## James Lofton is the Yards Per Catch King

Yesterday, we looked at which quarterbacks were the best at yards per completion after adjusting for league average. Today, we’ll do the same thing for wide receivers and yards per completion.

Lofton tries to hide from the creamsicle uniforms.

A small tweak is necessary to the formula. You can skip down to the results section if you don’t care about the math, but I suppose most of my readers want to know what goes in the sausage. We can’t just use league-wide yards per completion rates, since that average includes receptions by non-wide receivers. One way around this is to calculate the league average YPC for wide receivers only; that’s easy to do for 2013, but less easy to do for the earlier years of NFL history when the distinction among the positions was not so clear. So, after playing around with a few different methods, I’ve decided to instead use 120% of the league average YPC rate, and give wide receivers credit for their yards over expectation using that inflated number.

For example, in 1983, James Lofton caught 58 passes for 1,300 yards for the Packers, a 22.4 YPC average. That year, the average reception went for 12.63 yards; 120% of that average is 15.2, which means we would give Lofton credit only for his yards over the product of 15.2 and 58, or 879. Since Lofton actually had 1,300 yards, he gets credit for 421 yards over expectation.

The next year, Lofton caught 62 passes for 1,361 yards (22.0). Since the average reception went for 12.66 yards, Lofton gets credit for his yards over (120% * 12.66 * 62), or 942. Lofton therefore is credited with 419 yards over expectation, nearly identical to his performance in the prior year. In fact, those were the 10th and 11th best season in NFL history by this method.

The Results

Here’s a list of the top 200 single-season performers.

