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25 greatest wide receivers in NFL history

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In a way, a list of the best wide receivers of all time is a mile long. The NFL has always been filled with great receivers, especially over the past couple of decades.

That means ranking the greatest WRs in NFL history is even more challenging than ranking the greatest tight ends ever or even the best running backs in NFL history. That’s why we wanted to extend our list of the greatest wide receivers ever to 25.

Greatest Wide Receivers in NFL History

But even with 25 of the best wide receivers of all time, we had some hard decisions to make. We had to leave a few deserving wide receivers off because there wasn’t room for everyone.

Of course, it means more to be considered among the greatest WRs in NFL history because some big names were left off. While we expect some disagreement, here is our list of the 25 best wide receivers of all time.

25. Hines Ward

Some might call Hines Ward a solid but unspectacular wide receiver, but he maintained a high level of play for a long time.


He went to just four Pro Bowls, but he did help the Steelers win two Super Bowls. He also finished his career with exactly 1,000 receptions and had six seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. Winning Super Bowl MVP is also a nice line on his resume.

24. Steve Smith Sr.

For more than a decade, Steve Smith Sr. was always among the most productive wide receivers in the NFL. He had a breakout season in 2003 and led the league in receiving in 2005. Those were two of the eight seasons in which Smith had more than 1,000 yards receiving.

In fact, he missed almost the entire 2004 season and then became the best receiver in the league and Comeback Player of the Year in 2005. From there, Smith maintained a high level of play for a long time, yet he’s often overlooked as one of the top wide receivers of all time or a Hall of Fame candidate.

23. Charlie Joiner

Charlie Joiner is sometimes easy to overlook outside of fans of the Chargers. But he played for two other teams and had a long career from 1969 to 1986. That’s not bad for a fourth-round pick out of Grambling.

He caught 750 passes during that time and amassed over 12,000 receiving yards, which was more than enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. Those numbers also helped Joiner get to three Pro Bowls.


In terms of pure athleticism and ability, Joiner doesn’t compare with the best receivers of all time. However, his peers and coaches often regarded him as one of the smartest players in the league, as Joiner used his intelligence to get open and make plays.

22. Antonio Brown

If one can ever forget the disastrous nature in which Antonio Brown’s career ended over his last few seasons in the league, they’ll find an elite wide receiver.

Few believed in him coming out of college, as the Steelers graded him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He proceeded to become one of the most electric wide receivers in the league, earning seven Pro Bowl selections and leading the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards in 2014.

There was a five-year period between 2013 and 2017 when Brown was arguably the best wide receiver in the league. However, his attitude and immaturity hurt his longevity, keeping Brown from being considered among the best of the best.

21. Reggie Wayne

Despite being the second-best receiver on the Colts throughout his career, Reggie Wayne deserves to be mentioned among the NFL’s best receivers. In fact, having Marvin Harrison getting so much attention helped Wayne to put up impressive numbers year after year.

Even playing second fiddle, he made the Pro Bowl six times and led the NFL in receiving in 2007. On any other team, he would have been the clear no. 1 receiver and probably would have had even more impressive numbers and been held in even more high esteem.

20. Andre Reed

It took a while, but Andre Reed finally got into the Hall of Fame in 2013, and deservedly so.

More than two decades after his retirement, Reed still ranks in the top 20 in all-time receptions and the top 10 in playoff receptions. The latter is because he was an important part of Buffalo’s four straight Super Bowls.

That success with the Bills also helped Reed get elected to seven straight Pro Bowls during his prime. With over 950 receptions and over 13,000 yards in his career, he deserves to be among the top receivers ever.

19. Fred Biletnikoff

The award for the best college wide receiver is named after Fred Biletnikoff, and it’s because he was one of the first elite receivers in the game.

Even if he wasn’t an elite athlete, Biletnikoff had the type of hands and route-running ability that the best receivers possess.

While his career numbers may not measure up to the best of all time, Biletnikoff was still a four-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in receptions in 1971. He was reliable, productive, and the embodiment of what any team would want in a player and a wide receiver.

18. Michael Irvin

Not all wide receivers are flashy when they play, but thankfully Michael Irvin was there to help balance things out. He was a big-time playmaker with the Cowboys and always made sure people knew about it.

He definitely fits the mold of cocky wide receivers, although with good reason.

During his prime, Irvin went to five straight Pro Bowls, helping to make him one of the best wide receivers of the 90s. He was also a part of three Dallas teams that won the Super Bowl, as he was one of three superstars alongside Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith leading the Cowboys during that era. Irvin had seven seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards, and if not for a career-ending injury in 1999, he might rank higher on our list of the best receivers of all time.

17. Andre Johnson

Andre Johnson’s productivity ranks up there with any wide receiver of the 21st century. He spent more than a decade with the Texans, going to the Pro Bowl seven times during his tenure in Houston.

In 2008, Johnson led the league in both receptions and receiving yards. That was one of three seasons in which Johnson amassed over 1,500 receiving yards. Keep in mind that Johnson rarely had the benefit of playing with elite quarterbacks, making his stats even more impressive.

