What’s the one thing, the one name, that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of the Patriots? Tom Brady. Obviously. He’s been the heart and soul of the team for years. Since Brady was drafted in 2000, the Pats have won five Super Bowl championships. Five! Before Brady they had none.
But obviously one man alone doesn’t make a team. Nor does he win Super Bowls alone. A quarterback needs his wide receivers.
The argument can be made that wide receivers need good quarterbacks in order to excel. And since nobody can argue that Brady is anything BUT the most incredible QB of all time, you’d expect his receivers to be brilliant by association. The eight great names on this list won’t surprise you at all, even though some didn’t play with Brady, they made significant contributions to the franchise.
But, as the seven “worst” on this list can prove, not all wide receivers become legends after playing with one. The nature versus nurture theory applies here in a big way; if a player doesn’t have the natural ability, the dedication, the right coaching staff, and the support of his team, family, and friends, he’s not going to amount to much. And even if a player had all of these things and shows incredible promise during his high school and college years, the pressures of professional life can be unexpected and overwhelming.
On the flip side, the competition and challenges presented in the NFL can spur an athlete to apply themselves and play like they never have before. Eight on this list did just that, whereas the following seven – to put it lightly – left a little to be desired.
19 Best: Terry Glenn
Yes, Terry Glenn has caused some drama over the years. But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, lets focus on his phenomenal abilities as a receiver. He was the definition of an athlete in high school where he played basketball, football, tennis, and ran track. At Ohio State University he was a walk-on player at first but soon earned an athletic scholarship that allowed him to study and play for the rest of time there. In 1995 he was recognized as the best wide receiver in the country and was awarded the Fred Biletnikoff Award.
Then came the pros! He played for the Patriots from 1996 until 2001, and with 90 receptions in that first year he broke the record for rookies. No doubt thanks to his impact on the team’s performance, Glenn and the Pats competed in Super Bowl XXXI, but sadly lost to Green Bay (a team he would later play for later). In 1999 he ran 1,147 receiving yards, and when his life chapter with the Patriots concluded in 2001, he left with a jaw-dropping 329 receptions and 22 touchdowns.
Fun fact: he may have only played four games in 2001, but one of those happened to be the game where he caught the very first touchdown pass thrown by Tom Brady.
18 Worst: Bethel Johnson
In high school, Johnson and his team made it to the Class 4A championship game where he made 44 receptions for 979 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns – and they won. Upon graduation from Texas A&M University, he had 117 receptions for 1,740 yards and 11 touchdowns. And when he was chosen by the Pats as their 45th draft pick in 2003, great things were expected!
He didn’t take well to pro football, though. Johnson only played four years in the NFL and the Pats were unfortunately stuck with him for three of those. Okay, so he did show some promise as a kick returner; in his rookie season his average yards per return was 28. After that, though, he really didn’t make any offensive contributions. In his three years with New England, he made zero touchdowns. Heck, he had zero touchdowns in his whole four years as a pro!
This guy obviously peaked in college.
17 Best: Troy Brown
He was told in high school that he probably shouldn’t play football because he was too small. And now he’s in the Patriots Hall of Fame. That’s gotta taste sweet! Despite the naysayers, he did play football in high school and then went on to Marshall University where he helped the team to its first national championship. Did you know he holds the NCAA record for kickoff return average? Oh, and he has another for kickoff returns for touchdowns. Marshall must have loved this guy.
Brown played for the Patriots for 14 years. That’s a long time at any job, let alone one as physical as football receiving! His best years were 2001 and 2002 when he made 101 and 97 receptions. Add to that the 1,199 and 890 receiving yards he ran those years and that is one impressive football player. Add this to his legendary punt return during the 2001 AFC Championship, and it’s no wonder he made it into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
16 Worst: Chad Jackson
At the University of Florida, he started in 11 and played in all 12 football games that season. He received an All-SEC selection, an honourable mention All-American, and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award in 2005. Since he decided to leave college early, he must have felt his kind of talent was wasted if not playing pro.
But… he only “played” two seasons for the Patriots. It’s hard to call it playing though, since he barely participated. Thanks to an injury to his hamstring, Jackson was forced to sit out the whole 2006 preseason. After playing only a few games during the season, he suffered a groin injury and missed several more games. In all, he only made 13 receptions during 12 games that year. In 2007 the Pats had an influx of amazing, high profile players, and Jackson was overshadowed, just a tad. He only played two games that season.
Tom Brady may have had an unbelievably successful 2007 season, but Jackson sure didn’t.
15 Best: Wes Welker
The Daily Oklahoman named him the high school All-State Player of the Year and USA Today dubbed him Oklahoma State Player of the Year during his time at Heritage Hall High School. After that he moved on to play for the Texas Tech University’s Red Raiders. Despite winning the Mosi Tatupu Award (for best Special Teams player in college football), setting the NCAA record with eight touchdowns returning punts in his career, and being named to the All-Decade Team by Sports Illustrated, somehow Welker wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
But who cares if he wasn’t drafted? He sure didn’t let that hold him back! He played for six different teams in nine years, and his time with the Patriots was truly great. The Pats had an insane 75 touchdowns during the 2007 season, and it was Welker who caught the very first one, in his very first week on the team. Talk about starting off on the right foot! He holds the NFL record for consecutive games with receptions, thanks to the fact that he caught at least one pass in every game he EVER played with New England. He also broke the Pats’ record for receptions, coming in at 672 during his seasons with the them.