1Warren Wells1969OAK47126026.81763497
2Torry Holt2000STL82163519.941141494
3Flipper Anderson1989RAM44114626.05676470
4Eddie Brown1988CIN53127324.02810463
5Roger Carr1976BAL43111225.86656456
6Wesley Walker1978NYJ48116924.35730439
7Josh Gordon2013CLE87164618.921215431
8Elbert Dubenion1964BUF42113927.12711428
9Mike Wallace2010PIT60125720.95830427
10James Lofton1983GNB58130022.41879421
11James Lofton1984GNB62136121.95942419
12Lance Alworth1965SDG69160223.221190412
13Cliff Branch1976OAK46111124.15701410
14DeSean Jackson2010PHI47105622.47650406
15Michael Haynes1991ATL50112222.44720402
16Homer Jones1967NYG49120924.67810399
17Eric Moulds1998BUF67136820.42973395
18Brandon Lloyd2010DEN77144818.811065383
19Vincent Jackson2012TAM72138419.221005379
20Roy Green1984STL78155519.941185370
21Randy Moss2000MIN77143718.661072365
22Mike Quick1983PHI69140920.421045364
23Bucky Pope1964RAM2578631.44423363
24Henry Ellard1994WAS74139718.881035362
25Alvin Harper1994DAL3382124.88462359
26Victor Cruz2011NYG82153618.731179357
27Harlon Hill1954CHI45112424.98768356
28Devery Henderson2008NOR3279324.78437356
29Steve Smith2008CAR78142118.221065356
30Bob Hayes1970DAL3488926.15537352
31Stanley Morgan1981NWE44102923.39680349
32Don Currivan1947BOS2478232.58434348
33Anthony Carter1987MIN3892224.26579343
34Don Maynard1968NYJ57129722.75956341
35Elroy Hirsch1951RAM66149522.651157338
36Harlon Hill1956CHI47112824792336
37Jimmy Orr1958PIT3391027.58574336
38Bobby Duckworth1984SDG2571528.6380335
39Charley Hennigan1961HOU82174621.291411335
40Chris Sanders1995HOU3582323.51489334
41Santana Moss2005WAS84148317.651150333
42Flipper Anderson1990RAM51109721.51765332
43Stanley Morgan1979NWE44100222.77670332
44Mervyn Fernandez1988RAI3180525.97474331
45Gary Clark1991WAS70134019.141009331
46Otis Taylor1966KAN58129722.36967330
47Jerry Rice1988SFO64130620.41978328
48Harold Jackson1979NWE45101322.51686327
49Ashley Lelie2004DEN54108420.07765319
50Calvin Johnson2013DET84149217.761173319
51Jake Reed1996MIN72132018.331002318
52Stanley Morgan1980NWE4599122.02673318
53Steve Watson1981DEN60124420.73927317
54Billy Howton1952GNB53123123.23914317
55Bill Groman1961HOU50117523.5860315
56Theo Bell1980PIT2974825.79434314
57Paul Warfield1971MIA4399623.16682314
58James Jett1993RAI3377123.36458313
59Gary Garrison1970SDG44100622.86695311
60Randy Moss1998MIN69131319.031002311
61Kevin House1981TAM56117621865311
62Bernard Berrian2008MIN4896420.08656308
63Bob Boyd1954RAM53121222.87904308
64Henry Ellard1989RAM70138219.741076306
65Derrick Alexander2000KAN78139117.831085306
66Devery Henderson2006NOR3274523.28440305
67DeSean Jackson2009PHI62115618.65853303
68Stanley Morgan1978NWE3482024.12517303
69Homer Jones1968NYG45105723.49755302
70Flipper Anderson1994RAM4694520.54644301
71Calvin Johnson2011DET96168117.511380301
72Wes Chandler1982SDG49103221.06731301
73Mark Duper1986MIA67131319.61015298
74Buddy Dial1960PIT4097224.3674298
75Charlie Joiner1976SDG50105621.12762294
76Vincent Jackson2008SDG59109818.61806292
77John Gilliam1972MIN47103522.02744291
78Henry Ellard1996WAS52101419.5724290
79Ben Hawkins1967PHI59126521.44975290
80Terry Glenn2005DAL62113618.32849287
81Jordy Nelson2011GNB68126318.57977286
82Bob Hayes1971DAL3584024555285
83Jessie Hester1986RAI2363227.48348284
84Stephone Paige1985KAN4394321.93662281
85Mark Clayton1984MIA73138919.031109280
86Jackie Smith1967STL56120521.52926279
87Michael Irvin1992DAL78139617.91118278
88Alvin Harper1993DAL3677721.58499278
89Shawn Jefferson1998NWE3477122.68494277
90Randy Moss1999MIN80141317.661136277
91Alfred Jenkins1981ATL70135819.41082276
92Wesley Walker1986NYJ49101620.73742274
93Jack Snow1967RAM2873526.25463272
94John Gilliam1973MIN4290721.6635272
95Plaxico Burress2002PIT78132516.991054271
96Yancey Thigpen1997PIT79139817.71129269
97Harold Jackson1973RAM4087421.85605269
98Jerry Rice1986SFO86157018.261302268
99Michael Westbrook1999WAS65119118.32923268
100Anthony Miller1994DEN60110718.45839268
