≡ Menu

He gained 120+ yards pretty frequently

He gained 120+ yards pretty frequently

Yesterday, I posted a list of the career leaders in receiving yards after removing “junk” yards gained on an individual game basis. I’ve defined junk games as somewhere between 32 and 40 yards in 2015, and a lower threshold in less pass-friendly eras. You can view the Justin Blackmon example here.

While I presented the career list yesterday, I thought it would make sense to plot the career yards after removing junk yards (using 2.5x as the baseline) against each receiver’s plain career receiving yards (in both cases, since 1960). That’s what I’ve done in the graph below, with actual career receiving yards on the X-Axis and career yards after removing junk yards on the Y-Axis. Jerry Rice is literally off the chart (22,895; 13,786) because including him would require using a much broader (and less helpful) chart. Let’s just ignore Rice and focus on the other 99 receivers: [click to continue…]

{ 10 comments }

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

The GOAT

The GOAT

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. [click to continue…]

{ 11 comments }

On Sunday, I discussed single-game receiving yards baselines. You can check that post to see the methodology (using Justin Blackmon as the example), but basically we just remove a certain number of receiving yards from every player in every game, and that player only gets credit for their yards above that baseline.

Based on the discussion with Brad O. in the comments, I’ve decided to use a couple of different baselines. One is a 3X baseline — that means we multiply the number of team games in the NFL (in modern times, that’s 512) by 3, and that’s the number of games in each year that are at or above the baseline. The other is a 2.5X baseline — i.e., we multiply team games by 2.5 to get the threshold number.

In 2015, the junk baseline of 3X was 32 receiving yards. For some players like Julio Jones, who had at least 32 yards in each game, that just means we remove 512 yards from his total of 1,871 receiving yards, giving him 1,359 non-junk yards last year. With a 2.5X baseline, players in 2015 only receive credit for their yards once they hit 40 yards in a game; for Jones, that means subtracting 638 yards from his total, since he had one 38-yard game last year, resulting in 1,233 non-junk yards if we use that threshold. By either standard, that ranks as the 9th best season since 1960.

I used that methodology for every player season since 1960, and pro-rated for non-16 game seasons. The best year, using either baseline, was what Charley Hennigan did in 1961. He had at least 78 yards in 13 games and 0 yards in the 14th game; that makes the calculation pretty easy. The baseline at the 2.5X level was 31 yards, so for Hennigan, we just subtract 31 yards from his total of 1,746 yards in 13 games, or 403 yards, leaving him with 1,343 yards. Then, we multiply that by 16/14 — since his Oilers played a 14-game schedule — to give him a pro-rated 1,535 yards above the baseline.

That’s the top season since 1960. You may want to downgrade him for being in the AFL, of course, but that’s another matter. The table below shows all player seasons that rank in the top 300 based on either the 2.5X measure or the 3X measure: [click to continue…]

{ 4 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1980-89 and 1985-94. This is the sixth installment, examining 1990-99 and 1995-2004. The great receivers of the early ’90s, such as Jerry Rice and Andre Reed, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade.

1990-99

Fastest Receiver: Raghib Ismail

Best Deep Threat: Henry Ellard

Best Hands: Cris Carter

Best Possession Receiver: Jerry Rice

Toughest Receiver: Jerry Rice

Underrated in 2016: Herman Moore

Most Accomplished Postseason WR: Jerry Rice

Best Single Season: Jerry Rice, 1995

Best Overall WR: Jerry Rice

Raghib Ismail and his brother Qadry Ismail retired with nearly identical receiving statistics. Rocket Ismail had 363 receptions, for 5,295 yards and 28 TDs. Missile (Qadry) had 353 receptions, for 5,137 yards and 33 TDs. They each had two 1,000-yard seasons. Raghib was a more productive rusher, and Qadry a more productive returner. Raghib, projected to be the first pick in the 1991 NFL Draft, instead signed a record contract with the Toronto Argonauts, becoming a CFL All-Star before his NFL career began in 1993.

Henry Ellard, whom I named the greatest deep threat of 1985-94, remained so in the ’90s: his 17.13 average was the highest by more than a yard. Ellard had five 1,000-yard seasons in the ’90s, tied for fifth-most, behind only Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Michael Irvin. Alvin Harper was a great deep threat across from Irvin, but never a true no. 1 receiver. Ellard had as many catches in three seasons as Harper had in his career. Irvin himself was an underrated deep receiver: he had the most 20+ yard receptions of the ’90s, and his 15.7 receiving average was highest among the 15 players with at least 500 receptions in the decade. Of note: all three of these receivers played for Norv Turner, and all created more first downs than you would expect from their reception and yardage totals.

Herman Moore was a four-time Pro Bowler and made three all-pro teams as a starter (more than Cris Carter and Tim Brown combined). Moore’s 1995 ranks among the most impressive statistical seasons of all time: 123 rec, 1686 yds, 14 TD. Looking at the 1990s as a whole, Moore had more receptions than Andre Reed, more yardage than Henry Ellard, and more touchdowns than Michael Irvin. Yes, really: Moore scored more TDs in the ’90s (59) than Michael Irvin (58). Moore had over 900 receiving yards every year from 1992-98, including three seasons of 100 receptions, but his production was largely limited to those seven seasons.

Tim Brown
Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 1988-2003; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004
1,094 receptions, 14,934 yards, 100 TD

Although he was a first-round draft pick, Tim Brown’s receiving career began slowly. However, he was always a dazzling punt returner (3,320 yds, 10.2 avg, 3 TDs). Brown made two Pro Bowls as a returner, in 1988 and ’91, and in 2001 became the oldest NFL player (35) to return a punt for a TD. He also holds the rookie record for all-purpose yards (2,317), a record he took from Gale Sayers and has now owned for more than two decades.

Of course, Brown is most remembered as a receiver who was among the best at his position for a decade. He had nine consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and ranks 5th all-time in receptions. He’s 6th all-time in receiving yards and 8th in receiving TDs. At the time of his retirement, only Jerry Rice had more yards.

I suggested last week that Andre Reed was more consistent than exceptional. The same criticism might be levelled at Brown, but less convincingly. Brown tied for the NFL lead in receptions once, never led in yards or TDs. In his 17-year career, he made the Associated Press all-pro team just once, as a second-team selection in 1997.

However, Brown, who began his career in 1988, had nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Reed, who began his career in 1985, had four. Brown had 1,300 yards four times.1 Brown had more receptions (+143), yards (+1,736), and touchdowns (+13) than Reed. He was an exceptional punt returner; Reed didn’t return kicks. Brown made nine Pro Bowls, to Reed’s seven, even though the AFC was stronger during Brown’s prime than Reed’s. They were both great players, but Brown was better.

