Neil Paine wrote a fantastic post today at 538 about wide receivers competing with their teammates for production. That inspired me to start crunching some numbers. From 1985 to 2003, Jerry Rice played in at least 8 games in 18 different seasons. In fourteen of those seasons — including every year from age 24 through age 36, inclusive — Rice led his team in receiving yards per game. In the other four years, Rice ranked 2nd on his team in receiving yards per game, and usually not far behind the number one man.1 Rice finished his career with a forgettable season in Seattle, where three more players — Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson, and Bobby Engram — out-gained a 42-year-old Rice in receiving yards per game.
What about Marvin Harrison? He led the Colts in receiving yards per game in nine of his 12 seasons in which he played in at least eight games. In 1997, Sean Dawkins edged a Harrison by 3.3 yards per game. In 2004, Reggie Wayne bested Harrison by six yards per game. And in Harrison’s final year, both Wayne and Dallas Clark outgained Harrison.
Curious about Randy Moss? He led the Vikings in receiving yards per game during his first six years, but Nate Burleson edged out Moss in this metric in 2004.2 In 2006, Ronald Curry outplayed Moss, and I’ll let that sentence stand on its own. In ’08 and ’09, Wes Welker led the Patriots in receiving yards, and Moss also finished behind the pack with the Titans in 2010 and the 49ers in 2012.
You can’t talk about Harrison and Rice without talking about Terrell Owens. Owens led his team in receiving yards per game every year of his career other than ’96 and ’98. He trailed Rice in both years, of course, but also fell behind Brent Jones during his rookie year. But that was it: Owens led his team in receiving yards/game in the final 12 years of his career. 3
Okay, it’s trivia time. Three players have led their teams in receiving yards per game in every season of their career in which they played six seasons. Why the six-season qualifier? James Scott led Chicago in receiving yards per game in each season from 1976 to 1980; in fact, he had the top five yards per game seasons of any Bears player during that run. He went to Canada and had an excellent season in 1981, before two final injury-plagued years in the NFL. The irony is not lost on me that by writing a mini-bio on Scott, I am defeating the point of upping the limit of seasons played (with at least eight games) so that I can ignore him.
Can you name the player who led his team in receiving yards per game in all 7 seasons in which he played in at least 8 games?
One player did it for all ten seasons in which he played in at least eight games.
What about the player to do it in all eleven seasons?
- In ’85, Craig averaged 63.5 YPG, while Rice averaged 57.9. In 2000, Rice led the team in receiving yards, but Owens averaged 53.9 yards per game, Rice 51.9. Owens blew Rice out of the water in 2000; in 2001, Brown edged him, 72.8-71.2. [↩]
- I’ll note that Moss “played” in 13 games in 2004, but he morally played in 11 games. From weeks 7 to 11, Moss barely played, but he did suit up twice and essentially ran some decoy routes. Why do I remember these things? I have no idea. Without those “games played”, Moss would have led the team in receiving yards per game. [↩]
- That’s true of his ’05 season, although that is ignored in this analysis, since he only played in seven games. But since he led the Eagles in regular receiving yards that year, I’m not bothered by including it for purposes of trivia. [↩]