The Quick And The Fast: The Best Wide Receivers In NFL History

Football | 6/23/20

The NFL has a rich history of wide receivers who became franchise icons. Jerry Rice helped bring multiple Super Bowl titles to the San Francisco Bay Area, while Steve Largent is one of Seattle’s earliest sports icons. But are these legends the best of the best? While Rice is considered one of the greatest of all-time, Largent’s place in history is less clear. These are the best wide receivers to ever hit the gridiron. Read on to see if Largent, among other franchise staples, made the list!

Reggie Wayne – 14,345 Career Receiving Yards

reggie wayne nfl
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

One of two iconic Indianapolis Colt wide receivers, Reggie Wayne played his entire career with one franchise. Over the course of 14 seasons, he racked up over 14,000 receiving yards in the regular season.

In the postseason, he was just as dynamic. In 21 playoff games, Wayne caught 93 passes for 1,254 yards while scoring nine touchdowns. He won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning in 2007 and was voted to the Pro Bowl six times.

Steve Smith Sr. – 14,731 Career Receiving Yards

steve smith sr panthers
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Considered undersized for his position, few wide receivers have been as fierce as Steve Smith Sr. Proving big things come in small packages, the former Panther and Raven played sixteen seasons in the NFL and retired with nearly 15,000 receiving yards.

And although Smith Sr. never won a Super Bowl, he did find himself in elite company when he became the third WR in history to earn the “Triple Crown” at his position. In 2005, he led the league in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and receptions.

Isaac Bruce – 15,208 Career Receiving Yards

isaac bruce st louis rams
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

With 223 games under his belt and 15,208 career receiving yards, it’s no surprise Isaac Bruce makes this list. As a member of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” he helped bring the Lombardi trophy to St. Louis.

The Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999 with Bruce, Torry Holt, and QB Kurt Warner. The explosive offense was unstoppable and helped the seven-time Pro Bowl selection earn his place in the Hall of Fame alongside Warner.

Tim Brown – 14,934 Career Receiving Yards

tim brown raiders
OHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images
OHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images

Inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, Tim Brown spent all but one year of his storied career with the Raiders. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and the only player at his position retire top five in receiving and return yards.

Oddly enough, the last team Brown would play for was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the same team that beat him in the Super Bowl with the Raiders in 2002.

Marvin Harrison – 14,580 Career Receiving Yards

marvin harrison colts
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Playing opposite Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis for several seasons was very fruitful for Marvin Harrison. The duo teamed up with Peyton Manning to create one of the league’s best offenses, winning one Super Bowl together.

Harrison spent all 13 seasons of his career in Indianapolis, retiring with 14,580 regular-season receiving yards. In the playoffs, he recorded another 65 receptions for 883 yards and two touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016

Randy Moss – 15,292 Career Receiving Yards

randy moss vikings
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

Thanks to a personality larger than life, Randy Moss bounced around the NFL throughout his career, making stops in Minnesota, Oakland, New England, Tennessee, and San Francisco. He retired after 15 seasons with 15,292 career receiving yards.

Moss’ best season came in 2007 with the New England Patriots. Catching balls from Tom Brady led to an NFL record 23 touchdown receptions. The team went 18-1 (including playoffs) that season, losing its only game in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

Terrell Owens – 15,934 Career Receiving Yards

terrell owens buffalo
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Another dramatic wide receiver with undeniable talent, Terrell Owens retired with the second-most receiving yards in NFL history. Drafted by the 49ers, Owens made stops in Philadelphia, Dallas, Buffalo, and Cincinnati before calling it a career.

While Owens never won a Super Bowl (he did play in one), he was a five-time First-Team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowl selection. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame but refused to show up for his ceremony.

Larry Fitzgerald – 17,000 Plus Career Receiving Yards

larry fitzgerald cardinals
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Known as Larry “Legend,” Larry Fitzgerald has spent his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals and recently surpassed Terrell Owens as the second leading receiver in league history. While he still has nearly 5,000 yards to go to catch Jerry Rice, he doesn’t seem to be ready to retire any time soon.

Fitzgerald was drafted by the Cardinals in 2004 and has been with the team through many ups and downs. His highest point with the franchise was in 2008, when the team made it all the way the Super Bowl, losing a close match to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Don Hutson – 7,991 Career Receiving Yards

don hutson packers
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images

Although you might not look at someone who retired with so few career receiving yards worthy of a spot on this list, we must remember what era Don Hutson played in. A Green Bay Packer from 1935 until 1945, Hutson caught 99 touchdown passes and is the only WR who was enshrined in the first Hall of Fame class.

By the end of his career, Hutson was a three-time Super Bowl Champion and eight-time First-Team All-Pro. He led the league in receiving yard eight times and had a Green Bay practice facility named in his honor in 1994.

Steve Largent – 13,089 Career Receiving Yards

steve largent seahawks
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Although he was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1976, Steve Largent was traded to the Seattle Seahawks before the start of the regular season. The mistake would cost Houston greatly as Largent would become a superstar who set several records before retiring.

