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Archive for February, 2009

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

Some proof that first round picks, as a group, are not overpaid

Posted by Jason Lisk on February 24, 2009

I could go into a long dissertation on why first round picks, even the top ones, are actually underpaid relative to their average performance over the life of the contract, trot out charts and graphs, and post a study of the cap numbers for teams to see which players actually underperform their cap figures.

I could point out that, despite the public posturing from [gasp] the teams that have a financial incentive to complain that rookies are paid too much[/gasp], no team has actually intentionally passed on a pick or traded it for a later draft pick straight up.

Or I could just say this:

Meet your 2008 Franchise Players.

Fourteen players were franchised by NFL teams this season—okay, well, a kicker, a punter, and 12 football players. Those fourteen guys have combined to start 53 seasons and have played in eight Pro Bowls. Of course, seven of those pro bowl appearances belong to actual franchise-type players, Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs. The other appearance belongs to Shayne Graham. So what we have is a group of guys who have started for at least a few seasons, for the most part, are decent starters, but not elite players at their position at this point. In order to avoid letting these guys get to the open market without draft compensation, these teams are willing to pay and take a cap hit equal to the average of the top 5 salaries at the same position.

A running back who has started fewer than five games (Darren Sproles) and another who has yet to play a full, healthy season as a starter (Brandon Jacobs) will make over 6.5 million for next season, which is almost as much as Adrian Peterson's base salary + prorated bonus, for both the 2007 and 2008 seasons combined. An offensive lineman (Max Starks), who plays right tackle, has never been selected to a pro bowl, missed most of the 2007 season, and started 2008 as a reserve, will make about 8.5 million in 2009, almost as much as “overpaid” Joe Thomas and Jake Long will average over their initial contracts. Unless he gets traded and signs a large long-term deal, a quarterback may get paid a huge amount to be a backup. I don’t want to hear about how Matt Ryan and his 34.5 million in guaranteed money over 6 seasons is overpaid, when Matt Cassel is worth 14.65 million as an insurance policy.

8 Comments | Posted in General, Rant

Podcast episode #2

Posted by Doug on February 22, 2009

Last week we unveiled the debut episode of the pfr podcast. It was so much fun that we decided to get back into the studio (i.e. three messy computer desks in three different states) and record episode #2. Here's the lineup:

JKL talks about Vincent Edward Jackson
Doug talks about this 1987 Oilers/Falcons game
Chase talks about the 1966 Redskins
JKL talks about this Titans/Rams game from 1999

And there's some bonus discussion of Matt Cassel and a bit of Billy Joe Hobert-inspired trivia at the top.

I still have some work to do, but I tried to make some headway on fixing the audio issues from last time. Let me know how I fared. I'm also working on an rss feed that will allow you to subscribe via iTunes if that's how you manage your podcasts. Hopefully that will all be squared away before episode #3 is released.

Here's the link to listen

Thanks for listening again, if you do, and keep that feedback coming.

16 Comments | Posted in Podcast

Football pet peeves

Posted by Jason Lisk on February 20, 2009

Throughout the season, the various contributors to this blog have had an ongoing thread of discussion of football pet peeves. Some are related to coaches, some players, some to announcers and television broadcasts, and well, some to just about anything else football-related. As you will see, some of us are a little more crotchety than others.

29 Comments | Posted in General, Rant

Announcing the P-F-R podcast

Posted by Doug on February 18, 2009

You've read us. Now you can hear us!

Like p-f-r itself, the podcast will focus on stats and history. While researching our blog posts, we spend a lot of time wading through the database. And in so doing, we often run into some interesting players, teams, games, and so forth. So we decided to make note of them, jot down some facts, do a little more digging if necessary, and then talk amongst ourselves about these interesting discoveries while wearing fancy transmitting devices not unlike those worn (and thrown to the ground) by real NFL coaches.

The only thing I know for sure is that, if it's still around after a year or so, the format of the podcast will probably be something very different from what we're currently anticipating. But we've gotten around that by not anticipating anything in particular. We have a tentative format which I'll describe shortly, but let me just be clear that listener feedback will be the primary force that shapes the future of the podcast. If there's something you'd like us to try, we'll consider it. If there's aspect of the show that you particularly enjoy or don't enjoy, let us know. Whatever we enjoy doing and you enjoy listening to is what we'll do.

For now, we've got a format called one player, one team, one game. Chase, JKL, and I will each choose one player, one team (that is, a team-season), and one game from NFL history, and we'll spend a few minutes talking about why we find him/them/it interesting or meaningful.

