Throughout the years, there have been seasons that have been ordinary for many receivers, and there have been some extraordinary breakout seasons. From grabbing an absurd number of passes, to getting crucial first downs for the offense, to catching touchdowns in the clutch, some wide receivers simply rise above the rest.
Let's look at the top 10 in NFL history.
Note: These top 10 seasons are in the Super Bowl era, as I decided not to include seasons before that because that would make it impossibly hard due to the factors such as defensive play, differences in passing game, etc.
While mostly forgotten after his tenure in St. Louis, Roy Green remains one of the best receivers the team has ever had, as shown by his production in 1984, his best year.
That year, he produced the first 1,500 yard season in NFL history with 1,555 receiving yards, on only 78 catches—an average of 20 yards per catch. He also caught 12 touchdowns, good for 2nd in the league. He was named a first team All-Pro for the 2nd time in his career.
As much as the greatest receiver ever amazed people during his campaign in 1987—when he caught 22 touchdowns in 12 games and won MVP—this year was superior in terms of all-around receiving.
Rice barely missed catching 100 passes but had his second 1,500 yard season, the first player to do so twice. His 15 receiving touchdowns led the league and comprised of more than half of Steve Young's 29 touchdown passes.
For his efforts, Rice was named Offensive Player of the Year, the 2nd time he had earned that award in his career.
Randy Moss appears for the first but not last time on this list with his huge 2003 campaign.
Although Daunte Culpepper had struggled during the last two seasons, Moss had still produced as usual. This season, however, when Culpepper got his old form back, he revitalized his career, and Moss benefitted from it as well, catching 111 passes for 1,632 yards and 17 TDs. All career-highs.
This was not Moss's best season however, as this is still to come.
During the strike shortened season of 1982, only nine games were played and nobody managed to surpass 1,000 yards receiving. Except Wes Chandler.
Chandler only caught 49 passes during the season but amounted to 1,032 yards, an average of 21.1 YPC—one of the highest totals in league history for players that have 25 receptions or more. He also caught nine touchdowns, for an average of one per game.
Amazingly, Chandler only played in eight games that season, which meant that if he had played a full season, he would have been on pace to go over 2,000 yards receiving, the first and only receiver to do so.
One can only wonder what would have happened if Chandler had played to the exact same level he had in 1982 during a full season. We probably would have witnessed the greatest all-around receiving season anyone has ever had.
Even though he played for the Rams, a laughingstock throughout the NFL during the 90s, Isaac Bruce continued to be one of the most consistent performers on the team during that time. Even though he somehow did not make the Pro Bowl during that season, Bruce caught 119 passes for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns.
What makes this even more impressive, however, is that Bruce was only 23 years old at the time and produced the best stats at the position for any player under 25 years old. His 119 receptions still stand as the 5th most in NFL history and the 1,781 yards are 2nd most.
Despite this, Bruce was passed over in Pro Bowl voting by Michael Irvin. Irvin had less catches, yards, YPC, and touchdowns than Bruce.
What makes this interesting, however, is that there is not one, not two, but actually three seasons during this same year in the NFL that are ranked higher on this list than Bruce.
As I mentioned before, this is one of the two seasons that actually trumps Issac Bruce's epic 1995 campaign.
Many people think Cris Carter's best year is 1994 because he set the receptions record. However, this year was clearly better because he had more yards, YPC, and touchdowns than the previous season, all while maintaining the same number of receptions he had the previous year—122—and his 17 touchdowns led the league.
Any other year, he would've been a first team All-Pro. However, there are still two receivers that had better seasons in 1995 who were named the first team All-Pros instead. Remember that.
As much as we talk about 18-0 and Tom Brady, an essential cog in New England's record breaking season was Randy Moss. During that season, Moss became a vital part of helping Tom Brady have arguably the best season by a quarterback in NFL history, as he caught 23 of Brady's 50 TD passes, surpassing Jerry Rice's NFL record for most touchdowns in a season.
Moss caught 98 passes for 1,493 and 23 TDs and was the main go-to guy in "the hoodie's" offense that eventually led to the Patriots going undefeated during the regular season.
Marvin Harrison amassed an astounding 143 catches, an NFL record, (an average of nine per game), during the season in which "Manning-to-Harrison" became synonymous with greatness.
The possession receiver also had six games where he recorded double-digit receptions, another NFL record.
So what keeps this from being the top season? Well, Harrison only averaged 12 YPC, if he had averaged a higher number, he would have likely had over 2,000 yards receiving. If he had broke the yards record, he would easily have the No. 1 slot on this list. Instead, finished with "just" 1,722.
For a possession receiver, this is probably the best year that anyone can ever hope to have. Herman Moore not only set the receptions record for a season with 123 catches, but did so during the same season that his teammate, Brett Perriman, caught 108 passes. Even more impressive was the fact that Moore was catching passes from the mediocre Scott Mitchell.
If you look at the stats, he also accumulated 1,686 receiving yards, far more than any of the other receivers who broke the receptions record. The previous year, Cris Carter had broke the receptions record but only accumulated 10.3 YPC, a low average for even a possession receiver. Moore averaged 13.7 YPC, the highest total ever for someone that broke the receptions record during the year. The 1,686 yards were also 3rd in NFL history at the time.
Even more, he caught 14 touchdowns during the season, an average of almost one per game, and the most during any season of his career. Although Moore proceeded to have 2 more 100-catch seasons during his career in '96 and '97, 1995 was clearly his best year and arguably the best all-around receiving year ever in terms of catches, yards, YPC, and touchdowns.
Moore also finished in 2nd place in MVP voting, the closest any receiver has ever come to winning the award since Jerry Rice did so in the strike-shortened season of 1987.
But even setting the receptions record could not secure his campaign as the No. 1 season of all time. That belongs to a 49er you may have heard of...
The greatest wide receiver ever secures his spot among the all-time greats with not only his 2nd spot on this list, but also the No.1 spot among the greatest seasons of all time.
What else can I say? The 122 catches are tied for 3rd most in NFL history and his 1,848 yards are still an NFL record and one that does not look to be broken any time soon. He also scored 15 touchdowns, 2nd most in the league during that year.
The thing that makes this No. 1 over Herman Moore's season is that Rice averaged 15.1 YPC, an amazing average for someone who caught over 100 passes during a season, and still the highest total ever for that number of receptions in a season.