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Was Calvin Johnson’s 329-yard Game The Best Ever By a WR?

by Chase Stuart on October 29, 2013

in Receiving, Statgeekery

Cowboys defense know the back of their hands like the back of Megatron's jersey

Cowboys defenders know the back of their hands like the back of Megatron's jersey.

On Sunday, Calvin Johnson picked up 329 receiving yards against the Cowboys, the second most receiving yards in a single game after Flipper Anderson’s 336 yards in 1989 against the Saints. But when I think of the greatest games by a receiver of all time, my mind instantly goes to a performance by Kansas City’s Stephone Paige in a game in December 1985 against the Chargers. Regular readers will recall that this summer, Neil Paine and I developed a statistic known as True Receiving Yards. You can see a list of the leaders in TRY since 1950 here, but today I want to apply that same methodology on the single-game level. After crunching the numbers, Paige comes in at #2, Megatron’s performance comes in at #11, and Anderson is all the way down at #26. Why? How? Glad you asked. And I’ll keep the top spot a secret for now, in case anyone wants to guess.

1) First, we convert receiving yards into Adjusted Catch Yards by giving a five-yard bonus for receptions and a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns. Johnson had 419 ACY against the Cowboys, tied with Jerry Rice (against the ’95 Vikings) for the third highest mark since 1960.  The top spot belongs to Anderson at 431 (and personal favorite Jimmy Smith holds the number two spot for his performance against the 2000 Ravens). Paige — who produced an 8-309-2 stat line — totaled 389 Adjusted Catch Yards.

2) Next, we convert back to receiving yards by multiplying each receiver’s ACY by the league average ratio of receiving yards to Adjusted Catch Yards in that season. The point of using ACY instead of receiving yards is to include things other than receiving yards, but we still want to convert back into receiving yards. In 1985, the ACY/RecYd ratio was 0.66, in ’89 it was 0.66, and through eight weeks, that number is 0.65 in 2013, so not much is changing here. After step two, Anderson is at 286.6 receiving yards, Johnson 270.9 yards, and Paige 258.0 yards.

3) The third step is the pass attempts adjustment. The league average team team this year has averaged 38.7 attempts (including sacks) in 2013, while Matthew Stafford had 49 dropbacks yesterday. This means the Lions passed 26.6% more often than the average team. So what sort of adjustment do we make? In True Receiving Yards version 2.0, we split that number in half. I tried that here, and honestly, the numbers just didn’t look right — the top of the list was almost exclusively players on teams that had 10 or 12 pass attempts in that game. So instead of contracting the difference between pass attempts and league average pass attempts by two, I’m going to do it by three. So Johnson only gets downgraded to 91.1% of his production, or 246.9 yards.

Anderson’s record-breaking performance came in overtime in a game the Rams trailed by 14 entering the fourth quarter. As a result, Jim Everett had 57 dropbacks in a time period when 34.5 attempts was the norm.  So with Los Angeles having 65.3% more attempts than the average team that year, we have to lower Anderson from 286.6 to 224.1.

Paige, meanwhile, goes far in the other direction. The Chiefs took a 35-3 second quarter lead that day — in no small part due to Paige’s touchdown receptions of 56 and 84 yards — so Kansas City was limited to just 24 dropbacks. The average number of dropbacks in ’85 was 35.1, putting the Chiefs at just 68.4% of league average. Therefore, we bump up Paige by 15.4%, vaulting him from 258 yards to 297.9.

4) The final adjustment is the era adjustment. I’m going to use a different way to incorporate era adjustments here, because while passing yards have shot through the roof, the value of a team’s #1 wide receiver has been much less volatile. So I used the following baseline for each year: the number of Adjusted Catch Yards in the Nth best receiving game, when 2N = the number of team games in that season. So in modern times, with 512 games, this means the 256th highest ACY total in that season is the baseline; in 2011 and 2012, that was 135 Adjusted Catch Yards. From 1960 to 2012, the average was 124.3.1

So what we do now is multiply each receiver’s score from step three by the baseline for that year, and divide by 124.3. I will use the same 135 as the baseline for 2013, which brings Megatron to 227. The baseline in ’89 was 130, so Anderson goes to 214.3, and in ’85, the baseline was 125, so Paige only drops to 296.2.

