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26 Aug 2008

Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst TE Seasons, 95-07

In honor of our fifth anniversary, we're running a series of articles looking at the best and worst players in the history of our advanced stats, DVOA and DYAR. If you are unfamiliar with our advanced stats -- perhaps you are a new reader visiting our website for the first time after picking up a copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2008 -- you can read all about them here. The series so far:

Today we finish things up with the best and worst tight end seasons and career totals. First, let's look at the top seasons in receiving DVOA, led by a very surprising name.

Best TE Seasons in Receiving DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 25 passes)
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
1999 Ricky Dudley OAK 278 63.2% 59 39 555 9 66%
1998 Tony McGee CIN 128 57.5% 32 22 363 1 69%
1997 Troy Drayton MIA 194 53.0% 50 39 558 4 78%
1998 Tyrone Davis GB 110 47.7% 29 18 250 7 62%
1995 Mark Chmura GB 285 47.5% 74 54 679 7 73%
2002 Doug Jolley OAK 140 47.4% 37 32 409 2 86%
2003 Matt Schobel CIN 97 46.8% 30 24 332 2 80%
1997 Ken Dilger IND 119 45.1% 36 27 380 3 75%
1995 Ken Dilger IND 192 44.3% 55 41 624 4 75%
1998 Johnny McWilliams ARI 119 44.1% 33 26 284 4 79%

Yes, Ricky Dudley, who was particularly good on third down in 1999. He converted on 14 of 20 opportunities (including a Defensive Pass Interference), and averaged 14 yards per reception on those conversions. Dudley was so good that if we raise our minimum to 50 passes, he still ends up with the highest DVOA. However, most of the list is different.

Best TE Seasons in Receiving DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 50 passes)
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
1999 Ricky Dudley OAK 278 63.2% 59 39 555 9 66%
1997 Troy Drayton MIA 194 53.0% 50 39 558 4 78%
1995 Mark Chmura GB 285 47.5% 74 54 679 7 73%
1995 Ken Dilger IND 192 44.3% 55 41 624 4 75%
2004 Jeb Putzier DEN 160 39.6% 54 36 572 2 67%
1998 Andrew Glover MIN 163 39.0% 59 35 522 5 59%
2007 Heath Miller PIT 194 38.9% 61 47 566 7 77%
1999 Ken Dilger IND 151 38.3% 51 40 479 2 78%
2001 Marcus Pollard IND 221 37.5% 73 47 739 9 64%
2004 Antonio Gates SD 325 32.5% 114 81 964 13 71%

Exactly ten tight ends have managed a catch rate above 80 percent with at least 25 passes. Two tight ends did it last year... and neither one is on the same team in 2008.

Best TE Seasons in Catch Rate, 1995-2007 (min. 25 passes)
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
2002 Doug Jolley OAK 140 47.4% 37 32 409 2 86%
1998 Christian Fauria SEA 75 20.8% 44 37 377 3 84%
2007 Ben Utecht IND 100 33.6% 37 31 364 1 84%
2004 Erron Kinney TEN 58 18.9% 30 25 193 3 83%
1995 Andrew Jordan MIN 1 -6.9% 32 26 183 2 81%
1995 Marv Cook STL -47 -29.8% 32 26 140 1 81%
1995 Irv Smith NO 107 20.7% 53 43 443 3 81%
2006 Steve Heiden CLE 24 0.7% 46 37 249 2 80%
2003 Matt Schobel CIN 97 46.8% 30 24 332 2 80%
2007 Marcus Pollard SEA 82 25.8% 35 28 273 2 80%

I don't know which is stranger:

  • Marcus Pollard, who is known for dropping passes, had a catch rate of 80 percent last year.
  • Marcus Pollard, who is known for dropping passes, still managed a catch rate of 80 percent at the advanced age of 35.
  • Marcus Pollard signed with the Patriots with the offseason, and couldn't make the team even though he had managed a 25.8% DVOA and a catch rate of 80 percent one year earlier at the age of 35.

