The 10 Best Wideout List (or Why the hell isn’t Marvin Harrison about 5-7 spots higher?)

Recently ESPN did a story in which a panel of experts were
asked to select the top 10 receivers of all time.  You can also read an interesting debate of this topic on the Footballoutsiders link to the column.  Ignoring for a moment the ridiculous level of
impossibility in comparing wide receivers across different eras of the game, we
at 18to88 took real exception to the placement of  Marvin Harrison at #10 on the list.  Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens, and Chris
Carter were all ranked ahead of Harrison. 

It was stated that these were subjective rankings, and
according to Mike Sando, the author of the piece, the voters weighed
physicality more heavily than speed, hands, or route running.    It is
the aim of this article to argue Harrison is
clearly superior to Irvin, Owens and Carter. 
We feel that comparing numbers between these receivers is possible and
valid because their careers overlapped.

 We are not going to argue about the players who were not
Marvin’s contemporaries because it’s a fruitless, subjective argument.  We aren’t going to argue about Randy Moss
either.  While Marvin is comparable to
Moss in many ways, we consider Moss to be one of the most devastating offensive
weapons in the history of football, and so in a completely subjective sense will not argue about his ranking.  The
only question about Moss is, “Why hasn’t he become the unquestioned greatest
receiver ever?”

 Argument #1  Marvin
Harrison is a superior WR to Chris Carter.

  1. Harrison has a higher percentage of ‘elite’ seasons
    than Carter.

The first season that Carter made
the Pro Bowl was 1993.  In his 7th
year in the NFL, he posted his first 1000 yard season and 9 TDs.  His YPC was 12.5 (lower than his career average
of 12.6).  This would be the first of his
8 consecutive elite seasons.  Half of
Carter’s 16 seasons were at an elite level.

 Marvin Harrison’s first Pro Bowl
came in 1999, and his next 8 seasons all sent him to the Pro Bowl.  His first break out season saw him post 1663
yards, 116 catches and 12 TDs.  It was
only his fourth year in the NFL.  Harrison has posted 8 elite seasons in 12 years in the
NFL.  75% of Harrison’s
seasons have been elite.

  1. Harrison’s peak years were better than Carter’s peak
    years

Chris Carter’s 5 best seasons

Year

Age

Rec

Yds

Y/R

TD

Lng

R/G

Y/G

1995*+

30

122

1371

11.2

17

60

7.6

85.7

1996*+

31

96

1163

12.1

10

43

6

72.7

1997*

32

89

1069

12

13

43

5.6

66.8

1999*+

34

90

1241

13.8

13

68

5.6

77.6

2000*

35

96

1274

13.3

9

53

6

79.6

Marvin Harrison’s 5 Best seasons

1999*+

27

115

1663

14.5

12

57

7.2

103.9

2000*+

28

102

1413

13.9

14

78

6.4

88.3

2001*+

29

109

1524

14

15

68

6.8

95.3

2002*+

30

143

1722

12

11

69

8.9

107.6

2006*+

34

95

1366

14.4

12

68

5.9

85.4

Average Season (of the 5 best)
Carter
Catches     Yards         YPC       TDs           CPG       YPG 

98.6

1223.6

12.4

12.4

6.2

76.5

Harrison

112.8

1537.6

13.6

12.8

7.1

96.1

It’s clear that at his best, Harrison’s numbers were superior to Carter at his best.  He caught more balls for more yards, with a
higher YPC and more touchdowns.  If these
two players were up against each other for a Pro Bowl nod, it’s clear which one
would be chosen.  Note also that 4 of Harrison’s 5 best seasons were chosen before the “point of
emphasis” on illegal contact in 2004.  Harrison’s number were every bit as good before the rules
were correctly enforced as they were after.

  1. Harrison‘s ‘volume numbers’ are almost identical to
    Carter’s in 59 fewer games

Carter                   G   
Catches     Yards         YPC   
TDs           

Career

234

1101

13899

12.6

130

 Harrison

Career

175

1042

13944

13.4

123

 Harrison has more yards, 59
fewer catches and 7 fewer touchdowns despite playing essentially 3 and a half
fewer seasons than Carter.

