Wide receivers are some of the most entertaining athletes on a football field. Aside from making jaw-dropping catches, wide receivers need to be able to run crisp routes, block defensive backs on running plays, and fool the defensive secondary on play-action passing plays. There have been some amazing players to come through the National Football League (NFL) but only a few can be called the best NFL wide receivers of all time.
But, before we dive into the list of the best wide receivers in NFL history, let’s examine some of the benefits of watching sports. A recent study suggests that simply getting out to watch a live sports event – whether it’s professional or amateur sports – is beneficial for your mental health. Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University say that attending live sporting events actually helps increase overall mental well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness. A survey of 7,000 adults found that those respondents who attended live sporting events scored better in terms of life satisfaction than those who had not recently attended events. That’s definitely a great reason to get out and watch your favorite wide receivers carve up NFL defenses in the fall.
While we’re on the topic of serious fandom, another study found that the average sports fan is willing to travel to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets just to see their favorite team play live. Sounds like a great way to spend a vacation and celebrate your NFL fandom at the same time.
So, which NFL wide receivers are considered the greatest? StudyFinds did some digging, consulting 10 sports and football-oriented websites in an effort to bring you a consensus best NFL wide receivers of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed wide receivers from across these sites. Think your favorite was snubbed? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below!
The List: Best NFL Wide Receivers of All Time, According to Experts
1. Jerry Rice
Easily topping the list of the best NFL wide receivers in history is none other than Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice is the NFL’s all-time leader in just about every major statistical receiving category including yards, touchdowns, and receptions. “There is simply no debate. Jerry Rice obliterated all of the previous receiving records, bringing in 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns… In addition to his several other NFL-bests, the Hall of Famer won three Super Bowls, two Offensive Player of the Year honors, appeared in 13 Pro Bowls and made 10 first-team All-Pro lists,” writes Bleacher Report.
Jerry Rice holds all of the NFL’s receiving records, and these will likely never be broken. Rice was an insanely productive NFL wide receiver, but his greatness can’t only be explained by stats. “From his rookie season in 1985 to 2003 (a 19-year span), Rice averaged 80 receptions for nearly 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Just think about that. With all of that said, Rice’s greatness can be directly attributed to how he stepped up for the dynastic 49ers in the clutch. In three Super Bowl appearances with the team (all wins), Rice caught 28 passes for 512 yards and seven touchdowns. Joe Montana and Steve Young completed 78% of their passes while compiling a perfect 158.3 QB rating when targeting him in those games. Jerry Rice is the best WR of all time. Period,” adds Sportsnaut.
Rice is also responsible for some of the greatest Super Bowl performances of all time. In fact, he holds the record for Super Bowl catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Over the course of his illustrious career, Jerry Rice caught over 30 passes, scored eight touchdowns, and amassed over 500 yards in the Super Bowls he played in. There’s no debate – Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
“Jerry Rice isn’t known as the greatest of all time just because he holds more records than can be mentioned in this short post. It’s also because nobody has come all that close to flirting with matching Rice in categories such as receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. If that wasn’t enough, the three-time Super Bowl champion, 13-time Pro Bowl receiver and 10-time first-team All-Pro happened to be one of the top big-game receivers in history. There’s Rice, and then there’s a wide gap that separates everybody else,” furthers Yardbarker.
2. Randy Moss
Leaping his way onto the list of the best wide receivers in NFL history is the legendary Randy Moss. A freakishly great athlete, Moss is an icon in football circles. Moss did things on the football field that made people stop what they are doing and take notice. “If the list was about popularity and fame, then Randy Moss would have found himself in the top spot. The Charismatic receiver bought revolution to the position and completely dominated the NFL throughout the entirety of his career… Moss was known for his exceptional speed, leaping ability, and ability to make acrobatic catches. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first-team All-Pro selection. He also led the NFL in receiving touchdowns five times and finished his career with 982 receptions, 15,292 receiving yards, and 156 touchdowns,” writes First Sportz.
