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NFL: Fewest Receptions for 1000 Yards

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HIGHFLYERS:

Have you ever wondered which NFL receiver finished a single season with 1,000 yards or more on the fewest receptions? Probably not, but if you’re a sports fan, (now that the concept has been brought to your attention) you probably want to know anyway, and you want to know now! So with little ado I present all NFL receivers to finish with 1,000+ yards and 50 or fewer catches.

Player
Year
Team
Rec
Yds
Avg
TD
1. Elbert Dubenion
1964
Buffalo
42
1,139
27.1
10
2. Roger Carr
1976
Baltimore
43
1,112
25.9
11
3. Flipper Anderson
1989
Rams
44
1,146
26.0
5
--Stanley Morgan
1981
New England
44
1,029
23.4
6
--Gary Garrison
1970
San Diego
44
1,006
22.9
12
--Stanley Morgan
1979
New England
44
1,002
22.8
12
7. Harlon Hill
1954
Chicago
45
1,124
25.0
12
--Jim Benton
1945
Rams
45
1,067
23.7
8
--Homer Jones
1968
Giants
45
1,057
23.5
7
--Harold Jackson
1979
New England
45
1,013
22.5
7
11. Cliff Branch
1976
Oakland
46
1,111
24.2
12
--Bob Hayes
1965
Dal
46
1,003
21.8
12
13. Warren Wells
1969
Oakland
47
1,260
26.8
14
--Harlon Hill
1956
Chicago
47
1,128
24.0
11
--DeSean Jackson
2010
Philadelphia
47
1,056
22.5
6
--Frank Clarke
1962
Dallas
47
1,043
22.2
14
--John Gilliam
1972
Minnesota
47
1,035
22.0
7
18. Wesley Walker
1978
Jets
48
1,169
24.4
8
--Homer Jones
1966
Giants
48
1,044
21.8
8
19. Homer Jones
1967
Giants
49
1,209
24.7
13
--Wes Chandler
1982
San Diego
49
1,032
21.1
9
--Wesley Walker
1986
Jets
49
1,016
20.7
12
23. Bill Gorman
1961
Houston
50
1,175
23.5
17
--Michael Haynes
1991
Atlanta
50
1,122
22.4
11
--Paul Warfield
1968
Cleavland
50
1,067
21.3
12
--Charlie Joyner
1976
San Diego
50
1,056
21.1
7
--Cloyce Box
1950
Detroit
50
1,009
20.2
11
Source

THE STAT WHISPERER:

By now you’re probably saying to yourself, I’m so glad that I know this thing I didn’t even know I wanted to know earlier. And very likely you are not even reading the remainder of this article, because for the statistics junkie, the numbers are all we need, but on the off chance you are still reading, I offer a question: Why did you need to know this thing?

I offer the following hypothesis to the query: for most of us sports fans our love of sports eventually breeds an obsession for statistics. When we see a stat, it is not uncommon that we wonder, Well that’s a solid season, but who’s the best, who’s the worst, etc. Over our lifetimes we develop the ability to read the statistics like another might read a book. For example: We see a running back’s career stats. We see that he played 8 seasons and averaged 5 yards a carry. He has a relatively low number of carries for his era. For the untrained eye this doesn’t mean much. For the statscentric sports fanatic it is like forensics to a detective.

We scratch our chin and think to ourselves: This running back was probably fast and/or quick. This explains the high average per carry. He was probably small and/or slight. He may have had durability/injury problems or perhaps he was called upon to perform a number of other duties, such as punt and kick returner. This explains the low number of carries. And more likely than not this sports profiler would be correct. Unlike balancing our checkbooks, examining these sorts of numbers is fun, even relaxing. It keeps our minds active.

OVERALL NFL TRENDS:

So what do the receiver stats in the table say to us? Answer: many things. Let’s start with the overall NFL trends that we can see reflected by the information. First, you’ll probable notice how seldom a 50 catch or fewer 1,000 yards receiving season occurs is in the modern era. One player, DeSean Jackson, has accomplished the feat in the ongoing 2010-2019 decade, no player did so in the 2000-2009 decade, and only one player, Michael Haynes, broke the barrier in the 90’s.

But as we move farther back, 20+ yards a catch becomes a fairly regular phenomenon, happening 4 times in the 80’s, a whopping 8 times in the 90’s, and peaking out at an astounding 9 times in the 60’s. Then we see such numbers decrease in the 50’s and 40’s.

So how do these statistics reflect on the overall climate of the NFL? Well, in the 40’s and 50’s the NFL was still a grind-it-out kind of a league. This was somewhat necessitated by the rules, with penalties like pass interference rarely being called. The main mentality was that when the ball went up in the air, something bad, like an interception, was very likely, so why not just keep the ball on the ground and control the clock. But perhaps the biggest factor keeping players during the 40’s and 50’s from going over the 1,000 yard mark on 50 or fewer catches was simply the number of regular season games played: 12.

