Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wes Welker versus Jerry Rice?!?

After being away for a few days, I've been catching up on post-Super Bowl articles. The normally on-point Peter King caught my eye (and my ire) with this MMQB article. (scroll to bottom of the page.)

He compares Wes Welker to Jerry Rice in their most productive seasons, defined by total receptions:

Jerry Rice vs. Wes Welker

On the surface, it is an impressive comparison. 27 post-season receptions for Welker is indeed quite gaudy. He had a brilliant post-season, but it must be said that although Welker is exceedingly troublesome for defenses, he's a possession receiver, not a downfield threat. He's most dangerous over the middle in short distance scenarios. Further, he's the Patriots second receiver and thus receives beneficial match-ups because the primary receiver takes most of the coverage scheme. Defenses don't like it, but they concede underneath yardage to Welker to save downfield yardage to Moss.

I've pulled the stats, including the playoffs for the 2007 Welker, the 1995 Rice, and the 2002 Marvin Harrison -- after all if total receptions is the gold standard, then we must include the record holder for total receptions in a season.

Year Player Games Rec Playoff Rec Yds Avg Yds/G Long TD 20+ 40+ FUM
2002 Marvin Harrison 17 147 4 1769 12.03 104.1 69 11 22 4 0
Jerry Rice 17 133 11 1965 14.77 115.6 81T 16 26 10 3
Wes Welker 19 139 27 1388 9.99 73.1 42 10 10 1 2

Disclaimer: these stats are compiled from and the regular and post-season stats are very accurate. However, historical data for the 1995 Rice playoff game, while accurate, does not give me the numbers for 20+ and 40+ receptions. I know his long that day was 37, so I know the 40+ count is correct. I think the 20+ count is correct.

Indeed Welker dwarfs Rice and Harrison in the post-season, but the 49ers were one and done thanks to the Packers, and the Colts were drubbed by the Jets in their first playoff game. Welker has two additional games, so consider that his 27 receptions in three games isn't a fair comparison to Rice or Harrison. Per game in the post-season, Welker has 9 rec., while Rice has 11.

Then look at the yardage. For being the 2nd receiver, Welker has great yardage at 1388. But both Rice and Harrison are 1st options and thus with coverage aimed their way, they pull in 1965 and 1769 respectively... in two less games. Look at the per game average and tell me which WR you'd rather face:


Um... I'd like to go against the receiver who gains less yards per game. And the per catch average?


It's about what you'd expect for a possession receiver... enough distance to extend a drive. This is where you really take note of the difference between a downfield threat and a possession receiver. It's my contention that with 143 regular season catches, Harrison was more of a possession receiver in 2002 than his norm. The YPC somewhat supports that assertion. He was Manning's safety blanket, much the way that Welker has been for Brady.

Next, let's examine scoring, because yards mean little if you don't score:

% Games with TD Rec

Both #1 receivers were very dangerous... especially Rice. Not only did he dominate in yardage, but his scoring average of nearly a TD/game is truly impressive.

So, Welker compares favorably in number of receptions, but falls well short in Yds, Yds/Gm, and TDs/Gm. It's clear to me that Welker is very good, but to suggest that he's on par with Jerry Rice in his best season is folly.

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