Thursday, August 3, 2017

Taking a Closer Look at Recent Wide Receivers

By John Turney
Credit: Jeff Lang
Recently a fine football website asked the question "If the best wide receiver since Rice can't get into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, then who can?" The query followed a tome making the case that Randy Moss should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

We are not sure if Moss will be a first-ballot inductee or now, but if he is, great for him, if not, like with the Terrell Owens case it will not be a national tragedy.

We suspect that Owens will be voted into the Class of 2018 and Moss to the Class of 2019. In our view, not that it matters much, both are Hall of Famers but neither are close enough to Rice to share being a First-ballot inductee with him. Rice is just too far ahead of both of them in honors, stats and in championships, though Moss is a bit closer than Owens.
(Click to enlarge)

This chart shows the votes wide receivers have tallied in the AP Offensive Player of the Year Awards since 1972. Among receivers Rice dominates. Maybe until someone gets half or even a third as many there shouldn't be a First-ballot HOF receiver.
The following chart has post-1992 numbers for a couple of advanced stats. Targets and drops. And the percentages correlated to them.
What can be gleaned is that perhaps the next First-ballot WR is still active and his name may be Larry Fitzgerald. The thing of note is that he's still compiling numbers and if he keeps up productivity for a few more years he will rank high in the major numbers. Additionally, he and Hines Ward are considered the two of the top wide receiver blockers of this era and some may suggest THE top two.

Not only that, Fitzgerald has the best hands of this era, not only does film (video) study show that, the statistics do, too. He's only dropped 27 passes of 1880 targets (1.4%) and it's far above his contemporaries and it's miles ahead of Terrell Owens who is credited by Stats, LLC with 130 drops (7.0%) in his career.

So the answer to the openining question may likely be Larry Fitzgerald.

Here are the career stats of some selected WRs some already in the HOF, others likely and a few that may not make it but had impressive careers nonetheless.

In reference to Moss, he has several negatives of his own, which are somewhat similar to Owens. In 2011 Jerry Rice said:

In 2001 there was the "I play when I want to play":

Then there was the halftime outburst that got him traded and his later explanation. So, if Moss does have to wait a season expect the outcries and cutting criticism of the Hall of Fame committee and some of those critics will be armed with basic stats like "He was second in this, or third-all time in that" but they won't comment how far back Moss is in those same statistics. Like the Terrell Owens candidacy, the critics will overstate things and say "Moss is being kept out".

It is NOT about keeping anyone out. It's about deciding if Owens and Moss are First-ballot worthy and in totality, the numbers suggest not. Owens and Moss have half as many All-Pro selections and half as many Pro Bowl selections. Neither got much support for AP Offensive Player of the year while Rice got plenty. Neither has the rings Rice has, neither has the "black ink"—a term used for when a player leads the league in a major category.

So, perhaps this time around those who are astute in following the Hall of Fame process will look at ALL the numbers and not cherry-pick just the ones that make their case that Owens was and Moss is a first-ballot HOF-worthy. The totality of the numbers suggests they were not, though as we mentioned earlier in this post, Moss is closer than Owens since he didn't have the "drop problem" Owens did.

But, alas, we doubt it. If Moss is "snubbed" there will be the usual suspects making the usual arguments and attacking anyone who dares have a different opinion based on all the numbers.


  1. You've got to get past the whole "they didn't get much support for Offensive Player of Year" and the rings argument when evaluating receivers.

    For one thing, from 1986, Rice's first All-Pro season to 1996, his last All-Pro season, at least one receiver got a vote for OPY in all 11 years. From 1997-2016, in 10 of 20 seasons did a receiver get a vote for OPY. Steve Smith, then of the Panthers in 2005 won the receiving triple crown for a team that went 11-5 and got to the NFC Championship game, yet got no support for OPY, so when you bring that point up, at least be honest about the fact voters have shunned receivers for these honors for the last 20 years and the most glaring example aside from Smith's 2005 is Moss' 2007. Moss catches 23 of Tom Brady's 50 touchdowns, yet Brady took home OPY, while Moss ended up 2nd, yet you want to punish him for that?

    The other argument regarding rings is a flawed one too, as there are three phases to the game and Moss was on the wrong end of that in 1998 when Gary Anderson missed a 39 yard field goal with the Vikings up 7 and 2:14 to play in the 4th quarter. He makes that kick, the Vikings are going to Super Bowl 33, but he missed and the defense failed to stop Chris Chandler, as he led the Falcons on a game tying touchdown drive. In 2007, after catching 3 of Brady's 8 completions including the go ahead touchdown with 2:42 left to give the Patriots a 4 point lead, Moss again watched his defense crumble in clutch, as they gave up a game winning touchdown drive to Eli Manning.

