Whether it’s better wide receivers, more accurate quarterbacks or simply the evolution of glove design, the best individual seasons for receiving yards have mostly been relatively recently.
We have already looked at the most single-game receiving yards in NFL history, but now it’s time we list those who put up remarkable numbers across a whole season (regular season only).
If you’re wondering where Randy Moss and Michael Irvin are in this list, their best efforts put them in 21st and 24th place, respectively.
Tyreek Hill put up the 11th-best single-season numbers in 2022 with the Miami Dolphins. Philadelphia Eagles star A.J. Brown isn’t far behind, either.
Can they challenge these men, though?
Most Receiving Yards in an NFL Season
1. 1,964 yards: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – 2012
The man also known as ‘Megatron’ earned that moniker in the 2012 season as he so regularly caught the ball that you would be forgiven for thinking he had some sort of robotic advantage.
Johnson only scored five touchdowns but was so often Matthew Stafford’s go-to option. He was targeted 204 times (fourth all time) and made 122 receptions at an average of 16.1 yards per reception. He was also responsible for 92 first downs.
It didn’t do the Lions much good as they finished with a record of 4-12, but it at least saw Johnson secure an individual record that has stood for over a decade and counting. It summed things up that he managed a 225 receiving-yard game against the Atlanta Falcons in a Week 16 defeat. It could have been even better for him if not for his struggles in two games against the Chicago Bears in which he only recorded a combined 106 receiving yards.
2. 1,947 yards: Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams – 2021
It must be something about Stafford as his throws were partly responsible for the top two in this list, and interestingly, nine years apart. His link-up with Kupp in the 2021 season was almost as fruitful in terms of yardage, but it was far more successful overall.
Kupp ended the regular season as the triple crown winner for most catches (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16). He became the first NFL player to achieve the feat since Steve Smith in 2005.
He also played a significant role in the Rams going all the way and winning Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals.
3. 1,871 yards: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – 2015
Jones has played for three different NFL teams in the three years since leaving the Falcons, but the best years of his storied career were undoubtedly in Atlanta.
The 2015 season particularly stood out as he was targeted 203 times by QB Matt Ryan, with his 93 receiving first downs being the most in a season in NFL history. He averaged 116.9 receiving yards per game, which was second all time among those who played at least 16 games (behind Johnson in 2012).
The Falcons finished 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs, but Jones still ended strong with 178 receiving yards against the Carolina Panthers in a Week 16 win. He went on to put up a 300-yard game against the same opponents the following year.
4. 1,848 yards: Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers – 1995
One of only three pre-2000 entries in this top 10, the legendary Niners WR had quite a 1995 campaign.
During the season, he surpassed James Lofton overall for most receiving yards in NFL history – a record he still holds today – and he went on to put up his best season numbers with 1,848 yards. He also produced 15 receiving TDs and made 122 catches at 15.1 yards per catch.
San Francisco ended with a regular season record of 11-5, eventually losing in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers.
5. 1,834 yards: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers – 2015
Things may not have exactly worked out for Brown in recent years, but at his peak with the Steelers, he was almost unstoppable.
Thanks to Julio Jones’ efforts for the Falcons, this somehow wasn’t the best individual performance of the 2015 season. It was still an impressive effort from Brown, who finished with the same number of catches as Jones that season (136), though his came from 10 fewer targets (203-193).
His most productive game that season came in the Week 9 win over the Oakland Raiders in which he totaled 284 receiving yards from 17 catches. The Steelers ultimately lost in the divisional round to the Denver Broncos.
6. 1,809 yards: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings – 2022
He was threatening to do something special after an impressive first two years in Minnesota, and Jefferson put up the sixth-best season for receiving yards in only his third year in the NFL.
In the 2022 season, he was trusted even more with 184 targets, 128 catches and eight receiving TDs. He was a major part of a Vikings team that many thought could go deep in the playoffs, but they instead fell to the New York Giants in the wild-card game.
You would assume he’ll threaten these places again in the next few years, though.
7. 1,781 yards: Isaac Bruce, St Louis Rams – 1995
As with Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, this was a bad season for Bruce to put up his best numbers for receiving yards as his efforts were somewhat overshadowed by Jerry Rice.
Bruce is fifth on the all-time list for career receiving yards, but like Rice, his best season was in 1995 when he put up 1,781 yards with 10 receiving TDs and 119 overall receptions.
The Rams did not make the playoffs that year, but Bruce did help them to win Super Bowl XXXIV a few years later before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
8. 1,746 yards: Charley Hennigan, Houston Oilers – 1961
As well as holding the record for more than three decades, Hennigan’s standout total of 1,746 yards was made even more impressive as it took him only 14 games to reach it.
It also came from just 82 receptions, as he averaged 21.3 yards per reception and 124.7 yards per game.
The two-time AFL champion played for seven seasons and left his mark on the game, with only three of his 14 games in the 1961 season seeing him record less than 100 receiving yards.
9. 1,725 yards: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints – 2019
This was a historic season from Thomas as he finished with the most receptions of all time with 149.
Drew Brees relentlessly found the open palms of Thomas, who unsurprisingly won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
Thomas hit double figures for catches in nine of his 16 games, with his best outing seeing him make 13 receptions in a losing effort against the divisional rival Falcons.
10. 1,722 yards: Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts – 2002
In the 1999 season, Harrison totaled 1,663 receiving yards. It was therefore not entirely surprising that he managed to improve on that three years later.
The Colts and QB Peyton Manning were heavily reliant on Harrison that year, with his 205 targets third all time for an NFL season. His 143 receptions and 92 receiving first downs helped lead the Colts to 10-6, though they were beaten 41-0 by the New York Jets in the wild-card game.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer and the Colts went on to win Super Bowl XLI a few years later, but on a personal level, 2002 was Harrison’s standout in terms of receiving yards.