Who are the best NFL Wide Receivers of all Time?
They are athletic, graceful and often times charismatic. They are often described as prima donnas by the media, but esteemed by quarterbacks and revered by fans.
They are NFL receivers.
From the high-flying acrobatics of legendary Lynn Swann to the showboating antics of Chad Ochocinco, the NFL receiver has evolved into the specimen of unique chemistry, emerging as the league’s as go-to-guys in the clutch.
And narrowing down the hundreds of receivers that could have made our list is a daunting task. But we think we’ve come up with a list of the top 5 NFL receivers across all eras that are in our opinion — the best in the business.
5. James Lofton – Two words can describe James Lofton — pure speed. The eight time Pro Bowler torched defenses with his long stride during his 16 NFL seasons, hauling in 764 passes and 75 touchdowns. A track star at Stanford University, Lofton was drafted by the the Packers in the in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft and played for five teams during his career, most notably in Green Bay and Buffalo. Lofton was all about the big play and his numbers prove it. During the 1983 and 1984 seasons in Green Bay, he averaged 22 yards per catch, and averaged more than 15 yards per catch in fourteen NFL seasons. And although his career was overshadowed by some terrible teams, he retired as the league’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 14,004. For that he lands here on our list.
4. Lynn Swann — A three time Pro Bowler, Swann finished his Hall of Fame career with 336 catches for 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns. Selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 21st pick of the first round in the 1974 NFL Draft, Swann spent his entire NFL career with the Steelers, helping them to four Super Bowl wins. He was named Super X MVP after hauling in four catches for 161 yards, which included a diving shoestring catch that has become part of NFL lore. Swann will forever be remembered for his speed agility and grace during the Golden Era of smash mouth football, and will always be a hero to the Steelers Nation.
3. Michael Irvin — Self-nicknamed “The Playmaker”, the controversial Michael Irvin . Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys as the 11th pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft, Irvin highlighted a Cowboys’ offense that won three Super Bowls in the 1990s. However, Irvin’s work ethic and enthusiasm as a wide receiver, will be forever marred by a laundry list of off field issues, which includes drugs, violence and allegations of sexual assault. During his 11-year NFL career, Irvin hauled in 11,904 receiving yards and 65 TDs, and in a era of non-gimmick , straight forward offensive attacks, the Dallas Cowboys destroyed the competition, mainly in part to the selfless play of Irvin, who lands third on our list.
2. Tim Brown — Affectionately known as “Mr. Raider,” Brown combined speed and physical mettle. A Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, Brown spent 16 years with the Raiders during which he established himself as not only as one of the NFL’s most prolific wide receivers, but also an all around player, returning kicks, running reverses, and establishing himself as a scoring threat from just about anywhere on the football field. In 2015 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his 1,094 catches to go for 14,934 yards and 100 career touchdowns. And while many NFL fans despise the Raider Nation, it can never detract from the Brown’s natural talent to go down as one of the best to ever play the position.
1. Jerry Rice — Perhaps the most preeminent thing about Jerry Rice is that he was never designed for greatness. And when it came time for the 1985 NFL Draft, everyone but Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers saw Rice as a player that was too small and too slow to play in the NFL. A star at wide receiver for tiny Mississippi Valley State University, Rice fit perfectly into Walsh’s West Coast offense which torched defenses on its way to three Super Bowl titles. During his career, which spanned 20 seasons, Rice racked up 22,895 receiving yards, on 1,549 and 208 touchdowns, making him the all-time leader in most major statistical categories for NFL wide A 13 time Pro Bowler, Rice was chosen by NFL Network’s as as the greatest player in NFL history. And that is why he is #1 on our list as well.