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Three weeks ago, I set forth the argument that perhaps Calvin Johnson was not even the most productive receiver in his own division. While Megatron racked up the numbers, I argued that you have to account for the situation. The relevant situation here is that the Lions ran an incredible 1,160 plays compared to just 999 for the Bears, and Detroit attempted 740 passes while Chicago threw only 485 times.

When one team throws 255 more passes than the other, I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare the receivers based on their raw receiving yards. One thing we could look at is yards per team attempt. The table below lists the number of team attempts for each wide receiver, his raw receiving statistics, and also his yards per attempt. The table is sorted by yards per team passing attempt. And while it is not relevant when discussing Marshall and Megatron, I have also included a Pro-rated Yards per Attempt column, which pro-rates the number of team attempts for the number of games played by the receiver (this helps Percy Harvin, of course).

1Brandon MarshallCHI16485118150812.8113.113.11
2Andre JohnsonHOU16554112159814.342.882.88
3Calvin JohnsonDET16740122196416.152.652.65
4Michael CrabtreeSFO164368511051392.532.53
5A.J. GreenCIN1654097135013.9112.52.5
6Vincent JacksonTAM1656672138419.282.452.45
7Demaryius ThomasDEN1658894143415.3102.442.44
8Steve SmithCAR1649073117416.142.42.4
9Roddy WhiteATL1661592135114.772.22.2
10Reggie WayneIND16628106135512.852.162.16
11Brian HartlineMIA1650474108314.612.152.15
12Wes WelkerNWE16641118135411.562.112.11
13Dez BryantDAL1665892138215122.12.1
14Steve JohnsonBUF1651179104613.262.052.05
15Victor CruzNYG1653986109212.7102.032.03
16Julio JonesATL1661579119815.2101.951.95
17Sidney RiceSEA16405507481571.851.85
18Eric DeckerDEN1658885106412.5131.811.81
19Mike WilliamsTAM165666399615.891.761.76
20Greg OlsenCAR164906984312.251.721.72
21Marques ColstonNOR1667183115413.9101.721.72
22Randall CobbGNB155588095411.981.711.82
23Golden TateSEA154054568815.371.71.81
24Dwayne BoweKAN134755980113.631.692.08
25Jeremy KerleyNYJ164935682714.821.681.68
26Cecil ShortsJAX145865597917.871.671.91
27Anquan BoldinBAL155606592114.241.641.75
28Jason WittenDAL1665811010399.431.581.58
29Lance MooreNOR156716510411661.551.65
30Davone BessMIA135046177812.811.541.9
31Malcom FloydSDG145285681414.551.541.76
32Torrey SmithBAL165604985517.481.531.53
33Tony GonzalezATL16615939301081.511.51
34Justin BlackmonJAX165866486513.551.481.48
35Jimmy GrahamNOR156718598211.691.461.56
36Mike WallacePIT155746483613.181.461.55
37Miles AustinDAL166586694314.361.431.43
38Pierre GarconWAS104424463314.441.432.29
39Josh GordonCLE165665080516.151.421.42
40Heath MillerPIT155747181611.581.421.52
41Brandon LloydNWE166417491112.341.421.42
42James JonesGNB165586478412.3141.411.41
43Percy HarvinMIN94836267710.931.42.49
44Jeremy MaclinPHI156186985712.471.391.48
45Brandon LaFellCAR144904467715.441.381.58
46Nate WashingtonTEN165404674616.241.381.38
47Antonio BrownPIT135746678711.951.371.69
48T.Y. HiltonIND156285086117.271.371.46
49Jermaine GreshamCIN165406473711.551.361.36
50Jordy NelsonGNB125584974515.271.341.78
51Larry FitzgeraldARI166087179811.241.311.31
52Santana MossWAS16442415731481.31.3
53Owen DanielsHOU155546271611.561.291.38
54Hakeem NicksNYG135395369213.131.281.58
55Brandon MyersOAK166297980610.241.281.28
56Vernon DavisSFO164364154813.451.261.26
57Chris GivensSTL155574269816.631.251.34
58Andre RobertsARI156086475911.951.251.33
59Danario AlexanderSDG105283765817.871.251.99
60Donnie AveryIND16628607811331.241.24
61Brandon GibsonSTL165575169113.551.241.24
62Rob GronkowskiNWE116415579014.4111.231.79
63Leonard HankersonWAS164423854314.331.231.23
64Danny AmendolaSTL115576366610.631.21.74
65Jermichael FinleyGNB165586166710.921.21.2
66Dennis PittaBAL16560616691171.191.19
67Denarius MooreOAK156295174114.571.181.26
68Martellus BennettNYG165395562611.451.161.16
69Kendall WrightTEN15540646269.841.161.24
70Josh MorganWAS164424851010.621.151.15

Why can't we throw it like the Lions do??

Why can't we throw it like the Lions do??

