Five Years of PFF Grades: Top 10 Wide Receivers

| June 20, 2013

It’s been five seasons since PFF opened its doors and tackled the subject of performance-based evaluation in the NFL.

We’ve seen many breathtaking performances, whether it be over a year or in an individual game, but we’ve never really looked back on things in a longer sense. So consider that something we’re rectifying. We’ve added up the grades each player has earned over the past five seasons and then normalized their performance on every snap based on the position they lined up.

It was a more complicated process than that, but you didn’t come here to hear me yap about “process”. So, after previously looking at the Top 10 edge rushers, here are the Top 10 graded wide receivers of the PFF era.

(Players had to have participated in at least three seasons to qualify)

1. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (+85.3)

Johnson has been so relentlessly efficient, that you almost take for granted what he produces and are rarely blown away by him. His touchdown totals don’t earn him the press of his peers, and fantasy players are a little disappointed by his output, but people would do well to realize that outside of his injury-blighted 2011, the Texan wideout has finished in the Top 3 of our yards per route run signature stat every year.

That remarkable consistency is a huge factor in why Johnson has a higher receiving grade than all of his peers since 2008. Words really can’t do justice here.

2. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (+81.2)

At the rate Johnson is going it won’t be long before he tops this list. Make no mistake about it, the talent was always there with Johnson, but the consistency wasn’t. It’s why despite a big yardage total in 2008 and a solid effort in 2009 our grading generally didn’t match the points he may have made for your fantasy team.

However, that changed in 2010 when Megatron cut back on the drops and upped the dominance as the Lions started to roar. He was third in our 2010 receiver rankings before his monster 2011 saw him finish first. Despite breaking records a year later he wasn’t quite as dominant, with more meaningless yards than we care for, as defenses made life difficult for him. Still, a second place finish last year is nothing to bemoan for a man who led the league with 21 receptions on deep passes last year (to go with 45 in the four years before that).

3. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (+70.0)

Many thought Wayne was done when Peyton Manning went down and then moved onto pastures new. But the Colts realized they still had something from their long-time receiver and re-signed him to be the go-to-guy for their rookie quarterback. The response saw Wayne catch 106 balls and finish 10th in our receiver rankings. Not bad at all given the level of talent in the league at the moment.

The truth is there was enough from Wayne in 2011 to show he still had it, it was just a lack of opportunities and catchable balls that did him in. Still, we’re not trying to kid you, it’s the work he did between 2008 and 2010 that earned him this high a spot. That was Wayne at his very best.

4. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (+68.6)

Poor old Larry Fitzgerald. Inherently when you’re grading receivers a lot of it is dependent on others, most notably the play of the quarterback. To say the Cardinal has been let down in this regard since the retirement of Kurt Warner is an understatement. Indeed Fitzgerald has gone from catching 67.3% of passes aimed his way in 2008 and 2009, to 51.6% of passes since then.

For those of you thinking Fitzgerald may have played a big role in this it’s worth noting he’s dropped 11 passes in the past three years and has the lowest drop percentage of any receiver since 2008. With some better play expected from the quarterback spot this year (and to be honest can it get much worse than the Skelton and Lindley combo?) can Fitzgerald get back to the kind of form that had him previously at the top?

5. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (+68.0)

Anyone remember when Roddy White was a bust? Seems a long time ago that he was dropping balls for fun in a struggling Falcons franchise, but after things turned around for him in 2007, he was blessed with a rookie quarterback who hit the ground running and the rest is history.

Consistently productive, White was always a guy who was going to drop a few passes (until an extremely sure-handed 2012), but his ability to work the sidelines and make catches with defenders in close proximity is about as good as it gets. Reports of his demise in the Falcons’ offense were greatly exaggerated last year. If anything, he seems to be getting better as more weapons complement his skill set.

6. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+60.5)

Perhaps the scariest thing about Jackson finishing so high is that he has done so despite taking most of 2010 off and struggling to reach top form in 2011. That’s how good he has been around that period, where he has proven to be a near uncoverable deep threat with 55 receptions since 2008 on deep balls.

Still, the good news for Bucs fans is that after getting paid Jackson found his form of yesteryear and with their dependency on him to challenge teams deep, he’s likely to continue producing the goods in upcoming years.

7. Wes Welker, New England Patriots (+58.9)

His time with New England may have come to an end but let’s not dwell on the bitterness and, instead, appreciate the best of it. In the Patriots quick-hit attack Welker was the incredibly effective slot receiver who kept on moving the chains.

