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Yesterday, I explained my methodology for ranking every wide receiver in football history. Today I’m going to present a list of single-season leaders, which presents some problems.

I think the method I described yesterday does a good job adjusting for era, as receivers are only given credit for their yards above the baseline, which is different each season. But there are some other complicating factors unique to football. Seasons have had varying lengths: a receiver who plays 12 games in a 12-game season can’t be penalized the way you would penalize a receiver who only plays in 12 games now. Since older receivers are generally at a disadvantage for many reasons, I decided to simply pro-rate the value for all non-16 game seasons as if it was a 16-game season. However, I have also included downward adjustments for players in other leagues and during World War II.1

The table below lists the top 200 wide receiver seasons of all-time.

1Don Hutson1942gnb1111NFL741211173305.822007
2Elroy Hirsch1951ram1212NFL661495173855.621662
3Lance Alworth1965sdg1414AFL691602144285.21543
4Wes Chandler1982sdg89NFL49103293114.681472
5Jerry Rice1995sfo1616NFL1221848156774.071302
6Randy Moss2003min1616NFL1111632175624.51283
7Billy Howton1952gnb1212NFL531231133764.671274
8Michael Irvin1995dal1616NFL1111603105124.611257
9Don Hutson1941gnb1111NFL58738102534.851223
10Herman Moore1995det1616NFL1231686146374.051211
11Marvin Harrison2002clt1616NFL1431722116144.331209
12Steve Smith2005car1616NFL1031563124774.861205
13Harlon Hill1956chi1212NFL471128112665.951193
14Isaac Bruce1995ram1616NFL1191781136753.911184
15Lance Alworth1966sdg1314AFL731383134334.641179
16Raymond Berry1960clt1212NFL741298104184.471173
17Marvin Harrison1999clt1616NFL1151663125604.431149
18Jim Benton1946ram1111NFL6398163264.341143
19Jerry Rice1993sfo1616NFL981503155594.11114
20Torry Holt2003ram1616NFL1171696126433.921098
21Cliff Branch1974rai1414NFL601092133594.61097
22Brandon Marshall2012chi1616NFL1181508115294.381067
23Bob Boyd1954ram1212NFL53121263384.721057
24Jerry Rice1994sfo1616NFL1121499135464.251057
25Randy Moss2007nwe1616NFL981493236074.021048
26John Stallworth1984pit1616NFL801395114784.221048
27Sterling Sharpe1992gnb1616NFL1081461135703.971038
28Sonny Randle1960crd1212NFL62893153074.91036
29Steve Smith2008car1416NFL78142163805.081035
30Terrell Owens2000sfo1416NFL971451135324.131028
31Jim Benton1945ram910NFL45106781798.111022
32Dwight Clark1982sfo99NFL6091353683.571012
33Mark Clayton1984mia1516NFL731389185493.851003
34Jerry Rice1986sfo1616NFL861570156083.781001
35Gene A. Washington1970sfo1314NFL531100123634.42990
36Don Maynard1965nyj1414AFL681218144763.86986
37Mal Kutner1948crd1212NFL41943142855.01983
38Jimmy Smith1999jax1616NFL116163665714.09981
39Don Hutson1939gnb1111NFL3484662484.58979
40Jerry Rice1987sfo1215NFL651078224244.35971
41Billy Howton1956gnb1212NFL551188123774.52970
42Art Monk1984was1616NFL106137275333.83964
43Marvin Harrison2001clt1616NFL1091524155874.04961
44Cliff Branch1976rai1414NFL461111123894.06961
45Jerry Rice1989sfo1616NFL821483175284.23959
46Randy Moss2000min1616NFL771437155304959
47Bob Hayes1966dal1414NFL641232134553.98950
48Rod Smith2000den1616NFL100160285993.78947
49Otis Taylor1966kan1414AFL58129784074.29947
50Mike Quick1983phi1616NFL691409135433.71945
51Roy Green1984crd1616NFL781555126153.55941
52Hugh Taylor1952was1212NFL41961123344.21926
53Andre Johnson2008htx1616NFL115157585873.94925
