10 Best NFL Wide Receivers to Only Play for One Team During Their Careers

Zach Law@zach_lawContributor IMarch 22, 2012

10 Best NFL Wide Receivers to Only Play for One Team During Their Careers

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    Hines Ward retired this week after 14 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team's salary-cap woes meant that they could not afford his 2012 salary. Rather than play for another team and do the unthinkable for Steeler Nation—don another uniform —Ward retired as a Steeler.

    NFL free agency started with Plan B. That lasted from 1989 to 1992, ending with a player lawsuit. Today's players are allowed to be unrestricted free agents once their contracts expire, and that means that players usually do not stay with one team for an entire career.

    I will expand my selections to before 1989, as that allows me to post some cool throwback pictures. 

    Read on for the best 10 wide receivers to play for one team. 

Marvin Harrison

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    It's hard to believe that in the era of look-at-me wideouts like Terrell Owens, Steve Johnson and DeSean Jackson that some guys let their play do the talking.

    The Indianapolis Colts drafted Marvin Harrison in the first round from Syracuse in 1996. It wasn't until 1999, Peyton Manning's second season, that Harrison broke out, with a 115-catch effort. 

    Harrison had four straight 100-catch efforts, including a 143-catch 2002 season that is the all-time NFL mark. Peyton's best friend had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and eight straight 10-touchdown seasons. 

    Pro Football Reference, which is awesome, displays that Harrison is third all time in NFL receptions, sixth all time in receiving yards and fifth in receiving touchdowns. He didn't have blazing speed, running routes with precision and almost always decimating my Titans

    After eight seasons that are hard to beat in NFL history, Harrison was hobbled by injuries in his final two seasons and retired after 2008. 

Michael Irvin

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    Michael Irvin was the personification of the early-'90s Dallas Cowboys. He brought the University of Miami "U" mentality to the team, and it was effective enough for three championships. 

    After being the 11th overall pick in the 1988 draft, Irvin took a few years to reach his potential. He had 78 catches his first three years and 93 in 1991, when he led the NFL with 1,523 receiving yards. 

    The Cowboys were a run-first team, and because of that, Irvin's career stats don't match up with a guy like Marvin Harrison. Here are some numbers that should compensate: In 16 playoff games, Irvin had 87 catches for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns. He played his best when he had to.

    Irvin's career ended in a downer, as he suffered a neck injury in a road game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He retired the following season and entered the Hall of Fame in 2007.  

Rod Smith

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    The first two guys were destined for greatness with first-round pedigrees. Rod Smith had a boring name and played at tiny Missouri Southern State University.

    He was initially signed by the New England Patriots but was released before the season (he stays on the list on a technicality). The Denver Broncos picked him up, and the rest is history.

    Smith is a great example of the third-year wideout breakout. In 1997, he caught 70 passes for 1,180 yards and 12 touchdowns, as the Broncos won their first of two consecutive Super Bowls. 

    In 2006, Smith suffered a hip injury that ultimately led to a hip replacement and the end of his career. He's the all-time receiving leader in franchise history. 

Steve Largent

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    When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Steve Largent in the fourth round of their 1976 inaugural draft, a Hall of Fame bust was not the expectation.

    When looking at most receiver stats starting in the '70s, you don't see the video game numbers that are commonplace in today's game. Largent can stand up to today's players and then some.

    He had eight 1,000-yard campaigns and finished his career with exactly 100 touchdown receptions, the NFL standard at the time. 

    When we see a white receiver, we think crafty, good hands and slow. Largent averaged 16 yards a catch for his career. Randy Moss's career average is 15.6 yards per reception. 

    Give the Tulsa product extra credit for not having a Hall of Famer throwing him the ball. Largent only played in seven career playoff games, three of them in 1983 as the Seahawks lost to the then-Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Championship Game.

Sterling Sharpe

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    We know Sterling Sharpe as the articulate Sharpe (compared to his brother Shannon), who does great work on the NFL Network.

