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Brown stuck the lanning.

Brown stuck the lanning.

Adjusted Catch Yards are simply receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for each reception and a 20-yard bonus for each receiving touchdown. In 2014, Antonio Brown led the NFL with 2,603 Adjusted Catch Yards, the 5th highest total in NFL history. That was the result of a whopping 129 receptions for 1,698 receiving yards (both of which led the league) and 13 touchdowns.

Brown was dominant in 2014, and he led the NFL in more advanced systems, too. But today, I wanted to do something relatively simple. How do we compare Brown’s 2014 to say, three Packers greats from years past?

In 1992, Sterling Sharpe had 108 catches for 1,461 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those are pretty great numbers for 1992, although they don’t leap off the page the way Brown’s 2014 stat line does. If we go back farther, Billy Howton in 1956 had 55 receptions for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns. Like Brown, that was good enough to lead the NFL in two of the three major categories, and rank 2nd in the third. And 15 years earlier, Don Hutson caught 58 passes for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns. How do we compare that statline to Brown’s?

Here’s what I did.

1) Calculate each player’s Adjusted Catch Yards. For Brown, that’s 2,603. For Sharpe, Howton, and Hutson, it’s 2,261, 1,703, and 1,228, respectively.

2) Next, calculate the Adjusted Catch Yards for every other player in the NFL. Then, determine the baseline in each year, defined as the number of ACY by the Nth ranked player, where N equals the number of teams in the league. For Brown, that means using 1,398 Adjusted Catch Yards, the number produced by the 32nd-ranked player in ACY in 2014. For Sharpe, we use 1,078 ACY, the number gained by the 28th-ranked player in ’92. For Howton, it’s just 797, the number of ACY for the 12th-ranked player (keep in mind that ’56 was a very run-heavy year). And finally, for Huston, we use the 10th-ranked player from 1941, who gained only 413 Adjusted Catch Yards.

3) Next, we subtract the baseline from each player’s number of Adjusted Catch Yards. So Brown is credited with 1,205 ACY over the baseline, Sharpe gets 1,183 ACY over the baseline, Howton is 906 ACY over the baseline, and Hutson is 815 ACY over the baseline.

4) Finally, we must pro-rate for non-16 game seasons. For Brown and Sharpe, we don’t need to do anything, so Brown wins, 1,205 to 1,183. Howton played in a 12-game season, so we multiply his 906 by 16 and divide by 12, giving him 1,208 ACY, narrowly edging Brown. And in 1941, the NFL had an 11-game slate; multiply 815 by 16 and divide by 11, and Hutson is credited with 1,185 ACY.

As you can see, it wasn’t a coincidence I chose those three Packers seasons to compare to Brown. Those four seasons are the 19th-through-22nd best seasons of all time by this metric, and stand out as roughly equally dominant for their eras (both Sharpe and Hutson won the triple crown of receiving in their years).

This is not my preferred method of measuring wide receiver player, but it’s my favorite “simple” one. I put simple in quotes, of course, since there’s a lot of programming power behind generating these numbers. But at a high level, it’s simple: we combine the three main receiving stats into one, we adjust for era because the game has changed so much, and we pro-rate for years where the league didn’t play 16 games. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here are the top 300 seasons of all-time1 by this metric:2

