Cooper Kupp Shatters Football Outsiders Records

Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 18 - With the regular season in the books and 272 NFL games finished (the 17-game schedule had no small impact in our statistics), it's time to look back at the best and worst players of 2021. Our top players this year include a quarterback who refuses to age, the best rushing season of the century, and a hybrid player the likes of which the NFL has never seen before. But we begin in Los Angeles, where a Rams star shattered our single-season records.

Wide Receivers

Best Wide Receivers by DYAR, 2021
Player Team Pass
Cooper Kupp LAR -6 0 615 609
Deebo Samuel SF 21 255 234 510
Davante Adams GB 0 0 421 421
Justin Jefferson MIN 13 -13 414 413
Tyreek Hill KC 0 47 312 359

Cooper Kupp caught 145 passes this year (second-best season ever in that category) for 1,947 receiving yards (second-best ever in that category too) and 16 touchdowns. He led the NFL in all three departments, joining Jerry Rice in 1990, Sterling Sharpe in 1992, and Steve Smith in 2005 as the only players to win the triple crown of receiving since the AFL merger in 1970. (Others have done it in earlier seasons in a wildly different, much smaller NFL. Don Hutson won five triple crowns in a 10-team league in the 1930s and 1940s.) All those numbers came with a lot of volume—Kupp also led the league with 194 targets, 18 more than anyone else—but relatively few bad plays. Kupp had 46 incomplete targets, which did not make the top 15. Put it all together and Kupp finished with 615 combined rushing and receiving DYAR, breaking the record that had been set by Jerry Rice in 1994 and tied by Michael Irvin a year later. (If you want to be pedantic, Irvin had a slight edge on Rice, 590.58 to 590.54.)

Best Wide Receiver Seasons by Total DYAR, 1983-2021
Year Name Team Passes Catches Yards TD Rec
Runs Yards TD Rush
2021 Cooper Kupp LAR 191 145 1,947 16 615 4 18 0 -6 609
1995 Michael Irvin DAL 165 111 1,603 10 591 0 0 0 0 591
1994 Jerry Rice SF 150 112 1,499 13 516 7 93 2 75 591
1989 Jerry Rice SF 129 82 1,483 17 563 5 33 0 18 581
2011 Calvin Johnson DET 158 96 1,680 16 565 1 11 0 9 575
2007 Randy Moss NE 160 98 1,482 23 568 0 0 0 0 568
2014 Antonio Brown PIT 181 129 1,697 13 554 4 13 0 5 559
1995 Jerry Rice SF 175 122 1,848 15 514 5 36 1 36 550
2005 Steve Smith CAR 150 103 1,563 12 506 3 33 1 39 544
1986 Stanley Morgan NE 135 84 1,492 10 544 0 0 0 0 544
2015 Antonio Brown PIT 193 136 1,841 10 517 3 28 0 25 542
2001 Marvin Harrison IND 164 109 1,524 15 534 1 3 0 1 534
2019 Michael Thomas NO 185 149 1,727 9 538 1 -9 0 -10 528
2003 Randy Moss MIN 172 112 1,632 17 515 6 18 0 13 528
2011 Jordy Nelson GB 96 68 1,263 15 520 0 0 0 0 520
2003 Torry Holt STL 183 117 1,694 12 513 1 5 0 4 517
2014 Emmanuel Sanders DEN 141 101 1,404 9 481 8 44 0 31 513
2006 Marvin Harrison IND 148 95 1,366 12 508 0 0 0 0 508
1984 Mark Clayton MIA 116 73 1,389 18 490 3 35 0 18 508
2008 Andre Johnson HOU 171 115 1,575 8 506 0 0 0 0 506

Kupp is followed in our wide receiver standings by a player who is very hard to label. San Franciso's Deebo Samuel caught 77 passes this year for 1,405 yards and a half-dozen touchdowns. There's nothing wrong with those numbers—only four players gained more yards receiving—but he had the receiving DYAR of a good starting wideout, not a great one. No, what sets Samuel apart is his 59 carries for 365 yards and eight scores. That puts in Samuel in the top 10 in both receiving yards and rushing touchdowns, a double play that is hard to fathom. Samuel finished with 255 rushing DYAR, narrowly surpassing Tavon Austin's old record of 253 in 2015. No other wideout has ever hit the 200-DYAR mark; the next names down the list read Percy Harvin, Austin again, Harvin again, and then a couple of seasons by Josh Cribbs.

Samuel is only a slightly better runner than Austin, but he's a much better receiver—he just became the first player in league history to average 80 yards receiving and 20 yards rushing per game in a single season. Cut those thresholds by 75% to 60 and 15 yards per game and the list is not much longer—that has been done only 23 times. And most of those players were primarily running backs who also caught a lot of passes, your Marshall Faulks, your Christian McCaffreys, your Austin Ekelers (more on him later). They caught a lot of balls, but didn't have a lot of big catches, averaging about a dozen yards per reception or less. Samuel, on the other hand, led the NFL with 18.3 yards per catch. Yes, a lot of that came after the catch, but he wasn't just a screens-and-slants gadget player. Samuel's average depth of target (8.5 yards) was virtually identical to Kupp's (8.6) and right in line with many other starting wideouts. He was much more of a wide receiver who occasionally lined up in the backfield than a running back who sometimes lined up out wide, and he deserves to be ranked at this position. To find another player who was simultaneously so dangerous both on the ground and through the air, you have to go back to Baltimore Colts star Lenny Moore, who routinely made the top 10 in both yards per rush and yards per catch in the 1950s and 1960s (when the NFL still had only half as many teams as it does now).