When Largent called it quits after the 1989 season, he was the NFL’s all-time leading receiver. The team retired in jersey number in 1992, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, his first year of eligibility.

Jerry Rice – 22,895 Career Receiving Yards

jerry rice 49ers
Stephen Dunn/Allsport/Getty Images
Stephen Dunn/Allsport/Getty Images

Widely considered to be the greatest wide receiver of all-time, Jerry Rice stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to career receiving yards. Playing the first 16 years of his career with the 49ers, Rice was lucky enough to catch passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young.

When he retired, Rice was the undisputed king of receivers. He won three Super Bowls, was a ten-time First-Team All-Pro, and was named to 13 Pro Bowls. Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Sterling Sharpe – 8,134 Carer Receiving Yards

sterling sharpe packers
Betsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images
Betsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images

A brilliant wide receiver whose career was cut short by injuries, Sterling Sharpe today is best known as Shannon Sharpe’s brother. While Shannon is in the Hall of Fame, Sterling’s seven-season career makes his path to Canton more difficult.

Sterling’s two best years came in 1989 and 1992. Both seasons he caught over 90 passes for more than 1,400 yards. If he had only been able to play a few more years with Brett Favre in Green Bay he would have been a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Andre Johnson – 14,185 Career Receiving Yards

andre johnson texans
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Andre Johnson is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers on this list. Listed at 6’3″ and 230 pounds, he ran a sub 4.4, 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.

His talent translated beautifully from college to the NFL, and Johnson finished his 14-season career with seven Pro Bowl selections, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and 14,185 career receiving yards. He also distinguishes himself on this list as the only player to record 60 or more receptions in his first eight seasons.

Hines Ward – 12,083 Career Receiving Yards

hines ward steelers
Diamond Images/Getty Images
Diamond Images/Getty Images

Over the course of 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hines Ward was the definition of consistent. He rarely missed games and almost always found his way to 1,000 receiving yards. When he called it quits, Ward had exactly 1,000 receptions and 12,083 total yards.

Ward was also a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams, winning the game’s MVP award for one. Since retiring, Ward has gotten into the coaching world, taking his first job as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets.

Andre Reed – 13,198 Career Receiving Yards

andre reed bills
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Andre Reed played in the NFL for 16 seasons. For all but one of those years, he played for the Buffalo Bills, where he famously appeared in four straight Super Bowl losses. Of course, it’s hard to blame one player on those losses, even though fans tend to go after kicker Scott Norwood.

In 2014, Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was named to the Pro Bowl seven times. He also has the second-most career Super Bowl receptions with 27, only trailing behind Jerry Rice.

Fred Biletnikoff – 8,974 Career Receiving Yards

fred biletnikoff raiders
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Playing in an era before passing was trendy, Fred Biletnikoff stood out in the crowd. He played for 14 seasons and caught over 40 passes 10 straight times, a miraculous feat for the period in history.

And while Biletnikoff only surpassed 1,000 receiving yards once, he was considered a key player in the Raiders’ success, including a Super Bowl win in 1976. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

James Lofton – 14,004 Career Receiving Yards

james lofton packers
Owen Shaw/Getty Images
Owen Shaw/Getty Images

James Lofton was the first player in NFL history to reach 14,000 career receiving yards. He played a total of 233 games for the Raiders, Packers, Eagles, and Rams and was enshrined in Canton in 2003.

During his prestigious career, Lofton was elected to eight Pro Bowls and was named a member of the NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team. After retiring, Lofton spent time in the coaching ranks, joining the Chargers staff in 2002 and eventually teaming up with the Raiders in 2008.

Charlie Joiner – 12,146 Career Receiving Yards

charlie joiner chargers
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Charlie Joiner played in the NFL from 1969 until 1986. He began his career with the Oilers, played briefly for the Bengals, and spent most of his time with the Chargers. When he called it quits, he was the league’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.

Never considered the best player at the position, Joiner was one of the smartest. Legendary head coach Bill Walsh once said he was, “the most intelligent, the smartest, the most calculating receiver the game has ever known.”

Lance Alworth – 10,266 Career Receiving Yards

lance alworth chargers
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

One of the first truly great wide receivers in the NFL, Lance Alworth played from 1962 until 1972. In seven seasons he surpassed 1,000 receiving yards. His best year was 1965 when he caught 69 passes for 1,602 yards.

Alworth showed the league what kind of impact a passing attack could have in the NFL. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 and was more recently named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Art Monk – 12,721 Career Receiving Yards

art monk redskins
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Art Monk won three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins with three different quarterbacks. He played in the state capital for 14 seasons, then spent one year in New York as a Jet and one more as an Eagle.

In 2008, Monk was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was one of the best of his era, retiring as the NFL’s leader in career receptions and was the first receiver to record a touchdown catch in 15 straight seasons.