The list of honorable mentions was nearly as long as the top 25 itself, but rest assured there is little else of value to talk about in NFL history beyond the players included here. The following 15 seasons are listed in chronological order.
Bob Shaw (1950 Cardinals): 48 receptions for 971 yards and 12 TD
This is as old school as it gets here. Originally, Bob Shaw had made the top 25, but after finding out he scored five of his 12 touchdowns against the 1950 Baltimore Colts, one of the worst teams ever, he belongs in the honorable mentions.
Still, it was a Pro Bowl season and 20.2 yards per reception is a healthy average. Shaw did little on the Rams prior to joining the Cardinals and he actually went straight to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders in 1951.
Would a 30-year-old who led the league in touchdown catches jump ship to another league today? Of course not. That is why you have to judge these old seasons differently.
Bake Turner (1963 Jets): 71 receptions for 1,009 yards and 6 TD
A 12th-round pick by the NFL’s Colts in 1962, Bake Turner finished his rookie season with the jaw-dropping stat line of one reception for 111 yards and a touchdown. It appears he had a 74-yard touchdown catch and must have gained the remaining 37 yards as a recipient on a lateral.
Regardless, he found himself on the Jets in the 1963 AFL, and immediately had his finest season, making the Pro Bowl in the process.
Tommy McDonald (1965 Rams): 67 receptions for 1,036 yards and 9 TD
Another future Hall of Fame receiver, Tommy McDonald was on his third team in three seasons, and at age 31, he made his final Pro Bowl and registered his final 1,000-yard season. He led the team with nine touchdown catches.
Paul Warfield (1970 Dolphins): 28 receptions for 703 yards and 6 TD
As a premier deep threat, Paul Warfield came over from the Cleveland Browns to the Miami Dolphins when the leagues merged in 1970. Though he only caught 28 passes, Warfield had a career-best 25.1 yards per reception and made the Pro Bowl.
It cost a first-round pick by Miami to get him in the trade, but it would pay off with Warfield starring on Miami’s three Super Bowl teams (1971-73).
Drew Hill (1985 Oilers): 64 receptions for 1,169 yards and 9 TD
Years before Houston’s run-and-shoot offense came together, the Oilers paired Drew Hill with Warren Moon in 1985. It took two low-round picks in a trade to acquire the former Rams receiver, who had a career-high 1,169 yards that season. The nine touchdowns were the second-highest total in his 14-year career.
Anthony Miller (1994 Broncos): 60 receptions for 1,107 yards and 5 TD
John Elway was looking for a receiver. San Diego’s Anthony Miller was looking for a quarterback. They combined in 1994 for a solid season, with Miller averaging a career-high 18.5 yards per catch. Miller would have made the top 25 if his second season (14 touchdowns in 14 games in 1995) in Denver were his first.
Mark Carrier (1995 Panthers): 66 receptions for 1,002 yards and 3 TD
As part of the expansion Panthers in 1995, Carrier led the team in receiving with just his second 1,000-yard season. Carrier could be quite the answer to a trivia question for who was the first Panther to hit 1,000 receiving yards.
Keenan McCardell (1996 Jaguars): 85 receptions for 1,129 yards and 3 TD
As a 12th-round pick (by the Redskins) in 1991, Keenan McCardell averaged just 30.6 yards per game for the Cleveland Browns. But as a free agent in 1996, he joined an offense with Mark Brunell and Jimmy Smith to lead the Jaguars to the AFC Championship in just their second season.
McCardell made the Pro Bowl even though unheralded teammate Smith had better numbers. But the duo did help the Jaguars quickly become a contender.
Tony Martin (1998 Falcons): 66 receptions for 1,181 yards and 6 TD
Adding to the one-year-wonder allure of the 1998 Atlanta Falcons, Tony Martin came from San Diego to team up with veteran Terance Mathis for a dominant big-play passing game with Chris Chandler at quarterback.
Yes, those things really happened. Martin averaged 17.9 yards per catch and the Falcons reached the Super Bowl. But it would not continue as the team released him following his off-field issues with a charge for helping a drug dealer launder money, of which he was acquitted.
Tony Martin (1999 Dolphins): 67 receptions for 1,037 yards and 5 TD
After Martin was acquitted, he went to the Dolphins and had another solid “debut” (he first played for the Dolphins in 1990) with 67 receptions for 1,037 yards in 1999.
Rocket Ismail (1999 Cowboys): 80 receptions for 1,097 yards and 6 TD
With Michael Irvin nearing his end in Dallas, the Cowboys brought in the “Rocket” for the 1999 season. He made an incredible first impression by catching a 76-yard touchdown in overtime to beat the Redskins in the season opener.
Qadry Ismail (1999 Ravens): 68 receptions for 1,105 yards and 6 TD
Keeping with the Ismails, Qadry Ismail’s season could be a perfect example of why consistency matters. While his overall numbers were solid, especially given he had no catches for the Dolphins (1997) and Saints (1998), consider how much he inflated his numbers with one great stretch.
In Games 12-14 of the season, all wins, Ismail amassed 18 catches for 486 yards and four touchdowns. That is 44.0 percent of his yards for the season coming in three games.
It was highlighted by a 258-yard game in Pittsburgh, in which Steelers fans simply refer to as “The Qadry Ismail Game.” He scored three touchdowns, all of 50-plus yards, in the third quarter in the 31-24 win.
Outside of the three big games, Ismail never had more than 76 yards in any game, and that came right before the three-game run. He was held to 65 yards or less in the other 12 games in 1999.
So was it a great season or a great three games? Let’s go with the latter.
Derrick Mason (2005 Ravens): 86 receptions for 1,073 yards and 3 TD
Getting on in years (31 in 2005), Derrick Mason signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Ravens. He immediately fit in to have another solid Mason season, which usually meant 80 catches and 1,000 yards. But the lack of touchdowns, however much impacted by poor quarterback play, leaves this outside of the top 25.
Javon Walker (2006 Broncos): 69 receptions for 1,084 yards and 8 TD
While Javon Walker carries a negative stigma as a high-priced free agent that epically bombed, he was very good in 2006 for the Broncos. He suffered an ACL injury after one game in 2005, ending his time in Green Bay. The Packers then traded Walker to Denver for a second-round pick.
He returned with strong receiving numbers, while also rushing for 123 yards and a score. However, the five-year deal worth $40 million was never fulfilled as the team released a banged-up Walker after the 2007 season.
That is when Oakland swooped in with a terrible six-year, $55 million contract that people remember much more than the Denver stint. In 2008, Walker only played eight games, catching just 15 passes for 196 yards as a Raider.
Catching 15 passes for $21 million over two years would make for a nice retirement present for Walker.
Antonio Bryant (2008 Buccaneers): 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and 7 TD
Finally, an interesting one as Antonio Bryant was not even in the league in 2007 due to a failed drug test. With a troubled past, he was at his best with the Buccaneers in 2008.
He had 200 yards on a Monday Night Football game in Carolina, including a touchdown catch for the all-time highlight reels. Bryant exceeded 100 yards in six games in 2008.