Cris Carter
Philadelphia Eagles, 1987-89; Minnesota Vikings, 1990-2001; Miami Dolphins, 2002
1,101 receptions, 13,899 yards, 130 TD

His given name was Graduel Christopher Darin Carter. Carter grew up in southwest Ohio — Bengals country — and spelled his name “Cris” because of Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth.

Fourth all-time in both receptions and receiving TDs, Carter joined Jerry Rice as the starting wide receivers on the 1990s NFL All-Decade team. He was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was twice named first-team all-pro. In 1994, he set the single-season record for receptions (122), and in three other seasons he led the NFL in receiving TDs. Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, and Carter are the only players in history with five straight years of double-digit receiving touchdowns.

I was surprised when Carter didn’t get elected to Canton in his first several years of eligibility. I suspect the voters were reluctant to enshrine him partly for the same reason Art Monk had to wait so long. Monk was repeatedly dismissed as a guy who caught 900 eight-yard hooks, and who wasn’t the most dangerous receiver on his own team. Carter averaged just 12.6 yards per reception, one of the lowest marks in history for an elite wide receiver. Defenses fear the deep threat, the guy who can burn you on any given play. For Washington in the ’80s and early ’90s, that was Gary Clark, not Monk. For Minnesota, it was Randy Moss, not Carter.

Carter last led the Vikings in receiving yards in 1995. Thereafter, he was outgained every year by either Jake Reed or Moss. And yet, half his production came after ’95: five of his eight 1,000-yard seasons, four of his six double-digit TD years, overall about 50% of his statistical value. Essentially, Carter battled the notion that he usually wasn’t the best receiver on his own team, that he was a system player who caught a bunch of short passes and seldom had to deal with double-teams. He was reliable more than explosive, and he was tough like Monk, not graceful like Lance Alworth or Lynn Swann. Carter just doesn’t have the highlight reel those guys do, and he never won a championship.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Carter’s highlight reel is empty. Anyone who watched football in the ’90s remembers, “Cris Carter. All he does is catch touchdowns.” Although made famous by Chris Berman, the phrase originated with Carter’s coach with the Eagles, Buddy Ryan, and was not entirely a compliment. Carter’s most famous highlight came in college. Playing in the Citrus Bowl for Ohio State, Carter caught a ball that his quarterback had tried to throw away.

Carter is one of the most improbable winners ever of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Carter was cut by the Eagles because of drug, alcohol, and personal issues. He antagonized teammates in Minnesota; when Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame, former teammate (1993-96) Qadry Ismail told Sirius XM, “Cris was a bona fide diva … extreme selfishness.” In The Best Minnesota Sports Arguments, Carter has his own chapter entitled, “What Was the Most Selfish Act Committed by a Minnesota Athlete?” The story involves Vikings running back Bill Brown and his dying wife, and paints a very ugly picture of Carter — when he was sober, and old enough to know better. At the 2014 NFL rookie symposium, Carter advised young players that if they got into trouble, “You’ve got to have a fall guy in the crew,” to take the blame. Cris Carter was a great receiver, but he doesn’t seem like a good person.

Irving Fryar
New England Patriots, 1984-92; Miami Dolphins, 1993-95; Phildaelphia Eagles, 1996-98; Washington, 1999-2000
851 receptions, 12,785 yards, 84 TD

Irving Fryar was a late bloomer. The first overall pick in the 1984 draft, Fryar quickly made his mark on special teams — he was a Pro Bowl returner, with 3 punt return TDs in his first three seasons — but didn’t emerge as a major receiving threat until he left New England to play for the Dolphins and Eagles. His first 1,000-yard season came in 1991, when Fryar was 29 and playing his eighth year in the NFL. He was 31 when he made his first Pro Bowl as a receiver, a 10-year veteran. His career-high 1,316 receiving yards came at age 35.2

Fryar made five Pro Bowls (one as a returner) and was second-team all-pro twice (once as a returner). He had five 1,000-yard seasons, and his accomplishments as a returner are significant. It’s natural, I think, to compare him to Henry Ellard. They were drafted just one year apart, both were great punt returners early in their careers, both had most of their best seasons in the ’90s, both had career numbers that looked exceptional when they retired, and far less impressive since the explosion of receiving stats in the expansion era.

Choosing between the two, I’d go with Ellard. He had more good seasons, more of his production came before league-wide receiving numbers went through the roof, and he had a stronger peak. Ellard had four seasons among the top four in receiving yards, Fryar none. Ellard played against tough NFC competition, in an era when the AFC was a substantially weaker conference. They were both great players, but Ellard was more exceptional.

Since I spent a paragraph explaining why I’m not wild about Cris Carter, for the sake of equal treatment I should point out that Irving Fryar has an even uglier past. He missed the 1985 AFC Championship Game due to an injured hand. But he didn’t hurt the hand playing football, he hurt it in a domestic dispute with his pregnant wife (Fryar needed six stitches). He had drug issues, violence against women and animals, allegations that he attempted to throw a game in college. He was arrested on weapons charges. Rick Reilly called Fryar “the All Pro screw-up, the Human Incident, the Original Sinner.” Fryar is currently in jail for fraud.

Michael Irvin
Dallas Cowboys, 1988-99
750 receptions, 11,904 yards, 65 TD

I named Jerry Rice’s 1995 season the greatest by a wide receiver in the 1990s. That’s tough to argue with. Rice caught 122 passes, for 1,848 yards and 15 TDs. Those are excellent totals, in every category, and his single-season yardage record lasted almost 20 years. But there’s a compelling argument to be made that in 1991, Michael Irvin was even better. Irvin caught 93 passes, for 1,523 yards and 8 TDs. Those are great stats, but they’re dwarfed by Rice’s. What’s the argument for Irvin?

First, consider that Irvin’s 93 receptions produced 79 first downs, compared to 75 first downs for Rice. That 122-93 reception gap is a lot less significant when you consider what their catches did for the team. We also need to consider the environment of the league. Passing statistics exploded in the mid-1990s, and 1995 was an expansion year, diluting the talent pool and allowing the best players to excel even more than usual. In 1995, Rice had 67 yards more than 2nd-place Herman Moore. In 1991, Irvin had 187 yards more than 2nd-place Gary Clark. Irvin had the most receiving first downs in the NFL, by 17. Four receivers had more first downs in 1995 than Rice. While Rice’s raw numbers are much better, Irvin actually stood out more from the league. And it wasn’t a one-year blip. Irvin had more yards and more first downs in 1991 than any receiver the two years before and after.

