Quick Reads Decade in Review: WR Totals
Welcome back to Quick Reads' Decade in Review. Today we're going to look at the best wide receiver totals of the 2010s to show who helped (or hurt) their teams the most. We're also going to separate rushing from receiving info to see who was most effective moving the ball on the ground, through the air, or both.
Prior pieces in this series:
Best Total DYAR, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
Sometimes, trading up works. The Atlanta Falcons traded two first-round draft picks, a second-rounder, and two fourth-rounders to Cleveland for the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, which they used to select Alabama wide receiver Quintorris Lopez Jones. Jones proceeded to rack up 12,125 receiving yards, 96.2 yards per game, and 55 100-yard games over the rest of the decade, all the best marks in the NFL. And these are regular-season numbers only -- they don't include the 834 yards Jones collected in eight playoff games. Jones has made the top 10 in receiving DYAR seven times in the last eight seasons, including each of the last six years.
In second place we have Antonio Brown, who once upon a time was a Hall of Fame-caliber wideout before apparently losing his mind. Brown was a different type of receiver than Jones, not as explosive but with a higher catch rate and a big edge in touchdowns.
Jordy Nelson finishes in third place. He doesn't get as much credit as his quarterback for Green Bay's offensive success, but he had some dominant seasons, making the top three in receiving DYAR four times. Outside those four years, he had only one season in the top 30.
Putting together 10-year tables as opposed to five-year tables is unfair to players like Calvin Johnson, whose career began in 2007 and ended in 2015 and thus is split between the 2000s and the 2010s. But he still ranked in the top 10 in DYAR five times this decade, leading the league in 2011 and 2012. His rate of 11.0 touchdowns per 16 games is the best of any player in this table.
If we're talking per-game numbers, though, the real star here is Michael Thomas, whose 27.5 DYAR per game is most of anyone in this table. Thomas is certainly the best possession receiver of the decade -- his 11.7 yards per catch is the worst among these 20 players, but he has caught nearly 80% of his targets in his career. That's a good catch rate for a given week, let alone five dozen games. Thomas' opposite figure would be DeSean Jackson, who had the lowest catch rate but highest yards per catch numbers here.
Worst Total DYAR, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
Sometimes, trading up fails. Granted, the Bills paid a much lower price for Zay Jones than the Falcons paid for Julio Jones. (Buffalo shipped the 44th and 91st picks in the 2017 draft to the Rams in exchange for the 37th pick, which they used to select Jones, as well as the 149th pick.) But you're supposed to get more from an early second-rounder than The Worst Wide Receiver of the Decade. Jones played 36 games over two and a half years for the Bills before they gave up and traded him to the Raiders for a 2021 fifth-rounder last October; he proceeded to catch 20 passes for all of 147 yards in 10 games with Oakland. He has never gained 100 yards in a game, half the targets thrown his way have fallen incomplete, and his career average of 10.76 yards per catch is slightly lower than the 10.83-yard average of Charles Clay, the fullback/tight end who was Jones' teammate in Buffalo. Oh, and those two picks the Bills gave up to get Jones? The Rams used them to select Gerald Everett, a situational tight end who has been a more effective receiver than Jones, and starting safety John Johnson.
The second-worst wideout of the last ten years is Early Doucet, but this is somewhat unfair to him. In his first two years in Arizona, Doucet had a 76% catch rate and 69 combined DYAR, but that was in 2008 and 2009 and so those years do him no good here. The bottom fell out for Doucet starting in 2010. In his last three seasons, he never ranked higher than 66th among wide receivers in either DYAR or DVOA. Doucet's an extreme example, but several other names in this table --Devin Aromashadu, Bernard Berrian, Lee Evans, Bryant Johnson -- were productive players in the 2000s who suffered from an extremely poor season or two in the 2010s.
Greg Little, the third-worst wideout of the last decade, is a Cleveland Browns draft bust -- hardly an exclusive club. What's notable about Little is that he was selected with one of the picks Atlanta shipped to Cleveland in the Julio Jones trade. So was Jonathan Baldwin, the fifth-worst receiver of the decade, though that wasn't Cleveland's mistake -- they shipped that pick and another to Kansas City to move up and take Phil Taylor. The good news for the Chiefs is that the other pick was used to take Justin Houston. Anyway, the point of all this is to show how great the Julio Jones trade worked out for the Falcons.
