I mentioned that play calling and offensive scheme would have a lot to do with a receiver's total yardage, and that makes sense. A receiver on a team that throws 600 times will have more opportunities for catches and yardage than one who plays on a team that throws 500 times. So I decided to add that wrinkle to my receiver rankings. What follows is the list of the top 25 receivers in the NFL in 2008, ranked by receiving yards divided by team pass plays (pass attempts + sacks):
What more needs to be said about Steve Smith? Playing on the team with the fewest pass plays in the league (434), Smith was #3 overall in yardage (10 behind #2 Larry Fitzgerald) and is only one of two receivers to top the 3.00 mark, just ahead of Atlanta's Roddy White, who played for the team with the second-fewest pass plays. The actual leader in yardage, Andre Johnson, comes in third. Meanwhile, the only 1,000-yard receivers to not make the list, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, both played for the pass-happy Cardinals and barely broke the 1,000-yard barrier; in that offense, even Troy Williamson might have managed 500 yards.
This system's got its obvious flaws. It doesn't count QB scrambles that start out as pass plays, and no receiver is on the field for every pass play. Technically, the ranking should be receiving yards divided by team pass plays when the receiver was in the game. I don't have any way of finding out that data, though, and it especially hurts guys like Boldin, who missed time due to injury and, unbelieveably, Steve Smith(!), who was suspended for his team's first two games. Seeing that the Panthers called 66 pass plays in those games and subtracting those from the team's 434 pass attempts, you can credit Smith with an astonishing 3.86 yards/TPP, or a full yard-plus better than every other receiver in the league but one! And living in Charlotte and having watched a good number of Panthers games this year, I'll tell you that covering the man makes no difference.
The only other thing I considered was whether using team passing yardage instead of team pass plays would be a better denominator, but I decided against it partially because I wanted something that "looked" more like a running back's yards per carry stat and a little like a receiver's yards per reception. Nobody rates running backs based on their rushing yardage as compared to their team's rushing yardage.
So again, you can take or leave this stat which says that, this year at least, Randy Moss wasn't much better than Zach Miller. But if Zach Miller's team had thrown another 122 passes, to get them even with Moss's squad, their final numbers might have wound up a lot closer.