RkNameTmLgYearRecYdsTDACYBaseValue
1Don HutsonGNBNFL19427412111719214312167
2Elroy HirschRAMNFL19516614951721657641868
3Don HutsonGNBNFL194458866913364461566
4Jerry RiceSFONFL1995122184815275812481510
5Don HutsonGNBNFL1943477761112314981466
6Jim BentonRAMNFL1945451067814525491445
7Charley HenniganHOUAFL196182174612239611541419
8Lance AlworthSDGAFL19656916021422279931410
9Wes ChandlerSDGNFL1982491032914576701399
10Marvin HarrisonINDNFL2002143172211265712671390
11Isaac BruceSTLNFL1995119178113263612481388
12Jim BentonRAMNFL194663981614164731372
13Randy MossMINNFL2003111163217252711671360
14Calvin JohnsonDETNFL201212219645267413161358
15Torry HoltSTLNFL2003117169612252111671354
16Herman MooreDETNFL1995123168614258112481333
17Raymond BerryBALNFL19607412981018688771321
18Billy HowtonGNBNFL19525312311317568081264
19Billy HowtonGNBNFL19565511881217037971208
20Antonio BrownPITNFL2014129169813260313981205
21Don HutsonGNBNFL1941587381012284131185
22Sterling SharpeGNBNFL1992108146113226110781183
23Bill GromanHOUAFL196072147312207310621155
24Dwight ClarkSFONFL198260913513136701143
25Lance AlworthSDGAFL196673138313200810111139
26Tom FearsRAMNFL1950841116716768231137
27Calvin JohnsonDETNFL201196168116248113481133
28Randy MossNWENFL200798149323244313211122
29Don HutsonGNBNFL194547834912495491120
30Michael IrvinDALNFL1995111160310235812481110
31Mac SpeedieCLEAAFC1947671146616016321107
32Jerry RiceSFONFL1990100150213226211621100
33Charley HenniganHOUAFL196410115468221112521096
34Jerry RiceSFONFL1994112149913231912261093
35Jerry RiceSFONFL199398150315229312031090
36Don MaynardNYJAFL196771143410198910461078
37Cris CarterMINNFL1995122137117232112481073
38Jerry RiceSFONFL198982148317223311601073
39Jerry RiceSFONFL198686157015230012331067
40Marvin HarrisonINDNFL2001109152415236913101059
41Marvin HarrisonINDNFL1999115166312247814221056
42Lance AlworthSDGAFL19686813121018529311053
43Harlon HillCHINFL19564711281115837971048
44Robert BrooksGNBNFL1995102149713226712481019
45Rod SmithDENNFL200010016028226212451017
46Steve SmithCARNFL2005103156312231813021016
47Roy GreenSTLNFL198478155512218511691016
48Wes WelkerNWENFL201112215699235913481011
49Tom FearsRAMNFL1949771013915788231007
50Brandon MarshallCHINFL2012118150811231813161002
51Lionel TaylorDENAFL19609212351219351062998
52Andre JohnsonHOUNFL20081151575823101313997
53Demaryius ThomasDENNFL201411116191123941398996
54Cliff BranchOAKNFL1974601092131652783993
55Rob MooreARINFL1997971584822291253976
56Don MaynardNYJAFL1968571297101782931973
57Raymond BerryBALNFL195966959141569840972
58Don HutsonGNBNFL19393484661136469970
59Don MaynardNYJAFL1965681218141838993966
60Jerry RiceSFONFL1987651078221843938965
61Brett PerrimanDETNFL19951081488922081248960
62Marvin HarrisonINDNFL200010214131422031245958
63Sterling SharpeGNBNFL19899014231221131160953
64Terrell OwensSFONFL20009714511321961245951
65Harold CarmichaelPHINFL197367111691631802947
66Don LooneyPHINFL19405870741077426947
67Mark ClaytonMIANFL19847313891821141169945
68Dave ParksSFONFL19658013441219841159943
69Andre JohnsonHOUNFL20091011569922541312942
70David BostonARINFL2001981598822481310938
71Mac SpeedieCLEAAFC194962102871478777935
72Mike QuickPHINFL19836914091320141081933
73Andre JohnsonHOUNFL20121121598422381316922
74Torry HoltSTLNFL2000821635621651245920
75Roddy WhiteATLNFL201011513891021641246918
76Muhsin MuhammadCARNFL20049314051621901275915
77Gaynell TinsleyCRDNFL1937366755955326915
78Jimmy SmithJAXNFL19991161636623361422914
79Reggie WayneINDNFL200710415101022301321909
80John JeffersonSDGNFL19808213401320101108902
81Bobby MitchellWASNFL1963691436719211137896
82Del ShofnerRAMNFL195851109781512840896
83Bob HayesDALNFL19666412321318121029895
84Josh GordonCLENFL2013871646922611370891
85Terance MathisATLNFL199411113421121171226891
86Terrell OwensSFONFL20019314121621971310887
87Stanley MorganNWENFL19868414911021111233878
88Don HutsonGNBNFL19404566471029426877
89Randy MossMINNFL20007714371521221245877
90Anquan BoldinARINFL20031011377820421167875
91Cloyce BoxDETNFL1950501009111479823875
92Art MonkWASNFL19841061372720421169873
93Mark CarrierTAMNFL1989861422920321160872
94Jordy NelsonGNBNFL20149815191322691398871
95Henry EllardRAMNFL19888614141020441173871
96Michael IrvinDALNFL1991931523821481278870
97Bobby MitchellWASNFL19627213841119641204869
98Todd ChristensenRAINFL19839212471219471081866
99Hines WardPITNFL200211213291221291267862
100Johnny MorrisCHINFL19649312001018651111862