If you’ve made it this far, then maybe I’m not a complete idiot for putting the fine print up front. Without further ado, here are the top 2502 performances since 1960 using this formula:

Rk
Receiver
Year
Team
Opp
Box
Rec
Yds
TD
ACY
ATT
ACY/Ryd
Avg Att/G
Lg Base
TRY
1Harold Jackson1973RAMDALBox72384353220.65526.7101304.6
2Stephone Paige1985KANSDGBox83092389240.66335.1125296.2
3Jerry Butler1979BUFNYJBox102554385320.6631.3119263.7
4Eddie Kennison1996STLATLBox52263311190.64635.6127253.7
5Michael Irvin1992DALPHOBox82103310210.65332.5118252.1
6Roger Carr1978BALNWEBox61872257170.66128.7108240.4
7Bob Hayes1970DALHOUBox61874297250.66229.3112230.9
8Ken Burrough1977HOUCHIBox61802250200.65927.4100230.1
9Homer Jones1965NYGWASBox31822237130.66931.9127230.1
10Qadry Ismail1999BALPITBox62583348300.64936.3131229.5
11Calvin Johnson2013DETDALBox143291419490.64738.7135227.4
12Rich Caster1972NYJBALBox62043294290.66226.8104226.4
13Art Powell1963OAKHOUBox102474377360.6731.7133225.4
14Sammy White1976MINDETBox72102285250.65828.8110222.5
15James Scott1980CHIDETBox3140117590.65532.9121221.8
16John Taylor1989SFORAMBox112862381440.66534.5130219.9
17Ken Burrow1973ATLSFOBox51642229170.65526.7101219.5
18Jerry Rice1995SFOMINBox142893419500.64637136218.7
19George Farmer1972CHISTLBox51411186110.66226.8104217.8
20Eric Metcalf1992CLERAIBox51773262200.65332.5118217.7
21Kevin Curtis2007PHIDETBox112213336290.63735.4132216.6
22Ron Jessie1976RAMMIABox72202295300.65828.8110216.1
23Jerry Rice1990SFOATLBox132255390530.65732.6117215.3
24Henry Ellard1989RAMINDBox122303350380.66534.5130214.9
25Terrell Owens2000SFOCHIBox202831403480.64735.4133214.7
26Flipper Anderson1989RAMNORBox153361431570.66534.5130214.3
27Albert Connell2000WASJAXBox72113306240.64735.4133214.2
28Ken Burrow1971ATLDETBox61902260250.66628105213.1
29Bob Hayes1966DALWASBox92462331340.66832.5127213
30James Lofton1991BUFCINBox82202300270.65733.4124213
31Lee Evans2006BUFHOUBox112652360400.64434.3128212.8
32Jimmy Smith2000JAXBALBox152913426540.64735.4133212.4
33Eddie Brown1988CINPITBox72162291260.66433.9125211.4
34Isaac Bruce1997STLATLBox102332323350.65135.4124211.4
35Haven Moses1977DENOAKBox51682233210.65927.4100210.3
36Miles Austin2009DALKANBox102502340350.64335.4130209.8
37Ken Burrough1975HOUKANBox71772252210.65729.9112209.6
38Sonny Randle1965STLCLEBox71983293250.66931.9127209.3
39Amani Toomer2002NYGINDBox102043314290.6436.1129209.3
40Morris Owens1977TAMSTLBox41381178120.65927.4100208.3
41Paul Warfield1971MIAPITBox31583233200.66628105208.1
42Dave Parks1965SFOBALBox92313336370.66931.9127208.1
43Otis Taylor1971KANPITBox61902260270.66628105207.4
44Lance Alworth1963SDGKANBox92322317280.6731.7133207.3
45Drew Pearson1975DALDETBox61882258230.65729.9112206.8
46J.J. Birden1991KANRAIBox81882268220.65733.4124206.8
47Mel Gray1975STLNYGBox71872262240.65729.9112206.6
48Roger Carr1976BALNYJBox52102275280.65828.8110206.3
49Don Maynard1969NYJHOUBox72122287240.66131126205.4
50Buddy Dial1961PITCLEBox92352320300.66931.6132205.2
51Roy Jefferson1968PITATLBox111994334360.66730126205
52Wes Chandler1982SDGCINBox102602350430.65934.2128204.7
53Wesley Walker1978NYJBALBox51541199140.66128.7108204.4
54Nat Moore1977MIABUFBox51441189140.65927.4100204.3
55Art Monk1985WASCINBox132301315370.66335.1125204.1
56Chad Johnson2006CINNORBox61903280230.64434.3128203.9
57Rich Houston1971NYGGNBBox61513241230.66628105203.7
58Roger Carr1976BALCINBox61983288330.65828.8110203.6
59Charley Taylor1972WASDALBox71462221180.66226.8104203.5
60Fred Barnett1992PHIPHOBox81932273260.65332.5118203.4