1991 was the only season in which Irvin led the NFL in a major statistic. In 1995, he had more catches (111) for more yards (1603) and more TDs (10), but in context, ’91 was a better season. Irvin retired with seven 1,000-yard seasons, plus 962 in an injury-shortened (11 games) 1996. In four of those years, Irvin gained over 1,300 yards. He was big for that era, and strong and fast.

He was also a great postseason performer. In 16 postseason games, Irvin caught 87 passes for 1,315 yards and 8 TDs. He had six 100-yard games, plus four more with over 80 yards. That includes 114 yards and 2 TDs in Super Bowl XXVII, one of three Super Bowl victories in Irvin’s career.

Andre Rison
Indianapolis Colts, 1989; Atlanta Falcons, 1990-94; Cleveland Browns, 1995; Jacksonville Jaguars, 1996; Green Bay Packers, 1996; Kansas City Chiefs, 1997-99; Oakland Raiders, 2000
743 receptions, 10,205 yards, 84 TD

Andre Rison played for seven NFL teams. A guy’s career looks fragmented when he moves around so often, hard to view as a whole. Irving Fryar and Rison did a lot of the same things as Andre Reed, but the constant team-switching makes it hard, psychologically, to view them that way. During his NFL career, Rison caught touchdown passes from Jack Trudeau (4), Chris Miller (25), Scott Campbell (2), Billy Joe Tolliver (6), Wade Wilson (3), Bobby Hebert (11), Jeff George (9), Vinny Testaverde (1), Eric Zeier (2), Mark Brunell (2), Brett Favre (1), Elvis Grbac (7), and Rich Gannon (11).3

Part of the reason Rison moved around so much is that he was viewed as a bit of a headcase. He was a showboat in Atlanta, but you can get away with that when you’re performing at a high level. Rison signed a big free agent contract with the Browns, then publicly cursed at the Cleveland fans. He played for five teams in four years, his girlfriend alleged that he was abusive4, he went to the Raiders — of course he went to the Raiders — and Rison even played for the Toronto Argonauts after his NFL career ended (winning a Grey Cup in 2004).

What if Rison had stayed with Atlanta, or gone to a stable team rather than one on the eve of a move to Baltimore? He was a Pro Bowler for the Chiefs in 1997, and a valuable player for the Packers in the 1996 postseason, including a 54-yard TD reception to begin Super Bowl XXXI, so it’s not like his talent dried up after he left Atlanta, or that he couldn’t succeed without the run and shoot. But that was the widespread impression at the time; Rison’s success with Green Bay was a real surprise coming from someone most fans thought was finished as an impact player.

A first-team all-pro in 1990 and a five-time Pro Bowler, Rison had five 1,000-yard seasons and in 1993 tied Jerry Rice for the most receiving TDs in the NFL (15). In his final NFL season, Rison became just the seventh player in history with 700 receptions, 10,000 yards, and 80 touchdowns. NFL players with four consecutive seasons of double-digit receiving TDs: Tommy McDonald, Bob Hayes, Jerry Rice, Rison, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, and Marvin Harrison.

1995-2004

Fastest Receiver: Randy Moss

Best Deep Threat: Randy Moss

Best Hands: Marvin Harrison

Best Possession Receiver: Marvin Harrison

Toughest Receiver: Keyshawn Johnson

Underrated in 2016: Jimmy Smith

Most Accomplished Postseason WR: Rod Smith

Best Single Season: Jerry Rice, 1995

Best Overall WR: Marvin Harrison

Randy Moss was as fast as anyone. If there’s anyone else from this era who compares, it would surely be Tim Dwight. I explained last week that given a close call between two players for a designation like “Fastest Receiver”, I prefer to highlight the lesser-known. Within that, however, I still want to recognize legitimate football players, not just fast guys who put on pads and a helmet. Tim Dwight was a real football player, but he was a returner more than a receiver. Dwight had 203 kickoff returns, 185 punt returns, and 194 career receptions.

The 8th pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, Joey Galloway was a downfield receiver, a burner. He scored 5 punt return TDs and rushed for 496 yards, one of the highest totals ever by a receiver. He had six 1,000-yard receiving seasons and three years of double-digit TDs, retiring with 83 total TDs and nearly 11,000 receiving yards. He never made a Pro Bowl, but he was a good player with a 16-year career.

Galloway is statistically comparable to Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, and Rod Smith (see below). McCardell quietly caught almost 900 passes and gained over 11,000 yards. A two-time Pro Bowler, he had five 1,000-yard seasons and five years among the NFL’s top 10 in receptions. A 12th-round draft pick in 1991, McCardell didn’t get a chance to play regularly until he joined the Jaguars in 1996. If McCardell hadn’t lost five years of his prime sitting on the bench, would he be a Hall of Famer? Maybe.

One of the more underappreciated receivers in recent history, Muhsin Muhammad gained at least 500 receiving yards in 12 seasons, caught 90 or more passes three times, and led the NFL at various times in every major receiving category: receptions (2000), receiving yards (2004), and receiving touchdowns (2004). He made two Pro Bowls and was first-team all-pro in ’04.

Isaac Bruce
Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09
1,024 receptions, 15,208 yards, 91 TD

Isaac Bruce ranks 4th all-time in receiving yards. He had eight 1,000-yard seasons, including 1,781 in 1995, still the 5th-highest total in history. Bruce was hard-working, humble, and well-liked. He was a good route-runner, and he was fast enough to worry defenders, but he had the hands of a great possession receiver. Bruce spent much of his career on bad teams, but made big plays when he got the chance, including the 73-yard game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Bruce was named to four Pro Bowls and went over 1,000 yards four other times, including 1,292 in 2004 and 1,781 in 1995. His résumé bears a similarity to Charlie Joiner’s — guys with long careers and sensational counting stats, but who weren’t usually regarded as being among the very best while they were active. Both also have to fight the perception that their numbers are partly or largely a product of the absurd offenses they played in, where any receiver could become a star.

Bruce’s case is a little stronger than Joiner’s. He ranked in the top five in receiving yards four times (and led the league in 1996), compared to only twice for Joiner, who never led the NFL in a major statistic. Two of Bruce’s three best seasons came when the Rams were coached by Rich Brooks, while Joiner’s best years were under Don Coryell. Bruce had four 100-yard games in the postseason, and he was a Super Bowl star. Joiner deserves his place in Canton, and Bruce deserves to join him.

Marvin Harrison
Indianapolis Colts, 1996-2008
1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards, 128 TD

In eight consecutive seasons, Marvin Harrison finished with more than 80 receptions, 1,100 yards, and double-digit touchdowns. He is the only player in history with four consecutive 1,400-yard seasons, and one of only five (Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson) to go over 1,400 in any four seasons. Harrison still holds the single-season record for receptions (143). He led the NFL twice in receptions, twice in receiving yards, and once in receiving TDs. He was first-team all-pro three times and qualified for eight Pro Bowls.