54Don Maynard1967nyj1414AFL711434105433.66922
55Terrell Owens2001sfo1616NFL931412165324.13921
56Robert Brooks1995gnb1616NFL1021497136263.62920
57Roger Carr1976clt1414NFL431112113913.96918
58David Boston2001crd1616NFL98159885554.05917
59Homer Jones1967nyg1414NFL491209134433.87917
60Reggie Wayne2007clt1616NFL1041510105743.89911
61Harold Jackson1973ram1414NFL40874132884.63911
62Marvin Harrison2000clt1616NFL1021413145913.73906
63Roddy White2008atl1616NFL88138274514.35898
64Gaynell Tinsley1937crd1111NFL3667551895.05888
65Santana Moss2005was1616NFL84148395124.07888
66Rod Smith2001den1516NFL1131343115184.1885
67Michael Irvin1991dal1616NFL93152385383.99884
68Sterling Sharpe1993gnb1616NFL1121274115583.68877
69Roy Green1983crd1616NFL781227145193.66876
70Buddy Dial1960pit1212NFL4097292964.57870
71Jerry Rice1990sfo1616NFL1001502136203.65864
72Terrell Owens2007dal1516NFL811355155213.95862
73Andre Johnson2012htx1616NFL112159845823.85861
74Dave Parks1965sfo1414NFL801344124734.19858
75Paul Warfield1971mia1414NFL43996113184.5857
76Charlie Brown1983was1516NFL78122584673.8856
77Calvin Johnson2012det1616NFL122196457693.48855
78Cris Carter1995min1616NFL1221371176823.4854
79Andre Johnson2009htx1616NFL101156996183.65854
80Ben Hawkins1967phi1414NFL591265104943.56849
81Tom Fears1949ram1212NFL77101393844.11849
82Henry Ellard1988ram1616NFL861414105503.72848
83Michael Irvin1993dal1616NFL88133075043.79847
84Otis Taylor1971kan1414NFL57111073724.13844
85Yancey Thigpen1997pit1616NFL79139874863.98842
86Brett Perriman1995det1616NFL108148896373.47838
87Terrell Owens2002sfo1416NFL1001300135193.97837
88Wes Welker2009nwe1416NFL123134845343.83834
89Michael Irvin1992dal1616NFL78139675143.75823
90Stanley Morgan1986nwe1616NFL841491106043.5820
91Gary Clark1991was1616NFL701340104564.14819
92Dick Gordon1970chi1414NFL711026134553.61817
93Charley Taylor1966was1414NFL721119124703.66806
94Ken Burrough1975oti1414NFL53106383743.98804
95Eddie Brown1988cin1616NFL53127394224.07800
96Joe Horn2000nor1616NFL94134085363.68794
97Chad Johnson2005cin1616NFL97143295593.75793
98Don Hutson1938gnb1011NFL3254891914.65788
99Wes Welker2011nwe1616NFL122156996443.66788
100Larry Fitzgerald2007crd1516NFL1001409105763.66787
101Alfred Jenkins1981atl1616NFL701358136003.28785
102Cloyce Box1952det1212NFL42924153983.6782
103Torry Holt2000ram1616NFL82163566313.43780
104Charlie Brown1982was99NFL3269082833.57779
105Chad Johnson2003cin1616NFL901355105573.6772
106Derrick Mason2003oti1616NFL95130385273.68771
107Cris Carter2000min1616NFL96127495303.65771
108Harold Carmichael1973phi1414NFL67111695133.18771
109Calvin Johnson2011det1616NFL961681167023.53768
110Elroy Hirsch1953ram1212NFL6194143373.93763
111Anquan Boldin2003crd1616NFL101137785783.53763
112Don Hutson1944gnb1010NFL5886692535.28762
113Don Maynard1968nyj1314AFL571297104224.23759
114Marvin Harrison2006clt1616NFL951366125723.64758
115Lee Evans2006buf1616NFL82129284783.9757
116Bud Grant1952phi1212NFL5699773993.55756
117John Gilliam1973min1414NFL4290783303.87756
118Carl Pickens1995cin1616NFL991234176113.39755
119Hines Ward2002pit1616NFL1121329125853.64750
120Charley Hennigan1961oti1414AFL821746125124.68749
121Paul Warfield1968cle1414NFL501067123844.05748
122Muhsin Muhammad2004car1616NFL931405165693.85748
123Don Hutson1945gnb1010NFL4783492185.73747
124Del Shofner1958ram1212NFL51109783883.9746
125Roddy White2010atl1616NFL1151389106003.61744
126Tim Brown1995rai1616NFL891342105793.43741
127Steve Largent1983sea1516NFL721074114653.56739
