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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on quarterback statistical production.

Author’s Note: This is a very long post, but I discourage you from skimming it. Wait to read it until you can go over it without feeling distracted.

Two years ago, I wrote an exhaustive series on the greatest quarterbacks of all time. That was a subjective ranking, but I also discussed the formula for Quarterback Total Statistical Production, QB-TSP. This post concerns that stat, QB-TSP, so you may want to read that link if you haven’t already.

I’ve made three minor adjustments to the formula since that writing: [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1990-99 and 1995-2004. This is the seventh installment, examining 2000-09 and 2005-2014. The great receivers of the early ’00s, such as Marvin Harrison and Isaac Bruce, were in last week’s column. [click to continue…]

{ 64 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1980-89 and 1985-94. This is the sixth installment, examining 1990-99 and 1995-2004. The great receivers of the early ’90s, such as Jerry Rice and Andre Reed, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade.

1990-99

Fastest Receiver: Raghib Ismail

Best Deep Threat: Henry Ellard

Best Hands: Cris Carter

Best Possession Receiver: Jerry Rice

Toughest Receiver: Jerry Rice

Underrated in 2016: Herman Moore

Most Accomplished Postseason WR: Jerry Rice

Best Single Season: Jerry Rice, 1995

Best Overall WR: Jerry Rice

Raghib Ismail and his brother Qadry Ismail retired with nearly identical receiving statistics. Rocket Ismail had 363 receptions, for 5,295 yards and 28 TDs. Missile (Qadry) had 353 receptions, for 5,137 yards and 33 TDs. They each had two 1,000-yard seasons. Raghib was a more productive rusher, and Qadry a more productive returner. Raghib, projected to be the first pick in the 1991 NFL Draft, instead signed a record contract with the Toronto Argonauts, becoming a CFL All-Star before his NFL career began in 1993.

Henry Ellard, whom I named the greatest deep threat of 1985-94, remained so in the ’90s: his 17.13 average was the highest by more than a yard. Ellard had five 1,000-yard seasons in the ’90s, tied for fifth-most, behind only Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Michael Irvin. Alvin Harper was a great deep threat across from Irvin, but never a true no. 1 receiver. Ellard had as many catches in three seasons as Harper had in his career. Irvin himself was an underrated deep receiver: he had the most 20+ yard receptions of the ’90s, and his 15.7 receiving average was highest among the 15 players with at least 500 receptions in the decade. Of note: all three of these receivers played for Norv Turner, and all created more first downs than you would expect from their reception and yardage totals.

Herman Moore was a four-time Pro Bowler and made three all-pro teams as a starter (more than Cris Carter and Tim Brown combined). Moore’s 1995 ranks among the most impressive statistical seasons of all time: 123 rec, 1686 yds, 14 TD. Looking at the 1990s as a whole, Moore had more receptions than Andre Reed, more yardage than Henry Ellard, and more touchdowns than Michael Irvin. Yes, really: Moore scored more TDs in the ’90s (59) than Michael Irvin (58). Moore had over 900 receiving yards every year from 1992-98, including three seasons of 100 receptions, but his production was largely limited to those seven seasons.

Tim Brown
Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 1988-2003; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004
1,094 receptions, 14,934 yards, 100 TD

Although he was a first-round draft pick, Tim Brown’s receiving career began slowly. However, he was always a dazzling punt returner (3,320 yds, 10.2 avg, 3 TDs). Brown made two Pro Bowls as a returner, in 1988 and ’91, and in 2001 became the oldest NFL player (35) to return a punt for a TD. He also holds the rookie record for all-purpose yards (2,317), a record he took from Gale Sayers and has now owned for more than two decades.

Of course, Brown is most remembered as a receiver who was among the best at his position for a decade. He had nine consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and ranks 5th all-time in receptions. He’s 6th all-time in receiving yards and 8th in receiving TDs. At the time of his retirement, only Jerry Rice had more yards.

I suggested last week that Andre Reed was more consistent than exceptional. The same criticism might be levelled at Brown, but less convincingly. Brown tied for the NFL lead in receptions once, never led in yards or TDs. In his 17-year career, he made the Associated Press all-pro team just once, as a second-team selection in 1997.

However, Brown, who began his career in 1988, had nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Reed, who began his career in 1985, had four. Brown had 1,300 yards four times.1 Brown had more receptions (+143), yards (+1,736), and touchdowns (+13) than Reed. He was an exceptional punt returner; Reed didn’t return kicks. Brown made nine Pro Bowls, to Reed’s seven, even though the AFC was stronger during Brown’s prime than Reed’s. They were both great players, but Brown was better.

