The following year, Jeff George took over as the Vikings primary quarterback, and he promptly posted a Relative ANY/A 2.2 points higher than expected based on his age and the rest of his career.1 George left Moss and Minnesota after the season, and he would throw only 236 passes the rest of his career, producing a cumulative -0.6 RANY/A in Washington before retiring.
From 2000-04, Moss was the primary target of Daunte Culpepper, whose RANY/A was 0.7 better than expected (based on Culpepper’s career numbers) when Moss was around.2 Although he’d enjoyed one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history in 2004, Culpepper was never the same after Moss was traded to Oakland; in fact, he never even had another league-average passing season, producing a horrible -1.2 RANY/A from 2005 until his retirement in 2009.3
Moss’s stint with the Raiders was famously checkered — although Kerry Collins’ RANY/A was 0.6 better than expected in 2005, Aaron Brooks played 2.5 points of RANY/A below his previous standards in 2006 — but we all know what happened when he joined the Patriots in 2007. With Moss, Tom Brady’s RANY/A was a whopping 1.3 points higher than expected from the rest of his career, and Moss also played a big role in Matt Cassel’s RANY/A being +1.0 relative to expectations after Brady was lost for the season in 2008.
While Moss’s post-Pats career hasn’t exactly been the stuff of legends, the majority of his career (weighted by True Receiving Yards) saw him dramatically improve his quarterbacks’ play relative to the rest of their careers. In fact, his lifetime WOWY (With or Without You) mark of +1.1 age-adjusted RANY/A ranks 3rd among all receivers who: a) had at least 3,000 career TRY, b) started their careers after the merger, and c) played exclusively with quarterbacks who started their careers after the merger. And the first two names on the list are possibly explained by other means. The table below lists all 301 receivers with 3,000 career TRY. The table is fully sortable and searchable, and you can click on the arrows at the bottom of the table to scroll. The table is sorted by the QB WOWY column.
[table id=680 /]
Here’s what those column headers mean:
- Debut – 1st NFL season
- Career TRY – Lifetime total True Receiving Yards
- QB WOWY – The metric described above — an average of the differences between each receiver’s quarterbacks’ RANY/A that season and every other season of their careers, weighted by the player’s TRY in each season
- Tm Off Rating – The team’s offensive rating (points per drive relative to league average), according to Doug’s AV formula, weighted by TRY in each season
- Tm RANY/A – The team’s ANY/A, relative to league average, for the seasons the receiver played (also weighted by TRY in each season)
- QB Career RANY/A – The career RANY/A of every QB the receiver played with, weighted by the QB’s playing time and the receiver’s TRY in each season
At the other end of the spectrum, consider the career of Mark Carrier (no, not the safety of the same name). For starters, as a rookie Carrier just missed Steve DeBerg’s insane 1990 season (although in fairness, DeBerg was still good in 1987). Then, in Carrier’s second season, Vinny Testaverde assumed the mantle of Tampa’s starting QB, beginning a relationship with Carrier that would span the next 7 seasons (including 2 in Cleveland).
While our age adjustment may be giving old Testaverde too much credit — he’s certainly in the discussion of the best late bloomer QBs ever — Vinny T.’s RANY/A while playing with Carrier was a shocking 1.8 points (!) lower than it was over the rest of his career, after adjusting for aging effects. With Carrier, in what should have been the prime of his career (ages 24-31), Testaverde put up an ANY/A 0.8 points below the league average, and was only in the black for 1 of 8 seasons.
After parting ways with Carrier, Testaverde promptly produced a +1.2 RANY/A throwing to Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander, and two years later had a +2.4 mark (at age 35) with Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet. Meanwhile, in Carolina, Carrier was a part of 1 good Kerry Collins season (1996) but 2 awful ones (1995 and 1997), plus an average Steve Beuerlein season in 1998. Tellingly, the year after Carrier retired, Beuerlein immediately had one of the craziest out-of-nowhere QB seasons ever.