Harrison was not the biggest, fastest, or strongest receiver in the game; he didn’t intimidate opponents the way Terrell Owens and Moss did. But Harrison was one of the smartest receivers ever to play, and like Rice, he worked very hard to be the best; the extra practice hours he put in working with Peyton Manning are legendary. Harrison was an exceptional route-runner, and he was the best I ever saw at the toe-tap on the sideline. Give him an inch and he’d make the catch.

Harrison, Rice, and Andre Johnson are the only players with three 1,500-yard receiving seasons. Harrison has the most receptions, receiving yards, and TDs of any player to spend his whole career with one team.

Keyshawn Johnson
New York Jets, 1996-99; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2000-03; Dallas Cowboys, 2004-05; Carolina Panthers, 2006
804 receptions, 10,571 yards, 64 TD

The top pick in the 1996 draft, Keyshawn Johnson was known as much for his attitude as his play. He caught 70 or more passes nine times, and wrote a book (with Shelley Smith) titled Just Give Me the Damn Ball!, setting the tone for a parade of diva receivers ever since. He had at least 600 receiving yards every year of his career, and he was dismissed from the Buccaneers in mid-season 2003 because the defending champs didn’t want to deal with him any more. His name is Joseph Ladarious Keyshawn Johnson, and he was nicknamed Me-Shawn.

Some people won’t like that I named Johnson the toughest receiver of the decade. Keyshawn was a self-centered loudmouth, arguably the first of the modern diva receivers. But he was also a gritty possession receiver who would go over the middle, and he was the best blocking WR of his generation. If he had been 10 or 15 pounds bigger, Johnson would have been a Shannon Sharpe-style tight end. He made three Pro Bowls, caught 100 passes one year, and retired with more than 800 receptions, for over 10,000 yards.

The famous 1996 receiver class includes Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Muhsin Muhammad, Eric Moulds, Joe Horn, Amani Toomer, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, and Bobby Engram. All 10 had over 500 receptions, over 7,500 receiving yards, and at least 35 touchdowns. Seven of the 10 made at least one Pro Bowl, and they combined for 27. Taken as a group, they averaged 768 catches, 10,568 yards, and 69 TDs — about the same numbers as Keyshawn. I’d be surprised if there’s ever another class of rookie receivers so deep and successful.

Jimmy Smith
Dallas Cowboys, 1992-93; Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995-2005
862 receptions, 12,287 yards, 67 TD

You probably don’t remember Jimmy Smith on the Super Bowl-winning Cowboys in 1992. He played seven games and never caught a pass. He didn’t play at all the next two years. Smith didn’t become a full-time starter until 1996, when he was 27, an age when many players begin to decline.

Smith made the most of the years he did play, with nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons and five Pro Bowl appearances. Smith was only the third player with multiple seasons catching 110 or more passes, the first two being Jerry Rice and Cris Carter from 1994-95. He is one of only five receivers with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons (Tim Brown, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Rice), and one of six with six straight 1,100-yard seasons (Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Moss, Rice, Roddy White). In 1999, Smith led the NFL in receptions (116) and first downs (86), then the highest totals in history outside the whacked ’94-’95 seasons, and his team went 14-2.

Smith was occasionally dogged by drug issues, and his four-game suspension in 2003 probably kept him from becoming the only person besides Rice with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. Smith left the game when he was still a good player; his final season yielded 70 catches, 1023 yards, and 6 TDs. Smith in 2004 gained the third-most receiving yards ever by a 35-year-old (1,172), and he and Rice are the only players ever to gain over 1,000 yards in a full season after turning 36.

So in Smith you have one of the best old receivers ever, a guy who had a lot of good seasons, including five years over 1,200 yards and two seasons catching more than 110 passes.5 His detractors would point out that while Smith did have exceptional years, and played well in several others, he had so few seasons on the field that his overall statistics don’t measure up to the best players of his generation. Some detractors would also mention the drug thing, but unlike some of the other players profiled here, Jimmy Smith really wasn’t a bad guy. He was an addict, but he wasn’t a jerk.

Most 1,000-yard receiving seasons in NFL history:

1. Jerry  Rice, 14
2. Randy  Moss, 10
t3. Tim  Brown, 9
t3. Terrell  Owens, 9
t3. Jimmy  Smith, 9

Rod Smith
Denver Broncos, 1995-2006
849 receptions, 11,389 yards, 68 TD

Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, and Rod Smith have virtually identical career stats:

             Rec    Yards     1stD   TD
Muhammad     860    11,438    566    62
Smith        849    11,389    570    68
McCardell    883    11,373    568    63

It’s remarkable for three contemporary players to post such similar stats over long, productive careers. Overall numbers notwithstanding, Smith was by far the best of the three. He had eight 1,000-yard seasons, as many as McCardell (5) and Muhammad (3) combined. Smith played on two Super Bowl champions, with 152 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIII. He caught 100 passes twice, caught 70 passes nine times, double-digit TDs twice, 1,200 yards three times, as many as 1,600 one year.

Smith didn’t have a long career. Undrafted out of Division II Missouri Southern, he didn’t play in the NFL until he was 25, and didn’t become a starter until he was 27. It’s a shame careers can turn so heavily on high school performance. If Smith had been offered a scholarship to a Big 10 or SEC school, gotten drafted in the third round, and become a starter when he was 23 or 24, maybe he’d have another 200 receptions, 3,000 yards, 20 TDs.

We could also throw Keyshawn Johnson into the McCardell-Muhammad-Smith group. His stats are basically the same: 800-900 receptions, about 11,000 yards, 60-70 TDs. Shannon Sharpe’s statistics are similar to Keyshawn’s, if you exclude first downs.

              Rec    Yards     1stD   TD
Muhammad      860    11,438    566    62
Smith         849    11,389    570    68
McCardell     883    11,373    568    63
Johnson       804    10,571    552    64
Sharpe        815    10,060    490    62

Other players with comparable stats include Gary Clark, Donald Driver, Joey Galloway, Michael Irvin, Chad Johnson, Santana Moss, and Brandon Marshall (through 2015), although all except Marshall had fewer receptions.

