Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Jun 2010

Isaac Bruce Retires

The 49ers dealt Isaac Bruce to the Rams today; the deal was made so that Bruce could retire in a Rams uniform, which he subsequently did.

It's weird; I don't think of Bruce as an elite wideout or someone who deserves Hall of Fame consideration, but the guy is second on the career list for receiving yards, and fifth for receptions. I don't think he'd look particularly pretty, though, if exposed to the light of a Keltner List. Was he ever the best wide receiver in football?

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 07 Jun 2010

63 comments, Last at 16 Jun 2010, 10:43am by bachslunch

Comments

1
by Illmatic74 :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 5:12pm

He was arguably the best WR in the league in 1995. After that most years he wasn't arguably the best WR on his own team.

3
by Feagles - King ... :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 5:35pm

I guess you could say "arguably the best" in 1995, although Rice still topped him in pretty much every category: 122 catches, 1,848 yards, 15.1 average, and 15 touchdowns.

10
by Illmatic74 :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:35pm

My bad I forgot that was the year of Rice's best statistical season. I just saw Bruce's numbers and thought that he had to arguably be the best that year.

22
by Temo :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 10:44pm

Michael Irvin was better than Rice that year.

25
by doctorjorts :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 12:48am

There's no question he was the best wide receiver on the Rams in the early years of "The greatest show on turf," unless you want to argue that Marshall Faulk was better, and you'd be wrong.
You could argue that Bruce benefited statistically from playing with 2 pro bowl quarterbacks in Warner and Bulger, and then I would argue that Rice and Moss benefited from stellar quarter back play most of their careers, as well.
I also think that, even though it isn't anything flashy or glamorous about it, there's something to be said for the impressiveness of longevity. If someone caught 800 yards-worth of passes every season until they were 60 years old, wouldn't that be worthy of at least some consideration?

Keltner list answers:
1 - No
2 - Yes, in certain seasons
3 - No
4 - Yes, he caught the Super-Bowl-winning touchdown at the end of the '99 season.
5 - Hell yes
6 - No
7 - Yes, although less important here than in baseball
8 - Definitely
9 - You tell me. I don't think there's anything except for /season numbers to use as an argument against him, and that's only because his later years were below his better, peak years.
10 - Close. Carter first, then I think you can make the case for him.
11 - No WR's ever win the MVP. N/A
12 - Several, several and yes
13 - Probably the biggest knock against him. For many years early on, he was the best Rams player and they were horrible.
14 - His team as a whole was a bull in a china shop when it came to offensive records, but Bruce individually, no.
15 - N/a for football HoF.

27
by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:27am

Well, of course Faulk wasn't a better wide receiver than Bruce--he was a running back.

But a better overall player than Bruce? I'd say so, and I'd be right.

31
by tuluse :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 2:14am

But a better overall player than Bruce? I'd say so, and I'd be right.

Does that really pertain to anything?

34
by JIPanick :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 3:00am

He was a four time pro bowler, according to PFR, but you finished off Q12 with "yes". Are most 4 Pro Bowl WRs really hall-of-famers?

47
by Shattenjager :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 10:59am

Of the 25 eligible WRs (assuming I counted correctly the number in this list who are not eligible) with 4 pro bowls, 4 are in the Hall of Fame: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/BrDTv

I thought it might be a better idea to use All Pros, but Bruce is obviously far away in that category. He was only All Pro in any way in 1999, when he was second team for the AP and first team for the Sporting News. PFR's play index only allows searches for first-team all pros, and obviously the majority of players with zero first team AP All Pros are not in the Hall of Fame, since that would be the vast majority of players.

52
by JIPanick :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:08pm

Now that I'm awake, let me take my own stab at it...

1 - No
2 - Yes, 1995-1996
3 - No
4 - Yes, 1999, 2001, 2003
5 - Yes
6 - No
7 - Yes
8 - Yes
9 - No
10 - I also put him at close, although I put him ahead of the overrated Carter.
11 - No (No wideouts win MVP, but he was never considered the best in football at his position.)
12 - 4,5, and No
13 - If he were the best player, no. If he were best wideout, yes.
14 - Sort of. Broke the single season receiving record in 1995, just Jerry Rice broke it more the same year.
15 - Yes, but so do Joe Stalin and Jack the Ripper. Of course, if there were standards, I think he would still pass them.

Overall, it looks like his case is kind of weak. Honestly, however, I'd like to see him get into the Hall just because it would feel weird if Warner, Holt, Faulk, and Pace were all in but he wasn't.

2
by Joe M. (not verified) :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 5:34pm

I have to say I consider Bruce a lock for the HoF. He was instrumental in the Rams' championship and their second run, and as noted above is one of the leading WRs statistically of all time. If he (in his prime) were the best receiver on a team, I'd be very hopeful for that team's chances at winning the SB ...

4
by tuluse :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 5:58pm

I don't think of Bruce as an elite wideout

What?

18
by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 8:26pm

It's Barnwell. It's best to ignore it.

6
by Spielman :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:19pm

Eh, never mind. Post deleted. Forgot where I was.

5
by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:16pm

Top ten in receptions twice, in yards four times, in touchdowns three times. Top ten in DYAR four times (just missed a fifth).

He had one awesome year, two or three good ones, and otherwise was about average. It's just that he was average for an eternity.

7
by Dave0 :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:21pm

what was he traded for?

40
by Theo :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 6:25am

Nothing.

42
by Dean :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 8:06am

Not quite. San Francisco didn't want him to play again for some other team - the Rams or Chicago (Martz). So he was traded for a conditional pick which only gets swapped if he actually plays. Most likely nothing, but if he was to unretire, San Fran gets a draft pick.

54
by Deelron :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 2:33pm

I saw that report but it doesn't seem to make sense on its face. Why would the 49ers care if a WR that wasn't even talented enough to be activated for them for half a season plays somewhere else?

55
by Dean :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 4:05pm

Because he's under contract.

8
by Frank (not verified) :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:30pm

Not a hall of famer -- only pro bowls in 16 years. Was not even the best receiver on his own team from 2000 -- 2009 (10 of his 16 seasons). He is a compiler of stats. The hall of fame is going to have to draw a line with the number of WR that could possibly merit consideration with ever increasinly emphasis on the passing game.

Cris Carter should be in.
Tim Brown's resume surprisingly looks better than Andre Reed's, but I believe that Reed was the better player on a better team.

Bruce simply played for a long time -- yes, great numbers, but not a hall of famer.

9
by Frank (not verified) :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:32pm

Only four pro bowls in 16 seasons -- which is surprising considering how easy it is to get to a pro bowl with everyone bowing out now.

11
by tuluse :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:41pm

Injury replacements don't actually count.

He played in the NFC with Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Cris Carter most of his career.

Plus whoever was catching passes from Brett Favre and Herman Moore had some good seasons.

13
by Spielman :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:48pm

Interesting point. Bruce didn't make the Pro Bowl in '95, with 119 catches for 1781 yards and 13 TDs. Pro Bowlers from the AFC included:

Tim Brown - 89, 1342, 10
Anthony Miller - 59, 1079, 14
Carl Pickens - 99, 1234, 17
Yancey Thigpen - 85, 1307, 5

15
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 7:47pm

...or, if you want to look at WRs in the same conference (which seems like the way to go), then the Pro Bowlers were:
Michael Irvin 11-1603-10
Jerry Rice 122-1848-15
Chris Carter 122-1371-17
Herman Moore 123-1686-14

17
by Spielman :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 8:12pm

Well, the point was that while Bruce wasn't voted among the top 4 in the NFC that year, by comparison the top receivers in the AFC all were less productive than he was, and had he been in the other conference, he'd have been a slam dunk Pro Bowler.

This reinforces and responds to tuluse's point about the NFC being strong on the top receivers in those years. I thought that was self-explanatory, so I didn't spell it out.

32
by DeltaWhiskey :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 2:25am

Good God, I can't believe I totally forgot Michael Irvin's 145.7 yds/catch season. You would think I would remember the one play he didn't score a touchdown on.

38
by Theo :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 6:14am

That was including his Horizontal Yards.

39
by tuluse :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 6:20am

You would think that the Cowboys playing on a lengthened field that year would be noted somewhere too.

45
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 10:33am

"He played in the NFC with Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Cris Carter most of his career."