Cris Carter
Philadelphia Eagles, 1987-89; Minnesota Vikings, 1990-2001; Miami Dolphins, 2002
1,101 receptions, 13,899 yards, 130 TD

His given name was Graduel Christopher Darin Carter. Carter grew up in southwest Ohio — Bengals country — and spelled his name “Cris” because of Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth.

Fourth all-time in both receptions and receiving TDs, Carter joined Jerry Rice as the starting wide receivers on the 1990s NFL All-Decade team. He was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was twice named first-team all-pro. In 1994, he set the single-season record for receptions (122), and in three other seasons he led the NFL in receiving TDs. Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, and Carter are the only players in history with five straight years of double-digit receiving touchdowns.

I was surprised when Carter didn’t get elected to Canton in his first several years of eligibility. I suspect the voters were reluctant to enshrine him partly for the same reason Art Monk had to wait so long. Monk was repeatedly dismissed as a guy who caught 900 eight-yard hooks, and who wasn’t the most dangerous receiver on his own team. Carter averaged just 12.6 yards per reception, one of the lowest marks in history for an elite wide receiver. Defenses fear the deep threat, the guy who can burn you on any given play. For Washington in the ’80s and early ’90s, that was Gary Clark, not Monk. For Minnesota, it was Randy Moss, not Carter.

Carter last led the Vikings in receiving yards in 1995. Thereafter, he was outgained every year by either Jake Reed or Moss. And yet, half his production came after ’95: five of his eight 1,000-yard seasons, four of his six double-digit TD years, overall about 50% of his statistical value. Essentially, Carter battled the notion that he usually wasn’t the best receiver on his own team, that he was a system player who caught a bunch of short passes and seldom had to deal with double-teams. He was reliable more than explosive, and he was tough like Monk, not graceful like Lance Alworth or Lynn Swann. Carter just doesn’t have the highlight reel those guys do, and he never won a championship.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Carter’s highlight reel is empty. Anyone who watched football in the ’90s remembers, “Cris Carter. All he does is catch touchdowns.” Although made famous by Chris Berman, the phrase originated with Carter’s coach with the Eagles, Buddy Ryan, and was not entirely a compliment. Carter’s most famous highlight came in college. Playing in the Citrus Bowl for Ohio State, Carter caught a ball that his quarterback had tried to throw away.

Carter is one of the most improbable winners ever of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Carter was cut by the Eagles because of drug, alcohol, and personal issues. He antagonized teammates in Minnesota; when Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame, former teammate (1993-96) Qadry Ismail told Sirius XM, “Cris was a bona fide diva … extreme selfishness.” In The Best Minnesota Sports Arguments, Carter has his own chapter entitled, “What Was the Most Selfish Act Committed by a Minnesota Athlete?” The story involves Vikings running back Bill Brown and his dying wife, and paints a very ugly picture of Carter — when he was sober, and old enough to know better. At the 2014 NFL rookie symposium, Carter advised young players that if they got into trouble, “You’ve got to have a fall guy in the crew,” to take the blame. Cris Carter was a great receiver, but he doesn’t seem like a good person.

Irving Fryar
New England Patriots, 1984-92; Miami Dolphins, 1993-95; Phildaelphia Eagles, 1996-98; Washington, 1999-2000
851 receptions, 12,785 yards, 84 TD

Irving Fryar was a late bloomer. The first overall pick in the 1984 draft, Fryar quickly made his mark on special teams — he was a Pro Bowl returner, with 3 punt return TDs in his first three seasons — but didn’t emerge as a major receiving threat until he left New England to play for the Dolphins and Eagles. His first 1,000-yard season came in 1991, when Fryar was 29 and playing his eighth year in the NFL. He was 31 when he made his first Pro Bowl as a receiver, a 10-year veteran. His career-high 1,316 receiving yards came at age 35.2

Fryar made five Pro Bowls (one as a returner) and was second-team all-pro twice (once as a returner). He had five 1,000-yard seasons, and his accomplishments as a returner are significant. It’s natural, I think, to compare him to Henry Ellard. They were drafted just one year apart, both were great punt returners early in their careers, both had most of their best seasons in the ’90s, both had career numbers that looked exceptional when they retired, and far less impressive since the explosion of receiving stats in the expansion era.

