Is Marvin Harrison the NFL’s best active Wide Receiver?

It has been stated
recently that Marvin Harrison is not the best wide receiver in the NFL right
now.  Some have speculated that he has
slipped.  Other names like Smith,
Johnson, Owens, and Holt have been elevated over
Harrison.  18to88.com has decided to compare the numbers of
these receivers (and Reggie Wayne) over just the past three seasons to see if
these claims have merit. 
Harrison has clearly had a more illustrious career than
any of these men, but this question is not about his career,
but if he is still the best wideout in the game.  We have compared the yards, receptions, yards
per catch, touchdowns, games played and DPAR for the receivers. 
DPAR is a stat that attempts to measure how
much more successful a player is than a replacement player would be.  A discussion of DPAR can be found here. The
raw data is:
 

2004

Yards

Catches

TDs

YPC

Games
played

DPAR

Marvin
Harrison

1113

86

15

12.9

16

28.6

Chad Johnson

1274

95

9

13.4

16

24

Torry
Holt

1372

94

10

14.6

16

34.9

Steve Smith

60

6

0

10

1

0

Terrell
Owens

1200

77

14

15.6

14

31.9

Reggie
Wayne

1210

77

12

15.7

16

44

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2005

Yards

 Catches   

 TDs

YPC 

Games played

 DPAR

Marvin
Harrison

1146

82

12

14

15

26

Chad Johnson

1432

97

9

14.8

16

36.8

Torry
Holt

1372

102

9

13

14

21.7

Steve
Smith

1563

103

12

15.2

16

46.7

Terrell
Owens

763

47

6

16.2

7

13.2

Reggie
Wayne

1055

83

5

12.7

16

22.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006

 Yards

 Catches   

 TDS

 YPC

Games played

 DPAR

Marvin
Harrison

1366

95

12

14.4

16

44.3

Chad Johnson

1369

87

7

15.7

16

31.4

Torry
Holt

1188

93

10

12.8

16

22.4

Steve
Smith

1166

83

8

14

14

11.6

Terrell
Owens

1180

85

13

13.9

16

27.4

Reggie
Wayne

1310

86

8

15.2

16

46

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 year
averages

 Yards

 Catches

TDS 

 YPC

Games played 

 DPAR

Marvin
Harrison

1208

88

13

13.8

16

33.0

Chad Johnson

1358

93

8

14.6

16

30.7

Torry
Holt

1311

96

10

13.6

15

26.3

Steve
Smith

930

64

7

14.5

10

19.4

Terrell
Owens

1048

70

11

15.0

12

24.2

Reggie
Wayne

1192

82

8

14.5

16

37.5

 

 This data yields the
following observations:

1.   In terms of yards,  Harrison
ranked 5th, 4th, and 2nd.  Both Chad Johnson and Torry Holt have
averaged more yards per season than Harrison.  Smith and Owens were both hurt by
injuries or off the field fights with teammates.  Injuries are of course part of the
discussion, because writers such as Peter King have questioned the ‘physical’
slipping of Harrison.  Reggie Wayne ranks the lowest of the receivers
in total yards.

2.   In terms of catches,  Harrison
ranked 3rd, 5th, and 1st.  It’s important to note that Harrison was better last year than in any of the
previous years.  Again, he ranks
behind Johnson and Holt in terms of average catches per season.

3.   # 88 ranked 1st, 1st
and 2nd in touchdowns. 
No receiver has had more scores than Harrison
over the past 3 years.  Only Terrell
Owens is in #88s class when it comes to catching scores.  Marvin
has scored 14 more TDs over the past three years than Chad
Johnson.  He has 10 more scores than
Holt.  He has 19 more scores than
Steve Smith.
  Despite not being
a big physical receiver, Harrison has
scored more TDs than TO.  Harrison dominates this category.  Wayne
is tied for fourth in average TDs.

4.   TO’s strongest category is yards
per catch.  Harrison
is 5th out of 6, but still managed to beat Torry Holt.
 

5.   Harrison is durable.  Steve Smith is not. 

6.   Harrison is second overall in the DPAR
category behind only Reggie Wayne.

 

So is there any
single receiver who is clearly superior right now to Marvin Harrison?

Last year, the answer
was clearly no.  Over the past three
years, some players have passed Harrison from
time to time in some categories.  Holt is
clearly the lesser player.  He’s caught a
handful of extra passes, for a few more yards. 
His YPC is lower than Harrison’s, and
he hasn’t caught nearly the touchdown passes.

Steve Smith’s numbers
are skewed by injuries.  If we take just
the average of his two (mostly) healthy seasons, he looks solid compared to #88
, but note the drop off last year.  True, he missed two games to injury, but
surely that must be a consideration.  The
expectation is that Marvin
will suffer
physically due to his age, but it is clearly Smith who has struggled.

Chad Johnson is a tremendous
wideout with a great quarterback.  He
seems to have problems finding the end zone. 
Johnson’s YPC is phenomenal, but his touchdown numbers are shockingly
low considering that he has so many publicized dances.

TO and Marvin are
from the same draft class.  Owens is
nearly as productive as Marvin when he plays. 
He is, however, a team killer and a loves to throw his QBs under the
bus.  His numbers aren’t superior to
Marvin’s in most categories, but he is the only wideout who’s TD numbers
approach Harrison’s.

Reggie Wayne’s
numbers are largely posted for the effect of seeing how another big play
receiver plays in.  Wayne’s
presence does make it easier for Harrison to
avoid double teams, but he also receives a tremendous number of throws.  In terms of straight DPAR, Reggie Wayne is
the most valuable of all of these receivers. 
Harrison
is second.

Conclusion:  The results are muddled.  No one has a clear across the board advantage
on Harrison. 
Chad Johnson would be the closest, but his TD numbers are shockingly
low.  Some have suggested that Torry Holt
is a better receiver than Harrison, but
neither last year’s nor the aggregate numbers support this conclusion.  He catches a handful more balls and yards for
a worse YPC and far fewer scores.  Harrison lags ever so slightly in some of the quantitative stats, but clearly has more scores.  Harrison is just as productive as he has ever been, and
despite his advancing age had arguably his second best season last year.  There simply is no evidence that Marvin is
slipping.  He is still the best wide
receiver in the NFL.

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