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Analyzing Outlier Seasons for Receivers

After hearing that the other Steve Smith was retiring, Kyle on twitter asked me where Smith’s 2009 season ranked in the pantheon of anomalous wide receiver seasons. In case you forgot, take a look at Smith’s yearly production:

Year Age Tm G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD
2007 22 NYG 5 0 8 63 7.9 0
2008 23 NYG 16 4 57 574 10.1 1
2009* 24 NYG 16 15 107 1220 11.4 7
2010 25 NYG 9 7 48 529 11.0 3
2011* 26 PHI 9 1 11 124 11.3 1
2012 27 STL 9 0 14 131 9.4 0
Career 64 27 245 2641 10.8 12
4 yrs NYG 46 26 220 2386 10.8 11
1 yr PHI 9 1 11 124 11.3 1
1 yr STL 9 0 14 131 9.4 0

Smith had what looked like a breakout season in 2009, catching 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. As it turned out, those numbers represent 44% of his career receptions, 46% of his career receiving yards, and 58% of his career touchdowns.

So how do we measure the biggest outlier seasons of all time? One way would be to compare each receiver’s best season to his second best season and see the difference. I used Adjusted Catch Yards — calculated as Receiving Yards plus five yards for every Reception and twenty yards for every Receiving Touchdown — to do that for every retired receiver and tight end in NFL history. The table below shows all receivers who gained at least 800 more Adjusted Catch Yards in their best season than in their second best season. For example, here’s how to read the Germane Crowell line. Crowell’s best season came with Detroit in 1999, when he caught 81 passes for 1,338 yards and 7 touchdowns. That’s equal to 1,883 Adjusted Catch Yards. In his second best year, he caught only 34 passes for 430 yards and three touchdowns, giving him only 660 ACY. That’s 1,223 Adjusted Catch Yards fewer than in his best season. Using this method, Steve Smith comes in with the sixth most anomalous season in NFL history.

Name
Team
Year
Rec
Rec Yd
Rec TD
ACY
2B Rec-Yd-TD
2B ACY
Diff
Bud GrantPHI195256997714170-0-001417
Germane CrowellDET19998113387188334-430-36601223
Chris T. JonesPHI199670859513095-73-0981211
Patrick JeffersCAR199963108212163718-330-24601177
Michael ClaytonTAM20048011937173338-484-16941039
Steve SmithNYG200910712207189557-574-18791016
Art WeinerNYY195035722610170-0-00996
Ray AlexanderDAL198854788611788-132-1192986
Sylvester MorrisKAN20004867839780-0-00978
Pat StudstillDET19666712665170136-479-4739962
Don HasselbeckNWE1981468086115815-158-1253905
Charlie WadeCHI19743968318980-0-00898
Marcus RobinsonCHI19998414009200055-738-51113887
Eric MetcalfATL199510411898186954-599-6989880
Bucky PopeRAM1964257861011118-152-2232879
Al FrazierDEN1961477996115411-211-1286868
Jo-Jo TownsellNYJ1989457875111212-187-0247865
Elroy HirschRAM195166149517216561-941-41326839
Jack ClancyMIA1967678682124321-289-1414829
Billy RyckmanATL19784567929444-59-2119825
Don LooneyPHI1940587074107710-186-1256821
Robert BrooksGNB1995102149713226760-1010-71450817
  • Number one on the list might look familiar to you: that’s former Vikings head coach Bud Grant, who played only two years in the NFL before moving to the CFL (where he also began his coaching career). Grant was a defensive end in his first season and recorded no catches, but in his only season as a receiver he finished second in the league in both receptions and receiving yards.
  • Patrick Jeffers, Muhsin Muhammad, and Steve Beuerlein took the league by storm in the second half of the ’99 season. For Jeffers and Beuerlein, they were never able to reach those levels again, while Muhammad did have one more dominant season in 2004.
  • Michael Clayton and Sylvestor Morris both had impressive rookie seasons. In Morris’ third NFL game, he went for over 100 yards and three touchdowns against the Chargers. Unfortunately, a series of injuries that began in mini-camp in 2001 ruined his career. Clayton’s injuries weren’t as debilitating, but he also suffered a series of injuries after his rookie season. At least Clayton rebuilt himself into one of the better blocking receivers in the league and a solid possession receiver, but he never again flashed the potential from his rookie year.
  • Pat Studstill makes the list, but I already chronicled his interesting career.

Here’s one other way to look at outlier seasons. I looked at all receivers, including active players, who played for at least four years. I then calculated their number of Adjusted Catch Yards in their best year and their career average Adjusted Catch Yards per season (including the best season). The next table takes a look at the 50 receivers with the highest peak season relative to career average. Receivers who stuck around for a really long time (Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce) lowered their career averages enough to make their top seasons really stick out; still, I think this method does a good job of identifying some players the prior method might have missed.

Here’s how to read the table below. Robert Brooks, playing for the Packers in 1995, caught 102 passes, gained 1,497 receiving yards, and scored 13 touchdowns. Brooks gained 2,267 ACY that season, and played eight seasons in the league. In his eight seasons, he averaged 808 ACY, meaning he gained 1,459 more ACY in 1995 than he did in his average season.