101Mal KutnerCRDNFL194841943141428785857
102Dick GordonCHINFL1970711026131641896851
103Sterling SharpeGNBNFL199311212741120541203851
104Michael IrvinDALNFL1992781396719261078848
105J.T. SmithSTLNFL198791111781732938847
106John StallworthPITNFL19848013951120151169846
107Antonio FreemanGNBNFL19988414241421241280844
108Ben HawkinsPHINFL19675912651017601022843
109Bob BoydRAMNFL195453121261597966841
110Otis TaylorKANAFL1966581297817471011841
111Isaac BruceSTLNFL2000871471920861245841
112Antonio BrownPITNFL20131101499822091370839
113Larry FitzgeraldARINFL20089614311221511313838
114Chad JohnsonCINNFL20039013551020051167838
115Bob ShawCRDNFL195048971121451823837
116Julio JonesATLNFL20141041593622331398835
117Sonny RandleSTLNFL196062893151503877835
118Cloyce BoxDETNFL195242924151434808835
119Art PowellNYTAFL19606911671417921062834
120Warren WellsOAKAFL19694712601417751047832
121Marvin HarrisonINDNFL20069513661220811250831
122Harlon HillCHINFL1954451124121589966831
123Don HutsonGNBNFL1937415527897326831
124Art PowellOAKAFL19637313041619891265827
125Pete PihosPHINFL1953631049101564945825
126Larry FitzgeraldARINFL200510314091021241302822
127Cliff BranchOAKNFL1976461111121581862822
128Carl PickensCINNFL19959912341720691248821
129Rod SmithDENNFL200111313431121281310818
130Roy GreenSTLNFL19837812271418971081816
131Joe HornNORNFL20049413991120891275814
132Bud GrantPHINFL19525699771417808812
133Art PowellOAKAFL19647613611119611252810
134Gene WashingtonSFONFL1970531100121605896810
135Carlos CarsonKANNFL1983801351718911081810
136Brandon LloydDENNFL20107714481120531246807
137Kellen WinslowSDGNFL1980891290919151108807
138Bob MannDETNFL194966101441424823801
139Demaryius ThomasDENNFL20139214301421701370800
140Hugh TaylorWASNFL195241961121406808797
141Chad JohnsonCINNFL2005971432920971302795
142Don HutsonGNBNFL1938325489888342794
143Terrell OwensSFONFL200210013001320601267793
144Javon WalkerGNBNFL20048913821220671275792
145Homer JonesNYGNFL19674912091317141022791
146Warren WellsOAKAFL1968531137111622931790
147Charley TaylorWASNFL19667211191217191029789
148Larry FitzgeraldARINFL200710014091021091321788
149Demaryius ThomasDENNFL20129414341021041316788
150Reggie WayneINDNFL20101111355620301246784
151Kellen WinslowSDGNFL19825472161111670784
152Jimmy SmithJAXNFL20011121373820931310783
153Roger CarrBALNFL1976431112111547862783
154Calvin JohnsonDETNFL20138414921221521370782
155Santana MossWASNFL2005841483920831302781
156Don MaynardNYTAFL1960721265617451062781
157Lionel TaylorDENAFL196585113161676993781
158Cris CarterMINNFL19941221256720061226780
159Dante LavelliCLEAAFC19464084381203521779
160Victor CruzNYGNFL2011821536921261348778
161Tim BrownOAKNFL19971041408520281253775
162Marvin HarrisonINDNFL20039412721019421167775
163Otis TaylorKANNFL197157111071535858774
164Andre ReedBUFNFL1989881312919321160772
165Derrick MasonTENNFL2003951303819381167771
166Rob GronkowskiNWENFL20119013271721171348769
167Andre RisonATLNFL19938612421519721203769
168Pat StudstillDETNFL1966671266517011029768
169Torry HoltSTLNFL20049413721020421275767
170A.J. GreenCINNFL20139814261121361370766
171Dez BryantDALNFL20129213821220821316766
172Ed McCaffreyDENNFL20001011317920021245757
173Don HutsonGNBNFL1936345368866301753
174Alfred JenkinsATLNFL19817013581319681216752
175Jim KeaneCHINFL194764910101430866752
176Anquan BoldinARINFL20051021402720521302750
177Randy MossMINNFL20021061347720171267750
178Wes WelkerNWENFL20121181354620641316748
179Drew PearsonDALNFL197462108721437783747
180Chad JohnsonCINNFL2007931440820651321744
181Jerry RiceSFONFL19928412011018211078743
182Art PowellNYTAFL196264113081610963739
183Terrell OwensDALNFL20078113551520601321739
184A.J. GreenCINNFL20129713501120551316739
185Tim BrownOAKNFL19958913421019871248739
186Derrick AlexanderKANNFL20007813911019811245736
187Jackie SmithSTLNFL1967561205916651022735
188Charley FrazierHOUAFL19665711291216541011735
189Henry EllardRAMNFL1989701382818921160732
190Wes WelkerNWENFL20091231348420431312731
191Buddy DialPITNFL1963601295917751137729
192George SauerNYJAFL1967751189616841046729
193Andre RisonATLNFL19929311191118041078726
194Eric MouldsBUFNFL200210012921019921267725
195Joe HornNORNFL2000941340819701245725
196Sterling SharpeGNBNFL19949411191819491226723
197Gary GarrisonSDGAFL1968521103101563931722
198Herman MooreDETNFL19971041293819731253720
199Torry HoltSTLNFL20051021331920211302719
200Randy MossMINNFL19986913131719981280718
