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Comparing likely Hall of Famers: Brown, Carter & Reed

We’re getting close to learning who the 2012 inductees will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. Much of the discussion on one of our other Hall of Fame posts revolves around which of the three wide receiver finalists — or whether any of them — will get chosen for the honor this season.

Four-time finalist Andre Reed seems to have gained the most momentum, based on his near miss last season. Three-time finalist Cris Carter and one-time finalist Tim Brown are the other two wideouts in the mix for this year’s honor.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Website did a comparison of these three players and how they fared up against the other 21 wideouts already enshrined in Canton, Ohio. But I wanted to do some analysis of my own.

Let me start with this. All three of these guys had great careers and they definitely are strong candidates, at least in the eyes of Zoneblitz. They all would be in the top five in receiving yards, touchdowns and receptions among receivers already in the Hall. Even as we move into a heavy passing era, Reed, Carter and Brown all continue to match up strongly with the other candidates they’ll be compared with in the near future.

But as the competition gets stronger in the years ahead, as guys like Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Terrell Owens and a host of others retire, it’s going to be more and more challenging for the current group of finalists to get in. That makes the voting over the next couple years that much more important. And frankly, after doing some analysis, I think the current wide receiver finalists might be gaining momentum in the wrong order.

Two of the most frequently cited metrics cited in the comment sections for our posts are Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections. The All-Pro nods were surprisingly low for all three of these guys. Carter earned two while neither Reed nor Brown was ever selected for this honor. In fairness, all of their careers overlapped with that of Jerry Rice, which made that a difficult status to attain. Reed did earn two second-team All-Pro awards from the Associated Press while Brown and Carter each added one.

(In fairness, other publications and voting syndicates did name each of these three guys to their All-Pro and All-Conference lists several times, but the AP list is considered the Gold Standard of NFL honors.)

In terms of Pro Bowls, Brown was the leader with nine selections, edging Carter’s eight and Reed’s seven. Carter was on the NFL’s first team All-Decade team for the 1990s. Brown was on the second team.

Brown Carter Reed
Seasons 17 16 16
Pro Bowls 9 8 7
1st Team AP All-Pro 0 2 0
Catches 1,094 1,101 951
Yards 14,934 13,899 13,198
Touchdowns 100 130 87
Super Bowls 1 0 4
Super Bowl wins 0 0 0
1000 Yard seasons 9 8 4
10 TD seasons 2 6 1
Times finalist 1 3 4

Now let’s compare the raw stats. Carter and Reed both played 16 seasons while Brown outlasted them by one for a total of 17 years in the NFL. Carter had the most catches, with 1101, compared with Brown’s 1094 and Reed’s 951. The former Viking, Eagle and Dolphin also headed the touchdown category. He had 130 to Brown’s 100 and Reed’s 87.

Yards? In this category, Brown was the leader with 14,934 to Carter’s 13,899 and Reed’s 13,198.

So, taking into account all the comparisons so far, none of three finalists is leaps and bounds ahead of the other two. But in each of the categories, Reed trails at least one of the competitors, if not both.

Where Reed really does set himself apart from Carter and Brown is Super Bowls. None of the three ever won a ring, but Reed did play on all four of the Bills’ four Super Bowl losing teams. Brown played in one with the Raiders. Carter came close a couple of times, particularly with the 1998 Vikings, but never quite got there.

Is that category enough to make Reed the most deserving of the three? Not so much, at least in my eyes, particularly given the numbers he posted when the Bills got to the big game: 27 catches for 323 yards and zero scores. Nearly half of that yardage came against Dallas in 1992. His other Super Bowl stats were yawners (which obviously wasn’t all his fault, but still, his performances did not stand out).

A couple other stats to consider are 1000 yard seasons and 10 touchdown seasons. Those numbers are a bit random, but I thought they were interesting benchmark numbers to use as potential tiebreakers. Brown had nine 1000 yard seasons and two 10 touchdown seasons. Carter had eight 1000 yard seasons and put up 10 touchdowns six times. Reed, I was surprised to see, had just four 1000 yard seasons and only eclipsed 10 touchdowns once.