As we saw when we looked at the decade's worst running backs, most of the worst wide receivers by total value didn't play that much. Only four players here -- Jones, Doucet, Little, and Nelson Agholor -- had enough targets to qualify for our DVOA leaderboards. Unlike the worst running backs, however, several of these players are still active. Jones, Agholor, Chad Williams, KeeSean Johnson, Trey Quinn, and John Ross each still has a chance to turn his career around.
As you'd expect, the leaderboards for receiving DYAR are virtually the same for total DYAR. Brandin Cooks and Emmanuel Sanders fall out of the top 20 without their rushing value, replaced by Anquan Boldin (in his years with the Ravens, 49ers, and Lions) and Alshon Jeffery, but the other names are the same with only minor shuffles. That said, you should sort this column by first down rate and look at the gap between Michael Thomas and the other best receivers of the decade. Good gravy. Marques Colston, another Saints receiver, is in second place in this category because Drew Brees is good.
Best Receiving DYAR, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
However, removing rushing DYAR from the list of the worst wideouts causes some major changes.
Worst Receiving DYAR, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
Tavon Austin had, by miles and miles and miles, the worst receiving DYAR of the decade. Zay Jones, the second-worst wideout in this category, is closer to Pharoh Cooper in 61st-to-last place than he is to Austin. Yet Austin was completely absent from the total DYAR because his rushing stats (which we shall get to later) were so astronomically high. Austin's receiving numbers are so low partly because DYAR is a counting stat, and only three players in this table had more targets than him. Only two players, however, averaged fewer yards per catch.
Austin's struggles as a receiver and successes as a runner have caused some readers to ask if he should be listed as a running back instead of a wideout, but the numbers don't really bear that out. Compare Austin's numbers to those of the running backs with the worst receiving DYAR of the decade and he doesn't fit in at all -- his catch rate is lower than any of them while he averaged nearly a yard and a half more per catch. Also, though the numbers aren't listed here, Austin's average reception has been caught 3.6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, 2.5 yards deeper than any of those running backs. That 3.6-yard average is terribly low for a wide receiver, but not unique -- Rashad Greene, who put up -118 receiving DYAR in 25 games for the Jaguars in the middle of the decade, averaged 3.3 air yards per reception. Austin's an odd player who is difficult to put into a bucket, but he is closer to being a wideout than he is to being a running back.
Austin is not the only player who sinks to the bottom when we remove his rushing numbers -- Andre Roberts, Dede Westbrook, Cecil Shorts, and Bruce Ellington also debut after not making the bottom 20 in total value.
Best Receiving DVOA, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
|Minimum 200 targets|
The Seattle Seahawks certainly had some star power this decade, with the quarterback and running back with the most rushing DYAR, and now the wide receiver with the best DVOA. Tyler Lockett's efficiency stats are ridiculous: a catch rate over 70%, nearly 10 yards per throw, 27 touchdowns, only four interceptions, and an NFL passer rating of 122.1, on close to 400 passes (only two of which were not thrown by Russell Wilson). Lockett missed half the decade -- he was only drafted in 2015 -- yet he still barely missed the top 20 in total DYAR and receiving DYAR. He has averaged 14.9 receiving DYAR per game, which would have been right in the middle among the players in the top 20 for total receiving DYAR.
The second-ranked receiver here also had a career that started mid-decade, but it was the middle of the previous decade. Malcom Floyd joined the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2004. He retired in 2015 with some modest receiving totals (321-5,550-34) and a mediocre catch rate, but oh, that yards-per-catch figure -- his 17.6-yard average in the 2010s is nearly equal to his career average of 17.3.
Lockett and Floyd are followed by Michael Thomas, who joins Lance Moore, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Kenny Stills as Saints receivers with great DVOA numbers. We have mentioned that Drew Brees is good, right? In fact, when you step back and look at this, a handful of teams dominate this table: the Saints, Seahawks, Chargers, and the Lions. Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford are also good.
Finally, let's appreciate Chris Godwin for a moment. He can't touch Michael Thomas in catch rate, but his first down rate is even better, if only by a few decimal points.
