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Wisdom of Crowds: Quarterback Edition (2017)

Adam Steele is back with some Wisdom of Crowds work. As always, we thank him for that.


 

In 2015 we ran a pair of Wisdom of the Crowd exercises, one for quarterbacks and one for running backs. Participation was high and the ensuing discussions were plentiful, so I decided to bring the idea back this year. First up are quarterbacks, but there will be new rules this time around. The previous edition asked voters to rank their quarterbacks 1-25, with points scored in linear fashion based on the ranking from each ballot. While that method was simple, it left a lot to be desired. Most notably, voters weren’t able to indicate the magnitude of difference between the QB’s on their lists, so the difference between 24th and 25th was worth the same as the difference between 1st and 2nd. That’s just plain wrong.

New Rules

1) Each voter will be allotted 100 Greatness Points to distribute to quarterbacks as he or she wishes, with a few caveats.

2) The maximum points given to a single QB may not exceed 25.

3) Ballots must include a minimum of ten quarterbacks, with a maximum of 40.

4) Points must be assigned as whole numbers.

Just as before, you are free to use whatever definition of Greatness you see fit. If you have trouble getting started, it’s helpful to list every quarterback that you consider Great, then distribute points based on the relative standing among the quarterback you listed. In order for this exercise to work properly, please submit your ballot before reading anyone else’s; we want each opinion to be as independent as possible. Your ballot will not be counted if the points don’t add up to exactly 100, although I will let you know and give you a chance for revision. Here is an example of how I’d like your ballot to look (of course yours may include more quarterbacks): [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post/contest comes from Thomas McDermott, a licensed land surveyor in the State of California, a music theory instructor at Loyola Marymount University, and an NFL history enthusiast. As always, we thank him for his hard work. You can view all of his work at Football Perspective here.


I wrote this article last year, when I generated the statistics and then ranked all starting quarterbacks in 2015 based on how well they played in “clutch”1 situations. I used a simple definition: if it occurred in the 4th quarter or overtime, when the game was tied or the quarterback’s team was trailing by as much as one score (8 points), then it was a clutch situation.

The main metric used was Bryan Frye’s Total Adjusted Yards per Play, and today we’ll use the same methodology2 to find the 2016 Clutch Value Leader as well as the single season leaders since 1994. Here’s Bryan’s TAY/P formula, which Chase supports as an all-encompassing basic measure of quarterback performance:

(passing & rushing yards + (touchdowns * 20) – (interceptions * 45) – (fumbles lost * 25) – ( sack yards)) / (pass attempts + rush attempts + sacks)3

The other change I’m making from the previous post, is that I’ll be using a 3-year rolling league average, as opposed to a single year league average, when adjusting for era. Thanks to Bryan (through his great website GridFe) for providing me with that information.

So let’s get to it. Below are the quarterbacks in 2016 who had at least 30 clutch action plays,4 and here’s how to read the table: [click to continue…]

  1. Note that throughout this post, anything that happens within this situation is termed “clutch”; as in “clutch yards”, “clutch plays”, “clutch touchdown”, etc. []
  2. In my post last year, I included a 2-point conversion bonus of 15 yards which I’m going to leave out for now. Besides not really adding much to the study, when I started collecting the data for the single season and career leaders in this metric, I found that the data on 2-point conversions is somewhat spotty before 2005; in fact, in most cases before 1998, the players involved aren’t even mentioned. So, for those of you who read the last post, taking away that conversion bonus means Eli Manning is at the top for 2015 and not Jay Cutler. []
  3. Note that Bryan uses a 25-yard penalty for all fumbles (lost or recovered) while this study uses that penalty for lost fumbles only (which are the only ones being counted here). []
  4. For 2015, I used 24 actions plays as the cutoff, after looking at the numbers more when doing the single-season rankings, 30 seemed more appropriate. []
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Guest Post: Wide Receivers and the Hall of Fame

Today’s guest post comes from one of the longest followers of this blog (and its predecessor), Richie Wohlers. Richie is 44-year-old accountant from Southern California who is a Dolphins fan despite never being to Florida. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.