Three items times three people makes nine segments in all. We had originally planned to get nine segments into a roughly-half-hour show, about three minutes per segment. When we actually started recording, we found that it was taking more like 10 minutes per segment, so we cut the first episode off after five segments and about 50 minutes. Here's the lineup:

Doug talks about Billy Howton
Chase talks about this Dolphins/Browns game from 1993
Doug talks about the 2002 Cleveland Browns
JKL talks about the 1948 Chicago Bears
Chase talks about Mark Brunell

And along the way we end up talking about a cast of characters that ranges from Don Hutson to Erik Kramer.

Sound interesting? You can listen by clicking on this blue text right here.

There's not yet an RSS feed or an iTunes hookup, but there will be. For now, we would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and opinions.

16 Comments | Posted in Podcast

There are two types of penalties

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 17, 2009

There are two kinds of penalties in the NFL. One type is the necessary one -- calling them is necessary for the game to exist in its current form (ignoring whether or not these have always been penalties or whether or not they're always enforced). Unabated to the quarterback or encroachment are good examples of this; the game wouldn't be the same if defensive lineman could line up behind the offensive lineman. Pass interference is another -- the modern game would be dramatically different if defensive backs could push a WR out of the way when he is about to catch a pass. Holding is another one -- if a defender is about to get a sack, having a blocker hold him isn't really "fair" and should be penalized. These penalties are designed to highlight the unbelievable athleticism of NFL players and increase fan enjoyment. We want our WRs running free, we want our pass rushers exhibiting tremendous strength and speed, and we want to keep the game from getting boring. If we didn't have the delay of game penalty, things would get pretty boring pretty quickly.

There's another type of penalty, though. Penalties such as roughing the kicker, roughing the punter, roughing the quarterback, late hit, excessive celebration, helmet to helmet, face-mask, horse collar tackle and unnecessary roughness are distinctly different from a delay of game or offsides. The "necessary" penalties are designed to foster competition and excitement; these latter penalties are simply "disincentive" penalties. We don't want you to rough a QB, K or P because they might get hurt. We don't allow horse collar tackles, grabbing the face mask or late hits because a player is likely to get injured. Those things are NOT penalties because it is "unfair" in the spirit of the competition; they are not part of the structure of the game.

Assume a WR is running open down field, and just before he catches the ball, he gets slammed by a CB and drops the ball. It's clear that on that play, the offense "won" and should be rewarded. Therefore, we call pass interference. Now consider a play where the QB drops back, throws a pass to a covered receiver, the ball is knocked down, but the QB is hit late by a defensive end. It's obvious that the defense "won" that play yet the offense will be rewarded with the automatic first down. Why? Not to correct the injustice performed by the defense on that play, but because if defensive players constantly do that, quarterbacks will get hurt, and in the aggregate, NFL play quality will suffer.

These disincentive penalties always bother me, though. To use but one example, here's how the New York Times described the 1986 playoff game between the Jets and the Browns.

The Jets were leading by 10 points with less than four minutes left in regulation when Kosar threw an incomplete pass on a second-and-24 play from the Browns' 18-yard line. Gastineau hit Kosar from behind after he released the pass, and the Jets were given a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer. The penalty gave the Browns a first down at their 33, and they proceeded to drive for a touchdown and later a game-tying field goal.

Without that penalty, the Browns are unlikely to win that game, and John Elway never gives us The Drive a week later. But while Gastineau did hit Kosar late, that flag wasn't a necessary flag but a disincentive flag. And it's my opinion that at least from a micro perspective, disincentive penalties are bad for the individual game even if in the macro world disincentive penalties are good for the Game.

I'm sure every fan base has their own horror story. A terrible roughing the punter or kicker call is as bad as it gets. I know Steelers fans will always remember running into Joe Nedney. The Steelers got one back in the Super Bowl, when Adrian Wilson was flagged for unnecessary roughness following a successful Steelers field goal. That gave Pittsburgh an automatic first down, although they still ended that drive with only a field goal. The Jets actually had another Gastineau moment in '04 when Eric Barton got a roughing the quarterback penalty following a 4th down incompletion in the final minute of the playoff game against the Chargers; the Jets ended up winning in overtime, making it a moot point.