128Pat Studstill1966det1414NFL67126654913.46734
129Don Hutson1937gnb1111NFL4155272164.15733
130Lionel Taylor1965den1414AFL85113165063.31731
131Lance Alworth1967sdg1114AFL52101093723.89730
132Steve Watson1981den1616NFL601244135463.3727
133Lance Alworth1964sdg1214AFL611235134004.5724
134Jerry Rice1992sfo1616NFL841201105123.56722
135Marvin Harrison2003clt1516NFL941272105513.52722
136Henry Ellard1989ram1416NFL70138284863.9721
137Bobby Mitchell1962was1414NFL721384114674.21718
138Brandon Marshall2007den1616NFL102132575473.61718
139Drew Hill1988oti1616NFL721141104523.76718
140Mel Gray1975crd1414NFL48926113633.82713
141Bob Hayes1970dal1314NFL34889103124.04713
142Braylon Edwards2007cle1616NFL801289165643.56713
143Tim Brown1997rai1616NFL104140855873.45710
144Cris Collinsworth1983cin1416NFL66113054323.61709
145Charlie Joiner1976sdg1414NFL50105674343.33709
146Fred Biletnikoff1971rai1414NFL6192993723.8706
147Chad Johnson2007cin1616NFL93144085923.49705
148Torry Holt2005ram1416NFL102133195643.58704
149James Lofton1984gnb1616NFL62136175483.3703
150Buddy Dial1963pit1414NFL60129593984.46703
151Rob Moore1997crd1616NFL97158486803.28702
152Isaac Bruce2000ram1616NFL87147196313.31701
153Andre Reed1989buf1616NFL88131295133.77695
154Wesley Walker1978nyj1616NFL48116984313.64693
155James Lofton1981gnb1616NFL71129485663.2693
156Tim Brown1994rai1616NFL89130995383.59690
157Drew Pearson1974dal1414NFL62108724323.33690
158Bill Groman1960oti1414AFL721473124784.34687
159Ed McCaffrey2000den1616NFL101131795993.34687
160Lance Alworth1963sdg1414AFL611205113784.58685
161Steve Largent1984sea1616NFL741164125393.29684
162Raymond Berry1959clt1212NFL66959143983.94683
163Harlon Hill1954chi1212NFL451124124533.51682
164Andre Rison1993atl1616NFL861242156133.22679
165Don Hutson1940gnb1111NFL4566472833.64678
166Pete Pihos1953phi1212NFL631049104723.31678
167Billy Wilson1953sfo1212NFL51840103523.68677
168Michael Irvin1994dal1616NFL79124164683.75674
169Randy Moss1999min1616NFL801413115733.55673
170Steve Largent1981sea1616NFL75122495613.17673
171Joey Galloway2005tam1616NFL831287105283.6670
172Nat Moore1977mia1414NFL52765123473.65669
173A.J. Green2012cin1616NFL971350115863.51669
174Herman Moore1997det1616NFL104129385813.4668
175Stanley Morgan1982nwe99NFL2858432023.88668
176Isaac Curtis1973cin1414NFL4584393563.51667
177John Jefferson1980sdg1616NFL821340136263.21666
178Tim Smith1983oti1616NFL83117665313.22666
179Kevin House1981tam1616NFL56117694923.33666
180John Gilliam1972min1414NFL47103574113.43665
181Buddy Dial1961pit1414NFL531047123704.19664
182Demaryius Thomas2012den1616NFL941434106093.45664
183Gordie Soltau1951sfo1212NFL5982673203.94663
184Don Hutson1936gnb1212NFL3453682553.4662
185Jimmy Smith2001jax1616NFL112137385973.51661
186Gene A. Washington1972sfo1414NFL46918124023.45660
187Harold Jackson1972phi1414NFL62104844283.36658
188Carlos Carson1987kan1215NFL55104473843.8655
189Antonio Freeman1997gnb1616NFL811243125493.44655
190Tom Fears1950ram1212NFL84111674763.52654
191Don Hutson1943gnb1010NFL47776112534.87654
192Otis Taylor1967kan1414AFL59958114143.56653
193Chad Johnson2006cin1616NFL87136975593.48651
194Frank Lewis1981buf1616NFL70124445193.23650
195Perry Schwartz1939bkn1111NFL3355031764.4650
196Pete Pihos1948phi1212NFL46766113014.04649
197Bob Hayes1967dal1314NFL49998104263.39646
198Steve Largent1978sea1616NFL71116885113.29645
199Antonio Freeman1998gnb1516NFL841424145763.69644
200Gary Garrison1970sdg1414NFL441006124443.3643

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau

Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau.

It’s hard to top Don Hutson‘s 1942 season. For starters, 74 catches, 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns would be a good season in 2012, but Hutson did it in just 11 games. Hutson averaged 110.1 yards per game, which is still the 10th highest average in NFL history. He averaged more touchdowns per game than Randy Moss did in 2007. Even ignoring the fact that, you know, it was 1942, Hutson’s numbers still stand out as excellent. Then consider that the Packers threw just 330 passes that season; for reference, Drew Brees threw 670 passes last year. If Hutson’s Packers passed like the 2012 Saints, he might have topped 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns…. in 1942.

Hutson comes in with the top season of all time, along with 10 of the top 200 seasons. Jerry Rice isn’t far behind with 8 top-200 seasons, and Marvin Harrison (6), Lance Alworth (5) and Michael Irvin (5) all have five top-200 years. Behind them, you probably wouldn’t be surprised that Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Steve Largent have four top-200 seasons, but would you have guessed that Chad Johnson does, too? From 2005 to 2007, the receiver formerly known as Ochocinco ranked in the top three in receiving yards each season despite Cincinnati being just slightly more pass-happy than average. In 2003 he had 90-1355-10 for a team with only 557 pass attempts. He turned into a caricature of himself later in his career, but Johnson was at one time a legitimately great receiver.

Tomorrow I’ll present the career list, but let’s first take a look at the yearly leaders:

2012NFLBrandon Marshallchi16161181508115294.381067
2011NFLWes Welkernwe1616122156996443.66788
2010NFLRoddy Whiteatl16161151389106003.61744
2009NFLAndre Johnsonhtx1616101156996183.65854
2008NFLSteve Smithcar141678142163805.081035
2007NFLRandy Mossnwe1616981493236074.021048
2006NFLMarvin Harrisonclt1616951366125723.64758
2005NFLSteve Smithcar16161031563124774.861205
2004NFLMuhsin Muhammadcar1616931405165693.85748
2003NFLRandy Mossmin16161111632175624.51283
2002NFLMarvin Harrisonclt16161431722116144.331209
2001NFLMarvin Harrisonclt16161091524155874.04961
2000NFLTerrell Owenssfo1416971451135324.131028
1999NFLMarvin Harrisonclt16161151663125604.431149
1998NFLAntonio Freemangnb1516841424145763.69644
1997NFLYancey Thigpenpit161679139874863.98842
1996NFLIsaac Bruceram161684133875383.53597
1995NFLJerry Ricesfo16161221848156774.071302
1994NFLJerry Ricesfo16161121499135464.251057
1993NFLJerry Ricesfo1616981503155594.11114
1992NFLSterling Sharpegnb16161081461135703.971038
1991NFLMichael Irvindal161693152385383.99884
1990NFLJerry Ricesfo16161001502136203.65864
1989NFLJerry Ricesfo1616821483175284.23959
1988NFLHenry Ellardram1616861414105503.72848
1987NFLJerry Ricesfo1215651078224244.35971
1986NFLJerry Ricesfo1616861570156083.781001
1985NFLArt Monkwas151691122625293.25640
1984NFLJohn Stallworthpit1616801395114784.221048
1983NFLMike Quickphi1616691409135433.71945
1982NFLWes Chandlersdg8949103293114.681472
1981NFLAlfred Jenkinsatl1616701358136003.28785
1980NFLJohn Jeffersonsdg1616821340136263.21666
1979NFLSteve Largentsea151666123795123.41623
1978NFLWesley Walkernyj161648116984313.64693
1977NFLNat Mooremia141452765123473.65669
1976NFLCliff Branchrai1414461111123894.06961
1975NFLKen Burroughoti141453106383743.98804
1974NFLCliff Branchrai1414601092133594.61097
1973NFLHarold Jacksonram141440874132884.63911
1972NFLJohn Gilliammin141447103574113.43665
1971NFLPaul Warfieldmia141443996113184.5857
1970NFLGene A. Washingtonsfo1314531100123634.42990
1969NFLRoy Jeffersonpit141467107994433.6641
1968NFLPaul Warfieldcle1414501067123844.05748
1967NFLHomer Jonesnyg1414491209134433.87917
1966NFLBob Hayesdal1414641232134553.98950
1965NFLDave Parkssfo1414801344124734.19858
1964NFLJohnny Morrischi1414931200105243.56595
1963NFLBuddy Dialpit141460129593984.46703
1962NFLBobby Mitchellwas1414721384114674.21718
1961NFLBuddy Dialpit1414531047123704.19664
1960NFLRaymond Berryclt1212741298104184.471173
1959NFLRaymond Berryclt121266959143983.94683
1958NFLDel Shofnerram121251109783883.9746
1957NFLBilly Wilsonsfo11125275763223.53415
1956NFLHarlon Hillchi1212471128112665.951193
1955NFLBilly Wilsonsfo12125383173393.65608
1954NFLBob Boydram121253121263384.721057
1953NFLElroy Hirschram12126194143373.93763
1952NFLBilly Howtongnb1212531231133764.671274
1951NFLElroy Hirschram1212661495173855.621662
1950NFLTom Fearsram121284111674763.52654
1949NFLTom Fearsram121277101393844.11849
1948NFLMal Kutnercrd121241943142855.01983
1947NFLDon Currivanbyk12122478292384.55561
1946NFLJim Bentonram11116398163264.341143
1945NFLJim Bentonram91045106781798.111022
1944NFLDon Hutsongnb10105886692535.28762
1943NFLDon Hutsongnb101047776112534.87654
1942NFLDon Hutsongnb1111741211173305.822007
1941NFLDon Hutsongnb111158738102534.851223
1940NFLDon Hutsongnb11114566472833.64678
1939NFLDon Hutsongnb11113484662484.58979
1938NFLDon Hutsongnb10113254891914.65788
1937NFLGaynell Tinsleycrd11113667551895.05888
1936NFLDon Hutsongnb12123453682553.4662
1935NFLTod Goodwinnyg12122643241544.17532
1934NFLJoe Carterphi11111623841632.44264
1933NFLLuke Johnsoschi613101883983.05194
1932NFLRay Flahertynyg12122135051643.38534
1969AFLWarren Wellsrai1414471260144513.94525
1968AFLDon Maynardnyj1314571297104224.23759
1967AFLDon Maynardnyj1414711434105433.66922
1966AFLLance Alworthsdg1314731383134334.641179
1965AFLLance Alworthsdg1414691602144285.21543
1964AFLLance Alworthsdg1214611235134004.5724
1963AFLLance Alworthsdg1414611205113784.58685
1962AFLChris Burfordkan111445645122853.89378
1961AFLCharley Henniganoti1414821746125124.68749
1960AFLBill Gromanoti1414721473124784.34687
1949AAFCMac Speediecle121262102872964.99539
1948AAFCAl Baldwinbba13145491683344.03344
1947AAFCMac Speediecle141467114662965.41620
1946AAFCDante Lavellicle14144084382375.08580
  • There are no surprises among the recent league leaders: Marshall, Welker, White, Johnson, Smith, Moss, and Harrison were elite receivers those years. I did this study with a slightly different baseline four years ago, and that led to Lee Evans being the 2006 champion. He finished one yard behind Marvin Harrison this time around, thanks to a slightly lower baseline, rewarding Harrison’s production over a larger number of pass plays.
  • In his prime, Jerry Rice wasn’t beaten out very often. From ’86 to ’95, Rice finished #1 in seven different seasons, losing out only to Henry Ellard, Michael Irvin and Sterling Sharpe.
  • If it wasn’t for the World War II adjustment, Jim Benton‘s 1945 season would rival Hutson’s as the greatest ever. Benton’s raw numbers aren’t as impressive as Hutson, but the crazy part is that the Rams threw just 199 passes in 10 games. Benton missed one of those games, so we have to assume he put up his 1,067 receiving yards on 179 passes. That’s an average of 5.97 receiving yards per team pass attempt. Benton then caught 9 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the championship game, a 15-14 Rams win. But if any game from that year stands out, it was what happened on Thanksgiving Day against the Lions. Rookie Bob Waterfield threw just 21 passes against Detroit, but that didn’t stop Benton from setting a single-game record with 303 receiving yards. That was a single-game record for 40 years, until Kansas City’s Stephone Paige gained 308 yards against the Chargers.
  • The AFL was dominated by Alworth and Maynard, but Bill Groman and Charley Hennigan helped Houston to titles in the first two seasons. 1962 was a down year for the big names of the league. In New York, Art Powell and Maynard both topped 1,000 yards, but the Titans threw 559 passes. Chris Burford led the league in touchdowns and had a respectable 45 catches for the Chiefs, who threw only 285 passes that year.
  • The top season in AAFC history belongs to Cleveland’s Mac Speedie. Paul Brown and Otto Graham helped make Speedie and Dante Lavelli stars, and ’47 was a big year for all the Browns. That year Cleveland led the AAFC in points, yards, passing yards, passing touchdowns, interceptions (fewest), and net yards per pass attempt, while only ranking fifth in passes.
  1. The fine print: For players in 1943, 1944, and 1945, and for players in the AAFC, I only gave the receivers credit for 60% of the value they created. For the AFL, I gave players 60% of their value in 1960 and 1961, 70% in 1962, 80% in 1963, 90% in 1964, and 100% in 1965 through 1969. In case it wasn’t obvious, all of these adjustments are arbitrary. []
  • Kibbles

    Michael Irvin: better than you remember.

    • Chase Stuart

      Absolutely. Irvin is one of those players my system loves, which is another way of saying Irvin is one of those players conventional statistics tend to really underrate.

  • Shattenjager

    1995 and 2000 each provided nine seasons on the list, the most of any season. Cris Carter and Isaac Bruce appear both seasons.
    2000 also features three sets of teammates on the list: Cris Carter and Randy Moss in Minnesota, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in St. Louis, and . . . Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey in Denver. I’m not really shocked by that, since Brian Griese in 2000 had a truly great season (before the mysterious shoulder injury that completely altered the trajectory of his career) that was little-noticed at the time and has been completely forgotten, but it’s still interesting.

    I’m surprised Jimmy Smith only made it once and that his 1999 season comes out so low.

    Football Outsiders stats love Michael Irvin as well. Conventional statistics appear to severely underestimate his contribution.

  • Chase Stuart

    Smith is on there twice — if you search for him or ‘jax’ his 2001 season also comes up. His ’99 season would be higher if not for the TDs — among receivers with 16 games played, he has the highest ranked season of any receiver with single-digit touchdowns.

    • Shattenjager

      I actually had searched for him, but I somehow missed the ’01 season’s presence.

  • Richie

    Yancey Thigpen in 1997? Who canceled?

    (Actually I guess Jerry Rice canceled – only 7 receptions that year.)

    • Chase Stuart

      I was going to comment on Thigpen, but he’s just Muhsin Muhammad 2004 on fewer pass plays.

