DVOA Analysis
Football Outsiders' revolutionary metrics that break down every single play of the NFL season

Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games, 95-07

by Aaron Schatz

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:

First up today, the top 20 total DYAR games by wide receivers since 1995. This includes rushing DYAR for a handful of players, but none of these players had a rushing touchdown.

Player Team Year Week Opp. Rec
Rec Pass Yds TD Rush
Runs Yds Total
Jimmy Smith JAC 2000 2 BAL 141 15 21 291 3 0 0 0 141
Jerry Rice SF 1995 16 MIN 125 14 16 289 3 12 1 10 137
Chad Johnson CIN 2006 10 SD 137 11 12 260 2 -4 1 0 133
Terrell Owens SF 2000 16 CHI 131 20 22 283 1 -1 1 5 130
Randy Moss MIN 2001 10 NYG 111 8 15 171 3 16 1 18 127
Kevin Williams DAL 1995 17 ARI 103 9 11 203 2 18 3 21 121
Reggie Wayne IND 2006 8 DEN 115 10 11 138 3 0 0 0 115
Terrell Owens DAL 2007 11 WAS 114 8 11 173 4 0 0 0 114
Derrick Alexander KC 1998 12 SD 111 5 10 173 1 0 0 0 111
Isaac Bruce STL 1999 5 SF 111 4 7 134 4 0 0 0 111
Player Team Year Week Opp. Rec
Rec Pass Yds TD Rush
Runs Yds Total
Chad Johnson CIN 2004 13 BAL 105 10 12 161 2 0 0 0 105
Plaxico Burress PIT 2002 10 ATL 104 9 13 253 2 0 0 0 104
Amani Toomer NYG 2002 16 IND 104 10 12 204 3 0 0 0 104
Randy Moss MIN 1998 5 GB 104 5 6 190 2 0 0 0 104
Chad Johnson CIN 2007 2 CLE 102 11 16 209 2 0 0 0 102
Drew Bennett TEN 2004 14 KC 102 12 17 233 3 0 0 0 102
Marvin Harrison IND 2001 9 MIA 101 9 12 174 3 0 0 0 101
Amani Toomer NYG 2000 17 JAC 101 8 8 193 1 0 0 0 101
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 2004 13 BAL 89 10 11 171 1 12 1 16 101
Derrick Mason TEN 2003 6 HOU 100 6 7 177 3 0 0 0 100

The best receiving game of the DVOA Era took place in 2000, but which game it is changes depending on whether or not you include opponent adjustments. Before adjustments, the top game is Week 16, when Terrell Owens set the all-time record for receptions in a game (20) against Chicago. However, Chicago ranked 18th in defensive DVOA against the pass that season. Baltimore ranked sixth against the pass (and first overall), so the all-time DYAR record belongs to Jimmy Smith. At the time, it may not have seemed like quite as big a deal as it really was. Sure, Baltimore had a strong defense, but they were coming off an 8-8 season. By the time the year was over, however, we knew that Smith had put up 291 yards in a single game against one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. The second-biggest receiving day against Baltimore in 2000 belonged to Dedric Ward of the Jets with 147 yards in Week 17. Only three other players had 100 receiving yards in a game against the Ravens that year.

Looking at the list of players in the top 20, one name probably leaps out at you: Kevin Williams. As in, "who the hell is Kevin Williams?" The answer is that Kevin Williams was primarily a return guy for Dallas from 1993-1996 and three other teams from 1997-2000. 1995 was the only season Williams had more than 400 receiving yards, but believe it or not, that Week 17 performance is not a "sit the starters" special. Nearly all the Dallas starters played in the final week of 1995 (Jay Novacek was an exception) and that includes Williams, who ended up starting all year because the Cowboys never really replaced Alvin Harper after Harper signed in Tampa Bay. Not counting Deion Sanders playing both ways in a few games, the Cowboys only had three wide receivers who caught passes in 1995: Michael Irvin, Williams, and Cory Fleming (six catches for 83 yards). Anyway, Williams had first downs or touchdowns on all nine catches that day, and four of them gained at least 25 yards.

You may be surprised to see that the player with the most games in the top 20 is not Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. It's Chad Johnson. Two of these are among the great shootouts in recent history, last year's 51-45 loss to Cleveland and a 49-41 loss to San Diego from the year before. The other Johnson game in the top 20 might be even more remarkable because both Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh end up in the DYAR all-time top 20 for the exact same game. Part of this is opponent adjustments, since the Ravens ranked second in pass defense DVOA in 2004. The Bengals beat the Ravens pretty much with just those two guys -- Rudi Johnson rushed for just 56 yards on 19 carries, and all other players combined managed 50 receiving yards total.