    In Rice's first 12 years from 1985-1996, including the playoffs, the 49ers allowed 24 points or more in just 44 of 212 games (20.8%), meanwhile in Moss' first 7 years with the Vikings from 1998-2004 including the playoffs, they allowed 24 points or more in 62 of 120 games (51.7%). By the way, the Vikings still won an NFL best 21 games and posted the third best winning percentage while allowing 24+ points.

    Looking at this HOF class and comparing it to how receivers are treated when it comes to challenging for a 1st ballot induction just shows the inconsistency in the process. Nobody is holding it against Jason Taylor that he never played in a Super Bowl, let alone won it (he did neither), nor did the voters hold it against him that he wasn't Bruce Smith, Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor, they voted him 1st ballot. Ditto LaDainian Tomlinson. Did he have a better career than Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith? No and no, IMO, but the voters overlooked that and his lack of Super Bowl appearance to put him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. So Moss, Owens and Harrison didn't have careers as good as Jerry Rice, I say "so what ", look at what they did achieve and not what they didn't achieve.


  2. "You've got to get past the whole "they didn't get much support for Offensive Player of Year" and the rings argument when evaluating receivers."

    No, I don't. I am not going to ignore facts that are important. Like it or not, agree with it or not Rings are significant.

    They are not the whole deal, but they are part of it. So are awards like Offensive Player of the Year.

    I am not going to be a stat bot and repeat "When he retired he was 2nd all-time in this" and leave it at that. There is more to it than that.

    Wide receiver are the beneficiaries of huge changes in rules and that is why their stats look so good. So, in my opinion, and of course, you and others are free to disagree, in-depth looks are not only fair but correct.

    Moss, Owens and Harrison didn't have careers as good as Jerry Rice, I say "put them in the Hall of Fame, just not on the first ballot".

    The same goes for others. Yes, there are mistakes. Jason Taylor is one of them. He didn't deserve to be 1st ballot. He is not in the class of Reggie, Bruce, Deacon and Gino. It's one of the mistakes that happen.

  3. How worried should we be that a ton of qbs and receivers are going to be getting into the HOF in the next 15-20 years? The passing game has exploded and everyone has the numbers now. How can we make sure that only the greats are getting in and we don't become slaves to the numbers?

    1. I think it's a concern, there are some who are, as you put it "slaves to the numbers". You see it with the Brady vs. Manning debates and with the WRs debates.

      The odd thing is, the "numbers" can be used positively when passing stat "inflation" is used.

      But I agree with you in thinking there will be a lot of QBs that get in from this generation. Philip Rivers will be a good test-case. But I tend to agree, it's an issue

    2. I find the first ballot issue a bit annoying. A player either belongs in Canton or he doesn't. When Moss goes in he will be a hall of famer, just like Rice. Therefore is no distinction between first or fifteenth ballot or even Senior's committee HoFers. It bothers me to think that an individual might have to wait because someone else who is already in might have been better. Randy Moss was the best and most dangerous receiver of his era and should be inducted asap. It doesn't matter that Jerry Rice or Don Hutson or Bambi may have been even better in their day.

    3. People are free to disagree. As I have written, I think there is extra cachet to being a first-ballot HOFer, in any sport. If you don't agree, that's fine.

      I hear this phrase " player either belongs in Canton or he doesn't" a lot but no one can define it. The issue is there are only 5 modern-era slots. Because of that, it is a zero sum game in a sense. If there are 6 worthy players "either they belong or they don't"—let's assume they belong, they are "worthy".

      Well, one will not get in. So that ends the "either he's a HOFer or he's not" theory. Because the HOF has limitations, it's a bricks and mortar structure with limits in HOF classes and their guests astute followers of the process know that players have to be ordered.

      To me there IS distinction between 1st and 15th ballot. And the rush to put in Moss could push someone out that is also worthy.

      So the practical matter is there has to be some order to the process and those most worthy should be first-ballot and those who are worthy but don't measure up to the top players: Munoz, Lilly, LT, Jim Brown have to wait.

      Moss was, when he wanted to play, was the most dangerous of his era. But the HOF is not just of "his era" it's all eras. If he gets in first ballot, fine, but if he has to wait, as I suspect he will, it will not be a national tragedy. He doesn't come close enough to Rice to share the distinction of being first-ballot.