The NFL record for most receptions by a wide receiver in his third season is 107, by Steve Smith (New York Giants, 2009). The record for most receiving yards for a third-year receiver is 1,598, by David Boston (Arizona Cardinals, 2001). And the record for most touchdowns in a third NFL season is 22, by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers, 1987).
No, you’re not about to read a piece suggesting Michael Floyd is about to embark on a 110/1,600/25 season. That’s absurd, and I don’t deal in absurdities—I deal in reality.
Floyd missed most of Cardinals training camp with a groin injury. When he returned to play in the third preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he looked out of sync with quarterback Carson Palmer. In a half of play, he finished with one reception on three targets for just four yards.
A rough preseason aside, Floyd is about to begin what could be an all-time great third NFL season at wide receiver. This will be a statistics-and-history-based piece, so you may want to take some Tylenol now to prevent the headache you’re sure to get halfway through.
A great third season does not mean the receiver topped 1,000 yards. Since the NFL began in 1920, a total of 81 wideouts have done that in their third seasons. That is too many to be considered great.
So we narrow it down.
How many receivers had at least 80 receptions in Year 3? Thirty-five. How many of those 35 topped 1,300 yards? Thirteen. And how many of those 13 recorded double-digit touchdowns? Six.
Check out this list of players.
Notice five of the six receivers on the list completed Season 3 within the past dozen years, and of those five, three are still active. The other, former San Diego Chargers great and product of one of the NFL’s first spread offenses, John Jefferson, did it way back in 1980. Jefferson played for former Cardinals coach Don Coryell, who is known for his innovative, pass-heavy offense that used a lot of motion before the snap in an attempt to get the defense to show what it had called.
The “Air Coryell Offense,” at it is known today, helped Dan Fouts become the first NFL quarterback to top the 4,000-yard barrier in a season. (Note: Joe Namath was the first to top 4,000 yards, for the AFL’s New York Jets in 1967.)
Fouts surpassed 4,000 yards three consecutive seasons, from 1979 to 1981, and would have again in 1982 if not for a strike-shortened nine-game season. He was on-pace to become the first quarterback to best 5,000 yards that season, finishing with 2,883 yards in his nine games—a 5,125-yard pace that Dan Marino would not have topped in 1984 and no one would have topped until Drew Brees in 2011.
So, should you expect a 90-catch, 1,400-yard, 11-touchdown season from Floyd this season? That certainly would place him among the all-time greats in regard to third NFL seasons.
That would be a best-and-worst case scenario, depending on whom you talk to, because for Floyd to have that type of season, some of Arizona’s other top targets may have to succumb to injury. That type of season is generally reserved for a receiver on a team with little talent around him.
The chart below shows the percentage of team totals each of the six receivers accounted for in their respective third seasons.
Hypothetical: If Floyd equals the average of both charts in 2014, that means Palmer would complete 377 passes (would be a career-high) for 4,479 yards (another career high) and 31 touchdowns (second-most of his career).
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Palmer reach those numbers this season. After all, he completed 362 passes for a career-high 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. If he started the 2013 season as he ended it, he may have thrown four or five more touchdowns and fewer interceptions, leading to more completions and yards.
The Cardinals and Floyd have a chance to be very good in 2014. There are, however, reasons other than the fact he’s so good that will help him take the next step in becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL. These reasons are double-edged swords. They will create opportunities for Floyd, but they also will take touches away from him.
They have names, in fact.
You know, the All-Everything future Hall of Fame wideout who owns every major receiving record the franchise has?
The speedy third-round pick who has the attention of major sports news outlets everywhere. Palmer requested Brown have a locker directly next to his so the two could have constant communication regarding everything Cardinals offense this season, much to the surprise of the rookie.
Palmer explained himself to Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com:
He’s over here in the suburbs with us,” Palmer said. “He’s a guy that I like to be talking with through certain situations as practice comes up. He and I have had a great working relationship, and this gives us a chance to go over some things during practice that we can cover after practice.
