The Best Wide Receiver in Each Franchise's History
Throughout the history of the NFL, wide receivers have made a definitive impact in the NFL.
From the early days in the run-based dominated NFL in the mid-20th century where guys like Harlon Hill and Frank Gifford were racking up 1,000 yard seasons, to the current NFL you see today where passing has become the dominant form of attack and where as many as 15 guys can put 1,000 yards on a consistent annual basis, wide receivers have played a pivotal role in the best teams throughout NFL history.
The following are the best wide receivers in each franchise's history.
Denver Broncos: Rod Smith
Rod Smith played 12 years for the Broncos from 1995-2006. He was a three-time Pro Bowler, amassed eight 1,000 yard seasons, led the NFL in receptions in 2001 and is a two-time Super Bowl winner.
In Super Bowl 33 against the Atlanta Falcons with Denver aiming for a repeat, Rod Smith turned in one of the best performances of all-time for a wide receiver in the Super Bowl.
Rod Smith caught five passes for over 150 yards and a TD, highlighted by an 80-yard pass in the second quarter that gave Denver a 17-3 lead that they would never relinquish.
Rod Smith may be argued as the second greatest Denver Bronco of all-time among many other Broncos greats in franchise history.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith was a Jaguar from the very first game of the franchise history until the day that he retired after 2005. Jimmy Smith is Mr. Jaguar.
As one of the most underrated wideouts of the "give me the damn ball" generation of WR's, Jimmy Smith quietly had one of the greatest careers of any wideout in the history of the game.
Jimmy Smith ranks in the top 20 for receptions and receiving yards all-time, ranking 15th and 16th in both categories. He led the NFL in receptions in 1999 with 116, when the Jaguars had their greatest season of all-time going 14-2 and falling one game short of the Super Bowl, when they lost for the third time in the season to the Tennessee Titans.
Like Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith was never the best receiver in any single season, but he certainly was one of the most consistent for an entire decade.
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson
In the Texans' nine-year history since entering the league in 2002, Andre Johnson has been their only good receiver.
Yes, Kevin Walter has been steady for the past two seasons, but Andre Johnson is the only option for this list.
He's a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first team All Pro—all before the age of 30—who has cemented himself as perhaps the best receiver in the game today.
AJ has had five 1,000 yard seasons, three 100-plus reception seasons and has led the league in receptions on two different occasions, while doing the same in receiving years on three different occasions.
AJ is perhaps the most athletically gifted receiver in the game today. His only weakness when it comes to his legacy amongst the all-time greats will be the lack of touchdowns compared to his other contemporaries (Moss, Owens, Harrison etc.).
Baltimore Ravens: Derrick Mason
The Ravens have simply never had a dominant wide receiver or passing attack in their 15 years in the NFL. They have always been known as a defense-first team.
This is never more evident than the selection of Derrick Mason for this franchise.
Yes, Derrick Mason is a good receiver. Yes, Derrick Mason has played 14 years in the NFL. But when a guy who has never been a dominant or a top-five WR in the game is the best receiver your franchise has had, and when fans associate him more with his previous team, the Titans, rather than the Ravens, you know what the franchise is known for.
Regardless, Mason has been a steady contributor since his arrival in 2005, notching four 1,000-yard seasons and consistently ranking as their best receiver for the past six years.
Miami Dolphins: Mark Clayton
Mark Clayton was simply insane in the 80's as Marino's go-to guy.
Clayton went to the Pro Bowl five times, formed the "Marks" duo with Duper throughout the 80's that had defenses scratching their heads, and had five 1,000 yard seasons.
He twice led the league in receiving touchdowns and held the record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season with 18 in 1984, the year that Marino broke the single-season passing TD record.
Clayton was one of the top 10 receivers in what was becoming a pass-heavy league in the 1980's.
Oakland Raiders: Tim Brown
"Mr. Consistent" was always overshadowed by Jerry Rice throughout his NFL career; hell, even when they were both in their late 30's/early 40's in Browns' franchise, the Oakland Raiders, Jerry Rice was the go-to guy for Rich Gannon.
Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowler, had nine 1,000 yard seasons, and led the NFL in receptions in 1997.
Brown, unlike other receivers such as Rice and Cris Carter, was an all-around threat.
He was one of the best special team players in the late 80's/early 90's before becoming a receiving threat, leading the NFL in kick return yards and ranking second in punt return yards in his rookie season in 1988.
Tim Brown played 16 of his 17 seasons for the Raiders franchise. Tim Brown epitomized the Raider franchise for nearly two decades, spanning three different decades.
Although never as explosive as his contemporaries, Brown ranks fourth in receiving yards and receptions, and ranked second when he retired after the 2004 season.
Tim Brown may have been the second or third most consistent receiver throughout the 1990's.
San Francisco 49ers: Jerry Rice
This is a pretty obvious choice. Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver of all-time. There's really no debate about it. It would be like debating whether or not Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all-time.
Jerry Rice is a 13-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time First Team All-Pro, a Hall-of-Famer, a 3-time Super Bowl champion, 1987's MVP, 1988's Super Bowl MVP, and finally, Offensive Player of the Year in 1993.
