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Brown was number one in 2013

Brown was number one in 2013.

Wide receiver is a notoriously difficult position to analyze using statistics. Era adjustments are arguably more important here than at any other position, but even within the same season it is not easy to compare wide receivers. Most people, myself included, would probably say that Josh Gordon or Calvin Johnson was the best wide receiver in football in 2013. Gordon, after all, led the NFL in receiving yards despite missing two games, while Johnson is well, Megatron. If you place more emphasis on other metrics, you would be interested to know that Pierre Garcon led the NFL in receptions, while Jimmy Graham led all players in receiving touchdowns (and Demaryius Thomas led all wide receivers in that statistic).

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.

1Antonio Brown*PIT25161101499822096291188
2A.J. Green*CIN25169814261121366161160
3Josh Gordon*+CLE2214871646922617301133
4Calvin Johnson*+DET28148414921221526571133
5Anquan BoldinSFO3316851179717444561112
6Demaryius Thomas*DEN26169214301421706951112
7Brandon Marshall*CHI291610012951220356091112
8DeSean Jackson*PHI2716821332919225541102
9Alshon Jeffery*CHI2316891421720066091096
10Andre Johnson*HOU32161091407520526751066
11Pierre GarconWAS27161131346520116541061
12Dez Bryant*DAL25169312331319586211059
13Jordy NelsonGNB2816851314818996151032
14Jimmy Graham*+NOR27168612151619656881012
15Vincent JacksonTAM301678122471754561999
16Eric DeckerDEN2616871288111943695996
17Kendall WrightTEN241694107921589570898
18Julian EdelmanNWE2716105105661701668888
19Keenan AllenSDG211571104681561574879
20Vernon Davis*SFO291552850131370456874
21T.Y. HiltonIND241682108351593614867
22Larry Fitzgerald*ARI301682954101564615850
23Golden TateSEA25166489851318464832
24Torrey SmithBAL241665112841533667801
25Michael FloydARI241665104151466615797
26Victor CruzNYG27147399841443607790
27Harry DouglasATL291685106721532703781
28Brian HartlineMIA271676101641476652780
29Greg OlsenCAR28167381661301516775
30Antonio GatesSDG33167787241337574753
31Jason Witten*DAL31167385181376621744
32Mike WallaceMIA27167393051395652737
33Tony Gonzalez*ATL37168385981434703731
34Marques ColstonNOR30157594351418688730
35Jordan Cameron*CLE25158091771457730730
36Rod StreaterOAK25166088841268563721
37Nate WashingtonTEN30165891931269570717
38Doug BaldwinSEA25165077851128464712
39Riley CooperPHI26164783581230554705
40Julius Thomas*DEN251465788121353695694
41Wes WelkerDEN321373778101343695688
42Steve SmithCAR34156474541145516682
43Greg JenningsMIN30156880441224590679
44Jamaal Charles*+KAN27157069371183587658
45Martellus BennettCHI26166575951184609647
46Charles ClayMIA24166975961224652647
47Hakeem NicksNYG25155689601176607644
48Emmanuel SandersPIT26166774061195629642
49James JonesGNB29145981731172615637
50Marvin JonesCIN231651712101167616634

Some thoughts:

  • 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.
  • David

    I had Brown on my FFB team this year and I had a front row seat to his stats. He never had less than 5 receptions in a game and also returned a punt for a TD. He had 1928 all purpose yards along with a 15 yard pass (and a 7 yard sack). Josh Gordon had five games where he had less than 5 receptions. AJ Green had four games with less than five. Calvin Johnson had five games with less than five.

  • Andreas Shepard

    Comparing to the all time list (link below), it looks like 3 of the 7 greatest Bears receiving seasons of all time happened in 2013. Marshall and Jeffery were 2nd and 3rd (behind Harlon Hill in 1956), while Martellus Bennett is 7th.

    The Bears do not exactly have a storied history when it comes to the passing game.