But isn't that the point? For most of his career, he wasn't even one of the top 5 WR in his conference. That doesn't say HOF to me. That being said, I do think longevity is a big thing, and average players don't hang around as long as Bruce did.

46
by Theo :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 10:41am

Average players don't even hang around as long as Bruce had his peak.
But with so many players come and go, it's hard to be the best at your position. That's more the thing in football than in baseball.
Longetivity in football is a great skill and the thing to separate you from the players that are very good for 3 years.
Being very good for 8 (with 1 or 2 years the best) and good for another 5 is very rare.

12
by John Walt :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:46pm

I think there is an argument for him to be in at least. Just because he wasn't the best in any given year, he played at a high level for a very long time. The hall of fame, to me, is designed for just such a player. Everyone will remember the name Jerry Rice and won't need to travel to Canton to do so. But going to the hall is to learn about and recognize the great players in all eras of football.

Do I think he's a lock? Absolutely not.

Should the voters discuss it for a decent length of time. Absolutely.

14
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 6:55pm

very dood career but probabl;y not enoiugh for hall of faMER

16
by andrew :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 8:09pm

There are just too many other receivers ahead of him for him to make it in IMO.

I'd still put him in ahead of Art Monk, though.

He's certainly someone I made a killing on in some fantasy football leagues... in part because others never seemed to give him his due.

I'd rate Rice better than him until he tailed off, but honestly, if you use the Rice standard then no receiver in the NFL from Rice's playing days would deserve to be in the Hall. You could pretty much transition that over to Moss and then no one but those two would be deserving for a two decade stretch almost....

I put him in the top 5 a number of years, but there were always a couple I ranked above him, from Rice, Moss, Carter, Brown, Irvin... heck even sometimes Moore (who's no hall of famer)...

19
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 8:42pm

Yeah, if Art Monk can get in, why can't Bruce? I don't think he will; WR numbers are becoming more and more inflated as time goes by, and he's not going to look that impressive six or seven years from now.

20
by tuluse :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 8:46pm

I don't know take a look at career receiving yards, there's not a lot of receivers in striking range of him.

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/rec_yds_career.htm

I'd be very surprised if he wasn't top 5 in five years

33
by BigCheese :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 2:47am

Looking through that awesome application I saw womething that fllored me: Rex Grossman has completed more NFL passes than Trent Green!

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/friv/milestones.cgi?stat=pass_cmp

- Alvaro

35
by tuluse :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 3:24am

I think you mis-read something. Grossman has 524 completions Green has 2266.

28
by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:32am

I am going to pretend I didn't hear that about Art Monk. There's no way I can have that conversation in a calm, rational manner.

50
by JIPanick :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 12:57pm

Bruce was definitely better than Monk, but being better than guys already in the Hall hasn't exactly helped Ken Anderson, Terrell Davis, or Drew Pearson among others.

57
by tuluse :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 5:00pm

Terrell Davis isn't in because he had 4 useful years in his career.

21
by zlionsfan :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 8:55pm

totally agree about Moore. Herman Moore was a quality WR who had several pretty good seasons in a system that probably boosted his raw numbers more than those of some of his contemporaries. I suppose that might balance out the fact that he caught passes from a number of questionable QBs, but still, even as a Lions fan, there was never a season where I could honestly say he was the best non-Rice receiver in football.

pro-football-reference.com matches his career to that Eight-Five guy with their similarity scores, which sounds about right to me. I wouldn't say the former Chad Johnson is HoF material either.

Bruce appears on Moore's list a couple of times as well. There are players with better credentials on Bruce's list of scores than on Moore's, but then in some cases those credentials could be read as "on teams that won Super Bowls". I'm not sure Bruce is quite HoF-caliber either.

23
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 10:47pm

I think answering questions like this is really hard.

A) There doesn't seem to be a consensus about how many payer should be in.

B) The position discrepancy argues against doing any more WR at all for quite a while, and removing several of the past ones.

C) Bruce was outshone by another player on his own team for so much of his career.

I would say definitely behind Cris Carter.

I think a good start for the hall of fame would be to decide a % of games started that are hall worthy. The top 5% of games started, the top 3%? And then work from there.

26
by tuluse :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 12:58am

I think definitely behind Cris Carter can still be well above the HOF line. I also think the HOF should let in a lot more players than it does.

