SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all PFR content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing PFR blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Pro-Football-Reference.com » Sports Reference

For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Archive for the 'History' Category

AFL versus NFL: 1964-1966 Drafts

Posted by Jason Lisk on July 31, 2009

When it comes to the AFL, it may seem logical to think that the AFL was improving at a fairly constant rate, and that it would be doing better in terms of talent acquisition in year five, compared with year one.

After looking through the draft data and careers of the players, I would like to suggest an alternate history. The AFL came in and immediately made a splash against the NFL, signing several high draft picks and taking away a lot of young talent. I have the early drafts rated as wins for the AFL in 1960 and 1963, and for the NFL in 1961 and 1962. Overall, it was a great start for an upstart league.

In this post, I am altering my method for calculating draft value slightly.

10 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL, NFL Draft

Best players by uniform number

Posted by Chase Stuart on July 28, 2009

Now that P-F-R.com has uniform numbers for every player since 1950, I thought we might as well take a look at the best players to wear each number since then. As usual, we'll be ranking players by Approximate Value (AV). A few notes before the big list:

1) Only seasons from 1950 or later are being considered. So Otto Graham is considered, but only his seasons from 1950 through 1955 count for AV purposes. This doesn't eliminate those guys: while three of Charlie Trippi's best seasons came before 1950, he still makes the cut as one of the three best players to wear #2 since 1950. (But don't interpret the chart to read me as saying Trippi was not as good a player as Aaron Brooks). Similarly, Benny Friedman would be a good choice for uniform #1, Don Hutson for #14, Steve Van Buren for #15, and Sid Luckman for #42; but their accomplishments (along with the accomplishments of many others) were from pre-1950 and unfortunately are therefore excluded.

2) As a general disclaimer, AV works well at measuring groups of players. On average, most of the players with an AV of 100 will be better than most of the players with an AV of 90. But there will be lots of individual cases (especially at the same position) that are not correct -- Edgerrin James being ahead of Jim Brown, Jon Kitna over Daryle Lamonica and Sam Mills outscoring Dick Butkus are just three examples of that. There are many more; AV is not perfect, but it's the best way to ranks lots of players across different positions and across different eras. And yes, that's even if it says Mr. Brady is not among the top three players to wear number twelve (ditto Mr. Graham and #14). Remember, AV looks only at regular seasons.

39 Comments | Posted in Approximate Value, History

Gone too soon

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 29, 2009

My first strong memory of the Kansas City Chiefs growing up had nothing to do with a play, or a game, or a season. It came twenty-six years ago today. It was a hot late June weekday and we were heading out to go play baseball when the news trickled in. Joe Delaney had drowned while trying to rescue three boys down in Monroe, Louisiana, near his hometown of Haughton. Didn't know how to swim, the reports said. But he went in anyway to try to save those three boys-complete strangers-who were drowning.

Death comes in threes, you often hear. Many times the connections between the three are forced and tenuous. Not so here. Joe Delaney was the third young Chiefs running back, all from Louisiana, who died too soon.

Most of you have probably never heard of Stonewall Edward "Stone" Johnson. You won't find a player page for him here at pro-football-reference, because he never played in a regular season game. You will however, find his page at our companion Olympics reference site. Stone Johnson was a finalist in both the 200 meter and as a member of the 4x100 relay at the 1960 Rome Olympics at age 20. Three years later, Lamar Hunt had moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City, and Stone Johnson was a rookie running back from Grambling trying to make the roster. In a preseason game against the Raiders played in Wichita, Kansas, Johnson broke his neck. He died a few days later, on September 8, 1963.

A year after that tragedy, a young running back from Southern University joined the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. Mack Lee Hill was an instant success. Hill led the AFL in yards per carry in both of his seasons with the Chiefs, in 1964 and 1965. He was a pro bowl selection in 1964 as a rookie. He may very well have been a pro bowl selection again in 1965 (he was second team all-AFL). On December 12, 1965, though, Hill suffered a knee injury in the next to last game of the regular season, and died during knee surgery. The Chiefs began their team Hall of Fame in 1970, and Mack Lee Hill was the first player enshrined. The Chiefs' rookie of the year award was also instituted in 1966, and named the Mack Lee Hill award.

Joe Delaney, as it turns out, did not receive the Mack Lee Hill award in 1981--that honor went to Lloyd Burruss. That's because Delaney was selected as the team MVP for the 1981 season. He also was selected as the AFC Rookie of the Year, and represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

If you want to get a vision of what Delaney, the player, was like, I think there are two guys that entered the league last season that have a lot of similarities--Chris Johnson, and to a lesser extent, though still similar sizewise, Steve Slaton. Delaney was considered undersized for a running back, at 5'10" and between 180 and 190 pounds, but he was blazing fast. He had initially gone to Northwestern State as a wide receiver, but converted to running back when the team had injuries at the position. The Chiefs drafted him in the second round in 1981 thinking that he would be a change of pace type back, but he turned into so much more in his rookie season.

He started the season as a backup to Ted McKnight, and had some solid performances in limited action. In the season's fifth game, McKnight suffered a season-ending injury on his first carry in a game against the New England Patriots, and Delaney finished that game with his first 100 yard rushing performance. The next week, in his first career start, Delaney had both 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a 27-0 victory against the hated rival and defending Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders. A week later, Delaney finished with 149 rushing yards, including an 82 yard touchdown run that would stand as the longest run from scrimmage in the NFL that season, as the Chiefs beat the Broncos at Arrowhead. Later that season, Delaney would rush for 193 yards in a game against the Houston Oilers. He finished the year with a Chiefs' rookie record of 1,121 rushing yards.

The following year, Delaney had an eye injury that limited him, and the season was disjointed and shortened due to the 1982 player strike. He was only 24 years old, though, as the 1983 season approached, and he was poised to continue his success as a star running back, until that sad day twenty-six years ago.

If you want a vision of what Delaney the person was like, well, I'm probably not the person to provide that perspective. I just know that when I was a child, his loss was mourned throughout Kansas City, and I think in a way far beyond just losing a young athlete. The way that he died, trying to save three children, when he didn't know how to swim very well, says a lot about the man. The great Sports Illustrated writer Frank DeFord wrote a piece entitled "Sometimes the Good Die Young" that ran in the November 7, 1983 issue. I would highly encourage you to click through and read that great tribute if you have the time.

We've seen numerous players gone too soon, reminding us that tomorrow is promised to no one, not even young athletes who appear to be at the peak physically. The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico involving Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith is the most recent case. Korey Stringer died from heat stroke complications at training camp. Sean Taylor, Darrent Williams and Fred Lane were homicide victims while playing in the NFL. We've had players die too young because of cancer or other disease, like Ernie Davis, Brian Piccolo, and Eric Turner. Heart attacks or other cardiac events have claimed numerous NFL players, both while playing and during the off-season, including Stan Mauldin, Chuck Hughes, Larry Gordon, J.V. Cain, Dave Waymer, and recently, Thomas Herrion and Damien Nash. Car accidents have probably claimed more active NFL players than any other cause. Derrick Thomas died from complications following a car accident. Jerome Brown died in the prime of a star career in 1992. Teammates Bo Farrington and Willie Galimore died in the same car accident in 1964, months after they had won an NFL Championship with the Chicago Bears. The list goes on and on.

These deaths were often sudden and unexpected, and universally tragic. Only a handful, though, involved a conscious choice to put one's life at risk to help others. Pat Tillman left an active NFL career to join the military, and died in Afghanistan in 2004. Over thirty years earlier, Bob Kalsu made a similar choice when he left a career as a guard for the Buffalo Bills to go to Vietnam. I'm sure there were countless others who died on the battlefields of World War II, when they would have otherwise been on football fields. Then there is Joe Delaney, who in a moments' notice, had to make a decision, and decided to risk his life rather than do nothing.

God rest your soul, Joe.

5 Comments | Posted in History

AFL versus NFL: 1960-1963 Trends

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 1, 2009

Last time, I put the draft classes from 1960 to 1963 under the microscope to evaluate how both leagues did. Now, I'm going to go in depth on some of the age and experience trends from this period, and also look at positional and team trends. I'm going to have lots of data and charts in this post anyway, so to start with, I'll just link to the already existing pages at the website that summarize the yearly league numbers. The NFL season by season totals are here, and the AFL season by season totals are here.

We all know of the AFL's well-deserved reputation as a wide-open and wild passing league. The NFL in the early 1960's was changing its passing stripes as a result of the AFL expansion as well. In the late 1950's, the average completion percentage hovered around 50%. The completion percentage steadily climbed throughout this four year period. The expansion from 12 to 22 teams diluted the talent pool, and had an impact on defenses. A passer averaged 8.5 or more yards per attempt in a single season seventy-six times in the history of the NFL. Fifteen of those seasons (11 in the NFL, 4 in the AFL) came in this four year period-roughly 20%. Another 8 NFL passers reached the 8.0+ yards per attempt mark between 1960 and 1963, which means that over a third of all starting quarterbacks in the NFL in this time period averaged at least 8.0 yards per pass. The yards per attempt spiked at a league-wide average of 7.1 in 1962, a mark that hasn't come close to being touched since (2004 was the highest since the merger, at 6.6). Interception rates dropped during this time, and pass attempts climbed slightly from the 1950's. Overall scoring was up slightly (about 0.8 points per team per game), with a larger standard deviation, which makes sense given the poorer quality of some expansion type teams, along with the good offenses that were able to take advantage.

3 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

AFL versus NFL: 1960-1963 Drafts

Posted by Jason Lisk on May 14, 2009

Last week, I posted my proposed methodology for evaluating the drafts of the 1960’s. A couple of quick notes before I get into the specific drafts. After considering Jim Glass' comment and reviewing the drafts, I’ve decided not to include the head to head wins and steals in my analysis. I’ll go into more detail in the 1961 draft section.

Also, there are players who signed with one league and then moved to another. Typically, this was a player who signed with an NFL team, sat the bench for a couple of years, then moved to the AFL after playing out their option. Ben Davidson and Ron McDole are examples of this. If we are looking at who did the best at signing players, we want to credit this player to the original league, but if we want to look at which league got the production, we want to credit the league where the player starred. I decided to not include these players in the draft value analysis at all. I did include them in my list of the best players for each league, if they otherwise qualified, for the league where they accumulated their value. Finally, the best players list for each year consist of (1) players drafted in that year, even if they debuted later, and (2) undrafted free agents who debuted that season. For 1960, (since there were so many “rookies” entering the AFL) I only included undrafted players age 23 or younger. For the best players, I decided to list at least 10 AFL guys and 15 NFL guys each year, but sometimes I list more.

9 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL, NFL Draft

AFL versus NFL: draft methodology

Posted by Jason Lisk on April 30, 2009

So far, the posts have not really gone into too much detail on the actual teams and players in the American Football League and National Football League during the 1960's. I've looked at how much we can really learn from four championship games, and also looked at expansion teams to get a sense for the rate of improvement we might expect from AFL teams over time, if they were getting equivalent talent to the NFL.

This should be the final stage-setting post before we get to actual details about the AFL and NFL teams from this period. At the outset of this project, I said that I didn't know exactly how many posts would come out of this project, or how it would proceed. And that was true. My plan moving forward as of today is to break the actual drafts up into three periods: early (1960-1963), middle (1964-1966), and late (1967-1969). I'll move chronologically forward, but will not go straight through with just draft discussion. After the early drafts, for example, I will discuss the league trends resulting from the start of the AFL, such as aging patterns, starter retention, and rookie starting rates for the two leagues. I think it will make more sense to do this immediately after discussing the specific players and drafts for the same period.

5 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL, NFL Draft

JaMarcus Russell and Jeff Garcia

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 20, 2009

I'm a closet JaMarcus Russell fan, if only because it seems like an overwhelming and disproportionate (even for being a Raider and the #1 pick) number of people seem to dislike the guy. He actually played very well at the end of last season, and posted similar numbers to Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. As a 23 year old QB who went through his first training camp in 2008, he was impressive.

But enough about Russell; what I'm curious about is Oakland's signing of Jeff Garcia. Specifically, can (or will?) Garcia help Russell reach his potential and become an elite quarterback? The broader question is this: does playing with a successful, veteran QB help a QB (after controlling for draft position) become a better QB? Is there anything to this mentor theory?

3 Comments | Posted in History

AFL versus NFL: expansion teams

Posted by Jason Lisk on April 12, 2009

Let’s start with a thought experiment, in considering how long it might take for a league like the American Football League to become equivalent to the National Football League. How long would it take for a team starting from nothing today to become equal with the rest of the league? If we assume that our new team has equal access to incoming talent, I think the very simplified answer is that it would roughly take as long as necessary for two things to occur:

1) For the incoming talent (where our new team is equal to the established teams) to mature and reach peak age; and
2) For the current star talent in the league at the time of our new team’s inception (which our new team is lacking) to decline and move past peak age.

How many years is this? My thought is roughly somewhere between four and six years. And that number is of course highly variable in an individual team scenario, depending on things such as how the original roster is created, the quality of the coaches and management, free agency, and primarily, luck and skill in acquiring young talent.

9 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

Most Dominant RBs: Best Overall RBs Ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 10, 2009

Monday we reviewed methodology; Tuesday the top single seasons. On Wednesday, we looked at the most dominant RBs in NFL history and yesterday we focused on the greatest playoff performances ever. Today we bring it all together, regular and post-season numbers, to examine the best single seasons and careers in NFL history.

The table below shows each player's regular season adjusted rushing yards over average ("RSH"), his total touchdowns per game over average ("TTD"), his adjusted receiving yards over average ("CAT"), along with his post-season performances in all three categories ("PRSH", "PTTD" and "PCAT"). Finally, all six numbers were added together to get a total value on the season for each player ("TVAL").

			year	team   	 RSH 	TTD 	CAT 	PRSH	PTTD	PCAT	TVAL
Terrell Davis		1998	den	 881	13.9	  0	319	0.7	 20	1513
Marshall Faulk		2001	ram	 437	13.8	472	138	1.0	 79	1422
O.J. Simpson		1975	buf	 981	14.4	 70	  0	0.0	  0	1339
LaDainian Tomlinson	2006	sdg	 647	21.0	146	 52	1.4	 39	1331
Terrell Davis		1997	den	 695	 6.5	  0	332	8.2	  0	1323
Marshall Faulk		2000	ram	 452	17.1	475    - 42	0.4	 76	1310
Jim Brown		1963	cle	1088	 6.7	  0	  0	0.0	  0	1223
Priest Holmes		2002	kan	 603	14.4	327	  0	0.0	  0	1218
O.J. Simpson		1973	buf	1094	 4.6	  0	  0	0.0	  0	1186
Emmitt Smith		1995	dal	 642	15.7	  0	108	5.7	  0	1177
Earl Campbell		1980	oti	1063	 4.5	  0	 12	0.4	  0	1175
Walter Payton		1977	chi	 992	 9.6	  0    - 20	0.0	  9	1172
Marshall Faulk		1999	ram	 319	 2.9	733    -129	0.0	181	1161
Jim Brown		1958	cle	1000	 9.8	  0    - 39	0.0	  0	1156
Emmitt Smith		1992	dal	 708	10.3	  0	137	2.8	 11	1118
Jim Brown		1965	cle	 841	11.9	  0	  6	0.0	 14	1099
Barry Sanders		1997	det	 952	 5.0	  0    -  1	0.0	 23	1075
LaDainian Tomlinson	2003	sdg	 501	 6.9	413	  0	0.0	  0	1052
Priest Holmes		2003	kan	 243	17.2	337	 79	1.4	 10	1041
Eric Dickerson		1984	ram	 907	 4.2	  0	 23	0.4	  0	1020
Emmitt Smith		1993	dal	 635	 3.4	 20	157	4.2	 56	1019
Shaun Alexander		2005	sea	 613	17.8	  0	 21	0.0	  0	 990
Thurman Thomas		1990	buf	 346	 3.5	127	262	2.6	116	 973
Steven Jackson		2006	ram	 325	 5.5	506	  0	0.0	  0	 941
Marcus Allen		1985	rai	 738	 3.2	 92	 34	0.3	  0	 933
Ahman Green		2003	gnb	 617	10.0	  0	 79	0.7	 13	 924
Jim Brown		1959	cle	 796	 6.1	  0  	  0	0.0	  0	 919
Tiki Barber		2005	nyg	 722	 0.3	205    - 30	0.0	  7	 909
Barry Sanders		1994	det	 963	 0.0	  0    - 59	0.0	  0	 904
Jim Taylor		1962	gnb	 711	 9.8	  0    - 16	0.3	  0	 897
Emmitt Smith		1994	dal	 573	13.9	  0	  1	1.9	  0	 892
Joe Morris		1986	nyg	 590	 5.2	  0	138	2.4	  0	 879
Edgerrin James		2000	clt	 520	 7.7	146	 41	0.0	  4	 864
Brian Westbrook		2007	phi	 268	 3.6	519	  0	0.0	  0	 859
Barry Sanders		1991	det	 660	 8.6	  0	  9	0.0	  0	 840
Jamal Anderson		1998	atl	 635	 6.7	  0	 44	0.7	  0	 827
James Wilder		1984	tam	 429	 3.1	325	  0	0.0	  0	 816
Jim Taylor		1961	gnb	 626	 8.3	  0	 19	0.0	  0	 812
Marshall Faulk		1998	clt	 168	 0.5	631	  0	0.0	  0	 809
Thurman Thomas		1991	buf	 487	 3.4	264    - 11	0.0	  0	 808
Roger Craig		1988	sfo	 458	 0.0	139	 46	0.0	165	 808
Jamal Lewis		2003	rav	 755	 3.8	  0    - 36	0.0	  0	 794
Jim Brown		1964	cle	 717	 0.0	  0	 66	0.0	 10	 793
Larry Johnson		2006	kan	 620	 8.6	 21    - 39	0.0	  8	 783
Jim Brown		1961	cle	 627	 1.4	127	  0	0.0	  0	 783
Eric Dickerson		1988	clt	 672	 5.1	  0	  0	0.0	  0	 775
Steve Van Buren		1949	phi	 569	 2.7	  0	147	0.0	  0	 771
Larry Johnson		2005	kan	 557	10.6	  0	  0	0.0	  0	 768
Walter Payton		1979	chi	 600	 5.2	  0	 12	1.3      24	 765
Edgerrin James		1999	clt	 394	 8.0	216    -  7	0.0	  0	 764

TD's 1998 is the new gold standard for seasons. 2,000 rushing yards and a Super Bowl MVP. His 2,476 rushing yards in 19 games that season is still the record for rushing yards in a season. Jim Brown still leads all backs with six seasons in the top 50; Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk each have four seasons on the list. Barry Sanders has three top 50 seasons while LaDainian Tomlinson, Thurman Thomas, Jim Taylor, O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, Larry Johnson, Edgerrin James, Priest Holmes, Eric Dickerson and Terrell Davis all appear twice on the list, too. Davis produced two of the top five seasons of all time.

Finally, here's the career list. Let's use Terrell Davis as an example as I explain the four (eight) categories. The first category, Value, shows how many adjusted yards over average each RB added in each season of his career (with the 100/95/90 dropoff rate). Davis added 2,651 adjusted yards over average (which ranks as the 13th best number). You can also compare Davis to replacement, instead of league average. Comparing a RB to replacement rewards players who were very good for a long time; comparing a RB to league average only really rewards those who were great. Because of his short career, Davis added only 3,964 adjusted yards over replacement (which ranks as the 19th highest number). Once you include the playoffs, though, Davis added 3,516 adjusted yards over average (8th) and 5,051 yards over replacement (12th). And, of course, the line that shows Davis' numbers is really Davis, the Broncos offensive line, the Broncos offensive philosphy, Denver's coaching and Denver's players. So a RB can rank highly on this list by being great, having great support, or a combination of the two.

Here's the final career list, sorted by post-season included value added over average.