  1. Harrison has more All Pro teams than Carter-

Harrison
was named to an All Pro Team 8 times. 
Carter had three such seasons.

Arguments for Carter:

The two main arguments for Chris
Carter over Harrison are:

  1. He
    played with worse quarterbacks.  Perhaps
    no one on this list played with an odder assortment of qbs than did
    Carter.  He certainly did not
    benefit from stability or outstanding skill from the guys he played
    with.  In general, we don’t give
    this argument much weight when comparing WRs, but in this case it has some
    validity. 
  2. Carter
    scored 8 playoff touchdowns while Marvin Harrison has struggled in the
    playoffs.  Harrison
    has certainly had some tough games in the playoffs, but the value of
    Carter’s scores is certainly in question. 
    The Vikings went 2-6 in games in which he scored.  Only one of his scores gave his team the
    lead, and one other tied a game.  He
    scored 4 times in games in which his team lost by at least two
    touchdowns.  In
    other words, much of his ‘superior’ performance came in
    blowouts in which his team lost.  It’s not particularly relevant,
     but Harrison does have a Super Bowl ring and Carter does not.
     Harrison also caught a key 2 point conversion against New England
    in the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

 Final Argument: 
Carter and Harrison were contemporaries. 
Two of their best seasons overlapped one another.  At his best, Harrison
was superior.  He was not just among the
best, but one of the best two wideouts in the game more often than Carter.  Though his career is not over, if it ended
today, his volume stats would stand up well. 
Carter may have been a more physical receiver, but Harrison
was a better route runner, had better hands and speed.  He clearly has had a superior career to that
of Chris Carter.

Argument #2  Marvin Harrison is superior to Michael Irvin

Without making any gratuitous comments about cocaine and whores let’s look at the numbers:

 1.  Marvin Harrison has more ‘elite’ seasons than Michael Irvin
Irvin
had elite seasons in 1991-1995 and again in 1997.  He had a
strong, but injury shorted 1996.  By 1998, his career had waned.
 In six excellent seasons, he helped the Cowboys to 3 world
titles.  Harrison has had 8 elite seasons to this point in his
career.

2.  Harrison’s peak years were better than Irvin’s peak years.
Irvin’s five best seasons:
Year   
           
Age        Catches   
Yards      YPC   
TDS          CPG   
    YPG

1991*+ 25 93 1523 16.4 8 5.8 95.2
1992*+ 26 78 1396 17.9 7 4.9 87.3
1993*+ 27 88 1330 15.1 7 5.5 83.1
1994* 28 79 1241 15.7 6 4.9 77.6
1995* 29 111 1603 14.4 10 6.9 100.2

Average season:  
          Catches  Yards            YPC              TDS                            CPG            YPG

89.8 1418.6 15.8 7.6 5.6 88.7


Harrison’s five best seasons:

1999*+ 27 115 1663 14.5 12 7.2 103.9
2000*+ 28 102 1413 13.9 14 6.4 88.3
2001*+ 29 109 1524 14 15 6.8 95.3
2002*+ 30 143 1722 12 11 8.9 107.6
2006*+ 34 95 1366 14.4 12 5.9 85.4

Average season:
            Catches
       Yards      YPC    
     TDS              CPG      YPG

112.8

1537.6

13.6

12.8

7.1

96.1

 Again,
as in the previous instance, it’s clear that Harrison’s best years were
superior to Irvin’s best years.  Harrison surpassed Irvin in every
statistical category except yards per catch.  Irvin’s lack of
touchdowns is particularly glaring.  

3.  Harrison’s volume stats dwarf those of Irvin.
Irvin’s career numbers:

159 147 750 11904 15.9 65 87 4.7 74.9

 Harrison’s career numbers:
               Games   
          
Catches    Yards          
    YPC                    TDS

175

1042

13944

13.4

123

In
just one extra season of games, Harrison caught 292 more passes for
2000 more yards and nearly double the touchdowns.  Irvin does not
come close to the production of Harrison.

