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Looking back, looking forward: Wide Receivers

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 15, 2006

With week one in the books, lots of football fans have already put 2005 in their rearview mirror. On the other hand, you've probably been bombarded with writers and sports anchors telling you "to remember it's only week one, and player X will be fine just like last season." That brings us to what's on my mind today: just what exactly did happen last year?

Reggie Wayne and T.J. Houshmanzadeh had a lot in common in 2005. Both played on playoff teams in the AFC, caught passes from a superstar QB, and played alongside a superstar wide receiver. Houshmanzadeh missed two complete games, while Wayne was rested for most of the last two weeks of the year. The two receivers had similar end of season stats, too.


Rec Yards Y/R TD Pts
Reggie Wayne 83 1055 12.7 5 218.5
T.J. Houshmanzadeh 78 956 12.3 7 227.8

On the surface, those numbers look pretty similar. But it turns out Houshmanzadeh had a much more impressive season than Wayne. Why? Houshmanzadeh produced better numbers despite playing a significantly harder schedule than Wayne.

In order to rank the receivers and the schedules, I needed a statistic. I used the following formula (no doubt familiar to fantasy football fans) to come up with "Pts" for each receiver in the NFL: (Receiving Yards)/10 + (Receiving Yards) * 6 + Receptions. (Note: I'm not terribly concerned with what's the "best" statistic to use here, like I was when I tried to rank the quarterbacks. This scoring system was just convenient for me and in my current database. It's fine for serving our current purpose.)

So which teams allowed the most points to opposing WRs?


Pts Rec RecYD TDs Ratio
San Francisco 49ers 664 231 3238 18 1.36
St. Louis Rams 576 192 2616 19 1.18
New England Patriots 567 174 2744 20 1.16
New York Giants 564 193 2773 15 1.16
Denver Broncos 555 208 2662 12 1.14
Houston Texans 555 181 2655 18 1.14
Tennessee Titans 553 168 2307 24 1.14
San Diego Chargers 539 206 2549 13 1.11
Seattle Seahawks 530 195 2447 14 1.09
Arizona Cardinals 522 194 2378 15 1.07
Miami Dolphins 515 178 2453 15 1.06
Cincinnati Bengals 505 183 2508 11 1.04
Kansas City Chiefs 501 170 2361 14 1.03
Buffalo Bills 496 178 2464 11 1.02
Carolina Panthers 488 185 2352 11 1.00
Minnesota Vikings 482 176 2197 14 0.99
Atlanta Falcons 476 188 2245 10 0.98
Washington Redskins 469 168 2270 12 0.96
Baltimore Ravens 464 176 2306 9 0.95
Jacksonville Jaguars 463 157 2202 14 0.95
Philadelphia Eagles 455 154 2150 14 0.93
Cleveland Browns 451 162 2064 13 0.93
Indianapolis Colts 449 170 2126 11 0.92
Detroit Lions 445 160 2100 12 0.91
Pittsburgh Steelers 438 171 2228 7 0.90
Dallas Cowboys 434 144 2147 12 0.89
Oakland Raiders 427 148 2033 12 0.88
New Orleans Saints 420 121 1936 17 0.86
Chicago Bears 419 160 2014 9 0.86
New York Jets 404 151 1733 12 0.83
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 398 139 2058 8 0.82
Green Bay Packers 369 122 1677 12 0.76
Average 487 172 2312 13

That last column on the right is what we're really concerned about. The Green Bay Packers allowed 24% less points to opposing WRs than the rest of the NFL. Only two wide receivers -- Braylon Edwards and Az-Zahir Hakim -- had over 100 receiving yards against Green Bay last year. On the flip side, the 49ers defense was horrible, a whopping 36% worse than the league average. Ten times a receiver went over the century mark, with Torry Holt, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald doing it two times each.

If you follow this line of thinking, you'll conclude that catching 180 yards against the 49ers would be equivalent to 100 against the Packers. So I divided every receiver's point total from every game by the ratio of his opponent's stingiest relative to the league average. So when Joey Galloway had 5/53/2 against the Packers, those 22.3 points get converted to 29.5 points (22.3/0.757); when Galloway put up 8/149/1 against the 'Niners, those 28.9 points get converted to 21.2 points (28.9/1.363). This makes sense because a receiver should be rewarded for producing against a tough opponent and his performance should be diminished for dominating an inferior one.

I ranked every receiver in the NFL by how many points they scored in 2005. I've listed the top 75 receivers, and provided both their points totals and their corresponding ranks. Then I adjusted each player's point total by opponent, and listed the receiver's adjusted points and adjusted rank totals. The players are sorted not by either ranking, but by those "most hurt by a tough" schedule to "most helped by an easy schedule. (For you math guys out there, the list is sorted from lowest to highest after dividing the difference in points totals (actual points minus adjusted points) by the natural logarithm of the individual receiver's actual points.)