			Val	 Rk	Rep	 Rk	Val(P)	 Rk	Rep(P)	 Rk
Jim Brown		6114	  1	7971	  1	6174	  1	8082	  2
Emmitt Smith		4459	  5	7057	  6	5349	  2	8311	  1
Barry Sanders		5063	  2	7312	  3	5082	  3	7418	  4
Marshall Faulk		4482	  4	7445	  2	4817	  4	7998	  3
Walter Payton		4544	  3	7126	  4	4583	  5	7284	  5
LaDainian Tomlinson	4222	  6	7105	  5	4240	  6	7229	  6
Eric Dickerson		3693	  7	5457	  7	3868	  7	5740	  8
Terrell Davis		2651	 13	3964	 19	3516	  8	5051	 12
O.J. Simpson		3486	  8	4998	 11	3497	  9	5028	 13
Thurman Thomas		2859	 11	5083	  9	3386	 10	6036	  7
Priest Holmes		2937	  9	4491	 13	3048	 11	4629	 15
Jim Taylor		2780	 12	4155	 16	2899	 12	4371	 18
Earl Campbell		2867	 10	4198	 15	2868	 13	4286	 19
Curtis Martin		2591	 14	5203	  8	2784	 14	5606	  9
Steve Van Buren		2582	 15	3586	 26	2770	 15	3824	 26
Edgerrin James		2571	 16	5029	 10	2651	 16	5252	 10
Shaun Alexander		2422	 17	4221	 14	2451	 17	4406 	 17
Tiki Barber		2399	 18	4906	 12	2443	 18	5073	 11
Marcus Allen		1990	 19	4120	 18	2322	 19	4988	 14
Leroy Kelly		1961	 20	3421	 29	2087	 20	3630	 34
Franco Harris		1251	 47	3064	 36	2057	 21	4230	 21
John Riggins		1307	 44	3143	 35	1994	 22	3982	 22
Lydell Mitchell		1912	 22	3666	 21	1957	 23	3770	 31
Chuck Foreman		1803	 24	3443	 28	1931	 24	3807 	 27
Ottis Anderson		1702	 25	3542	 27	1853	 25	3775	 29
Brian Westbrook		1678	 27	3406	 30	1850	 26	3782	 28
Clinton Portis		1923	 21	3768	 20	1846	 27	3758	 32
Tony Dorsett		1523	 32	3644	 23	1808	 28	4235	 20
Jerome Bettis		1816	 23	3650	 22	1793	 29	3742	 33
Ahman Green		1622	 28	3611	 25	1743	 30	3891	 25
William Andrews		1690	 26	3293	 32	1678	 31	3308	 36
Eddie George		1450	 34	3391	 31	1652	 32	3773	 30
Ricky Watters		1343	 40	4127	 17	1616	 33	4624	 16
Fred Taylor		1440	 35	3632	 24	1613 	 34	3900	 24
Stephen Davis		1552	 29	2668	 45	1605	 35	2840	 41
Roger Craig		1291	 46	3261	 33	1599	 36	3938	 23
Gerald Riggs		1539	 31	2608	 48	1539	 37	2599	 50
Larry Johnson		1544	 30	2723	 43	1513	 38	2717	 43
Wilbert Montgomery	1332	 42	2985	 38	1500	 39	3317	 35
Larry Brown		1383	 36	2781	 41	1491	 40	2960	 40
Gale Sayers		1480	 33	2669	 44	1480	 41	2669	 46
Jamal Lewis		1333	 41	2983	 39	1425	 42	3191	 38
Abner Haynes		1379	 37	2624	 46	1399	 43	2668	 47
Joe Morris		1123	 56	1972	 68	1353	 44	2299	 62
Joe Perry		1352	 38	2498	 49	1352	 45	2510	 54
Clem Daniels		1351	 39	2787	 40	1351	 46	2787	 42
Corey Dillon		1247	 48	3051	 37	1323	 47	3224	 37
Lawrence McCutcheon	1192	 51	2399	 53	1287	 48	2613	 49
Curt Warner		1302	 45	2451	 52	1287	 49	2502	 55
Herschel Walker		1313	 43	3235	 34	1284	 50	3187	 39
Paul Lowe		1096	 57	1845	 73	1259	 51	2051	 71
Larry Csonka		 858	 72	2074	 65	1245	 52	2653	 48
Ron A. Johnson		1211	 49	2191	 63	1211	 53	2191	 66
Rodney Hampton		1128	 55	2275	 60	1205	 54	2382	 57
Chris Warren		1182	 52	2328	 55	1182	 55	2328	 60
Steven Jackson		1179	 53	2466	 50	1179	 56	2466	 56
Billy Sims		1147	 54	2609	 47	1176	 57	2679	 45
Ricky Williams		1208	 50	2731	 42	1158	 58	2697	 44
Robert Smith		1045	 60	2295	 58	1127	 59	2514	 53
George Rogers		1069	 59	2235	 61	1104	 60	2255	 64
Cliff Battles		1094	 58	1802	 78	1094	 61	1825	 80
Adrian Peterson   	 975	 63	1541	 97	1019	 62	1605	 98
Lenny Moore		 905	 68	2465	 51	 983	 63	2549	 51
Jim Nance		 981	 62	1632	 89	 981	 64	1632	 91
Floyd Little		 967	 64	2289	 59	 967	 65	2289	 63
Dan Towler		 962	 65	1604	 91	 963	 66	1630	 92
Cookie Gilchrist	 952	 66	1705	 82	 962	 67	1736	 86
Terry Allen		 985	 61	2315	 57	 955	 68	2315	 61
Deuce McAllister	 944	 67	2118	 64	 944	 69	2196	 65
Barry Foster		 858	 73	1469	102	 938	 70	1592	100
Frank Gifford		 846	 76	1949	 69	 938	 71	2100	 68
Eddie Price		 887	 70	1410	111	 905	 72	1439	112
Jamal Anderson		 844	 77	1805	 77	 901	 73	1957	 73
James Wilder		 893	 69	1986	 67	 893	 74	2028	 72
Billy Cannon		 717	 84	1171	118	 869	 75	1394	115
Charlie Garner		 851	 74	2345	 54	 861	 76	2539	 52
Timmy Brown		 861	 71	1888	 71	 861	 77	1888	 78
Otis Armstrong		 849	 75	1555	 94	 849	 78	1555	103
Neal Anderson	 	 843	 78	2318	 56	 826	 79	2363	 58
Dorsey Levens		 613	 96	1390	113	 790	 80	1693	 88
Delvin Williams	 	 791	 80	1667	 86	 777	 81	1657	 90
Bill Brown		 697	 87	1836	 74	 748	 82	1908	 76
Garrison Hearst	 	 805	 79	1933	 70	 738	 83	1914	 75
Rick Casares		 741	 81	1504	100	 733	 84	1519	106
Greg Bell		 655	 93	1660	 87	 730 	 85	1787	 83
Freeman McNeil		 558	102	1783	 79	 730	 86	2080	 70
J.D. Smith		 727	 82	1608	 90	 727	 87	1608	 95
Mark van Eeghen	 	 691	 88	1678	 85	 710	 88	1900	 77
Alan Ameche		 658	 92	1434	108	 691	 89	1474	108
Michael Turner		 699	 86	1015	136	 681	 90	1018	142
John Brockington	 724	 83	1572	 93	 679	 91	1541	105
Bill Paschal		 711	 85	1158	119	 676	 92	1146	122
DeAngelo Williams	 651	 94	 968	142	 648	 93	 982	147
Thomas Jones		 520	107	1861	 72	 645	 94	2089	 69
Frank Gore		 637	 95	1700	 83	 637	 95	1700	 87
Christian Okoye	 	 675	 91	1240	117	 627	 96	1242	118
Hoyle Granger		 684	 90	1459	104	 615	 97	1421	113
John Henry Johnson	 612	 97	1463	103	 612	 98	1455	109
Ted Brown		 584	101	1647	 88	 606	 99	1736	 85
Gene Roberts	 	 604	 98	 984	139	 604	100	1022	141

There are 9 RBs who gained 300 or more yards of value once you include the postseason data. Emmitt Smith (+891), Terrell Davis (+865) and Franco Harris (+805) were monsters in the post-season. John Riggins (+688) and Thurman Thomas (+527) had great success, too. Larry Csonka (+386), Marshall Faulk (+335), Marcus Allen (+332) and Roger Craig (+308) have terrific playoff resumes, too. Keith Lincoln (+289) is on there off of one game; Tony Dorsett, Ricky Watters (who many forget was a terrific playoff back), Duane Thomas, Joe Morris and Eddie George round out the top 15 biggest movers when you consider playoff performances.

4 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RBs: Playoff Edition

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 9, 2009

On Monday, I explained the system I've used to rank every running back in every season in NFL history. On Tuesday, I showed the most dominant 50 RB seasons in NFL history along with the top RB seasons for each franchise. Yesterday, we looked at the career list -- the 100 most statistically dominant RBs in NFL history. Today I want to discuss some of the most dominant -- and memorable -- postseason performances by any running back. Tomorrow, check in for an updated version of Tuesday's and Wednesday's lists, with playoff performances included.

For single game performances, the conversation starts and ends with Keith Lincoln's performance in the 1963 AFL Championship Game. Lincoln totaled 329 yards and two scores, easily the most yards from scrimmage in any playoff game.

When you think of great post-season performances, there are three that stand out from the crowd. John Riggins, 1982. Terrell Davis, 1997. Marcus Allen, 1983. Not only did all three capture Super Bowl MVP honors, but the three RBs rushed for over 100 yards in all of their 11 post-season victories.

	        rsh    rshyd  	rshtd   rec    recyd    rectd  	year	rd	opp
Riggins	        25	119	0	0	 0	0	1982	w	det
Riggins        	37	185	1	0	 0	0	1982	d	min
Riggins	        36	140	2	0	 0	0	1982	c	dal
Riggins	        38	166	1	1	15	0	1982	s	mia
Allen	        13	121	2	5	38	0	1983	d	pit
Allen	        25	154	0	7	62	1	1983	c	sea
Allen	        20	191	2	2	18	0	1983	s	was
Davis	        31	184	2	4	11	0	1997	w	jax
Davis	        25	101	2	1	17	0	1997	d	kan
Davis	        26	139	1	1	 2	0	1997	c	pit
Davis	        30	157	3	2	 8	0	1997	s	gnb

Riggins rushed for over 600 yards, Allen totaled over 190 yards per game and Davis rushed for 8 TDs. And while it's easy to remember these three historical postseasons, how do we rank every postseason performance ever?

It's not that hard; I'm going to use mostly the same formula that I used to rank each RB season. One note: I'm going to weigh all Super Bowl games twice -- they're so important and such a part of post-season lore that they deserve extra weight. I'm going to rate each post-season game each RB played relative to the league average that season (excluding that RB from the league average). There's no pro-rating here -- if you played four post-season games or one, you get what you get.

Let's use Riggins and my boy Keith Lincoln as examples. Lincoln had 206 adjusted rushing yards (206/0 fumbles), while the average starting RB that season averaged 47 adjusted rushing yards per game. So Lincoln's +159 in the rushing category. He scored 2 TDs, while the average RB scored 0.57 TDs/game; so Lincoln's up 1.43 touchdowns, or +29 adjusted yards. He had 7 catches and 123 receiving yards (133.5 ACY) in the championship game; the league average RB had 32.3 adjusted catch yards per game. So Lincoln added 101 adjusted catch yards over average, giving him a total of 289 adjusted yards over average. Wow.

How about Riggins? Remember we're counting his SB performance twice. So he's got 5 games played, 776 rushing yards, 0 fumbles, 2 receptions, 30 receiving yards and 5 TDs. That's 155.2 ARY/G (league average was 56.7) and 1.0 TD/G (league average was 0.68); his receiving numbers were obviously below average and therefore ignored. So he averaged 98.5 more rushing yards per game than average, over five games; that's +493; he scored 0.32 more TD/game over five games, so that's +1.6 TDs and +32 adjusted yards, for a grand total of 525 adjusted yards over average. That's the best mark in post-season history, over Davis (who had five fumbles and only two fumble recoveries in the '97 post-season) and Allen (who played one fewer game but was better on a per game basis). Here's the list of the top 50 post-season performances of all time.

                                        g    ARY/G   TD   ACY/G   RSHV   TDV    CATV    VALUE
John Riggins		1982	was	5    155      5	    7	  492	 1.6	  0	525
Terrell Davis		1997	den	5    133     11	   12	  332	 8.2	  0	497
Marcus Allen		1983	rai	4    152      7	   40	  350	 4.1	 15	447
Thurman Thomas		1990	buf	4    119      5	   59	  262	 2.6	116	431
Terrell Davis		1998	den	4    149      3	   32	  319	 0.7	 20	354
Timmy Smith		1987	was	4    137      4	    5	  315	 1.6	  0	347
Larry Csonka		1973	mia	4    113      8	    0	  212	 5.7	  0	327
Franco Harris		1974	pit	4    113      7	    2	  236	 4.5	  0	325
Emmitt Smith		1993	dal	4     97      6	   47	  157	 4.2	 56	297
Keith Lincoln		1963	sdg	1    206      2	  134	  159	 1.4	101	289
Marshall Faulk		2001	ram	4     98      3	   49	  138	 1.0	 79	236
Wilbert Montgomery	1980	phi	4     83      3	   61	  105	 0.8	108	229
Emmitt Smith		1995	dal	4     87      8	   18	  108	 5.7	  0	221
Eddie George		1999	oti	5     99      5	   25	  176	 2.2	  0	220
Roger Craig		1988	sfo	4     68      2	   73	   46	 0.0	165	212
Emmitt Smith		1992	dal	4     92      5	   35	  137	 2.8	 11	204
John Riggins		1983	was	4     93      7     1	  118	 4.2	  0	203
Franco Harris		1979	pit	4     65      5	   60	   34	 2.3	109	188
Matt Snell		1968	nyj	3    104      2	   36	  155	 0.3	 25	186
Joe Morris		1986	nyg	4     89      5	   14	  138	 2.4	  0	186
Earnest Byner		1987	cle	2     70      4	   86	   24	 2.8	100	181
Dorsey Levens		1997	gnb	4     89      2	   50	   87	 0.0	 90	177
Natrone Means		1996	jax	3    119      2	   17	  168	 0.2	  0	172
Ricky Watters		1993	sfo	2     78      6	   49	   37	 5.1	 30	169
Ickey Woods		1988	cin	4     97      3	    0	  158	 0.5	  0	169
Chuck Foreman		1976	min	4     72      3	   57	   47	 0.7	105	166
Merril Hoge		1989	pit	2    110      2	   51	  109	 0.8	 36	161
Eric Dickerson		1985	ram	2    135      2	    6	  142	 0.6	  0	155
Franco Harris		1975	pit	4     93      2	   30	  150	 0.0	  3	153
Freeman McNeil		1986	nyj	2    116      3	   31	  119	 1.7	  0	153
Kenneth Davis		1992	buf	5     91      2	   25	  152	 0.0	  0	152
Steve Van Buren		1949	phi	1    196      0	    0	  147	 0.0	  0	147
Roger Craig		1989	sfo	4     83      4	   32	  114	 1.6	  0	146
Elmer Angsman		1947	crd	1    159      2	  - 3	  115	 1.3	  0	142
Thurman Thomas		1989	buf	1     27      2	  170	 - 27	 1.4	137	138
Jamal Lewis		2000	rav	5     88      5	    2	  104	 1.6	  0	137
Paul Lowe		1960	sdg	1    165      1	   10	  129	 0.4	  0	137
Curtis Martin		1996	nwe	4     77      6	   25	   61	 3.7	  0	135
Fred Taylor		1999	jax	2    123      2	   30	  118	 0.8  	  0	135
Ottis Anderson		1990	nyg	4     88      2	    7	  135	 0.0	  0	135
Freeman McNeil		1982	nyj	3    100      1	   11 	  129	 0.0	  0	129
Duane Thomas		1971	dal	4     75      4	   14	   94	 1.7	  0	128
Norm Standlee		1941	chi	2     72      4	   19	   69	 3.0	  0	128
Tony Nathan		1984	mia	4     38      2	   87	 - 99	 0.0	225	126
Ricky Bell		1979	tam	2    113      2	    8	  114	 0.6	  0	126
Thurman Thomas		1993	buf	4     51      6	   52	 - 30 	 4.1	 73	125
Thomas Jones		2006	chi	4     97      4	   14	   97 	 1.3	  0	123
George McAfee		1941	chi	2     88      1	   38	  101	 0.0	 22	123
Earnest Byner		1985	cle	1    161      2	   31	   97	 1.3	  0	123
Robert Smith		1999	min	2    102      1	   53	   77	 0.0	 45	122
  • Notice that Earnest Byner's 1987 postseason -- you know, the one Jeremiah Castille ended -- ranks in the top twenty-five. No one remembers it anymore, but Byner totaled 345 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in Cleveland's two playoff games that year.
  • George McAfee rushed for 200 yards, had 69 receiving yards and scored a touchdown for the Bears in two 1941 playoff games ... and he wasn't even the best RB on Chicago! Norm Standlee had him beat: he scored two touchdowns in each playoff games for Chicago. In the final week of the regular season, McAfee caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from Sid Luckman the day the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. After the Bears won the title, both McAfee and Standlee left the NFL and served in World War II.
  • In addition to Lincoln's terrific one game performance, Steve Van Buren, Elmer Angsman, Thurman Thomas, Paul Lowe and Earnest Byner make the list based on one terrific playoff game. Van Buren's legendary 31-carry, 196 rushing yard performance helped the Eagles run 70 plays to Los Angeles' 52. The host Rams hadn't scored fewer than 27 points at home that season, but were shutout in the title game.
  • We all remember Timmy Smith's 200 rushing yard, two touchdown performance in the Super Bowl, but he was the Redskins top rusher in all three playoff wins. He rushed for 342 yards on 51 post-season carries, for an awesome 6.7 yards per carry average. Among RBs with 40 or more carries in a single post-season, only Marcus Allen's 8.0 YPC average in '83 (466 rushing yards on 58 carries) was higher.
  • There's one other guy who sort of gets lost in the mix when you think of great RB performances. That's because he was great all the time -- Emmitt Smith. In just over one season's worth of games (seventeen), Emmitt rushed 349 times for 1586 yards and 19 TDs. He averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage per game and scored 1.2 touchdowns per game with just two net fumbles.

21 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RBs: Career List

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 8, 2009

On Monday, I explained the methodology used to rank every RB in every season in NFL history. Yesterday, we looked at the most dominant RB seasons of all time. Today we get to the career list.

I used 100% of each player's best season, 95% of his second best season, 90% of his third best season, and so on, to come up with a career rating. Only seasons where the player ranked above the baseline were included. In the table below, you see each player's career value and his corresponding rank. This shows how many adjusted yards above average he was for his career. I think this metric is most useful to determine the most dominant statistical RBs of all time and also as a HOF litmus test.

However, it's not the best list for simply determining career value. For your favorite team, having a guy rush for 1300 yards for ten seasons would be more valuable than a RB who would rush for 1600 yards for six seasons. However, in terms of being a HOFer, I think the latter would be more "worthy." He was more dominant, if not necessarily more valuable. That said, we shouldn't ignore this sort of value; so while the "VALUE" column shows each player's yards over average, the "REPLV" is the replacement value column, which shows each player's value over replacement. I've defined replacement as 75% of league average.

