Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On second thought, Branch trade may not be so bad

Earlier today, I was part of a discussion online regarding whether or not Deion Branch was the best wide receiver the Patriots had seen. Others (including me) argued that Stanley Morgan was the best Patriots receiver of all time. The person arguing in favor of Branch suggested that he was the greatest based on his playoff performance.

Certainly Branch was better in the postseason than Morgan was. However, Morgan's playoff performances came on the greatest running team of all time (1978) and one of the greatest playoff running teams ever (1985). He never played in a playoff game where the team passed for 200 yards or more. Conversely, Brady has thrown for less than 200 yards only once in the playoff games he and Branch have played.

I think Stanley Morgan, like most old Patriots, is a victim of recent history. He was really really good. His first four years compare very favorably with Branch's:

MORGAN 77-80 62 144 3256 22.6 52.5 26
BRANCH 02-05 53 213 2744 12.9 51.8 14

Over that time, Morgan was responsible for 27% of his team's passing yards (12,163), while Branch only caught 17% of the Patriots' yards during his four years (15,490).

So I decided to expand my search a little, and looked for all Patriots receivers who had over 2,000 yards in their first four years as receivers. There were 12. Is it possible that Branch wasn't even the second best? Here are the stats of those players, ranked by total yards:

GLENN 1996-99 48 236 3502 14.8 73.0 15
MORGAN 1977-80 62 144 3256 22.6 52.5 26
COLCLOUGH 1960-63 56 173 2984 17.2 53.3 31
BRISBY* 1993-97 62 192 2780 14.5 44.8 12
BRANCH 2002-05 53 213 2744 12.9 51.8 14
CAPPELLETTI* 1961-64 56 152 2605 17.1 46.5 22
TIMPSON* 1991-94 63 167 2381 14.3 37.8 8
GRAHAM 1963-66 52 142 2256 15.9 43.4 15
GIVENS 2002-05 52 158 2214 14.0 42.6 12
VATAHA 1971-74 54 121 2143 17.7 39.7 16
SELLERS* 1969-72 49 110 2130 19.4 43.5 18
FRYAR 1984-87 56 124 2038 16.4 36.4 19

Notes: Brisby missed the 1996 season due to injury. Cappelletti was a K/DB in 1960 and switched to receiver in 1961. Timpson's first full season was 1991. Sellers was with Dallas in 1972, his fourth season.

Comparatively, Branch ranked 5th in total yards, 2nd in total catches, last in average yards per catch, 4th in yards per game, and 9th in touchdowns. Based on the statistics alone, one could argue that Branch is no better than the fourth best Patriots' receiver over his first four seasons.

In fact, it looks like the closest statistical match is Vincent Brisby. Now my eyes and heart tell me that Vincent Brisby couldn't carry Deion Branch's jock, but I'd suggest that Branch's production could probably be replaced, seeing as we've seen 11 other players who have done it before.

The other thing I find interesting is that of those 12 players, only two (Morgan and Fryar) had better four year stretches later in their career than in their first four years. Further, five of the players on the list didn't even make it another four years (Brisby, Graham, Timpson, Vataha, Sellers).

As much as I would have liked to see Branch stay (he was one of my favorite players), I'm not sure the Patriots made a mistake.

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