State Your Case: Henry Ellard


UNDATED: Wide reciever Henry Ellard #80 of the Los Angeles Rams carries the ball upfield. Henry Ellard played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1983-1993. (Photo by: Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images)

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(Henry Ellard photo courtesy of L.A. Rams)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

Henry Ellard always wondered what might have happened if he’d played on pass-happy teams like the Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers. My guess is he’d be in the Hall of Fame.

Maybe he should be anyway.

Ellard played nine of his 11 years with the Los Angeles Rams in an offense that believed in running the ball, running the ball and then running the ball some more. Coach John Robinson came to the Rams from USC, where he’d made the running game the signature of Trojans’ football, and he believed it would be just as effective in the NFL. With Eric Dickerson in the backfield it was … and that kept Ellard’s receiving skills well-hidden for too long.

But not forever.

It took six years for Robinson and the Rams to decide air mail could be at least as effective as the pony express. Once they did, Henry Ellard took flight.

In the first five years of his career, Ellard was more dangerous as a punt returner than a wide receiver, never catching more than 54 passes until 1988. But with Dickerson gone to Indianapolis in 1987, the Rams finally discovered what Ellard could do.

It was plenty.

Ellard led the NFL that season with 1,414 yards on 86 receptions. A year later, he averaged 98.7 receiving yards per game on his way to the second of four straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Rams.

Ellard had world-class speed, Olympian leaping ability and, for a decade, he used both to make life miserable for defensive backs assigned to cover him. After moving on to the Washington Redskins in 1994, Ellard put up the first of three 1,000-yard receiving seasons there, averaging 18.9 yards per catch, good for 1,397 yards.

His final 1,000-yard season would come in 1996, one year before his retirement, when, at the age of 35, he averaged nearly 20 yards per reception (19.5 to be precise) and posted his seventh 1,000-yard season since John Robinson finally unchained him from a life of punt returns and downfield blocks.

Despite playing more than a third of his career on run-oriented teams and without a top-quality quarterback, when Henry Ellard retired after 16 seasons in 1997 he ranked third all-time in receiving yards with 13,777 and fourth in receptions with 814. He had dominated his decade, even if for nearly half of it the Rams refused to throw him the ball.

Ellard was the rarest of wide receivers, one who got better with age. In his first five seasons in the NFL, he averaged only 38 catches and 589 yards receiving per season while serving as a Pro Bowl punt returner when not downfield blocking for Dickerson.

The next nine seasons he topped 1,000 yards seven times, averaging 65 catches and 1,136 yards per season. When his chance came, he produced.

One can debate whether Henry Ellard belongs in the Hall of Fame or the Hall of Very Good, but one thing is certain: That debate should be held in Canton.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Rob
    August 2, 2016
    Reply

    Ron, Isaac Bruce or Henry Ellard?

  2. bachslunch
    August 2, 2016
    Reply

    Excellent choice to put forward. Fine receiver with long career and some good kick return credit as well. Have always thought Ellard belongs in.

  3. Justin
    August 2, 2016
    Reply

    Not sure Ellard belongs in, but I do know that late 70s / early 80s WR are under-represented in the HOF. For example, there were nearly twice as many HOF receivers playing in 1965-1967 (9 total) than there were in the first two years of Ellard’s career (1983-1984) when there was only 5 (Joiner, Stallworth, Largent, Lofton, and Monk).

  4. Jeff
    August 3, 2016
    Reply

    Great player. Very good return man early in his career as well (I remember him getting some publicity in the 80s because his career punt return average was best all-time for a bit). Loved watching him play. I’d be shocked if he’s ever elected but I’d be good with it. He was underrated – I don’t think he went to a single pro bowl with Washington even though he had a couple of brilliant years on bad teams (catching passes from the likes of Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte).

  5. Justin
    September 17, 2016
    Reply

    Ellard definitely belongs. His entire career never included one close to or among the best QBs yet his numbers still competed. Jim Everett, Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte were his QBs during his career. Not Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, etc. with those QBs his numbers would be far greater than what we see. Also, the Hall of Fame Committee has selected WRs with more receptions than Ellard but not more reception yards. People don’t seem to understand that if you take the ball farther down the field (which is better anyway) there are going to be less receptions most of the time. Notice the same scenario with James Lofton who by the way is in the Hall?

  6. Justin
    September 17, 2016
    Reply

    Also how does Ellard sit right behind Cris Carter, 4 places ahead of Andre Reed in reception yards along with other HOFs and ahead of James Lofton in receptions yet while those WRs are Hall of Famers Ellard isn’t. By the way while Cris Carter has just over 100 reception yards more than Ellard, he has 1101 receptions to Ellards 814.. 🤔

  7. Justin
    September 17, 2016
    Reply

    Lol! Last thing, If one of the best CBs (Deion Sanders) to ever play the game who is in fact a Hall of Famer, says that of all the WRs out there Ellard gave him the most trouble, that should tell you something. Don’t look at the numbers because they are deceiving as WRs are limited to a degree by the person on the opposite end of the target.

  8. Dave
    September 24, 2016
    Reply

    Hello all, I’m working with Ron Ellard, Henry’s brother to help get Henry enshrined in Canton. I’ve started a petition and would appreciate any support for the effort you can provide. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ellardforhalloffame

  9. Dave
    September 24, 2016
    Reply

    Hello all, I’m working with Ron Ellard, Henry’s brother to help get Henry enshrined in Canton. I’ve started a petition and would appreciate any support for the effort you can provide. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ellardforhalloffame

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