Diving Into NFL History: 10 Best Wide Receivers of All Time

best wide receivers of all time

Many people consider the NFL to be one of the most popular and entertaining sports in the whole world! It is a showcase of supreme talent, unprecedented skill, and athleticism that is second to none. All this being said, the sport owes its appeal in large part to perhaps the most entertaining position — the wide receivers.

Davante Adams, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins are only some of the wideouts that have been absolutely torching the league for years. The modern NFL is the age of wide receivers, so what better time than now to look at some of the best wide receivers of all time.

Honorable Mentions

Before we begin, here are some honorable mentions that didn’t make the list of 10 best wide receivers of all time:

• Michael Irvin (active 1988‒1999)
• Steve Smith Sr. (active 2001‒2016)
• Isaac Bruce (active 1994‒2009)
• Raymond Berry (active 1955‒1967)
• Tim Brown (active 1988‒2004)

10. Steve Largent (Active 1976‒1989)

Steve Largent

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Starting off the list of best wide receivers of all time is none other than Steve Largent. A career-long Seattle Seahawk, Largent was everything you could want from a wide receiver.

He had great numbers in his career that lasted 14 years including eight 1,000-yard seasons, 100 receiving touchdowns, and 819 receptions for 13,089 yards. Keep in mind that at the time he was playing, the wide receiver position was not as favored by the officials as it is today. You could make a wide receiver’s life a nightmare by playing physical football, but Largent persevered.

He also posted all these numbers with quite mediocre quarterbacks. During his peak years, he had Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg at the helm of the offense. However, Steve Largent wasn’t going to let that stop him and went on to have a Hall of Fame career that most wide receivers could only dream of.

9. Lance Alworth (Active 1962‒1972)

Lance Alworth

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Lance Alworth is a legend of the San Diego Chargers. He was drafted by two teams — the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. Raiders subsequently traded his rights to the Chargers and after some consideration, Alworth chose San Diego and the rest was history.

He was the preeminent receiver of his time. Alworth played with such grace on the field and had such bounce and quickness to his game that he earned the nickname “Bambi.” He amassed 10,266 yards and 542 receptions for 85 touchdowns.

Alworth was Randy Moss before Randy Moss. He was one of the key components to one of the most electric offenses of all time, earning him a spot on the top 10 wide receivers of all time list.

8. Marvin Harrison (Active 1996‒2008)

Marvin Harrison

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A 2016 Hall of Fame inductee, Marvin Harrison was one of the most consistent wide receivers you could find.

The Indianapolis Colts drafted Harrison in 1996, and he spent his whole career with them. His first seasons were great. He firmly took the No. 1 receiver spot, and things were looking up. However, when the Colts drafted Payton Manning in 1998, Marvin Harisson’s career really took off.

In addition, he rarely missed games, which helped him achieve numbers that are all top 10 all-time. He had 14,580 yards (9th all-time) and 1,102 receptions (5th all-time) for 128 touchdowns (5th all-time).

As much as Manning helped him, Harrison helped Payton. In the end, they became the most prolific QB-WR duo in the entire history of the NFL. They had the most touchdowns, receptions, and yards, which is one of the greatest feats you could achieve in this sport.

7. Cris Carter (Active 1987‒2002)

Cris Carter

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A beloved member of the Minnesota Vikings, Cris Carter made catching touchdowns look easy.

The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carter but parted ways with him only three years later. His next stop would be the Vikings, and he would stay with them for 12 seasons.

With the Vikings, he made a name for himself and became one of the best wide receivers of all time in the process. He ended his career with 1,101 receptions, 13,899 yards, and 130 receiving touchdowns.

On his very first snap, he caught the ball and immediately scored a touchdown — only a sign of things to come for this legendary wide receiver.

6. Calvin Johnson (Active 2007‒2015)

Calvin Johnson

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To the Detroit Lions fans, the name “Megatron” brings up a lot of great memories. Even though he only played nine seasons in the league, he put up numbers most receivers don’t tally in much longer careers.

Calvin Johnson destroyed every matchup that came his way. He was 6’5’’ and weighed 237 pounds but had exceptional speed for his size. Because of this, Johnson constantly created mismatches on the field and was a force of nature, earning him the now legendary nickname — Megatron.

Calvin was drafted in 2007 and immediately grabbed the spotlight. Throughout his career, he had 11,619 yards and 731 receptions for 83 touchdowns. What’s more, his record of 1,964 yards in a single season is unmatched to this day.

5. Don Hutson (Active 1935‒1945)

Don Hutson

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No list of best wide receivers of all time would be complete without Don Hutson. He may have played ages ago when they were still using leather helmets but that still doesn’t diminish his brilliance.

