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James Lofton is the Yards Per Catch King

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

Lofton tries to hide from the creamsicle uniforms.

Lofton tries to hide from the creamsicle uniforms.

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

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

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


Jones catches another bomb

Jones catches another bomb.

In November, I noted that Chris Johnson was the career leader in average length of rushing touchdown. Since then, he’s actually dropped to number two, as his six rushing touchdowns covered “only” 84 yards in November and December. But what about the career leader in average length of receiving touchdown?

That title belongs to former Giants wide receiver Homer Jones.  A star in the late ’60s, 19 of Jones’ 36 career touchdowns went for 50 or more yards. The table below shows all 413 players to record at least 35 receiving touchdowns (including the postseason) from 1940 to 2013.  While Jones leads in average touchdown length, I think it makes more sense to sort the list by median touchdown length, although that doesn’t matter much for Jones.  For each player listed, I’ve included both their average and median touchdown length, the years they played, and a best guess at their primary position.  The table by default shows 50 entries, but you can change that; in addition, the table is fully sortable and searchable. [click to continue…]


Why did I have to play with Matt  Moore?

Why did I have to play with Matt Moore?

While reading the always excellent Football Outsiders Almanac, I was reminded that Brandon Marshall has had 1,000-yard seasons playing with Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore (and, of course, Cutler again in Chicago). That’s pretty impressive for a player in his twenties, although regular readers know that I’m a big fan of Marshall.

Two other active players have gained 1,000 yards with four different quarterbacks. For the remainder of this post, I’ll be defining a receiver’s “quarterback” as the quarterback on his team each season who threw for the most passing yards. One of them is pretty obvious: the annually great Tony Gonzalez hit the 1,000-yard mark with Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Damon Huard, and Tyler Thigpen (but not Matt Ryan). The third player might be a bit more difficult to guess:
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Super Bowl XLVII Preview

Before we get to my preview, I feel the need to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:

The Ravens can stop the zone read, but at what cost?

In Colin Kaepernick’s nine starts, the 49ers have averaged 159 rushing yards per game on 4.9 yards per rush and have rushed for 14 touchdowns; at the same time, they’ve averaged 8.1 ANY/A through the air. That makes them close to unstoppable, much like the Seahawks when Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch were dominating defenses over that same stretch.

The Packers could not stop the Pistol offense.

The Packers chose to let Kaepernick beat them on the ground. He did.

For San Francisco, their dominance starts up front, and their offensive line needs only sustained success to rival what the lines of the ’90s Cowboys or ’00 Chiefs delivered. According to Pro Football Focus, left tackle Joe Staley is the best tackle in the league, while right tackle Anthony Davis is the second best run-blocking tackle in the league (behind only Staley). PFF ranks both Mike Iupati and Alex Boone as top-five guards in the league, and places both of them in the top three when it comes to run blocking. Center Jonathan Goodwin also ranks as an above-average center, and the 34-year-old veteran is more than capable of anchoring a line filled with Pro Bowl caliber players. As if that wasn’t enough, Vernon Davis is one of the top two-way tight ends in the league, while TE/H-Back/FB Delanie Walker and FB Bruce Miller provide excellent support in the run game.

Without any schematic advantage, the 49ers have enough talented beef up front to have a dominate running game. But add in what Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have been able to do with the Pistol formation and the zone read, and you have a running game that borders on unstoppable.

We saw that against the Packers, as Colin Kaepernick broke the single-game rushing record by a quarterback. The beauty of the zone read is that it gives the offense an extra blocker, an advantage the 49ers didn’t need. After the Packers were shredded by Kaepernick, the Falcons focused on containing the quarterback. Take a look at the photograph below, courtesy of Ben Muth of Football Outsiders.
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I was planning on ignoring the latest Randy Moss news, using that word liberally as it applies to things said on media day. In case you missed it, Moss said yesterday that he believes he is the greatest receiver of all time. Moss is an obvious future Hall of Famer, but Jason Lisk gave Moss’ comments the appropriate treatment yesterday.

