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The best and worst wide receiver records

On Tuesday, I looked at running back records and argued that Steven Jackson had taken the mantle from Ollie Matson as the most prominent elite running back to have toiled for losing teams for the majority of his career. It’s easy to feel bad for a player like Jackson, relegated to consistent attack as the focal point of opposing defenses for a decade, continuously grinding out yardage while playing for bad teams.

Things are a little different for wide receivers. In fact, it’s often easier for wide receivers to produce better stats while playing for bad teams, since trailing teams are forced to throw later in games. Further, wide receivers don’t face the constant pounding that running backs encounter, making them slightly less sympathetic figures. Still, it’s an interesting question, and one that’s easy enough to answer. Which wide receivers have played for the best and worst teams? Any guesses? The results, after the jump.

The table below shows the career weighted winning percentages1 for the 100 wide receivers with the most receiving yards in NFL history.2

PlayerRec YdWin %YearsTeams
Fred Biletnikoff89740.7751965--1978OAK
Cliff Branch86850.7471972--1984OAK-RAI
Don Hutson79910.7451935--1945GNB
Paul Warfield85650.7341964--1977CLE-MIA
Drew Pearson78220.7211973--1983DAL
Bob Hayes74140.711965--1975DAL-SFO
Reggie Wayne117080.6982001--2011IND
Jerry Rice228950.6811985--2004SFO-OAK-SEA
Nat Moore75460.6751974--1986MIA
Tony Hill79880.6691977--1986DAL
Jimmy Orr79140.6551958--1970PIT-BAL
Rod Smith113890.6481995--2006DEN
Antonio Gates77830.6482003--2011SDG
Plaxico Burress84570.6432000--2011PIT-NYG-NYJ
Hines Ward120830.6371998--2011PIT
Lance Alworth102660.6371962--1972SDG-DAL
Shannon Sharpe100600.6361990--2003DEN-BAL
Gary Clark108560.6351985--1995WAS-PHO-ARI-MIA
Mark Duper88690.6341983--1992MIA
Art Monk127210.6331980--1995WAS-NYJ-PHI
Marvin Harrison145800.6281996--2008IND
Ed McCaffrey74220.6271991--2003NYG-SFO-DEN
Michael Irvin119040.6241988--1999DAL
John Stallworth87230.6231974--1987PIT
Raymond Berry92750.6221955--1967BAL
Mark Clayton89740.6021983--1993MIA-GNB
Cris Carter138990.5951987--2002PHI-MIN-MIA
Randy Moss148580.5931998--2010MIN-OAK-NWE-TEN
Donald Driver100600.5911999--2011GNB
Eric Martin81610.591985--1994NOR-KAN
Tony Martin90650.5871990--2001MIA-SDG-ATL
Andre Reed131980.5811985--2000BUF-WAS
Roddy White73740.5812005--2011ATL
Terrell Owens159340.5791996--2010SFO-PHI-DAL-BUF-CIN
Keenan McCardell113730.5781992--2007CLE-JAX-TAM-SDG-WAS
Derrick Mason120610.5741997--2011TEN-BAL-NYJ-HOU
Jimmy Smith122870.5731995--2005JAX
Jason Witten79090.5632003--2011DAL
Terry Glenn88230.5631996--2006NWE-GNB-DAL
Anthony Carter77330.5541985--1994MIN-DET
Charley Taylor91100.551964--1977WAS
Ernest Givins82150.5451986--1995HOU-JAX
Stanley Morgan107160.5441977--1990NWE-IND
Amani Toomer94970.5371996--2008NYG
Harold Jackson103720.5371969--1983PHI-RAM-NWE-SEA
Torry Holt133820.5321999--2009STL-JAX
Keyshawn Johnson105710.5311996--2006NYJ-TAM-DAL-CAR
Steve Smith102780.5282001--2011CAR
Charlie Joiner121460.5261969--1986HOU-CIN-SDG
Jackie Smith79180.5231963--1977STL
Art Powell80460.5181960--1968NYT-OAK-BUF-MIN
Tim Brown149340.5161988--2004RAI-OAK-TAM
Don Maynard118340.5131958--1973NYG-NYT-NYJ-STL
Wesley Walker83060.5131977--1989NYJ
Muhsin Muhammad114380.5121996--2009CAR-CHI
Isaac Bruce152080.5121994--2009RAM-STL-SFO
James Lofton140040.5071978--1993GNB-RAI-BUF-PHI-RAM
Drew Hill98310.5071979--1993RAM-HOU-ATL
Carroll Dale82770.5051960--1973RAM-GNB-MIN
Joe Horn87440.5041996--2007KAN-NOR-ATL
Webster Slaughter81110.5011986--1998CLE-HOU-KAN-NYJ-SDG
Tony Gonzalez133380.51997--2011KAN-ATL
Andre Rison102050.4951989--2000IND-ATL-CLE-JAX-GNB-KAN-OAK
Ozzie Newsome79800.4941978--1990CLE
Steve Largent130890.4921976--1989SEA
Chris Chambers76480.4912001--2010MIA-SDG-KAN
Herman Moore91740.491991--2001DET
Eric Moulds99950.4861996--2007BUF-HOU-TEN
Bobby Engram77510.4811996--2009CHI-SEA-KAN
Sterling Sharpe81340.4811988--1994GNB
Anthony Miller91480.4761988--1997SDG-DEN-DAL
Roy Jefferson75390.4751965--1976PIT-BAL-WAS
Joey Galloway109500.4721995--2010SEA-DAL-TAM-NWE-WAS
Laveranues Coles86090.4712000--2009NYJ-WAS-CIN
Anquan Boldin92440.4692003--2011ARI-BAL
Irving Fryar127850.4681984--2000NWE-MIA-PHI-WAS
Harold Carmichael89850.4671971--1984PHI-DAL
Eddie Kennison83450.4651996--2007STL-NOR-CHI-KAN-DEN
Gary Garrison75380.4631966--1977SDG-HOU
Chad Ochocinco110590.4632001--2011CIN-NWE
Terance Mathis88090.461990--2002NYJ-ATL-PIT
Pete Retzlaff74120.4591956--1966PHI
Santana Moss91420.4582001--2011NYJ-WAS
Haven Moses80910.4561968--1981BUF-DEN
Roy Green89650.4551979--1992STL-PHO-PHI
Wes Chandler89660.4531978--1988NOR-SDG-SFO
Bill Brooks80010.4531986--1996IND-BUF-WAS
Henry Ellard137770.4521983--1998RAM-WAS-NWE
Bobby Mitchell79540.4481958--1968CLE-WAS
Johnnie Morton87190.4471994--2005DET-KAN-SFO
Larry Fitzgerald96150.4452004--2011ARI
Tommy McDonald84100.4451957--1968PHI-DAL-RAM-ATL-CLE
Ricky Proehl88780.4431990--2006PHO-ARI-SEA-CHI-STL-CAR-IND
Brian Blades76200.4421988--1998SEA
Andre Johnson96560.4332003--2011HOU
Jeff Graham81720.411991--2001PIT-CHI-NYJ-PHI-SDG
Mark Carrier87630.3941987--1998TAM-CLE-CAR
Rob Moore93680.3831990--1999NYJ-ARI
Curtis Conway82300.3681993--2004CHI-SDG-NYJ-SFO
Billy Howton84590.3491952--1963GNB-CLE-DAL

Fred Biletnikoff stuck to winning his whole career.

None of the names at the top of the list are surprising. Biletnikoff played during a sustained period of success in Oakland, and he and Branch take the top two spots on the list. Paul Warfield played on Blanton Collier’s success Browns teams before being traded to the Dolphins right before Miami became one of the league’s best teams. Reggie Wayne spent nine of his first 10 seasons on 10+ win teams in Indianapolis. Had I written this article a year ago, Wayne would be second on the list with a 0.750 weighted winning percentage. From the ages of 23 to 40, Jerry Rice played on 16 teams that won at least 10 games.

On the other side of the ledger, it is Billy Howton bringing up the rear with the single worst career record of any receiver with at least 7,500 career receiving yards. Howton is forgotten by most fans today because of the miserable teams he starred on, but he’s a name football historians know well. Howton was drafted by the Packers and touted in 1952 by some to be the next Don Hutson; he didn’t take long to deliver on his potential. Howton shattered two rookie receiving records, becoming the first rookie to ever record 1,000 receiving yards or more than 10 touchdowns in a season. Howton languished in Green Bay for six seasons as the Packers went 26-52-2 from ’52 to ’58. When Vince Lombardi arrived, one of his first moves was to trade Howton to Cleveland, ostensibly because Howton wasn’t a good blocker and therefore not a fit in the Packers offense. Some, including Howton, believed that Lombardi traded him because he was the head of the first ever NFL Players Association, and Lombardi did not approve of having such a player on his roster. Others, like David Maraniss, thought the trade was more about acquiring halfback Lew Carpenter and defensive end Bill Quinlan than about trading Howton. In any event, Howton spent a year with the run-heavy Cleveland Browns before being acquired by the Cowboys in the expansion draft. Dallas would go 13-38-3 in Howton’s four years with the team. He retired after the 1963 season as the all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yards, passing Don Hutson in both instances. You can listen to an old PFR podcast where Doug talked about Howton here, too.

Carl Pickens would rather lose one more game than get tackled by Ray Lewis.

If you lower the threshold to 5,000 career receiving yards, Carl Pickens (0.340) and Darnay Scott (0.334), who suffered together for years in Cincinnati, had it even worse than Howton. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson has a career weighted winning percentage of 0.328, while the bottom two spots on the list are reserved for Broncos great Lionel Taylor (0.293) and Archie Manning’s favorite target, Danny Abramowicz (0.289). To find a receiver with a higher weighted winning percentage than Biletnikoff, you need to drop the threshold to under 4,000 career receiving yards. Browns Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli had a weighted winning percentage of 0.789 in the NFL. If you include Lavelli’s time with the Browns in the AAFC, the teams he went on went an incredible 110-24-4 (0.812).

  1. As was the case in the running backs post, I am using each player’s weighted average winning percentage, weighted based on the amount of receiving yards he gained in a season. For Chad Ochocino, the 2011 Patriots don’t count for 9% of his career record even though he spent one of his eleven seasons in New England. He gained only 2.5% of his career receiving yards with the Patriots, so only 2.5% of his weighted winning percentage is based on New England’s 13-3 record last season. Since he gained 13% of his career receiving yards on the 7-9 Bengals in 2007, 13% of his weighted winning percentage will be based on the Bengals’ 0.438 winning percentage that year. []
  2. Note that this time, I’ve pro-rated all seasons of fewer than 16 games to 16-game seasons. This feels more appropriate, and probably should have been done in the Jackson/Matson post. []
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