For figuring out whether or not Ricky Watters or Stephen Davis was the better NFL player, I think we want to look at replacement value. For deciding whether Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith was the better RB, I think we want to look at value. One other note: older players are hurt when you use "replacement value" instead of value. An older RB who had a score of 500 when the average RB scored a 400 would be equal to a RB who scores 700 when the average was 600 when you compare the two to league average. Both would be +100. When you go to replacement, however, the older RB would be +200 and the modern RB would be +250. Enough talk; here's the list:

           	        VALUE	 RK	REPLV	 Rk
Jim Brown	        6114	 1	7971	 1
Barry Sanders        	5063	 2	7312	 3
Walter Payton	        4544	 3	7126	 4
Marshall Faulk	        4482	 4	7445	 2
Emmitt Smith	        4459	 5	7057	 6
LaDainian Tomlinson	4222	 6	7105	 5
Eric Dickerson	        3693	 7	5457	 7
O.J. Simpson	        3486	 8	4998	11
Priest Holmes	        2937	 9	4491	13
Earl Campbell	        2867	10	4198	15
Thurman Thomas	        2859	11	5083	 9
Jim Taylor	        2780	12	4155	16
Terrell Davis	        2651	13	3964	19
Curtis Martin	        2591	14	5203	 8
Steve Van Buren        	2582	15	3586	26
Edgerrin James	        2571	16	5029	10
Shaun Alexander	        2422	17	4221	14
Tiki Barber	        2399	18	4906	12
Marcus Allen	        1990	19	4120	18
Leroy Kelly	        1961	20	3421	29
Clinton Portis	        1923	21	3768	20
Lydell Mitchell	        1912	22	3666	21
Jerome Bettis	        1816	23	3650	22
Chuck Foreman	        1803	24	3443	28
Ottis Anderson	        1702	25	3542	27
William Andrews	        1690	26	3293	32
Brian Westbrook	        1678	27	3406	30
Ahman Green	        1622	28	3611	25
Stephen Davis	        1552	29	2668	45
Larry Johnson	        1544	30	2723	43
Gerald Riggs	        1539	31	2608	48
Tony Dorsett	        1523	32	3644	23
Gale Sayers	        1480	33	2669	44
Eddie George	        1450	34	3391	31
Fred Taylor	        1440	35	3632	24
Larry Brown	        1383	36	2781	41
Abner Haynes	        1379	37	2624	46
Joe Perry	        1352	38	2498	49
Clem Daniels	        1351	39	2787	40
Ricky Watters	        1343	40	4127	17
Jamal Lewis	        1333	41	2983	39
Wilbert Montgomery	1332	42	2985	38
Herschel Walker	        1313	43	3235	34
John Riggins	        1307	44	3143	35
Curt Warner	        1302	45	2451	52
Roger Craig	        1291	46	3261	33
Franco Harris	        1251	47	3064	36
Corey Dillon	        1247	48	3051	37
Ron A. Johnson	        1211	49	2191	63
Ricky Williams	        1208	50	2731	42
Lawrence McCutcheon	1192	51	2399	53
Chris Warren	        1182	52	2328	55
Steven Jackson	        1179	53	2466	50
Billy Sims	        1147	54	2609	47
Rodney Hampton	        1128	55	2275	60
Joe Morris	        1123	56	1972	68
Paul Lowe	        1096	57	1845	73
Cliff Battles	        1094	58	1802	78
George Rogers        	1069	59	2235	61
Robert Smith	        1045	60	2295	58
Terry Allen	         985	61	2315	57
Jim Nance	         981	62	1632	89
Adrian Peterson	         975	63	1541	97
Floyd Little	         967	64	2289	59
Dan Towler	         962	65	1604	91
Cookie Gilchrist	 952	66	1705	82
Deuce McAllister	 944	67	2118	64
Lenny Moore         	 905	68	2465	51
James Wilder	         893	69	1986	67
Eddie Price	         887	70	1410   111
Timmy Brown	         861	71	1888	71
Larry Csonka	         858	72	2074	65
Barry Foster	         858	73	1469   102
Charlie Garner	         851	74	2345	54
Otis Armstrong	         849	75	1555	94
Frank Gifford	         846	76	1949	69
Jamal Anderson	         844	77	1805	77
Neal Anderson	         843	78	2318	56
Garrison Hearst	         805	79	1933	70
Delvin Williams	         791	80	1667	86
Rick Casares	         741	81	1504   100
J.D. Smith	         727	82	1608	90
John Brockington	 724	83	1572	93
Billy Cannon	         717	84	1171   118
Bill Paschal	         711	85	1158   119
Michael Turner           699	86	1015   136
Bill Brown	         697	87	1836	74
Mark van Eeghen          691	88	1678	85
James Brooks	         690	89	2025	66
Hoyle Granger	         684	90	1459   104
Christian Okoye          675	91	1240   117
Alan Ameche	         658	92	1434   108
Greg Bell	         655	93	1660	87
DeAngelo Williams	 651	94	 968   142
Frank Gore	         637	95	1700	83
Dorsey Levens	         613	96	1390   113
John Henry Johnson	 612	97	1463   103
Gene Roberts	         604	98	 984   139
Rudi Johnson	         599	99	1811	76
Beattie Feathers	 591   100	 872   155
  • I did not use an AFL modifier like I did in the Greatest WR Ever series. Part of the reason was because there were not many standout RB performances like there were at WR, and part of the reason was I'm waiting for JKL to finish up his great work on his AFL vs. NFL series.
  • Csonka, Harris and Riggins: These three power backs rank quite a bit behind the modern HOF RBs. Part of that is because they split time with other RBs on their rosters and were really in the pre-stud RB era. But it's also arguable that none of them would have made the HOF without their post-season resumes. As we'll see tomorrow, these guys had some of the best post-seasons of all times. And while many Terrell Davis supporters say he should be in the HOF because Gale Sayers is, that may not be their best argument. All three RBs won a SB MVP, as did Davis, and their playoff success (both individually and team) is what brought them to Canton. For Davis, I think the case is even easier. They have him beat in longevity but not in level of dominance (at least statistically).
  • Priest Holmes ranks very highly on the list. I was surprised to see that, but thoughts about his offensive line aside, his numbers are just astounding. He's like Earl Campbell or Terrell Davis without the respect or the rings. If he never got hurt in '02 (his best season, which could have been the greatest season of all time) or '04 (had huge per game numbers but missed 8 games), no one would be able to ignore his numbers. If you pro-rate his 54 games (from '01 to '04) to 64, you get 1370 carries, 6497 rushing yards, 83 rushing TDs, 267 receptions, 2564 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs with only 12 fumbles. That's a seasonal average of 343/1624/21 and 67/641/2 with three fumbles. Four straight years of that would be HOF worthy, I think. If you pro-rate his numbers in his two missed seasons (instead of prorating his weighted average), you'd get 349/1651/22 and 64/612/2 with 3.5 fumbles per year. I'm not sure which way is more appropriate, but either way we're talking over 100 yards rushing a game, huge receiving numbers and 1.5 TDs a game. His offensive line was terrific, but he was an absolute monster for four straight years.
  • There's not much to say about Jim Brown. He ranked as the most dominant RB in the league in seven of his nine seasons and finished just a hair behind Jim Taylor in 1961.
  • I was curious to see where Curtis Martin would end up on this list. Not surprisingly, he ranks a bit higher when comparing him to replacement rather than to league average. Martin had a bunch of very good seasons but few great ones. His place in history is tough to rank. He wasn't as good as Campbell or Davis were in their primes, but he stuck around for a very long time. I think putting him at #14 is appropriate and respectable. Ricky Watters is sort of a poor man's version of Martin; he ranks 40th on the "Value" list and 17th on the "Replacement" list. Watters isn't a HOF player, IMO, but I do think he was a very valuable running back for a long time. And that's what those two numbers says.

Are older RBs well represented on this list? Among the top 30 RBs, only three (Brown, Taylor, Van Buren) debuted before 1960 and only two more (Simpson and Kelly) entered the league before the merger. There are many possible reasons for that, but here's one quick fix. Give each RB 10 points for every season they ranked #1, 9 points for every season they ranked #2, 8 points for ranking as the third best RB, etc. How would that list look?

The table below shows you. To take an example, Joe Perry (relative to league average) was the top RB in the league twice (10, 10), the third best RB once (8), fourth best, once (7), and also ranked 6th, 7th and 10th (5, 4, 1). That totals 45, which is what you see in the "Avg." column. Relative to replacement, he ranked 1st twice (10, 10), fourth twice (7, 7), seventh once (4) and tenth (1). That totals 39, shown in the "Rep." column. His ranks (shown in the earlier table) relative to league average (Val Rk) and replacement (Rep Rk) are reprinted below.

Player			Debut   Avg.    Rep.	Val Rk	Rep Rk
Jim Brown		1957 	 86	87	  1	  1
Barry Sanders		1989	 84	81	  2	  3
Walter Payton		1975	 69	73	  3	  4
Steve Van Buren		1944	 63	59	 15	 26
Emmitt Smith		1990	 61	59	  5	  6
Eric Dickerson		1983	 56	54	  7	  7
LaDainian Tomlinson	2001	 49	55	  6	  5
Thurman Thomas		1988	 48	50	 11	  9
Jim Taylor		1958	 47	44	 12	 16
Marshall Faulk		1994	 46	47	  4	  2
Joe Perry		1948	 45	39	 38	 49
O.J. Simpson		1969	 43	42	  8	 11
Curtis Martin		1995	 42	41	 14	  8
Earl Campbell		1978	 37	36	 10	 15
Leroy Kelly		1964	 37	38	 20	 29
Cliff Battles		1932	 37	41	 58	 78
Tony Dorsett		1977	 36	26	 32	 23
Gale Sayers		1965	 35	29	 33	 44
Tuffy Leemans		1936	 34	36	131	128
Tony Canadeo		1941	 34	28	134	144
Dutch Clark		1931	 33	36	164	132
Shaun Alexander		2000	 32	31	 17	 14
Terrell Davis		1995	 31	30	 13	 19
Priest Holmes		1997	 31	29	  9	 13
Edgerrin James		1999	 31	30	 16	 10
Dan Towler		1950	 31	31	 65	 91
Eddie Price		1950	 31	31	 70	111
Chuck Foreman		1973	 30	32	 24	 28
William Andrews		1979	 30	32	 26	 32
Lawrence McCutcheon	1972	 30	26	 51	 53
Bill Dudley		1942	 30	28	114	148
Larry Brown		1969	 29	28	 36	 41
Tiki Barber		1997	 28	32	 18	 12
Lydell Mitchell		1972	 28	30	 22	 21
Ottis Anderson		1979	 28	25	 25	 27
Jerome Bettis		1993	 28	23	 23	 22
Frank Gifford		1952	 28	30	 76	 69
Rick Casares		1955	 28	23	 81	100
Marcus Allen		1982	 27	30	 19	 18
John Riggins		1971	 27	24	 44	 35
Floyd Little		1967	 27	24	 64	 59
Alan Ameche		1955	 27	28	 92	108
Swede Hanson		1931	 27	22	117	149
Franco Harris		1972	 26	20	 47	 36
Wilbert Montgomery	1977	 26	32	 42	 38
Lenny Moore		1956	 26	28	 68	 51
Clinton Portis		2002	 25	27	 21	 20
Rodney Hampton		1990	 25	20	 55	 60
Hugh McElhenny		1952	 25	31	109	112
Gerald Riggs		1982	 24	17	 31	 48
Abner Haynes		1960	 24	27	 37	 46
Clem Daniels		1960	 24	27	 39	 40
Ron A. Johnson		1969	 24	25	 49	 63
Cookie Gilchrist	1962	 24	20	 66	 82
Bill Paschal		1943	 24	23	 85	119
Paul Lowe		1960	 23	19	 57	 73
Eddie George		1996	 22	25	 34	 31
John Henry Johnson	1954	 22	15	 97	103
Andy Farkas		1938	 22	24	120	140
Curt Warner		1983	 21	21	 45	 52
Herschel Walker		1986	 21	23	 43	 34
Larry Csonka		1968	 21	16	 72	 65
Ace Gutowsky		1932	 20	20	172	206
Charlie Trippi		1947	 20	20	222	209
Bronko Nagurski		1930	 20	23	346	287

This list has a lot of things going for it. The top 21 RBs are all HOFers or locks to end up there one day (Smith, Tomlinson, Faulk, Martin). Of the 65 players with 20 or more 'points', seven of the players debuted in the '30s, six in the '40s, ten in the '50s, eleven in the '60s, eleven in the '70s, seven in the '80s, ten in the '90s and three in the '00s. This list probably gives the best cross section of NFL history. Just about every older player moves up on this list and every modern player moves down.

21 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RB seasons

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 7, 2009

Yesterday, I explained the methodology employed to rank every RB in every season in NFL history. The table below lists the 50 most dominant RB seasons of all time. Why does Simpson's '75 season rank as the greatest ever? Let's run through the formula.

He played in 14 of a possible 14 games that season, and rushed for 1817 yards with 7 fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. That gives him 1667 adjusted rushing yards. He had 23 combined TDs from scrimmage. He recorded 28 receptions for 426 receiving yards, which translates to 468 adjusted catch yards. So how do we compute those values? There are too many things to show in the table, so (not listed) you need to know that Simpson had 119.1 adjusted rushing yards per game while the average starting NFL RB not named O.J. averaged just 53.7 adjusted rushing yards per game. That's a difference of 65.4 ARY per game, over 14 games. That means the Juice added 916 adjusted rushing yards on the season more than the average back; since he did not play in a 16 game season, we must pro-rate his score. As usual, I averaged the number of games on the NFL schedule that season and 16; here, that's 15. So we multiply 916 by 15/14 and get 981.

For TDs, the average RB had 0.68 TD per game in '75. That means O.J.'s 1.64 TDs per game translates to 0.96 more touchdowns per game, or 13.5 TDs on the season. Multiplied by 15/14 and you get his TD value of 14.4. Finally, he averaged 33.4 ACY/G while the average RB was at 28.8 ACY/G; do the math and you get a catch value of 70. By adding 981, 70 and 20*14.4 (since each TD is worth about 20 yards), you get 1339 adjusted yards over average, the greatest RB season in NFL history.

                        	    g/nfl    ARY      TTD   ACY	   RVAL	  TDVAL	   CVAL	  VAL
O.J. Simpson	      1975    BUF   14/14    1667     23    468	    981	  14.4	    70	  1339
Marshall Faulk	      2000    STL   14/16    1409     26    952	    452	  17.1	   475	  1269
Jim Brown	      1963    CLE   14/14    1688     15    304    1088	   6.7	     0	  1223
Priest Holmes	      2002    KAN   14/16    1590     24    777	    603	  14.4	   327 	  1218
LaDainian Tomlinson   2006    SDG   16/16    1790     31    592	    647	  21.0	   146	  1213
Jim Brown	      1958    CLE   12/12    1427     18    162	   1000	   9.8	     0	  1196
O.J. Simpson	      1973    BUF   14/14    1828     12     79	   1094	   4.6	     0	  1186
Marshall Faulk	      2001    STL   14/16    1357     21    890	    437	  13.8	   472	  1185
Walter Payton	      1977    CHI   14/14    1702     16    310	    992	   9.6	     0	  1184
Terrell Davis	      1998    DEN   16/16    1983     23    255	    881	  13.9	     0	  1159
Earl Campbell	      1980    HOU   15/16    1884     13     64	   1063	   4.5	     0	  1154
Marshall Faulk	      1999    STL   16/16    1331     12   1179	    319	   2.9	   733	  1109
Jim Brown	      1965    CLE   14/14    1394     21    379	    841	  11.9	     0	  1078
Barry Sanders	      1997    DET   16/16    2003     14    355	    952	   5.0	     0	  1052
LaDainian Tomlinson   2003    SDG   16/16    1645     17    875	    501	   6.9	   413	  1052
Eric Dickerson	      1984    RAM   16/16    1855     14    171	    907	   4.2	     0	   990
Shaun Alexander	      2005    SEA   16/16    1755     28    101	    613	  17.8	     0	   970
Barry Sanders	      1994    DET   16/16    1883      8    349	    963	   0.0	     0	   963
Emmitt Smith	      1995    DAL   16/16    1598     25    468	    642	  15.7	     0	   956
Steven Jackson	      2006    STL   16/16    1478     16    941	    325	   5.5	   506	   941
Tiki Barber	      2005    NYG   16/16    1860     11    611	    722	   0.3	   205	   932
Priest Holmes	      2003    KAN   16/16    1395     27    801	    243	  17.2	   337	   924
Jim Brown	      1959    CLE   12/12    1304     14    226	    796	   6.1	     0	   919
Emmitt Smith	      1992    DAL   16/16    1638     19    424	    708	  10.3	     0	   914
Jim Taylor	      1962    GNB   14/14    1374     19    139	    711	   9.8	     0	   907
Marcus Allen	      1985    RAI   16/16    1734     14    656	    738	   3.2	    92	   893
Brian Westbrook	      2007    PHI   15/16    1283     12    906	    268	   3.6	   519	   859
Emmitt Smith	      1994    DAL   15/16    1459     22    416	    573	  13.9	     0	   852
Barry Sanders	      1991    DET   15/16    1448     17    369	    660	   8.6	     0	   831
Jamal Lewis	      2003    BAL   16/16    1891     14    244	    755	   3.8	     0	   830
Earl Campbell	      1979    HOU   16/16    1547     19    118	    665	   8.3	     0	   830
Terrell Davis	      1997    DEN   15/16    1700     15    350	    695	   6.5	     0	   826
Edgerrin James	      2000    IND   16/16    1584     18    689	    520	   7.7	   146	   820
Thurman Thomas	      1991    BUF   15/16    1282     12    724	    487	   3.4	   264	   819
Ahman Green	      2003    GNB   16/16    1758     20    442	    617	  10.0	     0	   817
James Wilder	      1984    TAM   16/16    1394     13    813	    429	   3.1	   325	   816
Larry Johnson	      2006    KAN   16/16    1764     19    472	    620	   8.6	    21	   814
Marshall Faulk	      1998    IND   16/16    1294     10   1037	    168	   0.5	   631	   809
Jim Taylor	      1961    GNB   14/14    1282     16    213	    626	   8.3	     0	   793
Jim Brown	      1961    CLE   14/14    1283     10    528	    627	   1.4	   127	   783
Eric Dickerson	      1988    IND   16/16    1559     15    431	    672	   5.1	     0	   775
Edgerrin James	      1999    IND   16/16    1403     17    679	    394	   8.0	   216	   771
Jamal Anderson	      1998    ATL   16/16    1746     16    360	    635	   6.7	     0	   769
Larry Johnson	      2005    KAN   16/16    1700     21    393	    557	  10.6	     0	   768
Chuck Foreman	      1975    MIN   14/14     820     22    801	     37	  13.3	   440	   743
LaDainian Tomlinson   2007    SDG   16/16    1474     18    565	    409	   9.3	   145	   740
Ricky Williams	      2002    MIA   16/16    1703     17    434	    603	   6.0	     0	   722
Gerald Riggs	      1985    ATL   16/16    1719     10    317	    722	   0.0	     0	   722
Emmitt Smith	      1993    DAL   14/16    1461     10    500     635	   3.4	    20	   722
Jim Brown	      1964    CLE   14/14    1346      9    394	    717    0.0	     0	   717

Jim Brown leads all backs with six top 50 seasons. Marshall Faulk ('98-'01) and Emmitt Smith ('92-'95) had top fifty performances in four straight seasons. Tomlinson and Sanders each have three seasons that made the cut. Simpson has two of the top ten seasons of all time, and Priest Holmes, Earl Campbell, Edge, Dickerson, Jim Taylor, Larry Johnson and Terrell Davis all have a pair of top 50 seasons. Dickerson has two more seasons in the 51-70 range.

Here's a look at the best RB season for each of the current 32 franchises:

	              year   team   G/NFL    ary     ttd    acy    RSHV    TDV     CATV    VAL
O.J. Simpson	      1975   buf    14/14    1667     23    468     981   14.4      70    1339
Marshall Faulk	      2000   ram    14/16    1409     26    952     452   17.1     475    1269
Jim Brown	      1963   cle    14/14    1688     15    304    1088    6.7       0    1223
Priest Holmes	      2002   kan    14/16    1590     24    777     603   14.4     327    1218
LaDainian Tomlinson   2006   sdg    16/16    1790     31    592     647   21.0     146    1213
Walter Payton	      1977   chi    14/14    1702     16    310     992    9.6       0    1184
Terrell Davis         1998   den    16/16    1983     23    255     881   13.9       0    1159
Earl Campbell	      1980   oti    15/16    1884     13     64    1063    4.5       0    1154
Barry Sanders	      1997   det    16/16    2003     14    355     952    5.0       0    1052
Shaun Alexander	      2005   sea    16/16    1755     28    101     613   17.8       0     970
Emmitt Smith	      1995   dal    16/16    1598     25    468     642   15.7       0     956
Tiki Barber           2005   nyg    16/16    1860     11    611     722    0.3     205     932
Jim Taylor	      1962   gnb    14/14    1374     19    139     711    9.8       0     907
Marcus Allen	      1985   rai    16/16    1734     14    656     738    3.2      92     893
Brian Westbrook       2007   phi    15/16    1283     12    906     268    3.6     519     859
Jamal Lewis	      2003   rav    16/16    1891     14    244     755    3.8       0     830
Edgerrin James	      2000   clt    16/16    1584     18    689     520    7.7     146     820
James Wilder	      1984   tam    16/16    1394     13    813     429    3.1     325     816
Jamal Anderson	      1998   atl    16/16    1746     16    360     635    6.7       0     769
Chuck Foreman	      1975   min    14/14     820     22    801      37   13.3     440     743
Ricky Williams        2002   mia    16/16    1703     17    434     603    6.0       0     722
Jim Nance             1966   nwe    14/14    1283     11    115     657    2.0       0     698
DeAngelo Williams     2008   car    16/16    1518     20    154     469    9.1       0     651
Stephen Davis	      1999   was    14/16    1355     17    146     451    9.0       0     631
Barry Foster	      1992   pit    16/16    1515     11    398     581    2.0       0     620
Roger Craig	      1988   sfo    16/16    1352     10    648     458    0.0     139     596
Curtis Martin	      2004   nyj    16/16    1697     14    307     528    2.4       0     577
Deuce McAllister      2003   nor    16/16    1566      8    620     419    0.0     150     569
Fred Taylor	      2000   jax    13/16    1349     14    294     447    5.2       0     551
Ottis Anderson        1979   crd    16/16    1380     10    370     491    0.0       0     491
Rudi Johnson	      2005   cin    16/16    1483     12    125     333    1.3       0     359
Domanick Williams     2004   htx    15/16    1088     14    690    - 39    3.0     277     299

Tomorrow, I'm going to post the all time career list. On Thursday, I'm going to bring post-season numbers into the discussion and look at the most dominant playoff performances in NFL history. Friday brings new lists -- a career ranking with post-season numbers included and the top single season stars including the playoffs.

Before we move on, I'd like to address two RBs who won't make much noise over the course of this five-part series. That's why I'd like to focus on them for a minute now.

  • Marion Motley: As told by the great Sean Lahman in The Pro Football Historical Abstract, Motley's NFL numbers simply don't tell the story. There are two good reasons for that. First,

    Motley spent nearly five years after college serving in the U.S. Navy, costing him most of his prime football years. [Chase note: Although it was here that he met Paul Brown.] The second problem is that when he did turn pro, he started his career in the AAFC, a league that didn't have much competitive balance. Motley was an unstoppable avalanche, completely overwhelming opposing defenses. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and helped the Cleveland Browns compile a 47-4-3 record and win all four AAFC Championships. [Chase note: In 1948, he led the Browns to a perfect 15-0 record and rushed 14 times for 133 yards and 3 scores in the championship game.] Motley led the NFL in rushing yards in 1950, his (and the Browns') first year in the league. He was already thirty by this time, and injuries were beginning to take their toll.

    Motley rushed for just five touchdowns in his NFL career. But in a memorable game against the Steelers in 1950, he rushed 11 times for 188 yards and one score; that's a remarkable 17.1 yards per carry average. He also caught a 33 yard TD pass that game.