Worst Receiving DVOA, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
|Minimum 200 targets|
Tavon Austin's efficiency stats, like Lockett's, are ridiculous, but not for good reasons: a catch rate below 60%, less than 5 and a half yards per throw, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and an NFL passer rating of 75.6. In his defense, he has never played with Russell Wilson -- his quarterbacks, by descending number of passes, have been Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Dak Prescott, Kellen Clemens, Jared Goff, Sam Bradford, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Sean Mannion, and, for one play, Cooper Kupp.
We should note that the Mike Thomas in this table is not the Michael Thomas who stars for the Saints. Nor is it the Mike Thomas who has caught 10 passes for the Rams in the past four years. This Mike Thomas played four years for the Jaguars and Lions from 2009 to 2012.
We also find Devin Hester, the NFL's all-time leader in punt return touchdowns, and Cordarrelle Patterson, in the top three for kickoff return touchdowns. Because special teams brilliance doesn't always translate to offensive success.
Larry Fitzgerald finished the decade with a DVOA of -4.0% on 1,402 targets, the most by any wideout who finished with a negative DVOA. Andre Roberts had -159 DYAR on 484 targets, the most for any wideout who finished with a negative DYAR.
Best Rushing DYAR, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
Remember when we said Tavon Austin's rushing numbers were astronomically high? He had so much value as a runner that he ended up with positive DYAR overall despite having the worst receiving DYAR on record. To put some of Austin's numbers into perspective, let's look back at the leader in rushing DVOA amongst running backs this decade: Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints, who averaged a hair under 5.0 yards per carry and picked up a first down 27% of the time. Austin has him beat by nearly 2 yards per rush, and picked up a first down about 20% more often. This is freakish rushing ability. But he's only 5-foot-8 and 179 pounds, and he has only hit 10 carries in a game one time. The Cowboys only gave him a dozen carries in the last two years, but he turned those 12 carries into 102 yards and a touchdown. Austin is an unsigned free agent, and it's hard to believe he wouldn't be a good fit in somebody's running game.
That said, on a per-game basis, he's not the best runner here; he trails both Percy Harvin and Deebo Samuel in DYAR per game. Samuel makes this table for total DYAR despite playing in only 15 games this decade. That will happen when four of your 14 runs gain 20 yards or more.
The wide receivers with the worst rushing DYAR are like the quarterbacks with the worst rushing DYAR -- they don't run very often, so one fumble or loss of yardage can basically turf their stats. But, like we did for quarterbacks, we collected the numbers, so we may as well do a data dump.
Worst Rushing DYAR, Wide Receivers, 2010-2019
Note that this does not include Harry Douglas' rookie year of 2009, when he averaged 5.8 yards on 12 carries, including four first downs. Nor does it include Josh Cribbs' first five years, when he averaged 6.5 yards on 95 carries, including 37 first downs; nor the first six years of Bernard Berrian's career, when he averaged 5.6 yards on 16 runs, including four first downs.
In the 2010s, Cribbs had a -14.7% DVOA and -12 DYAR on 40 rushes, most for any wideout with a negative DVOA or DYAR.
Mohamed Sanu picked up 159 DYAR on nine pass plays, both the highest marks for any wide receiver this decade. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 233 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. That's an 88% completion rate, 29.1 yards per pass, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He also took one sack.
Brad Smith, who was sort of like Rex Ryan's version of Taysom Hill with the Jets, had the worst passing DYAR of any wide receiver at -60. He completed 2-of-6 passes for a total of 6 yards with one touchdown, one sack, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 42.4.
We're not going to go in-depth on the best and worst seasons of the decade because A) we just wrote about that for ESPN+ in December, and B) all that information is freely available elsewhere on the site for anyone who wants to compile it. But a few bullet points:
- Calvin Johnson's 565 receiving DYAR and 575 total DYAR in 2011 were both the best for any wideout in any given year. Tavon Austin's 253 rushing DYAR in 2015 were the best in that category.
- The worst marks were Cecil Shorts' -183 total DYAR in 2014, Austin's -219 receiving DYAR in 2016, and Golden Tate's -32 rushing DYAR, also in 2016.
- DeSean Jackson and Demaryius Thomas both had positive total DYAR in all 10 years of the decade, the only wideouts to achieve that feat.
- Andre Roberts somehow had eight years that each had negative DYAR. He kept finding work because he has been excellent on special teams, with three touchdowns on punt returns and two more on kickoff returns, but again, special teams brilliance doesn't always translate to offensive success.