Records were meant to be broken, but now that the parameters have increased from 16 NFL regular season games to 17, those old records are in peril. Nobody will ever truly beat Peyton Manning’s 2013 record of 5,477 passing yards or Calvin Johnson’s 2012 record of 1,964 receiving yards through 16 game, but how many of us remember the record holders from when there were just 14 games in a season?
We are destined to see passing, receiving and touchdown records beaten with the new 17-game season. Rushing records like Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 rushing yards in 1984 or Ladainian Tomlinson’s 28 rushing touchdowns in 2006 likely have a better chance of holding up in the more pass oriented era, but that extra game could give teams and players an extra push to get there.
Health will likely be the determining factor when it comes to many of these records we will look into today. If a player is good enough to close in on a record, there will probably be questions as to whether or not that player should play a full 17 games. Resting players to prolong their careers or keep them healthy for the playoffs will make 17 full games more of a rarity than 16 full games, which is already a rarity. But there will be times where a player is near a record and his team will need wins or be out of the playoff race and the team will want to sell tickets and in the end records will fall.
Passing yards — Peyton Manning, Broncos — 5,477
Manning’s 2013 record only beat Drew Brees’ record set in 2011 by one yard. Though this number is huge, it also feels like the record most-likely to fall with the added game. To break the record, a quarterback would need to average 322.2 passing yards per game. From 2011 to 2016 Brees topped that number in all but one season. Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady have each topped it once while Roethlisberger, Jameis Wintson, and Patrick Mahomes (twice) have all gone over 316 yards per game.
Unless you are Drew Brees, the number isn’t all that easy to reach in a season. The obvious choice to break the record is Mahomes, who has averaged 318.6 and 316 yards in two of his first three seasons.
Tom Brady at 44-years of age is my second favorite to break the record which is truly insane. Last season he topped 341 yards passing in five of his last seven regular season games and now that the Bucs all on the same page, the upside is incredible for that offense.
Passing touchdowns — Peyton Manning, Broncos — 55
Both Brady and Mahomes sit at second place in total touchdowns in a season with 50. Mahomes of course has the livelier arm and an offense that’s likely to pass more in neutral situations, so he gets the nod, but Brady has a similarly pass-happy offense and similar offensive weapons.
Of course there are other quarterbacks who could break out to test the yardage or touchdown mark, but even the best in the league would need to take a huge leap in numbers. Aaron Rodgers did hit his all-time high of 48 touchdowns last season. That’s an average of three touchdowns per game. A quarterback will need to average 3.3 touchdowns per game to hit 56. How Rodgers got to that number with just Davante Adams as his only go-to receiver is fairly crazy. Oh, and who knows if he’ll even play this season.
Receiving yards — Calvin Johnson, Lions — 1,964
Breaking the receiving yards record will take an extremely concentrated effort to get a single receiver the ball over and over and over again. Johnson’s record came in 2012 when the Lions won just four games. A winning team usually doesn’t throw the ball over 200 times to a single receiver and 740 times total in a season. But that’s likely what it will take.
Julio Jones has the second most with 1,871 yards on 203 targets while the Falcons threw the ball 621 times. That’s more efficient at least, and in the end in will take per target efficiency and a whole lot of targets. Last season Stefon Diggs led the league with 166 targets, but Davante Adams led in targets per game. He remains the leader in projected targets and if he can stay healthy and Rodgers returns, he’d be the favorite to break the record. But we’ll likely need a scenario where a single receiver has targets funneled his way while the team’s defense keeps them behind and in need to throw the ball much more than they’d like.
Receptions — Michael Thomas, Saints — 149
After Thomas’ huge 2019 we saw another big receptions number with Stefon Diggs hitting 127, ranking sixth all-time. Six of the Top 7 best reception years have come in the last seven years. To break Thomas’ record, a receiver will need to average 8.8 receptions per game. Diggs averaged 7.9 per game last year. Davante Adams averaged 8.2 and DeAndre Hopkins averaged 7.2. Keenan Allen was up there as well and was second with 10.5 targets per game. Those are the guys to watch this year to take a run at the receptions record.
Receiving touchdowns — Randy Moss, Patriots — 23
Again, if Aaron Rodgers plays this season, Davante Adams would be primed for record breaking numbers if he can stay healthy. Last year he ended up with 18 touchdowns, tying him for third all time behind Moss and Jerry Rice. He was injured early in one game and missed two games due to that injury. If he had played fully and for 17 games, his touchdowns could be extrapolated to 23.5.
Touchdown numbers like these, even in the passing era, just aren’t that common. When Patrick Mahomes threw for 50 touchdowns in 2018, Tyreek Hill led the team with 12 touchdowns while Travis Kelce was at 10, then 10 other Chiefs’ players got in on the touchdown action. Even with just the two dominant targets on the Chiefs, the numbers were spread out. That’s why Adams should by far be the favorite to top the record.
If Rodgers doesn’t play with Adams, Hill is probably the favorite, while A.J. Brown would likely be just behind him as long as the Titans don’t trade for Julio Jones. While a tight end like George Kittle or Kelce would also have good odds to take the record.
There’s a good chance none of these records fall this season, but they will fall more easily with the extra game. Mahomes, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert, and Kyler Murray all will continue to throw the ball to win games in a league that favors quarterbacks. And we’ll see older quarterbacks continue to put up efficient numbers in great offensive systems for longer than they have in the past.