Previously, I looked at linebackers and centers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With Andre Johnson’s recent retirement announcement, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at wide receivers next. As before, I am just taking a look at post-merger players by using some objective factors to try to get a picture of what a typical HOFer looks like. Those factors are All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Weighted AV, Total AV, Super Bowl Appearances and Super Bowl wins). I am going to classify all players into a single position for simplicity. If you are interested in knowing the details of my calculation, see footnote.1

I explored the relationship between statistics (receptions, yards, touchdowns) and HOF induction for WRs, and it doesn’t improve the correlation. My “Career Score” is more aligned with HOF inductions than any single receiving statistic. The correlations are hurt by weak stats from HOFers like Swann and Hayes. And they are also hurt by big numbers from non-HOFers like Henry Ellard, Harold Jackson and Football Perspective hero Jimmy Smith. [click to continue…]

  1. Methodology: For All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Career AV and Total AV, I am looking at the average numbers for each player at his position. In an attempt to make the average HOFer at a position worth 100 points, I am assigning a weight of 16.6 for each category (16.6 times 6 categories equals 99.6 points). If an average player had 5.7 All Pros I divided 16.6 to get 2.9. So each All Pro is worth 2.9 points at that position. Super Bowls are the exception. I’m just going with a straight points system. One appearance is 8 points, 2 appearances is 14 points, 3 appearances is 18 points, and then 2 more points for each additional appearance. Super Bowl wins are worth 12, 20, 26, 30 and then 2 more per additional win. I add them up for a “Career Score”. []
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Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. Adam is now on Twitter, and you follow him @2mileshigh. As always, we thank him for contributing.


In 2014, Football Perspective ran a pair of crowd sourcing exercises to determine the greatest quarterbacks and running backs of all time. These experiments were a lot of fun and generated a great deal of debate amongst the participants, so I thought it would be worthwhile to give crowd sourcing another shot. NFL quarterbacks are the most discussed and analyzed athletes in America, but we can’t properly debate the merits of the league’s famous signal callers without considering the effects of their supporting casts. As of today, there is no mathematically accurate way to measure the strength of a QB’s teammates and coaches, but there are plenty of people around who possess the football knowledge to make educated guesses. Basically, this is the perfect candidate for crowd sourcing. I want to keep things simple to maximize reader participation, so there are just a handful of guidelines I expect participants to follow:

1) Please rate a QB’s supporting cast based on how they affected his statistical performance, not his win/loss record or ring count. The supporting cast umbrella includes the direct effect of skill position teammates, offense lines, coaches, and system, but also the indirect effect of defense, special teams, ownership, and team culture. You’re free to weigh these components however you see fit. The rating for each supporting cast will account for the quarterback’s entire career, using a 0-100 scale. As a rule of thumb, a 100 rating equates to an all star team, 75 is strong but not dominant, 50 is average, 25 is weak but not terrible, and 0 is equivalent to the 1976 Buccaneers.

2) Ratings should be roughly weighted by playing time. The years in which a QB is the full time starter should count more heavily than seasons where he’s a backup or spot starter. And this almost goes without saying, but supporting casts are best evaluated in the context of their respective eras.

3) You may rate as many supporting casts as you wish. Since I will be compiling the results by hand, it doesn’t matter how you order your list, as long as it’s easy to read. I ask that you refrain from rating the supporting casts of quarterbacks you’re not reasonably familiar with; if you don’t know anything about a QB’s career, don’t guess! Any quarterback with at least 1,500 pass attempts is eligible to be rated, and I’ve provided a list of these quarterbacks here. Feel free to break up your ratings into multiple posts on different days, but just be sure to post with the same username each time so I can properly count the results. I plan on keeping the poll open for one week, but reserve the right to extend the duration if interest from new participants remains high enough.

Have fun!

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Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.


Previously, I introduced my new metric — Adjusted Points Per Drive — for measuring team offense. I thought it would be fun to apply the same methodology to quarterbacks, which I what I’m doing today. I highly encourage you to go back and read the previous post if you haven’t already, because I don’t want to clutter today’s post by repeating all of the calculation details.

Unfortunately, I don’t have drive stats for individual games, so there’s going to be some approximation here. To calculate a quarterback’s career Adjusted Points Per Drive (AjPPD), I simply take his team’s AjPPD from each of his playing seasons and weight those seasons by games started. This will give us a measure of a quarterback’s scoring efficiency, but it doesn’t account for volume or longevity. That’s where Adjusted Offensive Points (AjPts) comes in handy.

I assign each QB a portion of his teams’ Adjusted Points, then compare that to league average to calculate Points Over Average (POA). The formula for calculating a given season’s POA = (Tm AjPts – 315) * (GS / 16). The 315 figure is derived from multiplying my normalized baselines of 1.75 AjPPD by 180 drives per year, meaning the average team scores 315 Adjusted Points per season.

I’ll use Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 season as an example: Pittsburgh scored 400 Adjusted Points and Ben started 11 games, so his 2015 campaign is worth (400 – 315) * (11 / 16) = 30 POA. Do this for every season and we have Career POA, which is the primary metric I’ll be using here. However, some people prefer to rank quarterbacks based on their peak years rather than their entire career, so I added the “Peak” column which is the sum of each quarterback’s three best POA seasons.

