CLEVELAND, Ohio – Jim Brown retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher after the 1965 season. It wasn’t until 1984 that someone caught him. Brown gained 2,359 yards in nine seasons, and Walter Payton reached that total in the middle of his 10th season.
But that’s oversimplifying things.
The NFL schedule changed from 12 to 14 games in 1961. That was five seasons into Brown’s career. It took another 17 years for the NFL to increase the regular season again, moving to 16 games in 1978. That gave Payton 16-game seasons for the final 10 years of his career.
In other words, Payton needed 136 games to do what Brown accomplished in 118.
Today, Brown is 11th on the all-time rushing list. He’s the only player in the top 30 to play his entire career before the 16-game schedule. Only two players ahead of him – Payton and Tony Dorsett – played even one season prior to the 16-game era.
Brown still tops the Browns in career rushing yards. Even as the NFL moves to a 17-game schedule in 2021, that record is safe.
But what about the team’s single-season records? Does a 17th game put any of Brown’s stats in jeopardy? Does Baker Mayfield have a shot at passing records now? Will Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have a clearer path to receiving records?
Let’s take a closer look.
Six of the top seven single-season rushing totals in franchise history – including the top three – belong to Brown. His 1,863 yards in 1963 (14 games) tops the list. Nick Chubb’s 1,494 yards in 2019 are ranked fourth.
Chubb finished with 1,067 yards last season, averaging 88.9 yards over 12 games. Projecting that over 17 games gives Chubb 1,511 yards, which would replace his 2019 total in fourth place on the franchise list.
What about Chubb’s 2019 season, when he averaged 93.4 yards per game? That gets him to 1,588 yards with 17 games, good enough for second place but still well shy of Brown’s 1963 season.
If you want to use yards per game as a measuring stick, Brown dominates that list, too, owning the top seven spots with averages ranging from 100.6 to 133.1. Chubb is ranked eighth (2019) and ninth (2020).
Stefanski’s offense runs as much as any modern NFL offense, but 133 yards per game seems pretty safe. After all, it is the second-best single-season average in NFL history.
Mayfield is ranked fourth (3,854 yards, 2019), seventh (3,725, 2018) and ninth (3,563, 2020) on the Browns’ single-season passing yardage list. Projecting that 2019 season for 17 games gives him 4,066 yards. But that only gets him to second place behind Brian Sipe’s 1980 total of 4,132.
Mayfield’s 266.1 yards per game in 2018 is the franchise record, and averaging that over 17 games gets him past Sipe on the yardage list. But it’s unlikely Mayfield ever averages that much per game in Stefanski’s balanced offense.
His 2020 average per game ranks 17th (222.7). Stretching that over 17 games only gets him to seventh, edging out his 2018 season. Stefanki’s other quarterback as a play caller, the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, averaged 240.1 yards per game in 2019. That would be 4,083 yards over 17 games, still behind Sipe.
Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow share the Browns record for most receptions in a season with 89. Newsome, though, did it twice. Josh Gordon is fourth (87 in 14 games in 2013) and Kevin Johnson is fifth (84).
Landry is sixth (83, 2019) and eighth (81, 2018).
But again, Stefanski’s offense makes an 89-catch season look like a longshot.
Landry led the Browns with 72 catches in 15 games last season, which ranks 15th on the Browns’ list. But even if you give Landry back the game he missed and add a 17th, his catch per game average only gets him to 82, just inside the top 10.
For the record, Stefon Diggs led the Vikings with 63 catches in 15 games in 2019 with Stefanski.
Yards will be an even steeper hill to climb. Landry led the Browns with 840 receiving yards last season, down from 1,174 the year before. Not only that, both yards per catch and average depth of target decreased for Landry, too.
Beckham’s yards per catch stayed about the same from 2019 to 2020 (14.0, 13.9), and his depth of target went up slightly (13.0, 13.6). He had 23 catches in seven games, but really it was only six games because he was hurt on the first offensive series in Week 7.
Projecting his catches over 17 games, though, only gives Beckham 65 catches last season. Nowhere close to record-breaking territory.
Bill Glass’ 14.5 sacks in 1965 are recognized by the Browns as the single-season franchise record. There’s an asterisk next to Glass in the media guide, though, because sacks did not become an official NFL stat until 1982.
Jack Gregory (1970) is tied with Reggie Camp (1984) for second with 14. Myles Garrett is next with 13.5 in 2018.
The truth is Garrett probably doesn’t need 17 games to top Glass. He simply needs to stay on the field for more than 10-12 games. He had seven sacks in 11 games as a rookie, then 10 sacks in 10 games in 2019.
Last season he had 12 sacks in 14 games but was dealing with the after affect of COVID-19 over the final five weeks of the regular season.
The only time Garrett played a full season – 2018 – he came within a sack of the franchise record.
The Browns finished last season with 408 points, fourth most in franchise history and the best since 1964. Scoring was up league-wide last season as 2020 finished with highest per game averages in NFL history for points (24.8), yards (359.0) and first downs (21.7).
The 2020 season also averaged the most passing touchdowns per game (1.7), tying with 2018. In fact, the top six passing touchdown seasons have come in the last eight years.
That trend could see Mayfield topping the Browns’ single-season touchdown list. Sipe leads that one, too, with 30 (1980). But Mayfield threw 26 last season and 27 in 13 games as a rookie. A second year in the same offense and the potential of starting 17 games could be enough to get Mayfield the record.
Brown’s 21 total touchdowns in 1965 is currently the franchise record and figures to be safe. Chubb scored 12 touchdowns (all rushing) last season and Kareem Hunt had 11. That ranked 12th and 24th, respectively.
Braylon Edwards’ 16 touchdowns in 2007 top the receiving list. The only other post-1999 receivers on the list are Gary Barnidge (2015) and Gordon (2013), whose nine touchdowns are tied for eighth. The most receiving touchdowns anybody had last season was Hunt’s five.
As for rushing touchdowns, Chubb’s 12 last season are eighth on the franchise list, an impressive feat considering he only played 12 games. Brown holds this record, too, with 17.
He did it twice. Once in 14 games and once in 12.
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