201Harold JacksonPHINFL197262104841438811717
202Tim BrownRAINFL1994891309919341226708
203Elbie NickelPITNFL19525588491339808708
204Michael IrvinDALNFL1993881330719101203707
205Bill GromanHOUAFL19615011751717651154698
206Chad JohnsonCINNFL2006871369719441250694
207Charlie BrownWASNFL1983781225817751081694
208Emmanuel SandersDENNFL20141011404920891398691
209Kellen WinslowSDGNFL1983881172817721081691
210Steve LargentSEANFL197871116881683992691
211Herman MooreDETNFL19961061296920061316690
212Cris CarterMINNFL2000961274919341245689
213Braylon EdwardsCLENFL20078012891620091321688
214Lionel TaylorDENAFL19611001176417561154688
215Andre ReedBUFNFL1994901303819131226687
216George SauerNYJAFL196866114131531931686
217John GilliamMINNFL197247103571410811685
218Mac SpeedieCLENFL19526291151321808684
219Dez BryantDALNFL20148813201620801398682
220Andre JohnsonHOUNFL20131091407520521370682
221Yancey ThigpenPITNFL1997791398719331253680
222Harold JacksonPHINFL1969651116916211026680
223Jimmy GrahamNORNFL20119913101120251348677
224Dante LavelliCLEAAFC19474979991224632677
225Hines WardPITNFL20039511631018381167671
226Reggie WayneINDNFL2006861310919201250670
227Reggie WayneINDNFL20121061355519851316669
228James LoftonGNBNFL1983581300817501081669
229Marlin BriscoeBUFNFL197057103681481896669
230Charlie JoinerSDGNFL197650105671446862667
231Anthony MillerSDGNFL19897512521018271160667
232Mark ClaytonMIANFL19888611291418391173666
233Brandon MarshallCHINFL201310012951220351370665
234Donald DriverGNBNFL2006921295819151250665
235Gordie SoltauSFONFL19515982671261764663
236Henry EllardWASNFL1994741397618871226661
237Gene WashingtonSFONFL197246918121388811659
238Roy JeffersonPITNFL19685810741115841008658
239Jim BentonRAMNFL1944395056820446658
240Wilbur MooreWASNFL1943305377827498658
241Andre RisonATLNFL19908212081018181162656
242Billy WilsonSFONFL19566088951289797656
243Paul WarfieldMIANFL197143996111431858655
244Brandon MarshallDENNFL20071021325719751321654
245Chad JohnsonCINNFL2004951274919291275654
246Reggie WayneINDNFL200910012641019641312652
247Mark DuperMIANFL1984711306818211169652
248Gary GarrisonSDGNFL1970441006121466896651
249Eric MouldsBUFNFL2000941326518961245651
250Lenny MooreBALNFL19585093871328840651
251Roy JeffersonPITNFL1969671079915941026649
252Ken BurroughHOUNFL197553106381488920649
253Roddy WhiteATLNFL2008881382719621313649
254Calvin JohnsonDETNFL20087813311219611313648
255Billy DewellCRDNFL1946276437918473647
256Pete PihosPHINFL19556286471314829647
257Amani ToomerNYGNFL2002821343819131267646
258Gary ClarkWASNFL1989791229918041160644
259James LoftonGNBNFL1984621361718111169642
260Pete RetzlaffPHINFL19656611901017201159641
261Pierre GarconWASNFL20131131346520111370641
262Greg JenningsGNBNFL20107612651218851246639
263Jerry RiceSFONFL19961081254819541316638
264Alshon JefferyCHINFL2013891421720061370636
265Mike QuickPHINFL19857312471118321196636
266Fred BiletnikoffOAKNFL19716192991414858635
267Roddy WhiteATLNFL2012921351719511316635
268Peerless PriceBUFNFL2002941252919021267635
269Antonio FreemanGNBNFL19978112431218881253635
270Mark DuperMIANFL19866713131118681233635
271Buddy DialPITNFL19604097291352877633
272Miles AustinDALNFL20098113201119451312633
273Tony GonzalezKANNFL20041021258719081275633
274Jerry RiceSFONFL1988641306918061173633
275Tim SmithHOUNFL1983831176617111081630
276Del ShofnerRAMNFL19594793671311840628
277Paul WarfieldCLENFL19685010671215571008627
278Randy MossNWENFL20098312641319391312627
279Lance AlworthSDGAFL19646112351318001252626
280Joe HornNORNFL2002881312718921267625
281Larry FitzgeraldARINFL2011801411819711348623
282Tommy McDonaldPHINFL19616411441317241179623
283T.J. HoushmandzadehCINNFL200711211431219431321622
284Del ShofnerNYGNFL1963641181916811137622
285Eric MetcalfATLNFL19951041189818691248621
286Lenny MooreBALNFL19604593691341877619
287Steve SmithCARNFL2008781421619311313618
288Art MonkWASNFL1989861186817761160616
289Terry BarrDETNFL19636610861316761137616
290Terrell OwensDALNFL20068511801318651250615
291Irving FryarPHINFL1997861316618661253613
292Gary ClarkWASNFL19917013401018901278612
293Lee EvansBUFNFL2006821292818621250612
294Randy MossMINNFL19998014131120331422611
295Roy WilliamsDETNFL2006821310718601250610
296Roddy WhiteATLNFL20111001296819561348608
297Jerry RiceSFONFL19918012061418861278608
298Harold JacksonRAMNFL197340874131334802608
299Fred BiletnikoffOAKAFL196861103761462931607
300Steve LargentSEANFL1985791287618021196606