101Ron Sellers1969BOS2770526.11439266
102Calvin Johnson2008DET78133117.061065266
103Terrell Owens2007DAL81135516.731090265
104Chris Burkett1986BUF3477822.88515263
105Gene Washington1970SFO53110020.75837263
106Anthony Armstrong2010WAS4487119.8609262
107Calvin Johnson2012DET122196416.11702262
108Isaac Curtis1975CIN4493421.23672262
109Billy Howton1956GNB55118821.6926262
110Lance Rentzel1969DAL4396022.33699261
111Larry Fitzgerald2011ARI80141117.641150261
112Paul Warfield1970MIA2870325.11442261
113Homer Jones1965NYG2670927.27448261
114Ron Jessie1976RAM3477922.91518261
115Don Maynard1967NYJ71143420.21174260
116Isaac Bruce2000STL87147116.911211260
117Bill Groman1960HOU72147320.461213260
118Willie Gault1989RAI2869024.64430260
119Frank Lewis1979BUF54108220.04823259
120Carroll Dale1966GNB3787623.68617259
121Steve Smith2011CAR79139417.651135259
122Ron Shanklin1973PIT3071123.7454257
123Jimmy Orr1968BAL2974325.62486257
124Jim Benton1945RAM45106723.71810257
125Ray McLean1942CHI1957130.05315256
126Warren Wells1970OAK4393521.74679256
127James Lofton1987RAI4188021.46625255
128Anthony Miller1995DEN59107918.29824255
129Johnny Knox2010CHI5196018.82705255
130Hugh Taylor1952WAS4196123.44707254
131Ken Burrough1975HOU53106320.06810253
132Albert Connell1999WAS62113218.26881251
133James Lofton1991BUF57107218.81821251
134Irving Fryar1994MIA73127017.41021249
135Mel Gray1971STL1853429.67285249
136Warren Wells1968OAK53113721.45889248
137David Boston2001ARI98159816.311351247
138Joey Galloway2007TAM57101417.79767247
139Mal Kutner1948CRD4194323697246
140Torry Holt2001STL81136316.831117246
141Buddy Dial1963PIT60129521.581050245
142Homer Jones1966NYG48104421.75800244
143Vincent Jackson2011SDG60110618.43862244
144Drew Hill1987HOU4998920.18746243
145Tony Hill1981DAL4695320.72711242
146Santonio Holmes2007PIT5294218.12700242
147Mark Clayton1986MIA60115019.17909241
148John Gilliam1970STL4595221.16711241
149Willie Davis1992KAN3675621516240
150Ken Kavanaugh1947CHI3281825.56578240
151Joe Morgan2012NOR1037937.9140239
152Reggie Rucker1978CLE4389320.77654239
153Steve Watson1983DEN59113319.2894239
154Don Hutson1939GNB3484624.88607239
155Roy Jefferson1966PIT3277224.13534238
156Malcom Floyd2011SDG4385619.91618238
157Webster Slaughter1989CLE65123619.02999237
158Derrick Alexander1996BAL62109917.73863236
159Harold Carmichael1978PHI55107219.49836236
160Herman Moore1992DET5196618.94731235
161Willie Gault1990RAI5098519.7750235
162Amani Toomer2002NYG82134316.381108235
163Bob Trumpy1969CIN3783522.57601234
165Vincent Jackson2009SDG68116717.16935232
166Steve Largent1979SEA66123718.741006231
167Gary Garrison1968SDG52110321.21872231
168Mark Duper1983MIA51100319.67773230
169Willie Gault1983CHI4083620.9606230
170James Jett1998OAK4588219.6654228
171Paul Warfield1968CLE50106721.34839228
172Bobby Mitchell1963WAS69143620.811208228
173Mark Nichols1984DET3474421.88516228
174Mark Duper1984MIA71130618.391079227
175Ray Jarvis1976DET3982221.08595227
176Leonard Thompson1980DET1951126.89284227
177Willie Green1995CAR4788218.77656226
178Louis Lipps1985PIT59113419.22909225
179Isaac Bruce2001STL64110617.28882224
180Gary Garrison1971SDG4288921.17666223
181Henry Ellard1995WAS56100517.95782223
182Jerry Rice1989SFO82148318.091260223
183Tony Martin1998ATL66118117.89958223
184Darnay Scott1994CIN4686618.83644222
185Chris Chambers2001MIA4888318.4662221
186Frank Clarke1962DAL47104322.19822221
187Torrey Smith2013BAL65112817.35908220
188Mike Wallace2009PIT3975619.38537219
189Albert Connell2000WAS3976219.54543219
190Earl McCullouch1971DET2155226.29333219
191Stanley Morgan1986NWE84149117.751272219
192Ray Renfro1957CLE2158928.05370219
193Wesley Walker1979NYJ2356924.74350219
194Charles Wilson1994TAM3165221.03434218
195Ken Burrow1971ATL3374122.45523218
196Ron Shanklin1970PIT3069123.03474217
197Horace Copeland1993TAM3063321.1416217
198Rich Caster1972NYJ3983321.36617216
199Darrell Jackson2003SEA68113716.72921216
200Fred Biletnikoff1967OAK4087621.9661215