61Earnest Gray1980NYGSTLBox91744299320.65532.9121202.9
62Charley Hennigan1961HOUBOSBox132721357420.66931.6132200.2
63Randy Moss2003MINSFOBox81723272230.6434.3126200
64Steve Smith2005CARCHIBox122182318340.64434.5128199.7
65Chad Johnson2006CINSDGBox112602355450.64434.3128199
66Charley Hennigan1961HOUSDGBox102143324340.66931.6132198.9
67Charley Hennigan1961HOUBUFBox92322317320.66931.6132198.8
68Boyd Dowler1968GNBCHIBox61822252190.66730126197.7
69Alfred Jenkins1981ATLNORBox51793264230.66433.9128197.1
70Ken Burrow1971ATLNORBox81901250280.66628105197
71Frank Clarke1962DALWASBox102413351400.67231.1135196.4
72Ahmad Rashad1977MINDETBox81391199170.65927.4100196.3
73Carl Pickens1998CINPITBox132041289290.65134.8127196.2
74Steve Watson1981DENDETBox51822247200.66433.9128196.1
75Carroll Dale1968GNBDETBox62052275240.66730126196
76Jerry Rice1985SFORAMBox102411311400.66335.1125195.6
77Kenny Britt2010TENPHIBox72253320340.64235.9133195.6
78Paul Warfield1971MIABALBox21251155100.66628105195.4
79Plaxico Burress2002PITATLBox92532338430.6436.1129195
80Brandon Marshall2009DENINDBox212002345440.64335.4130194.9
81Richard Johnson1989DETNORBox82481308350.66534.5130194.8
82Del Shofner1962NYGWASBox112691344390.67231.1135194.8
83Paul Warfield1973MIADETBox61034213190.65526.7101194.7
84Cliff Branch1976OAKCHIBox51632228200.65828.8110194.2
85Carroll Dale1970GNBATLBox41862246240.66229.3112194.2
86Eddie Bell1972NYJBALBox71971252290.66226.8104194
87Carl Pickens1994CINHOUBox111883303340.64835.7128193.8
88Roy Jefferson1971WASRAMBox81372217200.66628105193.8
89Roy Green1989PHOSEABox81663266240.66534.5130193.7
90Andre Reed1992BUFNWEBox91681233200.65332.5118193.6
91Antonio Freeman1998GNBTENBox71863281280.65134.8127193.4
92Gene A. Washington1972SFOSDGBox81403240260.66226.8104191.9
93Warren Wells1970OAKDENBox71983293390.66229.3112191.7
94Jerry Rice1993SFOTAMBox81724292350.64934.5123190.8
95Art Powell1965OAKBOSBox112062301350.66931.9127190.5
96Santana Moss2005WASNYGBox51603245200.64434.5128190.1
97Gary Clark1986WASNYGBox112411316440.66135125189.9
98Isaac Curtis1974CINBALBox51662231250.65628.6104189.9
99Sonny Randle1962STLNYGBox162561356440.67231.1135189.8
100Tommy McDonald1961PHINYGBox72372312350.66931.6132189.5
101Eric Martin1986NORGNBBox31641199150.66135125188.9
102Gary Clark1991WASATLBox42033283320.65733.4124188.9
103Wesley Walker1979NYJDETBox61770207160.6631.3119188.4
104Homer Jones1967NYGSTLBox51752240200.66332126188.4
105Mel Gray1973STLNYGBox51253210200.65526.7101188
106Reggie Wayne2004INDDENBox102212311340.64534.3133188
107James Lofton1983GNBPITBox51693254250.65834.1124187.8
108Mark Duper1985MIANYJBox82172297400.66335.1125186.8
109Fred Barnett1994PHIARIBox111732268270.64835.7128186.7
110Ricky Sanders1987WASDENBox91932278320.65634.8125186.6
111Carroll Dale1963RAMDETBox72073302330.6731.7133186.5
112Riley Odoms1978DENKANBox71652240270.66128.7108186.5
113Bill Groman1960HOUDENBox31822237170.66431.6135186.4
114Eric Moulds1998BUFMIABox92401305390.65134.8127186.3
115Don Maynard1968NYJKANBox82032283300.66730126186.2
116Michael Irvin1996DALARIBox81981258250.64635.6127186
117Gary Clark1990WASPHOBox81622242250.65732.6117186
118Wes Welker2011NWEBUFBox162172337450.65136.3135185.9
119Ben Hawkins1967PHIPITBox81872267270.66332126185.4
120Andre Rison1994ATLDETBox141932303390.64835.7128184.8
121James Scott1977CHIRAMBox21422192180.65927.4100184.7
122Isaac Curtis1973CINCLEBox51173202190.65526.7101184.7
123Mark Duper1983MIABUFBox72022277330.65834.1124184.7
124Ray Jarvis1976DETGNBBox61632233240.65828.8110184.7