That’s a fun table, and I’m sure there’s a lot we could talk about. But I’m more excited about the career list, which somehow has the top two receivers in NFL history both light years ahead of everyone else and within 12 yards of each other:

RkPlayerFirst YrLast YearHOF?ACY
1Jerry Rice19852004Yes12123
2Don Hutson19351945Yes12112
3Marvin Harrison19962008No7229
4Randy Moss19982012Not El.7021
5Terrell Owens19962010Not El.6226
6Torry Holt19992009No6004
7Lance Alworth19621972Yes5629
8Steve Largent19761989Yes5366
9Andre Johnson20032014Not El.5239
10Cris Carter19872002Yes5148
11Reggie Wayne20012014Not El.5092
12Tim Brown19882004Yes5047
13Isaac Bruce19942009No4877
14Don Maynard19581973Yes4863
15Calvin Johnson20072014Not El.4721
16Michael Irvin19881999Yes4720
17Jimmy Smith19922005No4654
18Larry Fitzgerald20042014Not El.4412
19Jim Benton19381947No4375
20Chad Johnson20012011Not El.4344
21Art Powell19591968No4342
22James Lofton19781993Yes4271
23Sterling Sharpe19881994No4216
24Steve Smith20012014Not El.4105
25Rod Smith19952006No4082
26Brandon Marshall20062014Not El.4075
27Herman Moore19912002No3863
28Roddy White20052014Not El.3775
29Wes Welker20042014Not El.3703
30Raymond Berry19551967Yes3691
31Lionel Taylor19591968No3583
32Gary Clark19851995No3476
33Henry Ellard19831998No3422
34Mac Speedie19461952No3394
35Anquan Boldin20032014Not El.3356
36Charley Taylor19641977Yes3326
37Andre Rison19892000No3260
38Charley Hennigan19601966No3230
39Del Shofner19571967No3220
40Mark Clayton19831993No3196
41Billy Howton19521963No3189
42Harold Jackson19681983No3163
43Hines Ward19982011Not El.3163
44Wes Chandler19781988No3155
45Tony Gonzalez19972013Not El.3138
46Andre Reed19852000Yes3127
47Joe Horn19962007No3110
48Bobby Mitchell19581968Yes3050
49Derrick Mason19972011Not El.3040
50Art Monk19801995Yes2978
51Harold Carmichael19711984No2942
52Bob Hayes19651975Yes2930
53Fred Biletnikoff19651978Yes2922
54Elroy Hirsch19461957Yes2820
55Kellen Winslow19791987Yes2781
56Tommy McDonald19571968Yes2775
57Cliff Branch19721985No2736
58John Gilliam19671977No2728
59Drew Hill19791993No2705
60Charlie Joiner19691986Yes2703
61Tom Fears19481956Yes2677
62Pete Pihos19471955Yes2651
63Gary Garrison19661977No2629
64Billy Wilson19511960No2597
65Otis Taylor19651975No2592
66Demaryius Thomas20102014Not El.2584
67Anthony Miller19881997No2581
68Donald Driver19992012Not El.2539
69John Stallworth19741987Yes2522
70Mike Quick19821990No2445
71Keenan McCardell19922007No2435
72Marques Colston20062014Not El.2374
73Eric Moulds19962007No2353
74Todd Christensen19791988No2351
75Dwight Clark19791987No2350
76Harlon Hill19541962No2345
77Roy Green19791992No2335
78Gene Washington19691979No2313
79Irving Fryar19842000No2308
80Dante Lavelli19461956Yes2227
81Cris Collinsworth19811988No2206
82Antonio Brown20102014Not El.2189
83Warren Wells19641970No2163
84Carl Pickens19922000No2154
85Drew Pearson19731983No2152
86Muhsin Muhammad19962009No2123
87Keyshawn Johnson19962006No2121
88Dez Bryant20102014Not El.2111
89Paul Warfield19641977Yes2110
90Lenny Moore19561967Yes2095
91Joey Galloway19952010Not El.2071
92John Jefferson19781985No2066
93George Sauer19651970No2062
94Mal Kutner19461950No2011
95Santana Moss20012014Not El.1989
96Stanley Morgan19771990No1980
97Mark Duper19821992No1973
98Hugh Taylor19471954No1969
99Buddy Dial19591966No1957
100Jordy Nelson20082014Not El.1955
