Terrell Owens is a Hall of Famer – And It’s Not a Debate

Last Saturday, the day before the Patriots completed the greatest comeback in NFL history, the league’s 48-person selection committee gathered to vote on who would make up the NFL’s Hall of Fame Class of 2017.  The finalists (announced on January 3rd) included big names like LaDanian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, and Terrell Davis, among many others.  Terrell Owens was also on this list, for the second consecutive season.  And for the second consecutive season, Terrell Owens was not selected to be a member of the Hall of Fame.

Before I get into the statistical argument (if you can call something so obvious an argument) for why Terrell Owens is a no-brainer Hall of Famer, it’s worth going over the process of how a player becomes a HOFer.  For a detailed view of the process, feel free to visit the NFL’s site on the subject here, but essentially the committee discusses each finalist on a case-by-case basis, and the finalist must receive 80% approval from the committee members in attendance to be selected.

In baseball, beginning next year, the media members who vote for the Hall of Fame must make their votes public.  Unfortunately, the NFL does not have this rule, so the members of the committee are not subject to scrutiny for how in the world they let another year go by without naming Terrell Owens in.  (It should be noted that I have no horse in this race, am a lifelong New England fan, and have always actually found TO to be pretty annoying… but numbers don’t lie).

 

So let’s get to it.  The numbers.  For his career, Terrell Owens put up the following stat-line:

Player Seasons GP GS Targets Receptions Yards TDs
Terrell Owens 15 219 201 1,867 1,078 15,934 153

On their own, the numbers seem prolific enough to get him in the HOF, but when put into context with the other receivers currently in the Hall, it becomes laughable.

Of the sixteen players in the HOF who primarily played WR, here are way TO’s numbers rank in each of these categories:

Player Season GP GS Targets Receptions Yards TDs
Terrell Owens 8th 8th 7th NA 5th 2nd 2nd

(Note: Targets were not tracked until 1992, so the ranking was not included)

Let’s read that again:  When comparing TO to the other WRs currently in the Hall of Fame, he ranks 5th in receptions, 2nd in yards, and 2nd in TDs.  You can probably guess the only player he trails in yards and TDs.

But then again, rankings don’t tell the whole story, especially when comparing players across different eras and players playing for less seasons.  So instead, let’s look at each players’ best 3-year peak of their career.  While still not accounting for the era differences in play-style (which we’ll do later), this accounts for players whose careers were shorten due to injury, and show us who truly was the best at their peak.  Below are the best 3-year stretches of every current HOF WR, with Terrell Owens included.

Player Seasons G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD
Andre Reed 1989-1991 48 48 240 3370 14 27
Art Monk 1984-1986 47 46 270 3666 13.6 13
Bob Hayes 1966-1968 41 41 166 3139 18.9 33
Charley Taylor 1964-1966 41 14 165 2510 15.2 20
Charlie Joiner 1979-1981 48 48 213 3328 15.6 15
Cris Carter 1998-2000 48 48 264 3526 13.4 34
Fred Biletnikoff 1970-1972 42 42 164 2499 15.2 23
James Lofton 1982-1984 41 41 155 3357 21.7 19
Jerry Rice 1993-1995 48 48 332 4850 14.6 43
John Stallworth 1977-1979 46 46 155 2765 17.8 24
Lynn Swann 1976-1978 42 40 139 2185 15.7 21
Marvin Harrison 1999-2001 48 48 326 4600 14.1 41
Michael Irvin 1991-1993 48 46 259 4249 16.4 22
Paul Warfield 1969-1971 39 39 113 2585 22.9 27
Steve Largent 1977-1979 45 45 170 3048 17.9 27
Terrell Owens 2000-2002 44 43 290 4163 14.4 42
Tim Brown 1999-2001 48 48 257 3637 14.2 26

Even at their peaks, here’s where Terrell Owens ranks in each of the major receiving categories:

3rd in Receptions

4th in Yards

2nd in TDs

The most insane note, is that while Terrell Owens best 3-year peak occurred from 2000-2002, there are THREE other HOF WRs whose peak occurred during a similar span.  And when you compare those players to each other, TO fits right in, even playing better than two guys who ARE ALREADY IN THE HOF.

Player Seasons G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD
Cris Carter 1998-2000 48 48 264 3526 13.4 34
Marvin Harrison 1999-2001 48 48 326 4600 14.1 41
Terrell Owens 2000-2002 44 43 290 4163 14.4 42
Tim Brown 1999-2001 48 48 257 3637 14.2 26

Not to be downplayed in this list is that TO played 4 less games than every other guy on this list, and STILL put up his best 3-year peak.  If we normalize TO’s numbers to what he would have done in 48 games, the distance between TO and Carter & Brown becomes even wider:

Player Seasons G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD
Cris Carter 1998-2000 48 48 264 3526 13.4 34
Marvin Harrison 1999-2001 48 48 326 4600 14.1 41
Terrell Owens 2000-2002 48 47 316 4541 14.4 46
Tim Brown 1999-2001 48 48 257 3637 14.2 26

THESE GUYS ALL PLAYED DURING THE SAME ERA.

Now would be a great time to remind you, again, that Terrell Owens has not gotten into the HOF for two straight seasons.  Despite consistently being at the top of the leaderboards when compared against other players who are currently in the Hall.  It’s insanity.

And as if his regular season numbers aren’t good enough to get him in without any playoff excellence, here are Terrell Owens career numbers in the playoffs:

PLAYOFF PERFORMANCE
Player Games Receptions Yards TDs
Terrell Owens 12 54 751 5

Not outstanding.  Not groundbreaking.  But effective. And they also include this career defining play:

Terrell Owens career numbers are so staggeringly good, it’s a crime that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.  But alas, TO will have to wait at least another year to receive his golden jacket.  Perhaps the third time’s a charm.

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