Best NFL WRs Big Ten Football Has Produced
The Big Ten is, and always has been, known as a smashmouth football conference. The former greatness of Michigan and Ohio State, not to mention more recent success from Wisconsin and Iowa, has usually been predicated on defense and physicality up front.
But that doesn't mean the passing games have gone for naught. In fact, in pouring through the annals of football history, you'll find that some of the greatest wide receivers who ever played came up through this very conference.
That's especially true in the NFL, where Big Ten products have managed to find plenty of success. The physical nature of the conference, it seems, duly prepares them for the rigors of professional football.
Here are the 10 greatest NFL wide receivers that the Big Ten produced.
Note: All stats via Pro Football Reference.
10. Plaxico Burress, Michigan State
|Best Season (2002):||78||1,325||7|
Perhaps best known for his off-field indulgences, Plaxico Burress was always a mismatch problem between the lines and one of the best wide receivers of our generation.
Burress caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, just four plays after teammate David Tyree made the infamous helmet catch. But before going to the Giants, he spent five years in Pittsburgh, where he became one of Ben Roethlisberger's earliest and most favorite targets.
9. Terry Glenn, Ohio State
|Best Season (1996)||90||1,132||6|
Terry Glenn posted 800-yard seasons at all three of his NFL stops, including a brief one-year stint with Brett Favre in Green Bay. But he's better known for his early days with New England and his surprising late resurgence with Dallas.
He played with Drew Bledsoe at both of those stops, ushering in new quarterback eras for both the Patriots and Cowboys. He was there when Tom Brady took over for Bledsoe in 2001, and he was there when Tony Romo did the same in 2006.
Both times, he gave young future Pro Bowlers an immediate weapon over the middle. And the effect that had on their growth can not be overstated.
8. Amani Toomer, Michigan
|Best Season (2002):||82||1,343||8|
"Well Dressed" Amani Toomer, better known to New Yorkers as Mr. Reliable, played his entire 13-year career in New York. He was never the sexiest player at his position, but when a revolving door of quarterbacks needed the job done, Toomer was always the guy they could count on.
He had his best years with Kerry Collins in the early 2000s, helping lead the G-Men to Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens. He and longtime partner Ike Hilliard combined for 16 catches, 243 yards and three touchdowns in the NFC Championship that year—a 41-0 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings and one of the most memorable games in franchise history.
7. Paul Warfield, Ohio State
Paul Warfield's stats may not stack up with some others on this list, but as explained in his Hall of Fame profile, "the truth isn't always in the numbers."
The perennial deep threat played on conservative passing teams his whole career, capping his potential to put up big reception numbers. But he was always willing to go down field and make a big play, finishing his career with 20.1 yards per reception, the ninth-most in NFL history.
Warfield also played for the 1972 Dolphins, pro football's only undefeated team, which gives him extra intangible credence. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
6. Muhsin Muhammad, Michigan State
|Best Season (2004):||93||1,405||16|
Muhsin "Moose" Muhammad was one of the best red-zone threats in football, especially when he was on his game, and a longtime contributor for the nascent Carolina Panthers.
He was selected in the second round of the NFL draft, Carolina's second year in existence. And after two middling seasons as a youngster, Muhammad finally got a crack at starting, then never looked back from there.
His 2004 season remains one of the best of the modern era, with 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. As that was right when fantasy football was starting to come of age, he is perhaps best remembered as one of the earliest fantasy steals.
5. Andre Rison, Michigan State
|Best Season (1993):||86||1,242||15|
Andre Rison was a bit of a vagabond, playing for seven different teams in his 10-year career. But he almost always made his presence felt at each stop.
The early years in Atlanta were his brightest. In five seasons with the Falcons, he never caught less than 80 passes, never finished with under 975 yards and never scored less than eight touchdowns. His average line in those five years was: 85 catches/1,127 yards/11 touchdowns.
Though he could never quite sustain that production after leaving Atlanta, he did have one more 1,000-yard season with Kansas City in 1997, his fifth and final time getting selected to the Pro Bowl.
4. Bobby Mitchell, Illinois
|Best Season (1962):||72||1,384||11|
Bobby Mitchell was Percy Harvin before Percy Harvin—a unique blend of speed and balance who excelled both out of the backfield and lined up out wide. What role Mitchell played on offense was the discretion of his coaches, but the size of that role was undisputed.
He would always be a focal point.
In 11 NFL seasons, four with the Cleveland Browns and seven with the Washington Redskins, Mitchell wracked up 14,078 all purpose yards. At the time of his retirement in 1968, that total was good for the second-most in NFL history, trailing only former teammate Jim Brown—a man many consider the greatest player of all time.
Mitchell was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
3. Joey Galloway, Ohio State
|Best Season (2005):||83||1,287||10|
Joey Galloway was 24 when he started his NFL career, but he still managed to play for 16 seasons. In his golden years, pushing 40 but still quietly effective, a tinge of gray could be seen on his goatee beard, giving him extra gravitas both on the field and in the locker room.
He started his career with, essentially, four 1,000-yard seasons (he finished with 987 in 1996) after getting drafted eighth overall to Seattle. After leaving the Seahawks and playing four decent-but-forgettable years in Dallas, he revived his career with three more 1,000-yard seasons in Tampa Bay.
In the last of those 1,000-yard campaigns, 2007, he was 36 years old.
2. Derrick Mason, Michigan State
|Best Season (2003):||95||1,303||8|
Some players below him have better individual seasons than Derrick Mason. Hell, most of them do. But nobody did it more consistently and nobody did it longer than Mason, who should have a bust molded in Canton at some point in the near future.
Between 2001-2009, Mason posted eight seasons with 73-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards. The only season he failed to reach those marks was 2006, perhaps the worst season of Steve McNair's career for an offensively challenged (albeit 13-3) Baltimore Ravens team.
His 943 receptions are the ninth-most in NFL history, and at time of publication, his 12,061 yards still rank in the top 20.
1. Cris Carter, Ohio State
|Best Season (1995):||122||1,371||17|
Even before Randy Moss came along in 1998, Cris Carter gave the Vikings one of the most dangerous pass-catching weapons in football. Once Moss was introduced that season, though, that became one of the most dangerous pass-catching duos in football history.
The "man who only caught touchdowns" actually did much more than that, finishing his career with 13,899 receiving yards. He posted eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons between 1993-2000, finishing with double-digit touchdowns in five of them.
His 1,101 catches are the fourth-most in NFL history, just one behind third-place Marvin Harrison, though a little further behind Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice.