Warren Wells, a speedy receiver who was one of the American Football League’s best players but had his career cut shot when he was sent to prison, has died at the age of 76.
Wells was drafted by the Lions out of Texas Southern in 1964, but he played only sparingly as a rookie and was drafted by the Army after the season. He spent two years stationed in Alaska.
After his military service he gave pro football another shot, this time with the AFL’s Raiders. With Wells’ speed, he flourished in the Raiders’ offense, and in 1968 he led the AFL with 11 touchdown catches. In 1969 he was even better, leading the AFL with 1,260 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns and an incredible 26.8 yards per catch. Wells is the only player in the history of professional football to average more than 25 yards per catch in a season in which he had more than 45 catches.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who played with Wells from 1967 to 1970, said Wells was perhaps the most impressive receiver he saw play the game.
“I believe that, he was that talented. To this day there’s not too many people that are impressive, even these nowadays players,” Biletnikoff said. “I always go back to Warren, think about him playing and seeing how he moved out on the field and around the field. He could run, he could stop, he could run everything. He was just an amazing player.”
In 1970 Wells was chosen to the Pro Bowl again, and he had perhaps his most memorable game when he caught two touchdown passes, including a game-winner with one second remaining, to lead the Raiders to a 14-13 win over the Jets that propelled Oakland to the playoffs.
But 1970 would prove to be his last season, as a series of off-field incidents caught up with him. He had once been stabbed by a woman who said he assaulted her, he had a drunk driving arrest, in 1969 he had pleaded guilty to aggravated assault after being accused of attempting to rape a woman, and after the 1970 season he was in a bar fight that violated his probation. He was sentenced to a year in prison, and when he got out he was out of shape and Raiders coach John Madden and owner Al Davis decided he wasn’t going to play for the team any longer.
After his playing career Wells struggled with alcoholism. His cause of death was reported to be a heart attack.