    One more anecdote from Lahman's book, this time told by Paul Zimmerman ("Dr. Z"): If there is a better football player who snapped on a helmet, I would like to know his name. [Jim] Brown was the best pure runner I've ever seen, but Motley was the greatest all-around player, the complete player." In case you didn't know, Motley was also a devastating linebacker for Cleveland. Here's another great Motley story:

    He began playing primarily at fullback when the two-platoon system was generally adopted in 1948, but was still used at linebacker at crucial times. In the Browns' first game in the National Football League, the Philadelphia Eagles had a first and goal at Cleveland's 6-yard line and Motley was put in at middle linebacker. Needing a touchdown, the Eagles ran the ball four times. Motley made the tackle each time. The four plays gained a total of three yards and Cleveland took over on downs.

    But most remember him for bringing power football to Cleveland, later sustained by Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly.

  • Gale Sayers: Sayers ranks #33 all time on tomorrow's list, higher than on almost any other objective list of career totals. But I suspect he's quite a bit better than the 33rd best RB of all time. From 1965 to 1969, he averaged an incredible 5.1 yards per carry. He also was taking punt and kick return duty, which likely cut down somewhat on his number of carries. The biggest reason Sayers ranks low on the career list and why his best season is just the 64th best of all time is the low number of carries. Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson both averaged over six yards per carry one season ... and also had enough carries to hit 2,000 yards. Even in Sayers' best year, 1966, he only ranked 4th in carries. (His '66 ranks ahead of his '65 because of his 9 fumbles in '65). The obvious question is, 'Why?' Why did RBs like Bill Brown, Jim Nance and Dick Bass get more carries for their teams than Gale Sayers did for the Bears? Why did teammates Ronnie Bull, Jon Arnett and Ralph Kurek get 207 carries during Sayers' best season, when he averaged over two yards per carry more than them? No one ever called George Halas an idiot, so the two reasons were probably: 1) he didn't want to overuse his special talent, and 2) it was uncommon in that era to have a workhorse back that looked like Sayers. And really, both of those points are true.

    We'll never know if Sayers could have handled another 50-75 carries a year and kept up his production, but I suspect he could have, and would have, and would then rank in my all time top ten. On the other hand, consider that three guys who averaged 3.3 YPC got 200+ carries in '66, Sayers saw 200+ carries and averaged over five yards per carry, and the Bears had a losing record. One would think that if the Bears weren't winning many games, they would have given Sayers a bunch more carries. And while maybe Bull, Arnett and Kurek weren't very good, maybe they carried the ball in short yardage situations and Sayers carried the ball in advantageous situations. If that's the case, then you really can't compare Sayers' yards per carry average to the YPC of the do-it-all RBs who are all time greats. But that's just speculation. I will note that it's odd that Chicago had Sayers and Dick Butkus on the same team yet never had much success during the late '60s.

    That said, whenever he touched the ball, he sure looked like an all time great. And no one has ever been as good as Sayers was on a cold day in December, 1965. On opening day of that season, the 49ers throttled the Bears at old Kezar Stadium, and cruised to a 52-10 lead by the 4th quarter. Just three months later, the rookie exacted revenge: he scored six TDs, rushed 9 times for 113 yards (and 4 scores), caught 2 passes for 91 yards (including an 80 yard TD) and returned 5 punts for 124 yards (with an 85 yard score).

10 Comments | Posted in History

Most Dominant RB Ever: Methodology Discussion

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 6, 2009

Here at PFR, we've looked at the best Wide Receivers, the top Quarterbacks, and even the strongest defenses in NFL history. While long overdue, let's finally take a look at analyzing which RBs have produced the most dominant statistics of all time. I apologize in advance for the length of this post - one of the reasons I've put this project off for so long was how complicated it is to accurately rank running backs. Running back fans, rejoice: PFR's devoting the full week to looking at the greatest RBs in NFL history.

I've already mentioned two caveats. One, this will just be a statistical look. Opinions about the offensive lines of Emmitt Smith, Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Priest Holmes are excluded from this study; feel free to move those players up or down based on your views of their supporting casts. Second, we're focusing on dominance, not necessarily value. A RB who runs for 1,200 yards in ten straight seasons is probably more valuable to his team than one with 1500 yards in five seasons and nothing else, but the latter RB is more dominant. We're focused on peak production and sustained success (although from time to time we'll change gears).

Tackling the question of which RB has separated himself most from his peers is a difficult question. How does Barry Sanders' 1883 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs compare to Terry Allen's 1353 rushing yards and 21 scores on the ground? What about Earl Campbell's 1934 yard season with fewer than 2,000 yards from scrimmage versus Roger Craig's 1050/1016 season in 1985?

There is no simple or obvious solution. Because of that, unfortunately, this will get pretty statistics-heavy, and will surely bore most of you. But before going down that road, let me start with the biggest difference I had to keep in mind when ranking RBs as opposed to QBs.

You've probably never thought about this before, but how many yards do you think the average QB gets on his median pass attempt? The answer is zero, and for most of NFL history, it was less than that. 2008 was the greatest passing season of all time (by adjusted net yards per attempt), but even this past season, the median pass attempt probably went for only one or two yards.

The average completion percentage was 61% while the sack rate was 5.9%; this means that on every 1,000 dropbacks, 59 times the QB was sacked. On the remaining pass plays, 574 times (61% of 941) of the time the QB completed a pass. So only 57.4% of all pass plays were completed, and surely a bunch of those completions went for negative yards or no gain.

In 1998, the completion percentage was 56.6% and the sack rate was 7.2%; this means only 4.8% of all completions would need to go for no gain (or worse) to make the median pass attempt be zero (or negative). In '88, the numbers were 54.3% and 6.8%; only 1.2% of completions would need to go for no gain (or worse) to make the median pass attempt be zero (or negative). In '78? A leaguewide completion percentage of 53.1% coupled with a sack rate of 7.9% meant that 51% of all pass plays did not gain yardage even ignoring all completed passes for negative or zero yards.

Passing is high risk, high reward. The large gains offset the risk, which is why teams average more yards per pass than yards per rush. For the passers, frequency of success isn't nearly as important as quality of the success. What about rushing? Just the opposite. In modern times, most RBs have a median carry length of three yards. I suspect that's been the case for the majority of RBs for a long time. LenDale White and his 3.9 YPC last season? Median rush of 3 yards. Adrian Peterson and his 4.8 YPC? Median rush of 3 yards.

We measure passing by adjusted net yards per attempt because raw totals are misleading (good passing teams stop passing, bad passing teams pass more often) and because the average is much more important than the median for passers. For RBs, it's reversed. We care about RB consistency because rushing isn't supposed to be high risk, high reward. For runners, we want them to move the chains. Points come out of the passing game, but moving the chains and killing the clock is the domain of runners.

With that said, I decided to break RB statistics down into three categories -- rushing, scoring and catching. Then each RB will be compared to the top rushers, scorers and catchers at his position, and only get credit for his above average work. I like this because a RB with 10 receptions for 50 yards will get a zero in the receiving category while a RB with 25 catches for 200 yards will also get a zero. It's not hard to find a RB that can catch 200 yards worth of passes; however, some teams don't use their RB that way. Michael Turner shouldn't be penalized for not getting a few more receiving yards last season -- that doesn't change the fact that he was a dominant rusher. Similarly, by comparing to the league average, 24 TDs is significantly more valuable than 12 TDs, and not just twice as valuable. Let me explain in detail.

Rushing: You might expect me to give you some convoluted stat like Rushing Yards over three yards per carry or rushing yards minus league average times carries, or who knows what. But believe it or not, I think simpler is better. I spent a lot of time deciding how to weigh yards per carry, and eventually I decided pure rushing yards alone is all we need.

Is 270/1100 better than 330/1100? One argument that I've certainly used before is "they got the same number of yards, but the first guy's team had an extra 60 plays with which to gain more yards!" The natural response to that is "why would a coach give a RB 330 carries if he was only getting 3.6 per carry?" From there, we have a two different answers. Either: a) the RB wasn't that good but either the coach was dumb or the backups were really bad, or b) the RB was good and his YPC is misleading.

Once again, with rushing, I think median carry is a more telling number than average carry. Yards per carry is not a very good measure of central tendency. On the other hand, we can infer that if a RB is getting a high number of carries, he's doing something right. Carries themselves are highly correlated with greatness.

Terrell Davis, Edgerrin James, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Clinton Portis, Eddie George, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell. Those are the RBs with over 19 carries per game for their careers. A RB that gets carry after carry is doing something right. Maybe he's consistently getting gains, maybe he's running hard despite a bad OL, or maybe he's able to kill the clock without fumbling. All of those things are good. A list of the top RBs by yards per carry? Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Paul Lowe, Robert Smith, Joe Perry, Wendell Tyler, Greg Pruitt, James Brooks, Tiki Barber, Hugh McElhenny, O.J. Simpson, Fred Taylor and Charlie Garner all have career averages over 4.6 YPC. Ignoring the overlap, I'd prefer the first list.

Remember, teams can choose to pass instead of run. So if a RB is getting 350 carries, it can't be just because his RB teammates are bad. It's got to be because the team's QB is bad, too. And if a team's QB is bad, its other RBs are bad and one guy keeps getting carry after carry, then he's pretty valuable to his team. And if year after year he gets these carries, he's definitely doing something right. A RB with 1600 yards on 400 carries may be just as valuable or dominant as one with 1600 yards on 325 carries. After all, the obvious question for the latter RB is -- why didn't he get more carries? Perhaps the former RB was getting three and four yards on every carry, a very valuable trait.

So I'm going to go with pure rushing yards, with just one addition. At PFR we have fumbles and fumbles recovered information, but not fumbles lost data. The value of a lost fumble is about -50 yards; not all fumbles are lost -- a good number are recovered by a teammate or go out of bounds. Therefore, I decided to give -25 yards for all fumbles and also +25 yards for all fumbles recovered (and not +50, since someone else on his team could have recovered the ball. Note: I should have derived the exact fumble recovery rates, but I took the easy way out and just said a fumble had a 50/50 chance of being recovered by either team). So a 1600 yard rushing season with 6 fumbles and 2 fumbles recovered (presumed two fumbles lost to the other team) is equivalent to a 1500 yard season with zero fumbles.

Scoring: This one's pretty simple -- rushing and receiving touchdowns combined. There's no reason to separate them out -- a receiving TD is just as valuable as a rushing one. This is important because a RB like James Brooks in 1988 had 6 receiving TDs but under 300 receiving yards. If we combined all receiving numbers together, Brooks might not get any receiving credit because his receiving yardage was lower than average. But his TDs were very valuable, and this way he'll get full credit for them.

Catching: Another simple formula here; adjusted catch yards are simply receiving yards plus 1.5 yards for each reception. This gives a small bonus for having a bunch of receptions but not too much.

Each RB will receive a grade in rushing, scoring and catching. Their grade will show how dominant they were relative to their peers. How? By comparing their production in that category to the league average. The league average is defined as the average production of the top N RBs in the league (in that specific category), where N is the number of teams in the league. Additionally, the RB in question will have his production removed from the league average, so for 2008, all the top RBs get compared to the other top 31 RBs in the league. Finally, per game production was used for the league average, and a RB "counted" as long as he played in at least 50% of the league's games that season.

So in 2008, the top 32 RBs by adjusted rushing yards averaged 66.5 adjusted rushing yards per game (with the adjustment being just for fumbles). The top 32 RBs in scoring per game averaged 0.70 TD/game. The top 32 RBs in adjusted catch yards averaged 27.7 ACY/G. So a RB that played in 16 games would need to have more than 1,064 adjusted rushing yards, 11.2 total TDs or more than 443 adjusted receiving yards to get credit for being "above average". Because we're looking to find the most dominant RBs ever, only above average performance is going to be rewarded. There's nothing dominant about 1,000 rushing yards.

One more thing -- what do we do with a RB that misses some games? A 2008 RB that has 1,200 adjusted yards in 12 games is more valuable than one who has 1,200 adjusted yards in 16 games, and should be rewarded as such. The latter RB would get credit for being 136 yards over average - he was 8.5 yards over average for 16 games. What about the former? He was 33.5 yards over average for 12 games, and then did not play for four games. So he'll get credit for being +402 when he played; what about when he didn't? Some arbitrary penalty must be given -- we can't ignore that his team received below average production while the RB was out. I decided to give his team 80% of average production while he was out -- this means an assumption that the backup RB(s) get 53.2 adjusted rushing yards per game (in '08). The converse of that is the starter gets a penalty of -13.3 yards per game he was out; for four games, that's -53 yards.

It's not as complicated as it sounds. It gives a RB in 2008 who had 1200 rushing yards for 12 games a value of +349. That was a mouthful and it sounds really complicated, but it makes 1200 yards in 12 games (100 yards per game) equal to 1413 yards in 16 games (88.3 yards per game). That looks like a good balance to me; the first RB was more dominant but some weight must be given for staying healthy.

Finally, how do we add it all together? A RB gets his score in the rushing category, whatever it is. He then gets his score in the TDs or the receiving category but only if his score is positive. This way, a RB that isn't a goal line threat (or plays with Peyton Manning) or a great pass catcher isn't severely penalized.

Let's use an example. LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. He played in every game and had 1815 rushing yards, 2 fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. That's an average of 111.9 adjusted rushing yards per game. The other top 31 RBs that season averaged 71.4 ARY/G; therefore, LT gets credit for being 647 yards above average that season (the difference in yards per game times 16 games). What about scoring? He had 31 TDs, an incredible 1.9 TD/G; the other top 31 RBs averaged 0.62 TD/game, meaning Tomlinson scored 21.0 more touchdowns than league average that season. Finally, he also chipped in with 56 receptions for 508 yards, a total of 592 adjusted catch yards and 37 ACY/G. The other top 31 RBs in the league averaged 27.9 ACY/G, meaning LT added 146 yards in receiving value over the average back.

Now we just add it all up; LT had 647 adjusted rushing yards over average, 146 adjusted receiving yards over average and 21 TDs over average. His total score is therefore 647 + 146 + 20*21, giving 20 yards for each TD. That total of 1,213 adjusted yards over average is one of the five greatest seasons ever. Tune in tomorrow to see just where it ranks.

I'm sure this is going to all sound pretty math heavy and complicated, but unfortunately, analyzing RBs takes a lot of work. I really like the results, though. Here are the most dominant RBs, statistically, for each year since 1932:

2008	atl	Michael Turner
2007	phi	Brian Westbrook
2006	sdg	LaDainian Tomlinson
2005	sea	Shaun Alexander
2004	sea	Shaun Alexander
2003	sdg	LaDainian Tomlinson
2002	kan	Priest Holmes
2001	ram	Marshall Faulk
2000	ram	Marshall Faulk
1999	ram	Marshall Faulk
1998	den	Terrell Davis
1997	det	Barry Sanders
1996	den	Terrell Davis
1995	dal	Emmitt Smith
1994	det	Barry Sanders
1993	dal	Emmitt Smith
1992	dal	Emmitt Smith
1991	det	Barry Sanders
1990	det	Barry Sanders
1989	buf	Thurman Thomas
1988	clt	Eric Dickerson
1987	2tm	Eric Dickerson
1986	ram	Eric Dickerson
1985	rai	Marcus Allen
1984	ram	Eric Dickerson
1983	ram	Eric Dickerson
1982	rai	Marcus Allen
1981	det	Billy Sims
1980	oti	Earl Campbell
1979	oti	Earl Campbell
1978	chi	Walter Payton
1977	chi	Walter Payton
1976	buf	O.J. Simpson
1975	buf	O.J. Simpson
1974	den	Otis Armstrong
1973	buf	O.J. Simpson
1972	was	Larry Brown
1971	den	Floyd Little
1970	nyg	Ron A. Johnson
1969	clt	Tom Matte
1968	cle	Leroy Kelly
1967	oti	Hoyle Granger
1966	nwe	Jim Nance
1965	cle	Jim Brown
1964	cle	Jim Brown
1963	cle	Jim Brown
1962	gnb	Jim Taylor
1961	gnb	Jim Taylor
1960	cle	Jim Brown
1959	cle	Jim Brown
1958	cle	Jim Brown
1957	cle	Jim Brown
1956	chi	Rick Casares
1955	clt	Alan Ameche
1954	sfo	Joe Perry
1953	sfo	Joe Perry
1952	ram	Dan Towler
1951	nyg	Eddie Price
1950	cle	Marion Motley
1949	phi	Steve Van Buren
1948	phi	Steve Van Buren
1947	phi	Steve Van Buren
1946	pit	Bill Dudley
1945	phi	Steve Van Buren
1944	nyg	Bill Paschal
1943	chi	Harry Clarke
1942	pit	Bill Dudley
1941	chi	George McAfee
1940	was	Dick Todd
1939	was	Andy Farkas
1938	pit	Whizzer White
1937	was	Cliff Battles
1936	det	Ace Gutowsky
1935	crd	Doug Russell
1934	chi	Beattie Feathers
1933	was	Jim Musick
1932	was	Cliff Battles

And the number of times each RB led the league:

Jim Brown	        7
Eric Dickerson	        5
Barry Sanders	        4
Steve Van Buren        	4
Marshall Faulk	        3
Emmitt Smith	        3
O.J. Simpson	        3
LaDainian Tomlinson	2
Shaun Alexander	        2
Terrell Davis	        2
Marcus Allen	        2
Earl Campbell	        2
Walter Payton	        2
Jim Taylor	        2
Joe Perry	        2
Bill Dudley	        2
Cliff Battles	        2
Michael Turner	        1
Brian Westbrook	        1
Priest Holmes	        1
Thurman Thomas	        1
Billy Sims	        1
Otis Armstrong	        1
Larry Brown             1
Floyd Little	        1
Ron A. Johnson	        1
Tom Matte	        1
Leroy Kelly	        1
Hoyle Granger        	1
Jim Nance	        1
Rick Casares	        1
Alan Ameche	        1
Dan Towler	        1
Eddie Price	        1
Marion Motley	        1
Bill Paschal	        1
Harry Clarke	        1
George McAfee	        1
Dick Todd	        1
Andy Farkas	        1
Whizzer White	        1
Ace Gutowsky	        1
Doug Russell	        1
Beattie Feathers	1
Jim Musick	        1

Tomorrow, we'll look at the best 50 RB seasons of all time along with some of the best performances in team history. On Wednesday, we'll check out the career list. Because all of this data focuses just on regular season work, Thursday we'll check out the top post-season runners of all time. Friday we'll put it all together again, matching post-season data with regular season data and look at new single season and career rankings.

16 Comments | Posted in History

AFL versus NFL: the Super Bowls

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 24, 2009

I'm going to start my discussion of the AFL and NFL by going where, for most people, the discussion begins and ends. The first four AFL versus NFL championship games (or Super Bowls as they came to be known) took on almost mythic significance. These 240 minutes of game action not only decided titles--they proved how good the two leagues were.

Once the American Football League established itself as having some staying power, the clamor for a championship game began. The December 16, 1963 issue of Sports Illustrated featured an article titled "The Two Pro Football Leagues Must Meet", which set forth an exchange between then AFL Commissioner Joe Foss and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozell. That issue also featured a point/counterpoint, with
Dan Jenkins setting forth the case for the AFL being competitive with the NFL,
and Tex Maule summarily dismissing the AFL with the retort, "Ridiculous! The NFL by 50 Points".

2 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

Brees, Ryan, Rivers, Cutler and Manning (and maybe Brady, too)

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 23, 2009

The biggest story in the NFL these days not involving the NFL draft has to do with the bizarre circus involving Jay Cutler. Many have written about everything from Cutler's production and his psyche to macro thoughts on Bill Belichick disciples; I have nothing to add there. I'd rather take on an impossible task and take a statistical look at how Jay Cutler ranks among other QBs.

And when I say how Jay Cutler ranks, I mean how Jay Cutler 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and so on, ranks. And that's why it's an impossible task. I can't predict what will happen in three years. You can't predict what will happen in four years. We won't know how good Cutler is over the next five years until five years from now. It's all a guessing game, but that doesn't mean we can't refine our guessing. There are obvious and not so obvious flaws in the approach I'm about to outline, and I'll do my best to explain them.

What I'm trying to figure out is how valuable is Jay Cutler, the commodty, in March 2009? For example, we know we'd rather have Cutler than Tarvaris Jackson and we'd rather have a 26 year old Peyton Manning than a 26 year old Jay Cutler. But to determine his value -- his trade value, if you're a Broncos fan -- you need to know what he'll do in the future. And as Yogi Berra once said, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. Consider:

  • At the end of the 1970 season, Billy Kilmer was 31 years old and had just 11 career wins to his name. In 1970, he threw 6 TDs and 17 INTs. Who would have guessed he would have been one of the best QBs in the NFL over the next half-decade?
  • At the end of the 1995 season, Rich Gannon was 30 years old and had started just four games over the past three years. Who would have guessed that he would make four Pro Bowls over the next seven seasons?
  • Stop me if you've heard this one. QB is drafted 330th overall. He throws 1 TD and 7 INT his rookie season. He throws 1 TD and 3 INT and has an 0-2 record his sophomore season. You probably wouldn't think he'd still be in the league five years after that, but in his seventh season Brian Sipe was named a first team All Pro.

