16 weeks to snag 24 touchdown receptions. Seems a bit extreme, no? Well, in today’s pass happy NFL, I believe this record will be short lived. While it has stood since the end of the 2007 season, I believe it will be broken this season… by a tight end. Yup, that’s the crazy NFL we watch today. I’ll give you some reasons why other top targets in the league today will not be able to break this record while giving my reasons why one particular tight end will continue his dominance in just his third season as a professional.
Those Who Will NOT Break Moss’ Record
Calvin Johnson – WR, Detroit Lions (2011 Stats: 96 receptions, 1681 yards, 16 touchdowns)
First and foremost, the Madden Curse is nothing to take lightly. It’s real, and if anything keeps the Lions out of a repeat trip to the playoffs it will be the Curse. Other than that, Johnson is the best wide receiver in the league entering 2012. The spotlight will be shining bright on him every single week. When Moss broke Jerry Rice’s record in 2007, it was during his first season in New England. His career was thought to be long over by the time he was traded for a 4th round draft pick in the summer of ’07. Johnson will not have that luxury of being overlooked from week one. Now, don’t get me wrong, if Johnson some how avoids the Madden Curse he should still put up a ridiculous stat line, but last season was also the first in which Matthew Stafford played consistent without a major injury. Stafford’s growth in 2011 was a massive reason why Megatron was able to snag 16 touchdowns in the regualr season. If Ryan Broyles, Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew, and Nate Burleson cannot take away any of the spotlight away from Johnson he is sure to see a drop in production rather than an increase of eight touchdowns. Sorry, Calvin. Maybe in the future.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans (2011 stats: 33 receptions, 492 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Now, Andre Johnson is coming off of a season in which he only played seven games. And even for seven games, that stat line is far from impressive. In fact, while Johnson has recorded three seasons of over 100 receptions and five seasons of over 1,000 yards, he has never recorded a season with double digit touchdowns. Never. Not once. Could this be the year? Maybe. But for a man with 52 career touchdown receptions over a nine year career, I just can’t see it. Granted, the Texans offense arguably is more balanced than the Lions offense with RB Arian Foster coming out of the backfield, but jumping from a career single season high of nine scores up to 24 seems like a lofty task for the 31-year old out of Miami. Andre Johnson remains a monster, there is no doubt about that, but I’m not penciling him in for 24 trips to the endzone over the next two seasons let alone this year.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (2011 stats: 80 receptions, 1411 yards, 8 touchdowns)
Larry Fitzgerald seems like one of, if not the, nicest guys in the NFL today. Every time I see him update his Twitter he is doing some charity event or meditating on some mountain in China that I have never even heard of or shagging fly balls during batting practice at a Minnesota Twins game. Plus, he is an absolute monster on the football field, which always helps a guy’s image. Now, if the Arizona Cardinals had any semblance of a competent quarterback I think it would be a legitimate thought that Larry Fitz could reel in close to 20 TDs this season. Why not? A solid running back stable (Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams) while lining up opposite of another first round receiver in rookie Michael Floyd. But, the Cardinals do not possess such an asset. Thus, Larry Fitzgerald is out of the running be default. (By the way, the fact that he was able to put up THAT stat line in ’11 with those QBs is worthy of some sort of award.)