So what other factors should come into play. One potentially forgotten but possibly significant advantage Brown has over his competitors is that he also was an accomplished return man. He put up a career 3,320 yards returning punts and 1,235 yards returning kickoffs. He also scored a touchdown doing each. Carter and Reed were not significant contributors on special teams.

Other factors? I suppose you could take into account which quarterbacks were throwing them the ball. Reed spent the bulk of his career catching passes from Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Carter had a number of guys throwing to him, including Rich Gannon, Daunte Culpepper, and Warren Moon. Brown probably had the most interesting collection of all. A random sampling includes guys like Jeff George, Wade Wilson, Jay Schroeder and Vince Evans. There were many more. Yet he still put up top-notch stats.

Further complicating these comparisons is that Carter, Reed and Brown brought different skill sets to the table. Brown was more of a game-breaking burner. Carter worked the sidelines masterfully, having a special knack for getting 11 yards whenever his team needed 10 for a first down. And Reed was a master over the middle, excelling at taking a five-yard pass from Kelly and turning it into a big gainer. So, in some ways, statistical comparisons are not totally apples-to-apples, which gives Hall of Fame voters a remarkably difficult task in sorting between the three.

In scanning some of the comments at Zoneblitz and other sites, it would appear as though each of the three wideouts has supporters in their corners for various reasons. This is understandable. As I mentioned previously, they all, in my opinion, are deserving candidates, and I believe all three will have their day in the Ohio sun.

Now, could a potential tiebreaker come down simply to whose turn it is? If that happens, Reed could get votes that way. He is a four time finalist. Carter has been that far on the list three times. Brown, interestingly, just once so far.

But if you ask me what order these three future Hall of Famers should be inducted, I’m putting Tim Brown at the top of the list. He put up the most spectacular numbers while often playing on bad teams with a collection of quarterbacks who will only be visiting Canton on their own dime.

He should be followed by Cris Carter and then Andre Reed. What are your thoughts?

Which Hall of Fame Finalist Wide Receiver SHOULD be inducted first?

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30 Responses to Comparing likely Hall of Famers: Brown, Carter & Reed

  • Tony says:

    Personally, I think Carter had the best numbers & career. And that’s not just the homerism coming out–I frankly never cared for him as a Viking.

  • Paul says:

    The only way to break this logjam of WRs, and the worse one to come, is to finally elect one this year – frankly any of the three would help with that as I suspect their close career numbers are splitting the votes. Personally I would place Carter in first but recent elections suggest more voters are leaning towards Reed given how he has finished higher each of the last two years.

  • Andy says:

    I agree with everything you said, Paul. … Well, except that I’d put Brown ahead of Carter. But I do think it is important that they get one of those guys in this year. And really, they should get all three in over the next three years. You could make a pretty good argument that all of them should already be in.

  • Paul says:

    Well Brown and Carter are very close in terms of many of their career numbers, but I would give Carter the edge with the two 1st team all pro selections and more TDs, plus Carter made the 1st team on the 2000 decade team. But the very similar career numbers are likely splitting voters between these two.

  • Andy says:

    I think the yards, the special teams prowess and the fact that he put up the numbers with lesser quarterbacks than the other two guys had makes Brown’s career slightly more impressive. But your arguments for Carter are totally legit. I grew up watching C.C. and he was an amazing player.

  • Paul says:

    The split opinions regarding Carter and Brown on this board likely mirror what is happening between the voters with a split of voting among the two players, making it harder for either to get in and opening a space for Reed. Again lets hope that a week from now the framework of this debate changes when one WR finally gets elected.

  • chris says:

    it is most likely going to be reed for 2012, carter will go in next year 2013, and tim brown in 2014, that’s how its going to shake out with the wide reciever situation

  • Paul says:

    Well lets hope so because with Harrison in 2014, Bruce and Holt in 2015, and then the possibility of Moss, Owens and Ward in 2016 it is going to get very crowded at the WR position very soon.

