In the history of the NFL, only five wide receivers have had a streak of six-plus consecutive seasons with 1,200 or more receiving yards.
Jerry Rice tops the list with nine straight 1,200-yard seasons, and Julio Jones is the only active player with such a streak, which sits at six consecutive seasons entering the 2020 campaign.
It’s no secret Jones has had a historic career to this point, as his 12,125 receiving yards rank first in NFL history for wide receivers through their first nine seasons.
This figure becomes especially impressive considering he’s amassed 261 more yards in 16 fewer games than the second player on the list, former Rams great Torry Holt.
Where Does Jones Currently Rank On The All-Time Receiving List?
To understand how far Jones could climb up the all-time receiving list, we’ll first have to put his career numbers entering this season into historical perspective.
Jones currently sits at 25th on the all-time receiving list, but another year of his season-average 1,347 receiving yards in 2020 would catapult him to 16th on the all-time list, just ahead of the aforementioned Holt.
Two consecutive seasons of career-average production would place Jones at about 14,819 yards, which would rank eighth on the all-time receiving list.
Entering the 2020 campaign, Jones is still 10,770 yards behind Rice, the NFL’s all-time receiving leader, and 4,958 yards behind Larry Fitzgerald, the second-leading receiver and the only active player in the top 15 of the all-time list.
At this rate, it would take Jones eight more seasons of career-average production to catch Rice, at which point Jones would be 39 years old.
Can Jones Sustain His Production?
In NFL history, only four players 34 years old or older have surpassed 1,300 receiving yards in a season, and only Irving Fryar accomplished this feat as a 35-year-old.
Fryar played in all 16 games for the Philadelphia Eagles in his historic 1997 season, and unlike Jones, Fryar had little competition for receptions, totaling 71 more targets than Philadelphia’s next-leading receiver that season.
While Jones has proven to be an all-time great at the position and has been mostly healthy throughout his career, it’s unreasonable to expect him to sustain his production and target share into his mid- and late-30s, especially as Calvin Ridley’s role in the Falcons’ offense grows.
Jones could conceivably catch Rice by extending his career into his 40s, but Rice is the only wide receiver of the 21st century to play to such an age, making this proposition extremely unlikely, at best.
What About Weighted Averages?
While arguments about age, potential injuries and regression in the form of target competition with the 25-year-old Ridley hold some weight in projecting Jones’ future statistics, there’s a strong chance he could actually exceed his career averages in the short term over the next few seasons.
Replacing Jones’ season-average projection with a “weighted” average of 1,559 receiving yards per season – which includes only Jones’ receiving-yard totals over the past five seasons – would put Jones at about 15,243 receiving yards by the end of the 2021 season, pushing him into fifth place on the all-time receiving list.
At that point, Jones would be entering his age-33 season in 2022 trailing Rice by about 7,652 receiving yards. Assuming he hasn’t retired by then, Jones would still need to average 1,530 receiving yards per season for five years to catch Rice by the time Jones turns 38.
The odds of such a proposition are long, as Rice is the only player in NFL history to total more than 7,650 receiving yards after turning 33. His 9,620 yards after his 33rd birthday – more than 3,600 yards than the next-highest total – underscore Rice’s late-career dominance and just how difficult it would be for Jones to catch the former 49ers great.
What’s The Best-Case Scenario?
A major factor of Rice’s longevity was his style of play, which relied more on route running and quickness than the straight-line speed and physicality that has helped separate Jones from his peers.
While it isn’t impossible, Jones would have to commit to playing more meaningful snaps at an older age like Rice did during the twilight of his career, and Jones would have to do so with breaking Rice’s record in mind.
If Jones could average 1,800 receiving yards over the next three seasons to bring him within about 5,370 yards of Rice’s record by the beginning of 2022, perhaps the itch to secure one of football’s most coveted records would be enough to keep the Falcons receiver on the field.
Even if Rice’s record proves unreachable, Jones in on a trajectory to finish his career among the top-five leading receivers in NFL history.