The Great Debate: The Greatest Wide Receiver Of All Time

Jordan LeeAnalyst IJuly 26, 2008

Welcome to the fourth installment of my "The Great Debate" series. I have already voiced my opinion on who I think the greatest Quarterback, Running Back, and Tight End of all time is. I stay on the offensive side of the ball in this article as I determine who is the greatest wide receiver of all time.

This may in fact be the easiest choice I have as far as my series concerns. It has been a long-held belief that the 49ers Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all time, with everyone else far behind.

However the race is a lot closer than one might think. Rice does indeed have some stiff competition for the title of greatest of all time. And just who is that, you might ask? Who joins Rice as the best ever to make the acrobatic catch, embarrass defensive backs, convert the must-have third down, with the ability to take a five yard out and take it to the house?

As in the other installments, I first narrow the choices to five of the best ever to play and this time it's no different. Joining Rice in the discussion are: Don Hutson, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss.


WR Cris Carter Philadelphia, Minnesota, Miami (1987-2002)

Carter may have played for three teams but he flourished as a Viking. While in Minnesota, Carter made eight consecutive Pro Bowls between 1993-2000, including two All-Pro selections. Carter also made the majority of his 1101 receptions (2nd most all time) while in Minnesota. Carter is also second all time in touchdown reception, and led the league in receiving TDs three times.

WR Marvin Harrison  Indianapolis Colts (1996-present)

Marvin Harrison has, almost silently, crafted one of the most productive careers of all time. He is not loud or flashy like most of today's receivers, which is both refreshing and respectable. Harrison is an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro who presents the only real threat to Jerry Rice's all-time receptions record, depending on how long Harrison is willing to play.

WR Don Hutson Green Bay Packers (1935-1945)

The only player not from the Super Bowl Era to make the list, Hutson dominated like no player before.  Hutson played at a time when the game was more primitive offensively and more run-friendly. However, Hutson flourished, leading the league in receptions eight times, receiving yards seven times, and touchdowns nine times.

WR Randy Moss Minnesota, Oakland, New England (1998-present)

Randy Moss burst onto the scene in 1998, leading the league in touchdown receptions and giving football fans a glimpse of things to come. Moss flourished in Minnesota's pass-happy offense, totaling six straight 1200-yard years from 1998-2003. Had it not been for a few wasted years in Oakland, Moss could have been well on his way to obliterating the record books. He got back to form last year, breaking Jerry Rice's record for receiving touchdowns in a single season with 23.

WR Jerry Rice San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle (1985-2004)

Jerry Rice dominated like no player had since Jim Brown in the sixties. For two decades Rice put on a show through the air, forming two of the league's all time best QB-WR combinations. Rice rewrote the record books and holds every major receiving record.



How They Compare (Career)

Carter (16 years 234 games) : 1101 rec for 13,899 yards, 130 TDs

Harrison (12 years 175 games) : 1042 rec for 13,944 yards, 123 TDs

Hutson (11 years 116 games): 488 rec for 7991 yards, 99 TDs

Moss (10 years 154 games): 774 rec for 12,193 yards, 124 TDs

Rice (20 years 303 games): 1549 rec for 22,895 yards, 197 TDs


How They Compare (Season Average)

Carter (16 seasons): 69 rec for 869 yards, 12.6 yds/catch, 8 TDs

Harrison (12 seasons): 87 rec for 1162 yards, 13.4 yds./catch, 10 TDs

Hutson (11 seasons): 44 rec for 726 yards, 16.5 yds./catch, 9 TDs

Moss (10 seasons): 77 rec for 1219 yards, 15.8 yds./catch, 12 TDs

Rice (20 seasons): 77 rec for 1144 yards, 14.8 yds./catch, 10 TDs


How They Compare (Average Game)

Carter (234 games):  5 rec for 59 yards, 12.5 avg., 0.5 TDs

Harrison (175 games): 6 rec for 79 yards, 13.2 avg., 0.7 TDs

Hutson (116 games): 4 rec for 69 yards, 17.2 avg., 0.85 TDs

Moss (154 games): 5 rec for 79 yards, 15.8 avg., 0.80 TDs

Rice (303 games): 5 rec for 76 yards 15.2 avg., 0.65 TDs



When looking at the players' respective careers, two things jump out at you:

  1. Just how much the passing game has evolved when looking at Hutson's career numbers when compared to our more recent candidates.
  2. Just how amazing Jerry Rice's career was. I didn't even include his postseason stats (which he also holds records in), yet he simply blows everyone out of the water, which is a credit to his longevity.

When you look at the season averages, Marvin Harrison's production jumps out at you. He averages ten more receptions than the next closest man! It is also interesting to note how similar Moss' and Rice's numbers are.

I personally believe the per game averages are the best way of examining statistics and Don Hutson's yards per reception average is incredible. 17 yards a reception is unheard of, even for today's game.

Some people may be surprised just how close the other four candidates are to Rice. But one must remember that because Jerry decided to continue to play so far into the twilight of his career, his career and season averages were bound to take a hit.

However, I cannot ignore just how dominant Rice was, and his production is astounding. He produced more than any receiver ever and came up big when it mattered most. Thus, for these reasons I name Jerry Rice the greatest receiver of all time.

Although if Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison continue on the path they are on right now they could make a very good run at the greatest receiver of all time.


Verdict: Jerry Rice


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