In honor of football season starting, here’s a good statistical look at why the Football hall of fame has a problem figuring out the best way to judge modern wide receivers.
Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, joining his longtime teammates Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith in Canton. As a key contributor to the Bills’ four Super Bowl berths in the 1990s,1 Reed is a qualified candidate for the game’s greatest individual honor. But while he was good, he wasn’t nearly as good as several other receivers the Hall has ignored. It’s not Reed’s fault — it’s the Hall’s. Canton hasn’t figured out how to best judge the careers of modern wide receivers.
Even in a sport where an individual player’s statistics are contaminated by the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates, his coaches and countless other considerations, wide receiver performance is a particularly tough nut to crack. Raw numbers rarely offer enough to help us properly distinguish between pass-catchers, especially across eras, and statisticians haven’t always agreed on how best to correct biases in the data.