Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald . . . all game-changers. They make the highlight catches, they produce the eye-popping stats, they catch the media's and the fans' attentions.
They're the big play makers, and in that right, are the best in the game. But oft overlooked are the unspectacular receivers who keep their offenses going by consistently catching the balls thrown to them.
Deciding to take a look at the stats, I created a rather sophisticated formula in which to measure a receiver's efficiency, or in other words, ability to most consistently catch any balls thrown to them.
As a backbone stat, I calculated the Reception Percentage of all NFL receivers with a reception count above 50, based on last year's statistics. The Reception Percentage is the percentage of passes targeted to them, i.e. thrown to them, in which they caught the ball.
I then took the 12 receivers with the highest Reception Percentages and further broke down statistics that would influence the players' Reception Percentages.
I took two additional statistics into account: their respective quarterbacks' accuracy percentage, and their strength of schedule.
For the Quarterback Accuracy Percentage, I would simply take out all attempts and completions involving the respective player from their quarterback's stats and then calculate the quarterback's accuracy.
A higher accuracy would deem worse for the player, as a player with a more accurate quarterback would get easier passes to catch...and thus a higher Reception Percentage.
For the strength of schedule stats, I would calculate the average passing completion percentage that opposing teams' defenses would allow (Ex. – If player A played Team A and Team B, I would see what completion percentage Team A allowed to Teams A’s opposing teams and then average that with Team B’s completion percentage allowed to their own opposing teams).
In other words, the better the pass defenses that a player faced, the lower the Strength of Schedule Percentage. I only calculated (into the average) teams in which the specified receiver played against (no teams that played the receiver's respective team while the receiver was injured or not playing for any other reason).
So, overall, I took into account three factors: the percentage of passes thrown towards the receiver that the receiver caught, the accuracy of the quarterback throwing to the receiver, and the toughness of the receiver's opponents' pass defenses.
To calculate the final rating I took each player’s Reception Percentage and subtracted the average of their Quarterback Accuracy Percentage and Strength of Schedule Percentage from it (think of the QAP and SoSP average as how well he “ought to do” in his given situation).
For example, a player who caught 70 percent of the passes thrown to him yet had a poor quarterback with a QAP of 50 percent and faced extremely tough defenses who, on average, allowed only a 50 percent completion percentage, the player would obviously be an extremely efficient receiver, warranting his incredibly high rating of 20.0 (70 - 50 =20).
After calculating each of the 12 receivers’ Efficiency Ratings, I ranked them accordingly and took out the bottom two to create a list of the top ten most efficient receivers in the league.
Get ready to be surprised. Be prepared for a shock. Names will be mentioned that you may not know, names will be absent that you may have expected! Ladies and Gentlemen: The Top Ten Most Efficient NFL Receivers!
Reception Percentage: 69.91% (79/113, 928 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 64.0% (excluding throws to Moore)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 61.03%
Efficiency Rating: 6.65
Lance Moore proved his worth in his fourth season as a NFL receiver. Marques Colston's unfortunate injury paved the way for Moore's surprise season, in which he led his team in receptions and yardage.
Lance Moore became a favorite target for Brees, and became the most consistent too. He led a receiving crew that caught more yards than any other team in the entire league.
He also chipped in for 10 touchdowns, which proved that he was a reliable target in the endzone, as well as the rest of the field.
Reception Percentage: 69.16% (74/107, 1012 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 62.2% (excluding throws to Driver)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 62.23%
Efficiency Rating: 6.94
An 11-year veteran, Donald Driver has been a top receiver in Green Bay for years. He has posted five 1000-yard seasons in a row, and has had a total of six in his career.
Although this last year his numbers were relatively lower, he proved that he could make the transition of quarterbacks smoothly, and his production remained high.
At 34, Driver is just as aggressive and productive as he was years ago and still has plenty of gas left in his tank. On a year-to-year basis, he has been a reliable catcher for whoever was throwing to him.
Reception Percentage: 70.00% (56/80, 597 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 63.3% (excluding throws to Reed)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 62.62%
Efficiency Rating: 7.04
Seven seasons into his career, Josh Reed has never capped 1,000 yards, or even 600, for that matter, and isn't even close to being a "star" receiver.
Many of you know his name, but unless you're a Bills fan, probably not much more than that. And though he may be branded as insignificant, his importance on his team is more than most people would reckon.
He may not be the first receiver that his quarterback will look to, but he provides a back-up plan that can usually be trusted. Granted, his inclusion on this list doesn't automatically prove that he is an elite receiver.
But the numbers show that he was very reliable, catching a surprisingly high percentage of passes thrown to him despite having to deal with a mediocre quarterback.
