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

Yards per Reception: Best WRs ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 6, 2008

I never know what to make of the yards per reception statistic. Theoretically, I believe that WRs with low YPR are probably more valuable, but practically, it seems that WRs with high YPR are the best ones. YPR is inherently misleading since it has a good thing in the numerator and a good thing in the denominator. A reception is good; yards are good; so why are we dividing these things? A three yard reception on third-and-two lowers a player's yard per reception average. That said, even if I don't know what to do with it, I know how to create a list of the best YPR guys in NFL history.

As we all know, WRs have seen their yards-per-reception ratio decrease significantly over the past couple of decades. Here's a list of the league-wide yards per reception average for all wide receivers in the league:

2007	13.0
2006	13.6
2005	13.4
2004	14.1
2003	13.4
2002	13.3
2001	13.6
2000	13.8
1999	14.1
1998	14.6
1997	14.0
1996	13.7
1995	14.0
1994	14.1
1993	13.7
1992	14.0
1991	14.0
1990	14.6
1989	15.3
1988	15.6
1987	15.9
1986	16.0
1985	16.0
1984	15.9
1983	15.5
1982	15.9
1981	16.8
1980	16.2
1979	16.5
1978	16.3
1977	16.1
1976	16.8
1975	16.5
1974	15.9
1973	15.9
1972	16.4
1971	16.7
1970	16.6
1969	16.2
1968	16.9
1967	16.2
1966	16.3
1965	16.3
1964	16.0
1963	16.4
1962	16.5
1961	15.8
1960	16.0
1959	16.2
1958	15.8
1957	16.4
1956	16.2
1955	15.2
1954	16.4
1953	15.2
1952	16.4
1951	15.5
1950	15.8

The NFL clearly changed in a very short five year period, from 1987-1991. In the thirty years before, the average NFL receiver averaged 16.2 yards per reception; in the sixteen years since, that number has dropped to just 13.8 yards per reception.

So which WRs have averaged the most yards per reception, after adjusting for era? There are at least three different ways to answer that question. One way to do it is to take the difference between the league-wide yards per reception rate (after subtracting out the individual WR's own numbers) and the WR' s yards per reception ratio, and multiply that difference by the number of receptions. So if the league average YPR was 15.00, and a WR had 100 receptions for 1600 yards, he'd have a value of 100 -- he averaged 16 YPR, 1.00 above 15 YPR, over 100 receptions. Similarly, if he had 50 receptions for 850 yards, he'd be 100 yards over average as well. He'd have a 17.00 YPR average, which is 2.00 above 15.00, for 50 receptions.

Here's a list of the top 50 WRs seasons using that system:

