As sporting history expands, so expands the list of sport’s ‘What the hell’ moments;
Cubs: What the hell part of his arm is hurt?
John Daly: What the hell are these clubs for again?
Chargers: Ryan Leaf? What the hell were we thinking?
Mike Tyson: What the hell is on my face?
Recent history has also unkindly granted the Washington Redskins a WTHM, as former coaches, players and millions of fans rally behind one question: What the hell is keeping Art Monk out of the Hall of Fame?
Unfortunately, that question can only be answered by the forty people who make up the Hall of Fame induction committee.
Unlike baseball’s large 500 person voting body, the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame relies on 40 sportswriters casting their ballots in secret. The word secret conjures images of the group, wrapped in their 41 plush velvet robes (Len Pasquarelli wears two, Velcroed together in the back), as they gather among burning candles and incense, discussing selections with the utmost seriousness and aplomb.
It’s all very hush-hush, similar to the selection of the Pope, though with many more people paying serious attention to the outcome.
Due to this process being so Illuminati in nature I called Dan Brown for help in solving this Art Monk mystery. My call was unreturned. Confidence shaken, yet still determined I decided to dive into the stat books alone to look for an answer, but first I needed to define the larger question: what the hell does take to become a HOF wide receiver?
Before you know where you’re going, you have to know how to get there.
There are six Hall of Fame WR’s whose careers overlapped or ran parallel (Swann, Stallworth, Joiner, Largent, Lofton, Irvin) to Monk’s – and it’s these 6 and only these 6 that I’ll base my conclusions from. Looking at their career totals and finding the average should give a very crude approximation of a Hall of Fame WR’s statistics. It’s far from perfect, but it’s starting point.
Our average Hall of Famer is named Fall O’Hamer (known as the Intrepid Irishman by fans of his team, the Imagineville Invisibles). All we have documenting the career of O’Hamer — the exact middle of the aforementioned players enshrined at Canton — are his individual stats. His quarterback was Joe Anybody, his coach was Ran Domperson and his physical abilities are likewise unknown. Fall O’Hamer could’ve been a raging whiskey boozer and wife abuser, he may have spent his off the field time curing cancer and saving children from stampedes of Giraffes — we don’t know any of this, we only have these:
Fall O’Hamer, career totals:
185.2 games / 659.3 receptions / 10,888 yards / 16.48 y/c / 69.8 TD
Art Monk, career totals:
224 / 940 / 12,721 / 13.5 / 68
Monk’s regular season career stacks up rather nicely with O’Hamer’s, but, he did play in 40 more games, which could favor Monk in compiling receptions and yardage.
O’Hamer, per game:
3.6 rec / 58.8 yds / .5 TD
Monk, per game:
4.2 rec / 56.8 yds / .3 TD
It appears based on the average Hall of Fame WR’s naked career stats that Monk deserves a sport in the hall.
Better than some, less than others — an average Hall of Fame wide receiver.
Unless, of course, you’re hung up the fact the Fall O’Hamer’s average yards per catch was 3 yards larger than Monks. Which would make you, simply stated, a football buffoon.
Are longer catches inherently better than their shorter brethren?
Was Jerry Rice (14.8 y/c) less of a receiver than James Lofton (18.3 y/c)?
For a modern perspective; is Reggie Wayne (14.0) a “better” receiver than Marvin Harrison (13.4)?
While a poll of former players could answer which routes they prefer running, deep or short, and which are harder to run (and common sense seems to dictate that shorter routes would entail greater physical punishment); it still doesn’t answer the fundamental question – are longer catches better?
Ignoring the obvious fact that wide receivers have various roles on their team and are therefore utilized in different ways, ignoring, also, the vast difference in coaching philosophies and ignoring that a receiver’s route is (for the most part) not chosen by him – the answer to which catches are more valuable (to team success, for which all individual performance exists to provide) lay in another question – what happened over the course of the game?
Sometimes a long pass, or a receiver breaking a tackle for a big gain, are hugely important for the team, other times those drives fizzle out and the catch becomes just a meaningless big play.