  • This metric doesn’t adjust for opportunity, so wide receivers in pass-heavy offenses have an advantage. Yes, that means you, Torry Holt, and it’s why Steve Smith and Jimmy Smith rank lower than you might think (which is why they’re underrated, since we tend to place so much emphasis on the raw numbers). For Holt, his career numbers won’t wow you — 17th in receptions, 13th in yards, 30th touchdowns — but that’s because he didn’t stick around for very long and pad his numbers with junk seasons. Holt is the career leader in receiving yards per game among retired players, and Holt ranks 4th in career receptions, 3rd in receiving yards, and tied for 17th in receiving touchdowns by all players through 11 seasons. For Holt, the two knocks on his career would be that he played for very pass-happy teams and that he didn’t play for longer than 11 seasons. He’s a borderline HOF candidate, but I’d vote him in (although not necessarily ahead of others still waiting for enshrinement).
  • Steve Largent tends to be underrated my modern fans. It might be because he didn’t have that one, scorched-earth season like so many other greats. But Largent ranks 8th here, and that’s very telling. He led the NFL in ACY in ’78 and ’79, finished 2nd in ’85, 4th in ’81, 6th in ’87, 7th in ’84, 8th in ’80, and 9th in ’83 and ’86. That’s nine years where he was a top-10 wide receiver, and he ranked 15th and 16th in ’77 and ’76, too. He was really good for a really long time.
  • This link should be bullet point 1 on Andre Johnson’s HOF case: Johnson was dominant in 2007 but only played in 9 games, and he led the league in receiving yards per game in 13 games in 2010, too. On top of that, he has three 1550+ yard seasons. Johnson doesn’t get the benefit of his per-game dominance here, but he still ranks 9th overall. That’s pretty darn impressive, given his less-than-stellar quarterback history.
  • Lynn Swann is down at 165, the only HOF wide receiver not in the top 100. From a statistical perspective, Swann’s regular season body of work is ’75, ’77, and ’78, where he ranked 5th, 3rd, and 5th in ACY. And over that four-year period, Swann led the NFL in receiving touchdowns and ranked 5th in receiving yards. Even more impressive, only Miami and Chicago passed less frequently than Pittsburgh during that stretch. There may be a “Lynn Swann deserves to be in the HOF” article to be written out there — heck, I even started it for you — but today’s analysis is not how one would go about pumping up Swann’s career.
  • What if we did try to include an adjustment for “lesser” seasons? For the sake of argument, let’s use a 0.5 multiplier for ’43, ’44, and ’45 due to World War II, a 0.75 multiplier for the AAFC, and 0.5 for the AFL in 1960, 0.6 in ’61, 0.7 in ’62, 0.8 in ’63, and 0.9 in ’64. I don’t necessarily think those are correct, but I was curious how using those weights would change things. Well, Hutson would drop by 17% down to 10,036, which would still keep him comfortably at #2. Lance Alworth would drop by just 3%, although Don Maynard would fall by 12% to about 4300. Jim Benton (1945) and Art Powell (early AFL) would fall significantly, by about 24% and 22%, respectively, while Lionel Taylor (early AFL) would fall 29%, Mac Speedie would drop by 19%, and Charley Hennigan would fall by 27%. In terms of ranks, Hutson and Alworth would stay at 2 and 7, Maynard would fall from 14 to 19, Benton from 19 to 34, Powell from 21 to 31, Taylor from 31 to 66, Speedie from 34 to 55, and Hennigan from 38 to 72. Feel free to interpret as you desire.