Although Tom Brady's 2007 season included three of the top ten quarterback games of the DVOA Era, Randy Moss only shows up in the wide receiver top 20 with performances from his Vikings days. Moss's games from 2007 tend to be a bit lower than you would otherwise expect because most of them have a few incomplete passes. The best Moss performance from last year was Week 11 against Buffalo (128 yards, four touchdowns, 92 DYAR), which is the fourth-highest game of 2007 behind T.O.'s Redskins burn-a-thon (the subject of an Every Play Counts last year), Ocho Cinco against the Browns, and the day Patrick Crayton showed that St. Louis had no depth whatsoever in their secondary (Week 4; 96 DYAR).

So that's the good; now let's look at the bad, the worst wide receiver games since 1995:

Player Team Year Week Opp. Rec
Rec Pass Yds TD Rush
Runs Yds Total
Vincent Brisby NE 1995 6 DEN -74 0 11 0 0 0 0 0 -74
Tony Martin SD 1996 12 TB -73 1 13 18 0 0 0 0 -73
Dennis Northcutt CLE 2000 9 CIN -72 4 13 23 0 0 0 0 -72
Antonio Freeman GB 2000 13 CAR -68 4 13 43 0 0 0 0 -68
Greg Jennings GB 2006 16 MIN -67 1 11 2 0 0 0 0 -67
Billy McMullen PHI 2004 17 CIN -67 2 12 19 0 0 0 0 -67
Sylvester Morris KC 2000 14 NE -65 3 9 17 0 0 0 0 -65
Dennis Northcutt CLE 2001 13 NE -65 2 11 29 0 0 0 0 -65
Drew Bennett STL 2007 17 ARI -65 1 7 4 0 0 0 0 -65
Santana Moss WAS 2007 6 GB -41 0 6 0 0 -24 1 0 -64
Eric Moulds BUF 2004 14 CLE -64 3 13 38 0 0 0 0 -64
Chris Chambers MIA 2006 15 BUF -73 0 10 0 0 9 1 11 -64

I listed 12 games so we could include both the ten worst receiving games (which would include Chris Chambers) and the ten worst total games (which includes Santana Moss instead).

Vincent Brisby's awful day took place in the middle of one of those Broncos blowouts that Patriots fans have gotten used to. Denver won 37-3 and somehow Brisby managed to catch zero of the 11 passes Drew Bledsoe threw at him. That's the record for passes without a catch, at least since 1995. Two players went 0-for-10: Chambers in 2006 and -- surprise, surprise! -- Chad Johnson in Week 4 of 2002. (That game doesn't show up at the bottom of the list because of opponent adjustments for the Tampa Bay defense.)

Tony Martin caught his first pass during Week 12 of 1996, an 18-yarder to convert on second-and-8. He then had 12 incomplete passes in a row -- in a close game that the Bucs ended up losing by just a touchdown. Six of those incompletes were on third down.

Lest you think we can blame these games on the quarterbacks alone, notice that Dennis Northcutt is the only player to appear twice among the worst DYAR games. He did this with three different quarterbacks -- Doug Pederson and Spergon Wynn in 2000, and Tim Couch in 2001.

One advantage of game charting these last few years is that we can look to see how much the receivers had to do with their very bad days. Santana Moss definitely has himself to blame for his awful day against Green Bay in Week 6. That -24 rushing DYAR came when Charles Woodson stripped Moss on a reverse and returned it for a touchdown. Out of the six incompletes, we have two listed as dropped, two as defensed by Al Harris, one as "receiver tripped," and one as "thrown ahead." (In Moss's defense, one of those "drops" was a confusing Harris interception where some fans felt there was simultaneous possession by both players.)

Drew Bennett has two passes listed as defensed by Roderick Hood, plus one each of "thrown ahead," "thrown behind," "underthrown," and "out of bounds" (i.e. Bennett caught it out of bounds, not an intentional throw-away). Bennett fumbled the one catch he did make, although he recovered the ball.

Jennings's awful day took place in that rainy 9-7 game with the Vikings two years ago, one of those games that will eventually get adjusted for weather when I figure out how to finally make weather adjustments for passing work correctly.

Player Team Year Week Opp. DYAR Rec Pass Yds TD
Shannon Sharpe DEN 1996 6 SD 87 13 13 153 3
Pete Mitchell JAC 1995 12 TB 77 10 11 161 1
Tony Gonzalez KC 2002 4 MIA 73 6 10 140 3
Ken Dilger IND 1997 16 MIA 72 5 5 100 3
Jason Witten DAL 2004 10 PHI 69 9 11 133 2
Ken Dilger IND 1996 2 NYJ 68 7 7 156 1
Tony Gonzalez KC 2000 4 DEN 67 9 11 127 1
Shannon Sharpe DEN 1997 11 CAR 66 8 9 174 0
Alge Crumpler ATL 2006 7 PIT 66 6 8 117 3
Tony Gonzalez KC 2004 8 IND 65 8 9 125 2
Kyle Brady JAC 2000 9 DAL 65 10 10 138 1

This just in: Tony Gonzalez is good. Shannon Sharpe too. Two of Sharpe's three touchdowns against San Diego in Week 6 of 1996 actually came right on the edge of the red zone, from the 20-yard line.