4.  Harrison has 8 All Pro seasons to just three for Irvin.

5.  Irvin’s
significant off the field problems were a distraction to his team and
limited his greatness.  While a player, he conducted himself in a
selfish way and didn’t put his team before his own desire to smoke
crack and party with hookers.

Arguments for Irvin
Essentially arguments for Irvin boil down to one of the following:
1.  He was a savage blocker and vocal locker room leader.  He also had a much higher YPC than Harrison.  
2.
 He had amazing postseason performances.  This is
indisputable.  He had 8 postseason TDs (2 in a Super Bowl).
 The majority of those were key scores in wins.  His
postseason record is clearly superior to Harrison’s.  He was an
anchor of three Super Bowl champion teams.  Harrison has only one
ring.
3.  He played for the Cowboys.

Final Argument:
Harrison
was better at his best than Irvin was for whole seasons.  Harrison
was better longer.  Anyone claiming that Irvin was a better player
is probably basing their argument solely on intangible non-measurable
things (but apparently not drug use), or solely on the results of a few
playoff games.  We don’t believe that a decade of results can be
so easily toppled by a handful of memorable moments.

Argument #3  Harrison is superior to Terrell Owens
The
Harrison/TO comparison is an interesting one because they polar
opposites in many respects.   Owens is large physically, brash and
outspoken, with poor hands, changes teams often, and has incredibly
high touchdown totals.  Harrison is small physically, rarely
speaks, has world class hands, played his whole career for one team,
and averages more catches per season than any player in history.
 Both have had essentially 8 elite seasons.

1.  Harrison’s 5 best seasons are superior to Owen’s 5 best seasons.
Terrell Owens
Year   
          
Age         Games   
Catches                Yards      YPC       TDs
         CPG         YPG

2000*+ 27 14 97 1451 15 13 6.9 103.6
2001*+ 28 16 93 1412 15.2 16 5.8 88.3
2002*+ 29 14 100 1300 13 13 7.1 92.9
2004*+ 31 14 77 1200 15.6 14 5.5 85.7
2007*+ 34 15 81 1355 16.7 15 5.4 90.3

Average:  
              Ca         Yards           YPC             TD          CPG              YPG 

89.6 1343.6 15.00 14.2 5.6 84.0

Harrison 
 Games     Catches    Yards  
           YPC        TDs        
CPG           YPG

1999*+ 16 115 1663 14.5 12 7.2 103.9
2000*+ 16 102 1413 13.9 14 6.4 88.3
2001*+ 16 109 1524 14 15 6.8 95.3
2002*+ 16 143 1722 12 11 8.9 107.6
2006*+ 16 95 1366 14.4 12 5.9 85.4

    Average:
    Ca        Yards     TDs   YPC   CPG  YPG
  112.8    1537.6    13.6    12.8    7.1    96.1

Harrison consistently caught more balls for more yards.  Owens had a handful of additional touchdowns.

2.  Footballoutsiders
new stats also show Harrison’s superiority.  These stats cover
2000-2006.  Harrison didn’t factor in 2007 because of injuries.

       

           

