How High Can Bears WR Brandon Marshall Get on the NFL's All-Time Receiving List?

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How High Can Bears WR Brandon Marshall Get on the NFL's All-Time Receiving List?
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has his new contract. Now, he has his sights set on climbing up the NFL's all-time receiving list, with one Hall of Famer sitting atop his checklist. 

"I'm trying to pass Cris Carter in everything," Marshall said on ESPN 1000's Carmen and Jurko Showvia Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago. "I don't think I have it in me to go for Jerry [Rice]."

Marshall said his goal has always been to play 14 years. Next season will be his ninth in the NFL. Just how far can he shoot up the league's receiving leaderboard over the next six seasons?

If he can continue his year-to-year consistency catching the football, only a few of the biggest names in NFL history appear out of his reach. 

Marshall has 712 receptions over eight seasons, ranking 41st in league history. But if he replicates his career average of 89 catches over the next six seasons, he'll end a 14-year career with 1,246, which would trail only Jerry Rice (1,549) and Tony Gonzalez (1,325). Carter caught 1,101 passes over 16 NFL seasons, which ranks fourth all-time. 

Career Reception Leaders, NFL History
PLAYER REC
1. Jerry Rice 1,549
2. Tony Gonzalez 1,325
3. Marvin Harrison 1,102
4. Cris Carter 1,101
5. Tim Brown 1,094
6. Terrell Owens 1,078
7. Isaac Bruce 1,024
8. Reggie Wayne 1,006
9. Hines Ward 1,000
10. Randy Moss 982
41. Brandon Marshall 712

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

While unlikely, it's not completely unreasonable to think Marshall could average 89 catches over the next six years.

For starters, Marshall has played at least 14 games in every one of his eight NFL seasons. He's missed just five career games, including zero since arriving in Chicago in 2012. He has been remarkably durable and reliable, which is the first hurdle to piling up statistics.

(For context, consider that Rice averaged 14.4 games played per season over his 21-year NFL career. He had just two seasons without playing all 16 games.)

Marshall has also been uniquely consistent at making catches from season to season. He is the only receiver to haul in at least 80 receptions in each of the last seven seasons. He has finished five of the last seven seasons with over 100 catches. And his two-year average in Chicago sits at a rock-solid 109 receptions. 

Only Andre Johnson (221) has more catches since 2012 than Marshall's 218. 

Having Jay Cutler deliver him the football has also produced consistent results. Over three seasons in Denver and another two in Chicago, Marshall has four total years with 100 or more catches. Only his rookie season, in 2006, saw Marshall fall short of the 100-catch milestone with Cutler as his quarterback. 

Yet Marshall doesn't even need to hit his yearly average to finish his career among the most prolific pass-catchers of all time. If he averaged only 75 catches over the next six years, he'd still rank third on the all-time list—with 61 more than Carter. 

Sixty-five catches per season over the next six years would still eclipse Carter and put Marshall in a tie for third with Marvin Harrison (1,102). Getting to 1,000 career catches (only nine receivers have ever done it) would only require him to average 48 receptions through 2019. 

As you'd expect, Marshall has been equally consistent in piling up receiving yards. 

Career Receiving Yards Leaders, NFL History
Player REC YRDS
1. Jerry Rice 22.895
2. Terrell Owens 15,934
3. Randy Moss 15,292
4. Isaac Bruce 15,208
5. Tony Gonzalez 15,127
6. Tim Brown 14,934
7. Marvin Harrison 14,580
8. James Lofton 14,004
9. Cris Carter 13,899
10. Henry Ellard 13,777
55. Brandon Marshall 9,050

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

His 9,050 career yards ranks 55th all-time. However, he has seven straight years with 1,000 or more yards, including three straight with at least 1,200. 

His two-year average in Chicago is 1,401.5 yards. And he ranks fourth since 2012 in total receiving yards, with only Calvin Johnson (3,456), Andre Johnson (3,005) and Demaryius Thomas (2,864) totaling more over the last two seasons. 

Marshall's career average is 1,131 yards per season. Six more years at that average gives Marshall a career total of 15,836 yards, which would be good enough for third all-time. Carter finished his career with 13,899 yards, the ninth-most in league history. 

