Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who Are the Greatest Wide Receivers Ever?

The 2010 NFL Hall of Fame class was announced yesterday and it was no surprise that the game's leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, and its leading receiver, Jerrry Rice, were inducted in their first year of eligibility. However, a couple of other standout wide receivers, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, did not gain induction this year.

Unlike at other positions, there is simply no debate as to who is the greatest receiver ever. Rice's unbelievable numbers and on-the-field success are no match for other pass-catchers. There is Rice...and then a bunch of other worthy candidates.

So I figured I would try to rank the other great receivers in football history. Similar to formulas that I used to rank the game's greatest quarterbacks and greatest running backs, I measured individual statistics, individual accolades and team success. Because professional football has become much more of a passing game in recent decades, solely looking at numbers like career receptions, yards and touchdowns would not be enough. We must also look at how receivers were viewed in their day against their peers and historically how they have measured up by taking into account the type of era they played in.

For these rankings I looked at the following criteria: Receptions, Receiving yards, Touchdowns, Receptions/Game, Yards/Reception, Yards/Game, League Championships, All-Pro selections, Pro-Bowl selections and League MVP awards. After examining these categories, I sought to weight their career numbers with the era in which they played.

Here are my top ten wide receivers of all-time, in descending order:

10. Paul Warfield - Starring for the Browns and the Dolphins in the sixties and seventies, Warfield was a part of three NFL championship teams. He averaged an amazing 20.1 yards/catch, was selected to 7 All-Pro teams, and 8 Pro Bowls. He caught an impressive 85 touchdowns even though he played on run-oriented teams throughout his career.

9. James Lofton - Having played on five different teams during his illustrious career, Lofton had his greatest success as a member of the Packers and Bills. Among the league's all-time leaders with over 14,000 yards receiving, Lofton was a big play threat as evidenced by 18.3 yards/reception. Lofton played in 8 Pro Bowls and was elected All-Pro 4 times.

8. Cris Carter - Possessing some of the best hands the game has ever seen, Carter had 1,101 catches for 130 touchdowns for the Eagles, Vikings and Dolphins. Carter had close to 14,000 yards receiving (13,899) and averaged nearly five yards/catch (4.7). Selected to 8 Pro-Bowls while playing with the Vikings, Carter teamed with Randy Moss to form one of the most lethal wide receiver duos in league history.

7. Steve Largent - Having recently served as a U.S. Congressman, Largent first became famous as a 5-time All-Pro wide receiver for the Seahawks in the seventies and eighties. Largent finished with 101 touchdown catches and caught a pass in 177 consecutive games. When Largent retired in 1990, he was the game's all-time leader in receptions, receiving touchdowns, and receiving yards.

6. Lance Alworth - Some consider Alworth the greatest receiver to have ever play in the old AFL and it is no wonder why. As a member of the Chargers for most of his playing days, he averaged nearly 19 yards/catch and went for over 75 yards receiving/game over the course of his career. He was selected All-Pro 7 times and was named the AFL's MVP in 1963. Alworth won a Super Bowl title late in his career as a member of the Cowboys.

5. Terrell Owens - One of the most controversial players of the modern age, T.O. has had one of the game's most impressive statistical careers. Though still playing, Owens is among the all-time leaders in receptions (1,006), yards (14,951), receptions/game (4.9), and touchdowns (144). As a member of the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys and Bills, Owens has played in 6 Pro Bowls.

4. Randy Moss - Another talented, albeit troubled wideout, Moss burst onto the NFL scene as a rookie with the Vikings in 1998 by catching 17 touchdowns. After a couple of less than stellar years with the Raiders, Moss has returned to form as member of the Patriots the last few years. Moss has caught 926 passes for 14,465 yards and 148 touchdowns by the completion of the 2009 season. He averaged more receiving yards/game (77.8) than anyone else and has been named All-Pro 4 times and a part of 7 Pro-Bowls.

3. Don Hutson - Relatively unknown to modern fans, Hutson was the game's first breakout star at wide receiver for the Packers in the thirties and forties. Although his overall numbers are not that impressive compared to today's receivers, Hutson was recognized by his contemporaries as football's top receiver. He was a part of 3 NFL champions, was named All-Pro 8 times and was named the league MVP twice. Hutson averaged 16.4 yards/catch and scored 99 touchdowns.

2. Marvin Harrison - Teamed with arguably the NFL's greatest quarterback, Peyton Manning, Harrison was a model of remarkable consistency for the Colts during his storied career. Harrison is second all-time with 1,102 receptions and fifth all-time both with 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. He had an amazing 5.8 catches/game (tops all-time) and 76.7 yards/game (third all-time). Harrison was named All-Pro 8 times and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006.

1. Jerry Rice - There is no question who the top receiver all-time is. Rice's number are so awe-inspiring that they almost seem unbelievable. He had 1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards for 208 touchdowns (all NFL records). He also had 5.1 receptions/game (third all-time) and 75.6 yards/game (fourth all-time). If that's not enough, he won 3 Super Bowls with the 49ers, was selected first team All-Pro 11 times and played in 13 Pro Bowls. He is one of the few players to be named league MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Pro Bowl MVP.

Honorable Mention:
I considered 26 different wide receivers for this list. Although I only selected ten, a few that just missed out were Michael Irvin, Tim Brown, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Most Overrated:
Lynn Swann - A Hall of Famer and star for the 4-time Super Bowl champion Steelers in the seventies, Swann ranked close to the bottom in nearly every category that I ranked. Primarily remembered for a few great plays made in Super Bowls, Swann's numbers are pretty meager: 336 receptions, 5462 yards, 51 touchdowns, 47.5 yards/game and only 3 Pro Bowls. Had he been playing for the Lions and not the great Steeler teams of the 70's, there's no way he's in the Hall of Fame.

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