  • bachslunch says:

    One argument here in favor of Andre Reed being elected this year is as follows:

    Let’s assume that Reed, Cris Carter, and Tim Brown are all HoF-deserving, regardless of how one might rank them. The acceptable “floor” is below all three WRs. Looking at this from a seniority aspect, Reed has been eligible longer than Carter and Brown. If you like this thinking, it makes sense to elect Reed first. And in fact, this kind of thinking seems to happen in HoF voting.

  • Andy says:

    Bachslunch, that’s a fair point as long as there is a WR elected each of the next three years. But I would have expected there would be a wide receiver chosen last year and frankly I’m stunned that one or more of them aren’t in already. Given the fact that voters have thrown this curveball already and also the cluster of additional legit candidates coming up the next couple years, doesn’t it make sense to start voting these guys in on more than who has been eligible the longest? I guess in a nutshell, the reason I am interested in ranking the most deserving candidate is that if one or more of the three don’t get elected in the next three years, the remaining unenshrined players will suddenly be going up against new nominees who have played in an even pass-happier era and, as such, have put up even bigger numbers than they did.

  • Paul says:

    In order to have elected one of the current three WR finalists another deserving player in a past election would have been left off. And for whatever reason over the last 5 years the voters have not deemed any of these better then others on the ballot. Lets also remember that for 2010 none would have been elected due to Jerry Rice on the ballot, in fact until Rice got elected it has been suggested that the wait on WRs first centered on Rice, so even from 2008 when Carter first appeared on the ballot (Reed in 2007 and Brown in 2010) the election of Rice held back other WRs. Also note that from 2007 to 2009 one other WR was elected each year (Irvin, Monk and Hayes) all of whom had been waiting and in the minds of the voters were better then Reed and Carter during that three year election cycle. By 2010 and 2011 voters were first faced with Reed, Carter and Brown with – as we have been debating here – very similar numbers and not much to separate them, hence spitting of the WR votes and focus on other more or as deserving players. Reminder with only five modern slots these elections are always a numbers game. But I do think starting this year and through 2014 (with weaker first year classes in 2012 and 2014) the three will soon be elected.

  • Paul says:

    Actually from 2007 to 2010 each class had one WR elected (Irvin, Monk, Hayes, Rice) so really the debate about whether Reed, Brown or Carter should have already been selected centers on 2011.

  • Andy says:

    Paul, I was thinking of Hayes separately since he was a senior nominee, though you make several fair points. You could be right about these three guys going in the next three years. And if so, this becomes somewhat of a moot point. I’m just making an argument for the order in which they should go in — so that in the event that these three don’t all get elected in the next three years, the one(s) with the strongest credentials isn’t left on the board to compete for votes with the newly-eligible guys.

  • Robert Ewing says:

    one thing i would like to point out is that throughout the 1990’s Rice and Carter battled it out in the nfc now who would i induct andre reed

  • chris says:

    well, lets just hope that andre reed gets inducted this year

  • Kyle says:

    I would probably vote for all three of these guys, but I am saddened by how quickly the HOF committee seems to have discarded the case for Jimmy Smith. In particular, I find Smith’s resume to be slightly superior to Cris Carter’s. Carter is eighth all-time in receiving yards, but he never finished in the top five in the NFL in receiving yards in any season; in fact he only led his own team in receiving yards five times in 16 years. Smith on the other hand finished in the top five in the NFL in receiving yards six times and led his own team ten consecutive seasons from 1996-2005. Smith recorded nine 1000-yard seasons to Carter’s eight.

    Carter would seem to have been a much better touchdown scorer, but it should be noted that he played on better overall offenses and in systems more heavily weighted toward passing. From 1990-2001 the Vikings threw 307 touchdowns, with Carter catching 110 (35.8%). From 1995-2005 the Jaguars threw just 213 touchdowns, with Smith catching 67 (31.5%).

