≡ Menu

[Note: Due to a scheduling blunder, you may have missed yesterday’s post on single-season leaders.]



On Sunday, I explained one methodology to modify receiving yards in a way to give more value to top receivers while devaluing junk games. You can read that explanation here, and see the Justin Blackmon example.

Jerry Rice, of course, will rank as the top receiver by this or any other methodology, especially if that system excludes Don Hutson (today’s data only goes back to 1960). In fact, using a 3X baseline, Rice still gained 15,314 receiving yards after removing junk yards, more than every wide receiver in NFL history has gained including junk yards other than Terrell Owens. Rice was just incredible.

Perhaps the first real surprise on the list is Don Maynard, who ranks 6th among all players since 1960 by this methodology. The Jets Hall of Famer currently ranks 26th in career receiving yards, but 30 years ago, he was the all-time leader in that category. Maynard benefits here for some era adjustments — his 14-game seasons get prorated, the baseline for junk seasons was lower in the ’60s and ’70s — and his dominant play for a long stretch is rewarded.

The table below shows the top players by this methodology since 1960. Here’s how to read the table, using the Owens line. Using a 2.5X baseline, he ranks 2nd all-time. His career began in 1996 and ended in 2010, and he had 9,386 receiving yards above that junk baseline. Using a 3X baseline, he still ranks 2nd, and had 10,493 non-junk receiving yards.

