1. Randy Moss
While the wide receiver logjam is a disaster for Hall of Fame voters, Moss should present a no-brainer case one day as a first-ballot choice.
Yes, he has had some issues with effort in the past. But no one in his era was a more dangerous threat down the field than Moss. He has 153 receiving touchdowns, which alone should get him selected. Moss had a record 23 touchdown catches in 2007.
Moss’ 14,858 receiving yards rank fifth all time, and if he’s as good as advertised in San Francisco this year (and beyond?), then he should have little problem retiring in second place to Jerry Rice.
2. Larry Fitzgerald
With such great hands and route-running, Fitzgerald just produces year after year, no matter who Arizona puts at quarterback. He has gone over 1,400 yards receiving in four different seasons and already has 9,615 yards. He has been selected to five straight Pro Bowls.
He’ll be 29 at the end of August, but there’s little in the way to prevent Fitzgerald from breaking 15,000 yards and 100 touchdowns before he retires. He has as good a chance as any wide receiver to become the second ever with 1,200 receptions.
3. Reggie Wayne
This one is probably a much safer pick if Peyton Manning never goes through the neck operations, but Wayne has been consistently great for a long time in Indianapolis.
He had a streak of seven consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards barely snapped last year with a bad quarterback situation (960 yards). Andrew Luck should find Wayne a reliable target the next few years.
Wayne has 862 receptions (T-15th) for 11,708 yards (22nd), and 73 touchdowns (T-30th). He has also been very prolific in the postseason with 83 receptions, 1,128 yards, and nine touchdowns.
Hitting certain milestones (1,000 receptions, 13,000 yards, 90 touchdowns) would definitely help Wayne’s case, as would succeeding with Luck at quarterback to prove that it was more than just Manning.
Something to consider: Peyton Manning statistically had a higher completion percentage (64.8 percent), yards per attempt (8.77) and nearly identical passer rating (98.4 vs. 98.8) when targeting Reggie Wayne than he did Marvin Harrison.
4. Andre Johnson
Johnson really started to shine when the Houston Texans brought Matt Schaub in at quarterback in 2007. However, the two have struggled to stay on the field together. Johnson missed nine games last season because of hamstring injuries.
Johnson has surprisingly never had more than nine touchdown receptions in a season, but he brings in the yardage, producing 9,656 receiving yards in his career. He won back-to-back receiving titles with 1,575 yards in 2008, followed by 1,569 yards in 2009.
His average of 79.1 receiving yards per game is the highest in NFL history.
Like a lot of these receivers, Johnson is a few productive seasons away from some major milestones, and he does have the benefit of having been considered an elite receiver for several years.
5. Calvin Johnson
Is this the league’s new replacement for an athletic freak like Randy Moss? Johnson might be the closest thing to him.
After Detroit finally got one right in the draft in 2007, Johnson has been a dominant force. He had 1,681 yards to lead the league last season and caught 16 touchdowns.
Pair him with Matthew Stafford at quarterback for years to come, and Johnson could be a first-ballot choice some day. He is already at 49 receiving touchdowns after five seasons. There may be no better wide receiver in the red zone.
Moss and Johnson are the only active players with at least three seasons of 12 or more touchdown catches.
6. Steve Smith
Smith is an interesting case. His 2005 season is one of the greatest in NFL history. He led the league with 103 receptions, 1,563 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
His breakout season in 2003 ended with Carolina nearly winning the Super Bowl. A Week 1 injury ended his 2004 season, unfortunately.
Smith came up with 1,421 yards in 2008 but struggled with bad quarterback play the next two years. Last season he returned to form with 1,394 yards.
At age 33, Smith should still have a couple of good years left in him. He could put himself in that mix of receivers who have around 1,000 receptions, 13,000 yards and 80 touchdowns.
Smith has five Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro selections. In addition to receiving, Smith has six career return touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns.
Despite being a small receiver, he does a great job of getting open down the field for big plays and is one of the best yards-after-catch (YAC) guys in the game.
7. Greg Jennings
Being a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers in that Green Bay offense really helps Jennings’ chances of one day being in the Hall of Fame.
He is a great receiver himself, as he caught 12 touchdowns in 2007 when Brett Favre was still there. Taking the torch from Donald Driver, Jennings has been the most consistent receiver in Green Bay.
Jennings has 6,171 yards and 49 touchdowns in 88 games. He averages 15.9 yards per reception. Double these numbers (he’ll turn 29 in September), and you can see him in the Canton parking lot at least.
Super Bowl rings of course help receivers, and Jennings has one of those already.
8. Roddy White
Is this starting to scrape the barrel? White’s been very good for the last five seasons now; going over 1,150 yards in each season, and he has 45 career touchdowns.
White has back-to-back seasons with at least 100 receptions and led the league in 2010 with 115 receptions.
He has a good quarterback in place with Matt Ryan, and White even managed to have his breakout year in 2007, one year before Ryan arrived.
Drops may be a problem at times, and he does get a lot of targets. Julio Jones is also expected to eat into his production, but through seven seasons, White is in good company with his 530 receptions and 7,374 yards.
9. Marques Colston
Colston is a great “stealth” Hall of Fame player.
You may not notice him year-to-year, but he consistently produces at a high level. As the 252nd pick in the 2006 draft, it’s almost a miracle he has been this good.
Being paired up with Drew Brees in Sean Payton’s offense in New Orleans is of course a blessing, but no receiver has done a better job in this offense than Colston.
He has gone over 1,000 yards in all but one season, and that was when he missed five games in 2008 (had 760 yards). He has 449 receptions for 6,240 yards and 48 touchdowns in 86 games.
Hidden stat: Colston catches 65.0 percent of his career targets, which is the third highest of any wide receiver in the last two decades (min. 400 receptions).
Problem stat: Never made a Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl has largely become an even bigger joke than usual in recent years, but it will be problematic for many voters if Colston continues to be left out.
Still, it sounds all too logical for the best receiver on one of the best offenses in NFL history to end up in the Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, wide receiver might be the most illogical voted on position each year.
It is probably the hardest position to judge. Voters obviously are struggling with it, as they still have not selected Cris Carter, Tim Brown or Andre Reed into the Hall of Fame. What will happen with Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in a few years?
I am probably crazy for picking nine wide receivers—and believe me, there were several other tempting names—when we have a total of just 21 modern era wideouts in Canton now.
Wide receivers are so hard to judge because of how dependent they are on their surroundings. You have to consider who was the quarterback, how often the team threw, how often they threw in the red zone, who the other receivers were that he played with and what kind of catches was he making (slot guy or not?).
Hopefully advanced stats and good research will help ease this wide receiver problem, because as you can see, only more attractive resumes are on the way.