On Thursday, I presented a new way to look at wide receivers, focusing on both how the receiver dominated his teammates (i.e., by getting a large share of the pie) and how much his offense dominated the league (i.e., how much better/worse than average his team’s passing attack was).
Since I presented the full dataset covering the years from 1970 to 2016, I thought we might as well use that information in other ways. For example, let’s say you typed Steve Largent into the search box on that post. You would see that Largent was a monster when it came to dominating his teammates: in 1978, he was responsible for 33.6% of the Seahawks Adjusted Catch Yards, which ranked 3rd in the league. In five years — 1980, 1981, 1983, 1986, and 1987 — he ranked 4th in the NFL in percentage of team ACY. In ’85, he ranked 5th, and in ’79 and ’84, he ranked 6th. That’s remarkable:
If you calculate his gray ink – which means giving him 10 points for a 1st place finish, 9 for a 2nd place finish, and so on, he had 59 points of gray ink in this category. Remember, % of Team ACY is simply a measure of what percentage of the pie each receiver was able to devour, and % of Team ACY Rk shows where they rank in the league in a given season. I would never use this as the only way to rank a receiver (more on this in a second), but it is an interesting way. Why?
Receiving production is based on a lot of things outside of a wide receiver’s control — for example, how good his quarterback is, or how often his team passes. But this isolates that by only comparing how the receiver fared compared to his teammates. That’s why I like to use this as a check against other metrics. Below shows the leaders in gray ink in this category since 1970. Largent, as you can see, ranks 2nd because you always know who is going to rank 1st:
What do you think of this statistic? What players stand out to you? Let me start with one: Randy Moss. Moss played on two historically dominant offenses — the ’98 Vikings and ’07 Patriots — and four other really good ones (’99, ’00, ’03, and ’09). And those offenses were great in large part because of Moss.
On the other hand, he doesn’t fare too well in this category. One reason may be that touchdowns are overrated by the average fan, and Moss was always better at touchdowns than generating receiving yards. Another, though, is that Moss didn’t dominate his teammates, probably because his teammates were pretty good. For example, in the 2007 season, he only ranked 10th in percentage of team ACY because the Patriots were just so good on offense.
Who didn’t play on good offenses? Some of the typical Football Perspective favorites show up, as does say, Alfred Jenkins. He went undrafted, then starred in the WFL, and finally joined the Falcons in 1975. The problem? Those Falcons had a horrible passing attack. From ’75 to ’77, Atlanta ranked in the bottom 3 in both passer rating and total passing yards. Jenkins was responsible for 30% of the Falcons ACY in ’75 (8th in the league), before gaining 37% (2nd) in ’76 and 37% in ’77 (1st) of Atlanta’s Adjusted Catch Yards. Jenkins was saddled with terrible quarterback play, but he did all he could do — get as many of the few yards that were available.
He broke his collarbone early in ’78, then played well in ’79 before his career took off…. once Atlanta finally was getting good quarterback play. Steve Bartkowski, the first pick in the 75 Draft, finally developed into a franchise quarterback in 1980, and Jenkins’ numbers rose with that. In ’80, he had 1,035 yards and 6 touchdowns, Atlanta had a RANY/A of +1.31, and Jenkins ranked 10th in % of team ACY among all receivers. Then in ’81, Jenkins was a first-team All-Pro: as he had 70-1,358-13 and ranked 2nd in % of team ACY. His career peaked that year, though, and drug problems may have played a big part in his fast decline. Jenkins was out of football after 1983, but for close to a decade, he was the driving force of the Falcons passing attack: regardless of whether it was good or not.
Finally, one other name to think about: Michael Irvin. He ranks 4th here, and is usually very underrated when analysts try to rank receivers based on their gross statistics. But Irvin was a dominant part of a passing offense that didn’t have to throw very frequently.