This study includes all QB’s who started their first game in 1997 or later, and made at least 40 starts between 1997 and 2015 (partial numbers from 2016 are not included). These criteria leaves us with 56 quarterbacks. Before we dig into the results, it’s worth noting that the correlation between Career POA and ANY/A+ is a healthy 0.92. We all know that the NFL is a passing league, but drive efficiency is even more dominated by the passing game than I thought. According to r2, 85% of the variance in Adjusted Points Per Drive is explained by a basic measure of passing efficiency. That doesn’t leave much room for the running game to have an impact. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that rushing efficiency has no appreciable impact on scoring for the majority of teams. That’s not to say running the ball is useless; offenses must run occasionally to keep the defense honest, and running comes in handy for converting short yardage and bleeding the clock. But, to quote Ron Jaworski, “Points come out of the passing game!”

Time for the rankings… [click to continue…]

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Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.


Adjusted Points Per Drive

I love drive stats. There’s no better method, in my opinion, of measuring the performance of offensive and defensive units. However, raw points per drive has a couple of glaring flaws – it doesn’t account for field position or adjust for league offensive efficiency. In this post, I am going to correct those issues and rank every offense in the drive stat era (1997-2015).1 To accomplish this, I created a simple metric called Adjusted Points Per Drive. Here’s how it’s calculated:

Step 1: Calculate total offensive points for each team. OffPts = PassTD * 7 + RushTD * 7 + FGAtt * (LgFGM / LgFGA). I chose to use the average value of a field goal attempt rather than made field goals, as I want to minimize the effect of special teams. In 2015, for example, the average FGA was worth 2.535 points, so I plug that number into each team’s number of attempts.

Step 2: Calculate points per drive (PPD). All drives ending with a kneel down are discarded. PPD = OffPts / Drives.

Step 3: Adjust for starting field position. The expected points value of each yard line is a bit noisy, so I smoothed it out into a simple linear formula. Every yard is worth 0.05 expected points, and PPD is normalized based on an average starting field position at the 30 yard line. I call this field position adjusted points per drive, or fPPD for short. fPPD = PPD – ((AvgFP – 30) *0.05). With this step, we can accurately compare the scoring production of all teams within a given season.

Step 4: Adjust for league scoring efficiency. I normalize each season’s fPPD to a baseline of 1.75 to calculate adjusted points per drive. At the team level, AjPPD = fPPD / LgfPPD * 1.75. Now, at last, we can compare the scoring production of every team since 1997. To make AjPPD more intuitive, I also translate it into adjusted offensive points (AjPts) using a baseline of 180 drives per team season. AjPts = AjPPD * 180. [click to continue…]

  1. Drive Stats provided by Jim Armstrong of Football Outsiders, and expected points data courtesy of Tom McDermott. []
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Guest Post: Centers and the Hall of Fame

Today’s guest post comes from one of the longest followers of this blog (and its predecessor), Richie Wohlers. Richie is 44-year-old accountant from Southern California who is a Dolphins fan despite never being to Florida. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.


Last time, I took a look at linebackers in the NFL Hall of Fame. Today, I am going to investigate centers and the Hall of Fame.

As before, I am just taking a look at post-merger players by using some objective factors to try to get a picture of what a typical HOFer looks like. Those factors are All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Weighted AV, Total AV, Super Bowl Appearances and Super Bowl wins). I am going to classify all players into a single position for simplicity. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Linebackers and the Hall of Fame

Today’s guest post comes from one of the longest followers of this blog (and its predecessor), Richie Wohlers. Richie is 44-year-old accountant from Southern California who is a Dolphins fan despite never being to Florida. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.


This is the first part in my series looking at the NFL Hall of Fame.  I am going to take a look at which players are in the HOF, and look at some objective attributes of HOFers.  I am only going to focus on players who played any part of their career after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.  While this will include many players who played in the pre-merger days, the bulk of the careers will have at least been played since 1960 with at least 21 combined teams.  Before the AFL came along there were generally many fewer teams, so things like draft position and Pro Bowl/All Pro honors are more difficult to compare.  Also, the game of pro football was much different before the 1950s.  I am mostly going to stick with looking at the few statistics that can be compared across positions, such as All Pros, Approximate Value, etc.

I created a very quick and simple formula to give each player a career score based on the average of six statistical categories (All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Weighted AV, Total AV, Super Bowl Appearances, Super Bowl wins) at a position.  Each category is weighted equally (though, the categories are related, and winning a Super Bowl essentially becomes worth 2 categories).  The average HOF player at each position will have a score of 100.  This makes an easy (though not exhaustive) way to rank careers, and to quickly see if anybody is missing from the HOF.  I feel that using honors (Pro Bowl, All Pro) helps factor in peak value, AV factors in total value and Super Bowls helps factor in players on winning teams, who HOF voters seem to favor.