It appears his role in head coach Bruce Arians’ offense won’t be as substantial as first thought thanks to Brown, who was officially moved into the starting slot receiver spot this week—a spot many assumed would be Ginn’s for contractual and game-experience reasons.
Ginn will still attract some attention down the field, which will help open things up for Floyd.
The free-agent tight end signed early this offseason, allowing for maximum work within the offense before things got real. Well, it’s real now, and Carlson’s a threat to have a comeback-player-of-the-year-type season if he remains healthy. He looked great all throughout camp and the preseason, catching everything thrown his way and routinely being wide open downfield.
Perhaps the biggest reason Floyd could be in rare company this season, Ellington will be the focal point of Arizona’s ground attack.
It’s unlikely he carries 20-plus times per game, but the threat he poses in the passing attack as well as on the ground—he did lead the NFL with 5.53 yards per carry as a rookie last season—is real, and defenses will not let him gash them all season.
That means more opportunities for Floyd.
Now that we’ve discussed the type of season Floyd could have, we’ll end our time by going over what a monster season from the Notre Dame product could mean in terms of where he stands in NFL history. We’ll even get a bit greedy in looking at possible season statistics just to have fun with it.
Over his first two seasons, Floyd has amassed 110 receptions for 1,603 yards (14.6 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. Not bad, considering the heap of hot garbage that threw him the ball his rookie season of 2012.
But it’s not historic. His 110 receptions through two seasons ranks sixth among receivers in franchise history, his 1,603 receiving yards ranks fifth and his seven scores ranks ninth. He’s the sixth receiver in franchise history with at least 100 receptions and 1,500 yards in his first two seasons.
That’s not special enough.
What does Floyd need in 2014 to reach historic levels for a three-year stretch? Let’s get greedy with projecting Floyd’s stats.
In NFL history, eight receivers have begun their careers by recording at least 200 receptions for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Here’s the list:
The major thing to note with this chart is that four of the eight players on it are still active. The next thing to note is that one—Mr. Rice—is in the Hall of Fame. The final thing to note is that two of the remaining three—Moss and Isaac Bruce—should be enshrined in Canton at some point down the road.
To become the ninth member of that elite group, Floyd’s 2014 season would have to be very near the numbers highlighted in the first chart—90 receptions, 1,397 yards, 15.52 YPC, 13 touchdowns.
Assuming for a moment he reaches those numbers and, for fun’s sake, also accounts for the average percentages laid out in the second chart, his quarterback, Palmer, would complete 373 passes for 4,510 yards and 37 touchdowns.
The only statistic to take a dramatic uptick are the touchdowns. Palmer’s career high for touchdown strikes in a season is 32, when he led the league way back in 2005 as a 26-year-old gunslinger in his prime with the Bengals. Besting that total by five as a 34-year-old on the downswing of his career is unrealistic.
Also unrealistic is the assumption that Floyd will account for a quarter of Palmer’s completions, 31 percent of his passing yards and nearly 36 percent of his touchdowns this season. By comparison, Floyd accounted for 17.91 percent of Palmer's completions, 24.26 percent of his yards and 20.83 percent of his touchdowns in 2013.
There are many weapons for Palmer to choose from, and if we know one thing about the former No. 1 overall pick, it’s that he likes spreading the ball around to those targets. And with perhaps the best tight end/running back combination he’s ever had in Carlson and Ellington, you have to think those two will factor heavily into the game plan each week.
The fact is there are only so many targets to go around in a season. Arians loves his vertical attacking offense, and Floyd will most definitely play a major role in that attack. But the underneath routes will be there and, with an offensive line that, while bolstered on the bookends, has its holes, Palmer will rely on Carlson and Ellington this season to bail him out when the interior protection falters.
Should we expect Floyd to join the other greats as a member of the 200/3,000/20 club this season? No, don’t expect that.
However, by the end of the season, Floyd should again be the leading receiver on the team. If he ends up with 80 receptions for 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns, you should call that a massive success. And hell, if he does that, he would join 16 others in NFL history to tally 190-plus receptions for 2,900 yards and 17 touchdowns over the first three seasons of their career.
If that’s not great, then I don’t know what is.
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com