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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – Part 4

The Daily Hat Trick has treated you to rounds of statistics that may make you go, “Hmm,” in football, basketball, and baseball. Today we have another round of not-so-intuitive NFL facts. Get ready to believe it or not in today’s Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.

Larry Centers is the NFL’s all-time leading receiver among running backs and among the NFL's 20 all time leading receivers, regardless of position.

This was a statistic that I happened across that prompted me to write another Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. I remember Larry Centers as a very good football player and a hard runner. Centers is the NFL’s 19th all time leading receiver, with 827 receptions (though he is likely to be passed by Reggie Wayne and fall to 20th on Sunday). What makes this statistic mind blowing, if you aren’t familiar with his career, is that Centers is a running back, a running back that spent much of his career lined up at fullback.

A fullback, in the modern game, typically served one purpose: to block for the tailback. Sometimes he will pitch in and carry the ball in short yardage situations. Occasionally he will slip out of the backfield and catch a pass, a few times per season. Centers was not a traditional fullback. But even if he were a full time tailback, the idea that a receiver out of the backfield has more receptions than Hall of Fame receivers like Steve Largent, James Lofton, and Michael Irvin is somewhat astounding.

While he does have a Super Bowl ring from the Patriots win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, most of Centers’ teams were very bad. Centers spent nine of his 14 years in the NFL with the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, who only made the playoffs once during Centers’ tenure. Many of the Cards other skill position players were not even competent, let alone effective. The result? Centers, a three time Pro Bowler, was often called upon to bail his team out of a bad situation and the ball would be floated to him when other receivers could not get open, the quarterback was under too much pressure, or the QB just wasn’t very good and dumped it off to Centers.

What makes this figure even more astounding is that not only does Centers top many great receivers, he tops all running backs, in an era in which a lot of great Hall of Fame or future Hall of Fame running backs made their mark by catching passes. Examples include Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Marcus Allen.

Fullbacks who can do this are special players. 1

Ricky Williams holds the record for most rushing attempts in a game among active players and is fifth, all-time (42 carries in 2003 vs the Buffalo Bills).

Of all of the players that have popped up more than once when doing research for this Lies…Statistics series, Ricky Williams is the one that makes me scratch my head the most. Williams’ career is as closely associated excellent runs as it is with odd occurrences, nearly three completely missed seasons (two seasons largely because of his desire to smoke marijuana and one due to a freak injury in his first action of the 2007 season), a wedding dress photo on the cover of ESPN the Magazine with former coach Mike Ditka, conducting media interviews with his helmet on, etc.

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Williams, when he has actually played, has always been a valuable contributor to his teams and, in his younger years, a rugged, dominating back. Yet Williams has had two performances in his career (the other being a 40 carry performance in his rookie year with the New Orleans Saints) that known workhorse running backs such as Walter Payton, O.J. Simpson, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Earl Campbell have never topped.

Better or Worse? This is "WORST"! 2

DeMarco Murray’s explosion against the Rams, last month, is one of the top ten all-time performances for total rushing yards in a single game.

Who the heck is DeMarco Murray? In spite of his stellar, 253 yard performance two Sundays ago, he is no more than a Johnny come lately, rookie running back in the big picture, at this time. Still, the cold, hard fact is that Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and Jim Brown never had a game with a rushing total like that of Murray, a third round draft pick, on one spectacular day for the rookie.

Murray saying goodbye to his 15 minutes of fame. 3

Matt Schaub is 10th all time for passes completed in a single season (396 in 2009).

Schaub is a good quarterback with a future Hall of Fame receiver who has always had solid running backs and a pass-friendly scheme during his stay with the Texans. Still, when you think of the 10 best performances in a single season, I would imagine that names like Manning, Brady, Elway, Marino, and Montana come to mind. Of those, only Manning and Brady are ahead of Shaub. Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre never completed so many passes in a single season.

Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub - New York Jets v Houston Texans
Playing with Andre Johnson doesn't hurt Schaub's cause. 4

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All statistical data from
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