Today I am taking a look at linebackers. [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post/contest comes from Thomas McDermott, a licensed land surveyor in the State of California, a music theory instructor at Loyola Marymount University, and an NFL history enthusiast. As always, we thank him for his hard work. You can read all of his guest posts at Football Perspective at this link.


The following is a bunch of data I’ve gathered regarding home-field advantage; hopefully some of you will find it useful for analysis, or for picking winners against the spread in your pick’em games this year!

The general consensus is that the home team in a typical NFL game has an advantage of around 2.5 to 3 points, and this is right on: since 1970, the average team wins their regular season home games1 by 2.7 points,2 with a high of 4.6 in 1985 and a low of 0.8 in 2006. If we do a linear regression, we can see that HFA appears to be in decline, but only slightly compared to points per game, which is obviously increasing:

pts hfa [click to continue…]

  1. The HFA number during the playoffs over that same period is 6.5, but that’s probably due to playoff seeding than fan/stadium involvement; it might be interesting to look into this further. []
  2. As far as what causes home teams to have an advantage at home, Brian Burke suggests in this article that it has more to do with environmental familiarity, and other factors, than the effect of screaming fans. []
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Resting Starters Database

Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.


In the same vein as Bryan Frye’s kneel, spike, and first down data and Tom McDermott’s adjusted SRS ratings, I want to contribute some corrections in data distortion. From a stat geek’s perspective, there’s nothing more annoying than strong teams resting their starters in the final week of the season, as it pollutes season long statistics with a game’s worth of junk data. In a 16 game season, even one meaningless outlier can have a big impact on season totals and averages. The most egregious example is the 2004 Eagles, who stormed out to a dominant 13-1 start only to mail in their final two games by a combined score of 58-17. Philly’s season totals look far better (and far more accurate) once those two meaningless games are removed from the sample. I went back to 1993 and noted every game where one team sat their starters and/or played vanilla football with no intention of trying to win. In some instances, a team was clearly going full bore in the first half, then waved the white flag after halftime. In these games, I pulled out the junk data from the second half only.

There are obviously going to be some judgment calls in deciding whether or not a team was really trying to win a given game. For example, this past season’s week 17 matchup between Seattle and Arizona could be viewed two different ways – Arizona was trying to win (at least in the first half) and Seattle just stomped them, or the Cards weren’t really trying even though their starters played the first half. I chose the latter. The one notable game I purposely left out was the week 17 Packers/Lions shootout from 2011. The game was technically meaningless for both teams, and Green Bay kept Rodgers on the bench, but otherwise all the starters played and were clearly playing to win. If the Packers didn’t care, Matt Flynn would not have thrown six TD passes. If you dispute any of the games I’ve listed, I’m happy to discuss and reconsider!

How to read the table: The first five rows are self-explanatory; “Type” designates whether the whole game should be discarded or just the second half; Points, PaTD, and RuTD indicate the points and offensive touchdowns scored during junk time (the stats I believe should be removed from the season data). Defensive numbers can be found by simply looking at the offensive numbers from the team’s opponent.

Team-OppYearWkTypePtsPaTDRuTD
TEN@IND201517Full2412
INDTEN201517Full3020
SEA@ARI201517Full3631
ARISEA201517Full610
WAS@DAL201517Half1010
DALWAS201517Half910
BUF@NE201417Full1711
NEBUF201417Full900
DEN@OAK201317Half300
OAKDEN201317Half1420
BAL@CIN201217Full1702
CINBAL201217Full2310
TB@ATL201117Full2420
ATLTB201117Full4523
OAK@KC201017Full3112
KCOAK201017Full1001
TB@NO201017Half1310
NOTB201017Half600
CIN@NYJ200917Full000
NYJCIN200917Full3704
GB@ARI200917Full3312
ARIGB200917Full710
IND@BUF200917Full701
BUFIND200917Full3030
NYJ@IND200916Half2601
INDNYJ200916Half601
TB@NO200916Half1701
NOTB200916Half000
NE@HOU200917Half1401
HOUNE200917Half2112
NO@CAR200917Full1001
CARNO200917Full2311
ARI@NE200816Full710
NEARI200816Full4732
TEN@IND200817Full000
INDTEN200817Full2310
TEN@IND200717Full1601
INDTEN200717Full1010
SEA@ATL200717Half2421
ATLSEA200717Half2730
IND@SEA200516Full1310
SEAIND200516Full2822
CIN@KC200517Full300
KCCIN200517Full3713
ARI@IND200517Full1310
INDARI200517Full1720
SEA@GB200517Full1711
GBSEA200517Full2311
MIA@NE200517Half1510
NEMIA200517Half1620
PHI@STL200416Full710
STLPHI200416Full2011
ATL@NO200416Full1301
NOATL200416Full2611
ATL@SEA200417Full2620
SEAATL200417Full2822
IND@DEN200417Full1420
DENIND200417Full3321
PIT@BUF200417Full2910
BUFPIT200417Full2402
NYJ@STL200417Full2910
STLNYJ200417Full3231
CIN@PHI200417Full3813
PHICIN200417Full1010
DEN@GB200317Full300
GBDEN200317Full3112
PHI@TB200117Full1720
TBPHI200117Full1301
TEN@PIT199917Half1610
PITTEN199917Half2921
STL@PHI199917Half1420
PHISTL199917Half2110
SF@SEA199717Full900
SEASF199717Full3841
PIT@TEN199717Full600
TENPIT199717Full1601
DEN@SD199617Full1001
SDDEN199617Full1610
SF@MIN199417Full1420
MINSF199417Full2101
DAL@NYG199417Full1001
NYGDAL199417Full1510
PIT@SD199417Half2121
SDPIT199417Half2002
PHI@SF199318Full3730
SFPHI199318Full3422