As it turns out, Calvin Johnson was neither the best Johnson nor the best receiver in his division, at least as measured by this metric. I’m not convinced or even arguing that yards/attempt is the best way to rank receivers, but I do think the statistic represents an improvement on just receiving yards. Since receiving yards are so highly correlated with attempts, some adjustment needs to be made, and I plan on providing more analysis on how to grade wide receivers this off-season.

That said, there are a couple of other factors that favor Johnson. One, there are benefits associated with great over a larger number of pass attempts; Detroit passed much more frequently, and being elite over a longer period of time (or for more plays/passes) is more valuable than being elite over a shorter period of time. Additionally, the Lions passing offense was more efficient than the Bears passing offense. The Lions ranked 16th in ANY/A, the Bears 26th; Detroit also ranked 14th in NY/A, while the Bears finished 27th; and in Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Expected Points Added metric, the Lions passing attack ranked 13th, the Bears 24th. Johnson may not have been the centerpiece of an elite offense, but he certainly was the main man in a better offense.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that Marshall had a huge edge in receiving touchdowns. Now personally, I don’t give that a ton of weight, but you can be sure that Lions fans would point to that number if the statistics were reversed. In any event, I’d vote for Marshall as my top wide receiver this season. Gaining 1500 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on a team that threw fewer than 500 passes is more impressive than 1,964 yards and 5 touchdowns on a team that broke the record for pass attempts, even if Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s record. Marshall gained 77% as many yards as Megatron on 66% as many pass attempts.

And while some will argue that Megatron was everything to the Lions, that proposition is even more true for Marshall. Take a look at the leaders in percentage of team receiving yards:

CHIBrandon Marshall3298150845.7%
HOUAndre Johnson4046159839.5%
DETCalvin Johnson5139196438.2%
CINA.J. Green3807135035.5%
TAMVincent Jackson4144138433.4%
MIABrian Hartline3425108331.6%
SFOMichael Crabtree3551110531.1%
INDReggie Wayne4374135531%
DENDemaryius Thomas4671143430.7%
BUFSteve Johnson3430104630.5%
CARSteve Smith3927117429.9%
ATLRoddy White4719135128.6%
NWEWes Welker4844135428%
DALDez Bryant4992138227.7%
NYGVictor Cruz3967109227.5%
KANDwayne Bowe293780127.3%
JAXCecil Shorts374697926.1%
NYJJeremy Kerley317882726%
ARILarry Fitzgerald338379823.6%
SEASidney Rice323474823.1%
MINPercy Harvin293567723.1%
BALAnquan Boldin399692123%
SDGMalcom Floyd360681422.6%
NORMarques Colston5187115422.2%
GNBRandall Cobb434295422%
CLEJosh Gordon366880521.9%
PHIJeremy Maclin407585721%
TENNate Washington357774620.9%
PITMike Wallace401283620.8%
OAKBrandon Myers429280618.8%
STLChris Givens378369818.5%
WASPierre Garcon366663317.3%

There’s another Robert Griffin III stat to admire — the Skins were the only team that didn’t have a single player account for at least 18% of the team’s receiving yards. But the most impressive number on that table belongs to Marshall. No doubt Jay Cutler relies on Marshall too frequently, but there is a reason for that: he’s by far the best receiver on the team and one of the top threats in the NFL. Perhaps Cutlers’ tunnel vision bumps Marshall’s numbers up slightly, but it’s still an amazing accomplishment.

How amazing? That’s the highest ratio of player to team receiving yards since 1975. I’ll close with a list of every player in NFL, AFL, or AAFC history to gain at least 40% of his team’s receiving yards in a season (which includes a familiar name). Marshall comes in at number twenty.