Still, the oddity of Pollard's 2007 season can't even come close to the oddity of Marv Cook's 1995 season. That is not a misprint. Marv Cook had the sixth-highest catch rate of any tight end over the past 13 seasons and still had a miserable -29.8% DVOA. Cook caught 26 passes, but only five were for first downs or touchdowns. Only three of his receptions gained more than 10 yards. Perhaps his most unique reception: he caught the ball for a loss of three yards on third-and-5 in the red zone. Yikes.

Also strange: Doug Jolley set the record for catch rate by a tight end as a rookie. The rest of his career, his catch rate was 58 percent or lower. What the hell happened to that guy?

By this point, you are probably asking yourself , "Where is Tony Gonzalez?" The answer: All over this next table.

Best TE Seasons in Receiving DYAR, 1995-2007
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
2004 Tony Gonzalez KC 329 25.6% 148 102 1,258 8 69%
2004 Antonio Gates SD 325 32.5% 114 81 964 13 71%
2000 Tony Gonzalez KC 305 22.5% 150 93 1,203 9 62%
1995 Mark Chmura GB 285 47.5% 74 54 679 7 73%
1999 Rickey Dudley OAK 278 63.2% 59 39 555 9 66%
2007 Antonio Gates SD 278 30.0% 117 75 984 9 64%
1996 Shannon Sharpe DEN 277 28.2% 117 80 1,062 10 68%
2005 Antonio Gates SD 270 22.1% 140 89 1,101 10 64%
2007 Jason Witten DAL 256 21.1% 141 96 1,145 8 68%
1999 Tony Gonzalez KC 253 29.0% 108 76 849 12 70%
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
2003 Tony Gonzalez KC 240 26.7% 106 71 915 10 67%
2006 Tony Gonzalez KC 233 28.7% 104 73 900 5 70%
2001 Marcus Pollard IND 221 37.5% 73 47 739 9 64%
2003 Shannon Sharpe DEN 220 28.8% 94 62 770 8 66%
2004 Jason Witten DAL 218 20.7% 121 87 982 7 72%
2005 Jason Witten DAL 217 31.2% 89 66 757 6 74%
1998 Ben Coates NE 211 23.9% 95 67 668 6 71%
1997 Shannon Sharpe DEN 211 21.7% 114 72 1,107 3 63%
1998 Shannon Sharpe DEN 208 22.6% 107 64 768 11 60%
2001 Tony Gonzalez KC 207 18.3% 118 73 917 6 62%

How dominant is Gonzalez? Not only does he have six of the top 20 seasons, he also has the seasons ranked 21st (2007) and 27th (2005) in DYAR. You can definitely see with this table how a handful of tight ends dominate as the best receivers. Sixteen of the top 20 seasons belong to four players: Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and Shannon Sharpe.

Now let's move on to the worst tight ends of the DVOA Era...

Worst TE Seasons in DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 25 passes)
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
1998 Howard Cross NYG -117 -74.3% 29 13 90 0 45%
1996 Keith Cash KC -136 -67.4% 33 14 90 0 42%
2000 Marco Battaglia CIN -117 -58.3% 36 13 105 0 36%
2004 Tony Stewart CIN -82 -55.9% 25 10 48 1 40%
2003 Brian Kozlowski ATL -76 -48.7% 27 10 87 0 37%
1999 Mark Bruener PIT -100 -47.3% 35 18 176 0 51%
1999 Jed Weaver PHI -77 -46.3% 28 11 91 0 39%
2000 Terry Hardy ARI -124 -45.8% 45 27 160 1 60%
2004 Shad Meier TEN -98 -45.2% 36 25 127 2 69%
1996 Dwayne Carswell DEN -61 -44.8% 25 15 85 0 60%

Not only did Howard Cross catch only 13 passes in 1998, but he also fumbled two of those receptions. Cross had a first down on just one of 11 passes in opponent territory. Meanwhile, how about Tony Stewart in 2004? Only four of those ten catches were for five yards or more.

What happens when we raise the minimum to 50 passes?