    Sharpe had a shorter career than other guys on the list, only lasting seven years. He did pretty well in that time, reaching 90 catches four times and 1,000 yards five times. 

    The Green Bay Packers selected Sharpe as their first-round pick in 1988. He was an important player in the team's resurgence, although a neck injury in 1994 cut his career short two years before the Packers won the Super Bowl.

    Sharpe set the NFL record for receptions in a season in 1992 and 1993 (since broken by Marvin Harrison). He won the receiving "triple crown" by leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

    In his seven seasons, he didn't miss a single game. 

Hines Ward

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    Hines Ward was selected in the third round of the 1998 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time, the team was a run-first squad, and the thought of the franchise having a 1,000-reception guy was laughable.

    Hines Ward caught the final five passes of his career on January 1 of this year to finish with 1,000.

    Detractors say that Ward's career totals aren't going to end up Hall of Fame worthy. Did anyone else on this list catch 112 passes in a season from Tommy Maddox and Kordell Stewart? It was only in Ward's seventh season that the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger.

    It was a smart move on Ward's part to pass on playing a 15th NFL season in a different uniform. It would have tarnished his Steel City legacy.

Amani Toomer

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    Younger New York Giants fans may think that the franchise has a rich history of excellent wideouts. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz had great 2011 seasons, but they're going to need to step it up to match all-time franchise receiving leader Amani Toomer.

    Toomer, a second-round pick out of Michigan in 1996, is listed in Pro Football Reference as a punt returner his first three years in the league. He had 44 catches in those three seasons.

    He became a star in 1999 with 79 catches for 1,183 yards and six touchdowns. Toomer had five straight 1,000-yard seasons before tailing off somewhat in his 30s.

    He led the team in receiving in its epic Super Bowl upset over the New England Patriots.

Andre Johnson

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    I'm going to throw in a few active players to shake things up a bit. I'm fairly confident that Andre Johnson will be a Houston Texan for the rest of his career.

    According to the Houston Chronicle, Johnson signed a contract extension that ends in 2016. Unless Arian Foster upstages him, Johnson's going to be Mr. Texan for a while.

    Johnson led the NFL in receiving yards in 2008 and 2009. He has missed 12 games in the past two seasons and 22 overall in nine seasons. Injuries aren't going to prevent the Miami product from reaching 10,000 career yards next year.

    Johnson has three 100-catch seasons, so he's capable of reaching the 1,000-catch mark without much of a problem if he plays out the contract.

    The Texans got a taste of playoff football, and with Johnson on the field, they're thinking championship. 

Steve Smith

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    Before 2011, it looked like Steve Smith's career epitaph had been written. He's been a fiery competitor who's thrown punches at teammates more than once.

    In 2010, with a putrid stable of quarterbacks including Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, Brian St. Pierre and Tony Pike, Smith had the fewest catches of his career since his rookie season.

    Cam Newton changed that.

    Newton's addition to the squad had the former third-round receiver back in Pro Bowl form with his most catches since 2007 and best yards per reception of his entire career. He passed 10,000 career receiving yards in 2011 and doesn't look like he's going to slow down for a while.

Donald Driver

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    I hate to say this to the memory of Steve McNair, but Donald Driver is the top all-time NFL player to come out of Alcorn State University.

    Unlike McNair, Driver was a draft-day afterthought, as the Green Bay Packers selected him in the seventh round of the 1999 draft. 

    Driver's another guy who made his first real NFL impact in his fourth season. He made his first of three Pro Bowls in 2002. He had 1,000-yard receiving seasons in seven of eight years from 2002 through 2009.

    Even though he was passed in the starting lineup by Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson last season, Driver became the franchise all-time receiving leader. Having Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers didn't hurt. 

    Good things come to those who wait, as Driver won a Super Bowl in his 12th NFL season in 2010. He may stick around for one more season.