The 2016 NFL Draft boasts a fairly thick crop of receiving talent. With four first-round picks—Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, and Laquon Treadwell—and 31 receivers drafted overall, the NFL is putting high hopes in this year’s class of receivers to reshape the face of the passing game in the NFL for years to come.
Since 2011, the NFL has taken 25 receivers in the first round of the draft, from studs like Julio Jones to busts like Jonathan Baldwin. Sometimes, players live up to their high billing, but other times, they fall flat on their faces when they scale up to taking on NFL-caliber defenses.
If the 2016 class wants to be remembered as one of the best in NFL history, they have some tough competition to face. Every so often—about once every decade—a class of receivers comes into the league and manages to stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. The potential and projection that is involved in the draft process actually matures into reality. It’s difficult to realize, as one or two high-profile busts can really dampen a class’ reception, but when everything falls together just right, you get a fabled draft class, one that produces multiple Hall of Famers and is brought up every year when the next batch of receivers fly off the board.
Here are the 15 receiving draft classes, in the common draft era, who have best distinguished themselves throughout their professional careers. We’re looking for stars on the top, depth in the middle, and an absence of high-profile busts when we’re sorting through the best of the best.
As far as Rice is above every other receiver, the ’96 class dominates any other receiving class ever put together. It’s a once-in-a-generation conflux of talent and opportunity. It had the last receiver drafted number one overall in Keyshawn Johnson and he just set the tone for the rest of the draft to follow. Marvin Harrison, who is entering the Hall of Fame this year. Terrell Owens, who is sure to follow. Muhsin Muhammad. Eric Moulds. Eddie Kennison. Joe Horn. Terry Glenn. Amani Toomer. Bobby Engram. The list goes on—the receivers in this class have 26 Pro Bowl appearances between them. Every single first-round receiver—and there were five of them—had 10 or more years of NFL service and there were no busts in this class. No draft class in NFL history has more receptions or yards. It’s the sort of quality we’ll never see again; the greatest receiving draft class ever.
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