So what am I getting at? Maybe there's a way besides throwing a flag that would provide a disincentive for certain behavior. Players are often fined for their actions, but that doesn't seem to do enough. I'm not really in favor of more suspensions in the NFL, either. I'm not sure what we can do. Maybe start taking away team draft picks if they have too many of these disincentive penalties. I'm not sure whether or not there are habitual offenders (Rodney Harrison aside, of course) but maybe these are random happenings when 250 pound men charge at players and we simply won't ever be able to provide a strong enough disincentive. If we're going to create incentives for sacks, is it possible to avoid late hits and roughing the QB penalties? Maybe they shouldn't be penalties at all? Nothing irks me more than a cheap first down following a bad play by the offense. Surely we need something so players don't just rip the heads off of QBs, but I can't help but think something there's something better than throwing a little yellow flag. Maybe you guys can think of one.

23 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas

Part III: Greatest WRs Ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 11, 2009

On Monday, I described a formula I created to rate every WR season in NFL history. On Tuesday, I listed the best seasons ever, the best seasons each year and the best season by any receiver for each franchise. Today, we'll get to the career list.

Compiling career value isn't that difficult. I took 100% of the WR's best season, 95% of his second best season, 90% of his third best, and so on. Let's use Michael Irvin as an example, who had nine seasons in his career where he ranked above the baseline.

year    rec   	recyd   rectd    ACY	tmatt	ACY/A	NFL	Value	Wt	CarVal
1995	111	1603	10	2358	494	4.77	2.22	1262	100	1262
1991	 93	1523	 8	2148	500	4.30	2.35	 972	 95	 923
1993	 88	1330	 7	1910	475	4.02	2.13	 900	 90	 810
1992	 78	1396	 7	1926	491	3.92	2.25	 820	 85	 697
1994	 79	1241	 6	1756	448	3.92	2.18	 781	 80	 625
1996	 64	 962	 2	1322	487	3.95	2.21	 582	 75	 437
1997	 75	1180	 9	1735	553	3.14	2.14	 552	 70	 386
1998	 74	1057	 1	1447	474	3.05	2.27	 372	 65	 242
1989	 26	 378	 2	 548	513	2.85	2.31	 104	 60	  62
										5443

This is the same formula we've used here to rate the QBs and for Doug's Approximate Value method. Once you add up the career values for every WR, you get the following list of the top 100 WRs. Perhaps more specifically, these guys have created the most value for their teams in their careers:

rk	name	        	val	rookyr
 1	Jerry Rice		9095	1985
 2	Don Hutson		7335	1935
 3	Marvin Harrison		6890	1996
 4	Terrell Owens		6463	1996
 5	Randy Moss		6260	1998
 6	Lance Alworth		6045	1962
 7	Steve Largent		5755	1976
 8	Michael Irvin		5443	1988
 9	Raymond Berry		5367	1955
10	Jimmy Smith		5352	1992
11	Tim Brown		5182	1988
12	Paul Warfield		5141	1964
13	Don Maynard		5061	1958
14	Torry Holt		5038	1999
15	James Lofton		4930	1978
16	Bob Hayes		4909	1965
17	Cris Carter		4894	1987
18	Harold Jackson		4785	1968
19	Isaac Bruce		4752	1994
20	Rod Smith		4687	1995
21	Tommy McDonald		4642	1957
22	Charley Taylor		4594	1964
23	Herman Moore		4564	1991
24	Bobby Mitchell		4377	1958
25	Otis Taylor		4292	1965
26	Henry Ellard		4289	1983
27	Cliff Branch		4222	1972
28	Steve Smith		4211	2001
29	Hines Ward		4197	1998
30	Del Shofner		4146	1957
31	Fred Biletnikoff	4072	1965
32	Stanley Morgan		4059	1977
33	Billy Howton		3987	1952
34	John Stallworth		3961	1974
35	Andre Reed		3897	1985
36	Art Monk		3897	1980
37	Chad Johnson		3884	2001
38	Harold Carmichael	3873	1971
39	Art Powell		3777	1959
40	Sonny Randle		3773	1959
41	Mac Speedie		3765	1946
42	Buddy Dial		3758	1959
43	Dante Lavelli		3707	1946
44	Billy Wilson		3638	1951
45	Jimmy Orr		3627	1958
46	Gary Clark		3599	1985
47	Gary Garrison		3560	1966
48	Sterling Sharpe		3513	1988
49	Derrick Mason		3495	1997
50	John Gilliam		3416	1967
51	Elroy Hirsch		3383	1946
52	Eric Moulds		3377	1996
53	Gene A. Washington	3363	1969
54	Muhsin Muhammad		3362	1996
55	Andre Johnson		3340	2003
56	Boyd Dowler		3331	1959
57	Joe Horn		3324	1996
58	Jim Benton		3259	1938
59	Max McGee		3231	1954
60	Roy Jefferson		3206	1965
61	Tony Hill		3158	1977
62	Pete Pihos		3153	1947
63	Wesley Walker		3131	1977
64	Wes Chandler		3129	1978
65	Gary Collins		3098	1962
66	Drew Pearson		3068	1973
67	Roy Green		3059	1979
68	Red Phillips		3046	1958
69	Anquan Boldin		3040	2003
70	Joey Galloway		3026	1995
71	Hugh Taylor		3009	1947
72	Andre Rison		3000	1989
73	Ken Burrough		2983	1970
74	Keenan McCardell	2975	1992
75	Keyshawn Johnson	2975	1996
76	Cris Collinsworth	2971	1981
77	Homer Jones		2965	1964
78	Harlon Hill		2945	1954
79	Reggie Wayne		2940	2001
80	Charlie Joiner		2912	1969
81	Tom Fears		2834	1948
82	Lionel Taylor		2825	1959
83	Carroll Dale		2807	1960
84	Alfred Jenkins		2801	1975
85	Lynn Swann		2792	1974
86	Mike Quick		2790	1982
87	Frank Clarke		2764	1957
88	Nat Moore		2744	1974
89	Laveranues Coles	2732	2000
90	Gail Cogdill		2694	1960
91	Mark Clayton		2662	1983
92	Drew Hill		2661	1979
93	Charley Hennigan	2632	1960
94	John Jefferson		2617	1978
95	Lance Rentzel		2613	1965
96	Paul Flatley		2562	1963
97	Plaxico Burress		2554	2000
98	Mel Gray		2552	1971
99	Johnny Morris		2536	1958
100	Larry Fitzgerald	2526	2004