We haven't even mentioned Samuel's passing stats (two attempts, one completion, a 24-yard touchdown). Throw in his 21 passing DYAR and Samuel joins Kupp among the top 20 wide receivers list.

Our top five is rounded out by familiar faces in Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and Tyreek Hill. Adams finished first in this space last year, with Hill in second and Jefferson third. New England's Kendrick Bourne leads all wideouts with a receiving DVOA of 30.1%,

Worst Wide Receivers by DYAR, 2021
Player Team Pass
Ray-Ray McCloud PIT 0 12 -190 -178
Robby Anderson CAR 0 19 -177 -158
Darius Slayton NYG 0 -13 -108 -121
Laviska Shenault JAX 0 16 -112 -96
Albert Wilson MIA -19 3 -62 -77

Back in Week 7, we proclaimed Carolina's Robby Anderson to be pro football's worst wide receiver. At the time, he was routinely finishing in last place in Quick Reads and on pace to shatter the all-time negative-DYAR record for wide receivers. Since then he has been much better, however. With final adjustments, he had -129 receiving DYAR from Weeks 1 to 7, but -48 from Week 8 to Week 18. That's … well, it still sucks, but many other wideouts have sucked more in recent months.

Take Pittsburgh's Ray-Ray McCloud, for example. He had -29 DYAR through Week 7, but -161 since, and he finishes in last place for the year. McCloud is a punt returner masquerading as a wideout—his 367 yards on 38 punt returns both led the league, but the Steelers only threw him 66 passes in 16 games. Worse, he only caught 39 of those passes. Worse still, he gained just 277 yards as a receiver (that's 7.1 yards per catch) and failed to score a touchdown. Worst of all worseness, he did that as the fifth option in a lousy Pittsburgh passing attack. Defenses focused their efforts (such as they were) on shutting down Diontae Johnson (174 targets), Chase Claypool (111), and Pat Freiermuth (79), but all of those players finished above replacement level. Even Najee Harris (-1 DYAR on 94 targets) was a bigger and more dangerous part of the passing game than McCloud. McCloud's receiving DVOA of -49.0% is the second-worst for any qualifying wideout in our books, and the worst since Tony Jones' -59.3% with the Houston Oilers in 1991.

"Non-primary wideouts on lousy passing attacks" is definitely the theme of this section. After McCloud, you have Anderson (second behind DJ Moore in targets for Carolina), Darius Slayton (third behind Kenny Golladay and Evan Engram for the Giants), and Laviska Shenault (second behind Marvin Jones in Jacksonville), representing the bottom three teams in pass offense DVOA this season. And then there's Miami's Albert Wilson, who was just sixth among Miami's passing options and still averaged only 8.5 yards per catch with no touchdowns.

Better Than His Standard Stats: Mike Evans, TB
Though he only ranked 29th in the league with 74 catches, Evans was fourth among wide receivers in DYAR. Evans averaged an impressive 14.0 yards per reception and finished second behind Kupp with 14 touchdown catches.

Worse Than His Standard Stats: Diontae Johnson, PIT
Did you know that Johnson was fifth in the NFL with 107 catches this season? But he averaged a meager 10.9 yards per catch and only scored eight touchdowns, which is why he finished 57th in DYAR.

Most Improved: Cooper Kupp, LAR
From humble slot receiver to an all-time great. Kupp wasn't even L.A.'s top wideout in 2020; he finished 29th with 118 DYAR while playing sidekick to Robert Woods. In 2021 … well, you know.

Arizona's A.J. Green also deserves mention. He was dead-last with -172 DYAR in Cincinnati last year, but rebounded nicely in Kliff Kingsbury's scheme, finishing 28th in DYAR this year. Come to think of it, Christian Kirk also enjoyed a nice bump from 46 DYAR to 284 DYAR.

Biggest Decline: Cole Beasley, BUF
From humble slot receiver to … whatever he is now. Beasley caught exactly 82 balls in both 2020 and 2021, but his yardage fell from 967 to 693, his average gain from 11.8 to 8.5, his touchdowns from four to one, and his DYAR from 267 (12th) to -47 (86th).

Other notable fallers include Calvin Ridley (who had negative DYAR even before taking a break from football), DK Metcalf (from 333 DYAR to 111), and A.J. Brown (from 331 to 111).


