But, as you can tell from the title of this post, it was Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown who led all players in True Receiving Yards. Regular readers are familiar with the concept of True Receiving Yards, but walking through the system with both Brown and Gordon will serve as a useful reminder.
Let’s start by recognizing that Brown’s season was special in its own right: he became the first player to record 50 receiving yards in 16 different games in a single season. He also finished 2nd in both receptions and receiving yards, so it doesn’t take much processing through the True Receiving Yards machine to vault Brown into first place. He ended the year with a 110-1499-8 stat line, while Gordon finished 2013 with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine scores.
The first step in the True Receiving Yards calculation is to convert each player’s stat line into a single statistic, Adjusted Catch Yards. By giving each player 5 yards for each reception and 20 yards for each touchdown, Brown is credited with 2,209 Adjusted Catch Yards and Gordon 2,261, making them the top two players in 2013 by that metric.
The next step is irrelevant for comparing players within the same year, but we multiply their number of Adjusted Catch Yards by the percentage of receiving yards to ACY for the entire league; in 2013, that number was 0.643, which brings Brown down to 1,421 and Gordon down to 1,455. After that, we adjust for the number of team pass attempts. In 2013, the average team passed (including sacks) 607 times. The Steelers had 629 dropbacks, which means the league average team dropped back 96.5% as often as Pittsburgh did. But instead of multiplying Brown’s number by 96.5% — as we did in TRYv1.0 — we split the difference between that number and 100% in half, to avoid overly penalizing receivers on pass-happy teams and overly benefiting receivers on run-heavy teams. So for Brown, his 1,421 number is multiplied by 0.983 (result = 1,396). Cleveland recorded an incredible 730 dropbacks; that means the penalty on Gordon is pretty severe, although obviously not quite as severe as it could be. His 1,455 receiving yards is multiplied by 0.916, resulting in 1,332 yards.
In other words, Brown passes Gordon in True Receiving Yards for two reasons. One is that he didn’t play on a crazy-pass happy team (Cleveland led the NFL in pass attempts). Ignoring the two missed games for Brown, the math here simply says recording 2,209 Adjusted Catch Yards on a team that passes 629 times is more impressive than recording 2,261 ACY on a team that passes 730 times. The other area Brown gains an edge is that while Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards, Brown had a big advantage in receptions. And remember, the reason we give a bonus for receptions is that all else being equal, a receiver with the same number of receiving yards but more receptions is likely to have more receiving first downs. That logic holds up well here: Brown and Brandon Marshall led the league in receiving first downs with 70, while Gordon had “just” 64 despite picking up over 100 more receiving yards than Brown.
The final step in the True Receiving Yards formula is another era adjustment. For each receiver in 2013, we multiply his final result by 0.85, giving Brown 1,188 True Receiving Yards and Gordon 1,133. That’s because in 2013, teams gained 252.3 yards per game, while the league average from 1970 to 2012 was 214.5.
The table below shows the top 50 leaders in True Receiving Yards in 2013. For each player, you can calculate their True Receiving Yards by multiplying their number of Adjusted Catch Yards by 0.547 (which incorporates the ACY-to-TRY adjustment and the era adjustment) and then applying the team pass attempts adjustment. As you can see, A.J. Green also passes Gordon in True Receiving Yards, as he caught more passes, caught more touchdowns, and played on a much less pass-happy team; that was enough to overcome the 220-yard edge Gordon had on him in receiving yards.
- Gordon would still have my vote for Wide Receiver of the Year. True Receiving Yards is not NOT NOT intended to be the end-all, be-all measure of wide receiver statistics. What it *is* intended to do is to go as far as we can with just stats alone. But when you consider that Gordon had nearly as many TRY as Brown despite missing two games and being saddled with horrible quarterback play (while Brown had Ben Roethlisberger), that’s enough for me to subjectively vault Gordon back into the top spot. Gordon would also vault Green in my mind, as even Andy Dalton is an upgrade over what Gordon was working with.
- Anquan Boldin ranked 16th in receiving yards this year, but 5th in True Receiving Yards. The reason for that, of course, was that he played for the team that ranked 32nd in pass attempts.
- Marshall was 11th in receiving yards, but he was effectively in a three-way tie for 5th place in True Receiving Yards. That’s because he was much more effective in the other receiving statistics: he was the only player in the league to finish in the top six in both receptions and receiving touchdowns.
- The Broncos lead the way with four receivers in the top 50. Four teams – the Bills, the Jaguars, the Jets, and the Rams did not have a single receiver in the top fifty.