1945RAMJim Benton1067176760.4%
1944GNBDon Hutson866147158.9%
1935BOSCharley Malone43376756.5%
1937CRDGaynell Tinsley675124354.3%
1945GNBDon Hutson834153654.3%
1936PHIEggs Manske32560353.9%
1939BKNPerry Schwartz550102453.7%
1935CRDBill Smith31861252%
1956CHIHarlon Hill1128219351.4%
1975HOUKen Burrough1063209950.6%
1942GNBDon Hutson1211240750.3%
1949PITElbie Nickel633131048.3%
1965SDGLance Alworth1602337947.4%
1946RAMJim Benton981208047.2%
1947BOSDon Currivan782166147.1%
1937BKNJeff Barrett46199546.3%
1966DETPat Studstill1266275246%
1956GNBBilly Howton1188259145.9%
1952GNBBilly Howton1231268845.8%
2012CHIBrandon Marshall1508329845.7%
1935NYGTod Goodwin43294745.6%
1951RAMElroy Hirsch1495329645.4%
1939GNBDon Hutson846187145.2%
1952WASHugh Taylor961212745.2%
1960STLSonny Randle893199044.9%
2005CARSteve Smith1563348544.8%
2005WASSantana Moss1483334644.3%
1971MIAPaul Warfield996224844.3%
1965NYJDon Maynard1218275144.3%
1949DETBob Mann1014229144.3%
1948CRDMal Kutner943213444.2%
1999JAXJimmy Smith1636371644%
1969PITRoy Jefferson1079245843.9%
1952PHIBud Grant997227243.9%
2001ARIDavid Boston1598365343.7%
1960HOUBill Groman1473337143.7%
1997PITYancey Thigpen1398321543.5%
1995STLIsaac Bruce1781411343.3%
2008CARSteve Smith1421328843.2%
1936BKNJeff Barrett26862143.2%
1978PHIHarold Carmichael1072248543.1%
1995DALMichael Irvin1603374142.8%
1963PITBuddy Dial1295302842.8%
1974OAKCliff Branch1092256142.6%
1941GNBDon Hutson738173142.6%
1996STLIsaac Bruce1338314442.6%
1947PITVal Jansante599141042.5%
1934PHIJoe Carter23856142.4%
2006BUFLee Evans1292305142.3%
1951SFOGordie Soltau826195542.3%
1970CHIDick Gordon1026243142.2%
2003ARIAnquan Boldin1377326542.2%
1938PHIJoe Carter38691742.1%
2001DENRod Smith1343320841.9%
1992GNBSterling Sharpe1461349841.8%
1991DALMichael Irvin1523366341.6%
1966KANOtis Taylor1297312341.5%
1973RAMHarold Jackson874210741.5%
1972PHIHarold Jackson1048252741.5%
1964HOUCharley Hennigan1546373441.4%
1966SDGLance Alworth1383334741.3%
1971KANOtis Taylor1110269441.2%
1982NWEStanley Morgan584142041.1%
1967DENAl Denson899219041.1%
1960BALRaymond Berry1298316441%
2002INDMarvin Harrison1722420041%
1950CRDBob Shaw971237540.9%
1952CRDDon Stonesifer617151240.8%
1948PITVal Jansante623152940.7%
1963WASBobby Mitchell1436352540.7%
1943GNBDon Hutson776190940.6%
1973MINJohn Gilliam907223440.6%
2005TAMJoey Galloway1287317140.6%
1962PITBuddy Dial981241940.6%
1964PITGary Ballman935230840.5%
1953WASHugh Taylor703173640.5%
1947GNBNolan Luhn696172440.4%
1960RAMRed Phillips883218840.4%
2008DETCalvin Johnson1331329940.3%
1961RAMRed Phillips1092270940.3%
1959WASBill Anderson734182440.2%
2008ATLRoddy White1382344040.2%
1984WASArt Monk1372341740.2%
1997ARIRob Moore1584395340.1%
1944RAMJim Benton505126140%
  • As a #Redskins fan I hate to de-bunk any RGIII love, but I can’t see Garçon staying under 18% w/o the foot injury. I will say that it wouldn’t be anyway near the top either bc of Kyles scheme and how he likes to feature multiple WRs in the same route trees.
    Great read and I to thought all season Megatron better out up 1800yds being targeted 20x a damn game. No way Swartz deserved that ext before this season based on his teams discipline and now performance.

  • James

    Its all well and good to make statistical breakdowns and all but don’t lose site of the fact that a guy broke/smashed a record that had held up for over two decades in a league that has seen Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, etc and that he did it without any real proven weapons around him to keep defenses honest.

    I don’t think any WR in NFL history including Rice and Moss has had as much defensive attention sent their way as Calvin Johnson this year. He was good enough that they were able to produce an above average amount of offense despite having no true #2 WR no proven #3 WR after Burelson got hurt a TE who regressed badly in Pettigrew who struggled with drops and fumbles.

    They also had an unproven rookie RB coming off a missed year due to an ACL tear before last year who was solid but not a RB who forced teams to take resources from Johnson. I agree that Marshall had somewhat similar issues when Alshon Jefferies was out to deal with but Forte certainly takes attention from Marshall that none take from Calvin Johnson.

    Now certainly, in a way this still favors Calvin because it leaves the Lions with nothing to do but throw it to him anyway and let him go get it but it does curtail his ability to score on big plays because he always has two or three defenders around him and an entire defense that has certainly gameplaned to keep him from beating them on his own.

    An easy way to explain it, is if say the Lions were to sign Greg Jennings this summer and it works out giving them a guy who can catch 65-80 balls across from Calvin Johnson for 1100-1250 yards of his own and half a dozen TD’s or more. Sure it would make it extremely unlikely that Calvin does get 1900 yards again but chances are with that across from him he’d start chasing Randy Moss’s single season TD record instead and his per catch production would go back towards the high teens again.

  • Richie

    Your historical list seems to show a change in the way NFL offenses run. Looks like in the 30’s and 40’s, teams just used one main WR (probably called an “end” then), much like teams were using just one RB in the 2000’s.