  1. Editor’s note: In addition, Brown has 31 points of Gray Ink in receiving yards, compared to just 17 for Reed. That’s a pretty big difference. []
  2. Editor’s note: When I looked at the 100 players with the most career receiving yards through 2014, Fryar was the only one to have his single-season high in that category come at age 35 or older. []
  3. Editor’s note: Miller was responsible for 23% of Rison’s career yards, followed by Gannon (14%), Hebert (11%), Grbac (10%), and George (9%). []
  4. Editor’s note: Can you imagine if Rison’s relationship with Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez existed during today’s social media world?? []
  5. Editor’s note: I wrote a very pro-Smith profile here. []
{ 22 comments }

In the modern era, there are 32 teams playing 16 games each, so 512 total team games. In 1970, there were 364 team games. Consider that in 2015, the 512th-best receiving game produced 72 receiving yards; in 1970, the 364th-best receiving game produced 55 receiving yards.

One thing I like to do is to give receivers credit for yards above a certain baseline: this removes “junk” seasons or, in this case, games. Of course, the devil is in the details: i.e., how you define junk. And if you want to adjust for era, you need some baseline to measure against. One way to do it is to use the number of team games, as I explained above. For example, let’s look at Justin Blackmon’s 2012 season. [click to continue…]

{ 8 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1970-79 and 1975-84. This is the fifth installment, examining 1980-89 and 1985-94. The great receivers of the early ’80s, such as Steve Largent and Charlie Joiner, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 75 comments }

We’ve been talking a bit about Charlie Joiner over the past few days. Here’s a good comment from Brad O, where he called Joiner “the best receiver on the best passing team this side of Dan Marino.”

Brad is right in that Joiner generally played on very good passing teams. That wasn’t the case during his years in Houston, but beginning in 1974, Joiner generally played on top-5 passing teams for over a decade. With the Bengals and Ken Anderson, Joiner’s team ranked 4th in value added over average in 1974, defined as (ANY/A minus league-average ANY/A) multiplied by team pass attempts. The next year, his Bengals led the league in passing Value. [click to continue…]

{ 17 comments }

Shouldn't this guy be in the HOF?

Shouldn’t this guy be in the HOF?

In Brad Oremland’s latest post on wide receivers — and you should really be following the whole series — we got into a bit of a debate on Charlie Joiner in the comments. I’m not ready to provide my full analysis, but I thought I would start with presenting some data. And the quickest and easiest starting point is a gray ink test based on receiving yards.

The way it works is simple. For finishing first in a category, a player gets 10 points; for finishing 2nd, he gets 9 points; for 3rd, he gets 8 points, and so on. I did the same thing when analyzing Eli Manning and whether or not he was HOF-worthy (spoiler: he was not).

Joiner does not fare terribly here, but he doesn’t do all that well, either. He ranked 4th in receiving yards in 1980, so that is worth 7 points. His 6th-place finish the next year is worth 5 points, and his 3rd-place finish in 1976 is worth 8 points. That totals 20 points: it’s ahead of a number of HOF receivers (Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff, Paul Warfield, Art Monk, Charley Taylor, and Andre Reed being the most notable), but it also ranks behind a lot of really good receivers not in the Hall of Fame. That includes contemporaries like Cliff Branch, Harold Jackson, and Drew Pearson. The table below shows every player with at least 14 points of Gray Ink: [click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1960-69 and 1965-74. This is the fourth installment, examining 1970-79 and 1975-84. The great receivers of the early ’70s, such as Fred Biletnikoff and Paul Warfield, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 25 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1950-59 and 1955-64. This is the third installment, examining 1960-69 and 1965-74. The great receivers of the early ’60s, such as Raymond Berry and Tommy McDonald, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 31 comments }

The 2015 season was another spectacular one for wide receivers. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown outgained the NFL’s leading rusher by a record 349 yards. On a game-by-game basis, the leading receiver for every team in every NFL game this year, including playoffs, averaged 94.3 receiving yards, a post-merger record.

In fact, the average number of receiving yards gained by the leading receiver of each team has been steadily rising, which isn’t surprising.  The average was below 80 as recently as 1992, and below 70 in 1977, the year before the big passing rules changes went into effect.  But the 1962 NFL season had a slightly higher average, at 95.2, while the average leading receiver in a game in the ’64 AFL even broke 100.

The graph below shows the average number of receiving yards gained by each team’s leading receiver in every game in each season since 1960.  In all graphs today, the NFL line is in blue, while the AFL line is in red. [click to continue…]

{ 4 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we introduced this series with a look at the first decade of the Modern Era, 1945-54. This is the second installment, covering 1950-59 and 1955-64. The great receivers of the early ’50s, such as Tom Fears and Pete Pihos, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 19 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.


Best WRs By Decade: 1945-54

Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. This first piece covers 1945-54. Next week, we’ll do 1950-59 and 1955-64, continuing with 1960-69 and 1965-74 the following week, and so on.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of the era. 1945-54 represents the beginning of the NFL’s modern era. It was around this time that receivers stopped stopped doubling as defensive players, and started playing a major role on offense. In short, it was in the late 1940s and early 1950s that the modern position of wide receiver emerged. [click to continue…]

{ 9 comments }

The 2000 NFL Draft was supposed to bring an incredible infusion of wide receiver talent. Peter Warrick, Plaxico Burress, and Travis Taylor were top-10 picks, making it one of only four classes since 1970 were three wide receivers drafted in the top ten. In addition, Sylvester Morris, R. Jay Soward, Dennis Northcutt, and Todd Pinkston all went in the top 36 picks, one of only seven classes since the merger with seven wide receivers in the top 36. Avion Black was the 20th wide receiver taken with the 121st pick: add it all up, and the 2000 draft had unmatched levels of quality and quantity. The graph below shows the amount of draft value spent on wide receivers (you can click here for value spent on wide receivers and tight ends) in each draft from 1970 to 2011: [click to continue…]

{ 24 comments }

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been looking at receiving yards by class year. I’ll continue that today, with a look at the best classes in wide receiver history.

The 2014 class looks to be a very special one. It set a rookie record by gaining 18,321 receiving yards in 2014, the most by any set of rookies in NFL history. Then last year, those same players gained 23,727 last year, the most by any class in any single season in history.

Of course, while impressive, we have to remember the pass-friendly environment we are experiencing. The Class of 2014 — which includes all players selected in the 2014 Draft and all undrafted players whose first season began in 2014 — gained 14% of all receiving yards two years ago, and then 18% of all receiving yards in the NFL in 2015. Thought of another way, the class of 2014 has averaged 16% of receiving yards in their first two seasons.

thru 2 years

The 1987 class was a bit inflated by the replacement players who all register as rookies. The only other class since the merger with at least 15% through two years was the 1974 class, which got strong rookie seasons from Charlie Wade, Nat Moore, Paul Seal, Joel Parker, Harrison Davis, and Roger Carr, and then had Lynn Swann, Ken Payne, Moore, Ray Rhodes, Carr, Charlie Smith, and John Stallworth play well in 1975.

