This week is Records Week throughout the SB Nation circuit and for the Detroit Lions, most records aren’t on the good side of history. However, one Lions player holds one of the more prestigious, impressive records in the NFL. Way back in 2012, noted Lions wideout Calvin Johnson hauled in an NFL record 1,964 receiving yards in a single season, jumping Jerry Rice’s 1,848, which had held strong as the most for 17 years. Prior to Rice, the highest mark was 1,746 yards, owned by Houston Oilers receiver Charley Hennington during the 1961 season.
With the increased emphasis in the passing game across NFL offenses, Calvin Johnson’s record doesn’t seem all that safe. However, we’ve had five years since Johnson set the mark and only Julio Jones has come within even 100 yards of Johnson’s record. So, will someone catch Johnson’s mark, and if so, who has the best shot? Let’s look at some data.
First, here’s a look at the average season yardage for the top five receivers over the past 15 years.
For some time, there was a slight increase in the yardage for the top five receivers in the league, but perhaps not so coincidentally. When Calvin Johnson retired after the 2015 season, there was a noticeable drop in that number. Though it’s worth noting that in Johnson’s final season, he only accumulated 1,214 yards (good for 10th that year).
Still, there seems to be a small, but noticeable trend towards small, shiftier receivers. The slot receiver is becoming a more and more valued position, as evidenced by the monster contract the Browns gave Jarvis Landry this offseason. And as good and valuable as those receivers are, they are never going to reach the likes of 1,900 yards, unless they’re catching 150 passes a season, something no one has ever done.
That being said, there are a few receivers in the league right now that have come close. Antonio Brown has the fourth (1,834) and eighth best seasons (1,698) in the NFL. Julio Jones is the only player who has come within 100 yards of Calvin Johnson (1,871).
Back in 2015, both of those receivers were on pace to take down Johnson’s record early on. After the first month of the season, Jones was on pace for 2,346 (!) yards, while Brown was hot on his trail at 2,325 projected yards. By mid-October, both had fallen behind Johnson and never fully recovered. Still, Jones finished just 93 yards behind Johnson that year. If he had just six more yards per game, he would have surpassed Johnson.
So will Johnson ever be caught? It’s obviously impossible to know, but it certainly seems like a reachable goal for some NFL receivers. Jones and Brown haven’t even come within 400 yards in the either of the past two seasons, but there’s a new set of dominant receivers entering the game. DeAndre Hopkins has already passed the 1,500 mark once and he did so at just 23 years old, and now he may actually have a good quarterback throwing him the ball. Odell Beckham and Mike Evans are potential candidates, too, but they’ve yet to have a breakout season to even compete with Johnson’s record.
Do you think Johnson’s record will be caught by any current NFL players?