There is simply nothing that Rice didn't do.
He was the best receiver in the game all throughout the mid to late 80's and into the entire 90's decade; in his late 30's with the Oakland Raiders in the early 00's, he was still a top 10 receiver.
Rice is No. 1 in all major receiving categories; the second best player on the receiving TD's list is 44 behind Rice's record 197 TD grabs. He leads the second best player in receiving yards, Terrell Owens, by 7,000 yards with over 22,000. Rice leads the second best player in career receptions by nearly 500 receptions on the all-time list.
Other than Rice's many career accomplishments, the highlight of his career was probably Super Bowl 23 in Miami, Florida.
Rice posted 11 receptions for 215 yards and a TD to lift the Niners to Montana's third Super Bowl, and Rice's first.
To this day, Rice holds single game records in the Super Bowl for receiving yards with 215, receptions with 11, and receiving TD's with three in two different games (SB 24 and 29).
Jerry Rice is one of the few instances in which is legacy/popularity was just as large as the quarterbacks that were throwing the ball to him.
Minnesota Vikings: Cris Carter
As far as being the Mario Lemieux of the NFL, I think that honor goes to Cris Carter.
Carter was basically a once in a generation talent, with an extreme knack for touchdowns. Early on in his career, some people actually criticized him for being a guy that only caught touchdowns and did nothing else.
Carter started off his career in Philly as one of Randall Cunningham's favorite targets, where in 1989, 11 of his 45 catches went for TD's.
However, Carter became an elite receiver, and perhaps the second best receiver of all-time, in Minnesota.
Cris had seven consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, five straight double TD seasons and along with Randy Moss and his ex-teammate Randall Cunningham, broke the single season points scored record in 1998 when they became (at the time) the greatest offense in the history of the game.
Yeah, what was up with that guy who only caught touchdowns early on in his career...
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
For a franchise that has had some good receivers (Frank Sanders, Anquan Boldin, Rob Moore) in recent history, they've never had a dominant one.
That was until they drafted Larry Fitzgerald in 2004.
Fitzgerald was a highly touted WR who left the University of Pittsburgh early and received nothing but great reviews before entering the NFL.
I don't think anybody expected him to be this good, though.
A five-time Pro Bowler and a one-time first team All-Pro before the age of 28, Fitzgerald has led the league in receiving TD's twice and in receptions in 2005.
Fitzgerald had a game for the ages in Super Bowl 43 against the Steelers when he caught seven balls for 127 yards and two TD's, one of which was a 62-yard pass from Warner late in the fourth quarter that looked like it would bring home Fitzgerald's first Super Bowl championship ring.
Unfortunately, Santonio Holmes struck, and Larry's performance in SB 43 will probably be forgotten.
Roy Green deserves an honorable mention on this list for being an elite receiver for a couple of years in the early 80's for the Cardinals franchise.
Buffalo Bills: Andre Reed
There's been one great receiver in the Bills' franchise, and no, his name is not Eric Moulds.
It's Andre Reed.
Reed, along with Brown and Carter during the 80's and 90's, were tremendous receivers who were all overshadowed by the great Jerry Rice.
Similar to the NBA with how greats such as Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem will always be overshadowed by MJ' s greatness, the same applies for these three receivers.
Reed was a part of the first successful no huddle offense in the NFL.
Under coach Levy's watch, Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler who played in four Super Bowls and was Jim Kelly's go-to guy during their dominant run in the AFC in the early 90's.
Reed wasn't as explosive as his contemporaries Rice and Carter, but there's a reason why when he retired he was in the top-five of most receiving categories.
Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith/Mushin Muhammad
I'm taking the cheap way out and selecting both of these guys for this franchise.
These two have been the franchise's only good receivers (well other than Patrick Jeffers in 1999) in their 16-year history.
Muhammad and Smith were/are both dynamic receivers who could change the course of the game with their play-making abilities. Whether it was Smith using his speed, or Muhammad using his size, the Panthers were always a threat passing the ball when these two were on the field together.
These guys played a total of six years together, played numerous playoff games and even made it to the Super Bowl in 2003, where they would go on to lose a classic battle with the New England Patriots.
Smith and Muhammad will forever be known for putting this franchise on the map.
Cincinnati Bengals: Chad Ochocinco
The Bengals have simply never had an elite receiver.
They had very good receivers, such as Cris Collinsworth in the 80's and Carl Pickens throughout the 90's, but until the drafting of a little known receiver in (then-named) Chad Johnson, the Bengals franchise had never experienced a dominant receiver.
Chad Ochocinco changed that history.
Chad has been named a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first team All-Pro, where he's helped lead the Bengals to their first division title in 15 years in 2005, and then again in 2009 where they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers for the AFC North crown.
Although Chad is not a Hall-of-Famer, he helped bring success to a franchise that was the joke of the NFL for nearly two decades.
San Diego Chargers: Lance Alworth
Alworth is SD's greatest receiver. It's as simple as that.