As always, thanks for reading. Leave your thoughts in the comments. And check back tomorrow for Part II, where we review these numbers in light of which teams were the most and least pass-happy.

  1. I treated non-NFL leagues as separate seasons, but gave them full credit. This certainly overstates some early AFL guys, and well, maybe some other guys, too. But I didn’t want to add a subjective element into how much weight to give the WW II years, the AAFC, the early years of the AFL, etc. []
  2. Note that even going to 300 isn’t enough to bring in three years: 1957, when Raymond Berry ranked 1st in ACY (427th all-time), 1977 for Nat Moore (466th!), and 1979 for Steve Largent (312). []
  • Very interesting results, especially on the career list. It does a really good job of breaking people down into tiers that seem about right to me – 1st tier (Rice/Hutson), 2nd tier (Moss, Harrison), 3rd (Alworth, Owens, Holt), 4th (Largent-Brown), 5th (Bruce-Smith).

    It gets a little funky after that where people with many receptions are rewarded too much, I think. There’s just no way Wes Welker is the 29th best receiver in NFL history. I feel pretty strongly about, say, Cliff Branch, Harold Carmichael and Art Monk being better receivers. Even counting him as a receiver, I’d wanna put Tony Gonzalez way above as well.

    For the top 20, I think it’s a real solid list.

    • sacramento gold miners

      Agreed, Wes Welker is far from the 29th best receiver in NFL history, and I don’t know how Chad Johnson could be ranked above Hines Ward. Welker had some costly postseason drops, and Johnson had a grand total of seven catches in four playoff games.

      There are also factors which influence this table, including other offensive weapons on the team, which impact the number of opportunities a receiver would have, especially the older players.

      Sterling Sharpe had a bad break with a neck injury, which reduced his career, and cost him a chance at playing in two Super Bowls.

      • Richie

        “I don’t know how Chad Johnson could be ranked above Hines Ward”

        Chase’s system doesn’t award points for blocking, smiling or Madden-love.

        • Yeah, just looking at regular season receiving production, Chad Johnson put together a half-decade stretch (2003-2007) in which his average year is on par with (or better than) Hines Ward best year. I’d forgotten how good Johnson was.

          • sacramento gold miners

            Johnson did put up strong regular season numbers, but was one of the biggest divas we’ve seen in recent times. At least Owens had a much more productive career, and had a good Super Bowl against the Patriots. I think a ton of people think of Chad Johnson as more of a showman than a quality receiver. Hines Ward mentored Antonio Brown, and I think that’s turned out pretty well.

        • Tom

          Or being a Dancing With the Stars champion…

    • Thanks. It is an interesting list and I agree about your tiers.

      As for Welker, I’m not sure I agree. There will be some who argue that he’s one of the greatest slot receivers in NFL history. And it’s pretty hard to disagree with that. Over a 6-year period, he caught 672 passes despite missing 3 games, which means he very nearly caught 700 freakin passes in 6 years. Now, he “only” ranks 3rd according to PFR in 1st downs over that period (to Reggie Wayne and Roddy White) and 4th in 3rd/4th down first down catches (Wayne/White/Gonzalez) so that’s one argument against going crazy over his reception stats.

      But I think for Welker, it will come down more to “value of a slot receiver” than anything else. Because I think most will agree that in his prime, he was an awesome slot receiver.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Definitely agree about Welker’s value as a slot receiver, and he picked up a ton of first downs. It always felt like he was a complimentary receiver, even when he led the Pats in catches. Only had 50 TD catches, and I’m struggling to recall games in which he caught the game winning catch. A very good player, but needed more production in the postseason, in my opinion for Canton.

      • Yeah, I loved Welker with NE. I’ve watched every single one of those 672 catches multiple times. He was incredible at catching 6 yard passes and falling for 3 more, but he was just so incredibly limited. Watch the 2009 offense, before Gronk and Hernandez came along to spring Welker wide open.

        It’s a lot of production, but it’s also a LOT of opportunity. 926 targets w NE. Belichick deserves immense credit for figuring out how to squeeze insane value out of Welker, imo, not (solely) the other way around (Belichick recognized the same potential in Emmanuel Sanders, it’s no coincidence Pats went hard after him – and we saw what Sanders could do with Manning. Point is it takes a very concerted effort to mine that skill set – and Welker’s is much more limited).

        Oh… and a LOT of soft cushions and poor zone reads being exploited by Brady. Welker’s yards per target is 7,8, which seems ok until you realize Gronk is at 9,5.

  • Clint

    No love for my boy Irving Fryar?

    Here’s an interesting list. Guess who’s alone at the top of the mountain? Right where he belongs. Haha.

    http://pfref.com/tiny/iUVh4

    Drew Hill doesn’t rank too badly in your list. If it weren’t for his rather slow start, he’d be closer to HOFworthy. From ages 29-35, him and Fryar are top 10 in receiving yards. http://pfref.com/tiny/5gBfH

    • I did not know that Fryar was your boy, but I’ll keep that in mind!

      He certainly falls on the compiler end of the spectrum, but even I was surprised how low he fares here. He has zero top-5 seasons, and his best year was a 6th-place finish in…. 1997 (at age 35!) He also ranked 7th in ’96, and 9th in ’94.

      But that’s pretty much it for top-line statistical production. Is he underrated by a pure stats approach? Probably. He has a bit of Elway in him with his best years coming so late in his career. But from a stats point, he had a lot of mediocre years that just keep piling on top of each other to give him strong career totals. Since you love the play finder, here’s one for you 🙂 http://pfref.com/tiny/RM06r

      Perhaps you can write the Fryar guest post where you tell us how underrated he is 🙂

      • Clint

        I was half-kidding… but only half! He could be the Vinny Testaverde of wide receivers.
        I will seriously consider this guest post. I’ve always wanted to write. After all, I was an English major for a semester (no big deal).