Worst TE Seasons in DVOA, 1995-2007 (min. 50 passes)
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
2004 Boo Williams NO -142 -36.0% 75 33 362 2 44%
2006 Bubba Franks GB -87 -33.8% 53 25 234 0 47%
1998 Mikhael Ricks SD -144 -32.6% 85 30 450 2 35%
2000 Aaron Shea CLE -74 -30.5% 51 30 302 2 59%
2004 Ben Troupe TEN -72 -28.1% 54 33 332 1 61%
2004 Stephen Alexander DET -106 -28.0% 76 41 377 2 54%
1996 Ricky Dudley OAK -94 -27.9% 70 34 386 4 49%
1997 Lonnie Johnson BUF -88 -27.9% 63 41 340 2 65%
2002 Freddie Jones ARI -108 -27.3% 80 44 358 2 55%
1998 Freddie Jones SD -136 -26.5% 111 57 602 3 51%

Freddie Jones: Jedi Master of the three-catch, seven-yard stat line!

There's no need to run a table of the worst catch rates, since most of those seasons have already been listed. Only five tight ends have ever put up catch rates below 40 percent. Four are listed above; the fifth was Washington's Walter Rasby in 2001 (37 percent).

The list of the worst overall tight end seasons in receiving DYAR comes with a small asterisk. The lowest DYAR belongs to Mikhael Ricks, but Ricks was a tweener who is listed in many places as a wide receiver from 1998 to 2000. Right now, we have him coded in our database as a tight end. In reality, the worst tight end season belongs not to Ricks but to Boo Williams.

Worst TE Seasons in Receiving DYAR, 1995-2007
Year Player Team DYAR DVOA Passes Catches Yards TD Catch
Rate
1998 Mikhael Ricks SD -144 -32.6% 85 30 450 2 35%
2004 Boo Williams NO -142 -36.0% 75 33 362 2 44%
1998 Freddie Jones SD -136 -26.5% 111 57 602 3 51%
1996 Keith.Cash KC -136 -67.4% 33 14 90 0 42%
2000 Terry Hardy ARI -124 -45.8% 45 27 160 1 60%
2000 Marco Battaglia CIN -117 -58.3% 36 13 105 0 36%
1998 Howard Cross NYG -117 -74.3% 29 13 90 0 45%
1997 Jamie Asher WAS -114 -25.7% 99 49 474 1 49%
2002 Freddie Jones ARI -108 -27.3% 80 44 358 2 55%
1996 Howard Cross NYG -108 -40.5% 45 22 178 1 49%

Given how many of those top seasons belong to Tony Gonzalez, it's probably no surprise who leads all tight ends in career DYAR -- and by a huge margin. Look at things averaged out per season, however, and Gonzalez actually doesn't get the top spot.

Best TE in Career DYAR, 1995-2007
Total Career
DYAR
DYAR/Season
(min. 4 seasons)
Tony Gonzalez 11 2,085 Antonio Gates 5 217.8
Shannon Sharpe 9 1,411 Tony Gonzalez 11 189.5
Antonio Gates 5 1,089 Jason Witten 5 174.1
Jason Witten 5 871 Shannon Sharpe 9 156.8
Wesley Walls 9 786 Mark Chmura 4 119.4
Marcus Pollard 12 728 Wesley Walls 9 87.3
Frank Wycheck 9 567 Dallas Clark 5 77.4
Ken Dilger 10 557 Chris Cooley 4 70.3
Tony McGee 8 548 Jeremy Shockey 6 69.9
Mark Chmura 4 478 Tony McGee 8 68.6
(only includes seasons with 10+ pass targets)

It's only been a few years, but I think most people have forgotten how good Wesley Walls was in the late 90's. Seriously, though, Tony McGee? Does anyone think of Tony McGee as one of the top tight ends of the past few years? That seems really odd.

Finally, we'll finish up with the worst tight ends of the past dozen years.

