Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams has more receiving yards through the first 10 games of the season than all but seven players in NFL history. Cincinnati rookie Ja’Marr Chase looks like he’ll be hauling in touchdown passes from Joe Burrow for a decade or more. Tyreek Hill changes games for the once-again-explosive Kansas City Chiefs, and Green Bay’s Davante Adams, Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers have higher profiles nationally.
That’s fine. It says here that Terry McLaurin of the Washington Football Team is a star. Maybe just looking at statistics — in which McLaurin is tied for 19th in the league in receptions, is 14th in receiving yards and averages a modest 13.6 yards per catch — doesn’t tell you that. What does: watching the games.
Watch the games, and they’ll tell you something else: McLaurin is Washington’s best receiver since the glory days of The Posse — Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark — which ended in 1993. Seem unlikely? Hang in there for an explanation of why it’s not particularly close.
“I’m very happy he’s on my team,” quarterback Taylor Heinicke said.
Sing it for an entire fan base, Taylor. McLaurin’s latest virtuoso performance — in Sunday’s had-to-have-it 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers — was typical. With five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, it wasn’t overwhelming statistically, but it was stunning visually. Within it are examples of what is becoming McLaurin’s signature: twisting and turning for balls that seem uncatchable because defensive backs are draped all over him, and coming down with them anyway.
“Not a lot of people know: That was probably one of my glaring weaknesses in my game, especially in college,” McLaurin said after the game in Charlotte. “The coaching staff [at Ohio State] expressed that to me. I started attempting to improve on that, day in and day out. It was just an insatiable thing that I had to create if I wanted to play at this level.”
Two plays against Carolina stand out as jaw-droppers and fit into a typical McLaurin day. With Washington trailing by a touchdown and facing third-and-9 as the first quarter wound down, Heinicke looked for McLaurin against one-on-one coverage deep down the left sideline. The result: a leaping, adjust-in-mid-air grab in front of cornerback Donte Jackson — and a 39-yard gain that kept alive what became Washington’s first touchdown drive.
“As I’ve said numerous times,” Heinicke said, “when you see him one-on-one, you give him a shot, and it’s because of the catch he made today.”
The second: With 14 seconds remaining in the first half and Washington again trailing by seven, McLaurin lined up in the slot at the Carolina 12. McLaurin ran a slant and was able to get in front of Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn. That development turned McLaurin — intended as a decoy on the play — into the primary target. When Heinicke delivered the ball in the end zone, Chinn absolutely yanked McLaurin down — drawing a pass interference call. No matter. McLaurin caught it anyway.
“When you’re in the red area, everything’s contested,” McLaurin said. “ ... We got to be able to make those plays. Guys are hanging on you, you’re getting pass interference, all that. You got to be able to come down and make those plays.”
He is making them with such regularity that he should be established as an elite receiver in this league. Think about this: By the time Washington selected McLaurin in the third round of the 2019 draft, 11 receivers had gone off the board. Now, midway through that group’s third pro season, only one of those players — Seattle’s DK Metcalf (2,840) — has more receiving yards than McLaurin’s 2,772. Only one of those players — Pittsburgh’s Diontae Johnson (206) — has more receptions than McLaurin’s 199. He was a steal who became a star.
Now, about his place in franchise history. To be clear, the days of Monk — a Hall of Famer — and his running mates Sanders and Clark catching passes from all sorts of quarterbacks in Joe Gibbs’ high-powered offense are not being replicated now, certainly not by McLaurin alone. That trio combined for 1,851 catches and 26,622 yards in burgundy and gold. They were special.
Clark played his last game for Washington in 1992; Monk and Sanders in 1993. With rare exceptions, this place has been a receiver wasteland since. That status is certainly tied up in Washington’s constant chaos at quarterback. But I digress.
The point: McLaurin’s production outpaces any Washington receiver in the nearly three decades since Monk, Sanders and Clark walked out the door. Sunday was McLaurin’s 39th game for Washington. Since 1994, no Washington receiver has exceeded his 71.1 yards per game, and only Pierre Garçon and Jordan Reed, a tight end, have matched his 5.1 catches per game.
Shoot, on a per-season basis — if we take the totals and divide McLaurin’s by three, even though he has seven games remaining to complete that third year — McLaurin tops all Washington pass catchers with 924 yards per year. That’s already more than Garçon’s 909.8 and DeSean Jackson’s 900.7. By the end of the season, he’ll blow those numbers out of the water.
Yes, McLaurin plays in a pass-happy league, so receiving numbers now will naturally balloon. But he has already played with seven starting quarterbacks, and his running mates have been some combinations of also-rans and castoffs — DeAndre Carter and Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims Jr. and Cam Sims, Paul Richardson and Isaiah Wright. There’s no John Taylor to McLaurin’s Jerry Rice, no Alvin Harper to his Michael Irvin. He’s not part of “The Posse 2.0” or a re-engineered “Fun Bunch.” He’s a one-man posse making his own fun.
McLaurin is an outlier, a receiver Washington actually hit on in the draft. The list of receivers this club has taken in the first three rounds includes disastrous first-rounder Josh Doctson in 2016, washout second-rounders Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas in 2008, Steve Spurrier pet Taylor Jacobs in 2003 and Leonard “Hands” Hankerson in 2011. Michael Westbrook as the fourth overall pick in 1995? Blech.
Let’s not disparage everyone by the company they kept. Santana Moss’ 10 years here featured more catches (581), yards (7,867) and touchdowns (47) than any receiver since the halcyon days of Monk et al. Moss’ career was certainly stunted by the quarterback filth that perpetually limits the franchise — John Beck, anyone? — and it’s a testament to his toughness, work ethic and savvy that Moss produced as much as he did.
Jackson and Garçon have to be up there — in different ways. Jackson’s speed is reflected in his 19.0 yards per reception with Washington, and he led the NFL in that category twice in his three seasons here. Over five seasons in Washington, Garçon was effective and reliable — with those 5.1 catches per game, which matches McLaurin, and 61.5 yards per game.
Still, no disrespect to any of the above — nor to Henry Ellard nor Rod Gardner nor Jamison Crowder, etc. — but I’d take McLaurin. Every time.
He doesn’t have Jackson’s pure downfield burst but is more reliable underneath and in traffic. At 6-foot and 210 pounds, McLaurin’s frame is just-enough bigger than Moss’ (5-10, 193) that he can high-point balls — as on that sideline route to close Sunday’s first quarter — that Moss might not have reached.
This is a two-pronged barroom debate, and a good one: Where does Terry McLaurin fit among current receivers in the NFL, and where does he fit among the best in Washington over the past three decades? The answers, respectively: a half-stride behind the best and gaining, and directly on top of the heap. The best part: He’s just getting started.