Sometimes a receiver makes several 5 yard catches, as a measure of personal success fairly meaningless, but as a measure of team success they could be monumental if they occurred on third down and helped sustain a long drive. Simply stated; several short catches could be the difference in winning or losing.
Sometimes a receiver makes an impact without making a catch; be it a block, or drawing double coverage to leave another receiver open, impacts that can’t be recorded on stat sheets but are represented in the team winning. Just think of an average Sunday watching your team play. Over the course of a game, any number of plays can make the difference and stats sometimes do a paltry job of quantifying that difference.
Because a players team worth is often irreverent to his statistical worth, the only way to actually quantify a players impact on a team is to watch and analyze each play, and, given that this is highly improbable when considering Hall of Fame players, the next best approach would be extensively interviewing former teammates and coaches and former opposing players and coaches and see how they valued that player. In fact putting some former players on the committee wouldn’t be a bad idea, though, they’d have to spring for some new robes.
That said, aside from yards per catch, Monk has the necessary career numbers, without a doubt, so there must be more to this Hall of Fame puzzle. What the hell else could there be?
What Canton Has To Say
Though the Pro Football Hall of Fame has no say in the enshrinement process, we can look at how it advertises its wide receivers, gleaning from that the things that may vault a player with the basic core stats into the hall. From the Hall of Fame website:
Steelers’ first-round draft pick, 1974…Caught game-winning touchdown in AFC championship as rookie. . .Became starting receiver second season, led NFL with 11 touchdown receptions. . . MVP, Super Bowl X. . . Graceful moves, tremendous leaping ability led to superlative catches that highlighted career. . .All-Pro, 1975, 1977, 1978. . .Played in three Pro Bowls. . .
Blessed with gazelle-like speed, (It really says that. Gazelle. Depending on the species gazelles can hit 50mph, humans top out at 26 mph. So unless the gazelle in question has been shot, the Hall of Fame is using an absurd platitude to describe an inductee. That may explain a lot. )
187-pound wide receiver with only average size and speed but armed with exceptional determination and concentration, became one of history’s most outstanding pass catchers during his 14-season, 200-game career with the Seattle Seahawks from 1976 to 1989.
At the time of his retirement, he held six major career pass receiving records – most receptions (819), most consecutive games with a reception (177), most yards on receptions (13,089), most touchdowns on receptions (100), most seasons with 50 or more receptions (10) and most seasons with 1,000 yards or more on receptions (8). An NFL Man of the Year winner in 1988, Largent also was a positive force off the field.
Played in six AFC championship games, four Super Bowls. . . Scored winning TD on 73-yard reception, Super Bowl XIV. . . Career statistics: 537 receptions for 8,723 yards, 63 TDs. . .All-Pro, 1979. . .All-AFC, 1979, 1984. . .Played in four Pro Bowl games. . . Two-time Steelers MVP. .
Played pro football for 18 years, longer than any other wide receiver in history at the time of his retirement. When he retired at the age of 39 after the 1986 season with the San Diego Chargers, he ranked as the leading receiver of all-time with 750 catches.
Blessed with excellent speed and tantalizing moves, Joiner averaged 16.2 yards per catch and accounted for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns on his receptions. He ranked sixth in career reception yardage
….was once described by San Francisco 49ers coaching great Bill Walsh as “the most intelligent, the smartest, the most calculating receiver the game has ever known.”
. .Selected by Green Bay in 1st round (6th player overall) of 1978 NFL Draft. . .A deep-threat receiver, possessed both speed and great hands. . .recorded more than 50 receptions in a season nine times. . .First NFL player to score a touchdown in 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. . .In 16 seasons, he caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards – an NFL record at the time of his retirement. . .Named All-Pro four times, All-NFC three times, selected to play in eight Pro Bowls. .
In 13 playoff game appearances, Lofton caught 41 passes for 759 yards and eight touchdowns, including a seven-reception game in Super Bowl XXVI. In three of those playoff games he recorded 100-yard plus performances.