If Marshall somehow matched his two-year Chicago average over the next six years, he'd finish with 17,459 yards, or the second-most all-time. Rice has the record at 22,895 yards, an almost untouchable total. 

For Marshall to tie Rice's record, he'd have to average 2,307.5 yards over the next six seasons. Good luck. 

Even if Marshall averaged nothing more than 1,000 yards over the next six years, his career total would finish as the sixth-most overall—and still more than Carter's final tally. Matching Carter's total will require him to average 808.2 yards per season through 2019. 

To crack the top 10 all-time, Marshall needs to average at least 787.8 receiving yards over the next six seasons. 

Touchdowns are a more difficult equation to solve for Marshall's record-hunting quest.

His 57 career scores rank just 83rd all-time. Carter has more than double his amount at 130, the fourth-most in league history.

Career Touchdown Reception Leaders, NFL History
PLAYER TD REC
1. Jerry Rice 197
2. Randy Moss 156
3. Terrell Owens 153
4. Cris Carter 130
5. Marvin Harrison 128
6. Tony Gonzalez 111
7. Tim Brown 100
7. Steve Largent 100
9. Don Hutson 99
10. Isaac Bruce 91
83. Brandon Marshall 57

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

To catch Carter, Marshall would need to average 12.2 touchdowns per year over the next six seasons. While not impossible, it is worth noting that Marshall's career high in touchdown catches for a season is just 12 (2013). 

However, Marshall does have 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons—his highest two-year output of his NFL career. Only Dez Bryant (25), Jimmy Graham (25), Eric Decker (24) and Thomas (24) have more touchdown catches since 2012. 

If Marshall continued his two-year average of 11.5 scores per season over the next six years, he'd finish with 126—only four behind Carter and sixth all-time. Catching 10 touchdowns per season through 2019 would give Marshall 117 career scores, which still beats Gonzalez (111) for sixth on the list. 

Rice (197), Randy Moss (156) and Terrell Owens (153) are the only receivers to ever catch more than 150 scores in a career. To join that elite club, Marshall would need to haul in at least 15.5 scores per season over the next six years. 

TOM OLMSCHEID/Associated Press

To catch Rice, Marshall would need 10 straight years with 14 scores, or six years at 23.3 touchdowns per season.

So, to recap: Marshall is well on his way to beating Carter in receptions and yards, given he stays healthy and maintains his torrid (but strikingly consistent) pace of catching the football. Touchdowns will be difficult for Marshall to eclipse Carter if he plays only six more seasons. 

And that brings us to our next scenario: What if Marshall somehow plays eight more seasons, finishing with the same length of NFL service as Carter (16 years)?

That's a much more difficult projection to make, because Marshall would be 38 by the time of his 16th season. We can't just expect career averages, or anything even close to career averages, to hold up over another eight years. It's probably a big enough stretch over just six. 

That said, Carter did average 82 catches, 1,008 yards and 10 touchdowns over his final eight NFL seasons. He caught 13 scores at the age of 34, and he put together a season of 96/1,274/9 a year later. In fact, the latter portion of his career (final eight years) was much more productive than his first eight years. 

Despite his age, Carter did not miss a game in any of his final seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He played in just five games during his final season, which came in Miami with the Dolphins. He was 37 years old. 

Will Brandon Marshall beat Cris Carter's career numbers for receptions and receiving yards?

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If Marshall averaged 82 catches over his last eight seasons (2014-2021), he'd finish with 1,368 receptions—43 more than Gonzalez and good for second all-time. 

Averaging 1,008 yards over the next eight years would give Marshall 17,114, also good for second place. Owens currently holds the No. 2 slot with 15,934 yards. 

Finally, 80 more touchdowns (eight years with 10 each season) would place Marshall seven above Carter at 137, but still 16 behind Owens for third place and 60 behind Rice. The total would be good for fourth all-time. 

Again, all these numbers are simply projections, using the past to predict the future and relying on a lot of what-ifs and hypotheticals. Staying healthy and productive in the NFL is an immensely difficult task, regardless of who you are or what your past indicates.

Yet Marshall's rare ability to stay on the field and remain statistically prolific makes it more likely that he'll continue his previous outputs. And if he does, his final tallies are likely to rank among the very best in NFL history. 

The all-time rankings of Cris Carter—and a number of other past receivers—are officially under siege.

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 

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