Other observations of note:
- The relationship between John Elway, Ed McCaffrey, and Rod Smith continues to be one of the most interesting in NFL history. Chase covered at length the way Elway’s RANY/A jumped markedly when his receiving-corps quality improved late in his career. Mike Shanahan, McCaffrey and Smith arrived in Denver the same year (1995), which happened to basically be the same time that Elway’s numbers improved for good (he’d never strung two +1.0 RANY/A seasons together before 1995-96). For Smith’s part, he was also on hand for the best years of Brian Griese and Jake Plummer’s careers, and McCaffrey was almost never part of a below-average passing offense. Did they “make” Elway or did Elway simply never have above-average receivers until they arrived? The debate rages on.
- J.J. Birden didn’t have a long career, but he was on hand for renaissance seasons by three veteran Kansas City quarterbacks (DeBerg, Dave Krieg, Joe Montana), plus one of George’s best seasons at the helm of the run-and-shoot Falcons. Likewise, Mike Pritchard was there for the best years of Chris Miller’s career, Elway’s aforementioned ’95, and some good-for-his-age Warren Moon seasons in Seattle. Neither was a superstar, but each consistently found roles in solid passing offenses, and it’s likely they’re both quite underrated by popular perception.4
- Along with Moss, it’s no surprise to see Wes Welker rank so highly. In addition to 2007-2009, he stuck around during the Pats’ surprisingly powerful post-Moss attack (speaking of which, not listed above is Rob Gronkowski, whose +1.3 WOWY score would have led the list if he’d qualified). Welker gets well-deserved credit for bridging the gap between two very different flavors of dominant Brady-led offenses.
- John Taylor looks like a beast in this metric. He had one of the highest WOWY scores of any receiver with 3,000 TRY, and nobody on the list above played for better passing offenses (+2.3 RANY/A) or overall offenses (143.3 team offensive rating) than Taylor. This could be used as both an argument for and against Taylor, but his quarterbacks played extremely well (and better than their typical average) when he was on their team.
- It’s probable that Wesley Walker and Terance Mathis were hugely underrated in their day.5 Both racked up over 8,300 True Receiving Yards, and each saw their QBs’ RANY/A improve by +0.7 when they were in the receiving corps.
- Marvin Harrison’s sample of QBs other than Peyton Manning is practically nonexistent (FWIW, Jim Harbaugh’s 1996-97 WOWYs were above-average but hardly great), so it’s tough to say what this means for him. But you definitely can’t say he ever elevated a QB either.
- As much as he was admired for his contributions to the early-to-mid-2000s dynasty-era Patriots, Troy Brown does not look good here. As soon as his role in the Pats’ offense shrunk, New England suddenly started throwing the ball with much more effectiveness, and Brady backers suddenly stopped having to make excuses for his lack of production relative to Peyton Manning.
- It’s surprising to see Sterling Sharpe rank so low, given that in his short career he produced four of the best TRY seasons ever. But Don Majkowski only ever had one above-average year on Sharpe’s watch, and Brett Favre would reach much greater heights without Sharpe, even after adjusting for age effects.
- If McCaffrey and Smith get the credit for boosting Elway, somebody has to get blamed for holding him back, and that somebody is Vance Johnson (-0.6 WOWY).
- In addition to Carrier, a lot of other mid-to-late-80s Bucs bear the brunt of WOWY punishment for the underperforming stats of Testaverde, DeBerg, and Steve Young while they were in Tampa. Gerald Carter is 2nd-worst behind Carrier, while RBs Gary Anderson and James Wilder aren’t far behind.
At any rate, while the WOWY metric is hardly infallible, hopefully it can give us new perspective on which receivers seem to elevate the play of their passing offenses, and which receivers tend to have an underwhelming impact despite decent-looking numbers.
- Cunningham’s RANY/A was also 1.0 better than expected in limited action. [↩]
- That number is an average weighted by the number of TRY Moss had in each season [↩]
- To be fair, Culpepper tore his ACL, MCL, and PCL halfway through the 2005 season, which also was a factor in his decline. [↩]
- Chase note: It would be difficult to argue that they’re overrated by popular perception! [↩]
- Chase note: not by me! [↩]