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints (2011 stats: 99 receptions, 1310 yards, 11 touchdowns)
Graham broke out in a big way in 2011 in just his second year in the League by having one of the best statistical seasons ever by a tight end. Graham also has the luxury of playing with the best quarterback, by far, on this list. Drew Brees, however, is both a gift and a curse for the former college basketball player. The thing with Brees is that he does not care who he throws the ball to at any point during the game. If you are open, he will throw it to you. Doesn’t matter if you’re his top receiver or the last guy on the depth chart. He will hit you. Which is why Graham would have games like week 12 against the New York Giants (5 receptions, 84 yards, 2 touchdowns) followed by week 13 against the Lions (8 receptions, 89 yards, 0 touchdowns) followed by week 14 against the Lions (5 receptions, 55 yards, 0 touchdowns). All of those games resulted in wins for the Saints where they scored 49, 31, and 22 points respectively. Since Brees is one of the best in the business at utilizing all of his weapons, it would be tough for Graham to find those 13 extra scores throughout the season despite being a matchup nightmare for defenders leaguewide.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers (2011 stats: 68 receptions, 1263 yards, 15 touchdowns)
Nelson has similar problems to Graham in this scenario. Both have elite level quarterbacks who love to spread the ball around. If I had to choose between Nelson and Graham, however, I would take Graham to get 13 more touchdowns rather than Nelson getting nine more. Why? Graham had 31 more receptions last season. It’s really that simple. In fact, it’s rather astounding that nearly a quarter of Nelson’s receptions ended up as touchdowns. That’s the best rate I think I’ve seen since Mike Vrabel retired. But anyways, Nelson does have the luxury of playing with an elite quarterback in a passing league, so there is always the chance he can duplicate his scoring prowess from ’11 in 2012. But with Greg Jennings being the #1 receiver in Green Bay, and Jermichael Finley always a threat to score, it will be tough for Nelson to find the endzone 24 times with only 75-85 receptions. Considering he was scoring roughly every 4.5 times he caught the ball, he would need about 110 receptions to make it happen, IF he keeps up his rate of scoring from last season. Both of which will be incredibly hard for Nelson to pull off in 2012 and beyond.
So if you’ve been reading along with any comprehension, you may have been realizing what someone would need around them in order to accomplish this feat. Some player would need to be the top receiver on their own team. Not necessarily lead their team in receptions, but be the unquestioned number one target. They also need an elite level quarterback who is likely to throw around 40 touchdowns. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present…
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (2011 stats: 90 receptions, 1327 yards, 17 touchdowns)
Jimmy Graham has to hate Gronk. There’s no way he couldn’t. Graham would have had arguably the best statistical season by a tight end ever if Rob Gronkowski did not exist. But, alas, he does and he will be the next record holder for most touchdown receptions in a single sesaon after his 2012 campaign. How couldn’t he? He became the first tight end ever to lead the league in touchdown receptions in 2011. Mind you, he had 17 scores. Those 17 Gronk Spikes only appeared in 10 weeks, however, as he posted six games without a trip to the endzone. In fact, when Gronk did score, he rarely settled for just one. Out of those 10 games, seven were of the multi-touchdown variety. Considering he only need six more scores to tie Moss’ record and he failed to score in six weeks last season, you begin to see why it isn’t a ridiculous setiment to think that Gronk can touch this record.
In fact, when you put into realization that he was the #1 redzone target in all of football last season, has Tom Brady throwing him the ball, and has Wes Welker (chain mover), Aaron Hernandez (does everything under the sun), and Brandon Lloyd (field stretcher) surrounding him on offense, it becomes that much more realistic. When it comes to touchdown receptions on this team, no one even sniffs Gronks scoring prowess. Lloyd, while he has never played with a quarterback of Brady’s ilk, is the only option who has ever recorded double digit scores in a single season. He has accomplished this feat exactly once, in 2010. Welker had exactly one touchdown reception before joining the Patriots in 2007. He has caught 31 since that time. Hernandez, who has been in the league just as long as Gronkowski, has caught 13 total touchdowns to Gronk’s 27.
10 touchdowns as a rookie. 17 in his second season. Hell, Gronk even had a rushing touchdown last season. Not to mention a 10 reception, 145 yard, three touchdown outburst against the Denver Broncos in the playoffs. 20 touchdown receptions in 17 games last season. Sure, the record is for 16 games, but who’s to say his one reception for 15 yards week 4 doesn’t get swapped out for his divisional round masterpiece? All I’ve heard “analysts” say all offseason is how “easy” the Patriots 2012 schedule is in relation to the rest of the league. Well, if that’s the case, should this even be considered farfetched? I mean, shouldn’t the player who led the league in touchdown receptions in 2011 technically benefit from having a easier schedule in front of him? Seven more touchdowns?
If Gronk were to score at least once in every game, and he kept up his rate of scoring at least two touchdowns in 70% of those games, that would leave him with 27 touchdowns in 2012. Frankly, I think that’s out of the question. If anyone breaks Moss’ record, it will be 25 max. Which is still an absolutely ridiculous season, there is no question about that. But, we have already seen what happens when the best receiver in football pairs up with the best quarterback in the game. With two years of chemistry between them, there is no reason to believe it cannot happen this year. Hell, Brady already knows how to hold up his end of the bargin, all Gronk needs to do is make the catch.
Expect to see this pose all season long. KABOOM!
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