This goes the other way, too, of course.

    Archie Manning struggled early in his career, but the #1 pick was very good at ages 29, 30 and 31. Who would project him to throw 15 TD and 30 INT the rest of his career?
  • Mark Rypien won a Super Bowl and had one of the better seasons in passing history in 1991. He was just 29 years old. He never came close to duplicating that success.
  • Greg Landry was a first round pick who had big years as a runner and passer in 1971 and 1972. He was 26 years old in March 1973, and he may have been the single best QB prospect in the NFL at that time. When you consider his rushing, he'd been more productive than Manning or Bradshaw or Griese, he was younger than Tarkenton and Namath, and he had a better pedigree than Ken Anderson. Landry stuck around for awhile but there were about 15 QBs who outperformed him from that moment on.
  • Steve Bartkowski was a former number 1 pick who made the Pro Bowl in '80 and '81 and had an incredible 22 TD/5 INT ratio in 1983. He was 31 years old, but he threw for fewer than 4,000 yards the rest of his career.

None of this is breaking news; we all know it's difficult to predict one year down the road, let alone five or ten. But it's important to set the stage before we answer the key question: if you could have any QB in the NFL right now, for your favorite team, who would you pick? Can statistics and past history guide us?

There are a ton of factors that you would want to use to predict future QB success, but there are three that seem most prominent: age, past production and draft value. Unfortunately, each of these are complicated variables and require a full description, but first, let me describe how we measure future QB success. If you hate reading the details, skip to the end for the QB list.

First I calculated each QB's adjusted net yards per attempt (passing yards + 20*TDs - 45*INT - sack yards lost) / (passes + sacks) metric. Then I compared that ratio to "replacement level", defined as 75% of the league average. Then I multiplied the difference between the QB's ANY/A and replacement level by the QB's number of pass attempts plus sacks to get a measure of "adjusted yards over replacement." Then, I added to that number every adjusted rushing yard (rushing yards + 20*rushTDs) over four yards per carry. So if a QB had 100 carries, 500 yards and 5 TDs, that would be plus 200 adjusted yards. Whether or not this formula is perfect isn't that important -- for what we're looking for, with hundreds of QBs, something that's generally correct is all we need. We don't need to know specifically if Troy Aikman was better than Jeff Garcia, but just that both were better than Danny Kanell and Bobby Hoying.

Measuring QB success or value in a given year isn't enough, though. We want to know how they'll do for awhile, although we also want immediate success. To grade QB value for the long term, I took 100% of their production in Year N+1 (2009, for Jay Cutler's purposes), 95% of their value in N+2, 90% in N+3, and so on, for 8 seasons. This will thus reward great immediate production and sustained levels of strong play. This weighted measure of eight years of production will be the output variable in our regression formula. Not surprisingly, Manning in March 2000 (the year he turned 24) and Marino in March 1984 (the year he turned 23) come out as the top two scores.

Age:: The effects of age are obviously nonlinear; going from age 23 to 24 is good; going from 35 to 36 is bad. I looked at the top 50 QBs (based on NFL production, using something similar to the metric I used in the Greatest QB Ever series) drafted since 1970, that are no longer active, to determine the general "dropoff" rate for a QB. Here are the results:

21	 12.4
22	 34.6
23	 53.1
24	 68.1
25	 79.9
26	 88.8
27	 94.9
28	 98.5
29	100.0
30	 99.5
31	 97.3
32	 93.7
33	 88.9
34	 83.2
35	 76.8
36	 69.9
37	 62.9
38	 56.0
39	 49.4
40	 43.4
41	 38.3
42	 34.2

This shouldn't be too controversial; it says that QBs peak from ages 28-31, and a QB at 36 is about as good as a QB at age 24. However, we can't just use these numbers as the inputs in the regression formula because we're trying to predict a weighted value of eight years worth of scores. So the value of being 24 corresponds to 100% of the value of being 25, plus 95% of the value of being 26, and so on. Here are those numbers:

21	 12.4	452
22	 34.6	510
23	 53.1	552
24	 68.1	578
25	 79.9	591
26	 88.8	591
27	 94.9	581
28	 98.5	563
29	100.0	537
30	 99.5	505
31	 97.3	469
32	 93.7	430
33	 88.9	391
34	 83.2	352
35	 76.8	315
36	 69.9	282
37	 62.9	254
38	 56.0	225
39	 49.4	196
40	 43.4	172
41	 38.3	151
42	 34.2	132

Therefore, the ideal range of ages where your average QB has his best days ahead of him is somewhere between 24 and 27 years. And that makes a lot of sense. And whereas the table above said being 36 was slightly better than being 24, now being 24 is much better than being 36. And that makes sense, too.

Past Production: I used the same formula to measuring past production as I did for measuring future production; adjusted net yards added over replacement value. However, I didn't want to limit myself to 2008, so I used a weighted average of the last three years. So for Philip Rivers, he gets 3*2008_value plus 2*2007_value plus 2006_value, all divided by six. For JaMarcus Russell, he gets 2*2008_value plus 2007_value, divided by three. For Matt Ryan, he simply gets his 2008 value. This becomes a little unfair for someone like Aaron Rodgers, who is treated like a star in 2008 and a nothing in '07 and '06. That's not an accurate portrayal of what happened, but we can tweak that later.

Draft Value: I used the numbers here to assign a value to each slot in the draft. I feel really comfortable with those values, but there's one big problem: a player's draft value is really important when they're young but not very important when they're old. I made some rough, back of the envelope calculations as to a good multiplier for draft value at each age:

22	1.0
23	1.0
24	0.9
25	0.8
26	0.7
27	0.6
28	0.5
29	0.4
30	0.3
31	0.2
32	0.1
33	0.1
34	0.1
35	0.1
36	0.1
37	0.1
38	0.1
39	0.1
40	0.1

This just quantifies what my gut says, although I have no idea how accurate it really is. Deriving a good formula for this could be a whole separate blog post, so I'm going to put that off for another day. So I simply multiplied each player's draft value (as derived in that post) times their multiplier based on age. There's a problem with this, though: it makes the "draft value" variable for a 31 year old Brett Favre equal to the draft value variable for a 24 year old Tom Brady. That's beacuse Favre's an old guy that used to be a high pick and Brady's a young guy who is a low pick. That's what I ended up doing, but I don't love it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if there's a better way -- using regression analysis -- to handle this.

If you've made it this far, the payoff is about to come. We now have our input variables -- an age variable, a draft value variable that decreases over time, and a past production variable. The output is a weighted average of performance over the next eight seasons. What's our dataset? Every QB who entered the league since the merger, but excluding all player-seasons since 2003 and any QB born after 1977. Further, I only looked at player-seasons with at least 200 pass attempts.

What's the formula that best fits that curve? It won't mean much to you, but here it is:

-1972 + 4.21*age + 28.6*draft + 2.38*pastproduction

That doesn't mean anything until we apply it to the current list of QBs. Here are the top 25 projected QBs going forward in the NFL as of March 2009, but using only QBs who had 200+ attempts in 2008. The age is how old the player was during the 2008 season.

08Val   Age	AgeV	 DraftV  3YrVal      Proj	 Rk	Name
2157	 29	537	 11.8	  1861	     5049	 1	Drew Brees
1245     23	552	 59.4	  1245	     5009	 2	Matt Ryan
1919	 27	581	 33.5	  1429	     4829	 3	Philip Rivers
1495	 25	591	 34.4	  1169	     4277	 4	Jay Cutler
1501	 32	430	  7.3	  1702	     4096	 5	Peyton Manning
1217	 28	563	  1.5	  1372       3699	 6	Tony Romo
 875	 27	581	 43.9	   648	     3270	 7	Eli Manning
 484	 23	552	 73.2	   288	     3127	 8	JaMarcus Russell
 492	 26	591	 30.1	   727	     3106	 9	Ben Roethlisberger
1422	 25	591	 26.6	   733	     3016	10	Aaron Rodgers
1234	 32	430	  6.4	  1205	     2889	11	Donovan McNabb
 477	 23	552	 36.8	   477	     2538	12	Joe Flacco
 731	 27	581	 19.6	   614	     2495	13	Jason Campbell
1030	 27	581	  9.9	   728	     2489	14	Matt Schaub
1721	 37	254	  0.3	  1305	     2207	15	Kurt Warner
 645	 30	505	  4.3	   801	     2179	16	David Garrard
1477	 32	430	  3.7	   925	     2143	17	Chad Pennington
 663	 25	591	 13.0	   490	     2050	18	Trent Edwards
1013     26	591	  3.4	   495	     1789	19	Matt Cassel
  74	 25	591	  4.6	   429	     1665	20	Derek Anderson
 539	 26	591	 10.2	   302	     1523	21	Kyle Orton
1072	 33	391	  0.3	   752	     1468	22	Jake Delhomme
 553	 24	578	  4.9	   354	     1444	23	Tyler Thigpen
 528	 28	563	  1.5	   410	     1413	24	Shaun Hill
 462	 28	563	  7.0	   277	     1254	25	Seneca Wallace

How does that list look to you? This is my best attempt to, using just objective data, figure out which QBs would have the most value either on the open market or through a trade. All three input variables were highly significant, which means they are all certainly correlated to future production. The R^2 was just 0.35, which isn't very high, but I'm not sure if you can come up with a formula to make it any higher. There's a ton of randomness in future production, and if 35% of it can be predicted through this formula, that's pretty good. Before we conclude, let me throw some general thoughts out there on this list:

1) If we ignore Rodgers' 2006 and 2007, and just use last year for his 3YrVal, that would give him a projected score of 4654, and he'd move into 3rd place on the list. Very interesting. Doing the same analysis with Cassel bumps him just north of 3000, where Rodgers currently is.

2) Joe Flacco's ahead of Kurt Warner. That makes some sense to me. We're basically projecting one or two big years out of Warner versus eight good years out of Flacco.

3) Matt Ryan (along with Rodgers if we tweak his score) comes in too high, I think. Why? My buddy Maurile would recommend using some sort of Bayes' theorem analysis, because being great over a small number of attempts is not as convincing as being great over a large number of attempts. As I've currently structured it, three great years will have the same score as one great year, if you only play one year. Usually, that's not a problem, but when you have the greatest rookie season ever (or you edit Rodgers' career), things get dicey. Suffice it to say, while I love Ryan, I'm not convinced just yet that he's mega elite. I love Ryan as much as anyone, but putting him at #2 scares me a little bit.

4) Look over there at JaMarcus Russell. He's up there over Big Ben! Two of the three factors point Ben's way -- being older actually helps him, since he is entering his prime, and obviously he's already better. The only thing pointing Russell's way is that #1 draft pick status. Is that right or wrong? Here's how every QB drafted #1 overall since the merger (along with Steve Young, a supplemental #1) ranked among QBs in their first two seasons.

                        RookYr  Yr1     Yr2 
JaMarcus Russell	2007	82	24
Alex Smith	        2005	81	26
Eli Manning	        2004	79	10
Carson Palmer	        2003	--	24
David Carr	        2002	84	25
Michael Vick	        2001	29	 5
Tim Couch	        1999	35	27
Peyton Manning	        1998	20	 3
Drew Bledsoe	        1993	25	12
Jeff George	        1990	36	59
Troy Aikman	        1989	81	63
Vinny Testaverde	1987	49	81
John Elway	        1983	74	16
Steve Bartkowski	1975	23	70
Jim Plunkett	        1971	12	68
Terry Bradshaw	        1970	65	21
Steve Young	        1984	--	67

Sure, Russell looks bad. But so did Troy Aikman. And Vinny Testaverde. And Terry Bradshaw. So did Steve Young. John Elway wasn't much better. I have to say, it's very counterintuitive to me to suggest that Russell is going to be better than Roethlisberger, going forward. On the other hand, you could probably have made the same argument about Jim Everett and Troy Aikman in March 1991, too. As for Ben and Russell, I think it's at least arguable that Ben's statistics understate how good he really is. If his 3YrVal was a bit higher, he'd easily be ahead of Russell and Manning.

5) Notice anyone missing? I don't really know what to do with Brady, but his score after 2007 was 5179. Giving him an extra year of age would drop him to 5008, but we can't ignore that he suffered a serious injury. Who knows how he'll come back, and I don't really know where's a good place to put him. If he's healthy, though, he's right there up with Brees. Carson Palmer was right behind Brady in 2007, so if he's healthy, he's got to be in the mix, too. If we age him a year based on his '07 numbers, he'd project at 4471.

Let me close with a subjective list, using the numbers above as my guide (along with the changes I mentioned above). I won't try to be so exact, but I'm going to group the top 25 or so QBs in the NFL into tiers.

Build your team around them (6): Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan. These six QBs are at their own level, IMO, as no one matches past production and youth the way they do. You build your team around any of these guys, and all would be a good bet to be the NFL MVP in 2009, 2010 or 2011.

You're in love (5): Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer. It wouldn't take you more than a second to find fault with any of these guys. That said, you've got to feel like you can go to the playoffs anytime in the next five years with this guy at the helm.

I really, really like you (3): JaMarcus Russell, Donovan McNabb, Joe Flacco. These guys are a half step below the guys above and a half step above the guys below. You're happy with your QB outlook, but you're not going to puff your chest too much. While Russell hasn't received nearly the praise that Flacco has, Russell put up at least equal numbers last season despite playing for a worse team and despite being eight months younger than Flacco. Warner arguably deserves to be in this group, but I don't think he has enough left in the tank.

You like what you've got (7): Jason Campbell, Matt Schaub, Kurt Warner, David Garrard, Chad Pennington, Trent Edwards, Matt Cassel. These guys don't have a lot in common. Warner may be an All Pro next year, but you're going to be looking for a new QB very soon. Garrard and Pennington have had big years while Schaub and Campbell have shown flashes. Edwards and Cassel are inexperienced but have done okay so far. The whole group is a mixed bag, and if this guy is your QB, you can't even guarantee that he'll be in the league in five years. I suppose a healthy Matt Hasselbeck could join this tier, too. Based on just 2008, Warner and Pennington are the obvious class of the group, but both have long histories.

Can I really trade for Jay Cutler? (6): Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton, Jake Delhomme, Tyler Thigpen, Shaun Hill, Seneca Wallace. The less said about these guys, the better.

So what do you think? How would you rank the QBs?

21 Comments | Posted in History, Statgeekery

The Curious Case of Art Donovan

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 9, 2009

I was reading Sean Lahman's terrific book the Pro Football Historical Abstract when I stumbled upon a fascinating bit of trivia that I never knew about before. After a bit of research, I was able to turn his four paragraphs into a full blog post.

Part I

Few players have a team history as odd as that of Art Donovan. Here's a list of the teams he played on during each season of his twelve year career:

1950	Baltimore Colts
1951	New York Yanks
1952	Dallas Texans
1953	Baltimore Colts
1954	Baltimore Colts
1955	Baltimore Colts
1956	Baltimore Colts
1957	Baltimore Colts
1958	Baltimore Colts
1959	Baltimore Colts
1960	Baltimore Colts
1961	Baltimore Colts

You might think he switched teams three times in his career, played for three franchises in his career and played for ten seasons with one franchise, the Baltimore Colts. What actually happened is he played for two franchises in his career, switched teams just once and played for ten seasons with two franchises named the Baltimore Colts. Here's the full story.

In 1927 and 1928, there was a short lived NFL franchise named the New York Yankees. And in the All America Football Conference, there was a team called the New York Yankees. But let's begin with the history of a different defunct team called the New York Yanks. As described by Lahman, in 1944:

Owner Ted Collins wanted to play at New York's Yankee Stadium and call his team the New York Yankees. Tim Mara of the Giants insisted that he still had exclusive rights to playing in New York, however, so Collins was forced to relocate to Boston. He still called his team the "Yanks".

After a nondescript 2-8 inaugural season in 1944, World War II forced the Boston Yanks to merge with the Brooklyn Tigers. The Brooklyn Tigers have their own interesting history. They were owned by Dan Topping, who was a part owner of the New York baseball Yankees from 1945 to 1964. But first Topping owned the Brooklyn Dodgers in the NFL, not to be confused with the Brooklyn Dodgers in MLB or the Brooklyn Dodgers in the AAFC. The Dodgers played from 1930 to 1943, and while they never won a title, they did have HOFers Benny Friedman and Ace Parker. The Dodgers were hit particularly hard by the war, and Topping renamed the team the Brooklyn Tigers for the 1944 season. After going 0-10 that year, they merged with the Boston Yanks.

Topping, apparently like Ted Collins, wanted to play in New York and at Yankee Stadium. So after the 3-6-1 merged season between the Boston Yanks (Collins) and Dan Topping (Brooklyn Tigers), Topping chose to accept an invitation to own a team in the new AAFC. Topping would name his new AAFC team the New York Yankees and play at Yankee Stadium, and the NFL canceled his Brooklyn Tigers and assigned all of those players to Collins' Boston Yanks. At least nine players from the combined Tigers/Yanks team played for the Boston Yanks in 1946, but four players -- including Ace Parker and Pug Manders -- went to play for Topping in the AAFC.

The New York Yankees of the AAFC were pretty good from '46 to '49, but there's another ironic twist here. Remember when I said that Topping's Brooklyn Dodgers in the '30s shouldn't be confused with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the AAFC? Those Dodgers folded after the '48 season and were merged with Topping's New York Yankees for the final season of the AAFC. Over in the NFL, the Boston Yanks continued their losing ways up until 1948, when Ted Collins asked the NFL to allow him to move to New York. They moved to New York in '49, played in the Polo Grounds along with the New York Giants, and became the New York Bulldogs. Some historians say the Boston Yanks franchise folded after the '48 season and Collins' New York Bulldogs in 1949 was a brand new franchise. Whatever the case, at least 16 players were on both the 1948 Boston Yanks and 1949 New York Bulldogs. One player who was new to the '49 New York Bulldogs? From Chicago Bears quarterback Bobby Layne. So through 1949, here was Ted Collins' resume:

1944   Boston Yanks
1945   Boston Yanks/Brooklyn Tigers
1946   Boston Yanks
1947   Boston Yanks
1948   Boston Yanks
1949   New York Bulldogs

And Dan Topping:

1934   Brooklyn Dodgers
1935   Brooklyn Dodgers
1936   Brooklyn Dodgers
1937   Brooklyn Dodgers
1938   Brooklyn Dodgers
1939   Brooklyn Dodgers
1940   Brooklyn Dodgers
1941   Brooklyn Dodgers
1942   Brooklyn Dodgers
1943   Brooklyn Dodgers
1944   Brooklyn Tigers
1945   Boston Yanks/Brooklyn Tigers
1946   New York Yankees (AAFC)
1947   New York Yankees (AAFC)
1948   New York Yankees (AAFC)
1949   New York Yankees (AAFC)

Part II

After the 1949 season, the AAFC and the NFL merged, with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts joining the NFL. There were only seven teams in the 1949 AAFC, and the NFL agreed to take three of them. The Browns and 49ers were the class of the AAFC, but there was some debate over which other team should join. Chicago and New York already had the Cardinals, Bears, Giants and Bulldogs, so adding either the Chicago or New York AAFC franchise was not an option. The NFL wasn't going to triple its presence in California, so taking the Los Angeles franchise was going to be seen as similarly risky. That left just the Bills and the horrible Baltimore Colts, who went 1-11 in the AAFC in 1949. However, some were concerned about adding Green Bay East, so to speak, a small market team that came with a terrible climate. A series of deals were struck with the Bills owner and the Washington Redskins owner, and the Colts were chosen as the third team.

The NFL also chose to split the roster of Topping's New York Yankees between the two NYC franchises, but Tim Mara and the New York Giants got the better half of the transaction. Going to Tim Mara and the Giants was Tom Landry -- yes, that Tom Landry, along with Otto Schnellbacher and Arnie Weinmeister, who made 6 combined Pro Bowls in their careers. Collins' Bulldogs would get the overwhelming majority of the players, at least 16 by my count, but with Brad Ecklund being the only notable one. And while it took six years, Collins finally got his wish: with Topping's AAFC New York Yankees gone, Collins moved the Bulldogs from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium and renamed them the Yanks. And in 1951, those New York Yanks signed Art Donovan.

Part III

There have been at least three professional football teams named the Baltimore Colts and all of them played exclusively at Memorial Stadium. The last was a CFL team in the 1990s that is most famous for having punter Josh Miller and losing a lawsuit to the NFL that required them to change their nickname; the team settled on calling themselves the Stallions. The famous version was the middle one, the Johnny Unitas Colts who called Baltimore home for 31 seasons. But the first one was the AAFC's Baltimore Colts.

One of the founding AAFC teams was the Miami Seahawks, who sported burnt orange and played home games at the Orange Bowl. A 3-11 season that saw the team go 1-7 before playing its second home game cost owner Harvey Hester his life savings. The team was sold to a Baltimore consortium led by Abraham Watner. A fan contest named the team the Colts, and Art Donovan wasn't the only star who donned the green and silver. Three HOF QBs have some ties to the team.

