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Brown was number one in 2014

Brown was number one in 2014

You may recall that in 2013, Antonio Brown led the NFL in True Receiving Yards, which felt controversial at the time. Remember, Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon were the runaway choices by the Associated Press as the top receivers in the NFL; in addition, A.J. Green also received more votes, and Demaryius Thomas finished with as many votes as Brown.

Well, Brown has done it again, but I doubt it will surprise many people this time around. Brown led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards, and received 49 of 50 first-team All-Pro votes. Regular readers are familiar with the concept of True Receiving Yards, but let’s walk through the system using Brown and Dez Bryant, who jumps from 8th in receiving yards to 4th in True Receiving Yards. [click to continue…]


Leading Receivers Trivia



Roger Craig, 1985.

Terrell Owens, 1999.
Terrell Owens, 2000.
Tim Brown, 2001.

Neil Paine wrote a fantastic post today at 538 about wide receivers competing with their teammates for production. That inspired me to start crunching some numbers. From 1985 to 2003, Jerry Rice played in at least 8 games in 18 different seasons. In fourteen of those seasons — including every year from age 24 through age 36, inclusive — Rice led his team in receiving yards per game. In the other four years, Rice ranked 2nd on his team in receiving yards per game, and usually not far behind the number one man.1 Rice finished his career with a forgettable season in Seattle, where three more players — Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson, and Bobby Engram — out-gained a 42-year-old Rice in receiving yards per game.

What about Marvin Harrison? He led the Colts in receiving yards per game in nine of his 12 seasons in which he played in at least eight games. In 1997, Sean Dawkins edged a Harrison by 3.3 yards per game. In 2004, Reggie Wayne bested Harrison by six yards per game. And in Harrison’s final year, both Wayne and Dallas Clark outgained Harrison. [click to continue…]

  1. In ’85, Craig averaged 63.5 YPG, while Rice averaged 57.9. In 2000, Rice led the team in receiving yards, but Owens averaged 53.9 yards per game, Rice 51.9. Owens blew Rice out of the water in 2000; in 2001, Brown edged him, 72.8-71.2. []

Brown was number one in 2013

Brown was number one in 2013.

Wide receiver is a notoriously difficult position to analyze using statistics. Era adjustments are arguably more important here than at any other position, but even within the same season it is not easy to compare wide receivers. Most people, myself included, would probably say that Josh Gordon or Calvin Johnson was the best wide receiver in football in 2013. Gordon, after all, led the NFL in receiving yards despite missing two games, while Johnson is well, Megatron. If you place more emphasis on other metrics, you would be interested to know that Pierre Garcon led the NFL in receptions, while Jimmy Graham led all players in receiving touchdowns (and Demaryius Thomas led all wide receivers in that statistic).

But, as you can tell from the title of this post, it was Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown who led all players in True Receiving Yards. Regular readers are familiar with the concept of True Receiving Yards, but walking through the system with both Brown and Gordon will serve as a useful reminder.

Let’s start by recognizing that Brown’s season was special in its own right: he became the first player to record 50 receiving yards in 16 different games in a single season. He also finished 2nd in both receptions and receiving yards, so it doesn’t take much processing through the True Receiving Yards machine to vault Brown into first place. He ended the year with a 110-1499-8 stat line, while Gordon finished 2013 with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine scores.

The first step in the True Receiving Yards calculation is to convert each player’s stat line into a single statistic, Adjusted Catch Yards. By giving each player 5 yards for each reception and 20 yards for each touchdown, Brown is credited with 2,209 Adjusted Catch Yards and Gordon 2,261, making them the top two players in 2013 by that metric. [click to continue…]



The consensus view on John Elway is clear. He was the greatest draft prospect ever, a league MVP, a two-time Super Bowl champion, a Hall of Famer, and one of the most clutch quarterbacks in football history.

But that’s not necessarily what the numbers say. In my quarterback ranking system, which rewards efficiency and longevity and adjusts for era, Elway only ranked as the 26th best regular-season quarterback of all time. If you’re so inclined, it’s not hard to find the numbers to argue that Elway – at least until Mike Shanahan returned to Denver as head coach in 1995 — was overrated. Consider:

  • Over the first 10 years of his career, Elway threw 158 touchdowns and 157 interceptions.
  • Elway never led the NFL in passer rating, completion percentage, touchdowns, yards per attempt, or Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Elway didn’t finish in the top ten in passer rating until his eleventh season in the league. In Net Yards per Attempt, Elway ranked in the top 10 just once from 1983 to 1994 (a first-place finish in ’87); in ANY/A, Elway’s only top ten finishes during his first ten seasons were in ’86 (10th) and ’87 (4th).
  • Elway ranks fourth all-time in passing yards, but that’s because he ranks fourth in career pass attempts. While he led the NFL in passing yards in 1993, Elway only finished in the top five in passing yards four times in his career: 1985 (2nd), 1987 (4th), 1990 (5th), and 1995 (5th).
  • Elway ranked 2nd in passing touchdowns in 1993, the only time he finished in the top 5 in that metric from 1983 to 1995. Despite throwing the fourth most pass attempts in NFL history, he ranks only 7th in passing touchdowns. In eight of sixteen seasons, including seven of his first ten years, Elway produced a below-average touchdown rate.

Here’s another interesting stat: from 1983 to 1992, the Broncos were slightly better on defense than offense. Over that time period, Denver’s Offensive SRS average was +1.01 while their Defensive SRS was +1.32. On average, the Broncos ranked 12th in points scored and 11th in points allowed. Those Denver teams are remembered as Elway’s teams — and perhaps rightly so — but the defense was just as valuable as the offense.1
[click to continue…]

  1. On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that the ’83-’92 Broncos won more games than their Pythagorean record would have predicted, so perhaps Elway was responsible for more wins than his passing numbers would indicate. []