Today, though, Moss upped the ante by noting that “Jerry Rice had two Hall of Fame QBs his whole career. Give me that and see where my numbers are.” Yes, Rice was fortunate to play with Joe Montana and Steve Young, , but there is a pretty simple response to that. I wrote that response when Rice was a finalist for the Hall of Fame three years ago. You can read the full HOF profile I wrote on Rice, but I’ve reprinted Part III below:
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Not doing a squirrel dance.

Not doing a squirrel dance.

On Sunday, I looked at how the football legacies of certain Ravens would be affected by a win in Super Bowl XLVII; today I will do the same for the 49ers. And the best place to start is with the only surefire Hall of Famer on the team.

Randy Moss turns 36 in a couple of weeks, and he’s caught just 56 passes over the last three years. Super Bowl XLVII may not be his final game, but it probably will be Moss’ last chance to give us one final “Randy Moss” moment. Moss will one day be in the Hall of Fame, despite the fact that he rubbed many fans, sportswriters, teammates, coaches, owners, and a few referees the wrong way. But Moss is a six-time Pro Bowler, a four-time first-team AP All-Pro, and ranks 9th in career receptions, 3rd in career receiving yards, and 2nd in career receiving touchdowns. He’s had 64 100-yard games in his career, second only to Jerry Rice. He’s produced despite a relatively unstable quarterback situation for much of his career (admittedly, some of this was due to Moss): over one-third of his career receiving yards came from Daunte Culpepper, and no other single quarterback was responsible for even twenty percent of his yards. When he finally got a HOF-caliber quarterback, Moss broke the single-season record for receiving touchdowns in a season. But even before New England and Tom Brady, Moss had established himself as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. If the 49ers win on Sunday, he’ll be like a modern Lance Alworth, who won a forgettable ring with the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.

It’s fitting that Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis are in the Super Bowl together. Willis was only 11 years old when Lewis entered the NFL, and Willis has modeled his game and his uniform number after Lewis. And in turn, if any linebacker has resembled Lewis over the last decade, it’s Willis, and there will be a figurative passing of the torch on Sunday. Even if he isn’t the next Ray Lewis, Willis has paved his own path towards Canton: he has been a first-team All-Pro choice by the Associated Press in five of his first six seasons. Lawrence Taylor, Eric Dickerson, Jerry Rice, Gale Sayers, and Reggie White are the only other NFL players since 1960 to be selected as a first-team AP All-Pro five or more times in their first six seasons. Absent a serious injury or a shocking career turn, Willis will one day be a Hall of Famer himself, but it sure can’t hurt to add a Lombardi Trophy to the resume.
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Franchise leaders — receiving stats

On Wednesday, we looked at the franchise leaders in various passing categories; yesterday we did the same exercise with rushing stats. Well, let’s close out Friday with a look at the career leaders in the key receiving categories.

Did you know: only one player who leads his franchise in career receptions retired before the 1978 rules changes:

TeamRecReceiverLast Yr
GNB735Donald Driver
HOU706Andre Johnson
CAR699Steve Smith
ARI693Larry Fitzgerald
SDG593Antonio Gates
PIT1000Hines Ward2011
CIN751Chad Ochocinco2010
BAL471Derrick Mason2010
IND1102Marvin Harrison2008
KAN916Tony Gonzalez2008
NYG668Amani Toomer2008
STL942Isaac Bruce2007
NWE557Troy Brown2007
DEN849Rod Smith2006
JAX862Jimmy Smith2005
OAK1070Tim Brown2003
MIN1004Cris Carter2001
DET670Herman Moore2001
ATL573Terance Mathis2001
SFO1281Jerry Rice2000
BUF941Andre Reed1999
DAL750Michael Irvin1999
TEN542Ernest Givins1994
WAS888Art Monk1993
NOR532Eric Martin1993
MIA550Mark Clayton1992
CLE662Ozzie Newsome1990
SEA819Steve Largent1989
TAM430James Wilder1989
CHI492Walter Payton1987
PHI589Harold Carmichael1983
NYJ627Don Maynard1972

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