Thanks to shows like The League, whenever you see a white wide receiver, you typically think that the guy is “scrappy” or “a real gym rat.” When you look around the league, there really aren’t that many (maybe just over a dozen or so) that have a big impact on the league. Even the thought of growing up wanting to be a wide receiver as a white kid seems a bit far-fetched.
Throughout the history of the league, there has been a lot of white wide receivers, even if the number has dropped dramatically in the past couple of decades. But which ones stand out among the best of the best? It’s hard to rank them since a lot of the receivers played in a time where passing wasn’t as prevalent.
Still, we wanted to give it a shot anyway and see how they stack up against the best of the best. Here is our list of the 15 greatest white wide receivers in NFL history.
15 Billy Wilson
The first receiver on our list is the late Billy Wilson (who passed away in 2009), a name that even our oldest readers might not be familiar with. Wilson spent his entire career with the 49ers from 1951 to 1960 after being drafted in the 22nd round. Wilson was named to six Pro Bowl teams and an All-Pro squad in his career, amassing 5,902 receiving yards and 49 touchdowns in a time where passing was an afterthought in football. Wilson’s career would have been longer had he not spent most of his early 20s in the Navy, but it was good enough to make our list.
14 Ricky Proehl
Ricky Proehl spent a long, long time in the NFL and he has since returned as a coach for the Carolina Panthers. Proehl was a third round pick by the Cardinals out of Wake Forest in 1990 and spent 17 seasons in the NFL with six different teams. Proehl was never named as a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro, but he was consistently reliable for a very long time. He finished his NFL career in 2006 with 8,878 receiving yards and 54 touchdowns, winning two Super Bowls along the way.
13 Dwight Clark
The first thing that people think of when it comes to Dwight Clark is “The Catch” in the 1982 NFC Championship game against Dallas, but he had a fine career outside of that as well. Clark, like Billy Wilson, spent his entire career in San Francisco. Clark was also a late round pick (this time out of Clemson), and won two Super Bowls with the 49ers while making two All-Pro teams. Clark’s stat line shows 6,750 receiving yards and 48 touchdowns over just 134 games.
12 Jordy Nelson
The only receiver on our list that is on an active roster, Jordy Nelson has been a revelation for the Packers as a second round pick in 2008 from Kansas State. Nelson didn’t make a big impact on the team until 2011, when he blew up for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Since then, Nelson has been one of the best receivers in the league, as long as he's healthy of course. Nelson missed the 2015 season due to injury, but is on track to be fully healthy in 2016. Maybe one day, he’ll beat out the next receiver on our list.
11 Wayne Chrebet
If this list were made by a Jets fan, then Wayne Chrebet would probably take up all 15 spots, as that’s how much they love him. Chrebet was the original “scrappy gym rat” before it became a white guy meme of sorts. That’s because he went undrafted out of Hofstra in 1995, but still managed to become a big part of the Jets offense for a decade while only standing at 5’10” and 180-something pounds. Chrebet, who is a member of the Jets Ring of Honor, finished with 7,365 yards and 41 touchdowns.
10 Ed McCaffrey
Young fans these days get to watch Christian McCaffrey dominate college teams at Stanford, but before that, his old man was doing the same. McCaffrey was an All-American at Stanford that was drafted in the third round by the Giants, but didn’t make a big splash there. After the 1993 season, McCaffrey spent just one year with the 49ers before landing with the Broncos in 1995. It was there that McCaffrey found his All-Pro form and helped Denver win two Super Bowls in a row. McCaffrey finished with 7,422 receiving yards and 55 touchdowns before retiring in 2003.
9 Cris Collinsworth
Now the premiere color analyst for NBC’s NFL coverage, Cris Collinsworth was once a mainstay of the Bengals during the 1980s. Collinsworth was a second round selection from Florida that played in just five full seasons, but had at least 989 yards in each of those seasons. Collinsworth finished his career with 6,698 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns, which is impressive when you consider he played in just 107 games (and started 90). Collinsworth was a three-time Pro Bowl selection before retiring in 1988 and turning his attention to the media side of football.
