A couple of weeks ago there was a spirited debate on the BTSC boards about Jerry Rice and Antonio Brown. Part of that discussion was whether Brown would surpass Rice in some of the mind-blowing records he currently holds (Wiki states that, as of 2016, Rice holds more than 100 NFL records).
I had the pleasure of watching Rice’s entire career, and I’m currently watching Brown’s career unfold before my eyes. It’s conceivable that Brown ends his career high on the career list in different statistical categories, but how high?
Brown has stayed relatively healthy most of his career. Could he play long enough, and be sufficiently productive, to break Rice’s records? Let’s take a look to see what he would have to accomplish in order to catch Rice.
* All stats provided by Pro Football Reference
Rice: 20 years
Brown: 8 years
Brown would be turning 42 to reach his twentieth season. To put this in perspective, Rice is the only Hall of Fame WR to play at the age of 40. That would be a long battle against father time and the effects aging has on NFL players. Brown has not shown any signs of slowing down, but can he play at a high level deep into his thirties when so many other HOF WRs could not?
Rice’s longevity outpaces any other player’s reception numbers — not by a small margin but by a chasm. Tony Gonzalez is 224 receptions behind, while the closest active wide receiver is Larry Fitzgerald. The 34-year-old Fitz is more than 300 receptions behind Rice.
What would it take for AB to catch Rice?
Brown has averaged 91 receptions per year, dwarfing Rice’s average of 77. Using his career average, it would still take Brown just shy of nine more years to supplant Rice as the all-time reception leader in the NFL. That would mean that Brown would have to continue his torrid pace.
Fitzgerald, if he does indeed play in 2018, should pass Terrell Owens for second place in receiving yards during his career. Fitz currently sits at 15,545 yards and is less than 400 yards behind Hall of Famer Owens.
What would it take to catch Rice?
Brown has averaged 1,279 yards per season while Rice averaged 1,145. It would take 10.15 more years for AB to break Rice’s all-time receiving yardage mark.
Rice: 197 (Another 10 rushing — I found the high number intriguing.)
To put Rice’s mark here in perspective, the next closest wide receiver is Randy Moss with 156 touchdowns. To say that Rice was a TD machine is an understatement, as he led the league six times during his illustrious career.
What would it take to catch Rice?
Brown, the six-time Pro Bowl selection, has never led the league in TDs. He does average 7.4 per season. At this pace, AB would be 48 by the time he caught Rice. To say this is not happening is being a master of the obvious.
Rice: 29 games 151-2,245-22
Brown: 10 games 51-837-4
Brown holds his own against Rice here in per-game averages, except for TDs. For total numbers, it’s not a fair comparison given that Rice made appearances in the playoffs for 15 years. That in itself is an incredible feat.
Brown outpaces Rice in per-season stats but he’ll have to remain healthy and productive for another decade to accomplish the conquest of Rice. Of the 101 times that a WR has surpassed the 100 reception mark, nearly one-quarter of those times it was accomplished by a player 30 years or older. Of the 236 times that a player has gone over 1,250 receiving yards in a season, 39 of those times has been by a player over the age 30. That just goes to show that putting up big numbers in the NFL is not a young man’s game. In case you don’t have it memorized or the date circled on your calendar, AB turns 30 on July 10.
While it’s hardly debatable that AB is one of the top wideouts currently playing in the NFL, I think the debate definitely is closed that he’s in the same category as Rice. Brown does beat Rice in per-year averages, but the sheer length of Rice’s career overshadows the accomplishments by AB so far.
Will Brown’s love for the game surpass what his body will be able to tolerate or vice versa? Will the two factors lead him to have a career as long as Rice? Will Brown be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rice someday instead of looking up at him?