Choosing between the two, I’d go with Ellard. He had more good seasons, more of his production came before league-wide receiving numbers went through the roof, and he had a stronger peak. Ellard had four seasons among the top four in receiving yards, Fryar none. Ellard played against tough NFC competition, in an era when the AFC was a substantially weaker conference. They were both great players, but Ellard was more exceptional.

Since I spent a paragraph explaining why I’m not wild about Cris Carter, for the sake of equal treatment I should point out that Irving Fryar has an even uglier past. He missed the 1985 AFC Championship Game due to an injured hand. But he didn’t hurt the hand playing football, he hurt it in a domestic dispute with his pregnant wife (Fryar needed six stitches). He had drug issues, violence against women and animals, allegations that he attempted to throw a game in college. He was arrested on weapons charges. Rick Reilly called Fryar “the All Pro screw-up, the Human Incident, the Original Sinner.” Fryar is currently in jail for fraud.

Michael Irvin
Dallas Cowboys, 1988-99
750 receptions, 11,904 yards, 65 TD

I named Jerry Rice’s 1995 season the greatest by a wide receiver in the 1990s. That’s tough to argue with. Rice caught 122 passes, for 1,848 yards and 15 TDs. Those are excellent totals, in every category, and his single-season yardage record lasted almost 20 years. But there’s a compelling argument to be made that in 1991, Michael Irvin was even better. Irvin caught 93 passes, for 1,523 yards and 8 TDs. Those are great stats, but they’re dwarfed by Rice’s. What’s the argument for Irvin?

First, consider that Irvin’s 93 receptions produced 79 first downs, compared to 75 first downs for Rice. That 122-93 reception gap is a lot less significant when you consider what their catches did for the team. We also need to consider the environment of the league. Passing statistics exploded in the mid-1990s, and 1995 was an expansion year, diluting the talent pool and allowing the best players to excel even more than usual. In 1995, Rice had 67 yards more than 2nd-place Herman Moore. In 1991, Irvin had 187 yards more than 2nd-place Gary Clark. Irvin had the most receiving first downs in the NFL, by 17. Four receivers had more first downs in 1995 than Rice. While Rice’s raw numbers are much better, Irvin actually stood out more from the league. And it wasn’t a one-year blip. Irvin had more yards and more first downs in 1991 than any receiver the two years before and after.

1991 was the only season in which Irvin led the NFL in a major statistic. In 1995, he had more catches (111) for more yards (1603) and more TDs (10), but in context, ’91 was a better season. Irvin retired with seven 1,000-yard seasons, plus 962 in an injury-shortened (11 games) 1996. In four of those years, Irvin gained over 1,300 yards. He was big for that era, and strong and fast.

He was also a great postseason performer. In 16 postseason games, Irvin caught 87 passes for 1,315 yards and 8 TDs. He had six 100-yard games, plus four more with over 80 yards. That includes 114 yards and 2 TDs in Super Bowl XXVII, one of three Super Bowl victories in Irvin’s career.

Andre Rison
Indianapolis Colts, 1989; Atlanta Falcons, 1990-94; Cleveland Browns, 1995; Jacksonville Jaguars, 1996; Green Bay Packers, 1996; Kansas City Chiefs, 1997-99; Oakland Raiders, 2000
743 receptions, 10,205 yards, 84 TD

Andre Rison played for seven NFL teams. A guy’s career looks fragmented when he moves around so often, hard to view as a whole. Irving Fryar and Rison did a lot of the same things as Andre Reed, but the constant team-switching makes it hard, psychologically, to view them that way. During his NFL career, Rison caught touchdown passes from Jack Trudeau (4), Chris Miller (25), Scott Campbell (2), Billy Joe Tolliver (6), Wade Wilson (3), Bobby Hebert (11), Jeff George (9), Vinny Testaverde (1), Eric Zeier (2), Mark Brunell (2), Brett Favre (1), Elvis Grbac (7), and Rich Gannon (11).3

Part of the reason Rison moved around so much is that he was viewed as a bit of a headcase. He was a showboat in Atlanta, but you can get away with that when you’re performing at a high level. Rison signed a big free agent contract with the Browns, then publicly cursed at the Cleveland fans. He played for five teams in four years, his girlfriend alleged that he was abusive4, he went to the Raiders — of course he went to the Raiders — and Rison even played for the Toronto Argonauts after his NFL career ended (winning a Grey Cup in 2004).

What if Rison had stayed with Atlanta, or gone to a stable team rather than one on the eve of a move to Baltimore? He was a Pro Bowler for the Chiefs in 1997, and a valuable player for the Packers in the 1996 postseason, including a 54-yard TD reception to begin Super Bowl XXXI, so it’s not like his talent dried up after he left Atlanta, or that he couldn’t succeed without the run and shoot. But that was the widespread impression at the time; Rison’s success with Green Bay was a real surprise coming from someone most fans thought was finished as an impact player.

