If Andre Reed played in the National Football Conference, he would be keeping company statistically with some of football's biggest names--the San Francisco 49ers' Jerry Rice and the Phoenix Cardinals' J.T. Smith. But Reed plays in the AFC, and there he simply has no peer this season.
At his present pace he'll own most of the Buffalo Bills' career and single-season receiving records by the end of 1989, but Reed knows his numbers are a product of the efforts of 45 Buffalo Bills. That point was clearly driven home last Sunday when starting quarterback Jim Kelly went down with a shoulder separation.
Whether Kelly's absence jeopardizes Reed's productivity remains to be seen, but Reed thinks he's already established himself as one of the game's best wide receivers and has his sights set on other goals--a second straight appearance in the Pro Bowl and a couple of more wins in postseason play than the Bills posted last year.
Reed realizes that he's just a small part of the Bills despite his impressive numbers this season--35 catches for 539 yards.
He said, "This is a team sport. Those things wouldn't happen if the defense didn't turn the ball over to us, if the guys up front don't pick up their blocks and if the quarterback doesn't read the defense and get the ball to me."
No one in the AFC has numbers close to Reed's, but overall in the National Football League he trails only Smith in catches, 44-35, and only Rice and Smith in yardage.
"I put myself up there with the best of them," Reed said in assessing his five years in the league. Last year he signed a three-year contract with the Bills that places him among the top receivers financially.
"There are incentives in it (the contract) and a clause that I can go in and renegotiate next year. I'm going to do OK," he said.
Already this season he's tied two team records. He had a streak of three 100-yard receiving games snapped last Sunday, but that streak ties him with Elbert Dubenion. He also caught 13 passes in a game this year, which tied the one-game record set by Greg Bell. Last year he had a single-season club record of 71 catches.
He's currently fifth on the Bills' all-time list of receivers with 260 catches, but he should start to pass people like Frank Lewis, Jerry Butler and Bob Chandler in the next few weeks and should catch Dubenion in four or five games. Dubenion, playing in the old AFL from 1960-67, had 296 catches.
Dubenion's team record of 5,309 yards seems safe for at least another year because Reed has 3,635 at this point. Reed also is 11 short of Dubenion's record of 35 TD catches. But Dubenion's mark of receptions in 42 straight games is in immediate jeopardy. Reed now has caught a pass in 40 straight games.
Reed said, "I actually met him (Dubenion) once. He's on the staff of the Falcons and he scouted me my rookie season." Neither had any idea at the time what Reed might accomplish.
Reed added, "It's a goal you never think about until someone mentions it. It's an honor since he was one of the best."
Reed said he plans to play at least five more years in the NFL, barring injuries, and at his current pace of about 60 catches per year, the numbers add up to a strong candidacy for the Hall of Fame. It would mean about 600 catches. By comparison, the top three pass catchers for their career in the NFL are Steve Largent (792 and holding), Charlie Joiner (750) and Charley Taylor (649) .
"If I'm blessed with no injuries and stay healthy, I should have some big numbers," he figured.
But he's aware he is not going to do it alone. He's not sure what Kelly's absence is going to mean, for instance. The shoulder separation is on Kelly's left, non-throwing side, and Kelly has a reputation of being a tough guy who plays hurt. "I don't think it'll be the three or four weeks they're saying," Reed said of Kelly's expected absence.
Backup Frank Reich came in last week and hit on 11 of 19 passes, including a few to Reed. The Bills have confidence in Reich, Reed said. "He wouldn't be here if we didn't. I work with him every day in practice."
Reed has a reputation as being a "possession receiver," which is both a compliment and a criticism. The expression means a receiver can catch, but can't run. But Reed has broken some big plays, including a 78-yard touchdown this season.
"I think I can do just about anything," Reed said of his receiving ability. "I'm just out there trying to attain as many catches and get as many yards as I can."