Best Quarterbacks, Total DYAR, 2021
Player Team Pass
Tom Brady TB 1,892 39 0 1,931
Aaron Rodgers GB 1,511 21 -11 1,520
Patrick Mahomes KC 1,368 84 0 1,452
Justin Herbert LAC 1,341 91 0 1,432
Dak Prescott DAL 1,379 -97 0 1,281

Tom Brady finishes first in passing DYAR for the sixth time in his career and the first since 2017, when his leading wideout was—this is true—Brandin Cooks. Brady finishes first in part because DYAR is a counting stat, and he threw roughly one bazillion passes … or, if you want to get technical about it, 719, second-most ever in a single season. That's also largely why he set a single-season record with 485 completions (breaking Drew Brees' mark of 471 in 2016) and led the league with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns through the air. Meanwhile, he had the lowest sack rate in the NFL, hitting the turf only 22 times.

If you prefer DVOA to DYAR, your leader is Aaron Rodgers at 27.8%. For the fourth year in a row and sixth in his career, Rodgers had the lowest interception rate in the NFL; for the second year in a row and the fourth time in his career, he had the highest touchdown rate. Judging quarterbacks on a per-pass basis instead of total value, Brady falls all the way to … second place, with a DVOA of 26.6%.

While Brady is 44 and Rodgers is 38, the next three quarterbacks in our top five are all in their twenties. Patrick Mahomes had a down year, relatively speaking—he set a career high with 13 interceptions but a career low with 7.4 yards per pass—and still finished third in DYAR behind a pair of Hall of Famers. Justin Herbert led the league with five fourth-quarter comebacks, keeping an otherwise lackluster Chargers team in the playoff hunt until the final play of the season. Dak Prescott set career highs in both completion rate (68.8%) and passing touchdowns (37), leading the Cowboys back to the playoffs.

Jalen Hurts led all quarterbacks with 194 rushing DYAR. He also won the QB rushing triple crown with 127 runs (tied with Lamar Jackson), 784 yards, and 10 touchdowns.

Worst Quarterbacks, Total DYAR, 2021
Player Team Pass
Mike Glennon NYG -541 -12 0 -553
Zach Wilson NYJ -569 38 -5 -536
Sam Darnold CAR -558 55 0 -503
Justin Fields CHI -324 -8 0 -332
Trevor Lawrence JAX -345 24 0 -322

Mike Glennon only appeared in one game before December, but he packed an entire year's worth of catastrophe into the holiday season. Since Week 13, Glennon has thrown eight interceptions, tied with Matthew Stafford for most in the league. At least Stafford has offset those turnovers with 14 touchdown passes, while Glennon has thrown only three. Glennon also completed 52.1% of his passes in that span while averaging 8.0 yards per completion (not per throw). Glennon didn't even have enough plays to qualify for our main quarterback tables, but he still amassed more negative value than each of the 34 players who did.

Things weren't much better for the other starter in MetLife Stadium. Zach Wilson lost a league-high 370 yards on sacks despite missing four games. For the season, he completed 55.6% of his passes, averaged 4.6 yards per dropback, and had an NFL passer rating of 69.7, worst among qualified quarterbacks in all three categories. Oh, he was also last in passing DVOA at -32.3%.

Things weren't much better for the former starter in MetLife Stadium. Sam Darnold had a weird year, starting the first nine games of the year, being benched for the tag team of P.J. Walker and Cam Newton, then taking the field again in Week 16 because, Hell, nothing else was working. He finished last in Pro Football Reference's adjusted yards per attempt (yards per throw, with a bonus for touchdowns and a penalty for interceptions). The Panthers traded two draft picks for Darnold and swiftly picked up his fifth-year option, guaranteeing him nearly $19 million in 2022. Let's get Matt Rhule's thoughts on that deal today:

Enjoy, Carolina fans!

Finally we have two rookie quarterbacks doomed to play with incompetent head coaches who have already been fired. Justin Fields had the highest interception rate and the highest sack rate in the league—in only 10 starts, he took more sacks and threw more interceptions than Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, or even Carson Wentz. In Jacksonville, Trevor Lawrence finished last in touchdown rate and yards per pass while throwing 17 interceptions, tied with Stafford for most in football.

Dak Prescott, surprisingly, finished last with -97 rushing DYAR. But he fumbled seven times on running plays (including aborted snaps) while gaining only 145 yards on the ground.

Better Than His Standard Stats: Tom Brady, TB
Though he was second in DVOA, Brady was only seventh with an NFL passer rating of 102.1. There are a couple of things going on here. First, Brady doesn't pad his stats with the empty completions that the NFL passer rating loves—despite his record number of completions, he was only fifth in failed completions. Second, NFL passer rating does not include sacks, and so doesn't give Brady enough credit for his pocket presence. Third, Brady has faced a very difficult schedule of defenses, as we discussed in Week 16.

Which brings us to…

Worse Than His Standard Stats: Joe Burrow, CIN
Well, you knew this was coming. We suggested Burrow was overrated two weeks ago because his schedule had been so easy this year. We didn't even mention how extreme Burrow's good and bad stats were this year. He moved the ball better than anyone, leading all passers in both completion rate (70.4%) and yards per pass (8.9). But he also made tons of mistakes, finishing in the top 10 with 14 interceptions and giving up a league-high 51 sacks. Those sacks, in particular, turf his DVOA, where he finished 14th at 5.1%. But he was second behind Aaron Rodgers with an NFL passer rating of 108.3.