Calculate these grades for every season of each wide receiver’s career, and you get the following career numbers. Here’s how to read Lofton’s line, who checks in at number one. He played from 1978 to 1993, and for his career, caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards, an 18.33 YPC average. Based on 120% of the league average YPC rate in each year, this means Lofton exceeded his expected number of yards (based on his receptions) by 2,502 yards, the most in NFL history. Stanley Morgan, the man who propelled Steve Grogan to the top of yesterday’s list, comes in at number two. The rest of the top five isn’t a surprise: Henry Ellard and Randy Moss were legendary deep threats, and we all know about Paul Warfield and his unique career. Homer Jones, who ranks 1st in average length of receiving touchdown, checks in at #14.

RkReceiverFirst YrLast YrRecRec YdYPCRec Yd Ovr Exp
1James Lofton197819937641400418.332502
2Stanley Morgan197719905571071619.242252
3Henry Ellard198319988141377716.931824
4Randy Moss199820129821529215.571740
5Paul Warfield19641977427856520.061708
6Wesley Walker19771989438830618.961646
7Willie Gault19831993333663519.921624
8Vincent Jackson20052013422736217.451507
9Flipper Anderson19881995267535720.061474
10Harold Jackson196919835791037217.911416
11Calvin Johnson20072013572932816.311375
12Bob Hayes19651975371741419.981348
13Mel Gray19711982351664418.931309
14Homer Jones19641970224498622.261265
15Lance Alworth196219725421026618.941215
16Joey Galloway199520107011095015.621215
17Don Maynard195819736331183418.71208
18Michael Irvin198819997501190415.871204
19Mark Duper19831992511886917.361193
20DeSean Jackson20082013356611717.181161
21Haven Moses19681981448809118.061139
22Derrick Alexander19942002417697116.721100
23Cliff Branch19721984501868517.341093
24Jimmy Orr19581970400791419.791084
25Warren Wells19641970158365523.131075
26Gary Garrison19661977405753818.611060
27John Gilliam19671977382705618.471053
28Terrell Owens1996201010781593414.781008
29Carroll Dale19601973438827718.91005
30Carlos Carson19801989353637218.051003
31Isaac Bruce1994200910241520814.85996
32Devery Henderson20052012245437717.87991
33Roger Carr19741983271507118.71964
34Mike Quick19821990363646417.81938
35Buddy Dial19591966261543620.83934
36Plaxico Burress20002012553849915.37904
37Gene Washington19691979385685617.81868
38Malcom Floyd20042013239413317.29807
39Chris Sanders19952001177328518.56801
40Ken Kavanaugh19401950162362622.38800
41James Jett19932001256441717.25799
42Isaac Curtis19731984416710117.07795
43Alfred Jenkins19751983360626717.41794
44Alvin Harper19911997191347318.18787
45Lee Evans20042011381600815.77768
46Ashley Lelie20022008217374917.28765
47Eddie Kennison19962007548834515.23742
48Harlon Hill19541962233471720.24737
49Steve Watson19791987353611217.31736
50Torry Holt199920099201338214.55735
51Tony Hill19771986479798816.68708
52Ray Renfro19521963281550819.6706
53Otis Taylor19651974410730617.82701
54Santonio Holmes20062013381596315.65699
55Charlie Joiner196919867501214616.19692
56Steve Smith200120138361219714.59685
57Frank Lewis19711983397672416.94680
58Jake Reed19922002450699915.55678
59Tony Martin19902001593906515.29669
60Jerry Rice1985200415492289514.78668
61Ken Burrough19701981421710216.87661
62Mike Wallace20092013308497216.14658
63Yancey Thigpen19922000313508116.23655
64Eddie Brown19851991363613416.9650
65Mervyn Fernandez19871992209376418.01629
66Steve Largent197619898191308915.98625
67Kevin House19801987299516917.29619
68Bob Boyd19501957176361120.52615
69Stephone Paige19831991377634116.82613
70Dokie Williams19831987148286619.36610
71Don Currivan1943194978197925.37603
72Braylon Edwards20052012359552215.38598
73Louis Lipps19841992359601916.77594
74Rich Caster19701981322551517.13582
75Antonio Bryant20022009372568515.28575
76Terry Glenn19962006593882314.88573
77Anthony Miller19881997595914815.37570
78John Taylor19871995347559816.13554
79Albert Connell19972001150267417.83550
80Jeff Graham19912001542817215.08548
81Hugh Taylor19471954272523319.24546
82John Stallworth19741987537872316.24542
84Antonio Freeman19952003477725115.2541
85Josh Gordon20122013137245117.89539
86Bobby Duckworth1982198682178421.76535
87Mal Kutner19461950145306021.1534
88Ben Hawkins19661973261476418.25527
89James Scott19761982177320218.09519
90Jack Snow19651975340601217.68519
91Gary Clark198519956991085615.53517
92Greg Jennings20062013493734114.89514
93Torrey Smith20112013164282417.22514
94Mark Jackson19861994342555116.23512
95James McKnight19942003222359516.19507
96Irving Fryar198420008511278515.02502
97Anthony Carter19851994486773315.91501
98Bill Groman19601964174348120.01500
99Gloster Richardson1967197492197621.48498
100Roy Green19791992559896516.04492