My plan is to eventually do this all the way back to 1970, then publish the “real” points scored and allowed for each team by prorating the pristine data to a full season.

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Positive Yards Per Attempt (Updated)

Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.


Last year, I introduced a simple alternative to ANY/A called Positive Yards Per Attempt. Today I’m going to update the formula with a few tweaks and more years of data. For those who don’t feel like reading the rationale behind PY/A provided in the link, it basically boils down to this: The magnitude of a QB’s positive plays are a better indicator of skill than the frequency of his negative plays, and positive plays contribute to winning more than negative plays contribute to losing. With this in mind, PY/A only counts yards and touchdowns while ignoring sacks, interceptions, and fumbles. In the updated version, I split air yards and YAC in the years where data is available. Here is the formula:

1992 – Present
PY/A = (Air Yards + YAC/2 + TD Pass *20) / Attempts

1950 – 1991
PY/A = (Pass Yards * 0.8 + TD Pass *20) / Attempts

The next step is to measure PY/A in relation to league average, which I call Relative PY/A or RPY/A. This is simply PY/A – LgPY/A. After calculating RPY/A for every season back to 1950, I noticed a pattern of dome-playing passers rating higher than they should, so I built a weather adjustment. Based on the conditions of each quarterback’s home stadium, I assigned him a bonus or penalty applied on a per play basis. The weather adjustment is not split by attempts at each stadium during a season, as that would be way too much work. These adjustments are arbitrary and almost certainly wrong, but still better than no adjustment at all. You can see the weather adjustment for each QB in the “Wthr” column of the tables.

Now comes the issue of balancing volume and efficiency. This is handled by adding 200 attempts of replacement level ball to each QB’s season total, with replacement level being LgPY/A – 0.5. I must give credit to Neil Paine for this idea, as it’s based on his method of adding 11 games of .500 ball to a team’s record to estimate their “true” winning percentage. After applying the 200 attempt regression to every QB season, I stumbled onto another problem – early AFL and older NFL seasons were rated too highly. I decided to use the regression step as a double for a depth of competition adjustment. The AFL from 1960-64 and NFL from 1950-59 are hit with a sharper regression than the -0.5 used for modern seasons, with the most severe being -2 for the 1960 AFL.

With all the adjustments factored in, we arrive at the final product – True Relative PY/A (abbreviated with the alphabet soupy TRPY/A). The table below shows the top 200 seasons since 1950: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Adam Steele on True QB Talent

Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.


Introduction: QB True Talent

One of the mandates for being a football analytics guy is to create a quarterback rating system, so today I’m going to throw my flag onto the field. However, I’m taking a different approach by asking a different question. I’m not trying to measure individual or team accomplishments, nor am I calculating value or attempting to predict the future. My goal is to answer a simple question: At a fundamental level, how good was he? As far as I’m aware, nobody has made a systematic attempt at answering this. Before we go any further, I need to add a vital disclaimer. My formula is statistically derived, and does not account for supporting cast, coaching, or anything else we can’t measure directly. So when I use the label “True Talent”, it really means “A rough estimate of true talent, based solely on statistics.”

I’ll save the gory micro details of True Talent’s calculation for another post, but today I want to outline how it works and ask for feedback on how to improve it. First, I’ve attempted to isolate what I believe are the four pillars of QB play: Passing Dominance, Passing Consistency, Ball Protection, and Rushing Ability. These categories are weighted by a) their importance within the framework of the overall QB skillet, and b) the level of control a QB has in converting the skill into results. The score for each category is era-adjusted, balanced by volume and efficiency, and scaled so zero is equal to replacement level. The overall True Talent score is simply the sum of the four category scores, minus five (the replacement level bar is higher for overall QB play compared to each of the pillars on their own). The overall score is expressed as percentage above or below replacement level. I’ve purposely rounded all figures to whole numbers to remind readers that these numbers are estimates, not precise measurements.