8 Don Hutson
Credited by many football historians as being the first “modern” receiver in the NFL, Don Hutson was an All-American out of Alabama that signed with the Green Bay Packers. Hutson spent a decade playing with the Packers and another four years as an assistant coach, and had his number 14 jersey retired by the team. Hutson was an eight-time first team All-Pro and won three NFL Championships. His stats for the time were impressive, as he finished with 7,991 receiving yards and 99 touchdowns.
7 Elroy Hirsch
Not to sound like an old man, but the nicknames for athletes these days are incredibly lazy. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, players had to deal with Ed “Crazy Legs” Hirsch...now that’s a nickname. Hirsch was the fifth overall pick in 1945 by the now defunct Chicago Rockets and his contract was shifted to the Los Angeles Rams. It was there that Hirsch became a huge star in the NFL, making the All-Pro squad twice and winning a Championship. While his receiving stats won’t blow you away (7,029 yards and 60 touchdowns), he was a Hall of Famer in both college and the pros.
6 Billy Howton
At one point, Don Hutson (who you saw earlier on the list) was the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards and receptions. His numbers were first surpassed by Billy Howton, a second round pick by the Packers out of Rice in 1952. Howton spent seven seasons in Green Bay, one in Cleveland and then four in Dallas. Howton was a four-time Pro Bowl selection after amassing 8,459 receiving yards and 61 touchdowns during his career. However, Howton was never inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite being one of the best receivers throughout the 1950s.
5 Fred Biletnikoff
Just like Hirsch, Fred Biletnikoff has made both the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Biletnikoff was a third rounder out of Florida State in 1965 by the Raiders and he spent his entire 14 season NFL career there. A very hard receiver to cover, Biletnikoff excelled in the Raiders offense and was named to the Pro Bowl a whopping six times and won Super Bowl XI as the game’s MVP. Biletnikoff was one of the best of the era and finished his long career with 8,974 receiving yards and 76 touchdowns.
4 Raymond Berry
It’s easy for young Colts fans these days to remember the greats like Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, but Raymond Berry was the guy decades earlier. Berry, who attended SMU in the early 1950s, spent all 13 seasons in his career with the Colts, who were in Baltimore at the time. Berry made the 50s All-Decade and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams that the league named, and six Pro Bowls during his career. Berry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had his number retired and won two NFL Championships while gathering 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns through the air.
3 Wes Welker
Wes Welker is one of two active players on our list, but he is currently not signed to a team. Welker was originally undrafted out of Texas Tech and started to find his form with the Dolphins. After becoming a special teams darling, Welker got some more time as a receiver and made the most of it, being traded to the Patriots in 2007. Welker was dominant there for six seasons and spent two more with the Broncos before spending a short amount of time with the Rams in 2015. Welker is a five time Pro Bowler and three time AFC Champion that currently has 9,924 yards and 50 touchdowns.
2 Lance Alworth
Coming out of Arkansas in 1962, Lance Alworth had his choice of signing with the Chargers or the 49ers after being drafted in both the NFL and AFL. Alworth ended up signing with the Chargers, where he became one of the best receivers of all-time. Alworth helped San Diego win an AFL Championship in his second year and he was named to six All-AFL teams (in addition to the All-Time Team). Alworth ended his career with two seasons in Dallas and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978. He is also one of just two receivers with 10,000+ yards on our list, finishing with 10,266 yards and 85 touchdowns.
1 Steve Largent
The other receiver in the five digit club is our number one receiver, Steve Largent. Largent, who would become a politician after his NFL career, was a 1976 fourth round pick by the Oilers out of Tulsa. Instead of cutting him after a poor preseason, the Oilers traded him to the Seahawks, who were grateful. That’s because Largent would go on to become a seven time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection, as well as a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team. Largent became a Hall of Famer in 1995 thanks to his career totals of 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns, both of which are tops on our list.
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