Reception Percentage: 70.63% (89/126, 1038 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 66.2% (excluding throws to Boldin)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 60.36%
Efficiency Rating: 7.35
It's not a surprise that Boldin's name would show up on a top receivers list. To say Anquan Boldin is a good receiver is like saying that the Arctic is cold.
Four of his six seasons have been 1000-yard seasons, and in the two that he played more than 12 games he posted 1,377 and 1,402 yard seasons, each with more than 100 receptions.
Boldin has participated in three Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl, and has the honor of being the 2003 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Playing across from Fitzgerald, Boldin is a member of one of the best, if not the best, receiving corps in the league.
Reception Percentage: 72.00% (54/75, 554 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 66.6% (excluding throws to Bess)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 62.26%
Efficiency Rating: 7.57
I admit, I am a huge fan of Davone Bess, so I wasn't surprised seeing his name on this list. Researching wide receiver prospects for the 2008 draft, I came across Davone Bess and liked what I saw.
After thorough research, I became a big fan of his and expected great things from him. He went undrafted, but was signed as a Dolphin and climbed up the roster to become a starting wide receiver.
He may have a small build, but he easily makes up for it in work ethic, leaping ability, incredible hands, and great run after the catch ability.
Of rookie wide receivers last year, he was third in receptions and fourth in yardage. He became a favorite target for Chad Pennington after Greg Camarillo was injured.
(No copyright-free images of Gonzalez that I could find)
Reception Percentage: 72.15% (57/79, 664 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 66.0% (excluding throws to Gonzalez)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 61.38%
Efficiency Rating: 8.46
There are two Anthony Gonzalez's in the NFL, and both are great receivers. Unless you have been deprived of basic football knowledge, you will know about Anthony, more commonly called Tony, Gonzalez, the one of a kind tight end many call the best in NFL history.
But the other Anthony Gonzalez ain't half bad either.
In just his second year as a pro, Anthony proved himself as another talented target for Peyton Manning. His numbers may not pop out as incredible, but he gained the trust of Peyton Manning and became a target Manning turned to many a time.
He topped Marvin Harrison in yardage and thrived as a slot receiver.
Reception Percentage: 67.15% (92/137, 904 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 56.2% (excluding throws to T.J.)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 59.64%
Efficiency Rating: 9.23
T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a remarkable player with a very remarkable name. While Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) may have the drama and occasional sensational high yardage catch, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was the real workhorse in Cincinnati.
In the past five years he has had 20 more receptions and only one less touchdown than Chad Johnson.
One of the finest slot receivers in the league, Housh plays big and aggressive, and consistently catches the intermediate yardage passes thrown to him.
He will make a big difference in Seattle this coming year, as his ability to extend drives by hauling in key passes will greatly improve their previously dismal receiving corps.
Reception Percentage: 70.54% (91/129, 980 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 60.2% (excluding throws to Royal)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 61.64%
Efficiency Rating: 9.62
Eddie Royal quickly made himself known in the NFL. Breaking Bronco franchise records for yards, receptions, and touchdowns (5) by a rookie wide receiver, and catching the second most passes by any rookie receiver in NFL history, Royal not only showed that he could make it in the NFL, but that he would likely become a star receiver.
He topped all other rookie receivers in receptions and yardage.
Even in the shadow of Brandon Marshall, Royal shined brilliantly. Twenty yards from a 1000-yard season, he made critical contributions to his team time and again.
He garnered two Rookie of the Week awards and plenty of attention from fans and media alike. Royal himself credits his rookie success to his willingness to work hard, both on the field and off.
Reception Percentage: 69.51% (57/82, 574 yds)
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 58.4% (excluding throws to Smith)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 59.34%
Efficiency Rating: 10.64
You might be thinking: "Wait, wait, wait. Isn't Steve Smith a Panther?" Or if you are a bit more knowledgable, you might be thinking: "Him? He's number two? He's a nobody!"
Not to Eli Manning. In fact, you may be surprised to hear that he led the entire Giants team in receptions last year, his sophomore year.
Smith caught nearly twice as many throws as any other single receiver of the Giants in third down situations, the most critical situations. With Burress likely to be traded or cut, Steve Smith's role will likely expand even further in 2009, and his chances for a breakout season are not slim.
Reception Percentage: 74.67%
Quarterback Accuracy Percentage: 58.7% (excluding throws to Welker)
Strength of Schedule Percentage: 62.56%
Efficiency Rating: 14.04
The most dominant slot receiver in the league, Wes Welker is a force to contend with. His dedication and work ethic are unparelled, his route-running ability and knack for getting open are unmatched, his catch-machine hands are awe-inducing, his ability to burst for extra yardage after the catch has to be seen to be believed.
Wes Welker is most definitely not a prototype receiver. Short, not especially fast, and white, he is actually quite the opposite.
But his bar-raising play has shattered stereotypes, and his uncanny talent and superior work ethic have catapulted him into the class of the elite.