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Five biggest threats to break NFL single-season receiving record in 2024; Maxx Crosby for DPOY?

Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment covers:

But first, a look at five leading contenders to break a receiving record that has stood for more than a decade ...

The shift to a pass-centric league has made wide receivers hot commodities on the market. Teams are willing to throw the bag at pass catchers with the capacity to move the chains and light up scoreboards as electric playmakers on the perimeter.

Calvin Johnson enjoyed a Hall of Fame career as a WR1 in Detroit, utilizing his superior size, speed and athleticism to overwhelm defenders in space. The three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selectee dominated the game from Day 1, especially during his record-breaking 2012 campaign, when he nearly eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark (1,964).

While the record has lasted for over a decade, the eye-popping numbers posted by receivers over the past few seasons make Johnson's mark look vulnerable heading into 2024.

"I mean, it's bound to fall at some point the way it's going, so it is what it is," Johnson recently told the Detroit Free Press. "I held it down, I don't know even know how long, over a decade now."

Last season, 28 pass catchers finished with 1,000-plus yards, including a pair of wideouts who exceeded 1,700 yards (Tyreek Hill and CeeDee Lamb). With 12 players making 100 or more catches in 2023, it is only a matter of time before someone takes down Johnson's record as the ultimate WR1 in a game ruled by the pass.

Here are five receivers to consider threats to the throne.

Rank
1
Tyreek Hill
Miami Dolphins · WR · Year 9

The perennial All-Pro is the cheat code for the Dolphins as an unstoppable force with world-class speed and dynamic running skills. Hill鈥檚 ability to put points on the board on deep throws and catch-and-run concepts puts defensive coordinators in a bind when attempting to neutralize the veteran playmaker in space. With Tua Tagovailoa blossoming as a quick-rhythm passer operating like a blackjack dealer in a casino, Hill posts big numbers as the WR1 in a fast-break offense. Considering he has posted back-to-back seasons with 1,700-plus receiving yards in Miami, I believe it is only a matter of time before Hill cracks the 2,000-yard mark as the focal point of an offense built to highlight his skills as a playmaker. 

Rank
2
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Detroit Lions · WR · Year 4

The ultra-productive pass catcher has exploded as the Lions鈥 WR1 with back-to-back 100/1,000 seasons (100 catches and 1,000 yards). St. Brown鈥檚 superb route-running skills and sticky hands make him an easy find for Jared Goff in critical situations. The crafty playmaker repeatedly wins on option routes and crossers, which enables him to tap into his creativity as a route-running specialist. As the Lions continue to expand Ben Johnson鈥檚 playbook to generate more opportunities for St. Brown to impact the game, the numbers will continue to pop for the fourth-year pro as he chases the records belonging to one of the Lions鈥 all-time greats. 

Rank
3
Justin Jefferson
Minnesota Vikings · WR · Year 5

The league's highest-paid pass catcher should compete for the NFL鈥檚 receiving record as the top option in Kevin O鈥機onnell鈥檚 offense. The ultra-creative play designer utilizes various formations, pre-snap shifts and motions to loosen the coverage around Jefferson. As Jordan Addison continues to evolve into an elite WR2, with T.J. Hockenson flourishing as a blue-chip playmaker (when healthy), the Vikings should be able to force the ball to Jefferson to allow him to cook defensive backs on the perimeter. Given his receiving title (2022) and stature as the NFL鈥檚 WR1, Jefferson鈥檚 production could match his compensation with a sensational campaign in 2024. 

Rank
4
George Pickens
Pittsburgh Steelers · WR · Year 3

Though the Steelers will adhere to a run-centric offensive approach under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Pickens could light up the stat sheet as the big-play specialist on the perimeter. The third-year pro has averaged nearly 17 yards per catch for his career, including a league-leading 18.1 yards per catch in 2023 with a revolving door at quarterback. With Russell Wilson and Justin Fields potentially being significant upgrades over their predecessors, the Steelers鈥 top playmaker could see his numbers spike as the focal point of a passing game committed to pushing the ball down the field. 