In the 60’s we had the addition of 2 games, bringing us to 14, and then in 1978 we had the addition of 2 more games, bringing us to our modern total of 16. Compounded with other factors, this gave us a perfect storm for the 20+ yards a catch receiver.

While teams predominantly still didn’t pass a lot, especially by today’s standards, the passing game was burgeoning as a viable way to move the ball down the field. For instance, we may run the ball 70+% of the time, but on the occasion we choose to run a play-action pass, we very likely would find a wide-open receiver sprinting down the field. This explains why both the average per catch is so high in this era and the TD per reception ratio.

In the 80’s the number of 1000 yard receivers with 50 or fewer catches dropped, in part, because we now had 16 games, and as a result, players that were making 40-50 catches a season before were making 55-65 catches. But the larger factor was probable that teams really began passing the ball as a primary form of offense, perhaps because pass defending rules were gradually becoming so pro-offense.

As a result of passing often, averages per reception go down. If you throw the ball 30-40 times a game, you can’t run many homerun routes and expect to have success. Instead, you run a number of short outs, screens, and short crossing patterns. Average yards per reception goes down and receptions go up. In addition, player rosters became very limited in comparison to NFL squads of old. The players on the roster today are on the field more often, making more catches. As a result, it makes it very unlikely that any player would go over 1,000 yards on 50 catches or fewer.

Does this mean the 20+ yard a reception player will go the way of the dodo? Well, no. There will always be DeSean Jacksons to buck the odds, and like in all things, everything that is old eventually becomes new again, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a new era of low reception, high yardage receivers.


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ANATOMY OF A HIGHFLYER:

We’ve discussed what sort of environment makes the highflying receiver possible, but we haven’t yet explored what sort of receiver is able to get 1,000 yards on relatively few receptions. Circumstances would dictate that such a player would be fast, which the research I’ve done indicates.

Also, height is beneficial. A receiver who is tall and streaking down the field gives the quarterback a larger margin of error. Again, the data plays out with few anomalies. Most the receivers are 6 feet or taller, with none under 5’ 10’’. In reference to the heights of the player’s and their perspective era, DeSean Jackson, at 5’10”, is probably the biggest anomaly.

These players tend to be light by NFL standards. Many are less than 180 lbs. This is probably due to two factors: light players can often run faster and heavier players would likely be more physical and perhaps serve their teams better as possession receivers rather than homerun threats. The obvious exception to the rule on this list is Cloyce Box. At 220 lbs and playing in the 1950s, he was heavier than a good number of the players in the league.

Most of the players on this list achieved 50 or fewer catches for over 1,000 yards early in their careers, and if they were among the few able to repeat the feat, did so in seasons of close succession. This is probably due to the fleeting nature of physical speed. One who is elite in speed usually has a short window. In addition, the receivers who didn’t transform into possession receivers later in their careers tended to fizzle out and leave the league. The most glaring exceptions to this tendency are Wesley Walker, who had two seasons with fewer than 50 receptions and over 1,000 yards that occurred 8 seasons apart and Harold Jackson, who didn’t accomplish the feat until his 12th season in the league.

OUR KING:

In soul first of our highflyer list is Elbert Dubenion, who in 1964 finished the season with only 42 catches for over 1100 yards for the then AFL Buffalo Bills. Averaging 27.1 yards per catch, he would have needed only 37 receptions to break the 1000 yard threshold. At 5’11’’ and 187 lbs, Dubenion is a bit shorter and stockier than many on our list.

Often called “Duby” or “Golden Wheels” by fans and teammates, Dubenion had several good seasons in his 9 years with the Bills. For the era he amassed stellar career totals: 294 catches for 5294 yards at 18 yards a catch for 35 touchdowns, but his 1964 season, (Dubenion’s 5th in the league) with 42 receptions for 1,139, was by far his most outstanding. His career high 10 touchdown catches that year gave him an amazing 1 touchdown to 4.2 receptions ratio

With exception of the 1964 season, Dubenion never averaged over 20 yards a catch again. After the 1964 campaign, he became more of a possession receiver, averaging between 14-15 yards a catch.

REPEAT OFFENDERS:

Homer Jones: There are four players to have accomplished the feat of fewer than 50 catches for 1,000+ yards in a season on multiple occasions, only one of whom did so 3 times: Homer Jones. It is no wonder, then, that Jones ranks 1st in yards per catch among all receivers who have caught more than 200 balls in their career.

Jones spent 6 of his 7 years in the league with the New York Giants. His totals of 224 catches for 4,986 yards at 22.3 yards a catch and 36 touchdowns tells the story of a Hall of Fame caliber receiver whose career was cut short by injury. At 6’2” and 215 lbs, Jones was a large, athletic target who weighed in better than many of the athletes of his time. His three seasons of less than 50 catches for 1,000 yards occurred back to back to back in his 3rd, 4th, and 5th seasons (1966: 48 REC, 1044 YDS, 21.8 YPC, 8TDs; 1967: 49 REC, 1209 YDS, 24.7 YPC, 13 TDs; 1968: 45 REC, 1057 YDS, 23.5 YPC, 7 TDs).