Most Improved: Carson Wentz, IND
Colts fans may not want to hear this right now, but they got the good version of Wentz this year. One year ago, we listed Wentz under "Biggest Decline," so he certainly has yo-yoed. But a year after giving up more sacks and interceptions than any other quarterback despite missing four games, Wentz had an average sack rate while throwing only seven interceptions all season. His passing DYAR improved from -780 to 461.

Other notable improvers include Dak Prescott (from 399 DYAR and a badly broken ankle to 1,379 DYAR and two good wheels) and Jimmy Garoppolo (from 198 DYAR in six games to 855 DYAR in 15).

Biggest Decline: Ryan Tannehill, TEN
Titans fans may not want to hear this right now, but they somehow won home-field advantage in the AFC with a quarterback who finished with negative DYAR. And yes, a lot of this can be blamed on injuries—he was not supposed to throw 100 passes to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers this year, not to mention Tennessee's struggles in the backfield and on the offensive line. Regardless, a drop from 1,046 DYAR to -19 DYAR is dramatic, to say the least.

Other quarterbacks who declined sharply include Josh Allen (from 1,460 DYAR to 702) and Matt Ryan (from 817 to 268).

Running Backs

Best Running Backs by DYAR, 2021
Rushing   Receiving   Total
Player Team Rush
Player Team Rec
Player Team Rush
RecDYAR Total
Jonathan Taylor IND 510 Cordarrelle Patterson ATL 188 Jonathan Taylor IND 510 21 532
Leonard Fournette TB 201 Darrel Williams KC 179 Austin Ekeler LAC 187 137 324
Austin Ekeler LAC 187 James Conner ARI 166 Leonard Fournette TB 201 120 314*
Nick Chubb CLE 181 Brandon Bolden NE 156 Darrel Williams KC 93 179 272
Damien Harris NE 176 Austin Ekeler LAC 137 AJ Dillon GB 160 110 270
    * Includes -6 DYAR passing

Jonathan Taylor was the best runner of the 2021 season and it's not close. Like Cooper Kupp, he won the triple crown in this category, leading the NFL in carries, yards, and touchdowns. (This is a much more common feat than the receiving triple crown—Derrick Henry had done it in each of the past two seasons.) Leonard Fournette was second in rushing DYAR but didn't even reach 40% of Taylor's total. Taylor finishes with the fourth-best rushing DYAR on record, and is the first back to clear 500 DYAR since Marshall Faulk in 2000.

Most Rushing DYAR, Single-Season, 1983-2021
Year Name Team Runs Yards TD FUM Avg. Suc Rate DYAR
1998 Terrell Davis DEN 392 2,008 21 1 5.12 52% 602
1999 Stephen Davis WAS 290 1,407 17 3 4.85 60% 526
1997 Terrell Davis DEN 369 1,743 15 4 4.72 56% 526
2021 Jonathan Taylor IND 332 1,811 18 3 5.45 56% 510
1995 Emmitt Smith DAL 375 1,770 25 7 4.72 53% 505
2000 Marshall Faulk STL 253 1,359 18 0 5.37 61% 501
2002 Priest Holmes KC 313 1,615 21 1 5.16 55% 497
2005 Larry Johnson KC 335 1,741 20 5 5.20 55% 488
2003 Priest Holmes KC 320 1,420 27 1 4.44 58% 485
1994 Emmitt Smith DAL 368 1,484 21 1 4.03 52% 461

What stands out about Taylor is his explosiveness—he has the best yards per carry average in this, the list of the best running back seasons we have ever measured. The last player to carry the ball as often as Taylor with such a high average was Adrian Peterson in his 2,097-yard season in 2012.

Leonard Fournette is a shocker at second place, considering he only ran for 812 yards and eight touchdowns. But he was stuffed only 12.5% of the time, bottom-five among backs with at least 100 carries, and didn't have a single fumble on a running play. Austin Ekeler only ran for 911 yards himself, but he did run for a dozen touchdowns. Nick Chubb was second behind Taylor with 1,259 rushing yards; Damien Harris was tied for second with 15 rushing touchdowns. Cleveland's D'Ernest Johnson got exactly the 100 carries needed to qualify for our tables and thus led the league with a rushing DVOA of 27.7%; one carry less and that crown would have gone to Seattle's Rashaad Penny (who had only 119 carries himself).

Cordarrelle Patterson, a former receiver, leads all runners in receiving value; we discussed his unusual season in Week 4. He finished with 548 receiving yards, second among backs to Ekeler's 647, and it took Ekeler 25 more targets (94 to 69) to get there. Darrel Williams only saw 57 targets, a dozen fewer than Patterson, but matched him with 7.9 yards per target. Arizona signed James Conner to run the ball while they threw to Chase Edmonds, but Conner surprised everyone by finishing first among backs with a 95% catch rate and a 62.4% DVOA. And then there's Branden "he's still in the league?" Bolden, enjoying that classic ninth-year running back breakout. He had fewer than 500 receiving yards in his first eight seasons, but over 400 in 2021. Finally we have Ekeler, who led all running backs with 647 yards and eight touchdowns through the air … and with four fumbles on receptions.