2.5x RkReceiverFirst YrLast Yr2.5X Yards3x Rk3X Yards
1Jerry Rice1985200413786115314
2Terrell Owens199620109386210493
3Randy Moss199820129075310057
4Isaac Bruce19942009874149826
5Marvin Harrison19962008872959734
6Don Maynard19581973851169517
7James Lofton19781993833879322
8Andre Johnson20032015819889175
9Torry Holt199920098062108984
10Tim Brown19882004801699105
11Reggie Wayne200120147861118913
12Lance Alworth196219727840148621
13Steve Smith200120157804128825
14Steve Largent197619897778138766
15Henry Ellard198319987597158566
16Cris Carter198720027540168565
17Jimmy Smith199220057365198207
18Michael Irvin198819997284218065
19Larry Fitzgerald200420157258188275
20Anquan Boldin200320157192208177
21Tony Gonzalez199720137079178350
22Calvin Johnson200720156949247776
23Andre Reed198520006917237923
24Charlie Joiner196919866884227924
25Harold Jackson196819836670267519
26Art Monk198019956567257559
27Rod Smith199520066363287188
28Stanley Morgan197719906324317094
29Brandon Marshall200620156268297112
30Chad Johnson200120116241327018
31Irving Fryar198420006227277235
32Derrick Mason199720116159307111
33Hines Ward199820116070337001
34Gary Clark198519956070346843
35Art Powell195919685930386625
36Keenan McCardell199220075878376736
37Muhsin Muhammad199620095873356779
38Charley Taylor196419775869366742
39Joey Galloway199520105759396581
40Wes Chandler197819885741446391
41Roddy White200520155680406498
42Paul Warfield196419775602416422
43Keyshawn Johnson199620065587426409
44Fred Biletnikoff196519785511436395
45Cliff Branch197219855503456183
46Andre Rison198920005323466059
47Eric Moulds199620075246485995
48Bob Hayes196519755245495893
49Harold Carmichael197119845198476003
50Herman Moore199120025178545820
51Gary Garrison196619775131585813
52Bobby Mitchell195819685125565818
53Charley Hennigan196019665122625697
54Drew Hill197919935107575814
55Wes Welker200420155100525858
56Carroll Dale196019735061535838
57Marques Colston200620155023595805
58Santana Moss200120145015555819
59Rob Moore199019995007635697
60Otis Taylor196519754985655630
61Antonio Gates200320154966515860
62John Stallworth197419874963645680
63Mark Duper198219924960685587
64Donald Driver199920124951605745
65Terry Glenn199620074933695561
66Wesley Walker197719894917705509
67Lionel Taylor195919684912665602
68Shannon Sharpe199020034891615707
69Jason Witten200320154877505891
70Joe Horn199620074852725469
71Jackie Smith196319784843675599
72Sterling Sharpe198819944834765386
73Roy Green197919924820715494
74Anthony Miller198819974799735463
75John Gilliam196719774793795374
76Drew Pearson197319834746775382
77Mark Clayton198319934742755415
78Roy Jefferson196519764710745441
79Tony Hill197719864678825274
80Amani Toomer199620084633785380
81Tony Martin199020014613815298
82Haven Moses196819814593805329
83Vincent Jackson200520154520835215
84Gene Washington196919794462855077
85Tommy McDonald195719684435845107
86Plaxico Burress200020124412875043
87Laveranues Coles200020094383865065
88Ken Burrough197019814327884962
89DeSean Jackson200820154248924820
90Jeff Graham199120014241914849
91Isaac Curtis197319844241934796
92Johnnie Morton199420054203904904
93Mark Carrier198719984199894926
94Raymond Berry195519674158944755
95Antonio Brown2010201541171024622
96Anthony Carter1985199540851014644
97Greg Jennings200620154081954743
98Mel Gray1971198240671034614
99Eddie Kennison199620084051984688
100Jimmy Orr195819704018994673
101Ernest Givins198619954014964695
102Cris Collinsworth1981198839991094490
103Reggie Rucker1970198139961004654
104Antonio Freeman1995200339831084497
105Terance Mathis199020023965974693
106Pete Retzlaff1956196639381074533
107Eric Martin1985199439251054560
108Curtis Conway1993200439071044568
109Ahmad Rashad1972198239061104482
110Kellen Winslow1979198738701134414
111Sonny Randle1959196838511124425
112Boyd Dowler1959197138461064556
113Julio Jones2011201538401204262
114Webster Slaughter1986199838381114466
115Dwight Clark1979198737711174313
116Darrell Jackson2000200837581184289
117Derrick Alexander1994200237401214237
118Frank Lewis1971198337261154321
119Demaryius Thomas2010201537241224216
120Carlos Carson1980198937141254178
121Nat Moore1974198636971144367
122Bill Brooks1986199636711164320
123Alfred Jenkins1975198336671234195
124Ozzie Newsome1978199036441194287
125Carl Pickens1992200036291274170
126Sammy White1976198536211264177
127Danny Abramowicz1967197436071304107
128Pat Tilley1976198635841244191
129Brian Blades1988199835721284167
130Buddy Dial1959196635581344046
131J.T. Smith1978199035401334082
132Mike Quick1982199035381384005
133Chris Chambers2001201035321294151
134Al Toon1985199235291364025
135Homer Jones1964197035051443929
136T.J. Houshmandzadeh2001201135041324087
137Dave Parks1964197334811354030
138Jake Reed1991200234721394001
139Steve Watson1979198734611453925
140A.J. Green2011201534601433931
141Ed McCaffrey1991200334131413958
142George Sauer1965197033951513834
143Dwayne Bowe2007201533911374007
144Bernie Casey1961196833871463901
145Frank Clarke1957196733751473873
146Ricky Proehl1990200633691314105
147Chris Burford1960196733601423952
148Jack Snow1965197533521403982
149Frank Sanders1995200333361483859
150Elbert Dubenion1960196833311493853
151John Jefferson1978198532711573721
152Red Phillips1958196732311563749
153Bobby Joe Conrad1958196932241503848
154Henry Marshall1976198732081553787
155Lynn Swann1974198232051583692
156Eddie Brown1985199131621623643
157Gail Cogdill1960197031551533796
158Bobby Engram1996200931521523829
159Ben Hawkins1966197431381663567
160Michael Haynes1988199731361633635
161Gary Ballman1962197331261603674
162Todd Christensen1979198831211643610
163Marty Booker1999200931211613643
164Wayne Chrebet1995200531141543794
165Rich Caster1970198231041653595
166Louis Lipps1984199230841693512
167Mike Ditka1961197230581593675
168Lance Rentzel1965197430331753473
169Roger Carr1974198330281803432
170Johnny Morris1958196730161723484
171Lee Evans2004201130101763471
172Deion Branch2002201230051683526
173Stephone Paige1983199130001743478
174Jordy Nelson2008201429981773457
175Gary Collins1962197129831673539
176Brett Perriman1988199729801703499
177Dez Bryant2010201529741793444
178Jeremy Maclin2009201529691783448
179Willie Gault1983199329601733483
180Del Shofner1957196729581873375
181Ricky Sanders1986199529541713492
182Bob Chandler1971198229321813409
183Dave Casper1974198429231823409
184Darnay Scott1994200229231833408
185Paul Flatley1963197028641903351
186Bob Tucker1970198028521843394
187Rob Gronkowski2010201528491943279
188Mike Wallace2009201528481853393
189Santonio Holmes2006201428351913320
190Jim Colclough1960196828331863386
191Haywood Jeffires1987199628181893359
192Freddie Solomon1975198528051923315
193Sean Dawkins1993200127891973271
194Kevin House1980198727862043166
195Roy Williams2004201127801993216
196Jerry Smith1965197727781883375
197Troy Brown1993200727731933289
198Fred Barnett199019972761208.53144
199Duriel Harris1976198527532033166
200Antonio Bryant2002200927352013201
  • Torry Holt ranks 9th (using a 2.5X baseline) and 10th (at 3x) here, and Andre Johnson ranks 8th in both. The Hall of Fame has a receiver problem, so it will be very interesting to see how their candidacies are judged. Of the two, Johnson seems to have the stronger case, given the weaker quarterbacks he played with and that Holt played on more pass-happy teams. But it’s hard not to find Holt deserving.
  • Henry Ellard ranks 15th here, and this is just looking at receiving yards and not giving Ellard any credit for his incredible first down rate. The Hall of Fame seems to have forgotten about him, but it shouldn’t.
  • Charlie Joiner checks in at 24th using a 2.5X baseline, 22nd with a 3X, and 22nd in raw receiving yards. That’s certainly a better showing here than he has in other systems: Joiner was very good for a very long time, and he fares better here than he does in something focused on pure dominance. That’s how to describe Joiner’s career in a nutshell: he ranked 13th in True Receiving Yards, but 62nd in TRY based on a player’s top six seasons.