Note: Only seasons where the player was a WR were counted. So Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell only get credit for their seasons as WRs and not when they were RBs; similarly, Lenny Moore doesn’t even make the list. Carroll Dale doesn’t get credit for his seasons as a TE.

Obviously a few players on that list stand out. Irvin and Jimmy Smith are surprise finishers in the top ten. Bob Hayes ranks ahead of Cris Carter, and he just made the HOF (and so far, Carter has not). Using per-attempt numbers obviously helps some players like Irvin, who did not have the same opportunity to rack up big passing numbers. How much was Irvin disadvantaged (by traditional methods) is an interesting question. I took a weighted look at how often the teams the WRs were on passed the ball (relative to league average) during the best seasons of the WRs' careers.

1.29 Charley Hennigan
1.24 Lionel Taylor
1.22 Don Hutson
1.19 Tom Fears
1.18 Larry Fitzgerald
1.17 Mark Clayton
1.15 Art Powell
1.15 Charlie Joiner
1.15 Don Maynard
1.14 Anquan Boldin
1.14 John Jefferson
1.13 Torry Holt
1.12 Wes Chandler
1.10 Gary Garrison
1.10 Sterling Sharpe
1.09 Billy Howton
1.08 Andre Rison
1.08 Elroy Hirsch
1.07 Harold Carmichael
1.07 Jim Benton
1.07 Isaac Bruce
1.06 Bobby Mitchell
1.06 Pete Pihos
1.06 Marvin Harrison
1.06 Charley Taylor
1.06 Del Shofner
1.05 Reggie Wayne
1.05 Jerry Rice
1.05 Mike Quick
1.05 Lance Alworth
1.05 Raymond Berry
1.05 Johnny Morris
1.04 Cris Carter
1.04 Mel Gray
1.04 Chad Johnson
1.04 Fred Biletnikoff
1.04 John Gilliam
1.04 Tommy McDonald
1.04 Drew Pearson
1.03 Tony Hill
1.03 Terrell Owens
1.03 Gene A. Washington
1.03 Roy Jefferson
1.03 Randy Moss
1.02 Steve Largent
1.02 Joe Horn
1.02 Gary Clark
1.01 Keenan McCardell
1.01 Harlon Hill
1.01 Roy Green
1.00 Alfred Jenkins
1.00 Billy Wilson
1.00 Keyshawn Johnson
0.99 Cris Collinsworth
0.99 Rod Smith
0.99 James Lofton
0.99 Art Monk
0.98 Muhsin Muhammad
0.98 Jimmy Smith
0.98 Derrick Mason
0.98 Ken Burrough
0.98 Mac Speedie
0.98 Eric Moulds
0.97 Tim Brown
0.97 Drew Hill
0.97 Andre Johnson
0.97 Herman Moore
0.97 Henry Ellard
0.97 Harold Jackson
0.97 Frank Clarke
0.97 Homer Jones
0.97 Jimmy Orr
0.96 Wesley Walker
0.96 Sonny Randle
0.96 Plaxico Burress
0.96 Andre Reed
0.96 Joey Galloway
0.96 Cliff Branch
0.95 Laveranues Coles
0.95 Lance Rentzel
0.95 Gail Cogdill
0.95 Red Phillips
0.94 John Stallworth
0.94 Michael Irvin
0.94 Bob Hayes
0.92 Lynn Swann
0.92 Stanley Morgan
0.92 Otis Taylor
0.90 Hines Ward
0.89 Steve Smith
0.89 Dante Lavelli
0.88 Hugh Taylor
0.87 Gary Collins
0.86 Nat Moore
0.85 Paul Flatley
0.85 Paul Warfield
0.83 Carroll Dale
0.83 Buddy Dial
0.81 Max McGee
0.80 Boyd Dowler

