Calvin Johnson is the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL! #dropsthemic
— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) October 27, 2013
This tweet from Reggie Bush is totally understandable, since he’s complimenting a teammate who had just come within seven yards of the all-time single game receiving mark. Also, Reggie Bush was born 59 days before Jerry Rice was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.
Calvin Johnson may have the best physical tools of any wide receiver in the history of the NFL. He’s 6′ 5″ and weighs 239 lbs. His hands are big and his limbs are long. He runs a 40-yard dash under 4.4 seconds and can leap over any defender. He’s a bigger, less crazy version of Randy Moss.
With Johnson’s huge day last Sunday and how close he came to the 2,000-yard mark last year, along with the public’s desire to label anything great they saw recently as the greatest thing that has ever been and ever will be, Bush’s view is becoming fairly popular.
That line of thinking incorrect, and not just because of the standard Rice defenses:
- Rice’s longevity is unrivaled.
- Rice played in an era where defensive backs weren’t effectively handcuffed by rules changes and flag-happy officials.
- In four Super Bowls, Rice had 33 receptions, 589 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
All those things are true, but one only needs to look at this comparison on a year-to-year basis to give the upper hand to Rice (rushing stats in parentheses).
Rice: 49 receptions, 927 yards, 3 TD (6 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD)
Johnson: 48 receptions, 756 yards, 4 TD (4 carries, 52 yards 1 TD)
Rice: 86 receptions, 1,570 yards, 15 TD (10 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD)
Johnson: 78 receptions, 1,331 yards, 12 TD (3 carries, -1 yards, 0 TD)
Rice: 65 receptions, 1,073 yards, 22 TD (8 carries, 51 yards, 1 TD)
Johnson: 67 receptions, 984 rec yds, 5 TD (7 carries, 73 yards 0 TD)
Rice: 64 receptions, 1,306 yards, 9 TD (13 carries, 107 yards, 1 TD)
Johnson: 77 receptions, 1,120 yards, 12 TD (4 carries, 32 yards, 0 TD)
Rice: 82 receptions, 1,483 yards, 17 TD (5 carries, 33 yards, 0 TD)
Johnson: 96 receptions, 1,681 yards, 16 TD (1 carries, 11 yards, 0 TD)
Rice: 100 receptions, 1,502 yards, 13 TD (2 carries, 0 yards, 0 TD)
Johnson: 122 receptions, 1,964 yards, 5 TD (N/A)
Totals through six seasons
Rice: 446 receptions, 7,861 yards, 79 TD (44 carries, 289 yards, 4 TD)
Johnson: 488 receptions, 7,836 yards, 54 TD (19 carries, 167 yards, 1 TD)
Johnson has the edge in just one category, and Rice’s best seasons didn’t come until a three-year period that started in 1993, when he was 31 (although one could make an argument that one of Rice’s best years came during the strike shortened season of 1987, when Rice caught 22 touchdown passes in 12 games).
There are still those who, even with the knowledge that Johnson is 1,014 receptions 14,238 receiving yards and 101 TD receptions behind Rice (not to mention all the playoff stats and rings), will bring up how Rice caught passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young. This excuse holds up to an extent, but let’s not forget that Matthew Stafford has passed for over 10,000 yards in the past two seasons. Perhaps Stafford and Johnson will continue playing together for the decade until Johnson is in his late-30s or even early-40s. But enough with the notion that Johnson is better now than Rice has ever been. If you’re dealing in numbers and facts instead of hypotheticals, it simply isn’t true.