Warren Wells, former Oakland Raiders wide receiver, dies at 76


Warren Wells was an excellent football player, a speed demon and a generational athlete often seen streaking downfield, hauling in passes while part of the high-flying Oakland Raiders passing attack.

Great is an adjective attributed to too many, but it fit a receiver as dominant as any in his or any era.

Just ask Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who believes Wells “was probably the most impressive receiver I ever saw.”

Wells was dominant. He was feared. He was productive taking yards in massive chunks. He caught 156 passes for 3,634 yards, 42 touchdowns and a whopping 23.1 yards per reception during a Raiders tenure that burned white hot but flamed out fast.

Wells played four seasons with the Raiders, from 1967 to 1970, when the Silver and Black were stars of the American Football League. He wasn't a superstar for long. That’s why his on-field exploits aren’t stored in enough memory banks, even among modern members of Raider Nation.

Now is a good time to recall them, and honor a great player and often-troubled man who died this week of congestive heart failure in Beaumont, Texas, NBC Sports Bay Area learned.

Wells was 76 years old.

He had legal issues stemming from a 1969 conviction for aggravated assault and a probation violation in 1971 -- he was arrested right after the Pro Bowl -- and he never played NFL football again.

Wells' career started with the Detroit Lions, who let him go after one season. The Raiders signed him after a two-year stint in the Army, and he then became a star for the Silver and Black.

“If he had played long enough,” former Raiders coach John Madden said, “he could have been the greatest receiver that ever played.”

[RELATED: Ray Ratto recalls Wells as classic what-if tale]

Wells' time in the spotlight was brief. Troubled times followed after it went out, and Wells struggled with substance abuse and further issues with the law.

There was no doubting Wells' athletic ability, which would have translated to any area. There was no doubting his ability to produce and compete at the highest level, and career longevity would have placed him among revered all-time Raiders greats. Instead he might be considered one of the most underrated players of the Raiders’ golden age.

“Just a remarkable football player,” said Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf, a longtime Raiders scout and personnel man starting in 1963. “And the country doesn’t know anything about him. That’s what is so sad.”

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