Perhaps you see Ken Dilger on the list and think "well, sure, Peyton Manning loves to throw to the tight end." Look closer and you'll notice both of those games took place before Manning was in Indianapolis. Dilger's 1997 game gets 72 DYAR despite only five catches, since three of them were touchdowns and another went 43 yards on third-and-1. The 1996 game features four different Jim Harbaugh-to-Dilger passes of 22 yards or more, all to convert on second down.

Player Team Year Week Opp. DYAR Rec Pass Yds TD
Mikhael Ricks SD 1998 11 BAL -63 3 10 16 0
Jim Kleinsasser MIN 1999 5 CHI -50 2 4 6 0
Dallas Clark IND 2007 11 KC -48 3 10 15 0
Terry Hardy ARI 2000 5 SF -48 3 7 14 0
Jeremy Shockey NYG 2006 8 TB -46 3 10 15 0
Jeremy Shockey NYG 2006 16 NO -46 2 7 -3 0
Ben Coates NE 1996 16 DAL -45 0 6 0 0
Boo Williams NO 2004 1 SEA -45 3 7 13 0
Todd Heap BAL 2005 9 CIN -45 4 8 28 0
Itula Mili SEA 2002 7 STL -44 2 6 22 0

Ricks was drafted as a wide receivers and it is reasonable to wonder if he should be listed as a wide receiver rather than a tight end in 1998, but no matter what, that game sucked. Ricks didn't have a single first down and fumbled away one of his three catches.

One of the strange things here is how many good tight ends show up on the list of the worst DYAR games. Dallas Clark? Ben Coates? Todd Heap? Jeremy Shockey twice?

Clark's awful game was the week the Colts had everyone injured; that includes Clark, who came back too soon from an injury that had kept him on the sidelines the week before. Three of those incomplete passes were tipped at the line before they even got near Clark, but he also dropped two of them. (Yes, I know we're counting Clark as a wide receiver in 2007, but I'm counting him as a tight end for the purposes of adding together career totals so I counted him as a tight end for this too.)

We can also look up those Shockey games on game charting. In Week 8 of 2006, he dropped two passes, caught a third out of bounds, and had a fabulous tight end screen that went zero yards. This being Eli Manning prior to the 2007 postseason, there is of course also an overthrown pass. There are also two thrown away on purpose; I wish we had a way to not count those, but of course we have no clue which incompletes from 1995 through 2004 were thrown away on purpose. The Week 16 game against New Orleans has two listed as thrown behind, a drop, a "thrown ahead," the requisite (pre-08) Eli Manning "overthrown," and a complete pass that actually lost seven yards because Scott Shanle read the screen from the moment the ball was snapped.

Later this week: wide receiver seasons and career totals.


36 comments, Last at 18 Aug 2008, 8:31am

3 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

I am a little surprised not to see any Patrick Jeffers games from 1999 in that top 20 list. His last four weeks that season:

GB: 8 catches for 147y, 2 td (38y, 35y)
SF: 8 catches for 138y, 1 td (55y)
PIT: 5 catches for 160y, 2 td (88y, 43y)
NO: 7 catches for 165y, 2 td (40y, 32y)

7 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

Whoops. Yes, there is an error that resulted in that Derrick Alexander game being listed with the wrong number of catches.

Alexander had five receptions that day. (Now fixed.) All five were at least 29 yards, including a 35-yard catch on fourth-and-6. He also was the intended receiver on two Defensive Pass Interference calls for a combined 62 yards.

8 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

Mike Tice, although he's currently remembered as a ticket scalper and mediocre coach, was substantially better than Itula Mili as a tight end, in his day. So, for that matter, was Charle Young, though the Hawks really didn't get his best years.

9 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

Where is the Qadry Ismail game vs. the Steelers in 1999? He had 6 grabs for 258 and TD catches of 54, 59 and 76 yards? Maybe it has something to do with the 18 incompletions tossed by Tony Banks. He completed just 8 of 26 but somehow threw for 268 yards. Maybe a bunch of those misfires were sent Ismail's way?

This was just a weird game all around. In addition to Baltimore's odd passing statistics, RB Jerome Bettis tossed a TD pass and QB Kordell Steward caught a TD pass.

12 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

I'm surprised I didn't see Shannon Sharpe's game in 2002 against the Chiefs on this list. I remember this as his "biggest" game ever. 12 for 214 with 2 TD's. Just wondering what the DYAR was on that game.

