The game of football continues to trend away from the middle of the field toward the sidelines--where elite athletes can gain bigger chunks of yardage through the air--due in large part to the names on this countdown. Superstar receivers put on a helluva show, but not every superstar receiver is also a franchise receiver. The difference is that the franchise guys tend to win more championships. Retired superstars Terrell Owens and Randy Moss each played for five different teams. Neither one made this list, or has a Super Bowl ring.
Championships are won with cornerstones, including the pass-catchers who helped to establish and enhance the art of making big plays. Some franchise receivers fell short of posing like a boss with that Lombardi Trophy, but that doesn't mean their loyalty and production should be overlooked. From least-to-most yardage gained for a franchise, let's chronicle the feats of 32 wide receivers you'd want as a homer pick on your fantasy football team. In a landscape of GOAT's, it should be noted that the alpha GOAT still reigns supreme for the legacy he built in the Bay Area.
32 Mark Carrier, Buccaneers
Mark Carrier's prime years were spent in the old NFC North--where he caught passes for Tampa Bay from 1987-1992, even though Florida is a southern state--and it may come as a surprise to know he's still the Buc's most prolific wideout with 5,018 receiving yards and 321 catches, 27 for touchdowns. Compared to divisional counterparts like Cris Carter (who made the list) as well as Herman Moore and Sterling Sharpe (who didn't), Carrier was more steady than flashy. He also played on dismal teams with lousy quarterbacks in laughable orange garb, which made him easier to forget.
31 Johnny Morris, Bears
Johnny Morris is the all-time reigning receiver of a franchise better known for its running backs and defenders. (Even returner specialists like Gale Sayers and Devin Hester have asserted a greater legacy than Bears receivers.) Morris reeled in passes from 1958-1967 for the Bears, his lone NFL team. Loyalty and production shouldn't go overlooked--as noted before--and so the 81-year-old Morris deserves free deep dish pizzas everywhere in Chicago, even though it's baffling to see his mark of 5,059 yards go unsurpassed in five decades.
30 Derrick Mason, Ravens
Similar to Chicago, defense, not the passing game, has been the hallmark of football in Baltimore. Derrick Mason is a more contemporary name, and in 15 seasons, he racked up over 12,000 receiving yards, as well as 943 catches and a total of 69 scores. A target monster and first-down machine, Mason also ranks highly in the record books of the franchise that drafted him, the Oilers/ Titans. He enjoyed two Pro Bowl campaigns in the Music City. In 2000, when he thrived as both a returner and a wideout, he set the record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,690. (Since broken by Darren Sproles.) Mason moved to Baltimore in 2005 as an unrestricted free agent.
29 Ernest Givins, Oilers/ Titans
Years before pro sports came to Tennessee, the passing game in the NFL took a huge leap forward when the Oilers pioneered the run and shoot offense. With Warren Moon as field general, the high-octane Oilers revolutionized the aerial attack. Unheard of at the time, the team constantly lined up four wide receivers. Moon had several weapons at this disposal. Givins was the most prolific with 7,935 yards secured through the air for the franchise.
28 Ozzie Newsome, Browns
The first tight end to crack the list, Ozzie Newsome thrived as a big target downfield for some great Cleveland teams that ended up breaking the hearts of fans. The three-time Pro Bowler's career spanned from 1978-1990, and in that time, he didn't miss a game (198 straight). That means he was there for The Drive and The Fumble losses to Denver, sadly, but Newsome found redemption as the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, who won Super Bowls XXXV and XLVII under his guidance.
27 Mark Duper, Dolphins
Fans of a certain age might have a hunch that it's between two Marks--Duper and Clayton--for top bragging rights among Dolphins wideouts. Both were valued targets of Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino throughout the '80s and part of the '90s. Combined, the tandem earned seven trips to Hawaii and accounted for nine 1,000-yard seasons. While Clayton cashed in more scores (81-59) and racked up more receptions (550-511) for the 'Phins, Duper owns the slight edge in yardage with 8,869--just 26 more than his fellow Mark.
26 Harold Carmichael, Eagles
In another case of an old-timer beating the odds to retain his record, Carmichael accumulated 8,978 receiving yards as an Eagle. His career in Philly lasted from 1971-1983. He clung on for one more year as a Cowboy, which was probably ill-advised: Carmichael managed just one catch for seven yards as a member of a long-time divisional foe. It's hard for an athlete to submit to Father Time.