Our last runner to mention here is AJ Dillon, who made the top five in total DYAR despite splitting time with Aaron Jones in Green Bay. Does that mean Dillon is clearly the better player? Not really. Jones was in the top 10 himself with 228 combined DYAR (131 rushing, 97 receiving). Dillon gets the edge largely due to success rate, where he led the NFL at 63%.

Worst Running Backs by DYAR, 2021
Rushing   Receiving   Total
Player Team Rush
Player Team Rec
Player Team Rush
Alvin Kamara NO -96 James Robinson JAX -78 Mark Ingram HOU/NO -82 -3 -84
Mark Ingram HOU/NO -82 Mike Davis ATL -71 Myles Gaskin MIA -66 -14 -80
D'Andre Swift DET -78 Dontrell Hilliard TEN -55 Saquon Barkley NYG -56 -11 -67
Myles Gaskin MIA -66 Devin Singletary BUF -46 Mike Davis ATL 6 -71 -65
Salvon Ahmed MIA -62 Carlos Hyde JAX -42 Tony Jones NO -53 -11 -64

Our list of bad rushers is dominated by a handful of teams. We all expected New Orleans' passing game to decline after Drew Brees retired, but it's the rushing game that really suffered. The Saints averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, and that number is inflated by mobile quarterbacks Jameis Winston and (especially) Taysom Hill, who each averaged better than 5 yards a pop. Alvin Kamara's average of 3.7 yards per carry was a full yard worse than his prior career low. Mark Ingram was even worse at 3.5 between Houston and New Orleans. Ingram was once the leading rusher for a Texans offense that looked like one of the worst we have ever seen. Then a funny thing happened: Houston traded Ingram to New Orleans, going with Rex Burkhead as their top back instead. And while Ingram continued to go nowhere with the Saints, the Texans looked vastly improved with Burkhead.

New Orleans and Houston were two of the bottom three teams in non-quarterback yards per carry; the other was Miami. You'll remember Myles Gaskin for finishing last in Quick Reads in Week 6, Week 9, and Week 11. His teammate Salvon Ahmed never came in last, but he was consistently awful—he had at least one carry in 11 different games and finished below replacement level 10 times.

Finally we have Detroit's D'Andre Swift, who tied Gaskin with three last-place finishes in Quick Reads (all of them between Weeks 8 and 12). In particular, his Week 10 outing against Pittsburgh was historically bad. He was also last in rushing DVOA at -21.7%, and in success rate at 36%.

The list of bad receiving backs is easy to explain. It's a bunch of dudes who mostly didn't go anywhere (James Robinson averaged 7.2 yards per catch, but the others were all at 5.9 or worse) and who tended to fumble a lot (Devin Singletary had three fumbles on receptions, Robinson and Mike Davis had two each, Dontrell Hilliard had one).

The worst combined table includes Saquon Barkley, whom you're probably familiar with, and Tony Jones, whom you're not. But the second-year back out of Notre Dame averaged just 2.6 yards per carry for the Saints with more stuffs (13) than first downs (seven).

Better Than His Standard Stats: Leonard Fournette, TB
We talked about this already. Fournette was third among running backs in combined rushing and receiving DYAR, but 10th with 1,266 yards from scrimmage

Worse Than His Standard Stats: Najee Harris, PIT
Am I the only one noticing a trend in these "Better Than/Worse Than" stats? Harris was second behind Jonathan Taylor with 1,674 yards from scrimmage, but 57th (!) in combined DYAR, with 48 rushing DYAR and -1 receiving DYAR. He didn't make the top 30 runners in DVOA or success rate and he averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. He got a league-high 381 touches to pile up meaningless yards because the Steelers had no better options, not because he was particularly effective.

Most Improved: Jonathan Taylor, IND
Obviously. Taylor was a perfectly fine starting running back in 2020, with 127 rushing DYAR and 72 receiving DYAR. He was god-tier in 2021.

Other notable improvers include Leonard Fournette (from 37 combined DYAR to 320) and James Conner (from -16 combined DYAR to 254).

Biggest Decline: Alvin Kamara, NO Kamara led all running backs with 449 combined DYAR (253 rushing, 196 receiving) in 2020. As noted, he was the least valuable runner of 2021, and though he was still an effective receiver (11th in DYAR, 14th in DVOA), he was no longer the absolute best in that role.

Tight Ends

Best Tight Ends by DYAR, 2021
Player Team Rush
Mark Andrews BAL -8 306 298
Travis Kelce KC -2 257 255
Dallas Goedert PHI 0 220 220
Dalton Schultz DAL 0 191 191
George Kittle SF 15 166 181

No surprises here. The top five tight ends in DYAR were all in the top six in receiving yards at the position, though the order there went Andrews-Kelce-Kittle-Goedert-Schulz. The missing name is Kyle Pitts, who was third with 1,026 yards but "only" ninth with 122 receiving DYAR. The difference there is a lack of scoring. Most tight ends are effective at the goal line, but Pitts had just one touchdown as a rookie.