The 18% number produced by the 2014 class in year 2 was the highest rate since by a sophomore class since 1958.  That year, second-year players Del Shofner led the NFL in receiving yards, while R.C. Owens and Tommy McDonald finished in the top ten, with Joe Walton, Jon Arnett, and Billy Ray Barnes rounding out the class.

We can also look at the best classes as rookies, and over 2-, 3-, 5-, 7-, and 10-year periods. Finally, the last column simply sums the percentage of receiving yards from each class in every year of their careers.

Year1First 2First 3First 5First 7First 10Total
195018.5%20.7%20.4%19.3%17.3%14.5%147.9%
195118.3%17.9%16.6%16%14.7%11.9%123.2%
195215.8%16.9%15.9%16.8%16.6%14.5%156.2%
195311.8%10.3%10.4%11.4%10.5%8.7%97.5%
195416.1%13.4%14.3%12.8%11.9%9.7%105.1%
195512.9%10.7%9.1%7.3%6%4.4%43.6%
195610.9%13.3%14.5%14.3%13.8%11.6%118.9%
195711.4%16.2%16.7%16.2%16%13.7%144.3%
195810.4%13.2%15.8%15.6%15.3%13.5%137.7%
19596.4%8.2%8.5%9%8.1%7.2%75.5%
19608.6%10%10.1%9.4%8.3%6.7%70.8%
19618.6%12.1%12.7%13.2%12.5%10%102.1%
19625.8%6.9%7.6%8.1%7.6%6.6%67.2%
196310.5%9.8%10.9%11.9%11.6%8.8%90.2%
196413.1%13.3%14.6%14.4%13.3%10.7%112.2%
19658.7%11.8%13.8%15%15.1%13.1%136.7%
19663.9%7%8.4%8.8%8.4%6.6%67%
19678.7%11%12%11.3%10.3%8.2%84.6%
19688.4%9.9%11%10.9%9.8%8.2%89.9%
196911%13.9%14.8%15.1%13.2%10.5%114.6%
197010.7%12.5%13.7%13.7%12.3%9.8%101.3%
197111.5%13.2%14%13.4%11.9%9.7%103.4%
19727.9%10.1%10.7%10.9%9.9%8.1%85%
197310.9%13.9%14.1%13.2%11.2%8.8%90.6%
197413.7%15.2%16.7%17.1%15.7%12.3%129.8%
197511.5%12.3%12.7%12%10.5%8.6%89.4%
197612.7%14.1%15.2%15.6%14.5%12%124.6%
19779.3%11.8%12%12%10.9%9%94.1%
197810.8%12.1%11.8%11.8%11%9.4%100.2%
197910.7%13.8%15%15.9%14.5%11.9%127%
19809.6%9.9%10.8%11.4%9.9%7.7%81.5%
19818.4%9.8%10.8%11%9.8%7.9%80.4%
19828.1%10.4%10.8%10.9%9.8%8%85.6%
198311.7%13.4%14.4%14.2%13.4%11.4%120.3%
19849.8%11.7%11.3%11.6%10.7%8.8%97.4%
19859.6%13%13.3%13.5%13.1%11.6%130%
198612.1%12.7%12.5%12.7%12%10.3%106.4%
198716.5%16.2%15.9%14.4%12.4%9.7%103.2%
198811.1%12.4%12.8%13.9%13.5%11.6%123.4%
198910.9%11%10.7%10.3%9.5%8.3%87.4%
19909%11.1%12.2%12.7%11.6%10.1%110.3%
19917.2%10.4%11.3%12.9%12.8%11.4%123.5%
19925.5%6.6%7.6%7.8%7.6%6.2%66.1%
199310.3%10.5%11.2%10.9%10.3%8.6%90.3%
19948.4%10.4%11.5%11.3%10.8%9.2%98.6%
199510.8%12.3%12.8%12.3%11.5%9.4%100.3%
199610.6%11.4%12.4%13.3%12.9%12%137.1%
19976.5%8.4%9.4%9.8%9.1%7.8%88.8%
19989.5%11.6%11.8%11.2%9.9%8%86.3%
19998%9.5%10.1%10.6%9.6%8.2%87.5%
20009.2%10.3%11%10.5%9.4%7.4%75%
200110.3%12.3%13.7%13.9%12.9%10.9%118.3%
200211%11.6%12.7%12.7%11.5%9.1%91%
200310%11.5%11.9%12%11.5%9.8%107.2%
20049.5%11%12.5%12.4%11.1%8.8%92.2%
20058.6%9.3%9.9%9.6%8.8%7.3%74.9%
200610.2%11.7%12.3%12.1%11.5%9.7%97.4%
20079.3%11.1%12.4%12.2%11%86.6%
200810.2%12.3%12.8%12.6%11.5%85.4%
200911.3%13.7%13.5%12.4%10.9%76%
201012.1%13.7%14.2%13.7%77.4%
201111.7%12.6%13.1%12%60.1%
201211.8%13.4%12.9%48.7%
201313.4%14.3%14%42%
201414.2%16%32.1%
201512.6%12.6%

The 1996 class, with Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Muhsin Muhammad, Joe Horn, Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer, et. al., is often considered one of the best classes ever. That’s not quite so clear early on — a number of classes have them beat through 7 years — but the longevity is incredible.  Take a look at this graph, which just shows the total percentages; that’s obviously going to be biased against active classes, but it’s a fun graph to look at anyway:

overall wr perc

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

{ 1 comment }

A quick data dump today following up on yesterday’s post. The table below shows the percentage of receiving yards gained by 1st-year, 2nd-year, 3rd-year…. and 11th-year and more senior NFL players, in each year since 1950 (excluding 1987). [click to continue…]

{ 3 comments }

You remember the 1987 Draft, right? It was a terrible draft for pass catchers.  The first TE drafted was Robert Awalt in the third round; only two more, Ron Hall and Jim Riggs, went before the sixth round, and Ron Embree was the final TE selected before the seventh round. At wide receiver, Haywood Jeffires was the first off the board at #20; the only other first rounders were Ricky Nattiel and Mark Ingram. The only other receiver in the top 50 was Lonzel Hill.  Mark Carrier, Kelvin Martin,Curtis Duncan, and Bruce Hill went in the later rounds,  but it was a terrible draft for pass catchers.

Using the Draft Value Chart, there were 177.4 points of draft value used on wide receivers and tight ends in the 1987 Draft.  That was the second year in a row when the league moved away from pass catchers.  Well, in this past draft, less draft capital was spent on wide receivers and tight ends than on any year since 1987. Take a look: [click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Farewell to one of the greats

Farewell to one of the greats

Detroit Lions superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson has likely retired. He had a pretty incredible six-year peak: Megatron gained 8,548 receiving yards in his last six years, the most by any player during their age 25-30 seasons. I don’t think there’s much of a debate that Johnson is a Hall of Famer, although I do think he’s not quite an inner circle member of the Hall.