A first-team all-pro in 1990 and a five-time Pro Bowler, Rison had five 1,000-yard seasons and in 1993 tied Jerry Rice for the most receiving TDs in the NFL (15). In his final NFL season, Rison became just the seventh player in history with 700 receptions, 10,000 yards, and 80 touchdowns. NFL players with four consecutive seasons of double-digit receiving TDs: Tommy McDonald, Bob Hayes, Jerry Rice, Rison, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, and Marvin Harrison.

1995-2004

Fastest Receiver: Randy Moss

Best Deep Threat: Randy Moss

Best Hands: Marvin Harrison

Best Possession Receiver: Marvin Harrison

Toughest Receiver: Keyshawn Johnson

Underrated in 2016: Jimmy Smith

Most Accomplished Postseason WR: Rod Smith

Best Single Season: Jerry Rice, 1995

Best Overall WR: Marvin Harrison

Randy Moss was as fast as anyone. If there’s anyone else from this era who compares, it would surely be Tim Dwight. I explained last week that given a close call between two players for a designation like “Fastest Receiver”, I prefer to highlight the lesser-known. Within that, however, I still want to recognize legitimate football players, not just fast guys who put on pads and a helmet. Tim Dwight was a real football player, but he was a returner more than a receiver. Dwight had 203 kickoff returns, 185 punt returns, and 194 career receptions.

The 8th pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, Joey Galloway was a downfield receiver, a burner. He scored 5 punt return TDs and rushed for 496 yards, one of the highest totals ever by a receiver. He had six 1,000-yard receiving seasons and three years of double-digit TDs, retiring with 83 total TDs and nearly 11,000 receiving yards. He never made a Pro Bowl, but he was a good player with a 16-year career.

Galloway is statistically comparable to Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, and Rod Smith (see below). McCardell quietly caught almost 900 passes and gained over 11,000 yards. A two-time Pro Bowler, he had five 1,000-yard seasons and five years among the NFL’s top 10 in receptions. A 12th-round draft pick in 1991, McCardell didn’t get a chance to play regularly until he joined the Jaguars in 1996. If McCardell hadn’t lost five years of his prime sitting on the bench, would he be a Hall of Famer? Maybe.

One of the more underappreciated receivers in recent history, Muhsin Muhammad gained at least 500 receiving yards in 12 seasons, caught 90 or more passes three times, and led the NFL at various times in every major receiving category: receptions (2000), receiving yards (2004), and receiving touchdowns (2004). He made two Pro Bowls and was first-team all-pro in ’04.

Isaac Bruce
Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09
1,024 receptions, 15,208 yards, 91 TD

Isaac Bruce ranks 4th all-time in receiving yards. He had eight 1,000-yard seasons, including 1,781 in 1995, still the 5th-highest total in history. Bruce was hard-working, humble, and well-liked. He was a good route-runner, and he was fast enough to worry defenders, but he had the hands of a great possession receiver. Bruce spent much of his career on bad teams, but made big plays when he got the chance, including the 73-yard game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Bruce was named to four Pro Bowls and went over 1,000 yards four other times, including 1,292 in 2004 and 1,781 in 1995. His résumé bears a similarity to Charlie Joiner’s — guys with long careers and sensational counting stats, but who weren’t usually regarded as being among the very best while they were active. Both also have to fight the perception that their numbers are partly or largely a product of the absurd offenses they played in, where any receiver could become a star.

Bruce’s case is a little stronger than Joiner’s. He ranked in the top five in receiving yards four times (and led the league in 1996), compared to only twice for Joiner, who never led the NFL in a major statistic. Two of Bruce’s three best seasons came when the Rams were coached by Rich Brooks, while Joiner’s best years were under Don Coryell. Bruce had four 100-yard games in the postseason, and he was a Super Bowl star. Joiner deserves his place in Canton, and Bruce deserves to join him.

Marvin Harrison
Indianapolis Colts, 1996-2008
1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards, 128 TD

In eight consecutive seasons, Marvin Harrison finished with more than 80 receptions, 1,100 yards, and double-digit touchdowns. He is the only player in history with four consecutive 1,400-yard seasons, and one of only five (Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson) to go over 1,400 in any four seasons. Harrison still holds the single-season record for receptions (143). He led the NFL twice in receptions, twice in receiving yards, and once in receiving TDs. He was first-team all-pro three times and qualified for eight Pro Bowls.

