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Michael Irvin

Posted by Doug on February 20, 2007

Last week I wrote a couple of posts about methods for ranking the great wide receivers. Based on some good discussion in the comments following those posts, I've modified the method somewhat and am close to being comfortable calling it a Definitive Ranking System (as definitive as such things can ever be, anyway). But that's a post for later in the week if all goes well.

For now I want to talk about the one guy who always appears near the top of these kinds of lists but who isn't usually thought of as one of the all-time greats: Michael Irvin. Among all receivers whose careers started since the merger, Irvin ranked #2 in the receiving yardage category of the Gray Ink rating system I posted last week. He ranked #1 among all receivers debuting in 1978 or later according to this system that I posted back in May, and he ranked #7 among all receivers debuting since 1970 in my favorite WR ranking system EVER (though I admit it's one that probably doesn't produce the "best" rankings, it's the one I like best in theory).

Irvin's prime was something to behold:

Receivng yards: 1991--1995


Jerry Rice 1991-1995 1451
Michael Irvin 1991-1995 1419
Cris Carter 1991-1995 1068
Andre Rison 1991-1995 1025
Henry Ellard 1991-1995 1025
Tim Brown 1991-1995 1016
Anthony Miller 1991-1995 1011
Irving Fryar 1991-1995 999
Herman Moore 1991-1995 979
Sterling Sharpe 1991-1995 963
Andre Reed 1991-1995 899

He's barely behind the best receiver of all time, and a mile ahead of everyone else. Even if you consider all five-year stretches that started within five years of 1991, Irvin's is still second best, it's still close to Rice's best, and it's more than a hundred yards better than anyone else.

But that understates it. Irvin was playing on a conservative offense. During Rice's best stretch, the 49ers were throwing 536 passes per season, compared to 482 passes per year for the Cowboys during Irvin's peak. From 1991--1995, Irvin averaged more yards per team passing attempt than any player in post-merger NFL history.


Player Years AvYd AvTmAtt Yd/TmAtt
========================================================
Michael Irvin 1991-1995 1419 482 2.95
Jerry Rice 1991-1995 1451 536 2.71
Marvin Harrison 1999-2003 1519 567 2.68
Randy Moss 1999-2003 1412 532 2.66
Jimmy Smith 1997-2001 1346 516 2.61
James Lofton 1980-1984 1175 465 2.53
Torry Holt 2000-2004 1474 591 2.49
Herman Moore 1992-1996 1211 489 2.48
Tim Brown 1993-1997 1269 518 2.45
Chad Johnson 2002-2006 1319 542 2.44
Harold Jackson 1972-1976 795 327 2.43
Rod Smith 1997-2001 1273 528 2.41
Cliff Branch 1974-1978 869 361 2.41
Hines Ward 2001-2005 1095 455 2.41
Terrell Owens 2000-2004 1293 543 2.38
Joe Horn 2000-2004 1258 535 2.35
Henry Ellard 1987-1991 1188 509 2.34
Steve Largent 1983-1987 1101 476 2.31
Sterling Sharpe 1989-1993 1245 542 2.30
Stanley Morgan 1978-1982 885 389 2.27
Ken Burrough 1975-1979 837 375 2.23
Andre Reed 1988-1992 1050 476 2.20
Eric Moulds 1998-2002 1176 538 2.19
Cris Collinsworth 1982-1986 994 455 2.18
Drew Pearson 1974-1978 860 394 2.18
Drew Hill 1985-1989 1070 494 2.17
Cris Carter 1996-2000 1152 532 2.17
Laveranues Coles 2002-2006 1072 497 2.16
Art Monk 1982-1986 972 451 2.15

Is this a contrived stat? Somewhat. But it's tough to argue with the logic behind it:

1. Gaining yards is good.

2. WRs can't gain yards unless their team is passing the ball.

As with any attempt to rate receivers, there are a lot of relevant factors that are not included in this stat. In other words, yes, I am aware that the presence of Emmit Smith probably helped open things up for Irvin, and that that Aikman guy was a fairly accurate passer. But the rest of the list is filled with receivers from some of the best offenses of all time. It's not like Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, et al were playing with crummy running backs and offensive lines.

Michael Irvin's prime years were among the best five-year stretches that any wide receiver ever had.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 20th, 2007 at 7:09 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.