In the first part of this article, we talked about the context in which Don Hutson played, posted some stats, and then said we would “translate” his stats into modern terms. We’re going to do this by calculating his percentage catches and percentage yardage per year, tds per catch, and then “implant” those into the statistics of the average team of 1995, the average team of 1999, the average team of 2010, the 1995 Dallas Cowboys, and two Green Bay teams, the one of 1995 and the Super Bowl winner of 2010.
We’re using the average stat initially to make a point, which is that Don Hutson’s average year translates into a better year than most modern receiver’s best year. This is especially true of his prodigious scoring rate. Deal is, he did play in a pre-modern era where
- Coaches didn’t throw much behind the 50 yard line.
- The Packers threw to score.
- Don Hutson was used as a scoring machine
To factor out some of these effects, we created a set of modified stats for Don where
- We reduced the number of catches by 20%. Some possession catches would be given to tight ends, backs, and #2 receivers if Don were to play a modern game.
- Consequently, we increased his yardage by 20%, since people would be throwing longer passes to Don.
- On top of the scoring loss caused by the decreased catches, we then subtracted his scoring by another 20%, to account for more distributed passing and better defenses in the modern era.
These are ad hoc correctives. Don’t assume I’ve justified these on statistical grounds. Nonetheless, the resulting stats look pretty real, for a typical receiver’s best year of all time.
In this context, and shorn of the crazy throwing rate of 1942, Don Hutson’s best season (also calculated in multiple offensive contexts) doesn’t look all that much better than Don Hutson’s typical season. His best season was partly a product of the team’ s extraordinary emphasis on passing that year.
Finally, if you’ll compare Don in the passing context of, say, the 1995 Green Bay Packers to that of, oh, the average team of the 1999 season (ironically the season the 1999 St Louis Rams, The Greatest Show on Turf won the Super Bowl), then the value of playing for a team with a high powered offense is clear. Jerry Rice openly benefitted in being in the #1 offenses of the San Francisco 49ers.
Using these same techniques and translating every season of Don Hutson’s career into modern terms yields the results above. The shortening effect of using team stats (team YPC over the years has grown shorter, as passing became possession oriented) and the tendency to use Don as a scorer creates a year, 1935, whose stats aren’t as reasonable as Don’s average stats. To some extent, you can’t take the 1935 out of 1935 stats and fit them into a 1995 or 2010 context.
Despite any flaws, I’d suggest the above approaches are far better than the typical translation, which multiplies Don Hutson’s 1942 season by 1.6 and then assumes they’ve accounted for all the differences between 1942 and 2010. They haven’t. All they’re doing is one of the greatest touchdown scoring receivers of all time a serious injustice.
Finally, I think these results suggest that GOAT at receiver is a two man race. While I’d concede that anyone who looks at the length of Jerry Rice’s career and says, “This guy can’t be beat” has a point, it’s my contention that Don Hutson’s performances, especially in the 1940s, are so exceptional relative to his competition that they will be very hard to match.