Throughout the years the game has seen many greats play the receiver position. We’ve seen players of many different sizes and speeds thrive at this position but as we do with everything in sports, we rank players and teams.
1. Jerry Rice, 6’2” 200: (1985- 2004) 49ers, Raiders, Seahawks
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 13x Pro Bowl, 10x All-Pro, 3x Super Bowl champ, AP Offensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1993
Career Numbers: 22,895 yards (1st) ; 197 Rec. TD’s (1st) ; 1,549 Receptions (1st) ; 14.8 yards per reception
Nobody should be surprised as Rice still holds every meaningful record for a receiver there is and his longevity has yet to be matched. He remains untouchable in career receiving yards and touchdowns as he leads in both categories by a wide margin. Rice has 5,403 more yards than second place and 41 more touchdown grabs than second. Getting to catch passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young was a nice bonus as it gave him plenty of big games to showcase his talents. He was an all-around great receiver who caught whatever came his way and performed when it mattered most. Until someone can match his longevity to go with the performance Rice will remain on top as the GOAT of this category.
2. Randy Moss, 6’4” 210: (1998- 2012) Vikings, Raiders, Patriots, Titans, 49ers
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 6x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 1998 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Single season touchdown grab record (23)
Career Numbers: 15,292 yards (4th); 156 Rec. TD’s (2nd); 982 receptions (15th); 15.6 yards per reception
“Straight cash homie” is a famous line from perhaps the most exciting receiver to play the game. Moss was an explosive play waiting to happen. His speed and athleticism made him almost unfair. The Vikings literally had a play called “Randy go and get it”. As a rookie, he took the league by storm as he racked up 1,313 yards receiving and what is still the rookie touchdown grab record of 17. In 2007 with Tom Brady he caught a single-season record of 23 touchdowns and had 1,493 yards. Moss’s only problem was his attitude could get in his way but outside of that, there wasn’t a better receiver in the game from 1998- 2009. He also had fewer receptions than most of the other top-five on this list, yet his other numbers are better or comparable.
3. Terrell Owens, 6’3” 224: (1996- 2010) 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills, Bengals
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 6x Pro Bowl, 5x All-Pro
Career Numbers: 15,934 yards (3rd) ; 153 Rec. TD’s (3rd) ; 1,078 receptions (8th) ; 14.8 yards per reception
Another guy who could get in his own way and had many memorable moments like running to the center of the star at midfield after scoring a touchdown against the Cowboys, or his “That’s my quarterback” speech. You might hate him but whether or not you do he is without a doubt a top three wide receiver all-time. Owens was able to do everything a receiver needed; he ran routes and could win outside or inside and had good speed. He was dominant when on the field and even played in the Super Bowl against the Patriots seven weeks after breaking his right leg and tearing a ligament in his ankle and had nine receptions for 122 yards. Owens deserves recognition as a top-three receiver.
4. Calvin Johnson, 6’5” 237: (2007- 2015) Lions
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 6x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro
Career Numbers: 11,619 yards (32nd) ; 83 Rec TD’s (23rd) ; 731 receptions (47th) ; 15.9 yards per reception
Megatron had a short career and unfortunately had his career wasted by a dysfunctional mess of a franchise, but what he did in that time was incredible. Every Sunday he had at least one amazing grab that made your jaw drop. A freak athlete with insane speed in such a massive body. He could leap out and make impossible passes look easy. His historic 2012 season where he had a single-season record 1,964 yards receiving and his team going 4-12 is a great way to describe the mess he was in. It’s a shame we couldn’t see him play for longer, but I don’t blame him for not wanting to risk his body for a team like the Lions any longer.
5. Larry Fitzgerald, 6’3” 218: (2004-2020) Cardinals
Accolades: 11x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro
Career Numbers: 17,492 yards (2nd) ; 121 Rec TD’s (6th) ; 1,432 receptions (2nd) ; 12.2 yards per reception
Fitzgerald is the guy who comes closest to Rice in terms of longevity. He had an incredible career and managed to have at least 700 yards in 16 of his 17 seasons. He can dominate inside or outside and gives corners headaches with his route running and quickness. The biggest question we’ll never know the answer to is what he could have done without having horrible quarterback play for most of his career. The list of guys who have thrown him the ball throughout his career is a joke. Guys like Josh McCown, Matt Leinart, John Skelton, Derek Anderson, and Ryan Lindley. Despite this, he still finished 2nd in receiving yards and receptions all time.