25 Amani Toomer, Giants
In the 92 years of Giants football, no receiver has outgained Amani Toomer, who suited up for no other team. Totaling 9,497 yards, he surpassed a grand each season from '99-'03. Toward the end of his career, his consistency was rewarded when the Giants shocked the world to upset the seemingly unstoppable Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Toomer was the Giants' leading receiver, catching 6 balls for 84 yards when it mattered most.
24 Marques Colston, Saints
No one else has caught more passes from Saints icon Drew Brees than Colston. Being targeted by a future Hall of Famer was a big help to Colston, whose 711 receptions for 9,759 yards and 72 TDs are all franchise records. Maybe his 4o-yard dash time left something to be desired, but he flourished in spite of his lack of speed. In 10 seasons, he exceeded the millennium mark six times.
23 Donald Driver, Packers
Nicknamed Double-D, Donald Driver was the embodiment of a player who was more of a franchise receiver than the superstar kind. He may not be as widely recognized as the superstars on the covers of video games, but in the state of Wisconsin, where he started and finished his illustrious career, he's a beloved legend. With 10,137 receiving yards, Driver is the first entry on the countdown to crack the ten-grand mark. Double-D also amassed 743 catches and 61 TDs.
22 Stanley Morgan, Patriots
Nothing says longevity quite like playing for a pro sports team in three different decades. Granted, perhaps Stanley "Steamer" Morgan should have hung up his cleats in 1989 to ensure that he suited up exclusively for the Pats, but as we know, competitors don't easily tap out to Father Time. As a Colt, Morgan tacked on a meager 364 yards to his career total. Setting aside that last season of retirement-in-denial, Morgan was a big-play threat and four-time Pro Bowler whose 10,352 receiving yards for the Pats is unrivaled.
21 Chad Johnson, Bengals
Should there ever be a Mount Rushmore of receivers from the previous decade carved into the side of a mountain (and I'd offer my tax dollars to fund that project), Chad Johnson's mug would be among the four. He was as brazen, cocky, and outlandish as he was acrobatic, nimble, and explosive. He talked metric tons of garbage and matched his swagger with on-field production. With the mind of a rapper adopting a persona, Chad Johnson changed his name to Ochocinco to boast his jersey number--even though that's how one says "eight-five," not "eighty-five," in Spanish. And it was still awesome.
20 Roddy White, Falcons
A four-time Pro Bowler, Roddy White holds the trifecta of receiving records for an Atlanta franchise that has been around since 1965. Aside from the yards at the core of this countdown (10,863), he's unparalleled in receptions (808) and TD grabs (63). During his prime, from 2007-2012, White averaged the following stat line: 94/1,296/8. Former teammate Julio Jones may break his records someday, but despite his next-level athleticism, Jones has yet to prove he can match White's standards of consistency.
19 Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs
The second tight end on the list, Tony Gonzalez is the wisest choice in the debate of who's the best ever to line up between the o-line and the receivers. (The top three names all begin with "G": Gonzalez, Gronkowski, Gates.) As a Chief, Gonzalez ushered in higher standards at his position by posting 916 receptions for 10,940 yards and 76 touchdowns. But he wasn't finished. He played five additional seasons with the Falcons, where he added 409/ 4,187/ 35. Never mind tight ends--his career numbers are on par with the all-time best wide receivers.
18 Antonio Gates, Chargers
Our first active player, and another tight end, Antonio Gates and Gonzalez were peers who met up at the Pro Bowl on several occasions. Gates made the voyage west to Hawaii eight times, every year from 2004-2011. Like Gonzalez, Gates is one of only 10 pass-catchers with 100-or-more TD receptions. Unlike Gonzo, he's spent his entire career committed to one team. His career totals don't quite match up to Gonzo's, but 11,192 yards, 897 catches, and 111 TDs are not too shabby--especially for a guy who went undrafted because in college he played basketball instead of football.
17 Rod Smith, Broncos
Another example of a receiver who was more focused on the franchise than stardom, Rod Smith's career peaked as a key component of Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl Champs in the late-'90s. Though Broncos icon John Elway retired after the second championship run, Smith was far from finished. With lesser quarterbacks, Brian Griese and Gus Frerotte, he actually stepped his game up in 2000 and 2001. In those seasons combined, he posted an eye-popping 213 catches for 2,945 yards and 19 scores.