Harrison was not the biggest, fastest, or strongest receiver in the game; he didn’t intimidate opponents the way Terrell Owens and Moss did. But Harrison was one of the smartest receivers ever to play, and like Rice, he worked very hard to be the best; the extra practice hours he put in working with Peyton Manning are legendary. Harrison was an exceptional route-runner, and he was the best I ever saw at the toe-tap on the sideline. Give him an inch and he’d make the catch.

Harrison, Rice, and Andre Johnson are the only players with three 1,500-yard receiving seasons. Harrison has the most receptions, receiving yards, and TDs of any player to spend his whole career with one team.

Keyshawn Johnson
New York Jets, 1996-99; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2000-03; Dallas Cowboys, 2004-05; Carolina Panthers, 2006
804 receptions, 10,571 yards, 64 TD

The top pick in the 1996 draft, Keyshawn Johnson was known as much for his attitude as his play. He caught 70 or more passes nine times, and wrote a book (with Shelley Smith) titled Just Give Me the Damn Ball!, setting the tone for a parade of diva receivers ever since. He had at least 600 receiving yards every year of his career, and he was dismissed from the Buccaneers in mid-season 2003 because the defending champs didn’t want to deal with him any more. His name is Joseph Ladarious Keyshawn Johnson, and he was nicknamed Me-Shawn.

Some people won’t like that I named Johnson the toughest receiver of the decade. Keyshawn was a self-centered loudmouth, arguably the first of the modern diva receivers. But he was also a gritty possession receiver who would go over the middle, and he was the best blocking WR of his generation. If he had been 10 or 15 pounds bigger, Johnson would have been a Shannon Sharpe-style tight end. He made three Pro Bowls, caught 100 passes one year, and retired with more than 800 receptions, for over 10,000 yards.

The famous 1996 receiver class includes Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Muhsin Muhammad, Eric Moulds, Joe Horn, Amani Toomer, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, and Bobby Engram. All 10 had over 500 receptions, over 7,500 receiving yards, and at least 35 touchdowns. Seven of the 10 made at least one Pro Bowl, and they combined for 27. Taken as a group, they averaged 768 catches, 10,568 yards, and 69 TDs — about the same numbers as Keyshawn. I’d be surprised if there’s ever another class of rookie receivers so deep and successful.

Jimmy Smith
Dallas Cowboys, 1992-93; Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995-2005
862 receptions, 12,287 yards, 67 TD

You probably don’t remember Jimmy Smith on the Super Bowl-winning Cowboys in 1992. He played seven games and never caught a pass. He didn’t play at all the next two years. Smith didn’t become a full-time starter until 1996, when he was 27, an age when many players begin to decline.

Smith made the most of the years he did play, with nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons and five Pro Bowl appearances. Smith was only the third player with multiple seasons catching 110 or more passes, the first two being Jerry Rice and Cris Carter from 1994-95. He is one of only five receivers with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons (Tim Brown, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Rice), and one of six with six straight 1,100-yard seasons (Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Moss, Rice, Roddy White). In 1999, Smith led the NFL in receptions (116) and first downs (86), then the highest totals in history outside the whacked ’94-’95 seasons, and his team went 14-2.

Smith was occasionally dogged by drug issues, and his four-game suspension in 2003 probably kept him from becoming the only person besides Rice with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. Smith left the game when he was still a good player; his final season yielded 70 catches, 1023 yards, and 6 TDs. Smith in 2004 gained the third-most receiving yards ever by a 35-year-old (1,172), and he and Rice are the only players ever to gain over 1,000 yards in a full season after turning 36.

So in Smith you have one of the best old receivers ever, a guy who had a lot of good seasons, including five years over 1,200 yards and two seasons catching more than 110 passes.5 His detractors would point out that while Smith did have exceptional years, and played well in several others, he had so few seasons on the field that his overall statistics don’t measure up to the best players of his generation. Some detractors would also mention the drug thing, but unlike some of the other players profiled here, Jimmy Smith really wasn’t a bad guy. He was an addict, but he wasn’t a jerk.