The big reason for that is Johnson’s numbers have always been inflated by playing on a pass-happy team.  I’ve looked at this before, but (a) those numbers are now two years stale and (b) I want to use a different methodology today. So here’s what I did:

1) Calculate the number of pass attempts per game for each team in every season.

2) For the top 200 players, I then calculated the number of career games for that player.

3) Then, in each season, weight the number of team pass attempts per game by the percentage of games that player played relative to his entire career. For example, Johnson played 11.9% of his career games in 2012, and that year, the Lions threw 46.3 pass attempts per game. Therefore, for Johnson’s career, 46.3 pass attempts per game will be given a weight of 11.9%. Do this for every season of each player’s career, and you will derive the average pass attempts per game for that player. [click to continue…]

{ 21 comments }

In December, I noted that Antonio Brown was leading the NFL in Adjusted Catch Yards per Team Attempt. Now that the season is over, I wanted to update that post. Based on the end-of-year numbers, Brown once again led the NFL in that metric, just slightly edging Julio Jones.

ACY/TmAtt is pretty simple to calculate. Let’s use Brown as an example. He gained 1,834 yards, caught 10 touchdowns, and picked up 84 first downs. If we give 20 yards for each touchdown and 9 yards for each first down (excluding the ones that were touchdowns), you can see that Brown gained 2,700 Adjusted Catch Yards. By contrast, Julio Jones gained 1,871 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and had 93 first downs. That’s slightly more impressive — mostly based on the first downs total — and translates to 2,796 Adjusted Catch Yards.

But Jones played for the Falcons, who had 653 pass plays in 2015; Brown’s Steelers had only 623, which means Jones had more opportunities to pick up targets, receptions, first downs, and yards. On a per-team pass attempt basis, Brown gained 4.33 ACY/TPA, while Jones averaged 4.28. In other words, slight edge to Brown.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery had a sneaky good year. He was only on the field for 502 offensive snaps, which is about half that of the average star receiver (and about half of Chicago’s team snaps total). If you were to double his numbers, he’d have a 1600-yard, 86-first down season, which is even more impressive when you consider that the Bears were a run-heavy team.1 When calculating the ACY/TPA for players who played in fewer than 16 games, I used a straight line multiplier based on games played. For example, Jeffery had 1,238 Adjusted Catch Yards, and the Bears had 556 team pass attempts. That would give Jeffery 2.23 ACY/TPA, but we multiply that by 16/9 (since Jeffery only played in 9 games) to get at a 3.96 ACY/TPA number found in the table. Since Jeffery only played in about half of the games in St. Louis and in Minnesota, even that may understate things: if we used 8 games in the denominator instead of 9, he’d vault to number one on the list. [click to continue…]

  1. Jeffery had monster games in Detroit and San Diego, though, so it’s unlikely that he would have kept up this pace over a full season. []
{ 7 comments }

Guest Post: Adam Harstad on Sammy Watkins

Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


It’s probably not really news at this point, but the 2014 WR class has been pretty good. How good?

Well, Jarvis Landry just broke the old record for receptions through two seasons… by 26 grabs. Jordan Matthews joined the short-list of receivers to top 800 yards and 8 touchdowns in each of their first two seasons, (a list which, since the merger, contained just five names prior to last year). Mike Evans joined Randy Moss and Josh Gordon as the only players in history with 2200 receiving yards through their age 22 season.

Allen Robinson just became the youngest player to top 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns in the same year. And 2nd-4th on that list? Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Lance Alworth.) Outside of the first two years of the AFL, no undrafted receiver in history has produced more yards or touchdowns in his first two years than Robinson’s teammate, Allen Hurns. [click to continue…]

{ 6 comments }

Antonio Brown has 1,586 receiving yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,813 receiving yards this season.

Adrian Peterson has 1,314 rushing yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,502 rushing yards in 2015.

That’s pretty weird.  In general, the rushing leader usually gains more rushing yards than the receiving yardage leader picks up through the air.  From 1970 to 2014, the receiving yards leader  “outgained” the rushing yards leader in only 10 of 45 seasons.  And in only three of those years did the receiving leader “win” by more than 100 yards: in 1999 (Marvin Harrison had 1663 receiving yards; his teammate Edgerrin James had 1553 rushing yards), 1990 (Jerry Rice over Barry Sanders, 1502 to 1304), and 1982 (Wes Chandler over Freeman McNeil in the strike-shortened season, 1032to 786). On a per-game basis, it’s tough to beat what Chandler did, but Brown is on pace to become the first receiving leader since the merger (in fact, the first in the NFL since 1952) to “outgain” the rushing leader by over 300 yards. [click to continue…]

{ 7 comments }

Today’s guest post/contest comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


This guy can pick up first downs

This guy can pick up first downs

Regular readers of Football Perspective are well acquainted with the sneaky-greatness of DeAndre Hopkins, who led the NFL in percentage of his team’s receiving yards in 2014 despite not even leading his own team in targets.1 And, indeed, by “percentage of team receiving yards”, Hopkins is having another terrific season; his 37.0% share is slightly above the league-leading 35.0% he posted last year, (though it trails the 38.6% share he carried through his team’s first 14 games in 2014).

But Hopkins is having an even better season by a far less esoteric statistic: receiving first downs. As best as I have been able to determine, the all-time record for receiving first downs in a season is 92, set by Marvin Harrison in 2002 and tied by Calvin Johnson in 2012.2 Through eight games this year, Hopkins has converted for a new set of downs a remarkable 54 times, putting him on pace for 108, a ridiculous 17.4% more than the previous NFL record. (For context, if a quarterback wanted to break Peyton Manning’s single-season passing yardage record by 17.4%, he would need to throw for 6430 yards.) [click to continue…]

  1. Hopkins had 127 targets in 16 games, or 7.9 per game. Then-teammate Andre Johnson had 146 targets in 15 games, or 9.7 per game. []
  2. Obviously play-by-play data is virtually impossible to come by for older seasons. Thanks to frequent guest contributor Bryan Frye, I have complete first-down data going back to 1992; however (a) the best first-down conversion rate by a receiver with 80 catches over that span was 85%, (Michael Irvin’s 75 first downs on 88 catches in 1993), (b) only 2.9% of 80-catch receiver since 1992 even managed to top an 80% first-down rate, and (c) there were only 12 seasons prior to 1992 that even had more than 92 total receptions. Assuming an 85% conversion rate, a receiver would have needed 109 receptions to beat 92 first downs. Assuming an 80% conversion rate, he would have needed 116 receptions. Art Monk had 106 receptions in 1984, but given his sub-13 yard per reception average, I find it impossible to believe he converted on 88% of them. So with all due respect to Jerry Rice’s 1990 season and Charley Hennigan’s 1964, I feel pretty confident calling 92 receiving first downs the all-time NFL record. []
{ 7 comments }

This week at the New York Times, a look at how the famous rookie wide receiver class of 2014 is faring this year:

The 2014 N.F.L. draft provided the greatest rookie class of wide receivers in football history. Last year’s rookies recorded 12,611 receiving yards, the most receiving yards produced by any single class year in the N.F.L. last season. Even more incredibly, 2014 rookie receivers caught 92 touchdowns, 20 more than any other class year produced during the 2014 season. So how are these players doing as sophomores?

