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Yesterday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of the worst starter. Today, I want to use that data to help identify which receivers put up their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses.

Let’s use Calvin Johnson as an example. He’s been with the Lions for each season of his career, and Detroit has been very pass-happy throughout his career. Last year, Detroit averaged averaged 40.56 dropbacks (pass attempts plus sacks) per game, while the league average was 37.29 dropbacks per game. So Detroit passed 108.8% as often as the average team.

In 2013, Detroit’s ratio to the league average was 108.2%, but it was 129.8% in 2012. To measure pass-happiness as it pertains to Johnson, we can’t just take Detroit’s average grade from ’07 to ’14; instead, we need to assign more weight to Johnson’s best years. Johnson gained 1,358 ACY over the baseline in 2012, which represents 29% of his career value of 4,721 ACY over the baseline. As a result, Detroit’s 129.8% ratio in 2012 needs to count for 29% of Johnson’s career pass-happy grade.

If we do this for each of the players in yesterday’s top 100, here are the results.

RkPlayerFirst YrLast YearHOF?ACY RkACYPass-Happy
1Don Hutson19351945Yes212112122.1%
2Tom Fears19481956Yes612677119.3%
3Kellen Winslow19791987Yes552781118.3%
4Calvin Johnson20072014Not El.154721117.4%
5Pete Pihos19471955Yes622651115.7%
6Charlie Joiner19691986Yes602703115.5%
7Raymond Berry19551967Yes303691114.8%
8Marques Colston20062014Not El.722374114.7%
9Billy Howton19521963No413189114.6%
10John Jefferson19781985No922066114.5%
11Torry Holt19992009No66004114.2%
12Harold Carmichael19711984No512942114.1%
13Lenny Moore19561967Yes902095113.8%
14Jim Benton19381947No194375113.5%
15Dwight Clark19791987No752350113.5%
16Larry Fitzgerald20042014Not El.184412113.4%
17Donald Driver19992012Not El.682539112.6%
18Lionel Taylor19591968No313583112.4%
19Wes Chandler19781988No443155112.3%
20Mark Clayton19831993No403196111%
21Charley Hennigan19601966No383230111%
22Sterling Sharpe19881994No234216110.6%
23Bobby Mitchell19581968Yes483050110.6%
24Isaac Bruce19942009No134877110.2%
25George Sauer19651970No932062109.8%
26Del Shofner19571967No393220109.4%
27Irving Fryar19842000No792308109.4%
28Andre Rison19892000No373260108.9%
29Tommy McDonald19571968Yes562775108.9%
30Gary Garrison19661977No632629108.8%
31Wes Welker20042014Not El.293703108.5%
32Anquan Boldin20032014Not El.353356108.4%
33Charley Taylor19641977Yes363326108.3%
34Mike Quick19821990No702445108.1%
35Warren Wells19641970No832163107.8%
36Art Powell19591968No214342107.7%
37Elroy Hirsch19461957Yes542820107.5%
38Reggie Wayne20012014Not El.115092107.3%
39Don Maynard19581973Yes144863107.2%
40Demaryius Thomas20102014Not El.662584107.1%
41Mark Duper19821992No971973106.4%
42Cris Carter19872002Yes105148106.3%
43Muhsin Muhammad19962009No862123106.3%
44Tony Gonzalez19972013Not El.453138106.3%
45Antonio Brown20102014Not El.822189105.8%
46Roy Green19791992No772335105.7%
47Drew Pearson19731983No852152105.5%
48Jerry Rice19852004Yes112123105.2%
49Keenan McCardell19922007No712435105.1%
50Drew Hill19791993No592705104.8%
51Billy Wilson19511960No642597104.5%
52Anthony Miller19881997No672581104.3%
53Mal Kutner19461950No942011104.2%
54Carl Pickens19922000No842154104.1%
55Fred Biletnikoff19651978Yes532922103.7%
56Andre Johnson20032014Not El.95239103.2%
57Randy Moss19982012Not El.47021103%
58Marvin Harrison19962008No37229103%
59Eric Moulds19962007No732353102.9%
60Steve Largent19761989Yes85366102.9%
61John Gilliam19671977No582728102.8%
62Joe Horn19962007No473110102.5%
63Mac Speedie19461952No343394102.3%
64Gene Washington19691979No782313102.3%
65Dez Bryant20102014Not El.882111102.1%
66Chad Johnson20012011Not El.204344102.1%
67Roddy White20052014Not El.283775102.1%
68Keyshawn Johnson19962006No872121101.8%
69Terrell Owens19962010Not El.56226101.7%
70Henry Ellard19831998No333422101.6%
71Harlon Hill19541962No762345101.5%
72Todd Christensen19791988No742351101.1%
73James Lofton19781993Yes224271100.8%
74Art Monk19801995Yes502978100.6%
75Derrick Mason19972011Not El.493040100.5%
76Gary Clark19851995No323476100.4%
77Herman Moore19912002No273863100.2%
78Cris Collinsworth19811988No812206100%
79Harold Jackson19681983No42316399.7%
80Jimmy Smith19922005No17465499.6%
81Bob Hayes19651975Yes52293099.5%
82Santana Moss20012014Not El.95198999.1%
83Tim Brown19882004Yes12504799.1%
84Joey Galloway19952010Not El.91207199.1%
85Brandon Marshall20062014Not El.26407598.8%
86Rod Smith19952006No25408298.8%
87Jordy Nelson20082014Not El.100195598.6%
88Hines Ward19982011Not El.43316397.4%
89Andre Reed19852000Yes46312797.3%
90Stanley Morgan19771990No96198097.2%
91Lance Alworth19621972Yes7562997%
92Hugh Taylor19471954No98196996.6%
93Otis Taylor19651975No65259294.1%
94Michael Irvin19881999Yes16472093.5%
95Cliff Branch19721985No57273693.1%
96John Stallworth19741987Yes69252292.9%
97Dante Lavelli19461956Yes80222790.6%
98Steve Smith20012014Not El.24410590.1%
99Buddy Dial19591966No99195789.5%
100Paul Warfield19641977Yes89211087.4%