Bobby Layne -- who was drafted by Chicago in the first round and sent to the New York Bulldogs in 1949 -- was also drafted in the first round by the Colts in 1948, and was offered $77,000 to play for them. He chose to play for the Bears, but you already knew that. In that same NFL draft, the Lions selected Y.A. Tittle in the first round, but for whatever reason (probably lots of money), he went to the Baltimore Colts. George Blanda also played one game for the Baltimore Colts after they joined the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns (1950 NFL Champions) and San Francisco 49ers (four straight winning seasons from '51 to '54) adjusted fine to the NFL, but what about the Baltimore Colts? They would go 1-11 in 1950, too, and according to Wikipedia:

Due to financial difficulties after the 1-11 losing season, Colts owner Abraham Watner gave his team and its players contracts back to the NFL for $50,000. But many Baltimore fans protested the loss of their team. Supporting groups such as its marching band (the second in professional football, after that of the Washington Redskins) and fan club, remained in operation and worked for the team's revival. Three years later a new team was given to Baltimore.

Donovan and Y.A. Tittle were on that 1950 Baltimore Colts team. After the Colts folded, Tittle went to San Francisco, where he would first compete with QB Frankie Albert for playing time and then later be the star QB under head coach Frankie Albert. Blanda went back to the Bears, and Donovan signed with the New York Yanks.

Hopefully Donovan wasn't taking it personally, because his new football team -- owned by Ted Collins -- couldn't make any money, either. After a 1-9-2 1951 season, Collins sold his team back to the NFL. Here's what happened next:

A few months later, a Dallas-based group led by Giles Miller bought the franchise and moved it to Dallas--the first-ever major league team to be based in Texas. Home games were scheduled to be played at the Cotton Bowl.

Miller thought that Texas, with its longstanding support of college football, would be a natural fit for the NFL, and NFL owners approved the move with an 11-1 vote. However, they proved to be one of the worst teams in NFL history.... Only 17,499 fans showed up at the Cotton Bowl (capacity 75,000) for [the opener], and attendance continued to dwindle as the losses piled up. Unable to meet payroll, Miller returned the team to the league with five games to go in the season.

The Texans played their last home game of the season at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio, the site of the team's only win. Don't confuse this failed 1-11 Dallas Texans team with Lamar Hunt's AFL Dallas Texans, who after 1962 moved to Kansas City and exist today as the Chiefs. And while the NFL considered the Texans a new team, consider that of the 37 players on the 1951 New York Yanks, 20 were out of the NFL in 1952, 14 were on the Dallas Texans, two went to the Browns and one to the Eagles. So it makes sense to view the Dallas Texans as an extension of the New York Yanks, and Donovan of course played for both teams.

1952 was also Gino Marchetti's rookie year. Here are some quotes from him and Donovan about those Texans, as told by Tom Callahan in the book Johnny U:

Donovan: We were horse####. [Head Coach Jimmy] Phelan was the only coach I ever knew who hated practice more than the players did. He would say, "Aw, the hell with it, let's go to the racetrack."

Marchetti: After the team declared bankruptcy, and we went out on the road for eight straight weeks, the older guys started quitting. They didn't try anymore. We were playing a game in Los Angeles, and Dan Edwards, a good tight end from Georgia, got hurt. "Who can play tight end?' Phelan yelled out on the sideline. "We need somebody in there right now!" I ran into the huddle and, just teasing, said, "Hit me for six!" Probably that was the first Hail Mary pass in the history of the game. I caught it, believe it or not, and scored my first touchdown. [It was a 17 yard touchdown pass, the only reception in the Hall of Fame defensive end's career.] I remember feeling great until I heard the announcer say, "L.A. forty-two, Dallas six." ####.

After three years, Donovan had seen his team fold after every season of his career and he had compiled a sparkling 3-31-2 record. After the 1952 season, the NFL sold the Dallas Texans franchise (formerly the New York Yanks franchise) to Carroll Rosenbloom and four other investors who wanted to bring football back to Baltimore. Starting in 1953, there was again a Baltimore Colts in the NFL, and Art Donovan had come back home. Of the 41 players on the '52 Dallas Texans, 25 were out of the league in '53, with twelve players going to the Baltimore Colts and five other players going to five different teams. The Colts would keep the Texans' team colors of blue and white. Two months after moving to Baltimore, the team traded for a cornerback named Don Shula.

Seven players in total played for the New York Yanks in 1951, the Dallas Texans in 1952 and the Baltimore Colts in 1953: Sisto Averno, Art Donovan, Brad Ecklund, Dan Edwards, Barney Poole, George Taliaferro and Buddy Young. Ironically, Averno, like Donovan, also played for version one of the Baltimore Colts in 1950. And that's how Art Donovan played for just two franchises, two Baltimore Colts franchises and only switched teams once in his career, despite wearing four different jerseys.

Epilogue

After the 1971 season, Carroll Rosenbloom exchanged franchises with Bob Irsay, with Rosenbloom receiving the L.A. Rams and Irsay the Colts. Irsay moved the Colts out of Baltimore in 1984 and the team has been in Indianapolis ever since. His son Jim is the current owner and CEO of the franchise. Rosenbloom died quite famously in 1979, leaving the team to his wife Georgia Frontiere. She moved the Colts out of California and to St. Louis in 1995, and died in January 2008. Chip Rosenbloom, the son of Georgia and Carroll, is the current owner of the Rams.

The Colts officially began playing in 1953, but if you look carefully, you can arguably trace their history back to 1913. A founding member of the NFL, the Dayton Triangles, were sold to William Dwyer and John Depler, who renamed the team the Brooklyn Tigers. Four years later they sold the team to Topping, and in '45 Topping merged teams with Collins, creating the Boston Yanks/Brooklyn Tigers. Topping gave up his team to go to the AAFC, leaving the merger permanent. So the team that was the Dayton Triangles became the Brooklyn Tigers who became the Brooklyn Yanks who became the Boston Yanks who became the New York Bulldogs who became the New York Yanks who became the Dallas Texans who became the Baltimore Colts.

The NFL, of course, doesn't recognize the connection between the Yanks/Texans/Colts, and neither the Dallas Cowboys or Houston Texans chose recognize the old Dallas Texans. That makes the 1952 Texans the last NFL franchise to permanently cease operations and not be included in the lineage of any current team.

10 Comments | Posted in History

AP MVP Award History

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 4, 2009

Starting in 1957, the Associated Press began naming its Most Valuable Player each season. During the '60s, the AP gave two MVPs, one to (in its mind) the most deserving NFLer and one to (in its mind) the most deserving AFLer. For our purposes, I'm going to consider each of the AP awards in the '60s as co-MVPs, along with the two co-MVPs awarded since the merger. That leaves us with 32 QB MVPs, 16.5 RB MVPs and 3.5 MVPs given to other players.

The point of this post isn't to show that numbers rule and sportswriters drool, or that I could do a better job of picking the 1965 AFL MVP than the Associated Press. Rather, I'm doing this for two reasons. One, checking the annual award winner lets me play with my QB Rating formula and my soon to be released RB Rating formula, along with (on occasion) my recent WR rating system. It serves as a nice check on my formulas to see how the MVP ranked each year compared to his peers at the position. Two, you learn a lot by researching, and studying why and who won each award can be pretty fun. I'm not taking the ratings as gospel or claiming their superiority, but rather they let me get into discussing what I really enjoy: NFL history.

Let's start with the RBs. Barry Sanders won the co-MVP in 1997, and three AFL and three NFL RBs won the award in the '60s. Here's the list, with the number on the right showing how the RB ranked that season in my (unreleased) RB rating formula.

2006	NFL	LaDainian Tomlinson	1
2005	NFL	Shaun Alexander	        1
2000	NFL	Marshall Faulk	        1
1998	NFL	Terrell Davis	        1
1997	NFL	Barry Sanders	        1
1993	NFL	Emmitt Smith	        1
1991	NFL	Thurman Thomas	        2
1985	NFL	Marcus Allen	        1
1979	NFL	Earl Campbell	        1
1977	NFL	Walter Payton	        1
1973	NFL	O.J. Simpson	        1
1972	NFL	Larry Brown Jr.	        1
1966	AFL	Jim Nance	        1 (1)
1965	NFL	Jim Brown	        1 (1)
1962	NFL	Jim Taylor	        1 (1)
1962	AFL	Cookie Gilchrist	2 (3)
1961	NFL	Paul Hornung	        6 (11)
1960	AFL	Abner Haynes	        1 (4)
1958	NFL	Jim Brown	        1
1957	NFL	Jim Brown	        1

The numbers in parentheses represent the players overall ranks if you combine the two leagues. If a RB ranked 1st in the league among RBs, I'll generally just assume that he deserved the award as comparing RBs to QBs and WRs is pretty dicey. But I thought it might be interesting to explore the other seasons.

In 1991, Thurman Thomas ranked just a hair behind Barry Sanders in my rating system, so I'm more than okay with Thomas getting that award considering Thomas led the Bills to the best record in the AFC. That was the year the Lions made it to the NFCCG and Sanders led his team to a 12-4 record, but Thomas did have more total yards than Sanders.

In 1962, Gilchrist led the AFL in rushing but only by 47 yards over Abner Haynes. Haynes led his team to the championship that season, had four more TDs, 350 more receiving yards and three fewer fumbles. Gilchrist served as the team's primary FG kicker that year, so perhaps that factored into the voting. Even adjusted for era he was a terrible kicker that season, but roster spots were scarce at the time so there is probably some value there.

Then there's Paul Hornung's 1961 MVP award, which at first glance seems entirely unjustifiable. 1960 was his big TD and scoring season, but in 1961 here were the top RBs in the NFL:

	                Tm	Rsh	Ryd	YPC	Rec	Yds	YScm	RRTD
Jim Brown          	CLE	305	1408	4.6	46	459	1867	10
Jim Taylor	        GNB	243	1307	5.4	25	175	1482	16
Alex Webster     	NYG	196	 928	4.7	26	313	1241	 5
Willie Galimore	        CHI	153	 707	4.6	33	502	1209	 7
J.D. Smith	        SFO	167	 823	4.9	28	343	1166	 9
Nick Pietrosante	DET	201	 841	4.2	26	315	1156	 5
Don Perkins 	        DAL	200	 815	4.1	32	298	1113	 5
John Henry Johnson	PIT     213	 787	3.7	24	262	1049	 7
Joe Perry	        BAL	168	 675	4.0	34	322	997	 4
Clarence Peaks	        PHI	135	 471	3.5	32	472	943	 5
Jon Arnett  	        RAM	158	 609	3.9	28	194	803	 4
Paul Hornung	        GNB	127	 597	4.7	15	145	742	10

Hornung had only one fumble and didn't play in two other games, so his numbers are probably more impressive than some of the guys on the bottom of the table. But he looks far behind Smith, Galimore and Webster and light years behind Taylor and Brown. Brown already had two MVP awards but how could the second most valuable Packers RB be the MVP of the league? Probably because like Gilchrist, he was the team's primary kicker. Unlike Gilchrist, Hornung was terrific and the best kicker in the NFL that season. Still, there's only so much value to be had as a kicker, and this award stands out as absurd if you look at him as just a RB and still unjustified when you consider the total package. I know he was a special teamer and a lead blocker and a affable fellow, but he ranked 13th in rushing yards in a 14 team league.

Overall, it looks like when a RB wins the MVP award he's usually the most dominant (according to my system) statistical RB in the league. That's less frequently the case at quarterback. In '03, Manning and McNair split the award and in '97 Favre and Sanders won co-MVPs. Seven NFL QBs and six AFL QBs won the award in the '60s. The full list:

2008	NFL	Peyton Manning          5
2007	NFL	Tom Brady	        1
2004	NFL	Peyton Manning        	1
2003	NFL	Peyton Manning	        1
2003	NFL	Steve McNair	        2
2002	NFL	Rich Gannon	        1
2001	NFL	Kurt Warner	        1
1999	NFL	Kurt Warner	        1
1997	NFL	Brett Favre	        3
1996	NFL	Brett Favre	        1
1995	NFL	Brett Favre	        1
1994	NFL	Steve Young	        1
1992	NFL	Steve Young	        1
1990	NFL	Joe Montana	        5
1989	NFL	Joe Montana	        1
1988	NFL	Boomer Esiason	        1
1987	NFL	John Elway	        2
1984	NFL	Dan Marino	        1
1983	NFL	Joe Theismann	        1
1981	NFL	Ken Anderson	        2
1980	NFL	Brian Sipe	        1
1978	NFL	Terry Bradshaw	        5
1976	NFL	Bert Jones	        1
1975	NFL	Fran Tarkenton	        2
1974	NFL	Ken Stabler	        2
1970	NFL	John Brodie	        1
1969	NFL	Roman Gabriel	        1 (2)
1969	AFL	Joe Namath	        2 (4)
1968	NFL	Earl Morrall	        1 (3)
1968	AFL	Joe Namath	        3 (4)
1967	NFL	Johnny Unitas	        3 (4)
1967	AFL	Daryle Lamonica	        2 (5)
1966	NFL	Bart Starr	        1 (2)
1965	AFL	Jack Kemp	       14 (34)
1964	NFL	Johnny Unitas	        1 (1)
1963	NFL	Y.A. Tittle	        2 (2)
1963	AFL	Tobin Rote	        1 (3)
1961	AFL	George Blanda	        1 (1)
1960	NFL	Norm Van Brocklin	2 (2)

In '08, Manning comes in way behind Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, who both had outstanding seasons. Brees threw for over 5,000 yards and was sacked just 13 times. One of the great qualities about Brees is his ability to make quick decisions -- he's ranked in the top three in sack rate each year since moving to the Saints. Rivers had 4,000 yards and 34 TDs on just 478 attempts -- the fewest in league history by a member of the 4,000/30 club. Kurt Warner and Chad Pennington had very good seasons leading bad teams to big seasons. Both were mentioned in MVP talks, too. Manning won because he's Manning, and he led a bunch of fourth quarter comebacks, and what he did considering the state of his knee was downright amazing. And really, Manning's (or Brady's) been the most valuable player in the league almost every year, even if the statistics don't show it. That said, his production was down in 2008, and even though he may be the best QB in the league, Rivers or Brees would have been better choices. Rivers got some revenge in the playoffs, at least, unlike some other Chargers QB.

In 2003, Manning and McNair were both deserving MVP candidates, and a split award was appropriate there.

In 1997, Favre's co-MVP was not unjustifiable, but it was probably unnecessary. Sanders had an all time great year and several other QBs were about as good as Favre. Favre's raw numbers were terrific, as usual, but he threw more than twice as many INTs as Steve Young or Mark Brunell. He was the defending MVP and SB Champion and had a great season, but I would have preferred to see Sanders win that alone.

In 1990, Montana was the defending MVP and SB Champ, and was Joe Cool. What he wasn't, was one of the top three QBs in the league that year. Warren Moon had the best season of his HOF career, Steve DeBerg had a fluky but incredible season (23 TD/4 INT, fourth in the league in raw yards per attempt) and Randall Cunningham had a good passing season and 942 rushing yards and five TDs. Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas were the best RBs in the league (as they were in '91) but neither had abnormally big seasons. Jim Kelly also rated ahead of Joe Montana, but was not nearly as deserving as Moon or DeBerg or Cunningham.

In '87 there were four great QBs -- Kosar, Elway, Montana and Marino. Any of them could have been argued for MVP, along with Jerry Rice (22 TDs). None of these QBs had big time seasons and in this strike year, only Rice was historically great. I would have given it to him.

In '81, Ken Anderson and Dan Fouts were terrific, and both were worthy MVPs. Fouts had much bigger raw numbers while Anderson threw for slightly more adjusted net yards per attempt and chipped in 320 rushing yards. Anderson's team had the best record in the AFC and that probably pushed him over the edge; Fouts didn't exact much revenge when the two met in the AFC Championship Game that season. That game was arguably the coldest game in NFL history.

Terry Bradshaw's MVP in 1978 wasn't too bad of a choice, either. Bradshaw ranked fifth in value, behind Staubach, Manning, Fouts and Sipe. Staubach had one of his typical great years but didn’t have a career year. This was the best year of Archie’s career after adjusting for era, as ‘78 was really the last season in the dead ball era. The league average was 3.66 ANY/A (with a passing TD being equal to 10 yards) and it’s never been below 4.00 since then. This was also Fouts’ first breakout season. Suffice it to say, this was a close call and I can't find fault with the voters that chose Bradshaw. He lead the league in passing TDs and took the Steelers to a 14-2 record. While Staubach's regular season numbers were probably better (on the strength of a lower INT rate), Bradshaw outdueled him in the classic Super Bowl XIII.

No one loves Fran Tarkenton more than me, but he didn't really deserve his '75 MVP. Ken Anderson averaged a full yard more adjusted net yards per pass attempt that season and also outgained him on the ground. Anderson had a huge season, and along with John Brodie (1970) and Bert Jones ('76) had one of the three best QB years of the decade. Anderson shouldn't have won it, either, though. O.J. Simpson had what I consider to be the best season in RB history, with 1817 rushing yards (runner up: Franco Harris at 1246), 23 TDs and 426 receiving yards. As referenced here, O.J. also had the greatest fantasy season ever in '75.

What about '74? Anderson, Stabler and Tarkenton were the best QBs in the league that year, although Stabler led the league in ANY/A. I've got Anderson a smudge higher because of his good rushing numbers, but I can understand why Stabler (12-2) won the award over Anderson (7-7).

In 1969, Joe Namath won the AFL MVP award but he didn't produce the best numbers that year. While he and Lamonica averaged nearly the same ANY/A, Daryle Lamonica did it over more passes, he beat Namath head to head, he quarterbacked the team with the best record in the league, and helped the Raiders lead the AFL in scoring. Namath won the MVP in '68, too, and once again Lamonica (or Dawson) would have been worthy. Len Dawson averaged an absurd 8.4 adjusted net yards per attempt (league average was just 4.8), but he only threw 224 passes. Lamonica and Namath posted similar numbers, with Namath amassing more yards per pass and more pass attempts overall and Lamonica throwing more TDs and fewer INTs. Of course, Namath won the Super Bowl in '68, so he justified the award by season's end.

Ironically, in '67, Lamonica won the award but Namath finished as the top QB. He was the first (and only QB) to throw for 4,000 yards before the move to the 16 game season, and while he threw more INT than TD, he still edged out Lamonica in my system as the top QB. John Hadl also had a big year, and Dawson had a typical Dawson-like season.

In the NFL, four QBs stood out, not counting eventual SB MVP Bart Starr. Sonny Jurgensen (who was throwing to two HOF WRs), Fran Tarkenton, Unitas and Roman Gabriel all were worthy MVPs that season. The Redskins and Giants weren't very good, so you can see why Jurgensen and Tarkenton didn't win. Gabriel and Unitas were on the two best teams in the NFL, and due to the unfair NFL playoff structure at the time (and the subsequent tiebreaker), only one of them could make the playoffs. In the final game of the season, Gabriel went 18-22 for 257 yards and 3 TDs, leading the host Rams to a victory over the Colts. The Fearsome Foursome helped the Rams get seven sacks that day.

And then there's 1965 and Jack Kemp. Paul Lowe had the best season of his very good career and he won the UPI and TSN AFL MVP award that season. Lowe was a deserving winner as was teammate John Hadl. Hadl and Len Dawson ranked as the top two QBs in the AFL that season, with rookie Joe Namath a distant third. Kemp's 14th place rating is misleading because my grade is relative to the league average -- once you fall below average you rate behind every QB with a small number of attempts. Comparing him to replacement value (75% of league average) instead of league average bumps Kemp up from 14th to 4th. But how in the world does Kemp win over Hadl (or Lowe), Dawson or Namath?

player	    team	g	cmp	att	pyd	ptd	int	ay/a
Dawson      kan 	14	163	305	2262	21	14	6.04
Hadl	    sdg	        14	174	348	2798	20	21	5.90
Namath	    nyj	        13	164	340	2220	18	15	5.07
Kemp	    buf	        14	179	391	2368	10	18	4.24

We don't have individual sack numbers from 1965, but according to the team pages, Len Dawson was probably sacked a bit more often than average, Namath a bit less than average, and Hadl and Kemp right about average. So why Kemp? The Bills had the best record in the AFL East and beat the Chargers in the AFL Championship Game. But Kemp's AFL MVP stands out as the last time a QB will ever win the MVP when he throws 8 more INTs than TDs. Even if you don't love any of those QBs or Paul Lowe, there was an obvious choice for MVP that season. Lance Alworth had maybe the greatest WR season ever, with his 1602 receiving yards more than doubling the fourth best WR that season, and his 14 TDs weren't too shabby, either. The only reason that Alworth's season does not come out as #1 in my rating system is because of the AFL adjustment, which is obviously not relevant when discussing the AFL MVP.

The last two NFL MVP QBs to discuss are Y.A. Tittle in '63 and Norm Van Brocklin in '60. For starters, Jim Brown was the obvious choice for MVP in '63, when he had the best season of his career, the best season by any RB at that time and what still stands (in my system) as a top five season in RB history. As far as QBs go, though, Tittle and Unitas were by far the class of the league in '63 and either would have been a worthy choice (if not for Brown). Tittle set the record for passing TDs in a season that year and had a higher ANY/A than Unitas, who edged him out ever so slighty in my system because of his edge in pass attempts.