			year	team	rec	recyd	ypr	lg ypr	diff
Torry Holt		2000	ram	82	1635	19.94	13.65	516
Elroy Hirsch		1951	ram	66	1495	22.65	14.93	510
Warren Wells		1969	rai	47	1260	26.81	15.99	508
Lance Alworth		1965	sdg	69	1602	23.22	16.04	495
Flipper Anderson	1989	ram	44	1146	26.05	15.17	479
Elbert Dubenion		1964	buf	42	1139	27.12	15.79	476
Charley Hennigan	1961	oti	82	1746	21.29	15.58	469
Eddie Brown		1988	cin	53	1273	24.02	15.45	454
Homer Jones		1967	nyg	49	1209	24.67	15.98	426
Michael Haynes		1991	atl	50	1122	22.44	13.95	424
Don Currivan		1947	byk	24	 782	32.58	15.26	416
James Lofton		1983	gnb	58	1300	22.41	15.38	408
Jimmy Orr		1958	pit	33	 910	27.58	15.38	403
Harlon Hill		1954	chi	45	1124	24.98	16.08	400
Roger Carr		1976	clt	43	1112	25.86	16.57	399
Eric Moulds		1998	buf	67	1368	20.42	14.50	396
Wesley Walker		1978	nyj	48	1169	24.35	16.10	396
Bill Groman		1961	oti	50	1175	23.50	15.61	395
Bucky Pope		1964	ram	25	 786	31.44	15.83	390
Harlon Hill		1956	chi	47	1128	24.00	15.76	387
Billy Howton		1952	gnb	53	1231	23.23	15.98	384
Randy Moss		2000	min	77	1437	18.66	13.68	384
James Lofton		1984	gnb	62	1361	21.95	15.83	380
Otis Taylor		1966	kan	58	1297	22.36	16.11	362
Gary Clark		1991	was	70	1340	19.14	13.97	362
Santana Moss		2005	was	84	1483	17.65	13.37	360
Bob Boyd		1954	ram	53	1212	22.87	16.12	358
Alvin Harper		1994	dal	33	 821	24.88	14.06	357
Henry Ellard		1994	was	74	1397	18.88	14.06	356
Flipper Anderson	1990	ram	51	1097	21.51	14.54	356
Jim Benton		1945	ram	45	1067	23.71	15.89	352
Mal Kutner		1948	crd	41	 943	23.00	14.49	349
Cliff Branch		1976	rai	46	1111	24.15	16.60	347
Mike Quick		1983	phi	69	1409	20.42	15.40	346
Don Maynard		1968	nyj	57	1297	22.75	16.76	342
Jake Reed		1996	min	72	1320	18.33	13.60	341
Buddy Dial		1960	pit	40	 972	24.30	15.86	337
Chris Sanders		1995	oti	35	 823	23.51	13.97	334
Bill Groman		1960	oti	72	1473	20.46	15.87	331
Bob Hayes		1970	dal	34	 889	26.15	16.46	329
Ken Kavanaugh		1947	chi	32	 818	25.56	15.33	328
Ashley Lelie		2004	den	54	1084	20.07	14.05	325
Mervyn Fernandez	1988	rai	31	 805	25.97	15.48	325
Derrick Alexander	2000	kan	78	1391	17.83	13.69	323
Anthony Carter		1987	min	38	 922	24.26	15.79	322
James Jett		1993	rai	33	 771	23.36	13.63	321
Buddy Dial		1963	pit	60	1295	21.58	16.25	320
Ben Hawkins		1967	phi	59	1265	21.44	16.02	320
Roy Green		1984	crd	78	1555	19.94	15.85	319

You can do this simple calculation for every season of every receiver's career. If you add up the differentials, you can get a career list. Here's a list of the top 30 wide receivers, with their career differential totals listed alongside their first year in the league:

			diff	firstyr
James Lofton		2051	1978
Stanley Morgan		1857	1977
Henry Ellard		1785	1983
Randy Moss		1672	1998
Paul Warfield		1609	1964
Don Maynard		1565	1958
Willie Gault		1553	1983
Flipper Anderson	1530	1988
Jimmy Orr		1447	1958
Lance Alworth		1437	1962
Joey Galloway		1408	1995
Bob Hayes		1361	1965
Homer Jones		1344	1964
Michael Irvin		1307	1988
Wesley Walker		1301	1977
Buddy Dial		1240	1959
Isaac Bruce		1175	1994
Derrick Alexander	1164	1994
Ken Kavanaugh		1162	1940
Carroll Dale		1144	1960
Mark Duper		1089	1982
Plaxico Burress		1083	2000
Warren Wells		1062	1964
Harlon Hill		1027	1954
Terrell Owens		1018	1996
Hugh Taylor		1009	1947
Elroy Hirsch		1006	1946
Torry Holt		 971	1999
Mel Gray		 932	1971
Harold Jackson		 919	1968

That list looks pretty good to me as a ranking of the top YPR guys in NFL history. But I think there may be some flaws in the methodology; that is, a WR that averages 20 YPR on 60 catches is given more credit than one who averages 20 YPR on 50 catches. While the former WR is undoubtedly more valuable, I'm not sure that's what we're striving for here. So I came up with another method that looks purely at YPR, assuming a certain threshold has been met (we wouldn't want 20 YPR on 2 catches to count for much). Therefore, any season where a WR has accumulated 1% of the receiving yards gained by all WRs in the league counts; any season where a WR hasn't, doesn't. For reference purposes, that means 754 yards in 2007, 675 yards in 1997, 573 yards in 1987 and 323 yards in 1977.