This is Mark Andrews' first time as our top tight end, but it's the third time in his four seasons he has made the top 10. Travis Kelce has now been in the top three for seven years in a row, and in the top 10 for nine. George Kittle has made the top four in each of the past four years, and Dallas Goedert (who led all tight ends with a 34.7% DVOA) was seventh last season. The breakout player is Schulz, who never topped 4 DYAR in any of his first three years and was below replacement level in 2019 and 2020. He wasn't explosive in 2021, averaging only 10.4 yards per catch. But he was reliable, with a success rate of 63%, highest of anyone in this table.

Worst Tight Ends by DYAR, 2021
Player Team Rush
Evan Engram NYG -14 -80 -95
Pharaoh Brown HOU 0 -63 -63
Ricky Seals-Jones WAS 0 -59 -59
Cameron Brate TB 0 -53 -53
Tommy Sweeney BUF 0 -46 -46

Evan Engram finishes dead last in our tight end rankings one year after finishing next to last. It's the fourth time in five pro seasons that he has finished below replacement level on 60-plus targets. How much of that is his fault, and how much is due to being a good player stuck on a rotten team, is a subject for another day. Pharaoh Brown (last in DVOA at -35.1%) and Ricky Seals-Jones can also use the "rotten team" excuse to one degree or another, but, um, Cameron Brate? Your quarterback is Tom Brady! He's still good! Rob Gronkowski finished in the top 10 at your position! Mike Evans was fourth among wide receivers, and Chris Godwin was 11th! What on earth is your excuse for falling outside the top 50 at your position? Tommy Sweeney is a blocking tight end for the Bills who somehow got 13 targets in 13 games. He caught nine of those balls and scored a touchdown, but for a total—a total!—of only 44 yards. Somehow, four of those nine catches gained exactly 1 yard each. Sweeney also fumbled on one of his nine receptions.

Better Than His Standard Stats: Dallas Goedert, PHI
Third in DYAR, but 14th at the position in catches. Goedert's 14.8 yards per catch were second at the position only to Kyle Pitts, and he scored four times as many touchdowns as Pitts did.

Worse Than His Standard Stats: Mike Gesicki, MIA
The Dolphins tight end was fifth at the position in catches, but had negative DYAR. His 10.7 yards per catch were not particularly impressive, he was 38th at the position with a 65% catch rate, and he only scored two touchdowns.

Zach Ertz, by the way, was fourth in catches but 60th in DYAR. We named him as our "Worse Than His Standard Stats" tight end in both 2018 and 2019. He's the position's best at doing least with the most.

Most Improved: Mark Andrews, BAL
We mentioned earlier that Andrews had made the top 10 tight ends three times in four years, right? Well, 2020 was the exception, as he ranked 18th with 52 DYAR. There's no shame in finishing 18th, but finishing first is better.

Other tight ends who improved a lot include Dalton Schultz (from -7 DYAR to 191) and Zach Ertz (from -144 DYAR to 6—his fortunes were once tied closely to those of Carson Wentz).

Biggest Decline: Robert Tonyan, GB
Hey, remember last year when Tonyan had an 88% catch rate and caught 11 touchdowns and finished second in DYAR? That was fun. Tonyan only played eight games this season, and in those eight games he had a catch rate of 62% and only scored twice. He averaged 11.3 yards per catch in each year, for whatever that's worth.

Other tight ends who disappointed in 2021 include Darren Waller (from 180 DYAR to -10) and—yes—Travis Kelce. When you start at the top of the mountain (406 DYAR in 2020, the second-best tight end year on record), even the other peaks are a step down.


36 comments, Last at 16 Jan 2022, 7:59am

#1 by ALauff // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:06am

The zoom-in at the end of that Matt Rhule presser is like something out of an Adam McKay movie. His sheepish grin says more than any amount of fumbling for the right words.  

Minor copyedit: I think you meant A.J. not Antonio Brown under the biggest decliners from last year to this year.

Points: 0

#2 by Displaced Bill… // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:09am

Bwahaha, now using this information I will travel back in time to dominate my fantasy football league! Kupp managed to keep being a stud,I kept waiting for him to regress to the mean

Points: 0

#20 by rpwong // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:59pm

The team that won my league had both Kupp and Deebo. Of course, I took Tyler Lockett one pick before Kupp after debating between the two. Lockett had a decent season, but it was unreal watching Kupp get himself open so easily throughout the season.

The Ringer has a good article talking about his offseason focus on processing information.

Points: 0

#29 by Bill Walshs Ho… // Jan 11, 2022 - 7:50pm

I had Kupp, Deebo, and Josh Allen....still didn't win my league. :(

Points: 0

#32 by beargoggles // Jan 12, 2022 - 1:58am

I had Kupp and Ekeler. And barely survived Amon Ra St Brown.

Points: 0

#3 by Dave from DC // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:34am

How does "only four players gained more yards receiving" fit with "but they're the figures of a good starting wideout, not a great one"?

Points: 0

#5 by Raiderfan // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:46am

If 77-1405-6 is only good, then FO must think most of the WRs in the league suck.