6. Marvin Harrison, 6’0” 185: (1996- 2008) Colts
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 8x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 1x Super Bowl champion
Career Numbers: 14,580 yards (9th) ; 128 Rec. TD’s (5th) ; 1,102 receptions (5th) ; 13.2 yards per reception
Harrison was a superstar that caught everything in sight. Watching him play was awesome because of his route running and great hands. He was Peyton Manning’s top target from 1998 to 2006. Defenses were terrorized by this combo from the stretch of 1999- 2006 as Harrison had at least 1,100 yards receiving and ten touchdown grabs in each year. The only guys you can say are better than him from his time are Randy Moss and T.O. and it’s not very distant.
7. Andre Johnson, 6’3” 229: (2003- 2016) Texans, Colts, Titans
Accolades: 7x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro
Career Numbers: 14,185 yards (11th) ; 70 Rec. TD’s (T-46th) ; 1,062 receptions (11th); 13.4 yards per reception
When the best quarterback a receiver has throwing to them in their prime is Matt Schaub it’s going to be extremely difficult for that player to have the all-time numbers they should. He also had guys like David Carr, Sage Rosenfels, and TJ Yates throw to him in his prime years. Johnson still had four seasons with more than 1,400 yards and four seasons of eight or more touchdown grabs. From 2006-2013 in particular he was one of the very best game had as he made catches of great difficulty look easy and gave Texans fans something to be entertained by each Sunday.
8.Isaac Bruce, 6’0” 188: (1994- 2009) Rams, 49ers
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 4x Pro Bowl, 1x Super Bowl champ
Career Numbers: 15,208 yards (5th) ; 91 Rec. TD’s (12th) ; 1,024 receptions (13th); 14.9 yards per reception
Bruce was a part of the famous “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams that won a Super Bowl in the 1999 season. He was a big play waiting to happen with his speed. Bruce had at least 700 yards in twelve of his sixteen seasons and truly was one of the game’s best weapons for a few seasons until the Rams offense fell apart when Marc Bulger replaced Kurt Warner. Bruce is another receiver who could’ve had better quarterback play for most of his career but he still was able to show how great he was.
9. Cris Carter, 6’3” 202: (1987- 2002) Eagles, Vikings, Dolphins
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 8x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro
Career Numbers: 13,899 yards (13th) ; 130 Rec. TD’s (5th) ; 1,101 receptions (6th) ; 12.6 yards per reception
Carter had an incredible career and put up great numbers despite having poor quarterback play outside of 1995 with Warren Moon and then 1998 with Randall Cunningham. He also played in an era that was rather run heavy. From 1993 to 2000 he was absolutely elite as he had at least 1,000 yards receiving and seven touchdown grabs in each season. This included four ten plus touchdown seasons including a career high 17 in 1995. He had four seasons with 12 or more touchdown grabs.
10.Antonio Brown: (2010- Current) Steelers, Patriots, Buccaneers
Accolades: 7x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, 1x Super Bowl champ
Career Numbers: 11,746 yards (31st) ; 79 Rec. TD’s (30th) ; 886 receptions (23rd) ; 13.3 yards per reception
The last couple of seasons for Brown have mostly been derailed by him going bat shit crazy and having legal issues, but last season he got to finish the year with the Buccaneers and win the Super Bowl. This season he’s back with the Bucs and looking to resume his incredible football career. His play from 2013 to 2018 was as great a stretch we’ve ever seen from a receiver. He had three seasons over 1,500 yards with another one at 1,499 and a year at 1,834 yards. Brown also caught 67 touchdowns over that stretch and has two top five single-season reception seasons all-time with 136 in 2015 (T-3rd) and 129 in 2014 (5th). By the time his career is over, he should climb higher on this list.
All stats are from Pro Football Reference