Worst TE in Career DYAR, 1995-2007
Total Career
DYAR
DYAR/Season
(min. 4 seasons)
Howard Cross 5 -384 Howard Cross 5 -76.7
Marco Battaglia 6 -253 Greg DeLong 4 -48.1
Freddie Jones 8 -249 Marco Battaglia 6 -42.1
Terry Hardy 3 -211 Lonnie Johnson 5 -32.7
Greg DeLong 4 -193 Freddie Jones 8 -31.1
Mark Bruener 10 -176 Justin Peelle 5 -30.1
Lonnie Johnson 5 -163 Walter Rasby 5 -26.4
Justin Peelle 5 -150 Aaron Shea 4 -25.5
Stephen Alexander 8 -137 Hunter Goodwin 4 -24.2
Walter Rasby 5 -132 Mikhael Ricks 5 -22.0
(only includes seasons with 10+ pass targets)

Of course, this isn't really a list of the worst tight ends of the last dozen years. It's only based on receiving, and some of these players were known for blocking -- Mark Bruener, for example. On the other hand, Stephen Alexander was solely a receiving tight end, so what's his excuse?

I hope everyone enjoyed the series... All pages in the "JUST THE STATS" section are now updated back to 1995 at every position. I'll be doing a mailbag in the next couple of weeks, answering questions from the various comment threads of this series. Hopefully come January we can do a similar series with the best and worst postseason performances, and perhaps a list of the best and worst special teams performances next offseason.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 26 Aug 2008

17 comments, Last at 27 Aug 2008, 3:50pm by JohnB

Comments

1
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:04am

What on earth would possess you to throw Mark Bruener 35 passes in a season? He's good at what he does, but catching footballs ain't it.

2
by Becephalus (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:07am

I don’t know which is stranger:

* Marcus Pollard, who is known for dropping passes, had a catch rate of 80 percent last year.
* Marcus Pollard, who is known for dropping passes, still managed a catch rate of 80 percent at the advanced age of 35.
* Marcus Pollard signed with the Patriots with the offseason, and couldn’t make the team even though he had managed a 25.8% DVOA and a catch rate of 80 percent one year earlier at the age of 35.

What is odd about that? Say his "basic catch %" is 50%. Its not out of the realm of possibility for him to put up a 28/35 like he did last year, and then still look like the 50% guy he is in practice where you have many more reps...

3
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:13am

To be fair to Stephen Alexander, his last few years he was the blocking TE in Denver while Putzier, etc. served as the receiving TE... still, pretty darn awful for a guy who di have a "receiving" reputation coming out of Detroit.

4
by starzero (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 11:22am

should i assume dallas clark is a receiver for these calculations, or is he just a mediocre tight end? as a colts fan it's hard for me to get perspective on his career.

5
by shake n bake (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 11:53am

I'm guessing Clark's career year in 2007 is being counted as a WR season. Is there any quick way to tell us what his DVOA/DYAR would be if you kept him as a TE.

Re 4: He's 7th on the career DYAR per season. So a very good but not great TE so far.

6
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 11:58am

Re #4
Dallas Clark is listed on the top DYAR/season, between Wesley Walls and Chris Cooley.

It's nice to see some real sanity atop the DVOA Era leaderboards. The top 4 are the top 4, and should be the top 4, though subjectively to me it's more a Top 3, a 4th (Witten), then the rest.

7
by ammek (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 12:30pm

Mark Chmura's demise hurt the Pack and Favre more than is acknowledged.

Some comments on the mid-90s stats:

- DYAR isn't going to resolve the perennial Emmitt/Barry argument. Sanders' consistently mediocre success rate doesn't lower his value according to your measurements. The only certainty: Barry was a better receiver, though neither was up to much.

- The mid-90s were a strange era for QBs. Vinny! Scott Mitchell! Paul Justin! And in 1995, seven of the top eight QBs by DYAR were in the NFC...

- DYAR can finally lay to rest the myth of Andre Rison: Packers' Savior, 1996. Sure, he did better in the postseason. Sure, he caught a nice TD in the superbowl. But Ron Wolf was right not to sign him the following season. Don Beebe? That's another matter.