Name Pts Rk APts ARk
Steve Smith 340 1 363 1
Muhsin Muhammad 163 33 179 28
Travis Taylor 135 43 149 39
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 228 14 244 11
Roy Williams 162 35 176 30
Roddy White 93 71 105 61
Chad Johnson 298 3 312 2
Joey Galloway 272 7 286 4
Donald Driver 239 10 252 10
Marcus Robinson 113 53 124 48
Antonio Bryant 194 25 205 21
Derrick Mason 211 19 222 15
Michael Jenkins 105 62 114 55
Deion Branch 208 22 218 16
Braylon Edwards 101 66 109 57
David Givens 146 41 155 35
Ricky Proehl 92 72 100 67
Chris Henry 109 57 116 52
Antonio Chatman 131 45 139 44
Troy Brown 98 68 104 62
Az-Zahir Hakim 95 70 100 68
Dennis Northcutt 101 64 105 59
Brian Finneran 123 49 126 47
Ashley Lelie 133 44 136 45
Rod Smith 232 13 235 12
Josh Reed 89 74 90 73
Mark Clayton 112 54 114 54
Keenan McCardell 216 17 217 17
Donte Stallworth 207 23 208 20
Eric Moulds 187 28 187 26
Justin McCareins 127 46 127 46
Eric Parker 153 38 153 36
Hines Ward 234 12 233 14
Joe Horn 120 50 119 50
Darrell Jackson 105 61 104 63
Antwaan Randle El 104 63 103 64
Jabar Gaffney 118 51 116 53
Greg Lewis 111 55 109 58
Lee Evans 168 32 165 34
Eddie Kennison 213 18 210 19
Chris Chambers 269 8 266 7
Dante Hall 97 69 94 70
Andre Johnson 145 42 141 42
Laveranues Coles 188 27 183 27
Matt Jones 114 52 110 56
Amani Toomer 170 31 166 33
Brandon Lloyd 151 39 147 41
Samie Parker 107 59 103 65
Marty Booker 126 47 121 49
Jerry Porter 199 24 194 25
Arnaz Battle 87 75 82 75
Corey Bradford 107 58 102 66
Bryant Johnson 89 73 84 74
Plaxico Burress 239 11 233 13
Reggie Brown 125 48 119 51
Doug Gabriel 111 56 105 60
Santana Moss 286 6 279 5
Terry Glenn 223 15 216 18
Kevin Curtis 183 30 174 31
Jimmy Smith 208 21 200 23
Shaun McDonald 99 67 92 72
Drew Bennett 156 37 148 40
Terrell Owens 160 36 150 38
Randy Moss 209 20 198 24
Brandon Stokley 101 65 92 71
Ernest Wilford 151 40 140 43
Bobby Engram 163 34 151 37
Isaac Bruce 107 60 95 69
Marvin Harrison 269 9 254 9
Keyshawn Johnson 191 26 177 29
Joe Jurevicius 184 29 170 32
Reggie Wayne 219 16 202 22
Larry Fitzgerald 308 2 287 3
Anquan Boldin 289 5 267 6
Torry Holt 289 4 262 8

So what's this all mean? For starters, Steve Smith is really, really good. Sure he ranked first on the unadjusted list, but he also was hurt more than any other WR by a tough schedule (in part because of just how many total points he scored, but mostly because of a difficult schedule). Seven of Smith's games were against the toughest five teams in the league, and that doesn't even include Smith's dominant performance at Soldier Field in the playoffs. We saw this weekend just how much the Panthers missed Steve Smith, as Carolina didn't get a first down until the fourth quarter.

Two of my favorite receivers in the league, Anquan Boldin and Torry Holt, are the two players that get downgraded the most by this system. One word of caution: part of the reason Holt's schedule looks so easy is because his opponents (for the most part) had to face Holt, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald last year. But in general, the Rams' and Cardinals' receivers had very easy schedules, which likely inflated their numbers. When you consider that the Rams lost Mike Martz and the Cardinals ranked 1st in pass attempts last season, there are lots of reasons to expect those three star receivers to have weaker years in 2005.

Another pair -- Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh -- excelled in '05 despite playing eight games against top 11 defenses (and Houshmanzadeh missed two games against the Jaguars and Titans, which explains why his schedule was slightly harder than Johnson's was). Of course, this formula does nothing to eliminate the huge advantage both Bengals receivers receive by getting to catch passes from Carson Palmer.

Muhsin Muhammad, Travis Taylor, Roy Williams, Roddy White and Joey Galloway all looked pretty good in this system. Doug Drinen's written a lot about how Galloway's constantly underappreciated, and this system concurs. Those players might be expected to have better years in 2006, with presumably lighter schedules. On the flip side, Joe Jurevicious and Keyshawn Johnson switched teams after having very easy schedules last year, so you'd probably expect a downgrade in their 2006 production.

That's the big value in this system. A player's ability is more consistent from year to year than a player's opposing schedule, even if he doesn't change teams. Remember, pre-season predictions about strength of schedule are usually meaningless. So if I was going to try and predict how a player was going to do this year, I'm confident that I'd be able to increase my accuracy by basing my projections on these adjusted 2005 numbers, rather than focusing on the raw data.

One last thing -- I've used this system with great success at the quarterback position. Things are a bit dicier at wide receiver, and I'm not exactly sure how this relates to Doug's article on defending number one and number two receivers. My system could probably be improved a good bit by combining these two things. I'll put it on my to do list.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 15th, 2006 at 4:15 am and is filed under Fantasy, General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.