Paul Warfield not only is a Hall-of-Fame receiver. He’s one of the greatest wide receivers who played professional football. But he may never have reached Canton … or the next pass … without the Browns making a critical decision shortly after they made him a first-round draft choice.
The year was 1964, and, though Warfield was a two-time All-Big Ten choice as a halfback at Ohio State, the Browns envisioned him more as a cornerback — a position he also played for the Buckeyes. But all that changed the moment they invited him, as well as their other draft picks, to a mini-camp that spring.
“The Cleveland Browns wanted to take a look at all of their draft choices for the year 1964,” Warfield said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “so we were called in for, of all things, a one-day mini-camp — of course, mini-camps now last anywhere from seven days to two weeks.
“The Browns had drafted me as a cornerback in reality, but they knew I had played a little bit of what was considered to be wide receiver at Ohio State. So they decided during the drills of the one-day mini-camp to just take a look at me as a wide receiver. And a decision was made during that workout session that, although they had drafted me with the intent of playing cornerback, that they were going to work me as a wide receiver.”
It was a bold move. First of all, the Browns already had a stellar wide receiver in Gary Collins, who was a 1960s’ all-decade choice and who scored three second-half TDs later that year in the Browns’ 27-0 defeat of Baltimore in the NFL championship game. Plus, Warfield — who was the 11th pick of the draft — was raw at the position, with 39 career catches at Ohio State, 22 of them his senior year.
Nevertheless, the Browns were undeterred, believing then that Warfield could be a success at the position. And they were right. Warfield had an immediate impact, producing 52 catches his rookie season for 920 yards and nine scores — all team highs — as the Browns won the NFL’s East Division and, later, the league championship.
But that wouldn’t have happened if the Cleveland coaching staff hadn’t seen something at that first workout, and lucky for the Browns … and for Paul Warfield … it did.
“Now,” said Warfield, recalling that first pro workout, “I would like to add to that that I had no experience. I really basically knew nothing about what I was doing pass-pattern running or any of that sort of thing.
“(So) they arranged for a retired receiver named Ray Renfro, who had been one of their outstanding receivers for many years, to come back to training camp and be my personal mentor. The fundamentals of what he taught me about pass-pattern execution were (as) relevant then as they are today.”
The rest you know. Warfield became such an accomplished pass catcher than he averaged … averaged … 20.2 yards per catch for his career, won league titles with Cleveland and, later, Miami, and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year (1983) of eligibility.