13 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

With the noteworthy receiving tight ends in the worst games category, it occurred to me that you can only get on the list if the ball is thrown to you. For tight ends, it appears that you have to be at least good enough to be put in a position to fail. Surely the worst tight ends wouldn't appear on this list because no team would ever try throwing to them more than once or twice a game.

14 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

I am kind of surprised that Sharpe's big day against Kansas City in 2002 didn't make the cut. All I remember is that it was around 215 yards with at least two scores. I think I remember hearing that at the time it was the most single-game receiving yards by a TE in league history.

15 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

To be fair, I don't think that Northcutt having Doug Pederson AND Spergon Wynn AND Tim Couch throwing to him is exactly an airtight argument against assigning at least some of the blame to the quarterbacks.

19 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

SJM, if I remember right, Kleinsasser did have a couple of fumbles in that game.

One issue I have with the receiver stats is that it fails to account for the guys who are so horrible that the qb can't even consider throwing the ball in the receiver's direction, which can have the perverse effect of harming the stats of a teammate who is considerably better, and draws a lot more attention as a result.

Ah, I see jcj makes a similar point; the really, really, really bad receiver performances result in zero throws made in the receiver's direction.

20 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

I think back to Craphonso Thorpe's contributions last year and then see an 0 for 11 performance above in the "bad" list and think.... maybe I was too harsh, too judgmental... nah, he still sucks. But there are others who suck more.

24 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

Jeremy Shockey's game against the Vikings last year deserves mention:

3-7-NYG 13 (3:26) (Shotgun) 10-E.Manning pass short middle intended for 80-J.Shockey INTERCEPTED by 42-D.Sharper at NYG 20. 42-D.Sharper for 20 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

3-10-MIN 11 (13:57) 10-E.Manning pass short left intended for 80-J.Shockey INTERCEPTED by 24-D.Smith (51-B.Leber) at MIN 7. 24-D.Smith for 93 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

2-4-NYG 30 (13:10) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 10-E.Manning pass short middle intended for 80-J.Shockey INTERCEPTED by 52-C.Greenway at NYG 37. 52-C.Greenway for 37 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

For the game, Shockey caught 4 of 10 intended passes for 44 yards.

25 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

16/19: If memory serves, in that game Kleinsasser received a short flare pass, caught the ball cleanly, turned upfield, and promptly received a linebacker's helmet to the ball, popping it loose.

Since then, every Vikings head coach has been required to sign a "Don't throw the ball to Kleinsasser" agreement as a condition of employment.

27 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

24- And one of those interceptions (I believe the first one) Shockey had the ball ripped out of his hands and instead of trying to tackle Sharper he stood there and complained to the ref while the rest of his team tried to chase down the ballcarrier!

29 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

TO's 20 catch game against the Bears (when he was known simply as Terrell Owens) is memorable to me as a Bears fan for another reason: The performance of the Bears offense in that game was one of the most pathetic that I've ever seen. (And I've seen lots of inept offensive performances.)

I believe the Bears did not cross midfield on offense the entire game. That was the game where Cade McNown sealed his fate. As the starting QB, he reportedly was so unprepared (and didn't seem to care that he failed to prepare)that the other players on the team were ready to mutiny if he remained the starter. It's good to know that the Bears have stabilized the QB position since then (he said as he rolled his eyes).

30 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

Mickale Ricks really sucked. Leaf to Ricks one of most horrible passing combinations of alltime. what were chargers thinkign?

Did anybofy see I pick correct score for Bengals-Packers game? it is in the YPA thread.
Now maybe you will believe me when I say Raiders will make the playoffs in 2008.

32 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

I attended the 2004 Week 13 Ravens-Bengals game. What was even more remarkable about it was that almost all the passing yardage happened in the 4th quarter. The Ravens were leading 20-3 at the end of the third quarter and seemed well on their way to victory when Carson Palmer and his wideouts just blew up. It was depressing and eerie--when the game ended, you could have heard a pin drop. Ravens fans sensed impending doom.

35 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

Kleinsasser definitely had 2 huge fumbles that game. Could've sworn he was a fullback, tho. The Bears had no business winning that game, but they did.

The TO 20 catch game was also Jerry Rice's last as a Niner, IIRC.

36 Re: Fifth Anniversary Special: Best and Worst WR/TE Games,…

On the Kevin Williams game: who cares whether Dallas was playing almost all its starters?? What matters is whether Arizona was playing its starters (or whether Williams had his big game against their reserves)! More generally, does DYAR adjust only for the average quality of the passing defense during the year, or does it also adjust for who was actually on the field on any given day? If not, then there is a strong likelihood that some of the week 17 and week 16 performances don't belong on the list.