He’s played in five Pro Bowl games, all as a Patriot. He was named First Team All-Pro twice. And he’s played in three Super Bowl championships, two of which were with the Pats. Really, there are too many highlights to list them all here. Suffice to say, he’s a wonder in cleats.
14 Worst: Chad Johnson (Ochocinco)
Johnson’s freshman year of college was spent not playing football at all, at Langston University. In 1997 he transferred to Santa Monica College, and again in 2000 he moved to Oregon State University. While there, he led the Beavers to the Fiesta Bowl where they won against Notre Dame, and that year he broke the school’s record for longest touchdown reception with a 97 yard play.
In his 11 years with the NFL, Johnson only played one with the Pats. Thank goodness. It could even be said that he was a very good player when he was with the Bengals, but for some reason the change of home fields did not agree with him. He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times, with his career best 1,369 yards in 2006, and scored 10 touchdowns in 2003, all while playing with Cincinnati. With the Pats, however, he only managed 276 yards and scored one touchdown.
Basically, he spent a lot of time on the bench. They did let him play in the Super Bowl XLVI, but he had a disappointing one catch for 21 yards.
13 Best: Deion Branch
This Georgian darling played two seasons of football for Jones County Junior College before heading off to the University of Louisville. With Branch on the field, the Cardinals won the 2000 and 2001 Conference USA Football Championships, moving on to the Liberty Bowl both times. Due to his remarkable performance that season, he was named to the All-Conference USA, and was also voted MVP and Outstanding Offensive Performer for the Cardinals. These are only a few of the honours he received during his NCAA career.
His most recent 2.5 seasons have been with the Patriots, and before his 4.5 seasons with the Seahawks, Branch began his NFL career with the Pats and played four seasons with them; these were undoubtedly the best seasons of his career. In fact, 213 of his 518 career receptions were with the Pats; his career best 998 yards were run during his 2015 season with the Pats; during the 11 games he played with the Pats in 2010, Branch had 48 receptions for 706 yards, as well as five touchdowns. His career best 14.7 yards per reception occurred during those 11 games as well.
And both of Branch’s Super Bowl wins have been with the Patriots. It’s obvious that this man thrives as a Patriot!
11 Worst: Brandon Tate
Another promising college recruit who was a serious letdown.
At the University of North Carolina, Tate was a star. He ended his freshman year as 22nd in the country for kickoff returns, and his sophomore year saw him place second in the Atlantic Coast Conference for kick returns, as well as third for punt returns. Among other shocking plays and stats in his senior year, Tate set the ACC records with his 109 kickoff returns and 2,688 kickoff return yardage.
Tate joined the Pats in 2009 as a third round pick, with a four-year contract and a $755,000 signing bonus (which is extra surprising considering he tested positive for marijuana at the Combine). But, thanks to a knee injury from the prior season, he didn’t actually see the field until Week 7, in October. In only his second game as a pro, he suffered another knee injury that cut him out for the rest of the season. In his second season with New England he perked a bit, playing 16 games and started in 10. His 24 receptions, 432 yards, 41 kick returns for 1,057 yards, and three touchdowns just weren’t enough though, and the Pats cut him at the end of the season.
To sum up, he was damaged goods who wasn’t able to reach his anticipated potential.
10 Best: Stanley Morgan
Hailing from Easley, South Carolina, Morgan was an undeniable football star who played for the University of Tennessee during his NCAA career. He had the ability to play just about any position he was told, but during his freshman and sophomore years he was used primarily as a wide receiver. In 1974 he was named to the All-SEC team as both a wide receiver and running back. During his senior year he earned 1976 All-SEC honours as a running back and receiver, thanks to the 11 touchdowns he scored that year.
His record-setting abilities didn’t stop in college. Super Bowl XX saw Morgan catch six passes for 51 yards, and mouths dropped all over the stadium. In 13 seasons with the Pats he set the team record for receptions, yards, touchdowns, and yards per catch! The numbers are mind boggling: 534 receptions, 10,352 yards, 67 TDs, and 19.4 Y/R. Morgan says he thinks that he could have done even better. “I just wish we threw the ball a bit more, but I am sure you will hear that from ever receiver.” MORE yards? It seems this guy is the definition of an overachiever!
9 Worst: Hart Lee Dykes
He started his college career by cheating; Oklahoma State paid him at least $23,000 to attend and play for them, and also gifted him a sports car during his time there. For a guy who was so highly sought after by so many top universities, and then made a first round pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, he sure left a sour taste in pretty much everyone’s mouths.