Rank
Player
Team
Year
Rec
Rec Yd
Rec TD
ACY
#Sea
Avg Sea
Diff
1Robert BrooksGNB1995102149713226788081459
2Herman MooreDET199512316861425811211471434
3Pat StudstillDET196667126651701113731328
4Javon WalkerGNB200489138212206787461321
5Elroy HirschRAM1951661495172165128471318
6Isaac BruceSTL199511917811326361613841252
7Roy GreenSTL1984781555122185149341251
8Bill GromanHOU196072147312207368451228
9Brett PerrimanDET1995108148892208109811227
10Brandon LloydDEN2010771448112053108321221
11Steve SmithNYG200910712207189566841211
12Yancey ThigpenPIT199779139871933107251208
13Marcus RobinsonCHI19998414009200097981202
14Michael ClaytonTAM20048011937173385341199
15Mike FurreyDET20069810866169675061190
16Eric MetcalfATL1995104118981869136841185
17Patrick JeffersCAR199963108212163754671170
18Dave ParksSFO1965801344121984108301154
19Troy BrownNWE2001101119951804156511153
20Ed McCaffreyDEN2000101131792002138731129
21Johnny MorrisCHI1964931200101865107461119
22David BostonARI200198159882248611291119
23John StallworthPIT1984801395112015149051110
24Charley FrazierHOU196657112912165495631091
25Germane CrowellDET19998113387188357921091
26Dick GordonCHI1970711026131641105531088
27Tim SmithHOU19838311766171176251086
28Clifton McNeilSFO19687199471489104081081
29Terance MathisATL199411113421121171310401077
30Stacey BaileyATL19846711386159395351058
31Drew BennettTEN200480124711186788131054
32Brandon StokleyIND2004681077101617145661051
33Terry BarrDET196366108613167696271049
34Todd ChristensenRAI1983921247121947109001047
35Sidney RiceMIN20098313128188768401047
36Miles AustinDAL200981132011194579001045
37Stanley MorganNWE19868414911021111410671044
38Jerry RiceSFO199512218481527582017291029
39Peerless PriceBUF20029412529190298801022
40Ben HawkinsPHI196759126510176097451015
41Joe HornNOR20049413991120891210771012
42Carlos CarsonKAN198380135171891108801011
43Kevin CurtisPHI2007771110616158620995
44Braylon EdwardsCLE200780128916200981015994
45Jake ReedMIN19967213207182012831989
46Mark CarrierTAM198986142292032121047985
47Alfred JenkinsATL19817013581319689985983
48Charley HenniganHOU196182174612239671413983
49Muhsin MuhammadCAR2004931405162190141213977
50Koren RobinsonSEA2002781240517308754976

Boston squeezes the life out of an innocent pen.

Boston squeezes the life out of an innocent pen.

  • Another Brett Favre wide receiver shows up high on the list. Javon Walker had a monster season in his third year, but then became a cautionary tale for players everywhere. After a very public and bitter holdout, Walker returned to the Packers in time for his fourth season… and tore his ACL in the first game of the ’05 season. He went to the Broncos and had a 1,000-yard season in 2006 that ended in tragedy. Walker was with Darrent Williams at a New Year’s Eve party; Williams was shot in their limousine and died in Walker’s lap. Walker later went to Oakland, and three months later, he was robbed in Las Vegas and knocked unconscious. He gained just 196 yards in two seasons with the Raiders.
  • Three years before Walker’s breakout, David Boston looked to be the next superstar wide receiver when he led the league in receiving yards in his third season. But Boston missed half of the 2002 season due to a torn right patella tendon, and signed with the Chargers after the season. Boston’s time in San Diego was marred with attitude problems, injuries, and steroids accusations. He was the size of a tight end by the time he joined the Dolphins in 2005, when he gained 80 yards in one season with Miami.
  • Koren Robinson was a top-ten pick and then gained 1,240 receiving yards at age 22 in 2002. But substance-abuse problems derailed his career, turning him into a massive waste of potential. Sidney Rice had a 1300-yard season in his third year — he’s another Brett Favre breakout — but injuries have prevented him from reaching those heights again. Braylon Edwards caught 16 touchdowns during Derek Anderson‘s fluky 2007 season, but Edwards has been more potential than production every other season of his career.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • mrh June 5, 2013, 9:35 am

    1995 (5) and 2004 (6) had the most outlier seasons on the 2nd chart. 2004 was the year of increased emphasis on the 5-yard contact rule. I knew ’95 was a big year for WRs but not the reason – ’96 was the previous crackdown on the 5-yard rule. ’83’84 had 6 outliers combined, the biggest two year total outside of ’95 and ’04 combined with their adjacent seasons. Not sure why, maybe just random.

    Tangentially, I hate the 5-yard rule. It’s very inconsistently called, in part because it is a difficult thing to track. With so many other changes helping the passing game, I think this rule should be relaxed or eliminated and greater emphasis placed on enforcing defensive holding. Refs could focus solely on DBs hands and not how far downfield they are or aren’t.

  • Richie June 6, 2013, 3:56 pm

    Did he really make the Pro Bowl in 2011 with 124 receiving yards, or is that a database glitch?

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