Multiverse of Madness.

3. Reggie Rucker, New England Patriots/Cleveland Browns, 1970s

Rucker began his career as an undrafted Dallas Cowboys rookie in 1970 when the draft was 17 (!) rounds long. He battled his way up from the taxi squad (the practice squad of the era), only to get released when the Cowboys traded for future Hall of Famer Lance Allworth.

Rucker then bounced to the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, which may have been the worst-run organization in the league back then. He had a few solid seasons, playing much of 1974 with his arm in a cast before a dispute with the coaching staff led to a trade to the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns of the late-1970s were pretty good by Browns standards. They generally hovered around .500 before reaching the playoffs in 1980. Rucker was their leading receiver for four years, catching passes from Brian Sipe. Knee injuries knocked him out of the league in 1982, just before offenses truly exploded. Rucker went on to a somewhat-checkered post-football career.

Rucker almost had a chance to be part of the great Dallas Cowboys teams of the late 1970s. His Cowboys contemporary, Drew Pearson, is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2021.

Had Rucker hung on for a few more seasons, he might have had some of the enormous statistical seasons wide receivers John Stallworth and Charlie Joiner enjoyed in the mid-1980s. Instead, he produced stats that wouldn’t make a modern fan take a second look. Rucker was a heck of a player under challenging circumstances in an era that was not kind to wide receivers.

2. Brian Blades, Seattle Seahawks, 1980s-1990s

Blades was the brother of Bennie Blades, a superstar defensive back for the University of Miami who had a solid career with the Detroit Lions. Brian was a second-round pick out of Miami in his own right, but he got stuck on the listless Seattle Seahawks of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Blades’ first NFL coach was Chuck Knox, who was nicknamed “Ground Chuck.” By the time he reached Seattle, Knox might not have been quite as run-oriented as his reputation. However, he still pounded nondescript running backs like Derrick Fenner and John L. Williams into the line an awful lot.

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Meanwhile, Bill Walsh and his disciples were opening the league’s eyes to a better way. Blades still managed some 1,000-yard seasons, but when Knox gave way to Tom Flores, quarterback Dave Krieg gave way to legendary draft bust Rick Mirer.

Mirer was a little like the Sam Darnold of the early 1990s. He started OK, but sacks and dubious coaching by Flores’ assistants took their toll. Mirer was soon a sack-prone mess sharing a starting job with John Friesz. Meanwhile, Blades was sharing targets with first-round pick Joey Galloway. Blades somehow still managed to rack up a 1,000-yard season under this arrangement in 1995.

Blades’ brother, Galloway, and his team’s issues ultimately overshadowed his career. He was even overshadowed by Williams when the Super Tecmo Bowl video game immortalized him; Williams was strangely OP in that game. Blades may have been the Doug Baldwin of his era. But he never had a Russell Wilson to throw the ball to him.

1. Curtis Conway, Chicago Bears/San Diego Chargers, 1990s-2000s

Counting Allen Robinson, Conway is the third Bears wide receiver on this list, and many others were considered. That’s because so many historic Bears teams were just like the 2020 Bears. They had great defenses, some great offensive weapons, and absolute messes at quarterback. (Whenever Jim McMahon was in traction, the mighty 1985 Bears were just an extreme case of the same phenomenon).

Conway was a superstar at USC, where he caught passes from Rob Johnson. Johnson would later battle Doug Flutie for the Buffalo Bills’ starting job, with catastrophic playoff results. Conway was the Bears’ seventh overall pick in 1993. Dave Wannstedt replaced Mike Ditka that year, marking the end of the flagging Super Bowl Shuffle era.

Oh, but it gets worse

Conway’s roll call of quarterbacks gets worse and worse as the years go on. Young Jim Harbaugh, then Erik Kramer (who was solid for a few seasons), then aging Dave Krieg, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, and Shane Matthews. Conway somehow managed a 12-touchdown season in 1995 and an 81-catch season in 1996 from this rogue’s gallery.

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Conway escaped Chicago by signing a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers in 2000. That move came just in time for the Ryan Leaf era! Leaf gave way to Harbaugh, Flutie, and Drew Brees, with Conway leading the team in receiving twice.

After a trip to the Jets (few cursed receiving careers are complete without a trip to the Jets), Conway ended his career on a 2-14 San Francisco 49ers team with Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey at quarterback.

Conway was a big-play threat who was dangerous on reverses and could throw option passes. He would have been a superstar if his teams didn’t make every mistake in the book at quarterback.

What is Allen Robinson’s ultimate fate?

In the end, Conway became a successful regional broadcaster, like Rucker and a few others (like Mike Quick) who nearly made this list. Is that Allen Robinson’s fate? Will he someday be the voice of the London Jaguars? If that happens, let’s hope it comes at the end of a long career where he enjoyed some deep playoff runs and got to catch passes from a good quarterback or two.

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