Despite the high hopes New England had for him, Dykes only spent two seasons with the team before “retiring” due to injuries. During those two seasons he managed seven touchdowns and an average of 16.2 yards per reception. Not too shabby. Unfortunately, several injuries, including a torn anterior crucial ligament and two broken kneecaps forced him to retire much earlier than anyone expected.
It can’t be said that he was the worst wide receiver the Pats ever had, but he was certainly the most disappointing, for reasons completely unrelated to his abilities.
8 Best: Irving Fryar
Five-time Pro Bowl star Irving Fryar was a media darling during his years at the University of Nebraska, and he played with greats like Mike Rozier and Turner Gill. In 1984 he made NFL history as the first wide receiver to be drafted first overall. He went on to play with the Pats from 1984-1992, and a total of 17 years of pro football. There may have been some legal trouble in 2015 that may have cast a shadow on his name, but his skills on the field are too bright to be ignored.
A grand 363 of his 851 career touchdowns were scored with the Pats. His first 1,000 yard milestone was in 1991 with New England, and although his four subsequent similar achievements were with other teams, it was undoubtedly due to his growth as a player with the Patriots that he was able to display this kind of ability. In 1998 he caught the longest reception of his career, a whopping 80 yards! In 1996 he became the oldest player to ever score four touchdowns in a single game. He continued to set records and awe the crowds when he played for Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington, but his greatness was born in New England.
7 Worst: Tony Simmons
Although Simmons’ college ball career was impressive, this guy just didn’t have what it took to play pro. He left the University of Wisconsin with the school’s record for touchdown receptions (23) and was dubbed “Touchdown Tony.” Sounds promising, right? It wasn’t a surprise when he was chosen as a second round pick in the 1998 NFL draft, but his three seasons with the Pats were pretty sad.
In his time with the Pats he caught 56 passes for 981 yards and a total of six touchdowns. Each season saw his achievements and abilities steadily decline. It just wasn’t enough to garner the trust and excitement from coaches and make them want to nurture or encourage his talent. Especially when Belichick rejoined the team in 2000. It was clear that Belichick was less than impressed with Simmons’ performance; in December of that year the coach actually forced Simmons off the field because he “didn’t think he was practicing hard enough.”
Simmons, eager to improve and gain back favour with the Pats, spent the 2001 NFL Europe season playing for the Barcelona Dragons. He claimed to have learned much and was optimistic about his chances for the new season with New England, but it wasn’t to be.
6 Best: Julian Edelman
Current Pats receiver Edelman played college ball for the College of San Mateo and then Kent State University where he was an insane offensive player. Although he wasn’t invited to the 2009 NFL Combine, he was drafted by and signed a contract with the Patriots, committing to four years with them. Four years has turned into eight, and he’s still going!
When he first joined the Pats, his assigned position was up in the air for a while. He was on the smaller side for a footballer, but he has more than proved his worth with his stellar receiving and punting. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week in 2007, and that same year he caught his 70th postseason pass, breaking the Patriots record that had been held by Wes Welker. In particular, his performance from 2013 on has been incredible: 105 season receptions in 2013, 92 in 2014, and 98 in 2016. And then there’s the 1,056 yards ran in 2013, 972 in 2014, and 1,106 in 2016. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know how to walk, only run.
5 Worst: Donte Stallworth
Nobody could believe Stallworth’s catching abilities on the college football field. With the University of Tennessee he earned the name “Hands” and his 1,747 yards run put him in the top ten best the school had ever seen. After playing a few decent seasons as a pro with the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints, Stallworth joined the Pats in March of 2007.
His first stint with New England was only for one season, thanks to the stipulations in his contract regarding underperformance. Although he played every game that season, he managed only three touchdowns, 46 receptions, and 15.2 receiving yards per reception, making it his worst season to date. In 2012 when he re-signed with the Pats, it was a very rocky road; he signed in March, was released in August, and then signed again in December when Julian Edelman broke his right foot. Only eight days later, however, Stallworth himself sustained an ankle injury. He’d played one game! Talk about a disappointment.
3 Best: Randy Moss
He’s had what some might call a checkered past, but man, can this guy play football. Lou Holtz actually said that Moss was “the best high school football player I’ve ever seen.” There were many, many college coaches who fought to have Moss play for them, despite the legal troubles he encountered in his younger years. In the end, he played for Marshall University. He had a stellar career with Marshall and ended up with at least one touchdown in every game he played for them.
Once traded to the Patriots, he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards, and scored a record-breaking 23 touchdowns in his first season alone! It was during that same season that New England finished with a perfect regular season. In fact, it was the first 16-0 regular season record in NFL history. During 13 of those 16 games, Moss had at least one touchdown. In 2009 he tied the NFL record for catching touchdown passes when he grabbed his 141st ball.
When asked by an ESPN reporter about whether he had any regrets about playing for New England, he confessed that he still thought that “…when the game counted for us to really bring it home in the Super Bowl, we couldn’t bring it home.” This guy may have only played with the Pats for three full seasons, but he sure left his mark.