    • As for Hill, he has 0 above-the-baseline seasons prior to turning 29/joining the Oilers.

      • Clint

        Exactly. A bit of a late-bloomer. Pretty decent “what if?” guy.

  • Richie

    “which somehow has the top two receivers in NFL history both light years ahead of everyone else”

    A career receiver list like that? ho hum

    • It’s not as easy as you think! Well, maybe it is, I dunno.

      • Richie

        Sorry, was not a commentary on your work. It was a commentary on the fact that almost every one of these lists ends up with Rice and Hutson at the top.

        All the other positions seem to mix it up a bit. But, man, those guys dominated.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Roy Green is a great story of beating the odds. Drafted out of tiny Henderson State as a defensive back, Green returned a kickoff 106 yards early in his career, then was a two way player in 1981.Became a full time a wide receiver soon after, and very productive.

    By contrast, Warren Wells was a sad tale of wasted potential. Was Cliff Branch before Cliff Branch for those 60s Raiders teams, but off field problems ended a very promising career.

  • Clint

    Also.. Lynn Swann is a tough one to swallow. Even when you average his seasons out to 16 games, he still likely wouldn’t have gotten 1,000 yards in one of them. As I was letting this sink in, I thought “Well, he was one of the best receivers of his generation so that makes him a Hall of Famer, right?”. I did a search that covers the prime of his career. From 1975-1980 he had the 7th most receptions. Just a little ahead of Reggie Rucker. He was a useful receiver for the Browns, but hardly even close to being in HOF discussion. However, Swann was 2nd in TDs over that span. Still, outside of that and a few big playoff moments, he should’ve been an outside candidate at best.

    http://pfref.com/tiny/mLuB4

    Also, for the time period, his YPC was merely average.

    • Tom

      Agreed, but he had that sweet catch in Super Bowl X…maybe Swann has NFL Films to thank for being in the Hall…

      • sacramento gold miners

        Swann was actually MVP of SB X, but we can discuss his merits in the future. I’m still not sold we can devise a formula to adjust for the era, have no doubt the great receivers of the 60s and 70s would flourish in today’s game, and put up huge numbers. Conversely, a smaller receiver like Wes Welker would have likely struggled when defenses were allowed to be more physical with receivers.

    • But over that time period, Cleveland was 2nd in pass attempts, while Pittsburgh was 4th from the bottom (only NE/MIA/CHI passed less often). And Swann missed some time; on a per game basis, Swann was about 10% ahead of Rucker in yards, and obviously moreso in TDs.

      • Clint

        As I’m reading the to your Paul Warfield article linked from today’s post.. I’m starting to think about things differently. For his time, I still don’t know if there are numbers that prove Swann was HOF-worthy, but I bet he’s closer than I originally though.

  • Tim Truemper

    I would like folks to keep in mind that the career rankings on various metrics do not determine how great a receiver was. Instead, it provides a metric for comparison that adjusts for era and relative performance. As Chase pointed out, there is a numerical bias for large raw numbers. Thus, We Welker vaults to a higher level on this list. This does not mean he was a “better receiver” than others. So, even if Welker or some other receiver seems “too high” on the list does not invalidate the list. Also, nice to see Steve Largent up high on the list. The Raymond Berry of his time.

    • Very true.

      • This is true, yes. On the other hand, we are not exactly short of metrics as is. So the great lure of any new metric is in my opinion either A) it tells us something we didn’t know before (ie the ‘hidden inner workings’ of the game, enlightening era comparisons, etc), and/or B) it helps measure the “true quality” of a player, preferably better than other metrics.
        The enlightenment a new metric brings, A, must almost always be tempered by some acknowledgement of how well it does at B. If a metric, say, tells us something superficially interesting while also spitting out a career list that has Lynn Swann over Jerry Rice, then that should temper our enthusiasm for this metric and relegate it to ‘curiously interesting’, while other metrics retain a position of “central to player evaluation”.

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  • Jeff Y

    I generally like what you are doing here. What I don’t particularly like is step #3. Subtracting doesn’t indicate the dominance relative to competition and it still punishes WR’s who played in lower pass eras. Just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose baseline in 2014 for Brown is the same so he winds up with that 1205 #. And suppose all the players played the same # of games. Further suppose in Hutson’s era, the #10 player (the baseline) had an ACY of 28. Hutson still loses to Brown, yet Hutson’s #’s would be so astoundingly dominant relative to the era, that this is not really captured. It would be better, it seems to me to use division rather than subtraction in step 3 if one wants to get a measure of the greatness of a player relative to competition and overall statistics in a given era.