1960 was not the same. Milt Plum produced much better statistics, although perhaps they deserve an asterisk. The Eagles won the NFL Championship and had a better record than Cleveland, but the Browns led the league in points differential and lost their three games by a combined ten points. While Plum and NVB had almost identical numbers, there was one big difference: Van Brocklin threw 17 INTs and Plum threw five. So why the asterisk on Plum's numbers? He was playing with two HOF skill position players and two more HOFers on the right side of the line, so he had a pretty easy gig back there. One could also argue for Raymond Berry, whose 1298 receiving yards was over 300 yards more than any other player, making it one of the best WR seasons in NFL history.

Non-QB, non-RB seasons

Three and a half MVPs have been awarded to non-QBs and non-RBs. Going in reverse order:

In 1986, Lawrence Taylor had 20.5 sacks while leading the 2nd best defense in the league. Taylor's impact on all those Giants teams is legendary, and an MVP for him in his best year is appropriate. That season, Marino had another 40 TD season and Boomer Esiason had a big year. Marino threw 635 passes and was the Miami team; that would have been a justifiable MVP for his collection case. Eric Dickerson, Curt Warner and Joe Morris had big years at RB, too. Rice had the first of many huge seasons and was the top WR that year. But it is hard to really argue with LT.

In 1982, Mark Moseley, a placekicker, won the NFL MVP. On one hand, this award is not entirely absurd, as according to both Doug and my yet to be released kicker rating system (sad but true), Moseley's '82 season ranks as one of the top five kicker performances per game in NFL history. On the other hand, no one was arguing Shaun Alexander or Neil Rackers for MVP in 2005 and for good reason. This was my best attempt to justify Moseley getting the award. So who should have received it?

Marcus Allen had a very big year, the second biggest of his career on a per game basis. He was the top RB in the league and could have won the award, but Dan Fouts and Ken Anderson were probably better. Fouts would have been a great MVP choice, as he averaged 7.20 ANY/A while the league average was just 4.41. On a per game basis, 1982 was the best season of his career. Fouts never won an MVP, but he was better than Joe Theisman was the next year when he quarterbacked that great Redskins offense and won MVP honors.

But Fouts' main man, Wes Chandler, should have been the MVP. He had one of the greatest WR seasons of all time and the best WR season of all time on a per game basis. In consecutive high scoring games against the defending SB Champions and the defending AFC Champions (who ended the Chargers season the prior year), Chandler caught 17 passes for 385 yards and five TDs.

In 1971, Alan Page won the NFL MVP. As I wrote about here and here, the '69-'71 Vikings had maybe the best defense in NFL history. Judging one player on a defense is close to impossible, but there's no doubt that the value created by those Vikings defenses was off the charts. In 1969, the Vikings had maybe the best defense in history. In 1970, Page had 8 turnovers and a TD, both career highs. So at first glance, you might wonder why he won the MVP in '71 and not either of the prior two years. Page certainly benefited from the talent on the defensive line, as Carl Eller, Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall were terrific players. My best guess is that it was some sort of three-year achievement award.

Staubach had a big year but only started 11 games. He was easily the best QB in the league and would have been a very deserving winner. Brodie very much deserved the MVP in 1970, but if it was time for a DT to win the award, I'm not sure if I'd say Page was more deserving over Staubach in '71 than over Gabriel in '69. Greg Landry, Bob Griese and Len Dawson also had good seasons. The top RBs all had down years, as Floyd Little, John Brockington and Larry Csonka were probably the best of the bunch. Otis Taylor was the top WR that year but he wasn't historically good enough to win the award. I'm fine with Page winning the award, and after three awesome years by the Purple People Eaters, some recognition was appropriate.

That leaves just one MVP award left, and it's an obscure one. In 1964, Dawson was the class of the AFL, throwing 30 TD and 18 INT. Matt Snell, Cookie Gilchrist and Clem Daniels had big years at RB, although none were particularly outstanding. But if I gave you 100 guesses, I doubt you would have come up with the name of Gino Cappelletti, 1964 AFL MVP.

The Duke, as he was known, played quarterback at Minnesota and just about everything else in the pros. He played QB in the Ontario Rugby Football League out of college, then was drafted by the Army, and then played in the CFL. In a sign of how desperate for talent the AFL was, Cappelletti was signed by the Boston Patriots in their inaugural season ... to play cornerback and kick field goals. He played as a WR and kicker for the rest of his career. In 1964 he set a career high with 865 receiving yards, but that still ranked just 9th in the AFL.

So why did he win the award? Because the Duke had a dominant season at kicker, with his '64 rating as one of the five best kicker seasons in the '60s. He made every XP, was 8/16 from 40-49 yards (league average was 37%), and was the class of the AFL. If nothing else, he convinced the Broncos that he was the best player in the league. In the first game against Denver, he converted on all six attempts in a blowout victory. In the rematch against the Broncos, Cappelletti caught a 25 yard TD pass and kicked a 51 yard FG, leading the Pats to a 12-7 victory. In NFL history, only two players (Paul Hornung in 1960 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006) have scored more points per game in a season than than the 10.5 PPG the Duke had in 1964.

Those are my thoughts on past MVP winners. I'm excited to hear yours.

17 Comments | Posted in History

AFL versus NFL: introduction

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 3, 2009

Next football season will mark the fiftieth since the American Football League began playing in 1960. With that historic anniversary approaching, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back and do an in-depth comparison of the teams in both leagues during the decade between the start of the AFL and the AFL-NFL merger for the 1970 season.

Ask someone who was around during this time how the AFL and NFL compared to each other, and you are likely to get a variety of answers, primarily dependent on where their allegiances lay. I hope to sort through this and provide a detailed statistical look that tries to bring all the available evidence to the table, put it in context, and try to develop a best estimate that answers both general and specific questions about the teams and leagues, and how they compared before 1970. This all may very well prove to be a fool’s errand, and but some of the types of questions which hopefully can be addressed include:

**When did the AFL catch up with the NFL during the 1960’s and become at least comparable competitors, if ever? Think of it in terms of kind versus degree. To draw a college football analogy, when did the AFL stop being the MAC to the NFL’s Big Ten—where a few teams may be able to be competitive but the rank and file would have trouble—and instead become the Pac-10, where one league or the other may have a better year at any given moment, but where we consider the talent roughly equal over time?

3 Comments | Posted in AFL versus NFL

Gifford, Moore, Mitchell and Taylor

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 25, 2009

As promised in PFR's second ever podcast, I'm going to take a look today at four of the most athletic and versatile players in NFL history. Only four men have over 300 rushes, 300 receptions and a career average north of 13 yards per reception. That's because modern skill position players either catch long passes and don't run frequently (wide receivers) or run frequently and catch short passes (running backs). But before the NFL became so specialized, there was Frank Gifford, Lenny Moore, Bobby Mitchell and Charley Taylor -- truly unique players that deserve their own special spot in NFL history. They are four of only a handful of players to earn Pro Bowl nominations at both RB and WR and are the last four players to have one season in their careers when they ranked in the top ten in rushing yards and one season where they ranked in the top ten in receiving yards.

Joe Morrison for the Giants played a little bit of WR but he was mostly a RB. Abner Haynes was an incredibly explosive and versatile player for the Kansas City franchise in the AFL while Hugh McElhenny was terrific for the 49ers in the '50s. But both of them were just RBs, too. How hard is it to excel at both? Elroy Hirsch had maybe the greatest season any wide receiver ever had, but that was only after he switched positions following an unsuccessful stint as a running back.

Ronnie Harmon and Eric Metcalf are the best examples from the '80s and '90s, but both were jacks of rushing and receiving and masters of neither. Tiki Barber, Charlie Garner, Thurman Thomas and Roger Craig were great receiving backs but they weren't flankers. Herschel Walker might have been the closest replica to a Gifford or Moore, and he would have thrived in the '60s. Marshall Faulk, Brian Westbrook and Reggie Bush all could have been WRs in the NFL, but were most dangerous in the roles they were given. Those three players were incredible agile and certainly fast, but they weren't designed to be deep play threats. Gifford, Moore, Mitchell and Taylor were the offense for their teams; they provided the big plays on the ground and the big plays through the air.

So what makes Gifford, Moore, Taylor and Mitchell -- all Hall of Famers -- so unique?

Before Frank Gifford was a broadcaster, he was a huge football star. At USC he was an elite tailback, but he began his career with the Giants as a defensive back (and made two Pro Bowls). Ultimately, he would do just about everything for New York. He passed, he ran, he caught, he returned punts and kicks, he played defense and when needed, he kicked. As told by Sean Lahman in the terrific book The Pro Football Historical Abstract, things changed for him starting in 1954.

Jim Lee Howell took over as head coach of the New York Giants and Vince Lombardi became the team's offensive coordinator. Gifford continued to play defense, but Lombardi loved Gifford's versatility and made him the cornerstone of his soon-to-be-famous ground attack.

Starting in 1956, he led New York in rushing four straight seasons and was the team's leading receiver in three of those years. He won the league MVP in 1956 while leading the league in yards from scrimmage and helping New York capture the NFL Championship. He didn't become a big play receiver until the end of his career, but in 1959 he rushed for 540 yards on 106 carries and averaged 18.2 yards per reception on 42 catches. In 1960 he suffered a brutal injury at the hands of Chuck Bednarik, but returned in '62 strictly as a WR. Despite being 32 years old and coming off what should have been a career ending injury, Gifford posted an impressive 39-796-20.4-7 stat line while helping the Giants reach the NFL championship game.

Lenny Moore went head to head with Gifford most of his career, and helped the Colts defeat the Giants in the '58 and '59 Championship games. It's silly to ignore that when Moore played the NFL was far from a fully integrated league. Baltimore was better than most cities, and in 1954 it become one of the first to desegregate its public schools. The year before Moore arrived, the Colts had just three black players. It's hard to overstate how fast Moore was, and thanks to a few other HOFers on the team, he did to the rest of the NFL what Reggie Bush did to the Pac-10. HOF Tackle Jim Parker didn't join the Colts until 1957, and that's when Moore's career really began to take flight. His 1958 season can only be described in one word: absurd. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry on 82 carries and 18.8 yards per reception on 50 catches. He wasn't so bad in '57 or '59 either, with a combined 190 carries for 910 yards and 87 receptions for 1533 yards. For those three seasons -- and remember they only played 12 games back then -- he averaged 91 carries for 503 yards (5.54 YPC) and 46 catches for 824 yards (18.0 YPR). He led the NFL in yards per carry four times and averaged over 17 yards per reception five times in his career.

More than any other player in NFL history, Moore blurred the lines between RB and WR. He was a RB in college and was often listed as a RB for the Colts, but he was mostly used as a pass catcher. In '58, he was third on the team in carries but led the team in receiving yards. Usually, he was the second option to run the ball behind Alan Ameche and the second option to catch the ball behind Raymond Berry. Despite playing on a team with a HOFer at QB, LT and WR, it's hard to overstate how valuable Moore was to the Colts. By the end of his career he was strictly a RB, and won the league MVP in 1964. Perhaps most interesting is how Moore has set the standard for Colts running backs. Coincidence or not, since Moore, no team has favored pass catching RBs like the Colts, regardless of what city they're in. Marshall Faulk and Lydell Mitchell were Moore clones; Edgerrin James and Eric Dickerson were elite runners and pass catchers. Those four backs combined for 12 Pro Bowls for the Colts. Moore himself made seven, and ranked in the top three in the NFL (usually with Jim Brown and either Gifford or Jim Taylor) in yards from scrimmage in five straight seasons.. Moore was the original inspiration for this post, as he'll never come up on a list of all time great rushers or all time great receivers. But he was an all time great player.

These multi-threat talents regularly led their teams to success; the 1958 playoffs highlight this well. First, Gifford and his Giants took on Mitchell and the Browns to decide the NFL East Champion. The winner got to face Lenny Moore and the Colts for the NFL Championship.

Bobby Mitchell was drafted by the Browns in 1958 and played RB for four years in Cleveland. He made one Pro Bowl but was never going to reach his potential playing behind Jim Brown. Washington may have been hoping to get Mitchell ever since he rushed for 232 yards and 3 TDs on 14 carries in a game against the Skins in '59. Two years later, he scored a TD three different ways in another win over Washington. After four brilliant years together, Cleveland decided to end the Brown/Mitchell era. According to the HOF:

Still, Paul Brown was committed to the idea of another big back to pair with Jim Brown and he longed for a chance to acquire Ernie Davis, who like Jim Brown was a collegiate superstar from Syracuse. Davis was a cinch to be the first pick in the 1962 draft but that first choice was owned by the Redskins, who had a miserable 1-12-1 record in 1961. The Redskins had another distinction that of being the only NFL team without a African American player on its roster. Even though the color barrier had been permanently broken in pro football in 1946 and, one by one, all other clubs had added black players to their teams, Washington owner George Preston Marshall resolutely held out.

But things were changing in Washington. The Redskins had just moved from ancient Griffith Stadium to the new and government-owned D.C. Stadium. Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall quickly took the position that the Redskins must conform to the law that prohibits discrimination in federal facilities. Marshall 's option was to conform or move.

Left with no other choice, Marshall traded first-round draft picks with Cleveland and also received Bobby Mitchell in the deal.

Mitchell was converted to play the position he always desired and was a star WR in Washington from the moment he first stepped onto the field. In his first game with the Redskins he caught 6 passes for 135 yards and 2 scores and had a 92 yard KO return. Surely more rewarding was what happened the next week at Cleveland. As told by The Redskins Encyclopedia:

He didn't touch the ball for the first three quarters. But with Cleveland ahead, 16-10, and less than a minute to play, [Quarterback Norm] Snead hit him over the middle around midfeld. Mitchell cut toward the sidelines, faked two defenders out of their shoes with a breaktaking stop-and-go move, and raced into the end zone. The Redskins won, 17-16.

"I'm running right at Paul Brown," Mitchell told NFL Films of the play. "It couldn't have been a better situation in life. I get to the sideline and, to this day when I see that film I say, 'God did that [fake] because I couldn't have done that. It is the most amazing move I've ever seen anyone do."

When it was over, Mitchell's 1962 season ranked as the 11th best season in WR history and his 1963 season doesn't rate far behind. For his career, looking at just his seasons at WR, Mitchell ranked as the 24th best WR of all time in my WR study. He was productive as a RB in Cleveland but won't show up on any all time RB lists. Who knows what we'd think of Mitchell if he spent his whole career at wide receiver or if he was drafted to play running back by any other team but Cleveland.

One other note about Mitchell -- he played a little bit of RB in Washington in 1967 because the team was very light at the position. That was because the year before, Charley Taylor was moved from RB to WR, creating that void.

Charley Taylor was the third pick in the '64 draft after he had a magnificent career as a running back (and defensive back) at Arizona State. He adjusted to the pros quickly, winning Rookie of the Year honors at running back. He was immediately the best pass catching RB in the league -- and maybe ever -- and only Jim Brown had more yards from scrimmage in 1964. The next year Taylor struggled as a runner but was once again second to Mitchell on the team in receiving yards. He made his second straight Pro Bowl. Halfway through 1966, Taylor was moved to WR and wound up leading the NFL with 72 receptions. For the next decade, Taylor was one of the best receivers in the league. When he retired, he was the all time leader in receptions.

But why did Head Coach Otto Graham -- yes, that Otto Graham -- make the switch?

Taylor said Graham was impressed that his star running back could find openings downfield as a receiver and gain lots of yardage after catching the ball. The coach also wanted a backfield featuring 225-pounders Joe Don Looney and Steve Thurlow, Taylor noted.

Taylor, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in his career, said he initially felt a "fear" of playing on the outside. Working one-on-one with [Bobby] Mitchell and watching game films on Colts great Lenny Moore, two players who made the same transition before him, eased the switch, he acknowledged.

You might have thought Mitchell would be against this switch, as Taylor was being groomed to replace Mitchell. But that wasn't the case, according to Robert Janis:

At first Taylor was very much against the move. “But I had Bobby Mitchell there to help me out,” he said. “Soon we were having a lot of fun.” It wasn’t long before the Redskins had the most potent passing game in the league. Taylor led the league in receptions that year with 76 and in 1967 with 70.

Charley Taylor made his QB a fan, too. " 'Charley was an athlete. I never played with anybody quite like him,' said Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, who now broadcasts the Redskins' games. 'Charley could do what he wanted. He was a playmaker. I just wanted to get the ball in his hands.' "

If I had to categorize them, I'd remember Gifford as the great all around player who excelled at several positions, Moore as the ultimate dual threat, Mitchell as a good runner and then a great receiver and Taylor as a terrific receiver. Taylor stands out from the rest of the group as he didn't play RB for very long, but I have no doubt he would have been very good. Taylor was 6'3, 210, which probably sounds too lean to play running back now. But in 1970, the average RB was 6'1, 210 while the average WR was 6'1, 192. For example, O.J.Simpson was 6'2, 210.

Here are the career stats for the four players:

Year                  G     Rsh    Yds   TD   YPC   Rec   Yds    Y/R    TD  
Gifford               136   840   3609   34   4.3   367   5434   14.8   43   
Moore                 143  1069   5174   63   4.8   363   6039   16.6   48   
Mitchell              148   513   2735   18   5.3   521   7954   15.3   65
Taylor                165   442   1488   11   3.4   649   9110   14.0   79

One final note on Taylor's career, whose versatility extended beyond the football field:

"I was supposed to look at a defensive back and a running back who could be switched to receiver," said Taylor, then a Washington scout and now [1989] the Redskins' receivers coach. "I was looking at the DB when I heard these hoofbeats behind me. It was a running back returning punts. Then I was introduced to him. It was Art Monk. I watched him all that day and then I talked to him for a while and watched some game films. I came back and said we had to take this guy. There was no doubt we had a steal."

The Redskins took Monk on the first round of the 1980 draft, and Taylor's judgment has proved to be very accurate.

Thirteen games into his 10th Redskins season, Monk has 642 catches, leaving him seven short of third place on the NFL's all-time list. The man currently holding that spot is Taylor.

"I would much rather have Art pass me up than anybody else," said Taylor, who made the Pro Bowl eight times in his 13 Redskins seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984. "He's such a professional. It's been a pleasure to work with him the past nine years. Sure, Art had to make the same adjustment that I did from college running back to NFL receiver, but I don't take any credit because people say Art plays like me and I've been his coach."

Monk, however, gives Taylor plenty of credit.

"If it wasn't for Charley, I wouldn't be where I am right now," Monk said. "Charley knows a lot of the little ins and outs of the trade. He's very helpful in giving me tips on how to do certain things to make myself a better player. It will be a great compliment if I can pass him. Just to be in his company is an honor."

7 Comments | Posted in History

The Greatest WR Seasons Ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 10, 2009

Yesterday, we looked at how to create a WR rating system that was easy to apply for modern players. But what about older players? Two Colts stars provide a good example.

Marvin Harrison vs. Raymond Berry: In 1960, Raymond Berry, the Colts star WR, teamed up with one of the greatest passers ever and had one of the greatest seasons any WR has ever had. Forty-two years later, Marvin Harrison, the Colts star WR, teamed up with one of the greatest passers ever and had one of the greatest seasons any WR has ever had. But which one was better?

Berry had 74 receptions for 1,298 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 12-game season. That's 1868 adjusted catch yards. Harrison put up an incredible 143-1722-11 season, amassing 2,657 yards in a 16 game season. Even on a per game basis, Harrison would hold the edge with 166 ACY/G to 156 adjusted catch yards per game. But obviously we need to consider other things.

For example, in 2002, all WRs averaged 2.21 adjusted catch yards per team attempt; all WRs averaged 1.67 ACY/A in 1960. Further, the '02 Colts passed 591 times while the '60 version had only 392 attempts. In that context, Berry's achievements look very impressive.

We know how to calculate Harrison's value for that season -- he averaged 4.50 ACY/A and therefore 2.29 ACY/A above the baseline. Over 591 attempts, he brought 1349 adjusted yards of Value that season. What about Berry? He averaged 4.77 ACY/A, or 3.10 ACY/A over the baseline. Over 391 attempts, that's 1212 adjusted yards of Value. But in the NFL in 1960, a season was 12 games. If the season was 16 games, we can be sure that Berry would have had even more value; some adjustment must be made. On the other hand, it's easier to put up historically great numbers in 12 games than 16 games, so simple pro-rating Berry's numbers seems unfair. Like I did with the QBs, I'm going to split the baby here. The Value for all 12 game seasons will be pro-rated as if it was a 14 game season; the value for a 9 game season will be pro-rated as if it was a 12.5 game season. So we'll multiply Berry's 1212 by 14/12, to give him a final grade of 1414 yards over average. And that's how Berry's 1960 season ranks slightly ahead of Harrison, 1414 to 1349.

