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Who was the greatest Chargers receiver in franchise history?

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Uppercut takes a statistical look at top Chargers receivers throughout franchise history.

Lance Alworth, aka Bambi, leaping for a pass
Lance Alworth, aka Bambi, leaping for a pass

As I did recently with pass-rushers, I’m going to take us through the Chargers’ leaders in receiving yards (sans RBs) and attempt to make adjustments for the passing environments of their respective times, hopefully learning some new names along the way. The method of adjustment I’m most fond of is one known as "True Receiving Yards" (TRY), developed over at Football Perspective. (Most recent version/results here & here).

I’ll let you read up on the exact number crunching yourselves, and just say that this gives value to TDs & receptions (where receptions are a historically available proxy for 1st downs), adjusts for said team's passing frequency relative to the league each year & for the league-year relative to the average across the entire time period in question, and also pro-rates to a 16 game schedule (note: totals are not as if the receiver played all 16 games, just as if there were 16 possible. Their % of games played stays the same).

Without further ado, here are the Chargers' top 20 (non-RB) receivers by total receiving yards. (Yellow names = drafted/UDFA by Chargers (some of the older players without draft info I left blank, for lack of knowledge), * = Hall of Fame, PB = pro-bowls).

receiving leaders

Not a lot of surprise in regards to the famous names atop the chart. (Although I was surprised to learn that Lance Alworth was technically drafted by the Raiders!). I think seeing a pair of original 1960 Chargers (in Kocourek & Norton) rank as high as 11th/12th (& not having played more than seven years) is interesting. Fan favorite try-hard Eric Parker comes in at 17. Keenan’s involvement in any of these lists is purely for kicks, as he’s obviously just hitting the likely peak of his career. On the whole, there are fewer "short-deal-&-gone" players in the top 20 (compared to the top sack list), which I think speaks positively towards the Chargers’ ability to foster & retain receiving talent. (Granted, a much higher % of the sack list involved players playing in the post-94 free agent era….but let’s stick with the positive interpretation).

Now for the same 20 players, sorted by their True Receiving Yards

true receiving yards

Atop the list, we see Alworth and Garrison leapfrog Gates and Joiner, respectively. There isn’t a lot of movement in the upper-mid/middle parts of the list, large in part due to the bigger gaps in raw receiving yards (without a proportional gap in eras). The biggest change in the top 20 is the 4-rank increase by 60’s TE Jacque MacKinnon.

Now, we all know I couldn’t examine the careers of players without looking at their peaks & without using an efficiency number. I went through & found each player’s top three years (not needing to be consecutive) by TRY-per-prorated-game. (I allowed seasons with smaller numbers of games-played, only eliminating Malcom Floyd’s two-game season). For the curious, I included the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd best year for each player, in the table.

TRY - prime

(Way Late Edit: Since working with this data again, I just noticed an error in this table. Gates' 3rd best season should be 2010, not 2015! The results for those 3 years are accurate, however).

How GOOD is Lance Alworth? Really now! Those green highlights are so dark no one stands a chance of reaching them. If you haven’t read the 3rd page I linked to up front, from 1950-2012 no player has more total TRY in their best SIX seasons than Lance Alworth. Yes, that’s including Jerry Rice (but he’s close). Wes Chandler greatly benefits from my decision to include smaller seasons, as his strike-shortened 1982 season (8gm) of 110.9 TRY/G is holding up his 3rd-overal rank. (The average of his other two seasons would only place him at 9th). Focusing on only three years rockets JJ & KA13 up the list. Luckily this time around the Chargers have locked down their young star, who I’m sure will climb this list in the coming years. Three other recent Chargers were hurt by the focus, or at least, not helped as much as others were. For Gates it is not as surprising, while he’s often been a #1 target, he’s still been a TE on many run-first teams. Vincent Jackson & Malcom Floyd both brought more of their value on a per-target basis, as deep threats in Norv Turner’s offense. We’ll never know if Jackson would have grown into a true #1, load-bearing receiver. Let’s just hope that there continues to be a tradition of talented Charger pass-catchers, perhaps with some even coming close to the glory of Alworth’s career.

As usual, I encourage you to continue the learning experience by exploring the articles & sites I’ve linked to!