Jerry Rice set an NFL record with 1,848 receiving yards, but does anyone realize that Isaac Bruce's 1,781 were the second-most ever?

And Bruce didn't even make the Pro Bowl, a product of (take your choice) too many great wide receivers in the NFC; a silly Pro Bowl voting system, or both of the above.

At this time of year, people look ahead to the playoffs. They can also look back to a season that provided the NFL with a new complement of stars to go with Rice, Emmitt Smith, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Reggie White, Bruce Smith, et. al.

There was the Green Bay connection _ Brett Favre, Robert Brooks, Mark Chmura and Bryce Paup. Yes, Paup plays in Buffalo (he must like snow), but he emerged to lead the league in sacks only after his escape from Green Bay.

There was Neil O'Donnell, who went from being a quarterback the Steelers told not to lose the game to one they depended on to win one.

There were newly recognized stars on teams laden with superstars (Eric Davis and Lee Woodall of San Francisco and Larry Allen of Dallas); newly unrecognized stars on bad teams (Phillippi Sparks of the Giants, Arizona's Larry Centers and Daryll Lewis and Blaine Bishop of the Oilers); highly touted first-rounders finally free from injury (Arizona's Eric Swann) and unrecognized stars on overachieving teams (Andy Harmon, William Thomas, Mark McMillian, all of the Eagles, and Will Shields, Dave Szott and Tim Grunhard, the middle of the Chiefs' line).

But Bruce is probably the best example. He is a second-year man given a starting job after spending most of his rookie season on special teams.

Look at his figures _ 119 receptions, nine 100-yard receiving games _ and look at the team for which he played, the St. Louis Rams, who started like the 49ers and ended like the Cardinals, who used to play in St. Louis (4-0, then 3-9).

He was the ONLY receiver on the Rams anyone feared, unlike Rice (John Taylor and later J.J. Stokes), Herman Moore (Brett Perriman and Johnnie Morton); Michael Irvin (Kevin Williams) and Cris Carter (Jake Reed). The second-leading receiver on the Rams was Troy Drayton, a tight end, with 47 catches and the runnerup to Bruce among wide receivers was Brian Kinchen, with 36 receptions.

But that's not to overlook the Green Bay guys (plus, of course, Paup.)

Favre emerged as the NFL's premier quarterback, shooting past Young, Marino et. al. Favre threw for 4,413 yards; 38 touchdown passes, third-most in NFL history; and had just 13 interceptions, tied for the fewest since he became a regular and nearly half the 24 he had two years ago.

Two reasons: Brooks and Chmura, who helped Favre lead the Packers to their first NFC Central title since 1972.

Brooks took over where Sterling Sharpe left off, catching 102 passes for three yards short of 1,500 and Chmura caught 54 passes for a 12.6 average, high for a tight end in this era when short passes often pass for a running game. In fact, Chmura's emergence made it irrelevant that Keith Jackson finally decided to show up when be discovered the Packers might win something.

The best Packer?

Paup, who isn't.

In Green Bay, he was strictly a pass rusher, best known nationally, perhaps, for the 1991 hit on Randall Cunningham's knee that put him out for that season. As he did with Reggie White in Green Bay, in Buffalo Paup was able to take advantage of the presence of Bruce Smith to register a league-best 17 1/2 sacks.

But playing like a defensive end in a 4-3, he also managed to play well against the run, something that he didn't do much of in Green Bay. The parallel: Pittsburgh's Kevin Greene, who became a more complete player when he left the Rams for the Steelers.

There also was was an impressive crop of rookies.

The skill position players _ wide receiver Joey Galloway of Seattle and running backs like Terrell Davis of Denver, Curtis Martin of New England and Rashaan Salaam of Chicago _ were able to use those skills to step right in.

Others may emerge in the next year or two, like cornerbacks Craig Newsome of the Packers and Tyrone Poole of Carolina, who were quieter but perhaps more efficient than Orlanda Thomas of Minnesota. He led the league with nine interceptions, but was beaten for as many touchdowns or more.

And others may improve, like Hugh Douglas of the Jets, primarily a pass rusher who will learn to play the run.

Finally, look for some of the offensive linemen who began learning this year (Korey Stringer of the Vikings; Scott Gragg and Rob Zatechka of the Giants; Blake Brockermeyer of the Panthers and Tony Boselli and Brian DeMarco of the Jaguars) to have a bigger impact in 1996.