Don Hutson played between 1935 and 1945 for the Green Bay Packers. In his career, he set numerous records, including the record for most touchdowns (99) and most receptions (488). It took 40 years for anyone to surpass his touchdown record — Steve Largent finally broke it in 1989.

4. Larry Fitzgerald (Active 2004‒2020)

Larry Fitzgerald

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Fitzgerald is known for two things: loyalty and consistency. Unlike many receivers, Larry Fitzgerald played his whole career for one team, the Arizona Cardinals, where he’s had great success. But more important than his loyalty to the team was the consistency he brought every season.

His résumé includes:

• 17,429 yards
• 121 TDs
• 1,432 receptions
• Most seasons with 90 or more receptions
• 17 straight seasons with 50 or more receptions

On top of all that, he is the only wide receiver, apart from Jerry Rice, to have more than 1,400 career catches. Also, he is the first receiver to have 150 receptions vs. three different teams.

It is still uncertain whether Fitzgerald will be returning to football next season, but one thing is undeniable — even if he never plays another snap, he is definitely one of the best wide receivers of all time.

3. Terrell Owens (Active 1996‒2010)

Terrell Owens

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Terrell Owens was a living highlight reel. Although he caused a lot of problems off the field, that didn’t affect his on-the-field productivity.

Owens was drafted by the 49ers, where he spent most of his career. He also had significant roles with the Philadelphia Eagles and their biggest rival, the Dallas Cowboys. Towards the end of his career, T.O. also played for the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Seattle Seahawks.

What is special about Owens is that he made the All-Pro team with three different teams — a feat only two other players in the history of the NFL have achieved.

Looking at his stats will tell you why he’s one of the best receivers of all time. Owens had 1,078 catches, caught 153 touchdowns, and tallied 15,934 yards.

And if the stats weren’t enough to convince you, the eye test surely would. He was a specialist for big plays, catching passes in heavy traffic and over multiple defenders. He also had multiple 200-yard games. In 2018, Owens was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after several years of being left off the ballot.

2. Randy Moss (Active 1998‒2012)

Randy Moss

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The second receiver on our list needs no introduction. Randy Moss was one of the most productive wideouts in the history of American football. But not everyone wanted to take a gamble on him.

Although he showed immense talent before the draft, his off-the-field problems were a concern for many teams. His fiery character made 20 teams pass on him until the Minnesota Vikings selected him as the 21st pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. And Moss took off in the league as soon as he stepped foot on the grass.

His rookie campaign was one of the best wide receiver campaigns in NFL history. He recorded 17 touchdowns (a record by a rookie) which earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and he led the Vikings to a 15–1 regular-season record.

He dominated players with his raw athleticism. Moss made highlight plays outjumping several opposing players, outrunning defenders, and making incredible catches. His freakish athletic ability earned him the nickname “The Monster.”

After seven years with Minnesota, he played two seasons for the Oakland Raiders and ended up in New England. Randy’s career blossomed with Tom Brady, and he even broke Jerry Rice’s record for most touchdowns in a single season, catching 23 of them.

Together with Brady, he led the Patriots to a spotless regular-season record of 16–0 but sadly didn’t crown that achievement with a Super Bowl ring.

1. Jerry Rice (Active 1985‒2004)

Jerry Rice

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There can only be one king and when it comes to wide receivers, no one comes even close to Jerry Rice. You could even make a case that he is the best overall football player of all time.

Rice was drafted 16th overall in the 1985 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played the majority of his illustrious career. He won three Super Bowls with them (‘88, ‘89, and ‘94) and one Super Bowl MVP. He also played for the Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks.

Making a G.O.A.T. case for Jerry Rice is easy. He still holds records that probably no one will ever surpass. Those include records for most:

• Career touchdowns — 208
• Receiving yards — 22,895
• Receptions — 1,549
• All-purpose yards — 23,546

Even more remarkable is that he did all this in an era where the sole focus of offenses was running the football.

The trait of all great players is that they thrive under pressure, and Jerry was no different. When the stakes were high in the Super Bowl XXIII, he had 11 catches for 215 yards. He had a stellar performance in the Super Bowl XXIV against Denver, when he tallied 148 yards and three touchdowns.

He made electric plays all the time, and he was most known for his yards after the catch. Rice was a master of catching a 5-yard throw and turning it into an 80-yard touchdown. He was virtually unstoppable, putting fear into opponent defenses.

Gretchen Walker
Gretchen is a homemaker by day and writer by night. She takes a keen interest in life as it unfolds around her and spends her free time observing people go about their everyday affairs.