24
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Mon, 06/07/2010 - 10:54pm

I think answering questions like this is really hard.

A) There doesn't seem to be a consensus about how many payer should be in.

B) The position discrepancy argues against doing any more WR at all for quite a while, and removing several of the past ones.

C) Bruce was outshone by another player on his own team for so much of his career.

I would say definitely behind Cris Carter.

I think a good start for the hall of fame would be to decide a % of games started that are hall worthy. The top 5% of games started, the top 3%? And then work from there.

29
by Whatev (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:56am

You think so? I don't think WR is a particularly over-represented position in the HoF; there are only about 15 of them, and they are typically 2 to 4 of the 11 offensive starters. By that standard, tight ends are more overrepresented than WRs, since there are 7 of them, and there's only one starting TE on the team.

30
by Whatev (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:58am

Typically 2 to 3, sorry.

53
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:22pm

There used to be more TE, and fewer WR.

How many LBs are there?

62
by bachslunch :: Tue, 06/15/2010 - 2:45pm

I'm with you, Whatev. Compared to QBs and RBs, am thinking that WRs get less respect from HoF voters. Consider the fact that according to the HoF's own website, there are so far enshrined 23 modern era QBs, 27 modern era RBs, and only 21 modern era WRs. And in the last category, they count Pete Pihos, who really was more a two-way player and arguably more akin to a TE than a WR.

I think it's going to be tough sledding for Isaac Bruce regarding the HoF. He may likely suffer the same fate as folks like Harold Jackson, Henry Ellard, and Billy Howton, a long-career guy with worthy numbers who'll get lost in the shuffle and not make it in. A shame, too, as I think he belongs.

36
by Willsy :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 5:19am

Willsy

Hey how about running the Keltner list over the last 20 years inductees to see what shockers there might be? Could be something to do in a slow news period.

Thoughts?

37
by Theo :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 6:11am

...or make a new list that suits the NFL, looking at how the current inductees got into the Hall.

41
by bubqr :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 7:22am

Seems like we're having the same debate we had for Curtis Martin : a consistent above average/solid to good player who plays for a long time, and gets some good stats : HoFer ?

43
by Dean :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 8:09am

The feeling in St. Louis is he is a no-doubt, sure-fire Hall of Famer and it will be a travesty of justice if he does not get in.

The fact that he's getting his jersey retired tells you how highly he's regarded by those who saw him play week in and week out.

My own opinion is that he is a borderline case. I'd like to see him eventually go, but I would certainly admit that there are others at his position in line ahead of him.

He's better than Art Monk, Lynn Swann or Bob Hayes, but that's kind of a misguided statement as none of those 3 should have ever been inducted in the first place.

44
by Sophandros :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 10:16am

Bruce is going to be the litmus test for WRs (and QBs...) regarding HOF selection in this era. Sure, he put up great numbers, but A LOT of guys have done that in this era. I don't think that he gets in because there are several players who are playing today who may very well pass his numbers--before he's eligible.

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

48
by Joseph :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 11:34am

[Remember that I am a Saints fan.]

With that disclaimer aside, I think that Bruce is a HOFer. Not a Jerry-Rice-lock, but he was a very good player for a very long time. When discussing why he wasn't a Pro-Bowler more often, well, post #15 explains it. His best statistical year fell in a year where four other guys IN HIS CONFERENCE had career years also. Two of those four are already IN the Hall, and a third one will probably make it soon. Well, good grief--that's like wondering why Carson Palmer, Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub, or Big Ben don't have many Pro-Bowl appearances--Mr. Brady & Mr. Manning have two spots locked down. Then those four are competing against each other, and in a few years they will probably be competing against Flacco, Sanchez, and (possibly) Tebow & Colt McCoy. The latter two, if they have develop, are going to have a difficult time making the Pro Bowl because of the other 6 QB's. (That's assuming that, by the time Tebow & McCoy would be Pro-Bowl-worthy, that PM & TB will have retired/dropped their level of play.)

Bottom line--Bruce deserves to get in--but he will probably have to wait through 5-10 yrs. of eligibility to do so.