My plan is to eventually apply True Talent back to the 1940s, but for now we’re going to look at the last twenty seasons (1996-2015). I want to nail down the methodology before I go all the way back through history. Normally I wouldn’t subject readers to an arduously long table, but in this case I think it’s warranted. I want you to see how all levels of QB fare in my system, not just the best and worst. This table includes every QB season since 1996 with at least 100 dropbacks. I encourage you to sort by each category, by season, and by player to really get a feel for True Talent. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Bryan Frye on Adjusted Drive Yards

Friend of the program Bryan Frye is back for another guest post. As regular readers know, Bryan operates his own fantastic site, http://www.thegridfe.com. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts here, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


For some time, I have wanted to create a new metric that used elements from Total Adjusted Yards (TAY) in order to quantify a team’s production on each drive. Past work from both Chase and Brian Burke has given us insight into the value of touchdowns, interceptions, fumbles, and first downs, translated into yards. This work has been fundamental in the development of stats like Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Rushing YardsAdjusted Catch Yards, and TAY.

Those metrics have given us valuable insight regarding statistical measurement of individual player performance. I’ve also used TAY to measure the output of offenses and defenses.

However, I wanted to attach generic values to every way a drive can end.1 This is not a rigorous study, and it is meant to be a starting point for future research rather than a conclusive formula to govern the way anyone interprets on-field action.

With that in mind, I’ll briefly cover the generic yardage values for various drive outcomes. [click to continue…]

  1. With the exception of kneel down drives to end halves or games, as those don’t demonstrate an offense’s (or defense’s) ability to actually play the game. []
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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 combined those two themes in a look at the best wide receivers ever, broken into decades. [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 }

Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.


There have been countless attempts at deducing the clutchiness of NFL quarterbacks, most of which involve tallying playoff wins and Super Bowl rings. Today I’m going to take a stab at the clutch conundrum using a different approach: Pythagorean win projection. If a quarterback’s actual win/loss record diverges significantly from his Pythagorean estimated record, perhaps we can learn something from it. I began this study having no idea how it would turn out, so there were definitely some surprises once I saw the end results. This study evaluates the 219 quarterbacks who started at least 32 games since 1950, including playoffs but excluding the 1960-64 AFL (lack of competitive depth).

Here’s how to read the table, from left to right: points per game scored by the QB’s team in games he started, points per game allowed in his starts, total starts, total wins (counting ties as a half win), Pythagorean projected wins based on the points scored and allowed in his starts (using a 2.37 exponent), and the difference between his actual win total and Pythagorean win projection. [click to continue…]

{ 39 comments }

Today’s post is a follow-up to my recent article on adjusting quarterback stats for schedule length and passing environment. In the original piece, I provided you with single-season stats with various era adjustments made. While my main goal was to glean as much as I could from your opinions, I noticed that some readers also liked looking at the different results based on which adjustments I made. With that in mind, I figured it only made sense to submit the career list as well.

When measuring single seasons, I think value over average is the way to go. However, I believe a lower baseline is in order when looking at entire careers. It seems to me that average play is an overlooked aspect of quarterback evaluation, and guys like Brett Favre or John Elway are significantly underrated by statistical models that compare to league average instead of replacement level. I would say that using a higher threshold shows us who was the most dominant, while using a lower threshold shows us who contributed the most value over an extended period. [click to continue…]

{ 47 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 }

Today’s guest post/contest comes from Thomas McDermott, a licensed land surveyor in the State of California, a music theory instructor at Loyola Marymount University, and an NFL history enthusiast. As always, we thank him for his hard work.


One way we can tell if a quarterback is “clutch” – meaning, he plays well when he absolutely has to – is by looking at his 4th Quarter Comebacks (4QC) and Game Winning Drives (GWD). Below are definitions for both1:

    4th Quarter Comeback: In the 4th quarter, the quarterback leads a scoring drive while being down one score or less that results in the game being tied or his team taking the lead. As long as the QB’s team wins the game, the QB gets credit for the 4QC, even if his scoring drive wasn’t the game-winning drive.

    Game-Winning Drive: In the 4th quarter or overtime, the quarterback leads a scoring drive that results in his team taking the lead (meaning, breaking a tie or overcoming a deficit) for the last time.

