Do the Texans Have the Best Top WR-RB Combo in the NFL?
While pondering this assignment, my first thought was how should I compare other top players in the NFL to Andre Johnson and Arian Foster? Because Foster primarily has a two-year track record, statistics for the 2010-11 seasons will be used.
At minimum, both players used for comparison should have at least a single 1,000-yard season over that period in the record books. Combined yardage and scoring will play a strong role in the ranking.
Per game averages are educational, but overall yardage is more indicative of durability. Games played are only included to show how much time it took the players to reach their numbers.
Houston Texans Combo
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Arian Foster: 26 games
Rushes: 605 Receptions: 119
Yards: 2,840 Yards: 1,231
Avg. 4.7 Avg. 10.3
TDs: 26 TDs: 4
Andre Johnson: 20 games
Rushes: 3 Receptions: 119
Yards: 18 Yards: 1708
Avg. 6.0 Avg. 14.4
TDs: 0 TDs: 10
Combined totals: 5,797 yards, 40 TD (2,858 yards rushing, 2,939 receiving)
This is our baseline pair, and their overall numbers are impressive. There will not be any points awarded for style, but some background on each player will be mentioned.
Johnson is the most productive receiver of the last decade. When healthy, he is an almost indefensible blend of size and speed.
His only statistical shortcoming over his career is touchdown receptions, just 52 over nine years. It should be noted his 79.1 receiving yards per game leads the league over that period.
Foster, originally a free agent from the University of Tennessee, showed promise late in the 2009 season. But, no one expected him to lead the league in rushing in 2010.
He had an injury-shortened effort in 2011, but still had a combined 1,841 yards and 12 touchdowns. Powerful and elusive, blessed with great hands, every defense he faces regards him as Houston’s primary offensive weapon.
Atlanta Falcons Combo
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Roddy White: 32 games
Rushes: 1 Receptions: 215
Yards: 3 Yards: 2,685
Avg. 3.0 Avg. 12.5
TDs: 0 TDs: 18
Michael Turner: 30 games
Atts: 605 Receptions: 29
Yards: 2,711 Yards: 253
Avg. 4.5 Avg. 8.7
TDs: 23 TDs: 0
Combined totals: 5,652 yards, 41 TD (2,714 yards rushing, 2,938 receiving)
Due to a dearth of competent passing quarterbacks (Michael Vick included), it took White three seasons to finally break through in 2008 with the arrival of Matt Ryan. Since then, his production is among the steadiest around.
Not the biggest or fastest, Roddy just catches lots of passes. But then, more passes came his way than any other WR in 2011 according to Pro Football Focus, and he caught just 57.1 percent.
From a quantitative standpoint, Michael Turner is the running equivalent of his teammate. He was second in rushing attempts in the league last season and made 4.5 yards per try.
A between-the-tackles runner who loves to initiate contact, he will be 30 years old in the upcoming season. With the amount of abuse he has both given and taken, his output may have plateaued and is destined for the inevitable decline.
Pittsburgh Steelers Combo
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
Mike Wallace: 30 games
Rushes: 10 Receptions: 132
Yards: 96 Yards: 2,450
Avg. 9.6 Avg. 18.5
TDs: 0 TDs: 30
Rashard Mendenhall: 30 games
Rushes: 552 Receptions: 41
Yards: 2,201 Yards: 321
Avg. 4.0 Avg. 7.6
TDs: 22 TDs: 0
Combined totals: 5,058 yards, 52 TD (2,297 yards rushing, 2,771 receiving)
Over his three years as a Steeler, Mike Wallace has developed into the top deep threat among his peers. Without even checking, I am certain his 18.7 yards per catch average leads everyone else over that time.
Not much of a blocker on a team with a run-first philosophy, he is on the field for one reason alone. All the DBs know he is going long, and they are powerless to do anything about it.
Mendenhall is the classic Pittsburgh grinder, a smaller version of Jerome Bettis. But, he has enough of a burst to go for 68 yards against the Jaguars in Week 6. He may be out for the first six weeks of the 2012 season, but has proven durable for most of his time with the team.
Tennessee Titans Combo
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Chris Johnson: 32 games
Rushes: 578 Receptions: 101
Yards: 2,411 Yards: 663
Avg. 4.2 Avg. 6.5
TDs: 15 TDs: 1
Nate Washington: 32 games
Rushes: 3 Receptions: 116
Yards: 3 Yards: 1,710
Avg. 1.0 Avg. 14.7
TDs: 1 TDs: 13
Combined totals: 4,787 yards, 30 TD (2,414 yards rushing, 2,373 receiving)
Too bad for Johnson, his 2,006 yards from 2009 are not part of their totals. His decline from that zenith is undeniable, and any consistency over the course of 2011 was nonexistent.
A running back who packs less than 200 pounds on his frame, Johnson is built for an earlier era of pro football. Reclaiming the performance of that remarkable season is improbable at best.
Washington had the best season of his seven years in the league in the absence of Kenny Britt. With Britt continuing to offer new reasons to question his self-control (h/t Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean), Washington may have to remain the go-to receiver for Tennessee.
New York Giants Combo
The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE
Ahmad Bradshaw: 28 starts
Rushes: 447 Receptions: 81
Yards: 1,894 Yards: 581
Avg. 4.2 Avg. 7.2
TDs: 17 TDs: 2
Hakeem Nicks: 28 starts
No rushes Receptions: 155
Combined totals: 4,719 yards, 37 TD (1,894 yards rushing, 2,825 receiving)
But, none of that mattered when the preseason arrived. Ahmad was New York’s top rusher throughout their successful run to another Lombardi trophy.
Victor Cruz may have had the greatest statistics ever for an undrafted WR, but Nicks still had another great year. Come the playoffs, Hakeem was the preferred target for Eli Manning.
Nicks is only in his fourth year and looks to be working with Cruz to make every defensive coordinator think about taking up a different profession.
Who is Tops and Why?
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Judging by yardage alone, the Texans are numero uno. Their scoring is nearly identical to the second-place yardage combo of the Falcons.
The Steelers' amazing 52 touchdowns cannot escape notice though. Compare the five combos and no one else averages less than 100 yards per TD. It's an odd measurement and one that is difficult to put into perspective.
Being the best should be decided by something more than just numbers. Maybe we should apply Howie Long’s elevator analogy.
In a radio interview I heard once, Howie Long described the trajectory of his career by comparing two elevators. One is going up, the other down.
The ascending elevator is your experience; the descending one your physical ability. At some point, they are at the same level. And your optimum effectiveness as a player is reached.
If applied to the combos under consideration and given their scoring production, I would hand it to the Steelers. Wallace is going into his fourth year, Mendenhall his fifth.
But, Mendenhall is coming off a torn ACL, an injury that can take upwards of two years for recovery. Wallace is in a protracted contract disagreement with Steelers management and is sitting out training camp. The possibility exists that neither will contribute much to Pittsburgh’s fortunes this year.
Look at the elevators Foster and Johnson are riding and notice how out of phase they are. But, the analogy is as much a predictor as it is a measuring tool. Foster is clearly on the rise with a ways to go. Johnson may be on the wrong side of 30, but if used judiciously, could still be a major contributor.
Is any other combo clearly better than that of the Texans? Right now, the only contender is a pair of players whose status is as uncertain as Chad Johnson’s future in football (as tweeted by the Dolphins). Until the games count for real, Houston holds the prize.