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Weekend Trivia: Yards per Reception Leaders

Do you know who led the NFL in yards per reception last year?  Or in any season?  Unlike certain rate stats, YPR tends to fly under the radar, at least with respect to questions like who led the league in a given season.

One reason for that is the leader is often a part-time player.  Last year, DeSean Jackson had the top YPR average in the league at 20.9, and he also ranked a respectable 13th in receiving yards. But in 2013, that honor went to New Orleans rookie Kenny Stills, who averaged 20 yards per catch but ranked just 61st with 641 receiving yards.

That leads us to today’s trivia question: Can you name the last player to lead the league in both yards per reception and in receiving yards?

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At least in modern times, it’s pretty rare for a player with a lot of receiving yards to also lead the league in yards per catch. To put Holt’s accomplishment in perspective, consider that in 1999, Tim Dwight was the YPR leader and ranked 51st in receiving yards. Or that in 1997, James McKnight ranked 50th in receiving yards and 1st in yards per reception. In fact, in the last 20 years, only Holt and Vincent Jackson (5th in receiving yards in ’12) have led the NFL in yards per reception and finished in the top five in receiving yards.

In the graph below I’ve plotted where the league leader in yards per reception in each season since 1950 ranked in receiving yards. The blue line represents the NFL, while the orange line shows AFL data. Obviously it is much harder to lead the league in both categories for a variety of reasons. For starters, there are now 32 teams, rather than 10 or 12 or 14. In addition, the minimum number of receptions to qualify for the YPR crown is just 1.875 per team game (30 in a 16-game season). In 2014, there were 144 players who caught at least 30 passes. In 1974, 78 players qualified. In 1954, 41 players qualified. So the players with the most receiving yards are competing with significantly more players now when they fight for the YPR title. That’s worth keeping in mind when looking at the graph below:

rec ypc

Since 1950, only a few other players have pulled off the double crown of leading their league in both receiving yards and yards per reception:

Prior to 1950, Dante Lavelli (1946 AAFC), Don Hutson (1936, 1939), and Gaynell Tinsley (1937) also accomplished this feat.

One other bit of trivia: Hirsch and Don Hutson remain the only players to ever lead their leagues in receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception, and receiving touchdowns.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Wesley Walker is one of the best receivers in Jets history, despite being legally blind in one eye.

  • Clint

    In 2013, Josh Gordon was 1st in receiving yards and 8th in YPC. Also, 6th all-time in receiving yards per game in a season.

    • Wolverine

      Those numbers impress on the one hand, but also sadden on the other hand, when you think about all the wasted talent.

      • Clint

        He made being a Browns fan worthwhile that season. I can take 12 losses if I get to watch a receiver like that play. God he was so good. The sneakiest speed ever and he made everything look extremely easy. Did all of it with Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden at QB. Insane!

  • Update: In 2015, Torrey Smith led the NFL in yards per catch at 20.1, but he ranked 60th in receiving yards (633).