Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Even before today’s high-powered passing offenses, wide receivers have been responsible for many of the biggest plays in NFL history. The men who play the position possess a wide range of skills: speed, agility, superior hand-eye coordination, precision route-running, and the fearlessness to take vicious hits over the middle. This list features the 10 greatest receivers in the history of the game.
1 (tie) Don Hutson, 1935-45
Hutson dominated the position of wide receiver like no player before or since. In 11 seasons, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer led the NFL in receptions eight times, receiving yards seven times, and touchdown catches nine times. Hutson is responsible for revolutionizing the position, creating the modern pass pattern and making the forward pass more than just a novelty. When he retired in 1945, the speedster from Alabama was the all-time leader in receptions (455), receiving yards (7,991) and touchdown catches (99). To give you an idea of Hutson’s dominance, the second place player in each category, Jim Benton, had 190 receptions, 3,309 yards and 33 touchdowns. The 8-time All-Pro is also the only receiver in NFL history to win league MVP honors, accomplishing the feat in both 1941 and 1942.
1 (tie) Jerry Rice, 1986-2004
Statistically, Rice is the most prolific receiver in NFL history. The San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer is first all-time in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197). He also ranks first in scrimmage yards, all-purpose yards and total touchdowns. The 13-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro combined great hands and precise route running with a work ethic rivaled by none. This work ethic allowed Rice to remain a 1,000-yard receiver at the age of 40, a club in which he is the only member. In the postseason, Rice took his game to another level. In four Super Bowl games, he caught 33 passes for 589 yards and eight touchdowns.
3) Randy Moss, 1998-2010, 12
When he entered the league as a rookie in 1998, the NFL had never seen anything like Moss. The 6’4” 210-pound West Virginian not only had size, he also ran a blistering 4.25 40-yard dash. The Hall of Famer led the NFL with 17 touchdown catches for the Minnesota Vikings, a rookie record. Nine years later as a New England Patriot, he set the single season record for most touchdown receptions with 23. In 14 pro seasons, the 6-time Pro Bowler and 4-time All-Pro caught 982 passes for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns, ranking fourth all-time in yards and second in touchdowns.
4) Terrell Owens, 1996-2010
Owens was an unstoppable force wherever he went. The Hall of Famer became the only receiver in history to be named First Team All-Pro with three different teams: San Francisco (2000-02), Philadelphia (04) and Dallas (07). Using a lethal combination of size, speed and agility, the 6-time Pro Bowler was able to carve up defenses regardless of the setting. In 15 seasons, Owens caught 1,078 passes for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns, ranking third all-time in yards and touchdowns, and eighth in receptions.
5) Larry Fitzgerald, 2004-present
Possessing size, great hands and a superior catch radius, Fitzgerald has become one of the most prolific receivers in history. The future Hall of Famer is second all-time with 1,421 receptions and 17,419 yards, and ranks sixth with 120 touchdown catches. Consistent and durable, the 11-time Pro Bowler has five 100-catch and nine 1,000-yard seasons. The Arizona Cardinals great has also made the most of his limited postseason appearances, catching 57 passes for 942 yards and 10 touchdowns in only nine games.
6) Marvin Harrison, 1996-2008
When describing Harrison, the first words that come to mind are quiet greatness. While not as flamboyant as some of his contemporaries, Harrison’s numbers took a backseat to no one. In 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, the Hall of Famer and 8-time Pro Bowler caught 1,102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. From 1999-2006, Harrison caught 826 passes, the most in any 8-year stretch in NFL history. In 2002, he set the NFL single season record with 143 receptions, a mark that stood for 17 years.
7) Steve Largent, 1976-89
He wasn’t the biggest or fastest receiver, but when he retired Largent was the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (819), receiving yards (13,089) and touchdowns (100). The Seattle Seahawks Hall of Famer was remarkably consistent, catching passes in 177 consecutive games and recording 1,000 or more yards in eight of nine seasons from 1978-86, missing only in the strike-shortened season of 1982. Largent was named to seven Pro Bowls in his 14-year career.
8) Lance Alworth, 1962-72
When talking about big-play receivers, the conversation starts with Alworth. Nicknamed “Bambi” for his speed and graceful moves in the open field, the San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer averaged 18.9 yards per catch in his 11-year career, the second-highest mark for a receiver with 500+ catches. The 6-time All-Pro finished his career with 542 catches for 10,266 yards and 85 touchdowns. Alworth led the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns three times each, and became the first receiver to record seven straight 1,000-yard seasons (1963-69).
9) Cris Carter, 1987-2002
With two of the best hands the NFL has ever seen, Carter retired in 2002 with the second most receptions (1,101) and touchdown catches (130) in NFL history. He set the single season record for receptions with 122 in 1994, a mark since broken. In an eight-year stretch from 1993-2001, the Hall of Famer and Minnesota Vikings great caught 779 passes for 9,456 yards and 90 touchdowns. Carter was named to eight Pro Bowls in his 16-year career.
10) Raymond Berry, 1955-67
Despite being a 20th round draft pick with only 33 catches in three years of college ball, this ultimate underdog became top dog among NFL receivers, retiring as the all-time leader in receptions (631) and receiving yards (9,275). Berry overcame a lack of natural ability with an undying work ethic and attention to detail. The Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer used a self-proclaimed 88 distinct moves to lead the NFL in receptions three straight years from 1958-60, and the Colts to back-to-back world championships in 1958-59.