125Roddy White2009ATLSFOBox82102290320.64335.4130184.6
126Webster Slaughter1989CLEHOUBox41842244220.66534.5130184.4
127Drew Bennett2004TENKANBox122333353480.64534.3133184.4
128Dwayne Bowe2010KANSEABox131703295320.64235.9133184.2
129Al Toon1986NYJSEABox91952280350.66135125184.1
130Art Monk1984WASINDBox81413241230.6634.9126184
131Max McGee1960GNBRAMBox41252185110.66431.6135183.7
132Elbert Dubenion1964BUFNYJBox52182283270.66832.7137183.6
133Brian Hartline2012MIAARIBox122531333450.64537135183.6
134Tommy McDonald1965RAMCLEBox62003290350.66931.9127183.5
135Steve Watson1981DENSDGBox81782258260.66433.9128183.2
136Yancey Thigpen1997PITDENBox61753265300.65135.4124183.1
137Cliff Branch1974OAKNWEBox61382208210.65628.6104182.9
138Roddy White2010ATLCINBox112012296330.64235.9133182.8
139John Gilliam1973MINCHIBox51392204200.65526.7101182.7
140Derrick Alexander1996BALPITBox71981253250.64635.6127182.4
141Haywood Jeffires1990HOUKANBox92451310480.65732.6117182.3
142Jerry Rice1986SFOSTLBox41563236230.66135125182.1
143Lance Alworth1965SDGDENBox72111266280.66931.9127182.1
144Demaryius Thomas2011DENPITBox42041244210.65136.3135181.8
145Nat Moore1981MIANYJBox72102285350.66433.9128181.7
146Jerry Rice1988SFOCINBox112151290390.66433.9125181.7
147Wes Chandler1985SDGSEABox132431328520.66335.1125181.7
148Carl Pickens1996CINATLBox111763291370.64635.6127181.5
149Larry Walton1970DETCLEBox41582218210.66229.3112181.4
150Derrick Mason2003TENHOUBox61773267280.6434.3126181.3
151Henry Marshall1980KANBALBox91762261300.65532.9121181.2
152Plaxico Burress2005NYGSTLBox102042294360.64434.5128181.1
153Gary Garrison1970SDGCHIBox81652245290.66229.3112180.8
154Billy Brooks1977CINMINBox71981253380.65927.4100180.6
155Jerry Rice1992SFOATLBox71832258310.65332.5118180.3
156Tony Hill1979DALPHIBox72132288400.6631.3119180.3
157Stanley Morgan1978NWEBALBox51701215220.66128.7108180.2
158Terrell Owens2007DALWASBox81734293330.63735.4132180.2
159Rich Houston1972NYGDALBox51752240310.66226.8104180.1
160Drew Hill1985HOUINDBox92102295430.66335.1125180
161Antonio Freeman1998GNBSFOBox71932268300.65134.8127179.7
162Bob Tucker1970NYGSTLBox61502220220.66229.3112179.7
163Torry Holt2001STLINDBox72032278320.64535128179.6
164John Gilliam1969STLCLEBox41923272300.66131126179.4
165Gary Garrison1969SDGNYJBox101882278320.66131126179.4
166Wesley Walker1986NYJMIABox61944304460.66135125178.9
167Morris Owens1977TAMSEABox91661231320.65927.4100178.7
168Amani Toomer1999NYGNYJBox61813271300.64936.3131178.7
169Eddie Brown1990CINSDGBox101782268370.65732.6117178.6
170John Jefferson1978SDGKANBox71302205200.66128.7108178.6
171Anthony Carter1987MINSFOBox102270277360.65634.8125178.6
172Bob Hayes1965DALPHIBox81772257270.66931.9127178.3
173Harold Jackson1970PHINYGBox71942269380.66229.3112178.2
174John Gilliam1969STLPITBox101971267290.66131126178.2
175Frank Grant1976WASSFOBox112000255340.65828.8110178.1
176Bob Hayes1971DALNYGBox41542214240.66628105178
177Lynn Swann1979PITCINBox51922257310.6631.3119177.9
178Jimmy Smith1999JAXNORBox92201285350.64936.3131177.8
179Gary Clark1987WASDALBox91871252280.65634.8125177.6
180Jerry Rice1986SFOINDBox61723262320.66135125177.6
181Terance Mathis1998ATLNORBox61982268310.65134.8127177.6
182Torry Holt2000STLATLBox31892244220.64735.4133177.4
183Cris Collinsworth1983CINBALBox82061266330.65834.1124177.3
184Jerry Rice1994SFORAMBox161653305440.64835.7128177
185Ahmad Rashad1979MINSFOBox71524267350.6631.3119177
186Steve Smith2005CARMINBox112011276320.64434.5128177
187Andre Johnson2012HOUJAXBox142731363570.64537135176.8
