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Guest Post: Is Reggie Wayne a Hall of Famer?

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.

A future HOFer?

A future HOFer?

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.

The Stats

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.

And touchdowns?

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.

The Narrative

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.

  1. That number has since grown to 82. []
  2. 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. []
  3. 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. []
  4. He caught 49 passes in his worst full season. []
  5. Assuming, of course, Larry Fitzgerald scores two more touchdowns in that time; he currently has 89. []
  6. This takes for granted that Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Marvin Harrison will get in quickly. []
  7. That’s an AP1 in 2010 and AP2s in 2007 and 2009. []
  8. That number will reach at least 19 by the consummation of this season. []
  9. Wayne owns a 92-1,242-9 stat line in 18 games; Harrison owns a 65-883-2 stat line in 16 games. []
  10. He’s no Alvin Harper. []
  • I want to note that this is not an article about whether or not I believe Wayne should get in to the Hall but whether or not I believe he will get into the Hall.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thank you for clarifying!

  • J.D.

    I have no idea whether Wayne WILL get into the HOF, because I have no idea what the WR criteria are now, and I don’t think even the voters have a clear idea of what the WR criteria are now. About the time Wayne is considered for the HOF, voters will also have to consider Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Jimmy Smith, Torry Holt, Randy Moss, Roddy White and Anquan Boldin, not to mention a backlog of guys like Derrick Mason and Hines Ward. The only one of those guys who should be a shoo-in is Moss. Wayne’s raw numbers should be at the top of that grouping, but like you cover in this article, he also played with by far the best QB situation of any of them.

    Personally, I see Wayne as a very good receiver but not HOF quality. He’s never been a guy opponents needed to game-plan around, like a Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss who will absolutely nuke a defense that doesn’t focus on him. By the numbers, he was a clear WR2 for the Colts behind Marvin Harrison until Harrison was 35 years old – Wayne only led the Colts in receiving yards once in his first six seasons. Like you said, he can’t be faulted for playing with good teammates, but it says something that he was clearly a lesser part of the offense than them. He’s averaged 68.6 receiving yards per game for his career, behind contemporaries like Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, Jimmy Smith, and Anquan Boldin (and behind his teammate Harrison, who averaged 76.7 ypg), again despite having the best QB situation of any of them. He’s never been a particularly prolific TD scorer, even though he played with a QB who held the single-season TD record.

    I see Wayne as a modern Art Monk – a guy who was dependably good for a very long time, but has no signature seasons, plays, or highlights, and was never dominating (I think Art Monk is one of the least deserving HOF selections).

    • RustyHilgerReborn

      Doesn’t “dependably good for a long time” but never the best, also describe Curtis Martin?

      • GMC

        Well, yeah, but Curtis Martin shouldn’t be in the Hall either.

  • Tim Truemper

    This is a great post and is part of the genre on this web page that is my favorite. The use of numbers and historical comparison is fun reading, thought provoking, and lets all Pro Football fans have an opportunity to appreciate the past in light of the present (or vice versa).

  • LSF

    I’d argue that Monk had a signature season in 1984 (first player ever to have 100 catches, AP 1st team all pro). Also unlike Wayne, Monk was generally regarded as the top WR on the team even though Gary Clark was also really good. Another difference is that Monk was more of a hybrid WR/TE which depressed his numbers.

    To me, a better comparison for Wayne is Isaac Bruce. He is generally viewed as #2 to Holt, but was really good for a really long time and his total numbers surpassed Holt, who had a shorter career. So if Holt is a poor man’s Harrison, then Wayne is a poor man’s Bruce.

  • In the interest of full disclosure, I would not put Reggie Wayne in the HOF were it up to me. However, my HOF would be far more selective than the current one. Similar to the way Art Monk had impressive numbers for his time, despite much of the public against his enshrinement, Wayne stands to have some pretty incredible numbers when he retires. Playing is a pass happy era helps those numbers tremendously, but I don’t believe voters will hold that against him for too long. My guess is that he will wait several year before getting in. If Marvin had to wait, Reggie is waiting.

  • Richie

    The tough part is the explosion of WR numbers over the past 15-20 years. So it’s hard to say how Wayne’s career numbers will look in ~7 years when he’s on the ballot.

    I think one of the points against Wayne is that the window in which he would have been considered one of the best WR in the league was pretty small. It seems like most of his career there were guys like Terrell Owens, Harrison, Moss, Andre Johnson, Fitzgerald, Calvin, etc. who were considered better.

