Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Cliff Branch: Hall of Famer?

Former Raiders DB George Atkinson recently proclaimed on the NFL Network that HOF receiver Lynn Swann was soft, and Cliff Branch should be in the Hall ahead of Swann. As a longtime fan of Branch and Biletnikoff, I wondered if “the Assassan”’s words had merit.

Swann was one of several from the Steelers dynasty to make the Hall. His performances in big games won him votes. Like Gale Sayers, Swann made the Hall more for explosiveness than his career statistics. Winning all those Super Bowls certainly helped. Swann only played nine seasons, the least of the 23 HOF wide receivers. This is why his career receptions, yardage, and touchdowns rank last or next to last among his HOF peers. Even so, Swann’s per game and per season stats also rank near the bottom, among players from the 50’s…Crazy Legs Hirsch, Pete Pilos, Dante Lavelli, and Tom Fears.

Like Swann, Branch played in an offense full of weapons. Dave Casper. Biletnikoff. Pete Banachek. Anthony Davis. Darrell Lamonica, George Blanda, and Ken Stabler. This is one reason his pedestrian 47.5 yards per game total ranks next-to-last among the HOFers. Branch was the deep threat, as his career 17.3 yards per reception indicates (7th all-time). He lasted twelve seasons, about average for the HOF WRs (but ranked 8th in games played).

Likewise, Branch’s career receiving totals rank in the middle of the HOF pack:

…9th in yards per season

…13th in yards

…14th in receptions, touchdowns, and receptions per year

While always a dangerous deep threat, the quiet Branch was often overshadowed by the media, compared to Stabler, Otis Sistrunk, Ted Hendricks, and John Madden. This is what keeps him out of the Hall. There are probably many other receivers with similar fates. You shouldn't have to do a statistical analysis to determine if a player makes the hall of fame. A hall of famer should stand out by such a wide margin that it's obvious. Sorry, George.

Why then, did other comparable receivers make it to Canton? Each had their reason (in order by most receptions):

Rice: the Wayne Gretzky of WRrs: most catches, yards, and TDs.

Monk: second in receptions, fourth in yards

Largent: second in TDs, third in receptions and yards.

Lofton: second in yards, fourth in receptions

Irvin: 2nd in receptions/season & yards/season (& game)

Joiner: 5th in yards. Played 18 seasons

Charley Taylor: playing in the 60’s, he still ranks 7th among HOFers

Maynard: fourth in TDs and yards per reception

Ray Berry: revolutionized the receiver position

Biletnikoff: the Raymond Berry of the 70’s

Alworth: piled up stats in 11 years, yards/catch (3rd), yards/game (2nd)

Stallworth: the other Steeler had stats comparable to Branch

Bobby Mitchell: great stats for the 60’s

McDonald: stats were equal or better than Mitchell’s

Don Hutson: 99 TDs still 3rd among HOFers. Yards/game = 4th

Warfield: another Swann/Sayers…1st in yards/catch. TDs = 5th

Tom Fears: set the single season record

Hirsch: explosive, and great 50’s stats (18.2 yards/catch)

Lavelli: played on the great Browns teams in the 40s & 50s

Pihos: played for the Eagles in the 40s and 50s

Bob Hayes: the first speed demon, his 20.0 yards/catch ranks 2nd

Swann: ranks last in catches

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