Points: 0

#12 by wrbrooks // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:54pm

It's because he has "only" 234 receiving DYAR, and 77 receptions. That's not quite five catches per game. Deebo was crazy efficient and maybe would've had a "great" receiving season on higher volume.

Points: 0

#14 by Dave from DC // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:08pm

If only four players had more receiving yards, that's a great year. Doing it on fewer targets only makes it more impressive.

Points: 0

#15 by Pat // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:20pm

He's talking about it in terms of all-time performances. It'd read better if Vince had said "but they're the figures of a good year for a starting wideout, not a great one." 1300 yards (the 16-game equivalent) is a very solid year but not one that makes you go "holy crap."

It's when you add in the rushing that it becomes an all-time great performance.

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#19 by Dave from DC // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:55pm

"There's nothing wrong with those numbers—only four players gained more yards receiving—but they're the figures of a good starting wideout, not a great one." It clearly links the "not great" to the quality of the wideout, not the quality of the season. But the latter, as in your edit, doesn't make much of a difference, anyhow: since when is 1300 yards in 16 games not a great year for a starting wideout? Last season only 7 guys went over it, and year before that only 3. 1300 yards is not a historically great year, fine, but that's now two edits removed from what the sentence actually says.

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#25 by Pat // Jan 11, 2022 - 3:47pm

Of course that's not what the sentence says. That's why I said it'd read better. I didn't say it'd read perfect.

1300 yards is not a historically great year, fine, but that's now two edits removed from what the sentence actually says.

Yes, but it's also in context with the rest of the article. He literally says there's nothing wrong with those numbers, and then goes on to explain that when you add rushing it makes it one of the best years a WR has ever put up.

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#17 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:52pm

I have clarified this. Samuel would not have been a top-five WR on receiving DYAR alone, but between rushing and receiving he was a strong No. 2 this year.

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#23 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 3:34pm

Probably the lack of receptions and TDs. It was a truly remarkable season though. Deebo would have been the #2 running back in the NFL by about 53 DYAR. He is a completely unique player. I bet in most NFL offenses he gets used as an explosive slot receiver. Give him to Kyle and you get one of the craziest seasons ever. Because of his versatility and overall share of production in the 49ers offense I think an argument could be made for him as the most valuable non-QB player in the NFL. When Mitchell went down as lead back for SF Deebo's running was able to keep the offense going. I think it is a clear trio of Deebo, Kupp, and Taylor as the most important offensive players in the NFL and DYAR confirms it.

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#4 by justanothersteve // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:37am

Deebo Samuel should also be in that all-time WR table with his 510 DYAR, ahead of Harrison, Clayton, and Johnson. 

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#6 by bravehoptoad // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:09pm

That's a total DYAR table, so his 21 passing DYAR should also be added, putting him right behind Marvin Harrison at #13 with 531 DYAR. 

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#24 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 3:45pm

I find it insane that his season this year was better than any of the TO seasons in SF. Man the Patriots have to be kicking themselves over taking Harry before him. That NE offense is a totally different beast this year with Deebo. That 2019 49ers draft class is starting to look like an all-time great for the franchise with Bosa, Samuel, and Greenlaw. On a per game basis Deebo is actually ahead of AJ Brown and DK Metcalf for yards by a lot. Bosa has the second most sacks in the class in 14 less games too. Just an insane draft.

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#7 by Sophandros // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:10pm

The decline of the Saints run game is more about the injuries on the offensive line, which saw 11 different starting combinations and no starters playing all 17 games at the same position, than it was about the departure of Drew Brees. Both Armstead and Ramczyk missed several games, Peat was out for almost the entire season, and McCoy missed significant time.

The season long loss of Michael Thomas only exacerbated the problem, as the rest of the WR corps are a group of high end #3 WRs at best. So with no threats on the outside to contend with, opposing defenses could and did focus on stopping a ground game which was trying to get going behind a makeshift line.


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#8 by ammek // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:18pm

Congratulations to Justin Herbert, winner of the 2021 Brees Award for best passer whose team didn't make the playoffs. He's the third different Charger QB since 1983 to win this award by both DYAR and DVOA. A promising future beckons for young Herbert, as Phil Rivers accomplished the feat twice and Dan Fouts did it three times (in only four years, so far, as a starter).

Charger QBs' total of six awards brings them closer to New Orleans' records of eight by DYAR and seven by DVOA. No other team has had three different QBs achieve it by DYAR, although both the Saints and – in their brief history – the Texans have had three different DVOA winners.

And let's not forget that Vinny Testaverde won one or other of the titles while quarterbacking three different teams!