Because of the way the formula works, a list of the worst receivers in this metric would be a bunch of running backs. So instead, I’ll close with a list of the 100 players with the most receptions in NFL history, and their ranks according to this formula:

RkReceiverFirst YrLast YrRecRec YdYPCRec Yd Ovr Exp
1Jerry Rice1985200415492289514.78668
2Tony Gonzalez1997201313251512711.42-3272
3Marvin Harrison1996200811021458013.23-709
4Cris Carter1987200211011389912.62-1738
5Tim Brown1988200410941493413.65-471
6Terrell Owens1996201010781593414.781008
7Isaac Bruce1994200910241520814.85996
8Reggie Wayne2001201310061356613.49-319
9Hines Ward1998201110001208312.08-1709
10Randy Moss199820129821529215.571740
11Andre Reed198520009511319813.88-696
12Derrick Mason199720119431206112.79-927
13Art Monk198019959401272113.53-1362
14Andre Johnson200320139271266113.66-148
15Torry Holt199920099201338214.55735
16Keenan McCardell199220078831137312.88-920
17Jason Witten20032013879979911.15-2373
18Jimmy Smith199520058621228714.25242
20Anquan Boldin200320138571134413.24-481
21Irving Fryar198420008511278515.02502
22Rod Smith199520068491138913.41-442
23Larry Fitzgerald200420138461136713.44-336
24Wes Welker20052013841935811.13-2285
25Steve Smith200120138361219714.59685
26Larry Centers1991200382767978.22-4796
27Steve Largent197619898191308915.98625
28Shannon Sharpe199020038151006012.34-1343
29Henry Ellard198319988141377716.931824
30Keyshawn Johnson199620068141057112.99-788
31Marshall Faulk1994200576768758.96-3843
33James Lofton197819937641400418.332502
34Eric Moulds19962007764999513.08-615
35Michael Irvin198819997501190415.871204
36Charlie Joiner196919867501214616.19692
37Donald Driver199920127431013713.64-87
38Andre Rison198920007431020513.73-439
39Santana Moss200120137221016714.08218
40Antonio Gates20032013719919312.79-761
41Brandon Marshall20062013712905012.71-805
42Joey Galloway199520107011095015.621215
43Gary Clark198519956991085615.53517
44Terance Mathis19902002689880912.79-903
45Roddy White20052013685943613.78-54
46Laveranues Coles20002009674860912.77-639
47Herman Moore19912001670917413.69-276
48Ricky Proehl19902006669887813.27-583
49Amani Toomer19962008668949714.22266
50Ozzie Newsome19781990662798012.05-2085
51Bobby Engram19962009650775111.92-1267
52Charley Taylor19641977649911014.04-1328
53Drew Hill19791993634983115.51353
54Don Maynard195819736331183418.71208
55Raymond Berry19551967631927514.7-1556
56Rob Moore19901999628936814.92433
58Johnnie Morton19942005624871913.97-31
60Keith Byars1986199861056619.28-3234
61Marques Colston20062013607833713.73-67
62Joe Horn19962007603874414.5414
63Anthony Miller19881997595914815.37570
64Sterling Sharpe19881994595813413.67-504
65Curtis Conway19932004594823013.86-58
66Tony Martin19902001593906515.29669
67Terry Glenn19962006593882314.88573
68Harold Carmichael19711984590898515.2316
69Fred Biletnikoff19651978589897415.24-348
70Marcus Allen1982199758754119.22-3302
71Tiki Barber1997200658651838.84-2958
72Bill Brooks19861996583800113.72-548
73Mark Clayton19831993582897415.42241
74Ronnie Harmon19861997582607610.44-2338
76Wayne Chrebet19952005580736512.7-757
77Harold Jackson196919835791037217.911416
78Calvin Johnson20072013572932816.311375
79Ernest Givins19861995571821514.39-178
80Mark Carrier19871998569876315.4482
81Lionel Taylor19601968567719512.69-2522
82Roger Craig1983199356649118.68-3656
83Ed McCaffrey19912003565742213.14-511
84Webster Slaughter19861998563811114.41-89
85Roy Green19791992559896516.04492
86Wes Chandler19781988559896616.04470
87Stanley Morgan197719905571071619.242252
88Troy Brown19932006557636611.43-1348
89Plaxico Burress20002012553849915.37904
90Eric Martin19851994553816114.76-32
91Eddie Kennison19962007548834515.23742
92Jeremy Shockey20022011547614311.23-1379
93Ike Hilliard19972008546639711.72-1173
94John Williams1986199554646568.53-3364
95J.T. Smith19791990544697412.82-1317
96Lance Alworth196219725421026618.941215
97Jeff Graham19912001542817215.08548
98Kellen Winslow19791987541674112.46-1467
99Eric Metcalf19892001541557210.3-2172
100Chris Chambers20012010540764814.16242

