After unveiling my all-time top five quarterbacks last week without giving a reason for my choices (sorry, Aaron Rodgers), I felt it would be better to explain my actions this time around as I list my top wide receivers in NFL history. Here goes…
1. JERRY RICE
In my opinion, there is Jerry Rice as the clear number one and then everybody else jockeying for position some way behind him. Even though he played at a time when defensive backs could still get physical with receivers, Rice produced numbers that may never be matched, even in today's pass-happy NFL and with the new 17-game season about to further threaten the records of yesteryear. Over the course of 20 seasons, during which he mostly excelled with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and 1990s, 'The GOAT' caught 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns. The three-time Super Bowl champion is a Hall of Famer and was WR1 on the NFL's 100th Anniversary Team.
2. RANDY MOSS
There have been several times where Moss has proclaimed himself as the best wide receiver in NFL history. While he doesn't reach the lofty heights of Rice, this spectacular Hall of Famer was uncoverable and unstoppable, when he wanted to be. Moss burst out of the NFL starting gates with six straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and after loafing through a spell with the Oakland Raiders, he re-invented himself with the New England Patriots. Moss was hard to track downfield but even if he was covered, he could catch jump balls with three defenders around him. I saw that for myself in a game against the Miami Dolphins in 2007. He was breathtaking to watch in person.
3. DON HUTSON
If anyone needs a history lesson when it comes to Don Hutson, I am happy to provide one. He played for the Green Bay Packers from 1935 to 1945. An era when the run was king, footballs were the size of leather-covered pillows and resembled the weight of a medicine ball, and any receivers who were asked to venture downfield did so at their own risk and in need of danger money. Hutson was the NFL's first superstar receiver as he caught 488 passes for 7,991 yards and 99 touchdowns – that last figure being a record that stood for more than four decades. Hutson is credited with inventing many of the pass patterns we see in the NFL today and the Hall of Famer retired with 18 league receiving records to his name.
4. STEVE LARGENT
With no gloves, very little speed and a tiny, two-bar face mask on his helmet, Steve Largent would have looked more like a kicker than a wide receiver during pre-game warmups with the Seattle Seahawks from 1976 to 1989. But Largent, who was quickly cast aside by the Houston Oilers after they drafted him in the fourth round, was determined and always open. And due to his outstanding hands, concentration and toughness, he rarely put the ball on the ground. Largent retired with every meaningful receiving record in the book belonging to him. He once caught a pass in a record 177 straight games and was the first receiver to catch 100 touchdown passes. The Hall of Famer and NFL 100th Anniversary Team receiver caught 819 passes for 13,089 yards and 100 scores.
5. LARRY FITZGERALD
I gave serious consideration to Terrell Owens, Cris Carter and Calvin Johnson in rounding out my top five, but I have rewarded Larry Fitzgerald for the consistency that has been a hallmark of what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career. He has been with the Arizona Cardinals ever since entering the NFL with the third overall pick in 2004. His 1,432 catches for 17,492 yards are second only to the great Jerry Rice. Fitzgerald has scored 121 receiving touchdowns – good enough for sixth all time. As well as being hugely productive and a great locker room guy, Fitz boasts tremendous hands and, at one point last season, had more career tackles than drops. He was one of only three active players named to the NFL's 100th Anniversary Team, alongside Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri.