The NFL has always had some records that have been considered within reach. Jason Elam tied a record that was set by Tom Dempsey in 1970 by kicking a 62 yard field goal of his own in 1998. Calvin Johnson finished the 2012 season with 1,964 yards of receiving to shatter a mark set by Jerry Rice in 1995. Peyton Manning recently surpassed the record for passing yards in a season with 5,477 yards, topping a mark set by Drew Brees in 2011. As athletes get bigger, stronger and faster, many records from the past have been falling by the wayside. Despite all this constant pressure, there are still some records that seem like nothing short of a miracle would break them.
Throughout the 1990’s there was a great rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. Year after year, there were two constants when these teams faced each other. Emmitt Smith was going to carry the ball and Jerry Rice would get his catches. Their great consistency and ability to stay healthy enabled both of them to establish some career marks that now seem downright impossible to break. On the other hand, gone are the days of single bar face masks but a couple of records from the ageless George Blanda and super athlete Don Hudson who paved the way for modern day receivers, seem sure to continue to withstand the test of time.
There are many records that have a chance to remain a part of NFL history, but these following 20 records are significant marks that seem to top the list. The game has changed and the players might have changed along with it, but some of the marks that have been established by some of the best players to ever play the game will likely remain intact. To the many longtime fans of the game, the memories of these achievements will continue to be passed down from barber shop talks to game memories passed onto our kids.
20. Marvin Harrison, WR – 143 receptions in a season
There was a time in the NFL when 100 receptions in a single season would seem like an impossible accomplishment. As the passing game and rules have worked in tandem to produce more passing yardage and attempts to catch the ball, receivers have been able to get more opportunities. Receivers now routinely top marks of 1,000 yards receiving and 100 receptions in a season. Marvin Harrison’s mark of 143 receptions in a season, however, is still quite an accomplishment for a variety of reasons.
Not only are defensive adjustments more widespread now to take go to receivers out of the game, but the use of multiple passing formations and 3-4 receiver sets makes it even harder to have one receiver average almost 9 receptions per game. Calvin Johnson is a beast ,but he was only able to nab 122 balls in his best season to date. In order to achieve this mark, Johnson was targeted over 200 times. Despite many players exceeding 120 receptions, including Antonio Brown with 129 in 2014, not one has broken the 130 reception barrier.
19. Randy Moss, WR – 23 receiving touchdowns in a season
In 2007 there was a perfect storm that hit defenses who happened to travel to New England. Tom Brady actually had an elite wide receiver, and the results speak for themselves. Randy Moss finished that season with 23 touchdown catches, breaking the record of 22 that was held by Jerry Rice. The closest anyone has come to breaking this record was in 2011 when Rob Gronkowski recorded 17 touchdowns.
The fact that Gronkowski had such a terrific season and still came up 6 touchdowns short of Moss is all the reason to believe that this record will likely stand. So far, Rice and Moss are the only two players to ever catch over 20 touchdown passes in a single season. Although this might seem like a modern record that will not last, double coverage in the red zone has replaced keying on the run and plays with deception have started to make it easier to use primary receivers as decoys in these situations. It’d take a remarkably bad year of defense in the NFL for a 20 touchdown season to happen again.
18. Don Hutson, WR – 29 points in a quarter
It has been a long time since this record was established in 1945. The record might not be one of the major records that people think of right away, but Don Hutson is certainly worthy of some mention with all the records he established during this period. Hutson was a split end who is considered to be the first modern wide receiver to play the game. He also played safety and was a kicker, in an era where playing on both sides of the ball was common. While playing in an era where the defense had more liberty to jam receivers, hold onto them and prevent big plays in the passing game, Hutson still managed to score four touchdowns in a quarter.
It might seem possible to one day witness a player scoring four times in a quarter, but this record is pretty safe thanks to the extra points. Since Hutson was a kicker, he not only converted on 3 PATs, but added a safety as well. Modern NFL players no longer play both ways and certainly don’t kick extra points after catching passes. That is why this record should last. A player would need five touchdowns in a quarter to break it.
17. Eric Dickerson, RB – 2,103 rushing yards in a season
In 2012, Adrian Peterson had an incredible season finishing with 2,097 yards of rushing. Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 131.1 rushing yards per game. Despite all his heroics, Peterson fell short of Eric Dickerson’s 30-year record Athletes with Peterson’s blend of size and speed do not come along often. It is also hard to also find running backs who can last the whole season. Dickerson had the speed, durability and good fortune to set this record in an era where passing was just starting to be more of an emphasis on offense.
With 250 pound linebackers and 225 pound safeties making plays all over the field, it is becoming harder for 200-225 pound running backs who have the speed to break off long runs to remain healthy for the duration of a 16-game season. Many teams have also adopted a running back by committee approach to distribute the carries in an effort to keep their leading rusher healthy. As the game continues to transition towards a quarterback driven affair, it is becoming harder to imagine any rusher topping 2,000 yards yet again.
16. George Blanda- 48 years old, oldest player in the NFL
As human beings, many of us are living longer and exercising more at an older age but playing football is such a different story. The only example that can come close to shedding some light on Blanda’s accomplishment is the great Bernard Hopkins, who just turned 50 and still excels at his sport. George Blanda scored 83 points in his last season (1975) for the Oakland Raiders and even completed one pass in three attempts as a backup quarterback all at the tender age of 48. Blanda was mostly used as a kicker once he turned 40, but he did take some snaps as a quarterback in 1970 and 1971. In either case, playing football after the age of 40 is a very difficult thing to do.
Although it is easier to kick footballs than to tackle or be tackled on a regular basis, it would still be hard to maintain the leg drive and power to beat younger kickers out for a job. Furthermore, it would be pure insanity to keep playing in the trenches or at quarterback after the age of 40 in today’s NFL. Players are bigger, collisions are more intense and training camps are too much abuse for aging bodies.
15. Jerry Rice, WR – 14 seasons of 1,000 yards
This record is quite amazing and is a testament to how much offseason work Jerry Rice put in to prepare for a new season. For a wide receiver, a 14-year career in itself is quite an accomplishment. Jerry Rice had a 20-year career, managing to remain relevant until his retirement. His consistency has been well documented and his ability to avoid injuries helped him produce 11 consecutive years of over 1,000 yards receiving from his second season on.
This will be a hard record to break mainly due to the rigors of the game, size of the defenders in the secondaries throughout the league, and the pressure being put on veteran receivers from young receivers coming out of college. Reggie Wayne will be in the Hall of Fame, but still currently has “only” eight seasons of over 1,000 yards of receiving. Andre Johnson is in the same class, but even trails Wayne with 7 seasons over 1,000 yards. Rice’s great consistency, work ethic and preparation will be hard to ever duplicate and this record along with it.
14. Glyn Milburn, RB/KR – 404 all purpose yards in a single game
Glyn Milburn stands as the only player to ever gain over 400 yards in a single game. As a Denver Bronco, he rushed for 131 yards, returned kicks for another 228 yards and had 45 yards of receiving against the Seattle Seahawks to set a record with 404 yards. Milburn was shifty and quick, but could also take a good amount of punishment despite his small size. In this game in 1995, Milburn was unstoppable. Amazingly, he did not even score a touchdown. Adrian Peterson came close to this record in 2007 with 361 all purpose yards, however, without being able to factor in any return yards, he didn’t come close enough.
That is why this record will be hard to break. Unless Calvin Johnson starts to return punts or Adrian Peterson has to fill in to return kickoffs, it will be hard for any player to get enough touches to rack up 400 yards. Milburn, on the other hand, was a return specialist who happened to be filling in admirably at running back while also having an unconscious career best performance at the same time. The NFL has become a kicker’s game and long returns have become rather extinct for kickoffs and even more of the punt returns.
13. Ted Hendricks, LB – 25 blocked punts, field goals and PATs
Ted Hendricks, affectionately called “The Stork”, was a formidable presence wherever he lined up. Before J.J. Watt, Hendricks was very good at knocking down passes even when he wasn’t even rushing the quarterback. His 6-foot-7 height and lean muscular frame coupled with his great football instincts made it easy for him to time his jumps to bat down balls delivered by both hand and foot. Hendricks was a great outside linebacker who was selected to 8 Pro Bowls throughout his illustrious career, but what made him special was his knack for making big plays and getting his hands on balls that were meant to go over his head.
Hendricks played in an era where starters would still spend time on special teams, and he made the most of all his opportunities. This record will be hard to break simply because players of Hendrick’s caliber do not play on special teams. If J.J. Watt did, he would probably be the only player who would have a chance. Until rosters are expanded to include seven foot basketball players to come in on special teams, this record should have no problem remaining intact.
12. Emmitt Smith, RB – 11 seasons with 1,000 yards rushing
Emmitt Smith was the most prolific rushers of his time, eclipsing 1,000 yards in 11 consecutive seasons. Smith was able to avoid serious injury during this incredible span of productivity, only missing seven games during this span of 11 seasons, while rushing for over 1,400 yards five seasons in a row as well. It is hard enough for a running back to play in the NFL for 11 seasons. Smith’s durability and shiftiness allowed him to throw defenders off balance and turn big hits into glancing blows, playing major roles in his ability to set this rushing mark.
There are several reasons why this record should stand the test of time. It is now getting harder and harder for running backs to remain healthy for a whole season. Teams have resorted to a running back by committee approach and other factors that limit the amount of carries a feature back can likely count on getting. Additionally, the passing game that can include 3 and 4 receiver sets has contributed to the lack of emphasis being placed on the running back position in general. Many good running backs are even going undrafted and waiting for a chance to play.
11. Dick Lane, CB – 14 interceptions in a season
Dick “Night Train” Lane was one of the most formidable cornerbacks of his time, earning Pro Bowl honors seven times. In Lane’s rookie season, he intercepted 14 passes. This NFL record has stood for over 60 years and only Lester Hayes had a shot at breaking it in 1980 when he tallied 13 at season’s end. Since that time of the legality of sticky substances that ended the following season in 1981, nobody has even come close to this record. Lane was famous for baiting quarterbacks into throwing into loose coverage only to close the gap, quickly nabbing the pick. It helped that Lane was originally a wide receiver/tight end.
This record was set in a 12-game NFL season during an era where passing was less pronounced. Despite the extra four games, with all the rules that favor the offense in this modern era there is little chance of this record ever being touched. In a 16-game NFL season, Richard Sherman has deflected an astounding 24 passes, but only intercepted eight. In response to his success and that of other veterans like Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, teams have started passing to the opposite side. That is just one more reason why this record should remain unchanged.
10. Devin Hester, KR – 20 special teams return touchdowns
There is little doubt that Devin Hester is already one of the greatest special teams players of all time. He has returned 14 punts, 5 kickoffs and 1 missed field goal for touchdowns in his nine year NFL career. He returned a punt for a touchdown in 2014, and it would not be surprising to see him pad these statistics. Hester is one of the few “return specialists” left in the league today as injuries in general have forced teams to develop returners using players already on their rosters as opposed to designating one player for the role.
The rules of the game and strong legs of today’s kickers are making it harder for returners to get any opportunities to execute a long return. Hester’s consistency at making an impact in just about any game by returning kicks is uncanny at best. He might be quick and fast but is also good at setting up blocks and determining when to accelerate with defenders flying at him from all directions. It is hard to see anyone coming close to duplicating his feats. Unless rosters expand and kickers start to kickoff from the 20-yard line, it will continue to get harder to execute lengthy returns. Finding another Devin Hester will be even more impossible, making this record Hester’s to keep.
9. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB – 28 rushing touchdowns in a season
LaDainian Tomlinson spent a number of seasons being the main threat of the San Diego Chargers offense. In 2006, Tomlinson was more than just a threat, enjoying a spectacular season. Tomlinson topped his previous best of 18 rushing touchdowns with 28, on top of 1,815 yards for the year. Including his three receiving touchdowns, Tomlinson scored just about 2 touchdowns per game. Since 2006, the closest any running back has come to this record was in 2008 when DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns.
