Way back in March when Antonio Brown was traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Oakland Raiders, he was asked how long he planned on playing for. He simply replied that his goal was to catch Jerry Rice. This was laughed off as Brown’s trademark bravado, but then Rice visited with the Raiders this weekend, and it got me thinking. Was it possible? Could A.B. catch Jerry Rice?
Can Antonio Brown Catch Jerry Rice?
First thing’s first, there are a ton of variables at play here. Time waits for no man, and you never know how long someone is capable of playing at a high level. Some guys, like Raider icon, Charles Woodson, seem like they could keep playing forever. Sadly this isn’t true for everyone, and some players fall off during an off-season like Denver Broncos (half-joking) legend, Peyton Manning.
Secondly, the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers are totally different teams, and Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger are totally different quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Antonio Brown’s production in Oakland is consistent with his production in Pittsburgh. Plenty of receivers, notably Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes, and former Oakland Raider, Martavis Bryant, were huge stars in Pittsburgh, only to fizzle out elsewhere.
But those guys aren’t Antonio Brown, and that’s worth noting too. Buried underneath his more volatile social media activity is a never-ending commitment to self-preservation. On any given day, all anyone has to do is pull up Brown’s instagram story and it’ll almost definitely show a healthy meal, a massage, or his workout of the day. He’s not slacking, and if Brown has any say in the matter, he’ll bring the best possible version of himself to the table for the Oakland Raiders for as long as he physically can.
Jerry Rice currently holds the NFL records for receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), and receiving touchdowns (197). Many of come close, namely Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Larry Fitzgerald, but none have been able to pass Rice. This is due in part to three very important things. Firstly, Jerry Rice played for twenty seasons, rarely being injured. Secondly, he only ever really played with Hall of Fame or Most Valuable Player quarterbacks, namely Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Rich Gannon. And finally, much like Brown, he took incredible care of himself. He still looks like he can go today.
As of this writing, Brown has 837 career receptions for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns. That means he trails his fellow Raider by 712 catches, 11,188 yards, and 123 touchdowns. That means that if Brown wants to catch Jerry, he basically needs to have the entirety of Michael Irvin’s career (750 catches, 11.904 yards, 65 touchdowns) and then some before he retires. That seems daunting, but there is reason to believe that he could pull it off.
While nobody would ever confuse Ben Roethlisberger with Joe Montana, he is a Hall of Fame quarterback coming off a season where he led the NFL in passing yards. Furthermore, nobody is envisioning a bust in Canton for Derek Carr just yet, but the young quarterback from Fresno State has played well when he’s had good protection and consistency in his offensive system.
Changing the Game
Another reason to believe Brown could pull it off is the dramatic changing of the NFL rulebook. Jerry Rice played in an era where you could do just about anything to a receiver and it was fair play. In today’s NFL, you can’t touch a receiver after he’s moved five yards, you can’t hit them when they’re in the air, and a defender is far more likely to be called for pass interference than the receiver is. Not to mention if anything happens to the quarterback at all, it’s an instant 15 yard penalty and a fresh set of downs.
Not to mention, advancements in modern science have made rehabbing from injuries and avoiding them altogether easier than ever. Something like an ACL tear that used to be a death sentence is hardly a season-ending injury anymore. Looking at the way Brown takes care of himself, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t play for another 11 years.
And that’s crucial to his pursuit of the greatest of all time. Brown will likely have to play as long as Jerry Rice did, if not longer, to break all of his records. Though being honest, he’s not as far away as you might think.
Yes, the only way I can think to hypothetically map out the rest of Antonio Brown’s career is by employing averages. This is the flimsiest part of my argument because as I stated before, there’s no saying when or how he’ll decline. However, I have provided three different sets of averages, his career average, which includes a rookie season where he barely played, his career as a starter, and his prime.
According to his career average (93 catches, 1,245 yards, eight touchdowns a season), he’d pass Jerry in receptions in year 17 (2026) with 1,581 catches. It would take him two more years until he passed Jerry for yards with 23,657 yards in year 19 (2028). With his average, it would take him five more years to finally score his 198th touchdown, which seems unlikely as it would be 2034, and he’d be 46 years old. Only two players in NFL history, Rice and weirdly enough, Brett Favre, have caught a pass at 40 years or older.
It’s worth noting that in his rookie season, Brown only caught 16 passes for 167 yards. That can be pretty devastating to an average, though it should also be said that even the most complimentary average had Brown’s touchdown total falling far short of Mr. Rice.
Just using his numbers from when he actually started getting playtime (103 taches, 1,380 yards, eight touchdowns a season), Brown would catch Rice in receptions (getting to 1,558 in 2025) and yards (23,627 in 2027) a full season sooner. This means he’d be 38 and have a leg up on Rice in two of the three categories. However, it would still take him just as long to catch the great one in touchdowns.
It’s unrealistic and honestly, irresponsible to assume that Brown can maintain his prime for another 11 years, but if we go off the information gathered since his prime started in 2013, Brown would average 110 catches, 1,524 yards, and 11 touchdowns a season. Weirdly, this wouldn’t cut a full season off of receptions, Brown would still break the catch record in 2025 (though he would have 1,635 receptions, increasing his total by 77), due in part to him breaking the record earlier in the season. However, he would pass Rice in yards a season sooner, totaling 23,399 yards in 2026 at 37 years old.
However! Since his touchdown average is slightly higher, he wouldn’t be as far off from Jerry’s elusive 197 endzone grabs. He’d end year 20 a measly two touchdowns short of Rice’s all-time record. Would it be so crazy for Brown to lace up the cleats one last time to try and grab three more scores?
The Bottom Line
So, having said all that, do I think Antonio Brown will catch Jerry Rice? No. I think that he’s fantastic, and I still believe he’ll be a huge get for the Oakland Raiders, but 712 catches, 11,688 yards, and 123 touchdowns is a huge leap. I think he’ll make it interesting, and if you follow my averages, he should end up second in both categories pretty comfortably in a couple of years.
That doesn’t mean I don’t desperately want him to try, preferably in the Silver and Black.