Most 1,000-yard receiving seasons in NFL history:

1. Jerry  Rice, 14
2. Randy  Moss, 10
t3. Tim  Brown, 9
t3. Terrell  Owens, 9
t3. Jimmy  Smith, 9

Rod Smith
Denver Broncos, 1995-2006
849 receptions, 11,389 yards, 68 TD

Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, and Rod Smith have virtually identical career stats:

             Rec    Yards     1stD   TD
Muhammad     860    11,438    566    62
Smith        849    11,389    570    68
McCardell    883    11,373    568    63

It’s remarkable for three contemporary players to post such similar stats over long, productive careers. Overall numbers notwithstanding, Smith was by far the best of the three. He had eight 1,000-yard seasons, as many as McCardell (5) and Muhammad (3) combined. Smith played on two Super Bowl champions, with 152 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIII. He caught 100 passes twice, caught 70 passes nine times, double-digit TDs twice, 1,200 yards three times, as many as 1,600 one year.

Smith didn’t have a long career. Undrafted out of Division II Missouri Southern, he didn’t play in the NFL until he was 25, and didn’t become a starter until he was 27. It’s a shame careers can turn so heavily on high school performance. If Smith had been offered a scholarship to a Big 10 or SEC school, gotten drafted in the third round, and become a starter when he was 23 or 24, maybe he’d have another 200 receptions, 3,000 yards, 20 TDs.

We could also throw Keyshawn Johnson into the McCardell-Muhammad-Smith group. His stats are basically the same: 800-900 receptions, about 11,000 yards, 60-70 TDs. Shannon Sharpe’s statistics are similar to Keyshawn’s, if you exclude first downs.

              Rec    Yards     1stD   TD
Muhammad      860    11,438    566    62
Smith         849    11,389    570    68
McCardell     883    11,373    568    63
Johnson       804    10,571    552    64
Sharpe        815    10,060    490    62

Other players with comparable stats include Gary Clark, Donald Driver, Joey Galloway, Michael Irvin, Chad Johnson, Santana Moss, and Brandon Marshall (through 2015), although all except Marshall had fewer receptions.

  1. Editor’s note: In addition, Brown has 31 points of Gray Ink in receiving yards, compared to just 17 for Reed. That’s a pretty big difference. []
  2. Editor’s note: When I looked at the 100 players with the most career receiving yards through 2014, Fryar was the only one to have his single-season high in that category come at age 35 or older. []
  3. Editor’s note: Miller was responsible for 23% of Rison’s career yards, followed by Gannon (14%), Hebert (11%), Grbac (10%), and George (9%). []
  4. Editor’s note: Can you imagine if Rison’s relationship with Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez existed during today’s social media world?? []
  5. Editor’s note: I wrote a very pro-Smith profile here. []
{ 23 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1970-79 and 1975-84. This is the fifth installment, examining 1980-89 and 1985-94. The great receivers of the early ’80s, such as Steve Largent and Charlie Joiner, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 77 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1960-69 and 1965-74. This is the fourth installment, examining 1970-79 and 1975-84. The great receivers of the early ’70s, such as Fred Biletnikoff and Paul Warfield, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 25 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we covered 1950-59 and 1955-64. This is the third installment, examining 1960-69 and 1965-74. The great receivers of the early ’60s, such as Raymond Berry and Tommy McDonald, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.

Previous Best WRs By Decade Articles:


Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. Last week, we introduced this series with a look at the first decade of the Modern Era, 1945-54. This is the second installment, covering 1950-59 and 1955-64. The great receivers of the early ’50s, such as Tom Fears and Pete Pihos, were in last week’s column.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of each decade. [click to continue…]

{ 19 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s also a semi-regular writer here, and you can view all of Brad’s Football Perspective writing at this page. Brad is working on a WR Project where he analyzes the best WRs over various ten year periods. That work is being produced over at Sports-Central, but Brad has offered to have it reproduced here as well. As always, we at the FP community thank him for his work.


Best WRs By Decade: 1945-54

Last year, I wrote an article breaking down the best quarterbacks by decade, followed by in-depth profiles of the greatest QBs in history. This year, I’m combining those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. Because careers don’t always fit cleanly into a single decade, I’ve gone in five-year increments. This first piece covers 1945-54. Next week, we’ll do 1950-59 and 1955-64, continuing with 1960-69 and 1965-74 the following week, and so on.

Let’s begin with some specific categories and honors, then we’ll go in depth on the finest wide receivers of the era. 1945-54 represents the beginning of the NFL’s modern era. It was around this time that receivers stopped stopped doubling as defensive players, and started playing a major role on offense. In short, it was in the late 1940s and early 1950s that the modern position of wide receiver emerged. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows are Brad’s thoughts on a stat-based quarterback ranking system.


I recently concluded an eight-part series on the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football. Those rankings were subjective, based on everything I know about the players: stats, awards and honors, coaching and teammates, team success and postseason performance, reputation, the eye test, and so forth.