One other adjustment must be made, and this one is arbitrary but necessary. By the end of the '60s, the AFL was roughly the equal of the NFL (and can't be much worse than say, the NFC was in '04 or '06 compared to the AFC). But in the early '60s, that wasn't the case. Without any adjustment, Art Powell, who is not in the HOF, would come out as a top ten WR of all time. Maybe that's appropriate, but Maynard and Lance Alworth come out slightly higher than I think is reasonable, too. I'm an AFL fan, but I don't think Powell's 1300 yards in '63 and '64 deserve a full weight. So after finding the Value (era adjusted) for all AFL WRs, I multiplied that number by the following factor:

1960	0.50
1961	0.56
1962	0.62
1963	0.68
1964	0.74
1965	0.80
1966	0.86
1967	0.92
1968	0.98
1969	1.00
1970	1.00

This brings Powell to a more reasonable level, and Bambi and Maynard still come out high on the lists. I think we're good there.

The table below shows the top 50 WR seasons of all time. As you can tell, Hutson and Hirsch are tied with the greatest WR season of all time. What do all these columns mean? Let me use Hutson as an example.

In 1942, playing for the Packers, Hutson played in 11 games out of a possible 11 games (that's how many were on the Packers' schedule). He had 74 catches for 1,211 yards and 17 TDs, for a total of 1,921 adjusted catch yards. The '42 Packers had 330 pass attempts, which means Hutson had 5.82 ACY/A that season. The NFL baseline for that season (one/third of all WR ACY/A) was 1.80, which means Hutson was 4.02 ACY/A (not listed) over the baseline. On 330 team attempts, that means he had 1326 value over replacement. To account for his era (11 games played), we have to multiply that by the average of 11 and 16 (13.5) over 11 -- 1.23. After accounting for his era, he has a EraValue of 1628, tied for the best ever.

                  year   tm    gm      rec    yd    td   ACY   tatt   ACY/A  NFL   Value   EraValue
Elroy Hirsch      1951   ram   12/12    66   1495   17   2165   373   5.80   2.06   1396   1628
Don Hutson        1942   gnb   11/11    74   1211   17   1921   330   5.82   1.80   1326   1628
Raymond Berry     1960   clt   12/12    74   1298   10   1868   392   4.77   1.67   1212   1414
Randy Moss        2003   min   16/16   111   1632   17   2527   520   4.86   2.16   1403   1403
Jim Benton        1945   ram    9/10    45   1067    8   1452   199   8.11   2.24   1051   1366
Marvin Harrison   2002   clt   16/16   143   1722   11   2657   591   4.50   2.21   1349   1349
Jerry Rice        1995   sfo   16/16   122   1848   15   2758   644   4.28   2.22   1329   1329
Lance Alworth     1965   sdg   14/14    69   1602   14   2227   401   5.55   1.73   1534   1315
Steve Smith       2005   car   16/16   103   1563   12   2318   449   5.16   2.24   1313   1313
Dave Parks        1965   sfo   14/14    80   1344   12   1984   454   4.37   1.73   1199   1285
Bobby Mitchell    1962   was   14/14    72   1384   11   1964   428   4.59   1.79   1196   1281
Marvin Harrison   1999   clt   16/16   115   1663   12   2478   546   4.54   2.23   1262   1262
Michael Irvin     1995   dal   16/16   111   1603   10   2358   494   4.77   2.22   1262   1262
Herman Moore      1995   det   16/16   123   1686   14   2581   605   4.27   2.22   1238   1238
Isaac Bruce       1995   ram   16/16   119   1781   13   2636   632   4.17   2.22   1233   1233
Lance Alworth     1966   sdg   13/14    73   1383   13   2008   434   4.98   1.68   1331   1226
Torry Holt        2003   ram   16/16   117   1696   12   2521   600   4.20   2.16   1224   1224
Wes Chandler      1982   sdg    8/ 9    49   1032    9   1457   338   4.85   1.94    876   1216
Jerry Rice        1994   sfo   16/16   112   1499   13   2319   511   4.54   2.18   1207   1207
Billy Howton      1952   gnb   12/12    53   1231   13   1756   337   5.21   2.14   1034   1206
Bob Hayes         1966   dal   14/14    64   1232   13   1812   413   4.39   1.68   1118   1198
Sonny Randle      1960   crd   12/12    62    893   15   1503   285   5.27   1.67   1026   1197
Bobby Mitchell    1963   was   14/14    69   1436    7   1921   430   4.47   1.90   1105   1183
Jerry Rice        1993   sfo   16/16    98   1503   15   2293   524   4.38   2.13   1179   1179
Harlon Hill       1956   chi   12/12    47   1128   11   1583   250   6.33   2.30   1008   1176
Buddy Dial        1963   pit   14/14    60   1295    9   1775   368   4.82   1.90   1076   1153
Cliff Branch      1974   rai   14/14    60   1092   13   1652   335   4.93   1.74   1069   1146
Jimmy Smith       1999   jax   16/16   116   1636    6   2336   535   4.37   2.23   1144   1144
Jerry Rice        1986   sfo   16/16    86   1570   15   2300   582   3.95   2.00   1134   1134
Steve Smith       2008   car   14/16    78   1421    6   1931   414   5.33   2.21   1132   1132
Randy Moss        2007   nwe   16/16    98   1493   23   2443   586   4.17   2.24   1130   1130
Jerry Rice        1989   sfo   16/16    82   1483   17   2233   483   4.62   2.31   1118   1118
Marvin Harrison   2001   clt   16/16   109   1524   15   2369   557   4.25   2.25   1118   1118
John Stallworth   1984   pit   16/16    80   1395   11   2015   443   4.55   2.04   1113   1113
Don Maynard       1968   nyj   13/14    57   1297   10   1782   436   4.40   1.87   1023   1096
Terrell Owens     2000   sfo   14/16    97   1451   13   2196   583   4.30   2.16   1092   1092
Andre Johnson     2008   htx   16/16   115   1575    8   2310   554   4.17   2.21   1088   1088
Sterling Sharpe   1992   gnb   16/16   108   1461   13   2261   527   4.29   2.25   1074   1074
David Boston      2001   crd   16/16    98   1598    8   2248   526   4.27   2.25   1066   1066
Johnny Morris     1964   chi   14/14    93   1200   10   1865   494   3.78   1.77    993   1063
Homer Jones       1967   nyg   14/14    49   1209   13   1714   406   4.22   1.78    992   1062
Terrell Owens     2001   sfo   16/16    93   1412   16   2197   506   4.34   2.25   1060   1060
Don Maynard       1967   nyj   14/14    71   1434   10   1989   515   3.86   1.78   1073   1057
Art Monk          1984   was   16/16   106   1372    7   2042   485   4.21   2.04   1054   1054
Rod Smith         2001   den   15/16   113   1343   11   2128   511   4.44   2.25   1052   1052
Randy Moss        2000   min   16/16    77   1437   15   2122   495   4.29   2.16   1051   1051
Don Hutson        1944   gnb   10/10    58    866    9   1336   253   5.28   2.10    806   1048
Charley Taylor    1966   was   14/14    72   1119   12   1719   443   3.88   1.68    975   1044
Frank Clarke      1962   dal   12/14    47   1043   14   1558   380   4.78   1.79    974   1043
Billy Howton      1956   gnb   12/12    55   1188   12   1703   353   4.82   2.30    891   1040

Did you happen to check out the ACY/A by Jim Benton in what stands out as the most unbelievable yet forgotten season of all time? The war seasons ('43-'45) may deserve an asterisk, but Benton had 1,067 receiving yards on a team that threw 199 passes! As for the repeat offenders, surprise, surprise -- Jerry Rice leads all with five of the top 50 seasons in WR history. Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison each have three seasons on the list. Billy Howton, Bobby Mitchell, Don Hutson, Don Maynard, Lance Alworth, Steve Smith and Terrell Owens all come up with two seasons in the top 50.

How about the top seasons each year?

                   year   tm     g/tg   rec   recyd  td   ACY    tatt  acy/a  nfl    Value  EraVal
Steve Smith        2008   car   14/16    78   1421    6   1931   414   5.33   2.21   1132   1132
Randy Moss         2007   nwe   16/16    98   1493   23   2443   586   4.17   2.24   1130   1130
Lee Evans          2006   buf   16/16    82   1292    8   1862   431   4.32   2.21    911    911
Steve Smith        2005   car   16/16   103   1563   12   2318   449   5.16   2.24   1313   1313
Muhsin Muhammad    2004   car   16/16    93   1405   16   2190   536   4.09   2.30    956    956
Randy Moss         2003   min   16/16   111   1632   17   2527   520   4.86   2.16   1403   1403
Marvin Harrison    2002   clt   16/16   143   1722   11   2657   591   4.50   2.21   1349   1349
Marvin Harrison    2001   clt   16/16   109   1524   15   2369   557   4.25   2.25   1118   1118
Terrell Owens      2000   sfo   14/16    97   1451   13   2196   583   4.30   2.16   1092   1092
Marvin Harrison    1999   clt   16/16   115   1663   12   2478   546   4.54   2.23   1262   1262
Antonio Freeman    1998   gnb   15/16    84   1424   14   2124   575   3.94   2.27    901    901
Rob Moore          1997   crd   16/16    97   1584    8   2229   602   3.70   2.14    941    941
Isaac Bruce        1996   ram   16/16    84   1338    7   1898   481   3.95   2.21    835    835
Jerry Rice         1995   sfo   16/16   122   1848   15   2758   644   4.28   2.22   1329   1329
Jerry Rice         1994   sfo   16/16   112   1499   13   2319   511   4.54   2.18   1207   1207
Jerry Rice         1993   sfo   16/16    98   1503   15   2293   524   4.38   2.13   1179   1179
Sterling Sharpe    1992   gnb   16/16   108   1461   13   2261   527   4.29   2.25   1074   1074
Michael Irvin      1991   dal   16/16    93   1523    8   2148   500   4.30   2.35    972    972
Jerry Rice         1990   sfo   16/16   100   1502   13   2262   583   3.88   2.33    901    901
Jerry Rice         1989   sfo   16/16    82   1483   17   2233   483   4.62   2.31   1118   1118
Henry Ellard       1988   ram   16/16    86   1414   10   2044   522   3.92   2.15    922    922
Jerry Rice         1987   sfo   12/15    65   1078   22   1843   501   4.60   2.14    984   1017
Jerry Rice         1986   sfo   16/16    86   1570   15   2300   582   3.95   2.00   1134   1134
Art Monk           1985   was   15/16    91   1226    2   1721   512   3.59   1.97    776    776
John Stallworth    1984   pit   16/16    80   1395   11   2015   443   4.55   2.04   1113   1113
Mike Quick         1983   phi   16/16    69   1409   13   2014   486   4.14   2.04   1024   1024
Wes Chandler       1982   sdg    8/ 9    49   1032    9   1457   338   4.85   1.94    876   1216
Alfred Jenkins     1981   atl   16/16    70   1358   13   1968   563   3.50   1.92    890    890
John Jefferson     1980   sdg   16/16    82   1340   13   2010   594   3.38   1.87    901    901
Steve Largent      1979   sea   15/16    66   1237    9   1747   523   3.56   1.84    847    847
Wesley Walker      1978   nyj   16/16    48   1169    8   1569   388   4.04   1.83    861    861
Nat Moore          1977   mia   14/14    52    765   12   1265   311   4.07   1.76    718    769
Cliff Branch       1976   rai   14/14    46   1111   12   1581   361   4.38   1.76    944   1012
Ken Burrough       1975   oti   14/14    53   1063    8   1488   347   4.29   1.80    865    927
Cliff Branch       1974   rai   14/14    60   1092   13   1652   335   4.93   1.74   1069   1146
Harold Jackson     1973   ram   14/14    40    874   13   1334   271   4.92   1.73    866    928
Harold Jackson     1972   phi   14/14    62   1048    4   1438   375   3.83   1.76    780    835
Otis Taylor        1971   kan   14/14    57   1110    7   1535   337   4.55   1.77    938   1005
Gene A. Washington 1970   sfo   13/14    53   1100   12   1605   383   4.51   1.79    967   1036
Warren Wells       1969   rai   14/14    47   1260   14   1775   439   4.04   1.93    926    992
Don Maynard        1968   nyj   13/14    57   1297   10   1782   436   4.40   1.87   1023   1096
Homer Jones        1967   nyg   14/14    49   1209   13   1714   406   4.22   1.78    992   1062
Lance Alworth      1966   sdg   13/14    73   1383   13   2008   434   4.98   1.68   1331   1226
Lance Alworth      1965   sdg   14/14    69   1602   14   2227   401   5.55   1.73   1534   1315
Johnny Morris      1964   chi   14/14    93   1200   10   1865   494   3.78   1.77    993   1063
Bobby Mitchell     1963   was   14/14    69   1436    7   1921   430   4.47   1.90   1105   1183
Bobby Mitchell     1962   was   14/14    72   1384   11   1964   428   4.59   1.79   1196   1281
Tommy McDonald     1961   phi   14/14    64   1144   13   1724   429   4.02   1.77    963   1032
Raymond Berry      1960   clt   12/12    74   1298   10   1868   392   4.77   1.67   1212   1414
Raymond Berry      1959   clt   12/12    66    959   14   1569   375   4.18   2.29    709    827
Del Shofner        1958   ram   12/12    51   1097    8   1512   358   4.22   2.12    755    881
Billy Wilson       1957   sfo   11/12    52    757    6   1137   305   4.07   2.17    531    620
Harlon Hill        1956   chi   12/12    47   1128   11   1583   250   6.33   2.30   1008   1176
Billy Wilson       1955   sfo   12/12    53    831    7   1236   303   4.08   1.99    632    738
Bob Boyd           1954   ram   12/12    53   1212    6   1597   321   4.98   2.21    887   1034
Pete Pihos         1953   phi   12/12    63   1049   10   1564   438   3.57   1.92    724    845
Billy Howton       1952   gnb   12/12    53   1231   13   1756   337   5.21   2.14   1034   1206
Elroy Hirsch       1951   ram   12/12    66   1495   17   2165   373   5.80   2.06   1396   1628
Tom Fears          1950   ram   12/12    84   1116    7   1676   453   3.70   1.97    784    915
Mac Speedie        1949   cle   12/12    62   1028    7   1478   296   4.99   2.17    835    975
Mal Kutner         1948   crd   12/12    41    943   14   1428   285   5.01   2.20    800    933
Mac Speedie        1947   cle   14/14    67   1146    6   1601   296   5.41   2.28    926    992
Jim Benton         1946   ram   11/11    63    981    6   1416   326   4.34   2.07    740    908
Jim Benton         1945   ram    9/10    45   1067    8   1452   199   8.11   2.24   1051   1366
Don Hutson         1944   gnb   10/10    58    866    9   1336   253   5.28   2.10    806   1048
Don Hutson         1943   gnb   10/10    47    776   11   1231   253   4.87   1.80    775   1008
Don Hutson         1942   gnb   11/11    74   1211   17   1921   330   5.82   1.80   1326   1628
Don Hutson         1941   gnb   11/11    58    738   10   1228   253   4.85   1.83    764    938
Don Hutson         1940   gnb   11/11    45    664    7   1029   283   3.64   2.03    456    559
Don Hutson         1939   gnb   11/11    34    846    6   1136   248   4.58   2.10    616    756
Don Hutson         1938   gnb   10/11    32    548    9    888   210   4.65   2.06    494    607
Gaynell Tinsley    1937   crd   11/11    36    675    5    955   189   5.05   1.75    624    766
Don Hutson         1936   gnb   12/12    34    536    8    866   255   3.40   1.73    425    496
Tod Goodwin        1935   nyg   12/12    26    432    4    642   154   4.17   1.68    384    448

There are some weird ones on here — Lee Evans in 2006 stands out for sure. But the second best WR that year (Chad Johnson) only had 711 in Value; ‘06 was definitely a down year for WR performance, at least on an efficiency basis. Sterling Sharpe, Michael Irvin and Henry Ellard (and maybe Isaac Bruce in ‘96) deserve credit for taking top honors when Jerry Rice was in his prime. From ‘86 to ‘96, Rice finished in the top four every season. Before Rice, Wes Chandler had a huge season in ‘82 when he and Dan Fouts had all time great seasons that are forgotten because it was a strike shortened season.

In the ’70s, Harold Jackson pulled off the rare back to back top seasons on two different teams. In the late ’60s, Homer Jones and Don Maynard had what still stand as some of the best seasons in New York history. Lance Alworth, Bobby Mitchell, Tommy McDonald and Raymond Berry had big years and are all worthy of their HOF status. Del Shofner was the #1 WR with the Rams in ‘58 but his best three years came with the Giants in the early ’60s. Amazingly, the Rams have had eight different WRs that led the league in Value, and none of them are Torry Holt; they had five different WRs lead the league in one thirteen year period. In Hutson’s eleven year career, he ranked 1st eight times and 2nd three times.

Finally, here’s the team by team single season leader:

                year   tm     g/tg   rec   recyd  td   ACY    tatt  acy/a  nfl    Value  EraVal
Roddy White     2008   atl   16/16    88   1382    7   1962   434   4.52   2.21   1004   1004
Lee Evans       2006   buf   16/16    82   1292    8   1862   431   4.32   2.21    911    911
Steve Smith     2005   car   16/16   103   1563   12   2318   449   5.16   2.24   1313   1313
Harlon Hill     1956   chi   12/12    47   1128   11   1583   250   6.33   2.30   1008   1176
Chad Johnson    2005   cin   16/16    97   1432    9   2097   538   3.90   2.24    892    892
Mac Speedie     1947   cle   14/14    67   1146    6   1601   296   5.41   2.28    926    992
Raymond Berry   1960   clt   12/12    74   1298   10   1868   392   4.77   1.67   1212   1414
Sonny Randle    1960   crd   12/12    62    893   15   1503   285   5.27   1.67   1026   1197
Michael Irvin   1995   dal   16/16   111   1603   10   2358   494   4.77   2.22   1262   1262
Rod Smith       2001   den   15/16   113   1343   11   2128   511   4.44   2.25   1052   1052
Herman Moore    1995   det   16/16   123   1686   14   2581   605   4.27   2.22   1238   1238
Don Hutson      1942   gnb   11/11    74   1211   17   1921   330   5.82   1.80   1326   1628
Andre Johnson   2008   htx   16/16   115   1575    8   2310   554   4.17   2.21   1088   1088
Jimmy Smith     1999   jax   16/16   116   1636    6   2336   535   4.37   2.23   1144   1144
Otis Taylor     1966   kan   14/14    58   1297    8   1747   377   4.63   1.68   1114   1026
Mark Clayton    1984   mia   15/16    73   1389   18   2114   572   3.94   2.04   1022   1022
Randy Moss      2003   min   16/16   111   1632   17   2527   520   4.86   2.16   1403   1403
Joe Horn        2000   nor   16/16    94   1340    8   1970   497   3.96   2.16    895    895
Randy Moss      2007   nwe   16/16    98   1493   23   2443   586   4.17   2.24   1130   1130
Homer Jones     1967   nyg   14/14    49   1209   13   1714   406   4.22   1.78    992   1062
Don Maynard     1968   nyj   13/14    57   1297   10   1782   436   4.40   1.87   1023   1096
Ken Burrough    1975   oti   14/14    53   1063    8   1488   347   4.29   1.80    865    927
Ben Hawkins     1967   phi   14/14    59   1265   10   1760   445   3.96   1.78    968   1037
Buddy Dial      1963   pit   14/14    60   1295    9   1775   368   4.82   1.90   1076   1153
Cliff Branch    1974   rai   14/14    60   1092   13   1652   335   4.93   1.74   1069   1146
Elroy Hirsch    1951   ram   12/12    66   1495   17   2165   373   5.80   2.06   1396   1628
Michael Jackson 1996   rav   16/16    76   1201   14   1861   570   3.26   2.21    602    602
Lance Alworth   1965   sdg   14/14    69   1602   14   2227   401   5.55   1.73   1534   1315
Steve Largent   1979   sea   15/16    66   1237    9   1747   523   3.56   1.84    847    847
Jerry Rice      1995   sfo   16/16   122   1848   15   2758   644   4.28   2.22   1329   1329
Joey Galloway   2005   tam   16/16    83   1287   10   1902   487   3.91   2.24    812    812
Bobby Mitchell  1962   was   14/14    72   1384   11   1964   428   4.59   1.79   1196   1281

I wanted to address one other point today. I suspect the most controversial aspect of the WR rating system would be the inclusion of team pass attempts. I looked at all WR with over 1,000 yards in value since the NFL switched to a 16 game schedule. The average ratio of those WRs' team's pass attempts to NFL pass attempts was 1.02 -- in other words, passing teams. The top three seasons -- Moss '03, Harrison '02 and Rice '95 -- all came on teams that passed more than the league average. I also checked all WRs that had between 500 and 999 yards in value over that same time span, and those WRs were on teams that averaged 1% more passes than the league average.

There were 255 WRs that had 500 or more yards in value and played in 16 games, and they averaged playing on teams that passed ever so slightly more frequently than the league average. Now that may not be conclusive of anything -- for example, teams with the very best WRs may (and should) throw the ball the most, at least while the game is in doubt. But I don't think WRs on teams that pass a ton are at a huge disadvantage. And certainly, WRs on teams that don't throw often *are* at a big disadvantage if we don't account for attempts. Considering a bunch of the top seasons came from WRs on teams that passed all the time, I think this formula is doing a pretty good job.

16 Comments | Posted in History, Statgeekery

Page 5 of 13« First...34567...10...Last »