You can read the full article here.

Also, I wrote about how the NFL’s idea of parity is well, kind of a joke.

The Panthers have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, making them the closest thing to an upstart among the unbeaten franchises. Both the Broncos and the Bengals have made it to the postseason in four consecutive years, while the Packers and the Patriots have made the playoffs in six straight seasons. Right now, the odds overwhelmingly favor each franchise making it to the playoffs again.

You can read the full article here.

{ 0 comments }

What is Wrong With Jimmy Graham?

With just 21 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns through five games, Jimmy Graham is hardly making a big impact in Seattle. Consider that over his last four years in New Orleans, he averaged 5.6 receptions, 69.7 yards and 0.73 touchdowns per game, while he is at 4.2, 40.8, and 0.4 in those metrics, respectively, so far with the Seahawks.

So what’s wrong? Well, let’s start by focusing just on receiving yards. The drop from 69.7 to 40.8 is quite significant, but is there one main factor driving it? We can break receiving yards down into several components. For example, we can parse out four different metrics from simple receiving yards:

Receiving Yards = Team Pass Attempts * (Targets/Team Pass Attempt) * (Receptions/Target) * (Yards/Reception)

[click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

On Tuesday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of worst starter. Yesterday, I used that data to help identify which receivers produced their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses. Today, instead of measuring wide receivers by how often their teams passed, I want to measure them by how well they passed.

Some teams are very efficient at passing because they have great wide receivers: to be clear, today’s post doesn’t prove anything about which way the causation arrow runs. But I do think it’s worth quantifying the reality that receivers produce their numbers in very disparte environments. Let’s use Joey Galloway as an example. Galloway, longtime readers will recall, was a favorite of an early iteration of Doug Drinen’s attempts at ranking wide receivers. For similar reasons, Galloway comes out “very good” in this system, if good means producing numbers while playing for bad passing offenses (a proxy, one could argue, for playing with bad quarterbacks).

Galloway produced 2,071 Adjusted Catch Yards above the baseline in his career, good for an unremarkable 84th place on Tuesday’s list. But let’s look at the 8 seasons that get Galloway there: [click to continue…]

{ 12 comments }

Yesterday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of the worst starter. Today, I want to use that data to help identify which receivers put up their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses.

Let’s use Calvin Johnson as an example. He’s been with the Lions for each season of his career, and Detroit has been very pass-happy throughout his career. Last year, Detroit averaged averaged 40.56 dropbacks (pass attempts plus sacks) per game, while the league average was 37.29 dropbacks per game. So Detroit passed 108.8% as often as the average team.

In 2013, Detroit’s ratio to the league average was 108.2%, but it was 129.8% in 2012. To measure pass-happiness as it pertains to Johnson, we can’t just take Detroit’s average grade from ’07 to ’14; instead, we need to assign more weight to Johnson’s best years. Johnson gained 1,358 ACY over the baseline in 2012, which represents 29% of his career value of 4,721 ACY over the baseline. As a result, Detroit’s 129.8% ratio in 2012 needs to count for 29% of Johnson’s career pass-happy grade.

If we do this for each of the players in yesterday’s top 100, here are the results. [click to continue…]

{ 13 comments }

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. [click to continue…]

{ 31 comments }

The GOAT

The GOAT

On Wednesday, we looked at the most dominant quarterbacks in fantasy history. Yesterday, we did the same for running backs. Today, we look at wide receivers, using the methodology described over the two previous days.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

There are four seasons that have topped 200 points of VBD in wide receiver history: Elroy Hirsch, 1951; Wes Chandler, 1982; and Jerry Rice, 1987 and 1995. In ’95, Rice set the still-standing record with 351.5 fantasy points, courtesy of 122 catches, 1,848 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns (he also rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown). Rice averaged 21.97 FP/G that year, while the baseline of WR32 was 9.15 FP/G. Therefore, Rice was 12.82 FP/G above the baseline for 16 games, which comes out to 205.1 points of VBD. [click to continue…]

{ 20 comments }

On Saturday, we looked at the top passing performers against each franchise. Yesterday, we did the same thing but with rushing statistics. Today, we revive a post from two years ago and complete the series with a look at the top receiving producers against each franchise (all data beginning in 1960).

Let’s begin with receptions. In the past two seasons, Jason Witten has emerged as the number one franchise nemesis for both Washington and New York, eliminating Art Monk and Michael Irvin, respectively, from the tops of those record books. Witten was already the top guy against the Eagles, making him the career leader in receptions against each of the Cowboys three NFC East rivals.

Other non-surprising news: Jerry Rice is the top man against the Falcons, Saints, and Rams, with his numbers against Atlanta being particularly mind-blowing. Tim Brown is number one against his old AFC West teams, and was also number one against the Seahawks until Larry Fitzgerald just passed him. Andre Reed takes the top spot against the Dolphins/Colts/Jets (Marvin Harrison is #1 against the Patriots), Hines Ward has more catches than anyone against the Browns/Bengals/Ravens, while Cris Carter is number one against all four of his old NFC Norris rivals. [click to continue…]

{ 17 comments }

Weekend Trivia: Yards per Reception Leaders

Do you know who led the NFL in yards per reception last year?  Or in any season?  Unlike certain rate stats, YPR tends to fly under the radar, at least with respect to questions like who led the league in a given season.

One reason for that is the leader is often a part-time player.  Last year, DeSean Jackson had the top YPR average in the league at 20.9, and he also ranked a respectable 13th in receiving yards. But in 2013, that honor went to New Orleans rookie Kenny Stills, who averaged 20 yards per catch but ranked just 61st with 641 receiving yards.

That leads us to today’s trivia question: Can you name the last player to lead the league in both yards per reception and in receiving yards? [click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }
Previous Posts