What makes this record safe is the current tendency in the NFL to do something cute when the goal line is in plain sight. The play action pass, tackle eligible pass, wide receiver fade pattern and even the quarterback sneak all seem to be taking more precedence in goal-line situations. Defensive substitutions in these situations often make it easier to score with more confusing plays of deception over hitting the stone wall by running up the middle. Even the great Adrian Peterson, who has seven years of experience already in the league, has only reached 18 rushing touchdowns in a season.
8. Emmitt Smith, RB – 4,409 career rushing attempts
It is getting harder and harder for teams to run the football and even harder to have one man do it for a team on a consistent basis. In 2014, DeMarco Murray was a workhorse for the Dallas Cowboys grinding out 1,845 yards on 392 rushing attempts. What would be even more challenging, is to see him tote the rock like that for 10 more seasons. Emmitt Smith had an incredible 4,409 rushing attempts in his career. To put this in perspective, Murray has only 934 attempts after playing in four NFL seasons. At this pace, he would need about 19 seasons to eclipse Emmitt’s mark.
Smith played running back for 15 seasons. That alone is an incredible feat, also considering the impressive 937 yards he gained for the Arizona Cardinals in his final season. At the age of 35, he carried the ball 267 times. This is simply incredible for a running back at that age. Avoiding injury is half the battle and maintaining enough speed and quickness to keep younger running backs on the bench is equally as hard to do once the age of 30 is reached.
7. George Blanda, QB – 42 interceptions thrown in a season
Brett Favre, eat your heart out! Up to this point, all the records have been pretty positive but this record is significant because it happened way back in 1962 and has been rather safe despite the uptick in passing that has happened since that time. George Blanda was a prolific passer of his era, after he finally got his chance to prove himself in the AFL. He led the league in pass attempts three seasons in a row and this increased activity unfortunately came with some errant throws. Blanda also led the league in interceptions for four straight seasons, beginning with the record setting 42 interceptions thrown in 1962. As more passes continue to fly in the pass happy NFL, nobody has really come close to topping this mark.
In the NFL today, no team is going to sit back and allow a quarterback to throw what amounts to three interceptions per game. Despite all the young quarterbacks that come into the league and teams that can’t seem to find a starting quarterback that lasts through the season, interceptions are now harder to throw. The rules favor receivers and even the quarterbacks who can now roll out of the pocket to throw the ball away. Since 1988, no quarterback has even thrown 30 picks, let alone 40. This and the 50+ year run makes this record pretty safe.
6. Paul Krause, S – 81 career interceptions
Paul Krause was one of the greatest ball hawks of his time. Krause had eight seasons with at least six interceptions and was consistently among the league’s leaders in this category. In modern times, Ed Reed and Rod Woodson have been two of the most consistent ball hawks. Reed has 64 interceptions to his credit and Woodson finished with 71, both falling significantly short of the 81 in a career that Krause had while playing in mostly 14-game seasons.
With so many safeties having to match up with slot receivers and double up the other team’s primary receiving threat, the job of free safety has become anything but “free”. The outbreak of multiple receiver sets and the ability of offenses to recognize man coverage options also makes it harder for safeties and cornerbacks to even get situations where they can make a play on the ball. Film study has also made it easier for quarterbacks to recognize double coverage while also making it easier for quarterbacks to exploit favorable matchups throughout the course of a game. All of these are reasons why this record should be hard to top.
5. Brian Mitchell, KR – 19,013 combined return yardage
To say that Brian Mitchell was a return specialist might be a big understatement. With 19,013 combined punt and kickoff yardage for his career, Mitchell established himself as one of the NFL’s premier returners. Playing most of his career with the Washington Redskins, Mitchell also finished his career with 1,967 yards rushing and 2,336 yards receiving, but returning kicks was still his thing. Mitchell finished his career with 14 return touchdowns and only 33 fumbles in 1,070 touches.
There are few return specialists of this caliber in the NFL today and many returners focus on just punts or kickoffs alone. Devin Hester is a great current return specialist, with 19 return touchdowns, but he has only 10,113 total return yards in nine seasons of play. Considering Mitchell played in 14 seasons and return specialists have careers that are limited by quickness, durability and speed, it would be hard to see Hester or any other return specialist breaking this record.