Cowboys’ first round pick in 1988 draft. . .Led league with 1,523 yards on 93 catches, 1991. . .Selected to five straight Pro Bowls. . . Recorded 1,000-yard seasons in all but one year from 1991-1998 . . . Set NFL record eleven 100-yard games, 1995. . .750 career receptions for 11,904 yards, 65 TDs. . .Named to NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s
In 1995, Irvin recorded his finest season as he caught 111 passes for 1,603 yards. He also established an NFL record with eleven 100-yard games, and scored 10 touchdowns. His outstanding play continued during that year’s post-season. In the Cowboys’ 38-27 win over the Green Bay Packers in the 1995 NFC Championship Game, Irvin had seven receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He capped off the year with five catches for 76 yards in Dallas’s 27-17 victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
Culling some of the various repeated themes in each bio creates this makeshift HoF checklist:
First-Round Pick: Check.
Longevity: Only Joiner and Lofton have more games. Check
Set club rookie record: Most receptions (58). Check.
Held a record: Receptions in a season (106, in 1984, previous record set in 1964), career receptions (920, which broke Largent’s record, who had broken the previous record set by Joiner). Check.
Retired with a record: Consecutive games with a reception (178, breaking Largent’s record). Check.
Named Team MVP: Check.
NFL All-Decade Team: Named to the All-80’s team. Check
Three or more Pro-Bowls: Appeared in three. Check.
All-Time Ranking: 6th in receptions (above Largent), 11th in receiving yards (above Joiner). Check.
Winning team: Check
Super Bowl win: Check.
Positive force off the field: Check.
Bill Walsh quote: “I think he’s a hall of fame player…He’s a sound player, generally injury free, with great stamina – he’s excellent at the end of the season. So, I can’t help but think he’d be a hall of fame player.” Check.
Monk shares a common component with almost every Hall of Famer and where Monk lacks, so too lacks another Hall of Famer. Monk’s 3 pro-bowl appearances are least among the current members, but he shares the title with Swann and Joiner. Putting the premium on yards over receptions (a possible fool’s errand as previously discussed) Monk is least among these members, only cracking the leagues top-10 receiving yardage 3 different seasons, again, a title he shares with Swann and Joiner.
In effect, looking at these miscellaneous defining characteristics, you can’t argue against Monk’s induction without arguing against a current member.
…it seems as though Canton puts a premium on the post season and on the Super Bowl in particular. How does Monk stack up in post-season games? Luckily our completely average HoF member O’Hamer has some post-season stats:
12.83 g / 48.5 rec / 848.33 yds / 17.49 yc / 7.66 TD / 8.5 wins / 4.33 loses /.662 win%
15 g / 69 rec / 1062 yds / 15.39 ypc / 7 TD / 10 wins / 5 loses / .667 win%
Hamer: 3.8 rec / 66. 2 yds / .6 TD
Monk: 4.6 rec / 70.8 yds / .5 TD
Monk measures up quite well, and, like O’Hamer, Monk’s yards per catch jumps by 2 yards in the post season.
Which leaves only the Super Bowl, the possible Holy Grail of Hall of Fame consideration.
Monk never managed to score in his 3 Super Bowl appearances and, considering Stallworth and Swann may be in the Hall solely for their scoring in Super Bowl’s, this could be one of Monk’s greatest hindrances.
Insofar as the Hall is named “Fame” (which has a much nicer ring than “Hall of Outstanding Career Play”) and the Super Bowl is football’s most famous game, the idea of holding that game above all others does make sense — but how much sense?
Of the four members to appear in Super Bowl’s, Irvin, Stallworth and Swann scored multiple touchdowns, James Lofton, however, failed to score at all. In his website description, Canton skirts this inconvenient truth with this description: “including a seven-reception game in Super Bowl XXVI.” Monk happened to play in that same Super Bowl, XXVI, and also recorded 7 receptions, his for 113 yards (20 more than Lofton)(he also narrowly missed a touchdown after instant replay ruled him out of bounds) – not only did he outperform Lofton, his team won. Canton mentions Lofton’s “three…playoff games [where] he recorded 100-yard plus performances,” yet Monk has 4 playoff games with 100-yard plus, behind only Irvin (6) and Stallworth (5).
