Friday, August 12, 2011

Calvin Kerfuffle

Let me begin this post by saying I HATE sports lists (sorry bleacherreport).  Top 10 lists mask themselves as analysis, when they're really just opinions based on weak statistics.  ESPN analysis Cris Carter recently listed his Six Elite Wide Receivers and left Calvin Johnson off the list, spiraling Detroit fans into a frenzy on the eve of their first preseason game.  I can see why Carter said what he said, and I can see why Lions fans are mad.  It all boils down to how you analyze stats.

Carter's list seems based entirely on the past two years of performance.  Here's Carter's list:

  1. Andre Johnson
  2. Larry Fitzgerald
  3. Greg Jennings
  4. Reggie Wayne
  5. DeSean Jackson
  6. Roddy White
Now here are the top receivers in the past two years based on yards:
  1. A. Johnson - 2785 yards, 15 TDs
  2. R. Wayne - 2619, 16
  3. R. White - 2542, 21
  4. G. Jennings - 2378, 16
  5. M. Austin - 2361, 18
  6. L. Fitzgerald - 2229, 19
  7. D. Jackson - 2223, 15
  8. W. Welker - 2196, 11
  9. Ca. Johnson - 2104, 17
  10. S. Moss - 2017, 9
Now, it is completely rational to look at previous performances and determine how good players are.  But what Carter, and many others, fail to do is put these statistics in their proper context.  We all know what Calvin had to fight through in the past two years.  But let's look at someone who is getting ignored in this argument completely: Santonio Holmes.

Holmes, has been one of the most game-changing receivers in the league in the past five years.  The 2008 Superbowl MVP is notorious for making clutch catch after clutch catch to bring his team the victory.  Lion fans certainly don't need a reminder of that.  There is no doubt in my mind that he deserves to be in the "Top 10" discussion.

But despite all of Holmes' accomplishments, he failed to make the top 10 list in statistics in the past two years (he was 12th).  Astute fans would note that Holmes missed four games last year with his suspension, but that's not the point.  Holmes' performance dropped from 2009 to 2010 by nearly 16 yards a game (78 to 52.2) and a huge 1.8 yards per catch (6.5 to 4.7).  Did Holmes suddenly become a worse receiver?  Absolutely not.  He went from having a 2-year Superbowl champion at quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) to an unproven youngster (Mark Sanchez) on a team that is more focused on the running game and short-yardage passing.  

Obviously, Johnson has gone through a similar transformation.  In 2009, he dealt with injuries and a rookie quarterback.  Last year, he had to fight through a second-string quarterback then a THIRD-string quarterback, and his stats went UP.  

By putting these numbers in context, we allow ourselves to understand the past more accurately and we put  ourselves in a better position to predict the future.  If you want to list the top 10 wide receivers of the past two years, go to  If you want to name the top 10 receivers for 2011, that list is much more complicated.  

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