Bengals WR Peter Warrick was the least-efficient target in NFL history

The NFL has data for how many passes have been thrown to each player since 1992. And for the eight seasons since those records began, no one that had ever had at least 125 passes come his way had ever averaged as few as five yards per target. Only 1994 Kelvin Martin was even close. Then wide receiver Peter Warrick came along:

Warrick entered the NFL after a dazzling season at Florida State, which in 1999 became the first team ever to sit atop the AP rankings from the preseason through the end without ever being knocked off their perch. Throughout the season, Warrick had been their best player. It culminated with a resounding win over the Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech Hokies in the BCS National Championship Game, in which Warrick was the clear-cut Sugar Bowl MVP with 163 receiving yards and two touchdowns, a punt return he also took to the house, and a 2-point conversion.

A few months later, in the 2000 NFL draft, he was chosen fourth overall by a terrible Cincinnati Bengals team quarterbacked by a terrible bust in Akili Smith. Warrick stepped into an inherently tough situation. The Bengals needed him to the immediate focal point of their floundering aerial attack as a rookie. They didn’t have much of a choice — of their top three wide receivers the previous season, one (Willie Jackson) left in free agency, one (Carl Pickens) was cut as a result of a messy, deteriorated relationship, and one (Darnay Scott) would go on to miss the entire season after breaking his leg in training camp.

This all left Warrick as by far the most prominent and qualified option in a wide receiver cupboard that was bare and inexperienced. His fellow Bengals wideouts in 2000 were Craig Yeast, Danny Farmer, and Warrick’s FSU teammate, Ron Dugans, who also happened to average just 3.29 yards across his 38 targets. At the time, this was the second-worst mark since at least 1992 among wide receivers with more than 30 targets in a season, trailing only 1996 Alex Van Dyke. Again, Akili Smith was not helping matters.

Neither was Warrick, as it turned out. Doubtless he was hamstrung by atrocious quarterback play, but as anemic as the Bengals’ overall passing game was, they still averaged even fewer yards per pass throwing to Warrick (4.70) than not throwing to Warrick (4.96).

Warrick’s rookie season constituted by far the most inefficient receiving season on record by someone targeted as often as he was. His encore in 2001 — despite Scott’s return and the arrival of Chad then-Johnson, ostensibly alleviating some of the burden — was the runner-up:

In fact, as you can see in the initial scatter chart, even among those with as few as 100 targets, only a couple wide receivers — 1998 Jerome Pathon and 1998 Irving Fryar — had ever come in under five yards per target. (A couple non-wideouts did as well, though backs and tight ends generally have lower yards-per-target averages so it’s more understandable coming from them. It’s jarring, however, to see figures so low from wide receivers, which is why they’re being categorized differently here.)

Warrick was under five yards per target in each of his first two seasons on even more volume! Here’s how that translated for everyone’s total receiving yardage:

Warrick produced 592 and 667 receiving yards in the two seasons; of the 125-target players, not only are those the two lowest figures, but ’94 Martin had been the only other wide receiver who came in under 750:

So that’s how those seasons stacked up at the time they occurred. They still hold up quite well all these years later. Here’s the same chart as earlier, only with everyone from 2002-19 also included:

Only once has someone else been targeted at least 125 times while failing to top five yards per target: 2006 Chris Chambers, who parlayed his 154 targets into just 677 yards, a beautiful season its own right, and 2012 Larry Fitzgerald is the dot with 156 targets just barely above five. With the exception of only that ’94 Martin season, no other 125-target wide receiver’s even close (in case you’re wondering, the cellar-dwelling wide receiver there with 108 targets is 2003 Az-Zahir Hakim). Warrick, of course, had the two such seasons:

The thing is, though, Chambers (and Fitzgerald and Martin) never had a second season in the vicinity of that kind of inefficiency in a high-volume season. Not by a long shot. Warrick’s 2000 season was a fun historical outlier, but that 2001 performance piggybacking off it — and thus rendering the 2000 season not even an outlier to his own career — takes everything to another level (in ’01 he also had eight rushing attempts; in a lovely touch, the final six combined to produce negative six yards). Here are the receiving yardage totals again, this time including everyone from 2002-19:

Two of the most inefficient receiving seasons coming from the same wide receiver in back-to-back years might naturally lead to the question of how said wide receiver fares when assessing two-year periods. Across those 2000 and 2001 seasons, Warrick was targeted with 263 passes which he turned into 1,259 receiving yards. About 4.79 yards per target. Which, here ya go:

The only other wide receiver there joining 2000-01 Warrick under five yards per target is 2007-08 Marty Booker, who, at 4.98 yards per target, just barely sneaks under five while barely exceeding 150 targets. Warrick’s at 4.79 on 263 targets!

Of the 426 other dots with at least 250 targets, no one else is under 5.5. In fact, no one but 2005-06 Chris Chambers (320 targets that yielded an average of 5.61 yards, with that ’06 season mostly responsible) is within a full yard of 2000-01 Warrick. Here are the two-year receiving yardage totals of anyone approaching or exceeding his 263 targets:

In 2001, bad Jon Kitna was his quarterback, which again underscores that this mess certainly doesn’t fall entirely on Warrick’s shoulders. On the other hand, not only have plenty of other players played with plenty of other awful quarterbacks, but, once again, the Bengals still averaged fewer yards when throwing to Warrick vs. not throwing to Warrick. This time by a pretty significant margin (4.87 vs. 5.64).

Warrick went on to have respectable seasons in 2002 and 2003, averaging over seven yards per target in that time when the Bengals were quarterbacked by a competent quarterback. (It was still Jon Kitna, but he was better.) But starting late in 2003, Warrick began developing chronic leg problems that quickly led to a lost 2004 season.

His injury issues opened the door for T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s emergence opposite his Oregon State teammate (indeed, for a couple years, the Bengals’ wide receiver corps consisted of multiple sets of collegiate teammates), star wideout Chad Johnson, which ultimately marked the end of the road for Warrick in Cincinnati.

Injuries robbed him of a chance to put together a more productive career, as he was well on his way to rebounding after that inauspicious start. It’d have been interesting to see how the rest of Warrick’s time in football might have gone had he stayed healthy. But no matter how else his career might have played out, those first two seasons would have remained things of terrible, awesome beauty.

Previously on Dorktown:

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