Despite achieving beyond Lofton in the post-season, Monk’s real problem (in the voter’s eyes) could be his presence in a Super Bowl that set multiple records for offensive production, without producing himself.
The second quarter of Super Bowl XXII featured more offense than any other quarter in post-season history; 35 points and 356 total yards. But underneath these staggering numbers is this: the preponderance of the offense, including five touchdowns, happened in 18 plays, 5 minutes and 47 seconds. It’s not as though this was a prolonged drubbing and Monk failed to get involved, it was 18 offensive plays. Redskins’ receiver Ricky Sanders was the hot hand and the Redskins played that hand, repeatedly, to the tune of 9 catches 193 yards. Should Monk be penalized or blamed for his team finding strategy that worked, whether from a mismatch or Ricky drinking magic touchdown juice, and because it worked not varying from that strategy until the game was won? Isn’t the goal of every player to win the game, whether on the back of your own skill or a teammate’s skill?
By the game’s end the Washington receiving core had 13 receptions for an astonishing 22.15 yards per catch, Monks contribution; 1 catch 40 yards (hey, he finally got that y/p up to the…well…the stratosphere). It seems unlikely but that tiny contribution to a big game could be the big obstacle in Monk’s path to the Hall of Fame.
Another problem with Monk’s lack of “memorable” Super Bowl play is not only his famously quiet demeanor, but the fact he participated in three Super Bowl blowouts; a lopsided loss and two lopsided wins, games that were (mostly) decided before halftime and therefore had little resonation with the viewers (outside of Doug Williams holding the Lombardi trophy). And, where other receivers may’ve begged their coaches for an opportunity to share the glory in the game’s meaningless remaining minutes, it’s a safe bet that Monk continued to do as he was asked, relishing the team win, unconcerned with personal statistics.
Putting individual performance in the Super Bowl, a game that is overwhelmingly about team performance (even more so than regular season games), on a much higher pedestal seems preposterous on its face. Rewarding players that played in close games or made catches in the final minutes, catches that will be relived on TV replays for years, may have merit, but just how much can be determined only by the 40 voters.
The other recurring theme in the player bios that Monk doesn’t match up with is the number of times leading the league in yardage. Unlike many of those enshrined Monk does lack any league leading yardage, and true enough, he only was in the top-ten for yardage 3 times, which is tied for last (Swann, Joiner) among the 6 current HoF receivers. But a better, more revealing question is how Monk compares with the yardage leaders over his career, and more importantly, how do Monk’s yards as a percentage of his team’s yardage compare with the inductees, after all, a player’s performance is tied directly to his team’s.
The Juicy Stat Stuff
Before matching into the stats on a comparative basis, I need to make it clear that we’re assuming the following to be true:
All receptions were of equal importance (including TDs (a quick note on TDs: even if a catch in that special 10 yards of field is considerably better than a catch in the other 100, there is no statistical pattern present to indicate that this number is tied to a WRs controllable skill level, rather, it appears to merely be a function of coaching philosophy and chance. Example: 1987; Jerry Rice catches 22 TDs, 1988; he catches 9. In ‘88, Rice had 3,000 more yards than and 4 more games than ‘87, yet he caught 13 less TDs. Did his red zone skill simply dissipate for a season (only to return and leave again, over and over, for his entire career)? Coincidently, these same seasons of Rice’s cast doubt on yardage being a function of a WR’s controllable skill as he had one less reception in ’88 but managed to increase his yards per catch by 4 (16.6 to 20.4). But I digress…) – let me repeat, all receptions were of equal importance. (FUN FACT: Two-thirds of Monk’s catches came on 3rd down)
All quarterbacks were of equal skill (FUN FACT: Monk played without a Hall of Fame QB, of the 6 HoF members only Steve Largent shares this distinction (though Lofton played the bulk of his career without one)).