But I also have a method for classifying quarterbacks statistically. I actually published the results of this formula three months ago, but without revealing the process that produced those results. A number of readers were curious about my methodology, and in this post, I’ll finally explain how the sausage gets made. The math is not complicated — you don’t need a stats background to understand this — but there’s a lot of it: you could calculate most of this with a pencil and paper, but by the end, you’re going to want a spreadsheet. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


I’ve been studying NFL history my whole life, but until this year, I never published my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. This is the final installment in an eight-part series, so let’s review the list thus far.

The best pre-Modern Era quarterbacks: Sammy Baugh, Dutch Clark, Ed Danowski, Paddy Driscoll, Benny Friedman, Arnie Herber, Cecil Isbell, Sid Luckman, Bernie Masterson, Ace Parker, and Bob Waterfield. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 6-10 on my list, counting down toward number one. Please note: at this point, we’re talking about the best of the best QBs. When I mention a player’s weaknesses, I’m not trying to insult him, just explaining why he doesn’t rate even higher.

10. Roger Staubach
Dallas Cowboys, 1969-79
22,700 yards, 153 TD, 109 INT, 83.4 rating

Roger Staubach was the best quarterback of the 1970s. He led all passers in rating and in TD/INT differential (+45), the latter nearly doubling a second-place tie between Fran Tarkenton and Kenny Anderson (+24). Despite playing only eight full seasons, Staubach also ranked among the top three QBs of the ’70s in both passing yards and rushing yards. He was the first-team QB on the NFL’s All-1970s Team.

Staubach’s statistics are exceptional. He led the league in passer rating four times, and retired with the highest rating in NFL history. Staubach was distinguished by his combination of short-range and downfield accuracy. Throwing underneath, he hit the receiver in stride, but he was also a great downfield passer. A dangerous dual-threat, Staubach was also known for his running, an ability that earned him the nickname “Roger the Dodger.” Staubach rushed for 2,204 yards and 19 TDs, ranking among the top 10 rushing QBs every full season of his career. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 11-20 on my list, counting down toward number one. Please note: at this point, we’re talking about the best of the best QBs. When I mention a player’s weaknesses, I’m not trying to insult him, just explaining why he doesn’t rate even higher.

20. Y.A. Tittle
Baltimore Colts, 1948-50; San Francisco 49ers, 1951-60; New York Giants, 1961-64
33,070 yards, 242 TD, 248 INT, 74.3 rating

Y.A. Tittle retired as the all-time leader in passing yards and passing TDs. Those are holy marks, passed from Tittle to Johnny Unitas, then to Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino, on to Brett Favre and now on their way to Peyton Manning. Tittle led the NFL in passing touchdowns three times — including 36 in 1963, a record that lasted more than 20 years. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s contributed today’s guest post, and we thank him for that. This one is certainly thought-provoking.



I recently ranked Doug Flutie 31st among the greatest quarterbacks of all time, ahead of accomplished players like Kurt Warner, Boomer Esiason, and Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps predictably, the unconventional ranking for Flutie generated questions, comments, and plain disagreement. I hope this follow-up will clear some of the confusion and help readers understand my reasoning.

I was attempting to rank the greatest quarterbacks ever — not just the best NFL quarterbacks — and this was not a stat-based evaluation. Statistics play a large role in the assessment of players, but they do not form an exclusive basis for it. When I rated Flutie ahead of Warner and company, I wasn’t suggesting that he had a better NFL career than those players, just that he was a better quarterback.

Here’s a breakdown of Flutie’s career:

* New Jersey Generals, 1985 (USFL)
* Chicago Bears, 1986-87
* New England Patriots, 1987-89
* BC Lions, 1990-91 (CFL)
* Calgary Stampeders, 1992-95 (CFL)
* Toronto Argonauts, 1996-97 (CFL)
* Buffalo Bills, 1998-2000
* San Diego Chargers, 2001-04
* New England Patriots, 2005 [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 21-30 on my list. The players are ranked in order, but please don’t read too much into that: I consider this a group of quarterbacks, all roughly the same level. If you’re outraged that #26 is higher than #29, you have my blessing to flip them.

30. John Brodie
San Francisco 49ers, 1957-73
31,548 yards, 214 TD, 224 INT, 72.3 rating
[click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank about 30-40 on my list. The players are ranked in order, but please don’t read too much into that: I consider this a group of quarterbacks, all roughly the same level. If you’re furious that #34 is higher than #37, you have my blessing to flip them.