49
by dmb :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 11:56am

Several people have cited the fact that Bruce was only in four Pro Bowls as a reason for keeping him out of the Hall. Speilman made the excellent point that Bruce had the misfortune to play in the same conference as virtually every other dominant receiver during his time. He also mentioned 1995 as a year that was particularly worthy of a Pro Bowl nod. (For reference, Bruce had 119 catches for 1781 yards and 13 TDs.)

I wanted to add to this: in 1995, Bruce gained the second-most receiving yards in NFL history, and didn't make it to the Pro Bowl! Fifteen years later, his 1781 yards still stands as the second-highest single-season total. If it weren't for some guy named Rice setting the record in the very same season, Bruce's year would have been record-setting. The rest of the Rams' offense that year? Jerome Bettis and Leonard Russell plodding along to the tune of 3.5 and 3.1 ypc, respectively. The weapons getting him the ball were a mediocre Chris Miller and a washed-up Mark Rypien. No other receiver on the team posted as many as 500 yards for the year. The only other players on his team to even post a nonnegative DVOA were Rypien, with a DVOA of about 4% for his 217 attempts, Todd Kinchen, with a DVOA of 6% on his 36 catches, and Jessie Hester, with a DVOA of 4% on his 30 catches.

I think any reasonable person would agree that Bruce's 1995 season was Pro Bowl-caliber. In fact, I might go so far as to say that Bruce's 1995 season was one of the biggest snubs and most under-appreciated performances in (semi-) recent NFL history. So even though he was technically elected to the Pro Bowl four times, I personally think of him as a five-time Pro Bowler.

63
by bachslunch :: Wed, 06/16/2010 - 10:43am

Good point about Pro Bowls. Another thought to consider here: all-pro teams, pro bowls, and all decade teams are really the only reasonably reliable "numbers" available to use when comparing non-skill positions. But the skill positions (QB, RB, TE, WR) in fact do have useful counting stats to evaluate. There's no question that Isaac Bruce enters into the HoF discussion with some solid weight on these counting stats.

With these four skill positions, it's perfectly reasonable to take both sides of the equation into consideration.

51
by Dan :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 1:02pm

Bruce is going to have a tough time getting in to the Hall. His competition - WRs who've already retired or who started their careers in the 90s - will include Andre Reed, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Jimmy Smith, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Hines Ward, and Torry Holt. Where does Bruce rank on that list of 10? 7th or 8th, maybe? How many of the 10 will get in?

56
by The Other Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 4:22pm

One last time:

BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE

58
by Frank (not verified) :: Tue, 06/08/2010 - 6:09pm

One last point on the HOF debtate, had Bruce been more of a "look at me diva" or showboat (ala Ochocinco, TO, et al), maybe he would have garnered more media attention, which would have by default shed more light on his accomplishments. Anoter issue hurting him is that the Rams were god-awful before 1999, and have not done much since what, 2003? So, he just has not had the same kind of spotlight a TO or Marvin Harrison has had.

I just never thought of Bruce as an elite receiver -- maybe he was just too quiet. Looking at the career yardage number again makes me reconsider. Second all-time (as of today) is very impressive and will merit considerable HOF consideration. If Marvin Harrison is a "lock," then perhaps Bruce should be as well considering all of the circumstance (SB wins -- same, SB appearances -- edge to Bruce, quality of QB -- definitive edge to Harrison).

59
by Dave0 :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 12:58am

Marv might just drop a cap in a fool who doesn't vote for him, is the added incentive there.

60
by Dean :: Wed, 06/09/2010 - 10:56am

Admittedly, I'm from the suburbs, but wouldn't he bust a cap in the fool? And hope no one drops a dime on him?

61
by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Thu, 06/10/2010 - 2:34am

Regarding those 1995 Pro Bowlers, let's keep in mind the QBs those 4 guys had: Aikman, Young, Moon, and for Herman Moore, Scott Mitchell's career year. Bruce was catching balls from the oft-hurt Chris Miller and the past-his-prime Mark Rypien.

Prior to Warner's arrival (94-98), these were the Rams starting QBs: Miller, Steve Walsh, Rypien, Tony Banks, and Steve Bono. Arguably his prime years (97 and 98--4th and 5th) in the league were marred by injuries.

Is he a Hall of Famer? I don't know, but context matters and I firmly believe had he been drafted by a team that didn't stink his first 5 years we wouldn't be having this conversation.