If a WR hits that threshold, his season is included, and he's given credit for his percentage over league average. Let's look at Devery Henderson, 2006. He had 745 receiving yards, so he just barely made the cut. Outside of him, the league average WR had 13.51 YPR; Henderson had 23.28 YPR, meaning he averaged 72% more YPR than the rest of the league's wideouts. That ranks pretty favorably; the table below lists the top 50 seasons since 1950 by NFL WRs under that method:

			year	team	rec	recyd	ypr	lg ypr	perc
Gern Nagler		1955	crd	 7	 218	31.14	15.10  106.2%
Bucky Pope		1964	ram	25	 786	31.44	15.83	98.6%
Gene Washington		1967	min	13	 384	29.54	16.08	83.7%
Bobby Duckworth		1984	sdg	25	 715	28.60	15.85	80.5%
Jimmy Orr		1958	pit	33	 910	27.58	15.38	79.3%
Mel Gray		1971	crd	18	 534	29.67	16.57	79.0%
Alvin Harper		1994	dal	33	 821	24.88	14.06	76.9%
Devery Henderson	2006	nor	32	 745	23.28	13.51	72.3%
Jessie Hester		1986	rai	23	 632	27.48	15.95	72.3%
Flipper Anderson	1989	ram	44	1146	26.05	15.17	71.7%
Elbert Dubenion		1964	buf	42	1139	27.12	15.79	71.7%
James Jett		1993	rai	33	 771	23.36	13.63	71.4%
Homer Jones		1965	nyg	26	 709	27.27	16.14	69.0%
Chris Sanders		1995	oti	35	 823	23.51	13.97	68.4%
Mervyn Fernandez	1988	rai	31	 805	25.97	15.48	67.7%
Warren Wells		1969	rai	47	1260	26.81	15.99	67.6%
Cloyce Box		1953	det	16	 403	25.19	15.05	67.3%
Buddy Dial		1959	pit	16	 428	26.75	15.99	67.3%
Leonard Thompson	1980	det	19	 511	26.89	16.09	67.2%
George Farmer		1972	chi	14	 380	27.14	16.28	66.7%
Billy Van Heusen	1974	den	16	 421	26.31	15.86	65.9%
Jack Snow		1967	ram	28	 735	26.25	16.04	63.7%
Ron Sellers		1969	nwe	27	 705	26.11	16.08	62.3%
Willie Gault		1989	rai	28	 690	24.64	15.22	62.0%
Michael Haynes		1991	atl	50	1122	22.44	13.95	60.8%
Art Graham		1963	nwe	21	 550	26.19	16.30	60.7%
Theo Bell		1980	pit	29	 748	25.79	16.06	60.6%
Bob Hayes		1970	dal	34	 889	26.15	16.46	58.9%
Earl McCullouch		1971	det	21	 552	26.29	16.59	58.4%
Alvin Harper		1993	dal	36	 777	21.58	13.64	58.2%
Shawn Jefferson		1998	nwe	34	 771	22.68	14.53	56.1%
Roger Carr		1976	clt	43	1112	25.86	16.57	56.0%
Tommy McDonald		1957	phi	 9	 228	25.33	16.27	55.7%
Eddie Brown		1988	cin	53	1273	24.02	15.45	55.5%
Harlon Hill		1954	chi	45	1124	24.98	16.08	55.3%
Horace Copeland		1993	tam	30	 633	21.10	13.65	54.5%
Homer Jones		1967	nyg	49	1209	24.67	15.98	54.4%
Anthony Carter		1987	min	38	 922	24.26	15.79	53.7%
Buddy Dial		1960	pit	40	 972	24.30	15.86	53.2%
Jimmy Orr		1968	clt	29	 743	25.62	16.80	52.5%
Harlon Hill		1956	chi	47	1128	24.00	15.76	52.2%
Paul Warfield		1970	mia	28	 703	25.11	16.50	52.2%
Bob Boyd		1953	ram	24	 548	22.83	15.03	51.9%
Elroy Hirsch		1951	ram	66	1495	22.65	14.93	51.7%
Harrison Davis		1974	sdg	18	 432	24.00	15.87	51.3%
Wesley Walker		1978	nyj	48	1169	24.35	16.10	51.2%
Bill Groman		1961	oti	50	1175	23.50	15.61	50.6%
Ron Shanklin		1973	pit	30	 711	23.70	15.75	50.4%
Wesley Walker		1979	nyj	23	 569	24.74	16.46	50.3%
Willie Davis		1992	kan	36	 756	21.00	13.98	50.2%