Let’s also graph the results, with the X-Axis showing the value provided yesterday, and the Y-Axis showing the career pass-happiness rating for each receiver:

acy pass happy

Some thoughts:

  • Jerry Rice and Don Hutson are basically off the charts. But Hutson’s teams were crazy pass-happy for his era. Now that’s different than being super pass-happy in modern times: Green Bay wasn’t throwing a ton because the Packers were trailing or a poor team, but because they had the greatest wide receiver anyone had ever seen and were taking advantage of that. In Hutson’s 11 years, the Packers made it to the championship game four times (going 2-2), and had a fifth year where the team finished 10-1. Green Bay had a winning record every year of Hutson’s career. Still, if you’re looking for reasons to pick Rice over Hutson in your personal GWROAT rankings, well, this would be one of them.
  • I like the outer hull formed at the top by Paul Warfield, Steve Smith, Michael Irvin, and Lance Alworth. They’re sort of in line with the Owens/Harrison/Moss trio, and that makes some sense even if their raw numbers don’t quite compare. Let’s look at them individually.
  • I wrote quite a bit about Warfield here, and the degree to which he played in conservative offenses is mind-blowing. Warfield tops the above table by a significant amount, courtesy of playing for great teams. He had a career AV-adjusted winning percentage of 0.745, second only to Fred Biletnikoff, but the Raiders never relied on their running game and defense the way Warfield’s teams did. Remember, Warfield played with Jim Brown and/or Leroy Kelly in each of his six years during his first stint in Cleveland, then Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, and Jim Kiick in each of his five years with Miami. In each of Warfield’s first 11 seasons, his team’s running back made the Pro Bowl, and they were a first-team All-Pro in 7 of those years! Then, in his 12th season, he went back to Cleveland, where Greg Pruitt was the team’s top back, and he made the Pro Bowl! And Pruitt also made the Pro Bowl in ’77, Warfield’s final year in the league! If you consider that Morris and Csonka both made the Pro Bowl as running backs in ’72 and ’73, that means Warfield’s running backs made 15 Pro Bowls during his 13-year career. That’s a long way of saying I don’t blame Warfield for not putting up bigger counting numbers, and he fared very well on a per-attempt basis.
  • I’ve said all there needs to be said about Steve Smith in the regular season, and Adam Harstad said the rest about Smith in the postseason. He stands out here for producing strong numbers despite playing in run-heavy offenses, and I think he’s still undervalued by this analysis. Smith had some years, particularly ’08, where he missed a couple of games, and his per-game numbers do a better job of showing how dominant he was. His 2005 and 2008 seasons were legendary. And unlike say, Warfield, Smith wasn’t just playing in a run-heavy offense: he was playing in a run-heavy offense and with an average quarterback.
  • Like Warfield, Irvin played on a team that was loaded, and like Warfield, Irvin’s counting numbers suffered as a result. But over his best six seasons, Irvin accounted for 35.7% of all Dallas receiving yards. That’s the most of any wide receiver in any six-year period since the merger (although Steve Smith also matched that feat). Irvin was the Dallas passing game, and led the NFL in ACY/team pass attempt in ’91 and ’95. The best way to put it: over his best six seasons, Irvin, Rice, Hutson, and Alworth as the only players to average 2.8 receiving yards per team pass attempt.