- William Henderson has to have the best catch percentages and one of the best career DVOAs for a back. Great guy too, apparently.

8
by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 3:30pm

Interesting Boo Williams made the list. He was a guy the Saints converted from a college WR to TE. When he was on the field in his rookie year, he looked like a guy who was going to be a really good catching TE. For whatever reason (perhaps he gained too much weight trying to "bulk up"?), he never played well after that. I had no idea he was worthy of this list, however.

Dudley was so good that if we raise our minimum to 50 passes, he still ends up with the highest DVOA. However, most of the list is different.

You're not adding any anyone to the list when you raise your minimum, just removing people, so of course he'll still be on top if he meets the new minimum. Now if you gave us the 50 pass list first, and then gave us the 25 pass list (so more people are eligible for the 2nd list), you could be impressed he remains.

9
by Thok (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 3:43pm

It's not really a surprise that nobody remembers Wesley Walls, as his value over replacement TE is fairly small. With a few HOF exceptions, tight ends just don't have all that much value in the receiving game compared to other positions.

There's a fairly obvious tradeoff between usage and catch rate at the TE. The first few passes that get thrown to a tight end are on designed plays or plays where he's wide open and has an easy catch. As the TE becomes a bigger part of the offense, the passes that get thrown towards him are more difficult to catch. (Remember that plays don't have to go towards the tight end: the alternative is to throw passes to the running back or wide receiver.) This sort of explains what's going on with the 3rd down slot receiver effect.

tl, dr; It's easier to put up a good catch rate/DVOA with 4 easy passes per game than with 4 easy passes and 5 somewhat more difficult passes per game.

10
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 4:59pm

What isn't mentioned about Franks 2006 season is that he was a terrible BLOCKER as well. Franks had as bad a season as a guy can have and stay in the league. Frankly, I don't think Bubba has deserved a roster spot since 2005 but that's me talking.

Tryone Davis being listed just slays me. Davis was this guy the Packers thought would cause problems because he could run really well for a big man. So they would split him out wide in a faux receiver mode. But most of the time he either dropped passes or got hurt. But time after time during training camp(s) you would read the obligatory "Davis a matchup issue for defenses" article.

Chmura was a heckuva player. Somehow managed to get separation despite limited speed and was also a blocker.

11
by Will B. (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 5:59pm

You’re not adding any anyone to the list when you raise your minimum, just removing people, so of course he’ll still be on top if he meets the new minimum.

The interesting part is that Dudley is still there, not that he's still on top.

12
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Tue, 08/26/2008 - 7:02pm

No surprise that no one remembers Wesley Walls. NFL does a dang fine job at marketing the latest players as the best players ever, and the latest teams as the best teams ever!

13
by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 08/27/2008 - 12:14am

Great series Aaron. But why stop there? What about worst Fullbacks? H-Backs?

14
by Nathan (not verified) :: Wed, 08/27/2008 - 1:45am

Fullbacks would be nice.

15
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:31am

I bet I can come up the the list of the top recieving Fullbacks:

Larry Centers

and, ummm.... that's all I got.

Give Heath Evans a couple more years, and he might make a list...

16
by mattfwood (not verified) :: Wed, 08/27/2008 - 12:18pm

1 - Think of the other receiving options for the 1999 Steelers: second-year man Hines Ward, just getting into the passing game; no. 1 draft pick Troy Edwards, who actually had a pretty decent year and tied with Ward at 61 catches, but was no great shakes; and guys like Courtney Hawkins, Bobby Shaw, and Will Blackwell. All of this while catching passes from the dynamic duo of Stewart and Tomczak.

17
by JohnB (not verified) :: Wed, 08/27/2008 - 3:50pm

While Howard Cross was dull as dirt and couldn't catch a cold, let's not forget that he played 13 years as essentially a 6th offensive lineman. That's what the Giants asked him to do and he did it so well he was considered the best blocking TE of his day.

The Giants kept drafting guys to replace him but never could until Shockey came along.