This list serves as a nice check to remind you about the shape of some player’s careers. Because of the K-Gun offense, I picture Reed playing on aerial offenses for most of his career, but that wasn’t the case. Steve Smith has put up big time numbers despite constantly playing on run oriented teams. Paul Warfield was an elite talent who simply didn’t play on explosive teams. Charlie Joiner and Torry Holt, of course, go the other way.

Joiner’s an interesting case. Everyone brings up Swann as an overrated HOF WR, but Joiner looks just as bad. At the time of his enshrinement, he ranked 6th in career receiving yards, 5th in receptions and 27th in receiving touchdowns. Now he ranks 16th, 27th and 40th in those categories. I suspect the fact that he was the all time leader in receptions when he retired swayed some voters, but Joiner stuck around for 18 seasons. He was a very good WR, but did not put up the typical numbers of a HOF WR. Consider:

  • Joiner’s top two seasons ranked as the 3rd and 10th best in the league those years. He’s got one top five, one more top ten and one more top fifteen season in his career. That’s it.
  • He had only four 1,000 yard seasons and never scored eight touchdowns in a single year.
  • He played on teams that passed much more often than the rest of the league.

That said, number three cuts both ways. He played with Wes Chandler, John Jefferson and of course Kellen Winslow. So while he gets penalized for being on teams that passed frequently, he doesn’t get bonus points for having to compete with some elite talent. On the other hand, he also got to play with Dan Fouts for the majority of his career. With the Bengals in ‘74 and ‘75, at the ages of 27 and 28, playing with Ken Anderson, he got outplayed by teammate Isaac Curtis, too. Maybe Joiner isn’t the 80th best WR of all time, but it seems to me like he’s no more worthy of enshrinement than Swann.

I don't think this list is perfect, and I'm sure I'll have some good modifications for next time around. Advice and critiques are always welcome. Joiner was just one guy that stuck out to me; I'm curious to see who sticks out for you.

19 Comments | Posted in General

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

Ranking the WRs: Methodology Discussion

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 9, 2009

Ranking every WR in NFL history is a daunting task -- rule changes have made comparing across eras very difficult and we have only three main stats to guide us. While I don't think it's perfect, I've come up formula that incorporates the important features of being a valuable WR in any era.

You know I'm worried about selling you guys on a system when I publish the results first. Here are the seven wide receivers that have posted the best statistics in NFL history (according to my formula):

1. Jerry Rice
2. Don Hutson
3. Marvin Harrison
4. Terrell Owens
5. Randy Moss
6. Lance Alworth
7. Steve Largent

I think it's generally agreed that those seven guys are among the very best WRs ever. No one should be upset seeing Rice and Hutson at the top, and Harrison/Owens/Moss in some order deserve the spot right behind them (and Moss should pass Owens before his career ends). Alworth (and Maynard) dominated the '60s and Largent (and Lofton) dominated the '80s; no one really dominated the '70s in the same way, although Harold Jackson and Cliff Branch were very, very good.

Since those seven guys come out on top, maybe my system isn't so kooky. I'll let you guys decide. Let me get a couple of things out of the way first:

20 Comments | Posted in History, Statgeekery