The Sports Daily > Colts Authority
Harrison and Carter, Part 2

This is the second in a three part comparison of the careers of Marvin Harrison and Cris Carter. The comparison is necessary because Hall of Fame voter Peter King continually links the two. The aim of this series is to show that Harrison clearly had a superior career to Carter.  

When comparing players, it’s important to look at their peak performance. At their best, how good were they?  Cris Carter‘s peak lasted 8 seasons from 1993-2000; Marvin Harrison‘s also lasted 8 seasons from 1999-2006.  Both players made the Pro Bowl in all 8 years.  Both were durable.  Carter played in 128 of 128 possible games. Harrison played in 126 of 128 games.

Peak years average season:

Rec Yards YPR TD
Carter 97.4 1182 12.3 11.3
Harrison 103.3 1402.4 13.6 12.6

During their absolute primes, Harrison was clearly the better player, averaging more than 1400 yards receiving a season, while out-pacing Carter in every possible category.  If we isolate out just the five best seasons from each player (Harrison: 1999-2002, 2006 and Carter (1994-96, 1999-2000), the difference grows more stark:

Rec Yards YPR TD
Carter 5 best 105.2 1261 12.0 11.2
Harrison 5 best 112.8 1537.6 13.6 12.8

Again, at the peak of their peaks, Harrison was the superior player. He caught more passes for more yards, for a higher yards per attempt with more touchdowns.  Carter posted wonderful, Hall of Fame numbers in his prime.  Harrison bested him by a healthy margin, especially in the yards department. It’s relevant to note that only one of Harrison’s five best seasons came after the 2004 ‘point of emphasis’ on illegal contact.

If you sort the two players’ peak years by key categories and rank them, the results are interesting:

Catches: Harrison holds 4 of the top 6 best seasons (including an NFL record 143 in 2002)

Yards: Harrison holds the 4 best seasons, and 5 of the top 6.

YPR: Harrison holds the 5 best seasons, and 6 of the top 7.

TDs: Carter holds the top spot (17 in 1995), but Harrison holds the next three best seasons after that.

Valley years average season:

G Rec Yards YPR TD
Carter 13.3 40.3 555.4 13.9 5
Harrison 12.8 55.2 672.2 12.2 5.4

Carter had a slower start to his career than Harrison, performing below elite level from 1987-1992. He then had two ‘cool down’ seasons at the end including playing only 5 games for Miami in 2002.

Harrison was limited by injuries in 1998, or his peak might have started a year early.  His valley years were from 1996-1998 and then his two ‘cool down’ seasons from 2007 (played only 5 games) and 2008.

What’s amazing about Harrison is that even his ‘non-peak’ years were quite solid.  He was the Colts’ #1 wide receiver during three of his five valley years.  His overall numbers during this stretch were quite respectable.  Despite playing fewer average games than Carter in this stretch, his numbers were superior/comparable.  Carter beat him in yards per reception, but Harrison averaged more catches for more yards and touchdowns.  The advantage Carter has over Harrison in is that his ‘valley’ lasted 42 games long than Harrison’s.  This gap allowed him to catch Harrison’s volume totals, despite rarely measuring up to Harrison’s production on a season by season basis.


At his best, Harrison was better than Carter at his best. When the two players were not at their peak (either on the way up or down), Harrison was STILL the better player.  In fact, it’s hard to point to any phase of their careers in which Cris Carter was a superior wide receiver to Marvin Harrison in any aspect of catching the football.  Harrison was the more explosive player while still catching more passes than Carter.  The only aspect of the game in which Carter is superior to Harrison is longevity.  He simply played almost three more seasons than Harrison, which makes their final numbers appear closer than they ever were on the field.  Again, none of this should be seen as a slight to Carter. He should be and will be in the Hall of Fame. 

Tomorrow: Advanced Metrics