There have been eight players in NFL history, to date, that have managed to reach 100 receptions in a season by their second year in the league. Two of them came this year, with the Carolina Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey joining the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for that honor.
While three players have now done it at the age of 22, none of them have been as young a Smith-Schuster, who with his 11-reception game on Sunday brought his season total to 106 at the age of 22 and 31 days. The previous record holder was the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald, who caught 103 passes in his second season to lead the NFL in 2005. He was 22 years and 123 days old.
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is 22 years, 31 days old. With 106 receptions, he passes Larry Fitzgerald (22 years, 123 days old) as the youngest player to reach 100 catches in a single season in NFL history.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) December 25, 2018
McCaffrey also came close. He caught 12 passes in his last game to go over 100 receptions on the season and did so at 22 years and 199 days old. Four other players reached 100 at the age of 23. The oldest player to do it for the first time within their first two seasons was Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints, who did it last year at the age of 24. He’s already topped 100 receptions again.
Thomas became just the third player in NFL history to record 100 or more receptions twice in their first three seasons, the other two being Anquan Boldin (the only one to reach 100 receptions as a rookie) and Brandon Marshall. 14 total players have had a 100-reception season within their first three years. Smith-Schuster is among them. Antonio Brown is not—but he’s had over 100 receptions every year since.
Not to take away from what Smith-Schuster has done, of course. He has the second-most receptions by a player by the age of 22 in NFL history with 164—second only to McCaffrey, who of course was his draft classmate. He has 186, and the Panthers hardly ever take him off the field.
He also has the third-most yards with 2306, behind only Randy Moss, who had 2726 yards and Josh Gordon, who had 2451. There’s an outside chance that he could catch up to Gordon with a big game on Sunday, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Moss’s mark is out of reach, over 400 yards away with one game to play. But he’ll have most of the 2019 season before he turns 23 to still catch up.
As for touchdowns, he does crack the top 10 with his 13, and only five players have had more than 15, but Moss’ record of 28 is a long way away. Rob Gronkowski also had 27. Nobody else even had 20, the next-closest being Fitzgerald with 18.
This all goes to show that Smith-Schuster is already a very good player in good company and has a long future ahead of him. If he can merely continue to do what he has been doing in his first two seasons, he can put up some impressive numbers.