A couple of wide receivers stand out with negative grades, and there are no surprises here. Wes Welker, Cris Carter, Hines Ward, Raymond Berry, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Art Monk, Troy Brown, etc., made their livings as possession receivers. Yards per completion, like yards per catch, is not so much a reflection of ability as it is of style. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

• pqlqi

I wish you had included Steve Largent on you list. I realize he doesn’t make it with only 819 career receptions, but he was the owned every significant WR record until Jerry Rice came along, and he has to still be considered one of the 5 best WRs of all time, with only Rice, Moss, and Calvin Johnson clearly superior players. What say you? can you give us a breakdown of the Original #80?

• Chase Stuart

He’s on the list at #27.

• pqlqi

color me embarrassed, just realized I could expand the list to 50/100… Thanks

• I’m just stunned that Largent isn’t even in the top 25 for receptions now. I know passing stats are inflated these days, but… wow.

• Tim Truemper

Bucky Pope at # 23. The “Catawba Claw”!

• daniel tyler

Man with Welker, you have to consider how he was used in New England, almost half of his yards came after the catch, Bellicheck used him like a runningback split out. Thats not just a possession receiver, when i think of possession i dont think yac, maybe you should list wideouts for yac. Sure he mainly was a first down machine like a Berry, but he was getting most of his passes by the los. Now his role with the Broncos is a little different.

• Travis Jones

I don’t ever recall hearing this, but shouldn’t Henry Ellard be near the top of lists of greatest players not in the HOF (or ever seriously considered)?

• Mark Jarrod

Henry Ellard is the most underrated receiver of all-time! Upon retirement, he was third all-time in receiving yards with just over 800 career receptions. Aside from James Lofton, he averaged more yards per catch than anyone else in the top tier of receiving yards. These stats are even more impressive when you consider he spent his first four years as Eric Dickerson’s teammate! He was an excellent route runner and a pro-bowl punter returner to boot. It’s a crime that he isn’t in the Hall of Fame!