All teammates were of equal skill, including the wide receivers (FUN FACT: Monk shared the field with an 1,000 yard receiving teammate 6 times, 2 of which occurred in the same season, making that receiving trio the first in history to each have 1,000 yards in a season. Of the 6 HoF members, Joiner played 3 seasons with an 1,000 receiver and Lofton played with only one (with possible future Hall of Famer Andre Reed, who, like Monk, put up great career numbers with 13 yards per catch. If you look at Lofton’s years with the Bills his numbers dropped when sharing his yardage with Reed)).
For the most part we’re assuming that all game plans were equal (FUN FACT: This isn’t true either! Chart in appendix)
That said, let’s get comparing.
Since their careers differed in length and due to various injury shortened seasons we’re comparing averages of the player’s best 7 seasons (except for Stallworth who because of his Great Super Bowl Performance Quotient get’s to be compared with an average of his 5 best years – well, that and he only had 5 “great” seasons). I tried to keep the seasons clustered but in several cases made huge jumps to include better years.
Why seven seasons?
Because players with long careers are sometimes accused of simply “compiling” numbers it’s important to examine the best years of each player on a smaller scale. Looking at all the careers together, 7 seemed like a good representative number. For some it would be a disservice to include more than 7 while for others it would be a disservice to include less, but all managed 7 fairly productive years. It seemed like a very equitable middle ground on which to make comparisons. All except Lynn Swann, his Great Super Bowl Performance Quotient was so high that we’re not comparing him at all; it wouldn’t be much of a comparison considering he had 2, maybe 3 “great” regular seasons.
Our first comparison is the player’s yardage per season as weighted against that season’s average Top-10 receiver’s yardage, which will be fixed at 100. This will account for the difference in play each season over the twenty year span. For example: in 1979 the average yardage of the 10 league leaders was 1093.1, in 1995 it was 1522.4. Weighed against each year’s top-10 average, John Stallworth’s 1183 yards in 1979 is represented as 108.22, Michael Irvin’s 1603 yards in 1995 becomes 110. So in 1979 Stallworth was 8.2% better than the average top-10 receiver, in 1995 Irvin was 10% better than the fictional player sitting at 5.5 on the league leader’s chart. Ultimately, the percentage is not what’s important, only the how relatively good each player is when compared with their contemporaries.
Unsurprisingly — given his lack of yardage leading years — Monk lags significantly behind several of the Hall of Fame members. But he’s not without company. Joiner is only about 1% closer to the top-ten average and Stallworth not far ahead of that. But without looking at each member’s yardage as a percentage of team performance, do these numbers even hold much meaning? Is it possible to compare Monk to the league if we don’t know how he compared to his own team?
In this chart Monk gains ground on all of the member’s, even surpassing Joiner whose high-flying Charger offense generated tons of passing yardage, not only for him but for the entire team. This gives slight context to the statistical vacuum, other than Irvin, who accounted for almost 40% of his team’s passing yards, Monk was almost equally important to his team, from passing yard standpoint, as the other Hall of Fame members were to their own.. How important was he as a percentage of the team’s total yards?
Now Monk has overtaken Stallworth and is almost equal to Largent and Lofton. Even Irvin, because of the preeminent rushing of Emmitt Smith, nears the pack. In fact, as dominant as Irvin was, he never led his team in yards from scrimmage where Monk held that distinction twice. What this chart shows is that, regardless of how many yards Largent or Lofton provided relative to the league, they were only 21% of their respective teams. Monk provided his team with 19% of their total, and over this span his team won three (two in the 7 seasons averaged here) Super Bowls.
The next chart will address another problem that seems to plague Monk, the fact he sometimes wasn’t the leading receiver on his own team! How could he be a Hall of Famer when he sometimes failed to best on his team? This is where receptions become important because a QB — and by extension the play caller or head coach – has no control over the ball once it leaves his hand. When he throws the ball he has no idea how many yards after the catch the receiver will make and because we, without examining each pass, have no idea which receptions were long passes or which were short passes broken for long gains, we can look at the one thing the QB can control; who the ball is thrown to. How many times the ball was thrown to the receiver as a percentage of the team’s total competitions should give us one of the most important stats of all; how much the team valued the player in their passing game:
As you can see Monk has overtaken everyone and is in a virtual tie with Irvin. Despite accounting for almost 40% of his team’s passing yards the ball only made it to Irvin 28% of time. Monk’s % of his teams passing yards almost directly correspond with his % of the team’s receptions. In short, Monk’s Redskins threw the ball to him as often as Irvin’s Cowboys threw the ball to him and more than any of the remaining Hall of Fame members.
