5 NFL records that will never be broken
The 2019 NFL season was historic for the New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who hauled in 149 passes to top Marvin Harrison’s long-standing record for catches in one season.
As the league continues to adapt both the way it is played and the rules of the game, certain records, like Harrison's, have become more attainable, while others have fallen farther out of reach.
Here are five unbreakable NFL records, with a focus on those that occurred during the course of a single season.
Dick “Night Train” Lane’s 14 interceptions
What Dick Lane accomplished in the 1952 season as a defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams is all the more incredible when you consider he was just a rookie. Through 12 regular-season games, Lane intercepted 14 passes, including three against Green Bay and another three against Pittsburgh.
Most career interceptions in NFL history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2015
Paul Krause: 81
Emlen Tunnell: 79
Rod Woodson: 71
Dick "Night Train" Lane: 68
Charles Woodson: 65
Lester Hayes of the Oakland Raiders was the last player to come close to breaking Lane’s record, when he picked off 13 passes in a 16-game season in 1980. Hayes also had the help of Stickum to enhance his grip. That substance was banned after his 13-interception season, and Hayes’ performance slipped drastically.
In today’s NFL, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opposing quarterback stubborn enough to continuously target the spot on the field where a dangerous defender, like Lane, lurked, which is why this record won’t be broken.
Since 2017, no player has registered more than eight interceptions in a season.
George Blanda’s 42 passes intercepted
In 1961, Houston Oilers quarterback and placekicker George Blanda led the American Football League with 3,330 yards and 36 touchdown passes on the way to an AFL championship and AFL Most Valuable Player.
The next season, he guided the Oilers to an 11-3 record and another appearance in the AFL championship, which may explain why he remained the starter, despite a record 42 interceptions.
In Week 1, Blanda was picked off six times in a win against Buffalo and coughed up another six interceptions against the Dallas Texans in Week 8. Only once did he go an entire game without an interception, when the Oilers lost to Denver in Week 7.
In 1988, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Vinny Testaverde was intercepted 35 times (the second most in a season). For all the criticism Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston faced in 2019 for his 30 interceptions, he was still 12 off Blanda’s record, but he was the first person in 31 years to hit the 30-interception mark.
Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 receiving yards
Calvin Johnson is likely the closest we’ll come to a 2,000-yard receiver in NFL history. In 2012, he amassed 1,964 yards, the same year his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, set the single-season record for pass attempts (727).
The Detroit Lions were an abysmal team that owned a 4-12 record in 2012 and struggled in the run game. But Stafford and Megatron lit up the field. Johnson caught a league-high 122 passes and became the only player in the Super Bowl era to average at least 120 yards per game in one season.
In 2015, Julio Jones recorded the second most receiving yards in one season, with 1,871 (93 yards shy of Johnson’s record and 23 more than Jerry Rice’s 1,848 yards in the 1995 season).
In today’s pass-happy NFL, Johnson’s record might not seem safe, but it’s practically untouchable. In 2012, Johnson was targeted 204 times, once more than Jones (203) in 2015, when he piled up 1,871 receiving yards.
Since 2015, no player has been targeted more than 185 times in one season. That was Thomas in 2019, when he set the record for catches and still ranked seventh in single-season receiving yards (1,725).
O.J. Simpson’s 143.1 rushing yards per game
In 1973, Buffalo Bills tailback O.J. Simpson became the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He ran for 2,003 through 14 games, an average of 143.1 yards per contest.
The last running back to come near that record was Adrian Peterson in 2012, when he averaged 12 fewer yards per game (131.1).
With the NFL leaning more toward the running-back-by-committee approach, it’s even more difficult for a rusher to top O.J.’s record. In the league’s current 16-game format, a running back would need almost 2,300 yards in a season to match Simpson.
The single-season rushing record is 2,105 yards, which Eric Dickerson set in 1984.
LaDainian Tomlinson’s 31 touchdowns
In 2000, the San Diego Chargers finished with the fewest yards rushing in a 16-game season (1,062). To address the issue, the franchise drafted one of the greatest running backs of all time, LaDainian Tomlinson, in 2001.
L.T.’s list of accomplishments is enormous, but he’ll be remembered most for what he did during his 2006 MVP campaign. During that season, Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander’s record of 27 rushing scores in one season, which Alexander set the year before in Seattle.
Tomlinson wasn’t limited to the ground game, though. He also pulled down three touchdown passes to bring his touchdown total to 31, which again broke a mark (28) Alexander set the previous season.
Since 2011, only two non-quarterbacks have recorded at least 20 touchdowns — David Johnson (20) in 2016 and Todd Gurley (21) in 2018.