16 Calvin Johnson, Lions
Owner of perhaps the coolest nickname on the countdown, Megatron was a surefire 99 rating in Madden football games for the better part of his career. That's worth noting because Calvin Johnson was so supernatural that his highlights reminded fans of feats that could only be done in video games. For three straight years, he got All-Pro accolades, and his stat lines would be hard to reproduce on a Playstation. In 2012, for instance, he caught 122 balls for 1,964 yards.
15 Don Maynard, Jets
The oldest player on this list, Don Maynard was born in 1935. Along with QB Joe Namath, he was on the winning side of Super Bowl III, which took place in 1969--less than a decade after the Jets franchise was founded. It's astounding that his record of 11,732 receiving yards still stands. Maynard has earned the honor, though. Household name or not, he was a pioneer. In 1960, he was one half of a receiving duo that each surpassed 1,000 yards in a pro season. That had never been done before.
14 Michael Irvin, Cowboys
A Mount Rushmore of '90s receivers would have to include The Playmaker (plus Rice, Carter, and Brown). Though his career numbers rank the lowest among the four, Michael Irvin's three Super Bowl rings give him bragging rights over Carter and Brown. And while we're on the subject, Playmaker was a boastful talent. Off the field, he went through a hellraising phase and wore extravagant suits to his court dates. On the field, he celebrated first down catches like each one was worth a billion dollars. But he backed up his ego to the tune of 750 catches, 11,904 receiving yards, and 65 touchdowns.
13 Art Monk, Redskins
Like the previous entry, Art Monk earned a trio of Super Bowl rings--and he has the unique distinction of doing so with three different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien). The number three was a thematic trend for Monk. He was chosen to represent the NFC in Hawaii thrice. He was the first Redskin to top 70 catches as well as the thousand-mark in three straight seasons. And along with Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, he formed The Posse--the first trio of WRs to each exceed 1,000-plus yards in a season.
12 Hines Ward, Steelers
A two-time Super Bowl champ, Hines Ward was a ferocious blocker who caught exactly a thousand balls for 12,083 yards and 85 receiving TDs. It was no easy task for him to outdo the likes of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, just as it won't be a cinch for Antonio Brown to topple Ward. The man who had a cameo in The Dark Knight Rises produced from 1998-2011 for Pittsburgh, and in that span, his most impressive stat line came in 2002: 112/ 1,329/ 12.
11 Steve Smith, Panthers
The Panthers have only been around since 1995, so it's notable that their franchise-leading receiver has posted more than twice as many yards as the top receiver of the Bears--who were founded almost a century ago. Steve Smith excelled in Carolina from 2001-2013, and much to his chagrin, the team released the five-time Pro Bowler after he had racked up 836/12,197/67. Always in search of motivation, Smith got fired up, surpassed a grand for his new team, the Ravens, and made his former team achingly wonder if he would've made the difference in their Super Bowl loss to Denver.
10 Jimmy Smith, Jaguars
Along with the Panthers, the Jaguars got started in 1995, and both franchises are led in receiving by a Jimmy Smith. Jimmy began his career with the Cowboys--where he was on the roster for two Championships. Smith was a mere special teamer who never caught a pass in Dallas and struggled to stay healthy. His career was on life-support when he was picked up by the Jags. They didn't regret it. Smith beat the odds. In over a decade of excellence, he went on to post 862/12,287/67.
9 Cris Carter, Vikings
The first entry on the countdown to notch over a thousand catches for his franchise, Chris Carter composed half of perhaps the best receiving duo in league history with Randy Moss. Minnesota fans were hoping the two would make big plays in the Super Bowl and that Moss would stay put long enough to surpass his mentor in the record books, but it wasn't meant to be. Regardless, C.C. is beloved in the Gopher State. A superlative possession receiver who excelled in the red zone, Carter amassed 1,104/12, 383/110 in purple and gold.
8 Steve Largent, Seahawks
Still the best receiver to make a name for himself in the Pacific Northwest, Steve Largent once held the record for touchdown catches with an even hundred. (Rice was the first to break it.) An overachiever who ran perfect routes to get open, the Seattle legend retired in 1989 as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions, yards, and TD receptions (819/13,089/100). Those records have all since been broken by J.R. and others, but Largent was one of the most productive and consistent receivers in the late '70s and '80s.
