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Top 10 Greatest NFL Wide Receivers Of All Time

There’s an ongoing track meet in every NFL game. On one end, cornerbacks and safeties will use every inch of their bodies to prevent a completed pass legally. Competing against them are wide receivers who can cover 40 yards in a little over four seconds. The result of those long throws can change a game’s complexion swiftly.

A difficult catch by a receiver gets added to his highlight reel. Football fans can’t help but drop their jaws every time wideouts come up with the ball at a challenging angle. Bragging rights are also amplified if he defeats multiple defenders for the grab. A career’s worth of those excellent receptions can lead them to individual awards, Super Bowl titles, league records, and a Hall of Fame induction.

The highlights of the best pass-catchers in NFL history will transcend time, and succeeding generations will try to copy or outdo their creativity. More importantly, the numbers they’ve put up make them legends forever. These wide receivers may have contrasting personalities, but the common trait of dominating the opposition is unquestionable among them.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


10. Lance Alworth, San Diego Chargers

His nickname, “Bambi,” may not strike fear upon first hearing. However, those who had to cover him on the field shook every time he got separation. He can run like a deer and leave defenders behind instantly. Don Coryell’s relentless aerial attack also highlighted his skills. Lance Dwight Alworth used those attributes to become a six-time All-AFL and seven-time AFL All-Star.

The Arkansas alumnus became a member of the San Diego Chargers via the 1962 AFL Draft. A year later, he helped the franchise win the AFL Championship while taking the honors of AFL Player of the Year. He finished his career in 1972 with the Dallas Cowboys, amassing 542 receptions, 10,266 yards, and 85 touchdowns. Alworth got his Pro Football Hall of Fame nod in 1978.


9. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts

Some football fans may argue that Marvin Darnell Harrison Sr. benefitted from having quarterback Peyton Manning for most of his career, but he still had to catch those passes and caught a lot. After being taken 19th overall in the 1996 NFL Draft, he broke the then-record for most receptions in a single season six years later with 143 catches.

The former Syracuse standout ended his professional football career with 1,102 receptions, making him one of only four players to reach that milestone. Harrison also had 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. Aside from winning Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts, he is also an eight-time All-Pro (three times First Team), an eight-time Pro Bowler, and a Pro Football Hall of Fame member since 2016.


8. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Larry Darnell Fitzgerald Jr.’s greatness was imminent when he became a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings during the 1990s. The work ethic he took from the greats who came before helped him dominate college football as a wideout for the Pittsburgh Panthers. That’s why the Arizona Cardinals did not waste time in the 2004 NFL Draft by taking him third overall behind Eli Manning and Robert Gallery.

He would play his entire 17-season career for the Cardinals, setting numerous franchise and league records. The 11-time Pro Bowler last played in 2020, finishing with 1,432 receptions, 17,492 receiving yards, and 121 touchdowns. Fitzgerald is also a three-time All-Pro and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year awardee in 2016.


7. Cris Carter, Minnesota Vikings

Being claimed by the Minnesota Vikings off waivers for $100 in 1990 could have been Graduel Christopher Darin Carter’s lowest moment. However, he used that episode as inspiration to become one of the NFL’s best wideouts and a Hall of Famer. You can write off a touchdown for him when the Vikings were in a goal-line or red-zone situation. That’s how he accounted for most of his 130 receiving touchdowns.

Carter is also a central fixture in the dominating 1990s Vikings offense, earning him three All-Pro nods and eight Pro Bowl selections. He also led the league in receiving touchdowns three times and receptions once. The Ohio State alumnus received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 1999. Carter retired in 2002 after playing for the Miami Dolphins, finishing with 1,101 receptions and 13,899 receiving yards.


6. Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers

Flamboyant touchdown celebrations and numerous controversies are what football fans will remember the most about Terrell Eldorado Owens. Even during his Hall of Fame induction, he celebrated at his college alma mater instead of going to Canton, Ohio. But his numbers cannot lie, making him one of the best at his position.

His 15,934 receiving yards and 153 touchdowns are both third-most in league history. Owens is also a five-time First-Team All-Pro, including three straight from 2000 to 2002. He is also a six-time Pro Bowler and a member of the 2000s All-Decade Team. After spending his first eight seasons with the squad, Owens is also a part of the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame.


5. Don Hutson, Green Bay Packers

Donald Montgomery Hutson is the only wide receiver on this list who played before World War II. While the game’s approach back then was more run-heavy, the former Alabama standout helped modernize the passing attack. He was the first NFL receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season and held all significant records in his position after his retirement in 1945.

The Arkansas native is a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, an eight-time First-Team All-Pro, and a three-time NFL champion. He also led the league in touchdowns for eight seasons. His career numbers of 488 receptions, 7,991 yards, and 99 receiving touchdowns pale compared to the other wideouts. However, his impact on opening up another dimension to the game cannot be underestimated.


4. Steve Largent, Seattle Seahawks

Younger individuals may remember Stephen Michael Largent as a United States House of Representatives member from 1994 to 2002. But before his stint in public office, the Tulsa alumnus dominated on the football field, as proven by the major pass-catching records he held after his retirement in 1989. He got a second lease of football life when the Houston Oilers traded him to the Seattle Seahawks.

Largent kept catching balls, whether from Jim Zorn or Dave Krieg. He was not the fastest receiver, but he still ended up with 819 receptions, 13,089 receiving yards, and 100 touchdown catches. In his 13-year career, he became an All-Pro five times and a Pro Bowler seven times. Largent is also a member of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.


3. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

Johnson shocked the sports world when he prematurely retired from playing professional football at age 30. He was the best wideout in the game and in excellent physical shape. However, his nine seasons with the Detroit Lions were enough to merit him a Pro Football Hall of Fame nod in 2021. “Megatron” holds the league record for most receiving yards in a season with 1,964.

The Georgia Tech alumnus also has eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Beyond the numbers, asking outmatched cornerbacks and safeties about the nightmare of covering Johnson will help them appreciate his dominance. He ended his career with 731 receptions, 11,619 yards, and 83 touchdowns. Johnson is a four-time All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler.


2. Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings

Influencing the game’s vocabulary is a profound impact on any football player. That reality alone makes Randy Gene Moss one of the all-time greats. His ability to catch balls by jumping over defenders, now known as “Mossed,” helped him establish the NFL’s single-season record for receiving touchdowns with 23. Moss also has the most touchdowns by a rookie, with 17.

The former Marshall standout played for five teams in 15 NFL seasons, most notably his stints with the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots. The 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee was a four-time First Team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. Moss wrapped up his career in 2012, finishing with 982 receptions, 15,292 yards, and 156 touchdowns.


1. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers

There are no surprises on who tops the list of most excellent wide receivers ever. Jerry Lee Rice owns the league’s records in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. The product of Mississippi Valley State also has the most total touchdowns (208) and all-purpose yards (23,456). No one has come close to those records, so his numbers will stand the test of time.

Rice played most of his career with the San Francisco 49ers before suiting for the Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks. He is a three-time Super Bowl champion, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, and one-time Super Bowl MVP. The first-round pick in the 1985 draft is also a 10-time First Team All-Pro and 13-time Pro Bowler. Rice was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

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