[click to continue…]

  1. As many of you already know, Scott Kacsmar did a ton of great work in this area; his “Quarterbacks and fourth quarter comebacks” article at the old PFR Blog provides all the information you’ll ever need about 4QC/GWDs. []
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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 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…]

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Over at TheGridFe, I just finished the single season portion of my series on the (statistically) greatest regular season quarterback performances in NFL history. I’ve discussed the stats, as they are, which always seem to paint modern quarterbacks in a much better light. I’ve prorated for season length, which can sometimes produce a few curious results. I’ve also applied both hard and soft inflation adjustments to account for the evolution of the position and increase in its usage rate.1 After talking with Adam Steele and agreeing that maybe even the most moderate approach still left seasons like Sid Luckman’s 1943 or Dan Fouts’s 1982 getting far more credit than they probably should. So I went ahead and made an even weaker era adjustment, which I will discuss briefly in this post, to try to mitigate the effects of the original modifications.

My main purpose for writing today isn’t to give you another list of great quarterback seasons, although I will do that as well. My goal is to solicit the opinions of the Football Perspective readers, whom I respect for their thoughtful and reasoned nature. I have two primary questions: [click to continue…]

  1. I also presented TAY/P+ scores, but that’s not particularly relevant to this discussion. Check it out anyway, though. []
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Guest Post: Bryan Frye on Existential Bridesmaids

Friend of the program Bryan Frye is back for another guest post. As regular readers know, Bryan operates his own fantastic site, http://www.thegridfe.com. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts here, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


As the sickle of death swings ever-closer to your head, and you sit and ponder the meaninglessness of it all, it can be easy to think of all those times you crawled and scratched but still failed to reach the mountaintop. Kurt Vonnegut once mused that many people desperately need to hear the message that they are not alone. I’m here to deliver that message. Here are a bunch of other losers who, like you, gave their all and were found wanting.1

Completed PassesDrew Brees, 2010

In 2010, Drew Brees completed 448 passes, which stands as the fifth highest mark in history. However, Peyton Manning set the all-time record that year, completing 450 passes. Don’t feel bad for Brees. He broke the record the following year and passed Manning’s total again in 2014. [click to continue…]

  1. To be more specific, these are the highest ranking seasons in history, in various categories, that failed to top their own year. []
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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.


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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Last offseason, Adam Steele helped administer a Wisdom of Crowds experiment on running backs and quarterbacks. Today, an update from Adam, along with some news. Below are Adam’s words:


Thanks to the opportunities Chase has given me at FP to publish my research and writing, I’ve decided to branch off and start my own website, quarterbacks.com. Ultimately, my mission for this site is to build the most complete database of NFL quarterbacks on the internet, a resource for statistics, history, opinion pieces, and FP-esque engagement among the readership. However, I can’t do this alone, so consider this an open invitation to the FP faithful to collaborate with me for this admittedly ambitious project. I welcome all types of submissions, including custom stats you’d like to publish and op-eds about anything related to NFL quarterbacks. If you think a certain QB is overrated or underrated and want to make a case for him, send it to me! At this juncture, the site is still under construction, and it will be a month or two before anything is published, so consider this the foundation building stage. For any aspiring writers out there, I’d like to help give you the same opportunity Chase gave me. Please email all inquiries and submissions to quarterbacks1031@gmail.com.


Wisdom of the Crowds: Ideas

Last offseason, Football Perspective ran crowdsourcing experiments to determine the greatest quarterbacks and running backs of all time. Given the amount of interest the community showed in WotC, I will be running more crowdsourcing projects this offseason! Before any votes are cast, I want your feedback on what you’d like to see in this year’s iterations. I definitely want to run a WotC for wide receivers (didn’t happen last year) and quarterbacks again (draws by far the most interest), but I’m certainly open to doing more if the readership desires. What other positions or units would you like to see crowdsourced?

Last year there were three main problems that I’d like to address and fix before the next go-around:

1) Lack of precision from ordinal rankings. An ordered list may be the simplest method to evaluate players, but it’s not the most accurate. Ordinal rankings don’t allow the voter to show the magnitude of difference between players. For example, if you think two players are head and shoulders ahead of the pack, that won’t be reflected in the linear gap between #2 and #3. My proposed solution is to switch from rankings to ratings, most likely on a 1-10 scale.

2) Difficulty comparing players across eras. It’s hard to compare a modern player with someone from the 50’s, and a number of participants last year voiced their struggle in dealing with this. I think the best solution is to separate players into groups based on their era, then rate all the players from each era together. This would help voters put players in proper context, knowing that we’re evaluating them only in relation to their direct peers. I would then take the winner from each era and put him in a pool for the overall GOAT title, which would involve a re-vote.