Jones’ best season by far came in 1967 when he went over the 1200 yard mark and averaged a touchdown for every 3.8 catches.

Harlon Hill: At 6’3” and 199 lbs, Hill was a dominant receiver in the early 50’s. Hill spent the majority of his career with the Chicago Bears, and he made an impression early, winning rookie of the year in 1954. Sadly, despite the promise of Hill’s first 3 seasons, he would spend most of his career injured, severely hindering his effectiveness.

Despite only playing 12 game seasons in a predominantly grind-it-out league, Hill was able to achieve 1,000 yards on fewer than 50 catches twice in his rookie and third year campaigns (1954: 45 REC, 1124 YDS, 25.0 YPC, 12 TDs; 1956: 47 REC, 1128 YDS, 24.0 YPC, 11 TDs).

Stanley Morgan: Morgan was a dominant receiver for many years, most with the New England Patriots, and arguably should be in the Hall of Fame, especially considering he played in an era (late 70’s to 1990) in which 10,000 yards in a career meant more. At 5’11” and 181 lbs, Morgan was light and fast, and though he averaged well over 20 yards a catch early in his career, in his 14 years in the league he would evolve into more of a possession receiver later on.

Morgan’s best season in the NFL came in 1986 when he had 84 catches for 1491 yards, a 17.8 yard per catch average, and 10 touchdowns, but in reference to our topic, he would have less than 50 catches for over 1,000 yards twice (1979: 44 REC, 1002 YDS, 22.8 YPC, 12 TDs; 1981: 44 REC, 1029 YDS, 6 TDs). He would just miss out on accomplishing the feat a third time in 1980 with 45 catches for 991 yards. In addition, Morgan’s 1 TD per 3.7 receptions in 1979 is certainly of note. In all, Morgan finished his career with 552 catches for 10,716 yards and 19.2 yards per catch with 72 touchdowns.

Wesley Walker: Walker spent his entire 13 year career with the New York Jets from 1977-1989. At 6’0” and 179 lbs, Walker was lithe and remarkably fast and his statistics bear a result that is certainly unusual. Whereas most everyone on our list accomplished the feat of 50 or fewer catches for over 1000 yards early in their career, Walker accomplished the feat in his 2nd season in the NFL and then again 8 years later(1978: 48 REC, 1169 YDS, 24.4 YPC, 8 TDs; 1986: 49 REC, 1016 YDS, 20.7 YPC, 12 TDs).

Walker’s stats tell the story of a player who was capable of being what his team needed. At times he was more of a possession receiver and at others he was more of a homerun threat. He managed to compile a significant career over his 13 seasons with 438 receptions for 8306 yards, a 19.0 yard a catch average and 71 touchdowns, despite being legally blind in one eye.

OF NOTE:

Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson are the only two players to accomplish the feat of 1000+ yards on fewer than 50 catches in the same year (1979) on the same team (Stanley Morgan: 44 REC, 1002 YDS, 22.8 YPC, 12 TDs; Harold Jackson: 45 REC, 1013 YDS, 22.5 YPC, 7 TDS). Both players careers encompassed roughly the same era, 70-80’s, and both players ended their careers with over 10,000 yards. Neither is in the Hall of Fame.

Bill Gorman of the Houston Oilers averaged 1 touchdown per 2.9 catches in 1961 (50 REC, 1175 YDS, 23.5 YPC, 17 TDs)

DeSean Jackson became the 1st player in over 2 decades to record less than 50 catches for over 1,000 yards in 2010 (47 REC, 1,056 YDS, 22.5 YPC, 6 TDs).

Lance Alworth had perhaps the most significant 20+ yards per catch season ever. In 1965 for the San Diego Chargers over the course of only 14 games Alworth caught 69 passes for 1602 yards, a 23.2 yard average, and 14 touchdowns. He doesn’t appear on this list because he doesn’t meet the criteria of 50 or fewer catches.

(Research gathered from pro-footbal-reference.com)

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3 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 20 months ago from sunny Florida

Wow, Larry. You really have researched well. I am not a huge fan of football. But I do watch many of the stories on 30/30 on Netflix about those who play sports because the backstory on these players just draws me in and hooks me.

Clearly reading your articles will help fill in the HUGE gaps in my knowledge.

Angels are winging their way to you this morning.

And because others may have missed this info I am sharing and voting up+++

ps


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 20 months ago from Oklahoma Author

Pstraubie: thanks so much for dropping by.

I realize obscure football statistics aren't for everybody, but I appreciate that you can appreciate the amount of research that goes into compiling this information.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

Not surprisingly, I see no Seahawk on this list. We aren't known as a dazzling passing team, but I have the feeling that's going to change in another year after Lynch retires. Anyway, great article for any football fan.

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