Player Team DPAR DPAR PAR PAR DVOA DVOA VOA Passes Yards TD Catch %
Rank Rank Rank
2000 T.Owens SF 40.4 6 47.5 3 28.30% 13 37.40% 144 1450 13 66.70%
M.Harrison IND 35.7 9 37 9 18.70% 29 20.00% 169 1415 14 60.40%
2001,  M.Harrison IND 51.4 1 50.3 1 31.20% 5 30.00% 164 1524 17 66.50%
T.Owens SF 36.8 4 41.6 3 19.00% 11 24.30% 154 1412 18 60.40%
2002, 88-M.Harrison IND 48.4 1 48.2 1 20.10% 11 19.90% 205 1722 11 70%
81-T.Owens SF 28.6 8 29.6 8 12.00% 20 13.10% 159 1300 13 63%
2003 88-M.Harrison IND 35.1 5 31.2 5 32.70% 12 26.50% 142 1273 10 66%
81-T.Owens SF 12.4 31 16.3 23 0.70% 43 6.70% 145 1102 9 55%
2004 81-T.Owens PHI 31.9 10 28.7 12 23.20% 17 18.80% 127 1202 14 61%
88-M.Harrison IND 28.6 12 31.4 10 14.60% 32 18.10% 139 1113 15 62%
2005 88-M.Harrison IND 26 13 30.9 6 13.00% 23 19.40% 132 1136 12 62%
81-T.Owens PHI 13.2 27 11.4 32 7.20% 32 3.60% 92 763 6 51%
2006 88-M.Harrison IND 44.3 2 43.3 2 28.90% 5 27.80% 148 1366 12 64%
81-T.Owens DAL 27.4 8 28.6 7 12.20% 28 13.50% 152 1180 13 56%

   
In
these seven years, Harrison outpaced Owens 5 times.  In one other
year (2004), Harrison and Owens had eerily similar seasons.  Note
the catch rate for the two players.  In 2000, Owens caught an
excellent 66% of pass thrown to him.  He would never approach that
level again.  Harrison caught a significantly better % (6, 7, 11,
11, 8) of his passes in 5 other years.  Harrison ranked in the top
15 in DPAR in all 7 years, and in the top 5 4 different times
(including leading the league in DPAR twice).  Owens was in the
top 5 only one time, and twice ranked below 25 (he was injured for part
of 2005).   Harrison had a better per play average than Owens 5
times.  

Both are excellent players, but in their primes from 2000-2006, Harrison was consistently the more valuable receiver.

3.  Harrison’s volume numbers outpace those of TO
 Owens
                 G  
  Ca        Yards   YPC
     TD
Career       
        173    
882    13070    14.8    129

Harrison   
            G  
   Ca     Yards           YPC  
 TD

Career
              175   
1042    13944    13.4   
123   

Playing in just two more games than
Owens, Harrison has posted 160 more catches for 870 more yards.
 Owens has 6 more scores.

4.  Harrison has 8 All Pro teams to five for Owens.

5.
 Owens intentionally sabotaged his team and his quarterback on
multiple occasions. He caused severe locker room rifts and sinking
whole seasons for his team.

6.  Many
of Owens’ numbers are similar to Harrison’s, but his low catch rates in
several seasons and penchant for drops (he lead the league in 2007)
severely limit his value.  Owens simply can’t be counted on to
catch key balls for first downs.  He has a unique ability to break
plays for scores, but is a questionable target on a simple 3rd and 5
from the 45.  He can finish drives, but his ability to keep them
alive must be questioned.

The Argument for Owens:
1.
 Owens has consistently had a better YPC than Harrison.  He
doesn’t catch as many short passes, and breaks the ones he does for
longer gains.  
2.  He is probably the most physically intimidating wideout in football because of his ability to break and shed tacklers.
3.
 Harrison’s injury this year has put his career in question,
whereas Owens had a remarkable 2007 campaign, perhaps his best.
4.  Owens performance in a losing cause in the Super Bowl was one of the best big games ever from a wide receiver.
5.  Harrison’s numbers are a factor of receiving far more pass attempts than TO.  

Final Argument:
This
is a fascinating debate because of the conflicting style of the two
men.  Their careers are still going on, so in three seasons, this
question might have a very different answer.  Still, through this
point in their careers, it’s clear that Harrison has been more
productive.  Owens’ penchant for dropped balls simply cannot be
overlooked.  Owens has been an elite receiver for some time, but
lacks Harrison’s consistency.  Owens’ oft discussed ability to
destroy a locker room cannot be overlooked.  Harrison has been the
superior player, but must continue to be productive in order to
maintain that title.

Stats courtesy of  Profootballreference.com

Catching on?  Write us at
18to88@gmail.com

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