What stands out to you on today’s list? I don’t advocate this as the best — or even a great — way to rank receivers. But I would say by removing junk yards and having an era adjustment, it’s got two clear advantages over regular receiving yards.

  • Adam

    This works well as a quick and dirty method. That said, wouldn’t it make more sense to use adjusted catch yards so TD’s are included?

    • Probably, as a method to rank receivers. But then I’d also want other adjustments, too. The goal here was just to improve receiving yards, so it’s quick and dirty as you said.

      • Adam

        Fair enough. There is a subtle distinction between ranking stats and ranking players as a whole.

  • Josh Sanford

    When you brought this out on Sunday, I was excited about it. But after thinking about it more, and reviewing the actual list, I am a little meh about it because (generally) everyone has (about) the same percentage of junk yards. Right? I think we’d learn more by seeing a list of career yardage totals where the sum includes ONLY those yards in excess of 120 (or pick your own number) yards in a game. Let’s see who can produce the big games.

    • Abe Froman

      Chase’s YAJ is akin to a cumulative total of z-scores that controls for era. So if you are looking at career values, its going to look a lot like a GOAT list. To some degree, this measures survivorship bias among good players (AKA the greatest players of their era…who didn’t get hurt or suspended).

  • Josh Sanford

    On a related note, has this group ever had a discussion about whether there is a single “greatest receiving game” of all-time, and if so, which game was it, who were the runners-up, etc?

  • LightsOut85

    Looking at the top 10 (by 2.5x), the % of yards that were junk-game yards are pretty similar. Besides Maynard & Brown, the others are very close 40% (& about 33-35% for 3x). I don’t know where I’m going with that, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

  • My initial reaction is to notice a skew at the top toward recent players. Eight of the top 10, and 16 of the top 22, were active in 2003. One of the top 10, and three of the top 23, ever played in a 14-game season.

    • Yeah, that was bound to happen. It’s simply going to be easier to accumulate yards in today’s game. This has a couple of good era adjustments, but a great receiver is still more likely to beat a 40-yard baseline by more yards now than a great receiver in the past would beat a 25-yard baseline.