Granted he did have quite a few “rare drops” during his time (56 since 2008), but his ability to create separation left many a defensive coordinator flummoxed as they attempted to contain him. Will he be able to maintain the high standards and level of production in Denver? That remains to be seen, and failing to do so may see him fall further down these rankings. But for now he sits happily in seventh.

8. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings (+57.3)

That Harvin can finish this high despite managing only 2,389 snaps over his four years in the NFL should give Seahawks fans a glimpse of just how dangerous a talent he is when he is on the field.

Despite averaging under 600 snaps a season, Harvin has been able to finish in the Top 15 of our receiver rankings in each of his seasons, while having a yards per route run average in the Top 10 every year since his league debut in 2009. Given some of the struggles of the Vikings at the quarterback spot we maybe haven’t seen the full repertoire of what Harvin can do, so this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

9. Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers (+55.1)

It may surprise a few to see the largely underrated Floyd so high. Not the most versatile of receivers, Floyd has made his living going deep and using his athleticism to bamboozle defensive backs. Playing second fiddle to Vincent Jackson, Floyd has never recorded a 1,000-yard season, yet spent 2009 to 2011 logged in the Top 15 of the yards per route run metric we developed.

You don’t always need to be in the limelight to earn due from us.

10. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens (+49.5)

While Boldin may struggle to generate much separation, he gets enough that he’s able to bring balls in. At the end of the day,  isn’t that what really matters?

A constant danger after the catch (a healthy 36 forced missed tackles in five years) and some excellent hands (he has the eighth-lowest drop percentage of all receivers since 2008), Boldin has proved reliable first for Arizona and then with Baltimore. Now he’s on his way to San Francisco, what can he do?

 

Top 10 Run (and Screen) Blocking Wide Receivers

1. Mushin Muhammad (+19.8)

2. Brandon Marshall (+15.3)

3. Hines Ward (+12.3)

4. Roddy White (+12.1)

5. Michael Clayton (+12.1)

6. Vincent Jackson (+9.9)

7. Reggie Wayne (+9.5)

8. Larry Fitzgerald (+9.0)

9. Andre Johnson (+9.0)

10. Terrance Copper (+8.3)

 

Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled

 

  • LightsOut85

    (regarding the comments in the Fitzgerald paragraph). At PFF you always say how you try to separate the performance of each position (like RB from their OL), but is it just a “sad fact” that because of the nature of the WR position it’s ni-impossible to decently separate it from the QB?

    That is, you may be able to give them positive marks for just getting targeted (ie: open (usually)), & not ding them if it’s incomplete (for reasons other than them dropping) but if the QB does make it complete that particular WR just happens to get a chance to get a higher grade for the play (where a WR with an inaccurate QB like LF wouldn’t have).

  • CptJesus

    Well, that more or less IS the way the grading works, if I’m reading into it correctly. And it is those missed opportunities for higher grades on plays where his quarterbacks entirely miss him that cause Fitzgerald’s grade to lag slightly behind the other inhuman receivers listed at 1 and 2, no disrespect to Reggie Wayne along the way

    • LightsOut85

      Was that meant to be a reply to me? haha (same with ariphin). Well with a RB I believe they’d separate from the OL. So a RB wouldn’t get graded poorly on a small gain if the OL was porous and gave him nothing to work with. He could even get a positive grade by forcing MT or what-not behind the line.

  • ariphin

    I’m curious, how would you go about judging receivers that aren’t making catches though? Some players just get targeted because of an overly-dependent QB. And not all receivers thrive on creating separation *cough* Anquan Boldin *cough*

    • LightsOut85

      I agree that a poor QB could force it to a WR. I would have to imagine PFF corrects for this somehow.

  • Chris Walsh

    how can put Malcolm Floyd in your top ten and leave Brandon Marshall off?
    in and of itself, that demonstrates your analytics suck

  • JOB4Chiefs

    Poor Dwayne Bowe. Here is the list of QBs throwing him the ball the last 5 years:

    Brady Quinn, Matt Cassell, Kyle Orton, Tyler Palko, Brody Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen

    Of those, only the two on the team last year (Quinn, Cassell) even threw one pass. Every other QB on this list is out of the league save Orton, who took a cushy backup job in Dallas.

    It’s almost impossible to say exactly what impact Bowe would have had if he had been playing for the Patriots the past 5 years, or some other team with a solid QB. He’s not the greatest in the league by a long shot, but he would easily rank in the top 10 if not for the atrocity that is the Kansas City Quarterback position. We can only hope Alex Smith can bring some sanity back to our lives!