39. Steve McNair
Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans, 1995-2005; Baltimore Ravens, 2006-07
31,304 yards, 174 TD, 119 INT, 82.8 rating

Mark Brunell, Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, and Steve McNair all played in the late ’90s and early ’00s, with low INT rates and excellent running. They’re easy to compare. The stats below include sacks:

QuarterbackAttYdsTDINTRatingNY/ARushYdsTD
Brunell503029,67718410884.05.90513242115
Gannon450827,05418010484.76.00521244921
Garcia385724,5901618387.56.38468214026
McNair479829,73717411982.86.20669359037

McNair has the lowest passer rating, but the most net yards (33,327) and the most total touchdowns (211). He and Brunell had the most good seasons, he and Gannon were named NFL MVP, and McNair stands alone as a playmaking scrambler. Only five players in NFL history have 30,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards: John Elway, Donovan McNabb, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, and Steve McNair. As a dual-threat QB, McNair was one of the finest ever to play. His 64 rushing yards in Super Bowl XXXIV is the record for quarterbacks. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank about 40-48 on my list, in alphabetical order:

Charlie Conerly
New York Giants, 1948-61
19,488 yards, 173 TD, 167 INT, 68.2 rating

The hype was always there for Chuck Conerly. He was a star at Ole Miss, and he was the Giants’ quarterback when they were the only team in New York. Playing for a coaching staff that included Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, alongside Hall of Fame players like Rosey Brown, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, and Emlen Tunnell, Conerly was set up for success. The Giants were competitive every season, and they won an NFL championship in 1956. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5



I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. We began last week, with quarterbacks who preceded the Modern Era, like Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. You may recall that in April, he gave us a sneak peak at some quarterback rankings. Today, we begin seeing the words behind those numbers, starting with the pre-modern era quarterbacks.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5



I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my adult life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is to publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Sparked by Adam Steele’s crowd-sourcing project here at Football Perspective, I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. Today, he’s contributed this guest post, but also is asking for your feedback. So please, help Brad and help us, in the comments, with your thoughts.


In recent weeks, Football Perspective has hosted some lively discussions about the greatest quarterbacks of all time. I like to think my approach to these issues is balanced, but it begins with statistics. I am always looking for ways to improve my analysis, and Chase has graciously invited me to post the results of my statistical rating system for quarterbacks.

This is not my personal list of the best quarterbacks in history. My subjective list differs, at time significantly, and I’ll post that next month. The list below is purely statistical, with three notable limitations:

1. It measures regular-season statistics only.

2. It covers the years 1946-2014. The modern quarterback position didn’t really exist prior to the mid 1940s.

2b. QBs who played prior to 1946 are omitted, even if they continued to play after the end of World War II. I don’t want a ranking that shows Sammy Baugh 65th, since it’s missing the first decade of his career. Players like Baugh, Sid Luckman, and Bob Waterfield are deliberately excluded.

3. Only seasons in the NFL, AFL, and AAFC count toward these rankings.

My purpose in posting this list is to ask for help. There are a lot of smart readers and commenters at this site, and I want you to critique my results.

I’m not showing my work yet: I’m not looking for a critique of my process, but of my results. Who’s too high? Who’s too low? You can identify individual players, or patterns. Wherever you think I messed up, I want to hear about it. Please keep in mind, though, that this is purely a stat-based list. It doesn’t represent my opinion, and it’s not slanted toward or against individual players or teams.

But just because this system is unbiased, that doesn’t make it perfect. It is definitely not perfect. But I’m comfortable making subjective adjustments, and that may create blind spots that prevent me from improving the formula. I’m asking you to evaluate the list below and judge where you think it is counterintuitive or inaccurate.

Are players from the ’70s overrated? Are contemporary players underrated? What about players from good teams, and players from bad teams? Are running QBs overrated? Underrated? How about game managers vs. downfield bombers? Is the system fair to them? Are one-year wonders overrated? Are compilers overrated? Players who threw a lot of TDs, a lot of interceptions, players who got sacked a lot? Wherever you think the system is off, I’m eager for your feedback.

Hopefully you find this list interesting, and you can expect a fuller explanation of my rankings in the future, but in the meantime, I appreciate your input and assistance. I included each player’s numerical score, which I realize isn’t in context yet, but it can give you a more precise idea than a simple ranking. Troy Aikman, Donovan McNabb, and Joe Namath, for instance, are effectively tied. Below are the top 125 QBs of the modern era, as ranked by my stat-based system: [click to continue…]

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