How good was Jerry Rice? Well, NFL fans use a myriad of methods to judge a player’s abilities and achievements in order to accurately rank them in the pantheon of legends. Most of the time, this is all subjective reasoning, but there are still multiple ways of arriving at conclusions.
While some fans rely solely on raw data, otherwise known as box score analysts, others prefer a more mathematical approach that drills deep into the figures and attempts to draw greater meaning from them, and we refer to these fans as the PFFers. There are those who ignore all the statistical evidence and judge purely on the eye test, basing their beliefs on personal bias, and we call this fan, Skip Bayless.
Regardless of the approach you choose to employ, when asked who is the greatest wide receiver of all time, the answer will always be Jerry Rice. His achievements far surpass all others. It was to such an extent that it is almost impossible to quantify.
He was the 16th overall selection of the 1985 NFL draft for the San Francisco 49ers. He was the third wide receiver off the board. Yes, you read that correctly. Both the Jets and the Bengals opted to go a different route when in need of a new wideout, with Jerry Rice still on the board.
Perhaps that criticism is a little unfair, as both Al Toon and Eddie Brown had stellar Pro Bowl careers and achieved great individual success in their own right. Brown was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1985, beating both Rice and Toon to the award before being named to the Pro Bowl in 1988.
Al Toon had an even more decorated career. He was a two-time All Pro and three-time Pro Bowler. He was the AFC Player of the Year in 1986 and the overall reception leader in 1988. He was also named to the Jets’ Team of the Decade and is enshrined in their Ring of Honor.
Neither, however, are Jerry Rice. In fact, to provide a little context, if you were to add the career receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns of both players together, it barely equals to half of the production recorded by Jerry Rice.
The numbers for Jerry Rice don’t lie
It is almost impossible to put into words how good Jerry Rice was, so rather than try, let’s look at the numbers in black and white:
13x Pro Bowl | 10x All-Pro
The long-time 49ers’ ten All-Pro nods places him tied at first on the all-time list, alongside former Raiders center Jim Otto.
Super Bowl MVP (XXIII)
He is one of only eight wide receivers to ever win the Super Bowl MVP.
1,549 Receptions, 22,895 Rec Yards, 197 Rec TDs
Rice is number one, all-time in all three categories, and is also first in total touchdowns with 208 and career all-purpose yards with 23,546. He holds the record for 1,000 receiving yard seasons, with fourteen, five more than Randy Moss, who is second all-time. His final 1,000 yard season came for the Oakland Raiders in 2002, when he was 40 years old.
What was it about Jerry Rice that set him apart from his peers?
There are a lot of factors that set the legendary wideout apart, but he has his own take on the subject. When asked, this is what Jerry had to say:
“I think the thing about that was I was always willing to work; I was not the fastest or biggest player, but I was determined to be the best football player I could be on the football field, and I think I was able to accomplish that through hard work.”
Anyone who knows anything about Rice wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest that he highlighted hard work as a major contributing factor, but he continued to discuss the twilight of his career and how he was able to continue to produce at such a high level:
“I think I just went into a system that was willing to utilize me and gave me opportunities, and I felt fortunate to be able to go to Oakland and put the silver and black on. I wanted to prove to everybody that I could still play .”
So there you have it, hard work and the right system, except he is being overly modest. It is no secret that Rice’s work ethic is legendary. His training regimens are almost narcissitic. His famous hill training at the Edgewood Park & Natural Preserve have taken on an almost mythic legend. In the Rice era, hill training was highly popular with high-performing athletes, but he took the concept to almost insane levels. He would run uphill for 2½ miles nonstop, every day during the off-season.
The Hall of Famer said this about his training tactics as he explained that he only took a two-week break during the off-season:
“The main thing for me was conditioning, and it started with this hill. We did this, and it’s what made us capable of outdoing everybody else during the football season. It was about being able to put your body through pain. I was always surprised,” he said, “because there were a lot of professional players that would wait until training camp to work themselves into shape.”
Rice was certainly not the quickest player. In fact, his 4.7s 40-yard dash was so slow that it caused him to drop all the way to the middle of the first round. And neither was he the biggest or strongest wideout you’ll ever see. But what Jerry had, alongside his phenomenal work ethic, fitness and mindset, was incredible hands.
As the son of a bricklayer, Jerry would spend his early summers working with his dad, catching bricks as they where thrown at him. These hands would develop into some of the strongest and most subtle to grace the NFL.
Even in today’s quarterback-driven, pass-heavy NFL, Rice’s records will be difficult to surpass, but it is not impossible. If a WR was to play for 15 seasons, they would only have to average 103 catches a season, with 13 TDs and 1,526 receiving yards, so no, technically, it’s not impossible.