The final chart is the most unsurprising of them all but important, nonetheless, because it illustrates Monk’s most prolific skill: catching the football. Similar to the first chart, this is a weighted average; where 100 represents the average top-10 reception total, and the player’s number is the average of his 7 seasons relative to that top-10 number in each individual season:
As you can see Monk’s strength is borne out in a high relative %, and it’s important to note this is not just as a lifelong compiler but his best seasons as a compared to the other Hall of Famer’s best seasons. Tit for tat Monk caught more balls relative to his peers than any member of the Hall of Fame. Whether the Hall of Fame voter reward this accomplishment, among many others, remains to be seen.
Notes and Disclaimers:
1. The years used were chosen by me and may not be the most productive. If you think a better year should have been used, do it yourself. The years for each player were:
Charlie Jonier: 1976, 1979 – 1981, 1983 – 1985
John Stallworth: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1984, 1985
Steve Largent: 1978 – 1981, 1983 -1985
James Lofton: 1979 – 1981, 1983 – 1985, 1991
Michael Irvin: 1991 – 1995, 1997, 1998
Art Monk: 1984 – 1986, 1988 – 1991
2. Most stats are from http://www.pro-football-reference.com . These stats are not necessarily accurate, as the site disclaims (read: blame him, not me) and my transcribing them may be equally inaccurate (read: blame me, not him). However, it’s doubtful than any one error is so egregious as to effect the argument or data as a whole.
3. Other websites were helpful in providing information or game clarification:
4. All averages and charts were calculated and made by me and therefore could be completely inaccurate. If this is the case the fault rests with my years navigating through the Virginia public school system in a dirigible constructed of a short attention span and daydreams. If such a mistake exists, my 10th grade math teacher – the asshole that he was — is the true culprit, blame him.
5. I’m just a guy; not a mathematician or statistician. Hell, my college was an art school. If you’re hell bent on debunking this do it all yourself. But please, don’t give me shit for my honest mistakes.
These charts show the player’s Team’s average passing rank for the 7 seasons in comparison. The first shows the team’s average yardage NFL rank, the second shows the team’s average yards per catch NFL rank (the smaller the bar, the better the ranking):
Because of the cluster (excluding Joiner) it’s more difficult to draw any conclusions from these charts. There are also many possibilities for what these rankings mean, if they mean anything at all. Here are a few of the many possible scenarios:
– That Joiner, and to a lesser extent Monk, benefited from high yardage offenses, while the remaining players put up great personal numbers in offense that accumulated an NFL average amount of passing yards
– That Joiner’s and Monk’s percentage of their teams passing yardage is of greater importance because they played on teams with a top-10 passing attack. Irvin’s 37% of his team’s passing yards helped his stats, but not the team’s.
– That Stallworth and Irvin’s presence never helped their team have anything other than an average passing attack
– That the Chargers and Redskins’ top-10 passing attacks help Joiner (considerably) and Monk become top-10 receivers.
– That the team’s rankings have zero significance to the individual’s stats
Yards per Catch Ranking
– That Largent, Lofton and Monk’s teams threw many more shorter routes as a percentage of their passes (which would explain Largent and Lofton’s lower percentage of the team receptions) which hurt their personal yards per catch stats
– That Joiner, Stallworth and Irvin’s teams threw longer passes which helped each player’s personal yards per catch.
– That the teams threw their longer or shorter passes based on the skills of their star receivers
– That the team rankings have zero significance to the individual’s stats
Either way, because Monk’s Redskins are not at either the high or low end of the rankings, it’s doubtful these could hurt Monk’s HoF campaign without arguing against a current inductee.