188Sammy White1982MINCHIBox101773287380.65934.2128176.8
189Willie Richardson1967BALPHIBox111842279350.66332126176.8
190Carroll Dale1969GNBSTLBox91952280340.66131126176.8
191Roy Green1984STLDALBox81892269340.6634.9126176.7
192Wes Chandler1979NORATLBox62051255310.6631.3119176.5
193Marty Booker2001CHITAMBox71653260280.64535128176.4
194Lance Alworth1963SDGBOSBox132101295360.6731.7133176.4
195Louis Lipps1985PITINDBox91543259320.66335.1125176.4
196Lynn Swann1978PITSFOBox81342214230.66128.7108176.3
197Cliff Branch1976OAKSDGBox51672232270.65828.8110176.2
198Tony Martin1996SDGOAKBox101383248260.64635.6127176
199Charles Wilson1994TAMRAMBox41762236230.64835.7128175.8
200Sterling Sharpe1993GNBTAMBox101474277380.64934.5123175.7
201Rod Smith2001DENARIBox141622272320.64535128175.7
202Cliff Branch1974OAKPITBox91861251380.65628.6104175.4
203Raymond Berry1960BALDALBox41953275280.66431.6135175.3
204Mike Ditka1961CHIGNBBox91903295370.66931.6132175.2
205Lance Alworth1968SDGDENBox91714296390.66730126175.2
206Isaac Bruce1996STLBALBox112291304450.64635.6127175.2
207James Lofton1978GNBNORBox31073182160.66128.7108175.1
208Duriel Harris1979MIAGNBBox101801250300.6631.3119175
209Calvin Johnson2011DETNORBox122112311430.65136.3135175
210Mark Duper1984MIAWASBox61782248280.6634.9126174.7
211Eric Moulds1998BUFCINBox61962266320.65134.8127174.3
212Billy Brooks1977CINNYGBox3872142110.65927.4100174.2
213Stephone Paige1990KANDENBox102062296480.65732.6117174
214Andre Reed1994BUFGNBBox151912306460.64835.7128174
215Homer Jones1968NYGWASBox51792244240.66730126173.9
216Terance Mathis1995ATLSTLBox101843294370.64637136173.8
217Kevin Williams1995DALARIBox92032288350.64637136173.4
218Louis Lipps1989PITTAMBox41372197160.66534.5130173.4
219Paul Flatley1965MINSFOBox72022277360.66931.9127173.4
220Gene A. Washington1970SFONORBox51313216230.66229.3112173.3
221Dave L. Williams1969STLNORBox81644284370.66131126173.3
222Gene A. Washington1971SFONWEBox51601205230.66628105173.3
223Carroll Dale1969GNBDETBox71672242240.66131126173.2
224Marvin Harrison2001INDMIABox91743279360.64535128173.1
225Boyd Dowler1963GNBSFOBox81882268290.6731.7133173
226Wesley Walker1977NYJOAKBox41781218300.65927.4100173
227Marcus Robinson1999CHIDETBox111703285380.64936.3131172.9
228Justin Blackmon2012JAXHOUBox72361291370.64537135172.9
229Otto Stowe1972MIASTLBox61402210240.66226.8104172.7
230Bob Hayes1967DALPITBox71702245260.66332126172.6
231Danny Abramowicz1970NORSFOBox71402215230.66229.3112172.5
232Jerry Rice1988SFOSDGBox61712241270.66433.9125172.5
233Isaac Bruce1999STLSFOBox51344239240.64936.3131172.5
234Randy Vataha1971NWEMIABox71292204230.66628105172.4
235Henry Ellard1994WASARIBox81911251280.64835.7128172.4
236Rob Moore1990NYJNWEBox91751240300.65732.6117172.4
237Homer Jones1966NYGPITBox21732223210.66832.5127172.4
238Drew Hill1988HOUWASBox91483253310.66433.9125172.1
239Don Maynard1968NYJOAKBox102281298410.66730126172
240John McDaniel1976CINOAKBox92011266400.65828.8110172
241Bob Trumpy1969CINHOUBox51593244250.66131126171.9
242Cliff Branch1975OAKATLBox71553250350.65729.9112171.8
243Irving Fryar1994MIANWEBox52113296440.64835.7128171.8
244Steve Largent1983SEASTLBox81553255320.65834.1124171.8
245Kellen Winslow1981SDGOAKBox131445309480.66433.9128171.6
246John Stallworth1984PITHOUBox41093189160.6634.9126171.5
247John Stallworth1978PITDENBox101561226290.66128.7108171.4
248Antonio Freeman1996GNBDENBox91753280390.64635.6127171.3
249Andre Johnson2009HOUSEABox111932288390.64335.4130171.1
250Sammy White1976MINMIABox91203225270.65828.8110170.9

