Trying to put a list like this together when you were born in the mid 1970s is pretty hard to do, simply because you missed so much football played throughout the years. It’s obvious that Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver ever, but ranking the rest hasn’t really been clear. It’s hard to rank wide receivers because the air attack didn’t really take off until the mid 80s as teams began to realize a good passing attack was needed to loosen up defenses so you could establish a strong running game. The playing field isn't exactly level when measuring the greatest wide receivers of all time.
Depending upon the quality of the quarterbacks they played with, whether their teams were built around the passing or the running game, or the defensive talent they faced in their eras, these players' accomplishments can be difficult to measure against their peers when it comes to compiling a top 10 list. Still, as with all great athletes in any sport, the cream always rises to the top, and the best of the best seem to rise above any adversity. Here is my top 10 list of the men who've been able to dominate the sport of football at the wide receiver position.
10. Tim Brown
When you think of all-purpose wide receivers, you need not look any further than Tim Brown. Brown was a consistent force on the Raiders and always seemed to be the best all-purpose guy in the business from year to year during his tenure in the league. Brown was overshadowed most of his career by the feats of Jerry Rice, but real fans took notice to what Brown was doing.
9. Paul Warfield
Warfield was one of the best that ever played. He averaged 20.1 yards per catch during his career, and when he played for the Dolphins he was a monster to cover. Whether it was Bob Griese throwing him the ball or a runner like Mercury Morris, Warfield was always doing his thing when he was on the scene. He finished his career with 8,565 yards and participated in eight Pro Bowls.
8. Marvin Harrison
This guy was a pure phenom at wide receiver. His biggest knock is that he played on the right side of Peyton Manning his entire career. Peyton was lucky to have a rock-steady option on his right side in Marvin Harrison to go to. He also had 123 touchdowns and over 1,000 receptions, including an NFL record 143 grabs in 2002.
7. Steve Largent
Largent redefined the short receiver. Before him, you could barely find someone of his size and stature who had endured a great career. He was able to make up for his physical shortcomings with cunning and a deceptiveness that confounded defenders. He finished his career with phenomenal numbers and landed over 13,000 yards and close to 100 touchdowns.
6. Charley Taylor
Taylor is a guy that most would have left off their lists, but his numbers would stand up during any era. Taylor was as good as they get during an era when quarterbacks didn’t throw the ball. When he retired from the game, he was the all-time leader in catches and finished just short of 10,000 yards on his career. Taylor’s numbers were hurt because he played running back a few seasons and he was hurt for most of the later part of his career.
5. Cris Carter
Carter was a freak of nature, and many thought his career was going to blow up on him. In fact, Carter was often publicized for his off-the-field issues. He got that back together and teamed up with Jake Reed for many successful seasons in Minnesota. Carter also put up Rice-like numbers for many seasons before being joined by Randy Moss to create one of the most potent tandems in NFL history. Yet despite the personal issues he faced, he managed to compile 130 TDs, 1,101 receptions and almost 14,000 yards. It's scary to imagine that those numbers could have been even higher had he stayed out of trouble and kept his primary focus on football.
4. Art Monk
Monk is a guy that most people don’t remember. He was unfortunate to play for a team that ran the ball and was known more for the counter trey than the passing game. He never dropped balls, and he rarely played with a quarterback that was worthy of what he could do on the field. Monk could run any route, and he could make any catch. It took a while for the sportswriters of the world to recognize his skill set, but in 2008 Monk was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. If I needed a catch, Monk would be my go-to guy on this list. Monk was clutch, and his three Super Bowl rings solidify his accomplishments.
3. Terrell Owens
Like him or not, Terrell Owens is the one of the best that ever played this game. He’s fast, he’s strong, and if he had better hands he would have destroyed every record in the game. His ability to change a game is second to only Randy Moss. He may be a headache in the locker room, but on the field you will not find anyone as good as Owens. He finished his campaign with over 147 career TDs and over 14,950 yards.
2. Michael Irvin
You can question his numbers, but you can’t question his willingness to win and make the catch that no one else wants to make. Michael Irvin is and always will be controversial. He made defensive backs look like fools, and he was probably one of the most feared receivers ever. The biggest issue for Irvin was off-the-field issues. Irvin was like Carter in the fact that his past kept getting in the way of his greatness. However, Irvin was well-liked, and even though he expressed his need for the ball, he never put himself in front of the team. Plus winning three Super Bowls and being a big reason why the Cowboys won them allows me to speak on his greatness.
1. Randy Moss
Randy Moss was built to play wide receiver. If you were building a super receiver you could take all of Randy Moss’s attributes and you would have a recipe for success. You can’t argue with this guy’s talent, and even though he has bounced around a lot during his career, he has still produced. He wasted away a few years in Oakland where his productivity was minimal, but he made up for it when he arrived in New England. Moss has spent the last few years as a journeyman, and he even took a year off last season. He has already amassed 14858 yards, only behind Rice and Owens, and with 153 TD catches already he could be a threat to do the unthinkable and overtake Jerry Rice for first all-time in that category. Even though he’s not what he once was, he can still beat you deep and put up numbers.
So there it is. Agree or disagree? Did we leave off a wideout of your choice? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
Color Commentator for Time Warner Cable Sports Network NC/SC/OH and NCCU Sports Network. Washed up athlete who used to ball, now I write and call.