16. Torry Holt

Too many people forget that Torry Holt was a key part of the Greatest Show on Turf, as Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce get most of the recognition. But Holt was a member of those teams too.

He was also a seven-time Pro Bowler who led the league in receiving twice. Not many receivers can claim to have had eight straight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards, but Holt is on that list.

In fact, he holds the NFL record for six straight seasons with at least 1,300 receiving yards and six straight seasons with at least 90 catches. It’s downright puzzling how Holt has been overlooked for the Hall of Fame for so long because he deserves to be there with over 13,000 career receiving yards.

15. Art Monk

Art Monk remains one of the most consistent and reliable wide receivers in NFL history. He became the first player in league history to have a touchdown catch in 15 straight seasons.

In each of those 15 seasons, he set another record by catching at least 35 passes each year. During the Super Bowl era, he was the first player to collect over 100 receptions in one season. The accolades go on and on for Monk, who was a productive receiver throughout his 15 seasons in the league, amassing over 12,000 career receiving yards.

Despite only being selected to the Pro Bowl three times, Monk is in the Hall of Fame and helped Washington win three Super Bowls.

14. Tim Brown

Few receivers can claim to have the same longevity as Tim Brown. He holds the NFL’s all-time record with 176 consecutive starts. More importantly, he made the most of his opportunities by collecting nearly 1,100 career receptions and exactly 100 receiving touchdowns. Brown was also an elite kick returner, as two of his nine Pro Bowl selections actually came as a special teams player.

Nevertheless, after serving primarily as a returner and a complementary player during the first five seasons of his career, the former Heisman winner ultimately blossomed into a star and had nine consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards, becoming one of the best receivers of his generation.

13. Isaac Bruce

Thanks to Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf, Isaac Bruce is fondly remembered by many fans. But even aside from those few seasons on one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, Bruce had an amazing career.

Despite only leading the league in receiving yards once, Bruce compiled over 15,000 receiving yards in his career, putting him fifth on the all-time list for now. While he had some ups and downs, Bruce ended up having eight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards, although he was only selected to the Pro Bowl four times. Yet, with over 1,000 catches and 91, Bruce has a spot in the Hall of Fame and a spot among the best receivers in NFL history.

12. James Lofton

In his day, James Lofton was one of the fastest receivers in the NFL. What do you expect from someone who was a track & field star at Stanford?

In college, Lofton excelled as both a sprinter and in the long jump. Those skills translated nicely onto the football field, allowing Lofton to become a key part of Buffalo’s success in the early 90s. But he also played for four other teams, racking up over 14,000 career passing yards and going to eight Pro Bowls along the way. In fact, Lofton was the first receiver in NFL history to surpass the 14,000-yard plateau, keeping him among the all-time leaders in receiving yards and among the best receivers ever.

11. Raymond Berry

Most people know about Johnny Unitas, but they don’t always recognize that Raymond Berry was the preferred choice of the legendary quarterback. Despite being a 20th-round pick in 1954, going 232nd overall, Berry became a top-notch wide receiver and one of the best ever.

He led the NFL in receptions three times, receiving yards three times, and receiving touchdowns twice, winning the receiver Triple Crown in 1959. Naturally, he was a part of two NFL championship teams in Baltimore while receiving six Pro Bowl selections. Later, Berry became a well-respected coach, but before that, he was one of the greatest wide receivers the NFL has ever known.

10. Cris Carter

During his career, people would joke that all Cris Carter did was catch touchdowns. For the record, he had 971 catches in his career that weren’t touchdowns.

But his 130 career touchdowns are also impressive.

The truth is the guy had some of the best hands in NFL history, which is why he led the league in catches in 1994 and receiving touchdowns on three occasions, sending Carter to the Pro Bowl in eight consecutive years during his career. Carter was so talented as a route runner and catcher that he never quite got the credit he deserved for being a top-flight athlete.

But his athleticism also contributed to him racking up over 1,000 receiving yards in eight straight seasons. For over a decade, he rarely missed a game and became one of the most reliable receivers in the league, whether it be catching touchdowns or simply moving the chains, which is why he shouldn’t be overlooked on a list of the top receivers of all time.

9. Marvin Harrison

It’s impossible to say if Marvin Harrison would have been as great as he was without Peyton Manning, but one could ask the same question about Manning if he didn’t have Harrison.

The two were a great match, helping Harrison get the most out of his talent. Soon after Manning arrived, Harrison rattled over eight straight seasons with over 1,100 yards, including four seasons with over 1,400 yards.

He led the league in receiving yards twice and was a part of Indy’s Super Bowl win. Harrison’s consistency at wide receiver is hard to match, which is why he went to eight straight Pro Bowls while being an All-Pro in eight straight seasons, making him an easy player to elect to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

8. Terrell Owens

His poor attitude and ridiculous antics aside, there’s no denying that Terrell Owens was a great wide receiver. He was fast and physical with the size and athleticism to cause cornerbacks a world of trouble.

Owens was also incredibly cocky, which often tends to help wide receivers. All of those traits helped him to become a six-time Pro Bowler, earning selections in five consecutive seasons, while also leading the league in receiving touchdowns three times.

The amazing part is that he always seemed to clash with coaches and quarterbacks, as Owens and Donovan McNabb had well-documented problems in Philadelphia. That might diminish what Owens accomplished for some people. But after a Hall of Fame career, he must be mentioned among the best wide receivers of all time.

7. Lance Alworth

Despite playing in the AFL before the merger, Lance Alworth still deserves credit for being one of the greatest wide receivers ever. He led the AFL in receiving yards, receptions, and touchdowns three times each, doing all three in 1966, winning the Triple Crown for receivers.

For his career, he had over 10,000 receiving yards and averaged nearly 19 yards per catch. During his prime with the Chargers, Alworth had seven straight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and then helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl VI during the latter stages of his career.

6. Calvin Johnson

The nickname Megatron says almost everything you need to know about Calvin Johnson. He was tall at 6’5’’ but also had elite speed and athleticism. He could jump as high as any player in the league while also showcasing incredible body control.

In short, Johnson’s catch radius is nothing like the league has ever known, helping to make him one of the greatest wide receivers ever. There are catches Johnson made in his career that no other receiver could ever hope to make.

He still owns the all-time record for eight straight 100-yard receiving games and the most receiving yards in a single season, racking up 1,964 yards on 122 catches in 2012. Unfortunately, we only got to see Johnson for nine seasons and two measly playoff games, so he didn’t show the longevity that other receivers have. Nevertheless, he went to six straight Pro Bowls during his prime and is surely one of the most challenging wide receivers any cornerback has tried to defend.

5. Larry Fitzgerald

At times, Larry Fitzgerald was consistent to the point of boredom, but in a good way. He went to the Pro Bowl 11 times, doing so within a 13-year span. Fitzgerald almost never had an off-year, and frankly, he almost never had a bad game.

He wasn’t always the fastest or the strongest, but he was reliable with his hands and route running, making him the type of receiver that quarterbacks loved. Fitzgerald was also remarkably loyal, spending his entire career with the Cardinals.

In a way, his consistency was his downfall, as the league grew so used to him that he was only a three-time All-Pro despite leading the league in receptions twice and touchdowns twice. His numbers speak for themselves with nine seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards and four seasons with over 1,400 yards.

That’s what happens when you rarely miss a game and maintain a consistent level of play, which is something few players in NFL history have done better than Fitzgerald.

4. Don Hutson

In a way, Don Hutson invented the position of wide receiver. While playing for the Packers between 1935 and 1945, he helped to create many of the fundamental routes we see wide receivers run today and make throwing the ball a bigger part of the game.

Naturally, he was better at this than just about everyone else in that era. He led the NFL in receptions eight times, receiving yards seven times, and receiving touchdowns nine times.

Hutson was unstoppable at his peak, winning back-to-back MVP awards in 1941 and 1942 while also helping the Packers win three NFL championships. Hutson is truly one of the most influential and legendary figures in the game and should be included among the best wide receivers of all time.

3. Randy Moss

Talent-wise, there aren’t many receivers who are even close to Randy Moss in NFL history.

At 6’4’’ with his hands and athleticism, Moss was almost impossible to defend at times. Cornerbacks asked to play him one-on-one would get embarrassed and surely have nightmares afterward. We still call it being “Mossed” when receivers are able to overpower defensive backs and make them look silly.

Frankly, his attitude and his antics were the only things that ever held him back. Moss still owns the record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season and most receiving touchdowns by a rookie.

He began his career with six straight seasons of 1,200 receiving yards or more and after a few down seasons, had three straight seasons with over 1,000 yards later in his career. His six Pro Bowl selections don’t seem like enough considering how much better he was than everyone else during the prime of his career.

2. Steve Largent

Before spending nearly a decade in Congress, Steve Largent was one of the best wide receivers of the late 1970s and 80s. He was one of those receivers who caught everything, earning him the nickname “Yoda,” as the original Star Wars trilogy came out during the first half of his career.

Largent played 14 seasons, all with the Seahawks, and barely missed a game during that time.

He put together eight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and was a seven-time Pro Bowler, twice leading the NFL in receiving. Unfortunately, today’s record books don’t reflect him being one of the greatest wide receivers ever, but at the time of his retirement, Largent owned the all-time records for catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, not to mention a streak of 177 straight regular-season games with a catch.

1. Jerry Rice

In the end, there’s virtually no debate that Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver in NFL history. Whether he’s the most talented receiver to ever play the game is a different discussion.

But he was the best at playing the position, no questions asked.

Rice had elite hands and route-running ability in addition to being one of the smartest and hardest-working players to ever play the game. When his scholarship offers coming out of high school were limited, Rice had to play a little Mississippi Valley State. But playing at a small school like that helped to fuel him.

Rice always played with a point to prove and he usually proved that point with his play. He helped the 49ers to win three Super Bowls and was a 13-time Pro Bowler. Rice led the league in receiving yards six times and receiving touchdowns six times, doing both in the same year on three occasions.

In addition to being the best wide receiver ever, there’s a strong argument for Rice being among the top five players of all time. Even with so many great receivers in today’s game, it’ll take someone special to surpass Rice, who owns the NFL all-time records for receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, total touchdowns, and even all-purpose yards.

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