It's remarkable how the same franchises pop up on these lists with different QBs:

Best passing DYAR, no playoffs:

8 – Saints (Brees 6, Everett 2)

6 – Chargers (Fouts 3, Rivers 2, Herbert)

4 – Dolphins (Marino 4)

2 – Bengals (Esiason, Palmer); Chiefs (Green 2); Cowboys (Prescott, Romo); Falcons (Ryan 2); Rams (Everett 2); Seahawks (Hasselbeck, Moon); Texans (Schaub, Watson); Titans (McNair 2)

1 – Jets (Esiason); Niners (Garcia); Raiders (Gannon); Ravens (Vinny); Vikings (Culpepper)

Best passing DVOA, no playoffs:

7 – Saints (Brees 5, Everett, Tolliver)

6 – Chargers (Fouts 3, Rivers 2, Herbert)

3 – Dolphins (Marino 3); Falcons (Ryan 2, Chandler); Rams (Everett 2, Bulger); Texans (Rosenfels, Schaub, Watson)

2 – Bengals (Esiason, Palmer); Chiefs (Green 2); Niners (Garcia, Young)

1 – Browns (Vinny); Cowboys (Romo); Eagles (Brister); Jets (Vinny); Lions (Stafford); Raiders (Gannon); Titans (McNair); Vikings (Kramer)

It's likely that the Niners (Montana) will get a boost on this list as FO goes back to the beginning of the 1980s. Perhaps Archie Manning will become the fourth Saint in 1979?

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#11 by RickD // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:33pm

'79 was a monster year for Dan Fouts, but his Chargers made the playoffs.  Other candidates include Brian Sipe, Jim Zorn, Steve DeBerg, Ken Stabler, Joe Ferguson, Tommy Kramer, Steve Grogan, and Joe Theisman.  Theisman and Stabler are well ahead of Manning for passer rating, and Sipe is well ahead on total yardage and TDs.   I don't see any stat where Archie Manning is at or near the top: he's about #10 for most.  Except he did have the longest completion of the year (85 yards to somebody - I'm looking at QB stats.) 

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#13 by JIPanick // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:07pm

I'll be quite surprised if '79 doesn't have Fouts #1 by DYAR and Staubach #1 by DVOA.

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#34 by HitchikersPie // Jan 12, 2022 - 12:36pm

Giving a brief look into this most of his seasons had fairly poor numbers but in 1978 & 79 he put up NY/A+ of 112 & 124 and ANY/A+ of 118 &115.


Checking other passers in 1978 and unfortunately for Archie Fouts had a much more efficient year (though about 500 yards less volume) meanwhile New Orleans OSRS was -0.5 and San Diego had an OSRS of 4.6 which was second only to the Roger Staubach Cowboys.


In 1979 it might be more promising, but Jim Zorn had more volume, was more efficient by most measures, and also had a better OSRS than Archie. Didn't check other years but with a smaller playoff field this was a harder award to achieve.

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#10 by RickD // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:23pm

So many season records fell this year because the season was 17-games long for the first time.  Cooper Kupp is a good example.  If we scaled his DYAR back to fit a 16-game season, it would be 573, which itself would be the fifth best receiving season ever, or Jerry Rice's third best season.  

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#18 by manodeldio // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:53pm

"Most Improved: Carson Wentz, PHI"

Small point but think you mean 'Wentz, IND'. Don't do that to us poor Eagles fans...

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#22 by Dan // Jan 11, 2022 - 3:23pm

3 typos

Myles Gaskin appears twice in Worst Running Backs by Total DYAR table; the second should be Mike Davis.

We suggested Burrow was underrated two weeks ago because his schedule had been so easy this year


Does that mean Jones is clearly the better player?



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#27 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 11, 2022 - 4:40pm

Ah, now THOSE are the kind of mistakes I thought people would be pointing out!

Thank you. Those have been fixed.

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#26 by BrettGissel // Jan 11, 2022 - 4:10pm

Your graphic shows Myles Gaskin as the 2nd worst and 4th Worst RB.  Is the 4th Worst supposed to be Mike Davis?

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#28 by ddoubleday // Jan 11, 2022 - 6:15pm

Can you measure the quality of blocking when calculating DYAR somehow? Because he had it very rough on that score.

Harris had the lowest average yards before contact (1.8) of any of the top 17 rushers in the league. Couple of weeks ago, 181 of his 188 yards were YAContact. Ouch.

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#30 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 11, 2022 - 8:17pm

This is all taken from play by play data, so in this space, no. For what it's worth, our offensive line stats (which are also based on play by play) say the Steelers are perfectly average at getting back to the line of scrimmage, but not good at getting any farther than that.

That said, our fantasy efficiency page backs up what you're saying. Among guys with 100 carries, he's bottom-five in YBC per carry, but right in the middle of the pack in YAC.

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#31 by theTDC // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:03pm

It’s nice that Kupp won the triple crown with multiple games to spare. He got two TD’s in the final two weeks, and only around 250 yards and 18 catches. If he had played only 15 games, he would have still won the triple crown.

JJ Watt also tied Strahan in sacks despite missing two games, and fighting through injury. Very impressive.

I think both players locks for offensive and defensive players of the year.

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#35 by LionInAZ // Jan 13, 2022 - 8:24pm

And I remember people saying at the beginning of the season that Stafford would never be good with guys like Kupp and Woods as receivers.

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#36 by r.u.balling // Jan 16, 2022 - 7:59am

When referring to Deebo's receiving and rushing totals, the numbers were "Cut those thresholds by 75%" from 80 yards receiving to 60 yards receiving.  That would be cut those thresholds to 75% or cut those thresholds by 25%.  I always enjoy your analysis.  Thanks for posting... 

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