Bryan Frye is back with another fun guest post. Bryan, as you may recall, owns and operates his own great site at http://www.thegridfe.com/, where he focuses on NFL stats and history. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link.
Reggie Wayne has been in the news recently because Chuck Pagano called a pair of late-game pass plays in order to stretch Wayne’s streak of consecutive games with at least three receptions to 81 games.1 Frankly, I don’t care to criticize either of them for that. What I do want to do is acknowledge an impressive record from a great player and discuss whether or not he is likely to join fellow greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.2
Hall of Fame voters don’t seem to care too much about advanced stats, so I won’t bother covering anything beyond simple box score numbers.3 What voters do seem to care about are counting stats and a good story, or a combination thereof. Without any more ado, let’s get into the stats and the narrative.
Currently ranks 7th all-time in receptions, 8th all-time in receiving yards, and 22nd all-time in receiving touchdowns. I am making the assumption that he will play a few more years at a diminishing level until he retires. That will leave us with a few questions about his statistical merits.
Where does he stand in receptions?
No one is catching Jerry Rice’s 1,549 any time soon, and Tony Gonzalez’s 1,325 looks safe too. However, Wayne stands only 43 catches short of knocking his former teammate out of third place. If Wayne can replicate his worst non-injured/non-rookie season’s catch totals, he’ll make it.4 After retiring with the third most receptions of any receiver in history, Wayne will likely be passed by Andre Johnson and possibly Jason Witten and Larry Fitzgerald by the time he is eligible for the Hall. Still, 6th place puts him in elite company.
Well, what about yards?
Glad you asked. At 14,202 yards, Wayne has a very small chance at moving into 7th place by the end of the season. Realistically, he will reach that achievement early next year before moving into 5th or 6th by mid-season. If he puts together two more above average campaigns, he could possibly reach the 15,934 yards necessary for 2nd place. If not, he will probably trail only Rice and Owens. Again, elite company.
Once again, Andre Johnson and Fitzgerald pose the biggest immediate threat to his ranking. Johnson is three years younger than Wayne and has only 821 fewer yards. Fitzy trails by 2,177 yards and is five years Wayne’s junior. Keep in mind, however, that this post assumes Wayne will be eligible in seven years. That means Calvin Johnson has to be considered the biggest menace to Wayne’s place on the podium. With 10,052 yards at the age of 29, it is pretty easy to see Megatron sitting comfortably in 2nd place by the time Wayne makes the ballot.
Wayne has never been a prolific scorer, so it’s unrealistic to believe he’s going to have a touchdown explosion after the age of 36. However, it’s not unrealistic to envision a scenario in which he plays a few more years and reaches 90 touchdowns. That would put him in 12th place on the career list at the time of his retirement.5 Currently, Tim Brown and Isaac Bruce are the only players with 90 or more touchdown receptions not to be enshrined in Canton.6
Ranking high on the touchdown list when you retire doesn’t always do much for you – Cris Carter had to wait way too long for a gold jacket once the Moss/Owens/Harrison trifecta made his numbers look less impressive. Just as Carter’s numbers looked less impressive by the time he was eligible for the Hall of Fame, Wayne’s may also suffer from more modern receivers putting up bigger stats. Calvin Johnson already has 71 touchdowns, and he seems pretty likely to pass 90 within five years of Wayne’s retirement. Dez Bryant is young, but he already has 50 touchdowns in his brief career – and he shows no signs of slowing. Rob Gronkowski (51) and Jimmy Graham (50) don’t play the same nominal position, but they could be very close to 90 scores by that time as well.
Rice, Moss, Owens, Carter, and Harrison were huge anomalies in terms of scoring touchdowns. To compare the touchdown numbers of potential Hall of Famers against only these guys would leave a lot of worthy receivers out in the cold.
Does he pass the ink test?
Sort of. His only black ink came in 2007, when he led the league with 1,510 receiving yards. However, he has a ton of grey ink. He has finished in the top ten in receptions four times, yards six times, and touchdowns four times. From his breakout year in 2004 till his last full season in 2012, he had nine straight seasons of 75 or more receptions. He also was 40 yards shy of nine straight 1,000 yard seasons, reaching 960 in 2011 with the Painter/Orlovsky/Collins debacle under center.
Reggie Wayne is the only player in Colts history other than Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas to play more than 200 games for the franchise. That alone is far from Canton-worthy, but voters love stuff like that. He is a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time AP All Pro selection.7 In addition, Wayne boasts many post-season credentials that voters love. He played in 18 playoff games,8 and he made it to two Super Bowls. In his lone Super Bowl victory, he caught Peyton Manning’s only touchdown pass. In fact, his playoff numbers dwarf those of the man to whom he was often second fiddle.9
However, in the eyes of many, Wayne will always be the guy who played across from Marvin Harrison. He was only able to take over the WR1 spot when Harrison succumbed to injury. On one of the most consistently great offenses of all time, he wasn’t able to claim the title of most important skill player until Harrison went down and Edgerrin James left town. Was Wayne somehow an inferior player because he happened to play with superior teammates? Of course not!10 That’s not exactly fair, but thems the breaks.
Speaking of great teammates, Wayne caught most of his passes from the most statistically dominant quarterback the league has ever known. Oh, and when Manning was released, Wayne got to receive passes from the greatest prospect since John Elway. It doesn’t matter that Andrew Luck struggled to put up consistent stats in his first two years; this is a narrative we’re talking about here.
Yes, he played most of his career with the greatest statistical quarterback of all time, and it is hard to separate his greatness from that of Peyton Manning. However, benefitting from great teammates is not exclusive to Reggie Wayne. Jerry Rice played with Joe Montana and the statistically superior Steve Young. Marvin Harrison had Manning for the majority of his career. Terrell Owens played with Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, and Tony Romo in their respective primes. Tim Brown … nevermind.
What I’m getting at is that numbers are too interdependent to point at a guy’s teammates as the primary reason for his success. Would Wayne have had the same great statistical profile had he been drafted three spots earlier by the Vikings? I don’t know, and neither do you. There is no way to prove with epistemic certainty what would have happened in an alternate reality. Thus, we must make decisions based on, you know, actual reality. And in actual reality, the stats and the story add up to Reggie Wayne getting a bronze bust and a slick yellow jacket. It probably won’t happen in first-ballot fashion, but it will definitely happen.
- That number has since grown to 82. [↩]
- And yes, it is a very impressive streak, regardless of how it was achieved. According to Pro Football Reference, the second longest such streak is Cris Carter’s 58 from 1993-1997. [↩]
- However, if you do want a more in depth look at receiving stats, check out Chase’s series on the greatest wide receivers of all time. [↩]
- He caught 49 passes in his worst full season. [↩]
- Assuming, of course, Larry Fitzgerald scores two more touchdowns in that time; he currently has 89. [↩]
- This takes for granted that Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Marvin Harrison will get in quickly. [↩]
- That’s an AP1 in 2010 and AP2s in 2007 and 2009. [↩]
- That number will reach at least 19 by the consummation of this season. [↩]
- Wayne owns a 92-1,242-9 stat line in 18 games; Harrison owns a 65-883-2 stat line in 16 games. [↩]
- He’s no Alvin Harper. [↩]