Want to see more articles like this? The NFL section of our website has a lot of content of articles similar to this. Make sure to check out that section to find more information on the 2020 NFL season. In this article, I will be looking back on the NFL’s history to decide who was the best wide receiver to ever do it. In the best wide receiver list includes some of the NFL’s best athletes and most impressive stat holders. I will discuss who should be the bonafide GOAT and who missed the top spot.
1. Jerry Rice
If there is one word to describe Jerry Rice being named the best wide receiver of all-time in the NFL, the word would be: obvious. Jerry Rice’s NFL career defied many odds, but not to him. He had wanted to be the best receiver to ever play in the NFL since his rookie year. Since then, not only is he the clear answer as the best wide receiver to ever play in the NFL, he is arguably the best player to ever play in the NFL. In his 20-year career, his statistics speak for themselves: 1549 career receptions, 22,895 yards, and 197 receiving touchdowns. All of those career stats are NFL career records to this day. During his legacy, he also won three super bowls with the other half of the greatest quarterback and wide receiver duo to ever play, Joe Montana. Rice’s athleticism had mastery in every category for a wide receiver in the NFL. Rice was a deep threat, phenomenal route runner, unbelievable hands and vertical, and the best receiver for gaining yards after the catch. Jerry Rice could beat any coverage he had facing him, whether it was single, double, or single with free safety help, Rice could get past it. Jerry Rice was a 13x Pro Bowler, 10x All-Pro, and two-time OPOY (offensive player of the year). Rice was also named Super Bowl MVP in his first super bowl (Super Bowl XXIII) where he recorded 11 receptions for 215 yards and one touchdown as the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16. Besides the achievements and accolades that prove Rice to be the best wide receiver of all-time, his dominance at the position was the best indicator that he should be regarded as the best wide receiver of all-time. Rightfully so, after seeing him become the most difficult offensive player to defend in NFL history, it is easy to name him the best wide receiver in NFL history.
2. Randy Moss
Outside of the famous saying of “Kobe” when shooting a basketball, there is the famous saying of getting “Moss’d” when a receiver jumps up to grab a ball over a defender. Randy Moss is the best deep threat receiver of all-time and the second-best receiver all time. Randy Moss caught 982 balls for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns in his career. In 2007, Randy Moss set the single-season record for receiving touchdowns caught with 23. Last season in 2019, the league leader in receiving touchdowns was Kenny Golladay with 11 touchdowns. That is not even half of what Randy Moss had in 2007! In his first six seasons in the NFL, Randy Moss had over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons. Randy Moss is an icon to NFL football history because of his large size and incredible speed at the wide receiver position. As one of the best deep threats in NFL history and the proprietor of the “fade route” with his incredible strength and vertical, Randy Moss was a physical specimen of dominance in the early and mid-2000s. He is not only one of the best wide receivers to play the game of football, but one of the best athletes to ever step on the field too. Randy Moss is easily the number two spot on the best wide receivers of all-time list.
3. Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens, or “TO”, was another athlete with the raw speed in strength that carried him to be one of the best athletes to play in the NFL. While his public persona took over for much of the conversation about him, he was able to back his performance upon the field. He was constantly known to attract the attention of the media with driveway workout press conferences, popcorn celebrated touchdowns, and spiking a ball on the Dallas Cowboys’ star in the middle of the Cowboys’ stadium. He caused a lot of drama in his career from 1996-2012, but he backed it up on the field throughout his career. He had 1,078 receptions, 15,934 yards, and 153 touchdowns in his career. He has the third-most career yards and the third-most career receiving touchdowns in NFL history. Coincidentally, I put him as #3 on my all-time best wide receiver list for the NFL. Terrell Owens was difficult to take down because of his brute strength and mental grit to be dominant for each team he played for. One of the biggest icons in NFL history, Terrell Owens is deserving of a high spot of number three on the all-time best receivers list.
4. Marvin Harrison
Marvin Harrison withholds something that only one other receiver in my top five list has, and that is a Super Bowl ring. While it is easy to say that Marvin Harrison had a lot of help alongside Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, that is why I have him fourth on the list. His career stats of 1,102 catches, 14,580 yards, and 128 touchdowns are deserving enough alongside his super bowl championship to be on the top five list of best wide receivers. Marvin Harrison had over 1,000 yards and 10+ plus touchdowns in 10 consecutive seasons. That statistic is one of my favorite sport statistics I have ever heard because it is a whole new level of athletic consistency on the professional level. That is something Jerry Rice never did during his time in the NFL. Moreover, he is fifth in most receptions all-time and fourth in career receiving touchdowns in NFL history. Marvin Harrison has flown under the radar of being one of the best receivers in NFL history because of his average size and humble attitude on the field. His character was different than the typical star wide receiver, but his numbers did the work by proving he is one of the best receivers of all time. Marvin Harrison was a super athletic and talented wide receiver that deserves to be fourth on the NFL all-time wide receiver list.