  • Bryan Frye once said that Don Maynard is the second best wide receiver in AFL history and the second best wide receiver named Don. Well, Bryan’s right: Lance Alworth’s production in the AFL was just unbelievable. When you think AFL, you think pass-happy, wide-open offenses, but Alworth played on run-heavy teams. Yes, he played with the incomparable John Hadl, so he doesn’t get a Delhomme-like bump, but those Chargers were run-heavy teams powered by Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe. Alworth has the 2nd, 7th, 15th, and 29th best seasons from 1960 to 2013 in ACY/Team Attempt, highlighted by his monster 1965 performance. Alworth’s counting stats stand on their own — from ages 23 to 29, he’s the career leader in receiving yards per game, and only Calvin Johnson is within five yards of him — but the fact that he produced at a high level on run-oriented teams makes it even more impressive.
  • At the bottom of the chart, we see Tom Fears, Kellen Winslow, Sr., Megatron, and Torry Holt. All four were great players, but no doubt have inflated numbers by playing on crazy pass-happy teams. It’s simply easier to put up monster numbers when your team leads the league in pass attempts, and that has to be a part of the analysis.
  • One last note. Jimmy Smith, another FP favorite, shows up with a pass-happiness rating of 99.6%. But that doesn’t rank near the middle, but rather, at 80th on the list of the pass-happiness ratings. That’s because most great (or even very good) seasons tend to occur when a player’s team passes a lot. It’s not coincidence that most of these receivers have pass-happiness ratings over 100%.

What do you think of today’s results? Who stands out to you?

  • Agreed, that “outer hull” is kinda beautiful. I think there’s some “cream rises to the top”-thing going on, where great players leave their marks in different ways. Some greats will actively influence their teams pass/run ratio while others will “just” dominate what opportunities are there. In a way, it’s also a mapping of coach-rigidity – how willing (or not) they are to adjust philosophy when they find game-changing players.

    Obviously, lots of entanglement questions. Even for pass-happy-posterboys Stafford/Johnson, I’d argue that 10-15 straight games w/o Megatron would bring Stafford’s effectiveness down to a level that would force the OC to reign him back a little.

    • Andrew Healy

      The coaching-rigidity idea is a great point.

  • FWIW, Lynn Swann is at 90.7%.

  • Kibbles

    “Outer Hull” sounds so much fancier if you call it a “Pareto frontier”. Warfield, Smiff, Irvin, Alworth, Owens, Harrison, and Rice represent “Pareto optimal” points in that there are no receivers who rank ahead of any of them in both “pass unhappiness” and “career ACYOB”. Randy Moss narrowly misses the cut, because Harrison has more career ACYOB with an equal pass-unhappiness.

    Also, it’s interesting to compare the pass-happiness of Kellen Winslow’s teams with that of Calvin Johnson’s teams. Winslow’s prime essentially ran from 1980 to 1983, and in those four years he played with three different All Pro wide receivers who combined to make 4 pro bowls and 3 first-team AP All Pro squads. (The year before he broke out, the three added another three pro bowls and another AP All Pro, to boot, although Chandler earned his pro bowl appearance in New Orleans.)