      Say what you want about Thigpen, but it was a legitimately great year. If you search for “1997” in the first table, five receivers come up, but Thigpen has a nice lead on all of them. Tim Brown gained 10 more yards on 101 more passes. Rob Moore gained less than 200 more yards on nearly 200 more passes! The only big “TD” guy of the five was Antonio Freeman, but he had 155 fewer yards (which cancels out the 5-TD edge and then some) and his team threw quite a bit more, too. Thigpen had a very respectable 3.98 ACY/TmAtt, which would have ranked second to only Marshall this year.

      There are other reasons to think Thigpen was actually the best receiver in the league that year. He had 1398 receiving yards and the second highest Steeler had 568 yards (Charles Johnson). But it’s not like Pittsburgh had a bad passing offense — they ranked 7th in NY/A. That was the year Kordell had his breakout season.

      And then Thigpen signed what might have been (IIRC) the biggest contract in history by a wide receiver. Here’s an SI article on the signing:

      Yancey Thigpen’s skillful receiving should pump up the Oilers

      When Oilers coach Jeff Fisher sat down to contemplate Tennessee’s shortcomings following the 1997 season, everything seemed to point to young quarterback Steve McNair’s needing the help of a veteran wide receiver. The stat sheet showed that the Oilers’ No. 1 receiver in 1997 was their tight end Frank Wycheck. Plus, when several veterans knocked on Fisher’s door on their way home for the winter, each had shared the same message: This team is one star player from a deep playoff run.

      That player could be Yancey Thigpen, a two-time Pro Bowl wideout with the Steelers, whom Tennessee signed to a five-year, $21 million contract in February, making him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. “Getting Yancey is very close to being the most important acquisition we’ve ever had,” says Fisher. “After three years of looking, we found the receiver that can take us where we want to go.” Adds Oilers general manager Floyd Reese, “For our team, this guy was very, very important.”

      It’s not hard to see why. The 6’1″, 180-pound Thigpen, a fourth-round draft pick by the Chargers in ’91, blossomed into a star in ’95, his fourth season with Pittsburgh. That year he caught 85 passes, to surpass the Steelers’ record set by John Stall-worth, and piling up 1,307 receiving yards on his way to Super Bowl XXX and the Pro Bowl. After a string of leg injuries reduced his playing time in 1996, Thigpen bounced back in ’97 with 79 catches. He also broke another of Stallworth’s team records with 1,398 yards receiving.

      It was Thigpen’s performance in a 35-24 win against the Broncos on Dec. 7 that really hooked Fisher. Thigpen had six catches for 175 yards and three first-half touchdowns of 33, 69 and 21 yards. It was then that the Oilers, who haven’t had a 1,300-yard receiver in 34 years, went into OT (Operation Thigpen). McNair began sweet-talking Thigpen on the field after Pittsburgh and Tennessee met in the teams’ regular-season finale. More Oilers cornered him at the Super Bowl. On the plane ride to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Tennessee running back Eddie George sat in the seat next to Thigpen and campaigned throughout the flight Oilers safety Blaine Bishop took over when they landed.

      Full article: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1013231/index.htm

      • Richie

        The team that won my fantasy football league that year had Thigpen, Kordell Stewart, Terrell Davis, Rob Moore and Michael Irvin.

      • Richie

        And of course, it took Thigpen almost 3 seasons in Tennessee to match his 1997 production for Pittsburgh.

  • Chase Stuart

    If I asked you to name the one Steelers receiver with three top-200 seasons, how many guesses would it have taken before people got to Buddy Dial?

    • Shattenjager

      He would have honestly been my first guess. I used to play an online sim football game and Buddy Dial was my best wideout I ever had (I actually had 1961 Buddy Dial paired with 1995 Jerry Rice for several years and Dial dwarfed Rice’s production.), so I knew about his incredible four-year peak.
      He’s also exactly the kind of player this system is going to rank highly: The clear dominant target (and indeed only productive target) on teams that didn’t throw much.

      Now, for a normal person, I’m betting he would take a long time.

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