5. Larry Fitzgerald
Larry “Legend” Fitzgerald is well-known for having the best hands in the NFL all-time. Going into his 17th season in the NFL, he has 1,378 receptions, 17,083 yards, and 120 touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald is arguably one of the most durable wide receivers only ever having three seasons out of his 16 played that he did not play all 16 games. But, he only ever missed as many as three games in a season. Larry Fitzgerald is an unbelievable pass catcher, and in my eyes deserving of the top five because of how impressive his stats are with worse quarterbacks than other receivers on the list. His best quarterback was Kurt Warner, and while Kurt Warner is a hall-of-fame football player, he never had any help outside of him. Not only did Fitzgerald have great hands, but he was also an excellent blocking wide receiver because of his physicality at 6’3″ and 220 lbs. Furthermore, he is one of the most elusive receivers after the catch I have ever seen play. His ability to find open space in the field and weave through defenses after the catch was some of the most impressive play at the wide receiver position. Overall, he is second on the all-time reception list, second in career yards, and fifth in career receiving touchdowns. Larry is one of the most elusive and physical receivers of all-time, putting him at the fifth-place spot in the NFL all-time receiver list.
Cris Carter is another statistical icon on the NFL’s best wide receivers of all-time list. His career stemmed from 1987-2002 and spent his time mostly with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990s. He recorded 1,101 receptions, 13,899 yards, and 130 receiving touchdowns in his career in the NFL. He is third on the NFL all-time career receiving touchdown list and sixth in career receptions. He was also selected to eight all-pro teams in his career. Cris Carter was an electrifying receiver in the NFL and his stats speak for themselves with his time in the NFL. While he does not make my all-time list as a top-five wide receiver, I would slot him in the #6 position, or as an honorable mention.
Calvin Johnson was one of the most physically dominant receivers in the NFL in his time with the Detroit Lions. Known as “Megatron,” he was unstoppable to defend with his size and power as a wide receiver. In his seasons in the NFL, he recorded over 731 receptions, 11,619 yards, and 83 touchdowns. His last six seasons he had over 1,000 yards receiving in each of them. His leaping ability and athleticism inspired my generation of football players and athletes. His unstoppable force was cut short to an unexpected retirement after only nine seasons in the NFL. His short span of being a dominant player in the NFL will keep him off of the top five list but should keep him in the top ten or honorable mention category.
- Who has the most career receptions in the NFL?
- Who has the most career receiving touchdowns in the NFL?
- Who has the most career receiving yards in the NFL?
- Who has the most single-season receptions in the NFL?
- Who has the most single-season receiving touchdowns in the NFL?
- Who has the most single-season receiving yards in the NFL?
Jerry Rice has the most career receptions in the NFL with 1,549. Jerry Rice is the best all-around NFL receiver and leads this category over Larry Fitzgerald with a little under 2,000 more receptions. Jerry Rice played 20 years in the NFL and gave him more opportunity to extend his legacy over any other receiver. Behind Rice and Fitzgerald are Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, and Marvin Harrison.
Again, Jerry Rice holds the NFL record for most career receiving touchdowns with 197 receiving touchdowns. No one has ever cracked over 200 receiving touchdowns in their career, but Jerry Rice was the closest. Behind Jerry Rice are Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Jerry Rice leads the NFL for most career receiving yards with 22,895 yards. Rice leads this category over Larry Fitzgerald by almost 6,000 yards. Larry will continue to close the gap as he remains in the NFL, but Rice’s dominance again proves strong over any other wide receiver in the NFL. Behind Rice and Larry Fitzgerald are Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Issac Bruce.
Last season, Michael Thomas set the single-season record for most single-season receptions in the NFL with an astounding 149 receptions. Behind him is Marvin Harrison with 143 single-season receptions, then Antonio Brown in 2015, Julio Jones, and then Antonio Brown in 2014.
There have only been two wide receivers with over 20 touchdowns in a single-season. In 2007, Randy Moss had 23 receiving touchdowns which beat out Jerry Rice’s season in 1987 with 22 receiving touchdowns. Behind those two is Mike Clayton, Sterling Sharpe, and Cris Carter.
In 2012, Calvin Johnson set the NFL single-season receiving yard record with 1,964 yards. He leads this category by almost 100 yards over Julio Jones’ season in 2015 with 1,871 receiving yards. Behind those two are Jerry Rice, Antonio Brown, and Issac Bruce.