7 Andre Reed, Bills
Surprisingly, Andre Reed topped a thousand yards in just four of his 16 pro seasons. Buffalo's No-Huddle attack clicked on all cylinders, but QB Jim Kelly had plenty of other targets to feed--from wideouts James Lofton and Don Beebe to Thurman Thomas out of the backfield. Andre Reed's calling card was his consistency. He was selected to the Pro Bowl every year from 1988-1994, and more often than not in that span, he was the top receiver on the best team in the AFC.
6 Andre Johnson, Texans
Another Andre, and here's some perspective: Andre Johnson would have loved to have played in a Super Bowl, let alone four as Reed did. Comparing stats, though, Johnson has the edge. With Houston, he topped a thousand catches (1,012) and racked up 13,597 receiving yards. His totaled 64 receiving TDs without ever having an elite quarterback throwing to him in Houston. In the twilight of his career, Johnson split wide for the Colts and the Titans in his final two seasons before calling it quits.
5 Isaac Bruce, Rams
As an essential part of the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf, Isaac Bruce burned cornerbacks on some of the most potent offenses the league had ever seen, or has seen since. Teammates Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt were Pro Bowlers, too, which meant St. Louis had an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. It was almost impossible for opposing D's to stop all three, and Bruce and company feasted on the matchup nightmares they created. To become the Rams' all-time leading receiver, Bruce posted 942/14,109/84.
4 Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
The second (and final) active player on the countdown, Larry Fitzgerald has been a dynamo in the league since 2004. For well over a decade, he's been beating defenses in a variety of ways: Being fearless over the middle, tiptoeing at the sideline, striding deep, catching quick screens and slants. With the 2016 regular season in the books, Fitz ranks third all-time in catches, and he's in the top ten in both receiving yards and touchdowns. He's done it all as a Cardinal with a line of 1,125/ 14,389/ 104. And he's not done yet.
3 Marvin Harrison, Colts
Along with the aforementioned Chad Johnson and superstars Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, a monument of receivers from the 2000s would have to feature the bust of Marvin Harrison. Of the four, Harrison was the least bombastic; he produced every season without generating hype with end zone celebrations or contract disputes. Among the quartet, only Harrison possesses that coveted Super Bowl ring. A Colt for life, with Peyton Manning targeting him, Harrison hauled in 1,102 receptions for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns.
2 Tim Brown, Raiders
In 1987, as a standout for Notre Dame, Tim Brown became the first wide receiver to take home the Heisman Trophy. A superlative athlete, he was thrilled to join the Silver and Black as the 6th overall pick in 1988. That's when he began his journey to show just high his pro ceiling could be. His nine Pro Bowls spanned across three separate decades. He earned a spot on the All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He also excelled as a return man until he became too valuable as a wideout. All told, Brown meant business in a Raiders uniform, posting 1,070/14,734/99.
1 Jerry Rice, 49ers
The GOAT of GOATs, the Michael Jordan of wide receivers, what Jerry Rice achieved in San Francisco doesn't even tell the whole story, but we'll start there. He brought in 1,281 passes, put points on the board to the tune of 176 TD catches, and amassed 19,247 receiving yards with Joe Montana and Steve Young as his quarterbacks. In the Montana era, Rice earned three Super Bowl rings (and won MVP honors in S.B. XXIII). With Young, on perhaps the greatest football team of all-time, he became a Champion for the fourth time. He was acknowledged on the All-Decade Teams of the '80s as well as the '90s.
Then he played for the Raiders from 2001-2004 (and less memorably, for the Seahawks partway through his last season). In Oakland, Rice got the final of his 13 Pro Bowl accolades for his work during the 2002 campaign: 92/1,211/7. Not too bad for a 40-year-old wideout. Rice's career stat line is mind-boggling: 1,549/22,895/197. He added 10 scores as a runner (and recovered a fumble in the end zone) to become the sole member of the 200-touchdown club with 208. The next closest is Emmitt Smith with 175. While other legends have displayed a greed for greatness, Rice was different: He wanted the monopoly on greatness. He revolutionized his position and proved that a franchise receiver and a superstar receiver can be one and the same.
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