Trying to keep a web site interesting during the offseason seems almost impossible. There’s only so much you can say about draft picks and OTAs.
Thank goodness for the NFL Top 100 list, because even though I think it’s a ridiculous compilation that in almost no way reflects where players actually deserve to be rated, it can jump start a lot of discussions. Even the ones people aren’t having.
Like this one. If you had to pick Sidney Rice or Roddy White for next year, and next year only, who would you take?
On the surface, this is a ridiculous question. White made No. 39 on the 2013 Top 100 list while Rice wasn’t even an afterthought. And for good reason. White has been in the league for eight years and has played in all 16 games each year. He’s been targeted over 100 times and has amassed over 1,000 yards receiving for six consecutive years. In 2009 and 2010, he posted double-digit touchdown totals.
By comparison, Rice has played in all 16 games just twice since coming into the league in 2007. He’s been targeted over 100 times just once, has compiled 1,000 yards just once and has never had more than eight touchdowns in a season.
In terms of total production, there’s no comparing the two receivers.
But there is one statistic that makes such a comparison not nearly as black and white. Yards per reception.
In 2012, Rice caught 50 passes for 748 yards, a yard-per-reception average of 15.0. Since coming to Seattle prior to the 2011 season, Rice has caught 82 passes for 1,232 yards, a yard-per-reception average of, again, 15.0.
For all White’s receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, he hasn’t broke 15.0 yards per reception since 2008. His career yard-per-reception average is 14.0 while Rice’s is 14.7.
A lot of people look only at totals. It’s why despite a rather horrendous passer rating of just 79.8 in 2012, Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford is still held in relatively high regard. Come up just 33 yards shy of 5,000 passing yards and people will take notice.
But looking exclusively at totals has always been a poor metric when evaluating a player’s production potential. Some offenses, like Detroit’s, rely heavily on the passing game, while offenses like Seattle’s rely heavily on the running game. Atlanta’s receiving corps in 2012 wasn’t limited to White thanks to Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, but thanks to Michael Turner’s total ineptitude, White was never going to be hurting for opportunities. Indeed, the Falcons rushed the ball once for every 1.63 pass attempts, the seventh most run-heavy ratio in the NFL.
Looking at averages helps to put each player, no matter what system he plays in, on equal footing.
In a way, comparing Rice and White is a little bit like comparing apples and oranges. At 6’4″, Rice is a much larger downfield threat than White, who stands at 6’0″. This difference is highlighted when delving even deeper into their respective yards-per-reception averages. If you disregard yards after catch, White has averaged 10.0 yards per reception since the NFL started offically calculating yards after catch in 2006. Rice, however, has averaged 11.2 yards. As a bigger receiver, you’d expect Rice to be catching passes further away from the line of scrimmage. But this is the advantage having a big receiver brings. White could make up for it with an exceptional yards-after-catch average, but he hasn’t had a YAC average over 4.0 since 2009.
To be completely fair, White has become a much larger downfield threat since the addition of Jones. Since Jones’ arrival, White’s yards at point of catch average has significantly increased, going from 9.0 in 2010 to 10.9 in 2012. But the fact that Jones’ arrival has precipitated this increase shows he deserves a lot more credit for it than White does. White deserves credit for taking advantage of the addition, but if Rice can do what he’s done opposite Golden Tate — who knowledgeable people would unanimously take Jones ahead of — there’s no reason to think Rice couldn’t be even better opposite Jones. Throw the ball 92 times to Rice in Atlanta’s offense and 1,500 yards would seem to be an extremely reachable goal.
And of course it wouldn’t be fair to not mention White’s exceptional blocking ability. But to mention White’s blocking ability and disregard Rice’s would also be unfair. Just fast forward to the 1:54 mark of this video. Anthony McCoy would have had an easy touchdown if he hadn’t foolishly changed direction. Rice’s downfield blocking helped spring Seahawks runners and receivers downfield on more than one occasion.
In the end, this isn’t a comparison a lot of people are going to accept. Regardless of Rice’s averages, White’s total production is simply too overwhelming. But offer me Rice or White, with Rice’s size, with a better receiver opposite him, and I’ll take him with 90-plus catches every time.