If Jerry Rice Played Today

A video of Jerry Rice gets me thinking about his numbers in the modern NFL.

Over at the Sports Illustrated website, there is a short video featuring Tim Brown and Jerry Rice essentially arguing that they would have excelled in the current offensive climate. This is undoubtedly true, and not really new. This point has been made by numerous people over and over again. The video is worth watching, though, because Rice is hilarious in it. He has a sort of calm, nearly deadpan delivery in the video, with which delivery he says things like "I think playing today's game - it's almost like cheating, to be honest." He concludes his remarks by saying that Football is totally different now, comparing it to "two hand touch." Throughout all this, Brown chortles and laughs.

While I do think that the NFL is still a physically competitive league and that the rule changes have been necessary to preserve the NFL's place in sports going forward, I like the subtle indignation with which Rice talks about the current batch of NFL receivers. He doesn't call out any by name, of course. He's too professional to do that. But, I think he is a bit jealous that he doesn't get to play with the current batch of rules.

After watching the video, I did a Google search to find articles comparing Calvin Johnson and Jerry Rice after Megatron's insane last season. I wanted to find something that maybe projected Rice's stats into the modern NFL. I couldn't find anything; and I don't blame the collective sports media. Such a thing would be really hard. But, I did find one article by Kevin Seifert that looked at Rice's first six seasons in comparison to Johnson's (and Randy Moss'). I'll reproduce the numbers: In six seasons so far, Johnson has 488 receptions for 7,836 yards and 54 touchdowns. Rice, in his first six seasons, had 446 receptions for 7,866 yards and an outstanding 79 TDs. It's worth noting, too, that Rice had a horrible rookie season and a strike-shortened 1987 season. For a closer look at the numbers, take a gander at Rice's Pro-Football-Reference page here and Johnson's here (and I suggest you do - Rice's is just a daunting list of how awesome he is; keep in mind the fact that bold numbers indicate a statistic in which Rice led the league that year).

So, let's draw some conclusions. Johnson's higher reception total is not surprising given that he plays for a Lions team that is incredibly pass happy. Oh yeah, also, he plays in the modern NFL era. Rice, though, still has more yards on fewer receptions. I'm no math whiz (though I wish I were). But, I would like to try to figure out what Rice may have done in the modern NFL in terms of yard totals in his first six seasons.

First, we should look at a statistic that Seifert doesn't include in his analysis: yards per reception. In his first six seasons, Johnson has had 16.0 yards per reception. In contrast, Rice had an incredible 17.6. Now, let's assume that in the modern NFL, Rice could match Johnson's 488 receptions. I tend to think he would have surpassed it, but I don't want to be too homerish. Let's say he matches it. At his yards per reception rate, Rice would have had 8,606.7 yards. Let's adjust the TDs, too. By dividing Rice's 446 receptions by his 79 TDs, we get 5.6. So, if I am doing my Math correctly, for every 5.6 receptions Rice caught in his first six seasons, he scored 1 TD. Thus, if Rice catches an additional 42 receptions, it should result in another 7.5 TDs he would have scored, putting him up to 86.5 TDs.

This is all off the cuff calculations. I don't have the math skills to really project Rice's first six seasons into the modern NFL. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if you guys called me out in the comments for some faulty math. I am a Classicist after all. Math is that pesky thing I do to pay my bills so that I don't get kicked out of my house. But, I wanted to at least attempt to see what Rice may have done in his first six seasons should he have been playing them alongside the exceptional Mr. Johnson.

So, this is all to say, enjoy the video. It's thought-provoking. And, I wish we had some good receivers on this team right now. Jerry should just come back and play for us in the modern NFL. See what type of numbers he would actually put up...

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