Once more on Sunday afternoon, Julio Jones and A.J. Green proved to be in a class of their own.
The star-studded wide receiver Class of 1996 may get all the love, and the budding Class of 2014 may be drawing rave reviews simply because of its sheer number of high picks who’ve (so far) panned out.
But if Jones and Green continue on their current clip, there may be no stopping them.
On Sunday, it was more of the same: Jones caught 9 passes for a Week 7-high 174 yards and Green followed up with 8 grabs for 169 yards and a score. On a day in which there were only 22 touchdown passes thrown to wide receivers — in Week 4, there were 35 – the dangerous duo once again paced the pack.
Should we be surprised?
Through five-plus years, Jones and Green are on their way to historic careers.
Jones has 7,031 yards on 454 receptions through 72 career games, with 38 career touchdowns. As he continues to be the focal point of the Atlanta air attack, his numbers are only getting better: Last year, he had a career-high 136 receptions on 203 targets for 1,871 yards. Both the yardage and reception total rank second in NFL history for a single season.
Green, meanwhile, has 6,946 yards on 465 career receptions through 83 career games. He has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons, and his big-play ability may actually trump Jones’, as he has 48 career touchdowns to Jones’ 38.
This season, with Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. underperforming, Jones and Green have moved ahead of the competition. Jones leads the NFL with 830 yards on 40 receptions, a ridiculous 20.8 yard-per-reception clip, and Green leads the league with 50 catches for 775 yards. For comparison’s sake, both have more yards this season than the league’s top rusher, Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.
For more comparisons, let’s look at some of the great receiver draft tandems in recent memory.
Class of ’96: Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison
Owens was certainly one of the most colorful wideouts in NFL history – does the term “diva” ring a bell? – but both Jones and Green are on pace to dwarf his career numbers. It took Owens until his fifth season to truly break out, as he had 1,451 yards on 97 receptions in 14 games for the 2000 San Francisco 49ers, but then he reeled off seven 1,000-yard seasons in eight years.
Like Owens, Harrison took some time to get rolling – and getting Peyton Manning as his quarterback didn’t hurt – as he didn’t cross the 1,000-yard threshold until his fourth season. But what a season it was: 1,663 yards on 115 receptions with 12 touchdowns.
Owens currently ranks second in all-time receiving yardage with 22,895 yards, but Harrison is close behind in seventh with 14,580.
The Class of ’96 is also known for Muhsin Muhammad, Keyshawn Johnson and Eric Moulds and long-time veterans Amani Toomer, Bobby Engram and Joe Horn.
Class of ’98: Randy Moss and Hines Ward
If Owens and Harrison took some time to rev the engine, Moss was full-throttle from the opening tip. Moss had 1,313 yards as a rookie, followed up with 1,413 as a second-year star, and after appearing to fall off a bit, he rediscovered his magic in a brilliant second act with Tom Brady.
Moss finished 642 yards behind Owens in career yardage, but nipped him in career touchdowns 156-153, ranking second all-time behind Jerry Rice.
Ward may not have put up quite the lofty numbers that Moss did, but there were few tougher receivers to play the game. Ward was to the inside slant what Moss was to the deep fade, as his 1,000 career receptions indicate. Ward finished with 12,083 yards and was a fixture for Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs.
Class of ’01: Reggie Wayne and Steve Smith
Like his running partner Harrison, Wayne thrived alongside Peyton Manning. Wayne ranks seventh in league history in receptions with 1,070 and eighth – one place behind Harrison – in receiving yards with 14,345.
Smith is closing in on Wayne quickly, though, with 14,242 yards in a career that is somehow still going. Baltimore’s diminutive star has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark eight times in his 16-year career, though it appears age has finally caught up to him this year.