You can create a career list this way, too. There are a lot of old timers on this list, so here are the top 50 guys:

			firstyr	per
Ken Kavanaugh		1940	3.95
Paul Warfield		1964	2.86
Don Currivan		1943	2.82
Stanley Morgan		1977	2.81
James Lofton		1978	2.50
Jimmy Orr		1958	2.41
Bill Karr		1933	2.32
Eggs Manske		1935	2.20
Willie Gault		1983	2.15
Elroy Hirsch		1946	2.12
Homer Jones		1964	2.08
Mel Gray		1971	2.07
Henry Ellard		1983	2.06
Bob Hayes		1965	2.04
Hampton Pool		1940	2.04
Carroll Dale		1960	2.04
Buddy Dial		1959	1.99
Bob Boyd		1950	1.98
Flipper Anderson	1988	1.89
Don Maynard		1958	1.87
Clyde Goodnight		1945	1.83
Hugh Taylor		1947	1.82
Wesley Walker		1977	1.82
Milt Gantenbein		1932	1.75
John Gilliam		1967	1.74
Ray Hamilton		1938	1.73
Carl Mulleneaux		1938	1.64
Randy Moss		1998	1.63
Mal Kutner		1946	1.61
Harlon Hill		1954	1.59
Frank Liebel		1942	1.59
Cloyce Box		1949	1.55
Haven Moses		1968	1.53
Gary Garrison		1966	1.49
Harold Jackson		1968	1.43
Les Peterson		1932	1.43
Joey Galloway		1995	1.43
Tony Bova		1942	1.40
Max McGee		1954	1.39
Mark Duper		1982	1.36
Alvin Harper		1991	1.35
Will Walls		1937	1.34
Lance Alworth		1962	1.33
Jim Doran		1951	1.32
James Jett		1993	1.31
Eddie Kennison		1996	1.31
Derrick Alexander	1994	1.29
Roger Carr		1974	1.29
Warren Wells		1964	1.27
Bobby Walston		1951	1.25

That formula solves the problem of guys with a ton of receptions and a good YPR ranking ahead of a guy with a very high YPR ratio. However, it obviously doesn't look at a player's entire career -- only some seasons are counted. This last formula fixes that:

(Sum over all seasons of: playerREC * 100*playerYPR/leagueYPR)

all divided by

total career receptions.

This is a weighted average of seasonal YPR/LgYPR, weighted by number of
receptions in the season. We have to use a minimum number of receptions if we want to generate a career list, but this stat might do the best job of matching our perception of what a high YPR receiver looks like. Here's a list of all guys with at least 100 receptions:

Ken Kavanaugh		1940	162	147.7
Warren Wells		1964	158	141.2
Mal Kutner		1946	145	140.9
Flipper Anderson	1988	267	139.2
Homer Jones		1964	224	137.0
Chris Sanders		1995	177	133.8
Santonio Holmes		2006	101	132.0
Cloyce Box		1949	129	132.0
Alvin Harper		1991	191	130.7
Willie Gault		1983	333	130.5
Bob Boyd		1950	176	129.8
Buddy Dial		1959	261	129.6
Harlon Hill		1954	233	127.9
Albert Connell		1997	150	127.4
Ashley Lelie		2002	206	127.0
Bill Groman		1960	174	125.8
Stephen Baker		1987	141	123.8
Hugh Taylor		1947	272	123.8
Horace Copeland		1993	115	123.5
James Jett		1993	256	123.4
Paul Warfield		1964	427	123.1
Jimmy Orr		1958	400	122.6
Bob Hayes		1965	371	122.5
Dokie Williams		1983	148	121.8
Mervyn Fernandez	1987	209	120.8
Stanley Morgan		1977	557	120.7
Derrick Alexander	1994	417	120.0
Andre' Davis		2002	137	119.7
Ron Sellers		1969	112	119.4
Wesley Walker		1977	438	118.5
Lee Evans		2004	233	118.4
James McKnight		1994	222	118.0
James Lofton		1978	764	117.5
Plaxico Burress		2000	470	117.1
Braylon Edwards		2005	173	117.0
Elroy Hirsch		1946	387	116.9
Santana Moss		2001	351	116.4
Lance Alworth		1962	542	116.4
Mel Gray		1971	351	116.4
Daryl Turner		1984	101	116.3
Carroll Dale		1960	438	116.0
Del Shofner		1957	349	115.9
Frank Clarke		1957	291	115.7
Randy Moss		1998	774	115.7
Yancey Thigpen		1991	313	115.7
Ernie Jones		1988	215	115.7
Joey Galloway		1995	669	115.6
Henry Ellard		1983	814	115.5
Don Maynard		1958	633	115.2
Justin McCareins	2001	210	114.8

There are a lot of active guys on that list, so guys like Santonio Holmes will obviously rank very high. All three lists have their pluses and minuses; tomorrow, we'll look at the WRs with the lowest YPR ever.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 6th, 2008 at 3:26 am and is filed under History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.