Rank
5
Amari Cooper
Cleveland Browns · WR · Year 10

Despite his absence during mandatory minicamp as he seeks a new contract, I believe Cooper is poised to shatter records as the Browns鈥 No. 1 receiver. The five-time Pro Bowler has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with multiple quarterbacks throwing the ball around the Dawg Pound since his arrival in 2022. With Deshaun Watson back at the helm as the team鈥檚 QB1 in a new offense directed by Ken Dorsey, the ball should head in Cooper鈥檚 direction early and often as the go-to guy in the passing game. Considering how Dorsey鈥檚 previous WR1 (Stefon Diggs) racked up ridiculous numbers as the focal point of his offensive scheme in Buffalo, it is easy to envision Cooper making a run at the record in Cleveland鈥檚 offense.

Maxx Crosby for DPOY? Believe it!

The hype train on the "Maxx Crosby for 2024 Defensive Player of the Year" campaign has already picked up major steam. The three-time Pro Bowler has consistently earned rave reviews for his performance, leadership skills and professionalism from head coach Antonio Pierce, but the recent comments from Raiders senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan have cast an even brighter light on the veteran's stellar play as a disruptive force off the edge.

"When you talk about Maxx Crosby, you talk about the best defensive player in the league," Ryan told reporters . "Probably in the history that I've ever seen. Now I've only been around it 30 years, but, I mean, he's that good."

Whoa!

Although some might read that quote as hyperbolic bombast from Ryan, there is truth in what he says about Crosby. The former fourth-rounder has emerged as one of the league's most dominant defenders, evidenced by his 52 sacks and 88 tackles for loss in 83 career games. He has been an absolute game wrecker for the Raiders in his first two seasons under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, with 12.5 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and 89 tackles in 2022, followed by 14.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 90 tackles in 2023.

Considering Crosby led the league in tackles for loss in back-to-back seasons while besting quarterbacks like a knockout artist in the ring (67 quarterback hits since 2022), the sixth-year pro has been in the conversation for the league's most prestigious defensive award the last two campaigns, finishing fourth in voting in 2023 and sixth the year prior. His most recent top-five finish is a remarkable feat for a player who has been a one-man show on the edges without consistent help around him.

Things should change in 2024 with Christian Wilkins, a breakout star last year for Miami, Malcolm Koonce (eight sacks in 2023), and Tyree Wilson, the No. 7 overall pick from the 2023 draft, joining him on the defensive front. The quartet's individual and collective size, speed and disruption should create more one-on-one opportunities for Crosby on the outside.

Wilkins, in particular, will command double-teams with opponents forced to utilize multiple bodies to prevent him from wreaking havoc on the inside. Last season, Wilkins tallied nine sacks and 23 quarterback hits as a destructive force on the interior for the Dolphins. The sixth-year pro was rewarded for his efforts with a four-year, $110 million deal that brought the game-wrecker to the Silver and Black in an effort to alleviate some of the pressure on Crosby to carry the defense.

With an upgraded supporting cast around him, Crosby becomes nearly impossible to block off the edge. The veteran is a rare player as an energetic pass rusher with strength and power to win with force and the athleticism to utilize finesse moves to get to the quarterback. In addition, Crosby's nonstop motor and relentless spirit enable him to outwork and outlast opponents unable to face his intensity, urgency and competitiveness for a full 60 minutes.

Crosby's competitive stamina and unrelenting playing style make him a coach's dream as a cornerstone player in a league where worker bees are highly respected.

Given Pierce's background as an undrafted player who earned his way onto the field and into the Pro Bowl, the energy and effort displayed by the Raiders' top player undoubtedly sets him apart from others. Not to mention, Crosby is feeling better than he ever has after having knee and hand procedures this offseason. And now that the Raiders have placed a disruptive player beside him on the defensive front to create more one-on-one chances for the dynamic pass rusher, Crosby could add some hardware to the mantle as the 2024 Defensive Player of the Year.

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