This is part 3 of a series comparing the careers of Marvin Harrison and Cris Carter. You can read the entire series compiled in one article here. Today's installment compares the players using advanced metrics.
Advanced Metrics are a way of analyzing how efficient players are. The Football Outsiders employ various statistics to try and paint a more complete picture of the value that players bring. At times, normal statistics can inflate or obscure the true value a player brings to his team. This study will use the following measures of receiver efficiency:
DYAR: Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This is a cumulative value of how much better a player was than league average expressed in terms of yards.
DVOA: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. The superiority of one player over league average expressed as a percent. This is a rate stat, not a volume stat.
Catch Rate: The percentage of balls thrown to the wideout that were caught by the wideout.
The Football Outsiders numbers currently go back to 1992, which encompasses all of Harrison's career, and most of Carter's, including all his prime seasons. Remember, these statistics help complete the picture already painted in previous articles. They are simply more data points by which to compare the players. In this case, it doesn't matter how well one understands the historical context of the metrics compared to other wideouts, it's enough to compare them to one another. Because the sample sizes are different (13 measured seasons for Harrison totalling 190 games to 11 measured for Carter totaling 161 games), I'll mostly focus on the 8 year primes of the two players.
DYAR is a stat that will be difficult for some fans to comprehend. There are several ways we can compare Harrison and Carter using this stat. The first is by league ranking year to year. This allows us to see just how well players performed in this metric relative to other players.
Harrison: Three times he lead the NFL in DYAR (2006, 2002, 2001). Three other seasons he ranked in the top 10. 10 times he ranked among the 25 best wideouts in the game, including his first two seasons in the league BEFORE Peyton Manning arrived in Indianapolis. His cumulative DYAR for his 8 prime seasons was 3065. He ranked no lower than 14th in the NFL in any of his prime seasons.
Carter: Carter ranked in the top ten in DYAR four times. He ranked in the top 25 six times. His DYAR for his 8 prime seasons was 1889. He ranked 59th during his prime season of 1994 (implying he had a lot of 'empty' yards and catches) and was only 37th in the NFL in 1997.
In terms of 'volume efficiency', Harrison destroys Carter. He was consistently among the best wideouts in the game in this metric, even scoring in the top 25 in both seasons WITHOUT Peyton Manning. Carter had many strong seasons, but two of his prime seasons were actually suspect. His 1994 campaign in which he caught 122 passes scored a DYAR of about 9. In essence, he caught a lot of empty passes (think about a 10 yard slant on 3rd and 15) that season.
DVOA expresses efficiency as a percent. What percent better than league average was a wide receiver. This stat can often hurt high volume wideouts, and tends to wear better on secondary receivers (think Austin Collie or Anthony Gonzalez).
Harrison: Marvin Harrison was rated at least 10% better than league average 9 times in his career (including 1997). He posted only two negative value seasons (1998 and 2008). For the record, he was above league average in both seasons BEFORE Peyton Manning arrived. He ranked in the top 20 in DVOA seven times in his career. His entire prime was spent between 10% and 30.3% above league average.
Carter: Carter was rated at least 10% better than league average just three times. He posted five negative value seasons including two of his 8 prime years. He ranked in the top 20 in DVOA just twice. His prime ranged from -12% to 26.2%.
In terms of raw efficiency, it's not close. Harrison managed to be an efficient receiver despite spending much of his career as the only viable target for Manning. In comparison with Carter, Harrison had two seasons (2001, 2006) better than Carter's best season. Harrison also had seven seasons all better than the third best season of Carter's career. Cris Carter had a lot of empty catches in his career. He was a stat compiler, and not all of those catches and yards were particularly valuable to his team. It's useful to note that Harrison's 1997 DVOA (playing Jim Harbaugh, Paul Justin, and Kelly Holcomb) was 11.7% above average. That would have been good enough to beat the third best season of Cris Carter's career from 1992-2002. The "Harrison was only great because of Manning" argument simply does not hold water.
Catch Rate is a stat that is most useful for comparing similar kinds of players. A player who has a high yards per reception can't be expected to catch the percentage of passes as a player with a low number. Short passes are more likely to be completed than deep balls. Fortunately, Carter and Harrison were comparable wideouts. Catch rate can be affected by quarterback accuracy as well.
Harrison: He caught at leas 60% of passes thrown his way 10 times, with a high of 70% in his remarkable 2002 season. For his career his catch rate was 61.6% with 13.2 yards per catch.
Carter: He caught at least 60% of passes thrown his way 6 times, with a high of 66%. In total from 1992-2002, his catch rate was 60.4% with 12.1 yards per catch.