Harold Jackson taking the number one spot with 238 yards and 4 touchdowns in 1973 in a game where his team had just 22 dropbacks? Yeah, I’m okay with that.

  1. Note: I was lazy, and combined the AFL and NFL. I know, I know. []
  2. Note. I excluded two games during the 1987 strike played with replacement players: Anthony Allen had 262 TRY against the Cardinals, and Steve Largent had 260 TRY in Detroit. []

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Chase Stuart October 29, 2013 at 12:49 am

Of course Hadl was the quarterback in that game.

Reply

Kibbles October 29, 2013 at 11:51 am

Guessing before reading the article, but that #1 receiver performance HAS to be Jimmy Smith against the 2000 Ravens.

Reply

Chase Stuart October 29, 2013 at 11:52 am

If we include opponent adjustments (I didn’t have the time), it just might be.

Reply

Kibbles October 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

Wow, 32nd. I had no idea Jacksonville passed so many times during that game.

Regardless of TRY, I’m still going to go with that as the greatest single-game receiving performance in history. ;)

Reply

Guru October 29, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Are turnovers considered in TRY? After all, Johnson did have a fumble that kinda marred his performance. (It was still impressive, though).

Reply

Chase Stuart October 29, 2013 at 12:22 pm

They are not. I would agree that the fumble did mar his performance a bit.

Reply

Ty October 29, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I wonder where Calvin Johnson would be if he wasn’t tackled close to the end zone twice, and instead scored 2 more TDs. Based on your methodology, it doesn’t look like he would claim number 1, but he would potentially move into the top 5.

Reply

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