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WR Team Change - What to Expect?

The 2005 season has several well-established WRs slated to spend their Sundays strutting in new colors. Randy Moss is the first of such WRs that comes to mind; having gone to the dark side to wear Raider black (and silver) in 2005. Then there is Derek Mason and Muhsin Muhammad; each of whom are moving to new zip codes after posting more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2004. Santana Moss and Laveranues Coles have also found new homes in 2005. These are the only five WRs changing teams in 2005 that played in a minimum of 12 games in 2004 while averaging 55 or more receiving yards per game (rec yds/g).

What effect will being on a new team have for each of these WRs?

The circumstances of each of these five WRs would need to be examined in fine detail to really get a strong idea of what to expect from each of them individually in 2005. However, we can get a general feeling of what sort of effect a team change has on WRs, such as the five mentioned above, by looking at how team changes have effected similar WRs in the past. I have put together WR data from 1999-2004 to help unravel this conundrum.

During the years of 1999-2004 I found 10 instances where WRs averaged at least 55 rec yds/g in one season (with 12 or more games played) then played for a new team the very next season (appearing in a minimum of 12 games for their new team also). The WRs that fit this description during 1999-2004 are: Marty Booker, Laveranues Coles, Qadry Ismail, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell , James McKnight, Johnny Morton, Terrell Owens, Peerless Price, and Bill Schroeder. This bunch will later be referred to as "WR Group A" in this article and the 2005 WRs changing teams (as listed in the opening paragraph) will be referred to as "WR Group B." Also, the year where a WR in this article averaged 55 rec yds/g (or more) in the season prior to changing teams will be called "Season X" and the season after (his first on the new team) will be called "Season Y."

Below we will examine the statistics posted by WR Group A as a whole, comparing Season X to Season Y. This comparison should help us to understand what can be expected out of the group of Randy Moss, Derek Mason, Muhsin Muhammad, Laveranues Coles, and Santana Moss (WR Group B) in 2005. We already have their Season X data (from 2004), but how will this group fare in their Season Y (2005)?

The simple, yet potentially useful model used to estimate Season Y averages for WR Group B is as follows: the percent change in production from Season X to Season Y for WR Group A will be assumed for WR Group B as well. We already have all the Season X and Season Y data for WR Group A, and we also have the Season X data for WR Group B. All that is left to calculate is Season Y data for WR Group B. This model assumes the same types of changes in production experienced by WR Group A in the past (1999-2004) will hold true for WR Group B (Coles, Mason, Moss, Moss, and Muhammad) in 2005.

Consider Table A:

WR Group A
Gm
Rec
Yards
TDs
Season X Avg
15.4
75.3
1067.0
6.3
Season Y Avg
14.9
56.9
756.2
5.0
Percent Change
-3.2
-24.4
-29.1
-20.6
WR Group B
Gm
Rec
Yards
TDs
2004 Avg
15.2
74.6
1025.6
8.4
2005 Estimate*
14.7
56.4
726.9
6.7

* Estimated by assuming the same percent change in each
statistical category as occurred in Group A.

You can clearly see in the table that WR Group A had a fairly hard time in Season Y; seeing substantial drops in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns from Season X. WR Group A averaged out to being a WR that would post over 1,065 yards in Season X and then could barely clear 750 the next season; their first on the new team (Season Y). This is an incredible 29.1% decline! Both receptions and touchdowns fell substantially from Season X to Season Y for WR Group A, but not to the same degree that yards declined.

You should also be able to see in Table A that the Season X averages for both WR Group A and B are very similar; the most noticeable difference coming in touchdowns (with WR Group B scoring over 2 more touchdowns per season than WR Group A). When WR Group B's Season Y statistics are estimated, you should notice definite drops in their production. They still average over 6.5 touchdowns per season, but only chalk up a dismal 726.9 receiving yards on average.

From 1999-2004, WRs that had a season where they averaged 55 rec yds/g or more (having played in at least 12 games) and then changed teams, quite noticeably struggled in their first season with their new team. Will Laveranues Coles, Derek Mason, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, and Muhsin Muhammad struggle so mightily in 2005 due to team changes (as Table A suggests)?

As mentioned earlier, to really get a good feeling about how each of these 5 WRs are likely to fare in 2005, each one needs to be examined individually and a whole host of variables need to be diligently considered. That said, data from the past five years indicates that the group as a whole is not likely to have season averages as fruitful as they did in 2004.

Will the group (as a whole) see such a dramatic percentage point decline in production as WR Group A experienced after changing teams?

My feeling is that they will not. I strongly suspect that Randy Moss will have a bounce back season (to some degree or another). Also, I believe that the quality of WR Group B is higher than that of WR Group A (from 1999-2004). With these two factors combined, I think that WR Group B is likely to see a less significant decrease in production from Season X to Season Y than that experienced by WR Group A. I'm using commonsense and gut instinct along with the data to come to these conclusions (data alone can be misguiding).

So what does this data really tell us?

The data in this article can only be used to make very basic conclusions about WR Group B and what to expect from them in 2005 (Season Y), but these basic conclusions can be valuable. Recent NFL history shows us that when well-established WRs change teams, they generally struggle living up to the standards they set in the season previous to their departure. There are clearly some well-established WRs that are able to immediately fly high after their departure; having what is considered to be a career year with their new team, but then there are also those that crash and burn and are greatly disappointing. Nearly anything can happen when a well-established WR changes teams. The data in this article is not singling out any one WR changing teams in 2005 and predicting what he will do with his new squad. You should not come away from reading this article thinking that Randy Moss is certain to struggle in Oakland in 2005 or that Santana Moss will be lucky to eclipse 800 receiving yards for the Redskins. The data I have presented should only be used in a much more general manner. The data simply points out what the trend from 1999-2004 was, and hopefully gives us a bit of an idea of what can be expected when well-established WRs change teams.

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