Jerry Rice is willing to give up the throne. He just knows Calvin Johnson has a long way up the mountain to reach it.
The Hall of Fame wide receiver talked about the recent clamoring surrounding Johnson with USA Today this week, saying Johnson is certainly a talent but that it’s premature to discuss whether he’s going to be the best wide receiver ever.
“I think it’s great that they’re still talking about me after my career’s over,” Rice said. “[Johnson] still has a way to go. We’re just going to let this guy continue to develop, and if he should break the majority of my records or break all my records, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him. But I know the sacrifice that you have to put into it. It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work.”
While Johnson’s skills were widely known coming into this year, he got everyone’s attention in the greatest-ever discussion in Week 8 against the Cowboys, when he collected 329 yards on 14 catches. (The team had 480 total receiving yards.) Johnson has 904 yards receiving so far this season, putting him on pace for his fifth 1,000-yard season in seven years with the Lions. Last year, his 1,964 receiving yards broke Rice’s single-season record.
Rice notices Johnson’s skill, and he knows the youngster is coming for him — but he also knows his numbers are pretty good, too. He has 22,895 career receiving yards, 1,549 receptions and 197 touchdowns, all records by far. Most notably, though, he played until he was 42 and had a 1,211-yard receiving season when he was 40 — far more difficult feats than racking up yards in a calendar year or over several seasons. Johnson may be on track to catch Rice, but he’ll have to produce for that long.
“I’m not going to say I’m the greatest of all time,” Rice said. “But it’s safe he has a lot of work to do.”
Rice complimented Johnson’s improvements, saying he’s grown beyond being a player who depended on his physical size to dominate opponents.
“I think [Johnson] has gotten so much better route running, and he doesn’t just rely on his jumping ability anymore,” Rice said. “That’s why he’s called Megatron. He’s a hell of a lot [to handle] on that football field. Right now he’s had about  touchdowns and he’s going strong. I wish him the best. I know what type of work ethic he has. He’s a complete player.”
Just not the best — yet.