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Which NFL records will probably never be broken?

Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, and Brett Favre will probably be in the record books forever.

Jerry Rice #80

Records fall often in the NFL. The reasons for that vary. The sport has short regular seasons. It’s just 52 years into the Super Bowl era. Rule changes have made scoring and offensive success easier than ever.

In 2017, the New England Patriots became the first team to win nine consecutive division titles, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara became the first running back tandem to each eclipse 1,500 yards from scrimmage, and Super Bowl 52 smashed 17 records.

But even though records are rarely safe in the NFL, there are a few that are so far out of reach that it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever fall. Here are a few of the NFL’s most untouchable records:

Most career rushing yards: Emmitt Smith, 18,355

Between 1991 and 2001, Smith had at least 1,000 rushing yards in each season and led the NFL in rushing four times. The 11-year streak topping 1,000 yards is an NFL record and it provided the majority of a career rushing mark that is well out of reach of today’s group of running backs.

While Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin each had 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons, Sanders retired after just 10 years and Martin only played in 11.

Smith’s 15 NFL seasons and 226 games are numbers few running backs ever approach. Even Frank Gore — the NFL’s current immortal running back — is at 196 games over 13 seasons and 4,329 yards behind Smith.

For any player to reach Smith’s numbers, he’ll need to have remarkable longevity and produce at levels that are rare for the modern running back.

If a running back somehow managed to play for 15 seasons like Smith did, he’d need to average about 1,224 yards per season to take the record. A grand total of three running backs even topped that in 2017 — Kareem Hunt (1,327), Todd Gurley (1,305), and Le’Veon Bell (1,291).

All three players are young — Bell is the oldest at 26 — but would need to keep up their current play for at least a decade to get into Smith territory. Don’t count on it.

Unless Gore plays until he’s 40, nobody is going to touch Smith’s record for a long time, if ever.

Jerry Rice’s receiving records

You would think that the NFL’s increasing emphasis on the passing game would jeopardize receiving records, but nobody will be touching Rice’s all-time marks any time soon.

He owns the records for:

  • Receptions: 1,549
  • Receiving yards: 22,895
  • Receiving touchdowns: 197

To put in perspective how far ahead he is, these are the players — all of whom are either elected to the Hall of Fame or will be soon enough — in second place:

  • Receptions: Tony Gonzalez (1,325)
  • Receiving yards: Terrell Owens (15,934)
  • Receiving touchdowns: Randy Moss (156)

Yeah, that’s a nearly 7,000-yard difference between Rice and the second closest receiving yardage total.

Rice played 20 NFL seasons, topped 1,000 yards 14 times, and most of the passes thrown his way came from a pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He retired when he was 42 and that’s still rare for wide receivers, even as quarterbacks are playing longer. The bar to reach Rice is just way too high for anyone to come close.

Most consecutive starts: Brett Favre, 321*

*includes playoff starts

Beginning when Favre took over the starting job for the Green Bay Packers in September 1992, he started every single week until he suffered a shoulder injury with the Minnesota Vikings in December 2010.

It was 297 consecutive starts in the regular season and another 24 in the playoffs to make a staggering 321 games in a row.

To approach the record, a player has to:

  • Play a minimum of 17 seasons, but likely about 19 or 20
  • Avoid injury every step of the way — making it unlikely for a non-quarterback
  • Play well enough to avoid getting benched

Eli Manning got to 222 starts before he was benched by the Giants in November. Now the nearest active player is Philip Rivers who’s at 201 consecutive starts, despite suffering several injuries in his career including an ACL tear. He’ll turn 37 during the 2018 season and would need another seven or eight seasons to top Favre.

His Chargers teammates believe he could do it, but that’s a tall ask — especially for a player who commutes more than an hour to work every day due to his choice to keep his family in San Diego. Tom Brady may be playing well after turning 40, but expecting Rivers to play until he’s 44 or 45 is asking a lot.

Every major interception record

Interceptions used to be a much more prevalent part of football. In 1985, there were 602 picks thrown and 598 touchdowns. But there have been more touchdowns than interceptions in every seasons since — and the gap is widening.

In 2017, there were 741 touchdowns and just 430 interceptions.

With a higher emphasis on offensive efficiency, and rule changes making it more difficult to defend the pass, interceptions are becoming increasingly uncommon. And that means a lot of records are safe. These four, in particular, will probably never be touched:

  • Most career interceptions thrown: Brett Favre (336)
  • Most single-season interceptions thrown: George Blanda (42)
  • Most career interceptions: Paul Krause (81)
  • Most single-season interceptions: Night Train Lane (14)

The only one that’s even feasibly in reach is Lane’s single-season mark from 1952, but the last cornerback to even have more than 10 was Everson Walls, who had 11 interceptions in 1981. Long live the interception kings.

Every major extra point record

When the NFL changed the rules to make extra points 13 yards longer, the goal was to make the play more exciting. Instead of more than 99 percent of extra point attempts going through, the number has hovered around 94 percent in the last three seasons.

But more misses hasn’t been the only byproduct of the rule change. Teams are kicking extra points less often too.

While there are more touchdowns than ever, the 1,134 extra point attempts in 2017 were the fewest since 2005. It makes more mathematical sense for teams to go for two, and slowly but surely it’s becoming an increasingly common choice.

That means the rule change left a lot of records out of reach:

  • Most career extra points made: George Blanda (943)
  • Most single-season extra points made: Matt Prater (75)
  • Most consecutive extra points made: Stephen Gostkowski (523)

Prater’s record was set in 2013, two years before the rule change made 75 extra points an unrealistic number for a kicker to match. Prater was also kicking for Peyton Manning and a record-setting Broncos offense. The leader in attempts in 2017 was Wil Lutz of the Saints with just 50 — 47 of which he made.


Before the 2018 NFL season ends, Drew Brees will likely take over the all-time passing yards record. He needs just 1,495 to top Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, and then Brees will be the owner of one of the NFL’s most prestigious records.

After Brees, there’s a list of candidates — including the ageless Brady — who could eventually take the top spot.

But not every record will get touched. The evolution of the sport preserved several records in stone, and there are more marks that are well out of reach of ever conceivably getting topped. Names like Favre, Smith and Rice will be in the record books forever.