3) Voters accidentally leaving players off their ballot. Even for a football historian, it’s a daunting task to pick out X number of players from everyone in history who’s ever played the position. With an open ballot, it’s easy to forget a few players by accident, which several participants lamented in last year’s edition. This year, I’d strongly prefer to use a ballot with a predetermined pool of players for each participant to rate. I’m thinking maybe 15-20 players per era depending on the position. This solves the issue of forgetting players, forces voters to think about players they might not otherwise have, and provides statistical symmetry since every player will receive the same number of ratings.

Now I’ll open the forum to the FP readership. What do you think of my proposed changes? For those of you who participated last year, what did you like and dislike about it? I welcome any suggestions to make Wisdom of the Crowds a better experience for all!

Oh, and one note from Chase: does anyone have any recommendations on how to automate this process? That would obviously save us lots of time on the back end.

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Longtime commenter Jason Winter has chimed in with today’s guest post. Jason is a part-time video game journalist and full-time sports fan. You can read more of him at his blog: https://jasonwinter.wordpress.com/, and follow him on twitter at @winterinformal.

As always, we thank Jason for contributing.


The 2016 NFL Draft is over, and that means just one thing: It’s time to start talking about the 2017 NFL Draft! Or at least, it’s time to start publishing 2017 mock drafts, for all those sweet, sweet clicks.

A lot can happen in a year, of course. Draft status can go up or down based on a number of factors, from a player’s performance during his final college season to injuries to combine performance to… well, whatever happened to Laremy Tunsil. The draft order – whether set by a team’s record or trades – also plays a significant part. Is it really possible to accurately predict how the draft will go a year in advance? Or is it just a cheap ploy to get people to look at your website?

In the two weeks following last year’s draft, I copied first-round mock drafts from 10 different sources around the web, to see how they would stack up with the real results a year later. Sample size warnings are obvious; this is just one year, just 10 people’s mock drafts, and maybe the draft class was especially predictable or unpredictable. Still, it was a fun project, and I plan to do the same thing with mock drafts this year and see how they stack up in 2017.

All the mock drafts from a year ago were published before Deflategate penalties were handed out, so they have 32 picks, including one from New England. As such, for this article, when I refer to “first round,” I’ll be including the first 32 picks of the 2016 draft, including Emmanuel Ogbah, selected by Cleveland with the first pick of the second round.

I applied two different scoring systems to each mock draft. The first, which I call the “Strict” method, better rewards exact or very close hits: 10 points for getting a pick’s position exactly right; 8 points for being 1 pick off; 6 for being 2 off; 4 for being 3-4 off; 3 for being 5-8 off; 2 for being 9-16 off; and 1 for being 17-32 off. [click to continue…]

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Recently, I posted a quick and dirty method to measure quarterback career value above average and above replacement. I used Adjusted Yards per Pass Attempt as the foundational stat because its inputs (yards, touchdowns, interceptions, and attempts) are on record back to 1932.

Today, I wanted to use the same model with Adjusted Net Yards per Dropback (ANY/A) as the base metric. I believe ANY/A is a more accurate reflection of quarterback production, but it does have the downside of only being recorded back to 1969 in Pro Football Reference’s database.

Thus, while the previous post covered every passer in the official stat era, this post will only cover value added since 1969. This means greats like Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman are completely overlooked, while legends like Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath only have their worst years included (an unfortunate byproduct of this study’s limitations, to be sure).

In case you didn’t want to click back through the previous article to see the details of the formula, I’ll briefly cover the basics here: [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Testing the Tape on Running Back Metrics

Brian Malone, a writer for dynastyleaguefootball.com, has put together a great guest post today. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrianMaloneFF. Thanks to Brian for today’s article!


Testing the Tape

Projecting a player’s NFL potential from his college football performance is something like predicting a player’s potential as a tennis pro from his performance in the collegiate racquetball club.  Sure, there’s correlation, but the variance in level of competition and style of play create ample noise.  No wonder folks on Twitter spend hours debating hand size: at least it’s a standardized measure, and it’s not obviously worse than things like collegiate yards per carry.

The better approach is film study.  Unfortunately, I’m not any  good at it.  Indeed, I don’t even know how to tell whether anyone else is any good at it.  But that’s a problem we can attack.  And the natural starting point is Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP), which has the benefits of quantified observations, independent analysis, and a 10-year history.

The RSP includes a checklist of observed skills and abilities, including things like “Runs behind pads/Good pad level” and “Catches ball with proper hands technique.”  The RSP assigns a weight to each and combines them into what I’ll call trait scores (i.e., “Power” and “Balance”) and an overall score.

Note the three steps to this process: (1) observing the skills and abilities; (2) assessing the importance of observed skills and abilities to each trait; and (3) assessing the importance of each trait to a player’s overall ability.  The first step is off limits: we’ll take the observations as given.  But the others are fair game: we have the tools to use Waldman’s observations, plus a little math, to build a traits-based model for predicting a prospect’s success. [click to continue…]

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