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Greatest Chargers receivers part 2: their quarterbacks

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We find out who was catching beautiful spirals, and who was catching wounded ducks.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent piece, we compared Charger WRs and TEs across the eras and attempted to adjust their production according to the passing frequency of the respective environments in which they played. Today we’re going look at how efficient those passing attacks were. Losing teams can rack up the passing attempts, but a receiver’s job is much easier when working with quality attempts.

The metric we’ll be using to measure passing efficiency is RANY/A, or, Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. "Relative" just means that the value will be reported as above/below league average. The "adjustment" includes converting TDs & INTs into yardage value. While the "net" aspect just means that we subtract yards lost to sacks & count sacks towards total attempts. The formula is as follows:

(PassYards + (20*TD) - (45*INT) - SackYards) / (PassAttempts + sacks)

Now, here are the career RANY/A values for (the teams of) the most notable receivers in the first article (where the values are weighted according to the TRY values each season), table sorted by career TRY

Career RANYA

To no surprise, the most famous/successful receivers all played under some very good QBs (/passing teams) – almost all scoring a full ANY/A over league average. What stands out, are the 3 WRs who played their entire career catching (on average) "below average passes". But we get into any further details, let’s look at what I consider a more telling chart, the average ANY/A of the best three years of each receiver’s career (table sorted by TRY/G)

Prime RANYA

As we would expect when examining prime years, most RANY/A values have risen for most of the players (only those of Floyd & Martin have dropped, ever so slightly). The seasons of Chandler, Winslow & Jackson stand out as exceptionally above average – not surprising given that many of those eight seasons coincide with the most efficient seasons of Dan Fouts & Philip Rivers. This is not to say these players required a good QB (to succeed) more-so than other players (that would be a little difficult to show conclusively with the available numbers), but it is interesting to see which players these QBs zeroed in on during their best seasons.

Now, as I noted before, there are three receivers whose unfortunate circumstances stand high above the pack. Anthony Miller, Tony Martin, & Curtis Conway all produced relatively admirably given the poor quality passes they had to deal with. Miller even accrued more career TRY than Vincent Jackson, and he & Martin’s primes featured more TRY/G than Jackson. Between 1988 & 1997 (the Charger careers of Miller & Martin), the only memorable QB was Stan Humphries – excuse me, the only QB you wish you could remember was Humphries. (The 55% of non-Humphries pass-attempts over that span were thrown by 13 different signal callers). Even then, in spite of Stan the Man’s 1994 heroics, he passed at below average efficiency in 3 of his six seasons as a Charger. Curtis Conway’s three years in Bolts featured a QB-by-committee 2000 season (including He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named), and below average years by Drew Brees & Doug Flutie. It makes me wonder if any of these 3 (especially Miller) would have had a career closer to the bigger names on the list, had they been paired with any of the more heralded Charger quarterbacks. Their performances in these passing droughts are surely impressive.

I’d like to leave you with a graph that I think nicely illustrates which receivers played in which era, and just how good/bad each of these passing eras were (year vs. RANY/A). It’s too large to insert directly into this piece, so hopefully linking to it HERE will work (and HERE is a version without the name-bars). It's a pretty handy way to visualize the eras we've talked about these past two articles.