    • Personally, I think every receiver you mentioned is better than Wayne. If some weird off the field issue caused Moss to somehow drop to round 2, and he got paired with Manning…holy crap. Guys like Andre Johnson, Fitzy, Smitty, and even Calvin Johnson would be off the charts with better quarterbacks. T.O. probably would have 10 more touchdowns if he hadn’t gotten himself run out of Dallas.

      I hope that Owens and Moss are already in the HOF by the time Wayne is eligible. Not that I care one way or another is Wayne makes it in, but having the two most physically (and statistically) dominant wideouts of their generation out in the cold would be insane…which is why it will probably happen. Ugh.

      • GMC

        I agree that Owens and Moss are the only shoo-ins.

        I think if Wayne runs a decent hitch route in the 2009 Super Bowl and makes Tracy Porter pay for jumping it… this is a different conversation.

        • It’s pretty crazy that over 200 games and thousands of routes run, something like one tide-turning play in a title game could sway a decision as large as inducting a guy into the HOF, but it definitely happens.

  • LSF

    Oops, I meant to say that if Torry Holt is a poor man’s Marvin Harrison, then Wayne is a rich man’s Isaac Bruce.

  • Chase Stuart

    Thanks for the post, Bryan. Of note on the “Gray Ink” test:


    That list is skewed by older players, so we have to do some manual digging. Of the players to enter the league in the last 20 years, Harrison/Moss/Owens are ahead of Wayne…. but so is Holt, Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson. Calvin Johnson is also already ahead of Wayne. Wes Welker is basically tied with him, although he’s probably done adding to his resume. Brandon Marshall is not too far back, and could certainly pass Wayne by the time their careers are over.

    This, of course, ignores the fact that we are not adjusting for attempts and quality of QB play, which would presumably hurt Wayne vis-a-vis lots of players. I will have to give Wayne more thought, but my initial instinct (on the “should he” not “will he” question) is close but probably not.

    • Yea, he had a respectable but not overwhelming number of gray ink seasons. From the surface level without digging too far into it, he seems comparable to at least 6 of the 9 post-merger HOF receivers, and better than Joiner if you want to count him too. I think he compares favorably to Monk, Lofton, Swann, Stallworth, and Reed; and he is clearly behind Largent, Irvin, Carter, and Rice. He is hurt by the unfortunate fact that the 3-5 best WRs of all time (according to GWREv2pIII) happen to be his contemporaries, and one his teammate. I think he is also hurt by the fact that he was never a scary deep threat or gameplan changer in the way Moss/Owens were. He was more like Harrison – just a guy with good hands who ran solid routes (except that rounded off monstrosity on the Porter Super Bowl interception) – except he only has 63% of the scores in 17 more games.

      On another note…how does a 35 year old receiver tear his ACL and meniscus in the middle of a season and make it back healthy enough to catch 9 balls in game 1 of the subsequent season? What the heck is going on with modern medicine?

      • RustyHilgerReborn

        “how does a 35 year old receiver tear his ACL and meniscus in the middle of a season and make it back healthy enough to catch 9 balls in game 1 of the subsequent season? What the heck is going on with modern medicine?”

        I know some people are going to scream “PEDs!”, but I don’t think that’s it. I’m not an orthopedic surgeon, but I do know minimially-invasive surgical techniques are not only improving from a technical standpoint as time goes on, but more and more surgeons are gaining experience and comfort with these techniques as time goes on. This means less trauma on ligaments/cartilage/nerves, since a smoother, faster surgery means less stretching, pressure, and inflammation. This dramatically influences both recovery time and post-surgery function. I don’t have prospective or even retrospective studies to back this up, but based on physiology, that’s my theory.

        Just think about how far surgical techniques have advanced since poor Greg Cook had to go under the knife to fix his throwing shoulder.

  • Tim Truemper

    Insofar the comparisons of Reggie Wayne to Art Monk, and the status of his numbers being good for his era, Monk retired as the all time leader in receptions, a laudable accomplishment that, too me, makes him a legit HOF (as opposed to being a HOF’er but many doubt that as being authentic). Back to Reggie Wayne- so he’s a # 2? He had a fabulous career and has the absolute and normative (that is, relative to his era) numbers to back it up.

  • Damon

    With the way the WR position has been treated by the HOF committee in recent years, I’d say Wayne is iffy.

    Has his career been that much better than Tim Brown’s, Cris Carter’s (who FINALLY got in) or Andre Reed’s? I don’t think so, plus he had Peyton Manning for much of it, which hurts his cause IMO, see Wayne’s teammate Marvin Harrison as an example and Marvin had the superior career to Reggie’s.

  • very nice