Moss certainly experienced his fair share of turmoil over the course of his career. After he left Minnesota, Moss found himself playing for the Raiders, without a quarterback, and slipping into obscurity. It wasn’t until Moss was traded to New England that he reached his full potential and broke NFL records.
“Few wide receivers in history have possessed the raw athleticism and explosiveness of Randy Moss. His mesmerizing speed and incredible leaping ability made him a nightmare for defenders. Moss set the single-season touchdown record and consistently left fans in awe with his acrobatic catches. He was a game-changer for the Minnesota Vikings and several other teams throughout his career,” adds Sports Brief.
Moss is probably the most physically gifted wide receiver of all time. Randy Moss stood a staggering 6’ 4” tall and ran faster than most of the smaller, speedier receivers of his era. His size and speed combined to make Randy Moss the best deep ball receiver in the history of the NFL.
“It should come as no surprise that Randy Moss received the nickname ‘The Freak,’ as he combined the sub-4.3-second 40-yard-dash speed of Tyreek Hill with a 6-foot-4 frame. He and Cris Carter quickly became one of the best pass-catching duos in league history, and Moss had over 1200 yards in each of his first six years, a span in which he also led the league in touchdowns three times. Moss was an unreal vertical threat throughout his entire career (well, most of it anyway), and he stretched defenses like few other players in league history have been able to,” furthers The Sportster.
3. Don Hutson
Running into the third spot on the list of the best wide receivers in the history of the NFL is legendary Packers receiver, Don Hutson. Don Hutson is widely regarded as the “godfather” of the position as he was the first star wide receiver in the NFL. “Largely considered the first modern NFL wide receiver, Hutson’s dominance with the Packers over an 11-year span also included leading the league in interceptions as a two-way player in 1940. A product of Alabama, he’s responsible for the modern pass routes we see in the league today. From an historical perspective, what Hutson did in Green Bay was simply sensational. He led the NFL in receptions eight times, receiving yards seven times and touchdowns nine times. Consider this. The 1,211 receiving yards Hudson tallied in 1942 represented more passing yards than four of the other nine NFL teams that entire season,” writes Sportsnaut.
Don Hutson was a bona fide weapon for the @Packers of the 1930s and '40s.
He won three NFL Championship, two MVPs and was the first Green Bay player ever enshrined in Canton.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) June 26, 2023
Don Hutson truly revolutionized the wide receiver position in the NFL, and he’s one of the best Packers players of all time. What Hutson did in the early ’40s is remarkable. Hutson racked up more receiving yards than most NFL teams had passing yards. “Don Hutson was the NFL’s first elite receiver. He’s the only player who suited up before 1945 to record 3,500 yards in his career. And the ‘Alabama Antelope’ more than doubled the mark. Hutson wrapped up his 11 years in Green Bay at then-records of 488 receptions, 7,991 yards and 99 touchdowns. The MVP of the 1941 and 1942 seasons, he paced the league in several categories multiple times, including in receiving yards (seven), receptions (eight) and touchdowns (nine). During his career, Hutson won three championships with the Packers and earned a spot on eight All-Pro teams,” writes Bleacher Report.
Not only was Hutson one of the best receivers, but he helped the position evolve into what it is today. In 1941, Hutson became the first receiver to win an NFL MVP award, and he followed that up with yet another MVP award the following season. Couple those with three NFL Championships (before the Super Bowl era) and Hutson is one of the most decorated wide receivers in history.
“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,” adds Franchise Sports.
4. Terrell Owens
The fourth spot on the list of the best wide receivers of all time belongs to none other than Terrell Owens, also known as T.O. Unfortunately, many of Owens’ antics take away from his legacy, but don’t let that fool you. T.O. is one of the best receivers to ever play the game and his physical style of football made him tough to cover or bring down in the open field.
