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Jerry Rice: the best two receivers of his era?

Posted by Doug on August 23, 2006

Jerry Rice is going to retire as a member of a franchise that, according to him, has a crummy Quarterback of the Future.

I told you a few weeks ago that Hall of Fame debates don't usually interest me, but here is an exception. If you break up Jerry Rice's career into two distinct careers, are they both Hall of Famers? (By the way, just so I'm not in violation of my own rule, I'll state that I'm asking "would they be?" not "should they be?") Michael David Smith wrote about this in the 2004 Pro Football Prospectus and concluded that the answer is yes. He further concluded that Rice is the only player who can make such a claim. Smith broke Rice's career into an early part and a late part. I am instead going to do it with even years and odd years.

Since both Even-year Jerry and Odd-year Jerry debuted in the mid-80s, let's compare them to all receivers who debuted in the 1980s. All of these guys have retired, so we can look at their full careers. Here are the basic stats, sorted by total yards from scrimmage:


Receiver REC YD TD RSH
====================================================
1. Tim Brown 1094 14934 100 (190/1)
2. Cris Carter 1101 13899 130 ( 41/0)
3. Henry Ellard 814 13777 65 ( 50/0)
4. Andre Reed 951 13198 87 (500/1)
5. Art Monk 940 12721 68 (332/0)
6. Irving Fryar 851 12785 84 (242/1)
7. Even-year Jerry 833 11934 94 (425/6)
8. Michael Irvin 750 11904 65 ( 6/0)
9. Odd-year Jerry 716 10961 103 (220/4)
10. Gary Clark 699 10856 65 ( 54/0)

Just based on this, both Jerrys are very solid, but probably not Canton-bound. But of course both Jerrys really made their name by doing more than just compiling yards and touchdowns.

Below you'll see the number of 1000-yard seasons each receiver had, as well as his career playoff numbers, the number of times he was named to a Pro Bowl (PB), and the number of times he led the league in receiving yards:


=== playoffs =====
Receiver 1000YD G YD TD Rings PB RecChmp
=================================================================
1. Tim Brown | 9 | 12 581 3 0 | 9 | 0
2. Cris Carter | 8 | 14 860 8 0 | 8 | 0
3. Henry Ellard | 7 | 10 419 1 0 | 3 | 1
4. Andre Reed | 4 | 19 1230 9 0 | 7 | 0
5. Art Monk | 5 | 15 1062 7 3 | 3 | 0
6. Irving Fryar | 5 | 10 361 2 0 | 5 | 0
7. Even-year Jerry | 8 | 18 1381 16 2 | 8 | 3
8. Michael Irvin | 7 | 16 1314 8 3 | 5 | 1
9. Odd-year Jerry | 6 | 10 864 6 1 | 5 | 3
10. Gary Clark | 5 | 13 826 6 2 | 4 | 0

I don't see any way Even-year Jerry isn't a first-ballot lock. He has overall numbers similar to Monk and Reed, and he's also the most prolific postseason receiver in history. He would be considered the best receiver of this cohort.

Odd-year Jerry is a tougher case. He's not a lock, but you'd better believe there would be a lot of people pleading his case every July. Most people think Michael Irvin will get in sooner or later, and Odd-year Jerry is essentially Michael Irvin with more touchdowns and less cocaine.

OK, that last bit was a stretch, but only a little. I really think this is remarkable: you can divide Jerry's career into two pieces and the worse half is probably Hall of Fame caliber. Prior to checking on it, I would have guessed that no other player in (post-merger) NFL history would be able to make that claim. But after looking it up, I was surprised at how strong Emmitt Smith's numbers look when divided into two halves. Both the good half and the bad half are weaker than Rice's, but I don't think it's totally out of the question that both might be Hall of Famers. I'll show you that tomorrow. Walter Payton too. Then we'll look at Marino, Elway, Favre, and some other quarterbacks.