    Carter also has more Pro Bowl and All Pro selections, but what do those really mean? Look at Isaac Bruce in 1995, who couldn’t even make the NFC Pro Bowl team despite 119 catches, 1781 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Look at Carter’s 1st Team All Pro selection in 1999 — playing alongside a second-year Randy Moss, Carter had 90-1241-13 for a team that went 10-6. Jimmy Smith in 1999, playing alongside Keenan McCardell, had 116-1636-6 for a team that went 14-2. Was Carter really that much better than Smith, or significantly more valuable to his team?

    Both men had substance abuse problems that negatively impacted their careers. Strangely, this is often cited as a positive for Carter (i.e. “He turned his life around,” etc.), but mentioned as a negative for Smith. Smith’s story is generally inspiring, however, as he survived severe injury and life-threatening illness to put up a great career. I watched a lot of both guys on the field, and judged them to be equally excellent route-runners, Carter to have slightly better hands, Smith to have much better speed, and Smith to be a better blocker. Carter seems to me to have been more of a compiler, whose career stats are inflated by a long career and better overall offenses; whereas Smith looks like an equally HOF-worthy player, whose reputation and post-season honors were hurt by his small market and lack of a Chris Berman catchphrase.

  • Andy says:

    Kyle, you make an interesting argument. Smith was 1500 yards behind Carter for his career, but did so in four fewer seasons. He matched Brown’s nine 1000-plus yard seasons. I do sometimes forget how good Smith was. I would personally put him behind the Carter, Reed, Brown trio, but not by as much as I would have guessed.

    Thanks for contributing.

  • Brad says:

    Jimmy Smith deserves to be in the semi-finals at least once.

  • Paul says:

    Unfortunately there are just too many (12) WRs from the 1990s-2000s era with 800 plus receptions, many like Smith, Mason, Wayne (and maybe even Holt) are going to get passed over and forgotten as Carter, Reed, Brown, Harrison, Owens, Moss, (Bruce?) and Ward get discussed and eventually elected over the next decade.

  • Paul says:

    And of course that list does not even include the WRs from the 2010 decade

  • Andy says:

    That’s one of the reasons I wrote the original post here. If these three guys don’t get in over the next three years, they start to go up against guys who have played during an era that went from pass-heavy to super-pass-heavy. At that point, three guys whose stats looked dominant on retirement are up against guys who might not have been their equals but whose numbers make them look like they were.

    You mention some great examples. I don’t know if Smith or Wayne are hall of famers. But I don’t think Mason is. Yet his numbers compare well against some of these guys.

  • Paul says:

    So far the career numbers of Reed (10th in career receptions), Carter (4th) and Brown (5th) still fair pretty well against the numbers of those coming eligible in the next several years: Harrison (3rd), Owens (6th), Bruce (7th), Ward (8th), and Moss (9th), and I know career receptions is only one qualification to look at but it is a starting point in these debates. If anyone could be in trouble if his election gets delayed much longer it would be Reed, but having made the final 10 each of the last two elections it certainly looks like of all the WRs on the current finalist ballot Reed is the one getting in first. What could be interesting in the next 10-15 years is how the numbers of Harrison, Owens, Bruce, Ward and Moss hold up against the 2010 decade era WR and passing numbers.

  • boknows34 says:

    Larry Fitzgerald may even threaten Jerry Rice’s receptions record. His numbers will be insane if he stays healthy.

    He turned 28 last August and already has career numbers of 693-9,615-73 with 6 Pro Bowls and 3 All-Pros (1st team).

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  • Nathan says:

    Anyone can catch a lot of footballs, Carter caught every football thrown to him. Not a speed guy but the most sure handed and skilled receiver the league has ever seen. Rice gets all the accolades but Carter was the best receiver to ever play the game period. Him not being inducted is a crime. One guy I will forever miss watching play the game.

  • Andy says:

    I think Jerry Rice deserves all the accolades he got. He was more of a game breaker than Carter was and I think he rightfully is considered the best WR of all time. That said, I don’t disagree with much else of what you say. He was an all time great and he will get in.

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