    Johnson, on the other hand, didn’t have a teammate break 800 receiving yards between Williams/McDonald in 2007 and Tate in 2014. In two of those seasons, Detroit’s second-leading receiver had 417 or fewer yards. In three of those seasons, Detroit’s second-leading receiver was Brandon Pettigrew. In one of those seasons, Detroit’s second- and third-leading receivers were both running backs. I’m not quite sure which of those three facts best describes just how pathetic the other receiving options in Detroit have been for the bulk of Calvin’s career.

    To pick two players with comparable ACYOB values, I wonder whether it’s “more impressive”, from an ACYOB standpoint, to be the only option on a run-heavy team, (a la Paul Warfield), or to be one of several good options on a pass-heavy team, (a la Kellen Winslow). I suppose it depends on a lot of factors, such as “how run-heavy”, “how pass-heavy”, and “how good are the other ‘good options’, really”.

    • Clint

      Seems like it’s better to be the lone/best option on a run-heavy team. You can consider the already mentioned Paul Warfield and also Dez Bryant last year. 1300 yards on a team that finished 31st in passing attempts.

      • I think it really depends. Dez and Warfield are two great receivers; being the lone/best option on a run-heavy team probably isn’t so good if you aren’t very good. And I think both Dez and Warfield would look like studs on pass-heavy teams, too.

    • Good stuff.

  • Ralph Skinner

    Similar to Kibbles’ point, I think Calvin Johnson’s ability and output is a little misrepresented by his position in the graph relative to receivers like Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. He is almost stuck in a hole that is impossible to escape – in order to fit the diagonal created by the “outer hull,” Johnson would need 10,000 ACY over the baseline.

    Also, although there seems to be a relatively equal depth of receivers from 98% to 115%, the receivers form somewhat of an arrowhead with a peak around 103-104%. Perhaps this is simply a coincidence, but it defies my first instinct reinforced by the linearity of the outer hull that the graph should be at least kind of linear as a whole. I wonder if this indicates the ideal balance for an offense with an elite receiver found by teams like the 2000s Colts and the 49ers 15 years earlier.

    Finally, though Don Hutson’s pass-heavy offenses can be held against him in comparison with Jerry Rice, I also personally take it as a demonstration of the way he reinvented the wide receiver position in an unparalleled manner. I would be very surprised if Hutson ever gets company in that bottom right corner.

    • Kibbles

      I don’t know that my first instinct would be that the “outer hull” should be linear. In fact, I would instinctively expect it to be more of a “Guns vs. Butter” type of curve. See: http://economistsview.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451b33869e2012875a5baad970c-pi. As I mentioned, the “outer hull” is really just a Pareto frontier, and the “Guns vs. Butter” problem is just an individual, particularly-famous example of a Pareto frontier. For more Pareto frontiers, see: https://www.google.com/search?q=Pareto+Frontier&espv=2&biw=1422&bih=661&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMI7_aAzcGBxwIVTDgUCh3TBQAe&dpr=0.9

      If we ignore Rice and Hutson as clear outliers, (Rice because of his anomalously long career, and Hutson because of his anomalous passing environment), then the data does, indeed, seem to be forming a rough Pareto front. Given that assumption, Calvin would only need ~3300 more ACYOB to find himself out on the leading edge of the curve.

      • Andrew Healy

        As an econ prof, it’s fairly exciting to see this stuff in a football discussion. Pretty awesome.

        The 15 Pro Bowl RBs in 13 years for Warfield is insane.

  • I like Buddy Dial sneakily standing out in the graph. He was an interesting player.

    • sacramento gold miners

      Yes, Dial was an outstanding receiver for the Steelers, but injuries ruined his Dallas career. The Cowboys really could have used the Pittsburgh version of Dial in 1966 and 1967. There’s a funny old clip of him scoring a TD for the Steelers just as some idiot is setting off a celebratory cannon in the end zone pointed right at Dial.

      • We need a guest post on Dial!