4. O.J. Simpson, RB – 143.1 rushing yards per game average
O.J. Simpson was one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game, but it is sometimes very easy to overlook his accomplishments. Simpson was the first running back to break the 2,000 yard barrier, with 2,003 yards in 1973. Since this time, only six running backs have eclipsed this mark. Adrian Peterson had an amazing season in 2012, finishing with 2,097 yards of rushing in an era where passing is a bigger part of the game. Simpson’s mark might have been topped, but it becomes remarkable when taking into account he set it in only 14 games.
In a 16-game season, Simpson’s 2,003 yards project to 2,289 yards, vaulting him to the top of the season rushing yardage list. His 143.1 average rushing yardage per game, has stood for 41 years and will likely stand for more than double that. The best athletes are becoming receivers or quarterbacks, opting for longer careers and more opportunities to make money or make big plays. As the game continues to evolve, this record can be etched into stone.
3. Emmitt Smith, RB – 18,355 career rushing yards
This mark by Emmitt Smith is pretty much untouchable. Smith was more steady than spectacular and his greatest asset was his durability and longevity that allowed him to rack up so many rushing yards. The next running back on the list is the late Walter Payton with 16,726 yards while the closest active rusher is Steven Jackson with 11,388 yards. Frank Gore is also giving chase with 11,073 yards, however, both of them are 31 years old. Adrian Peterson has 10,190 yards rushing and is only 29 years old, but his future is now remains in doubt.
With all the passing going on in the NFL and so many young running backs having success when given a chance to break into the starting lineup, Smith’s rushing total is going to be impossible to attain. Peterson had the best shot until he got injured and now must work his way into the good graces of the league in order to get another chance. Considering that it would take over 18 seasons of averaging 1,000 yards or over 12 seasons of averaging 1,500 yards, this record would seem to be pretty safe. That would make Emmitt Smith’s career and consistency downright spectacular and his rushing yardage record out of sight.
2. Jerry Rice, WR – 197 career receiving touchdowns
There are some people who still question Jerry Rice’s greatness. Some people might point to the West Coast offense that fit his skill set while others think he was lucky to work with two Hall of Famers, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Whatever the case, this record by Jerry Rice is truly a strong measure of his greatness. There might be some who think he was lucky to be around for so long, but having an average of almost 10 receiving touchdowns a season speaks volumes about his great consistency and productivity at the wide receiver position.
It is hard to imagine catching close to 10 touchdown passes a game for over 20 seasons, let alone 10 in a bad season. Art Monk was a great receiver who had 940 receptions and 12,721 receiving yards throughout his career, but he failed to register over 8 touchdowns in a single season. James Lofton had over 14,000 yards receiving, but only caught 75 touchdown passes in his great career. Jerry Rice’s mark of 197 receiving touchdowns is simply ridiculous. He was a truly remarkable receiver and if he wasn’t the best receiver of all time, he was certainly the NFL’s best scoring threat at the position.
1. Jerry Rice, WR – 22,895 receiving yards in a career
The NFL has sure changed through the years. When Jerry Rice first entered the league in 1985, Charlie Joiner was busy establishing the NFL’s career receiving yardage record that he finally set in 1986 (12,146 yards). Don Maynard held this record since 1973 (11,834 yards) and Joiner’s accomplishment was pretty significant at the time. In 1993, James Lofton blew the doors off this record, finishing his career with 14,004 yards of receiving. A little over 10 years later, Jerry Rice retired from football with 22,895 yards of receiving which absolutely shatters this mark.
As passing continues to dominate the landscape in the NFL, Maynard’s previous mark has already been eclipsed by five active receivers, led by Reggie Wayne with 14,345 yards. Despite this pressure, Rice’s mark remains a mountain topped by a snowy summit of shear granite. Reggie Wayne has played in 14 NFL seasons and has been starting to show some age and defenses are starting to come up with answers for Calvin Johnson and other receivers of this current era. Imagine how Rice felt after gaining 1,211 yards in his 19th NFL season. It is hard to play the position this long and it is harder to get up the next morning after hits from 230 pound safeties these days. Racking up almost 23,000 yards of receiving seems pretty impossible. This would be like adding the career yardage of the great Raymond Berry (9,275 yards) to Reggie Wayne’s total, which seems out of sight.
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