“Terrell Owens is one of the best wide receivers of all time. On the field he was one of the league’s most dominant forces. He was big, fast and strong, and his physicality allowed him to make tough catches in traffic. In 15 seasons, Owens recorded 1,078 receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns. He often exploited his speed and quickness to fake defenders out, and he made a habit of making big plays at big moments. Owens is the only player in history to score a touchdown against all 32 NFL teams. He was a very hard worker with an incredible work ethic but has been criticized for being a bad teammate and causing problems with his quarterbacks,” explains Wolfgang Sport.
For the record, Terrell Owens was an amazing wide receiver who was as equally distracting to his teams as he was productive. Owens started his career in San Francisco, playing next to the legendary Jerry Rice and Steve Young. From there, Owens teamed up with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in Philadelphia – and that’s when the real show began.
“If punishing football crimes was a real thing, certain writers would have to serve some hard time for not putting Terrell Owens into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. T.O. is eighth all time in receptions, second all time in receiving yards and third in career touchdown catches. The six-time Pro Bowler produced one of the historically heroic performances of the Super Bowl era when he worked to return from a serious leg injury ahead of schedule to play for the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. He caught nine passes for 122 yards in the loss,” adds Yardbarker.
TO’s performance in Super Bowl XXXIX is truly legendary. It’s one of the best Super Bowl performances of all time and had his team won that game, he might be even higher on this list. Owens would have been named Super Bowl MVP and his legacy might look a lot different. Regardless, he’s easily one of the best wide receivers in NFL history.
“Terrell Owens, also known as T.O., is a retired professional American football player who played as a wide receiver in the NFL. Owens went on to play for the 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cincinnati Bengals during his 15-year NFL career. He also led the NFL in receiving touchdowns three times and finished his career with 1,078 receptions, 15,934 receiving yards, and 153 touchdowns. Despite his on-field success, Owens was also known for his controversial behavior, including public conflicts with teammates, coaches, and management. Nevertheless, his talent and production on the field cannot be denied,” adds First Sportz.
5. Steve Largent
Rounding out the list of the best wide receivers in NFL history is none other than Steve Largent. Largent is one of the most prolific pass catchers in NFL history, and his career was nothing short of amazing. “A seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who led the NFL in receiving yards on two occasions, Steve Largent is the greatest offensive player, to date, in the history of the Seattle Seahawks. He held six different records — including being the first NFL player to tally 100 receiving touchdowns in a career — when he retired, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Hall of Famer remains one of only 10 men to notch 100 career receiving scores,” explains Yardbarker.
The Oilers drafted Steve Largent in 1976 and then traded him later that summer to the Seahawks for a 1977 8th round pick. Oops. pic.twitter.com/h6P2XmCMg4
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) August 6, 2023
Largent played during a different era, but that’s part of what made his career so special. In an era when NFL teams emphasized running the ball and playing solid defense, Largent put up huge numbers in the passing game.
“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,” explains Franchise Sports.
Largent retired with some of the NFL’s most prestigious receiving records including yards and touchdown receptions. Of course, a gentleman by the name of Jerry Rice came along and changed what NFL fans thought of the wide receiver position. Regardless, Largent is easily one of the best wide receivers in NFL history and he’s a true Seattle Seahawks legend.
“All-time records had moved a little higher once Seattle Seahawks legend Steve Largent decided to retire. In 1976, the Houston Oilers used a fourth-round pick on the Tulsa wideout before trading him to Seattle in the preseason. He quickly became a featured piece of the offense and notched eight straight 1,000-yard years, excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season. Largent twice led the NFL receiving. His career totals of 819 catches, 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns stood atop the NFL’s record books. The 1988 Walter Payton Man of the Year appeared on seven Pro Bowl teams,” furthers Bleacher Report.
You might also be interested in:
- Athlon Sports
- Bleacher Report
- Wolfgang Sport
- Franchise Sports
- The Sportster
- Sports Brief
- First Sportz
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