In the 1960's AFL, there was simply no receiver as explosive or as dominant as Lance Alworth. He led the league in receptions, receiving yards and TD's on three different occasions, and in 1963 led the Chargers to their first (and only) championship while being named the Player of the Year.
Unlike most players that are on this list, Lance Alworth has one thing that will always be on his side: longevity. Not many players are able to say that they have been the franchise's best receiver for half a century...
New England Patriots: Stanley Morgan
One of the most explosive receivers in NFL history, Stanley Morgan played 13 of his 14 years for New England.
A guy who was always seemingly a threat to take it all the way, Morgan led the NFL in yards per catch three times, averaging over 22 yards a reception in those three seasons.
Morgan played on the 1985 Patriots team that shocked many and went on to become AFC champions, where they would lose in dominating fashion to the Ditka-led Chicago Bears.
New York Giants: Frank Gifford
There were only two options on this list, and that was Gifford and Amani Toomer.
Although Gifford did play two different positions, RB being his other position, Gifford was a top- tier receiver in his time.
Gifford ranked in the top 10 in receptions and receiving yards on three different occasions and ranked in the top 10 in touchdowns in 1962.
Gifford was an NFL MVP, won a championship with the Giants in 1956, played all 13 years of his career with the Giants, was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All-Pro, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Toomer's impact on the Giants franchise comes nowhere close to Gifford's, despite holding their major receiving records.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Carrier
To show you how insignificant receivers have been to the Bucs franchise, I had to look up TB's career receiving leaders and see just who was at the top of the list so I'd have somebody to put here.
Mark Carrier earns this selection by default.
Carrier played six of his twelve years in the NFL with the Bucs, once having a huge season in 1989 when he caught 86 balls for 1,422 yards and nine TD's.
Other than that, Carrier was OK for the other five years of his tenure.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Lynn Swann
It was hard choosing between three great receivers like John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Hines Ward. In the end, I went with Ward.
I always felt Lynn Swann was overrated because of that miraculous catch he made against the Cowboys. Actually, I would go so far as to say that he's one of the most overrated players of all-time. But in my opinion, he still deserves this spot over Ward.
Swann is a Hall-of-Famer, three-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in receiving TD's for one year. Swann was one of the top receivers in the NFL from 1975-1978 before Stallworth became the go- to guy for Bradshaw and was Super Bowl MVP in 1975.
Hines Ward is a former Super Bowl MVP also, and has been a consistent receiver on numerous occasions throughout the past decade, but can you really say he's ever been one of the top-three receivers at any given point in time? There has always been guys who have had more of an impact or put up better numbers than him.
Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, Rod Smith etc. The list just goes on an on.
In an era where passing is dominant, of course Ward's numbers are gonna dwarf Swann's and Stallworth's; but as far as being a better receiver during their time periods, Swann has the edge over Ward in that department.
Detroit Lions: Herman Moore
Herman Moore was an excellent receiver who shattered all of Detroit's receiving records; he holds the career marks for receptions, receiving yards and TD's.
Herman Moore was a big receiver (6-4, 210) who utilized his size to become Detroit's go-to guy for seven straight seasons.
Herman Moore once held the receptions record in a season (123 in 1995) when he grabbed 14 TD's and had over 1,600 yards receiving.
Herman Moore was one of the most underrated receivers of his generation, if not of all time. Moore was often overshadowed by Barry Sanders' presence in the offense and the fact that the Lions were such a mediocre team throughout the 90's.
Moore was also a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first team All-Pro selection in the mid to late 90's. He was the fastest player to reach the 600 reception plateau before a knee injury ultimately slowed down his career in 1999 before hitting the age of 30.
New Orleans Saints: Joe Horn
Joe Horn gets the nod over Eric Martin because he had a better peak. Martin and Horn are about even in terms of longevity, but Horn was a four-time Pro Bowler and was the face of the franchise before Brees stepped in in 2006; Martin was also a one-time Pro Bowler.
Horn was never the best receiver in the game; hell, he may have never even been the best at post-TD celebrations. But Horn, along with Deuce's presence, brought stability to a franchise that was known as "losers" for the greater portion of their history.
Horn had three 1,300 yard seasons, two 90 reception seasons and two double digit TD seasons en route to becoming one of the premier receivers of the first half of the 2000's.
Martin did help deliver the first Saints playoff appearance in history, while also leading them to their first division title; but again, Horn's peak is just simply better than Martin's.
Chicago Bears: Harlon Hill
Do you wanna know just how offensively inept the Bears have been for the past half-century outside of Walter Payton? I had to go back 50 years to find Chicago's best receiver in the history of their franchise.
Chicago has had some good receivers over the past two decades, such as the speedy Willie Gault in the 80's, Curtis Conway in the 90's and Marty Booker in the 00's. But none of those receivers were ever elite receivers in their eras.
Harlon Hill was a Rookie of the Year in the 1954 and won the MVP award in 1955.
He was a three-time All-Pro selection before injuries cut his career short.
Dallas Cowboys: Michael Irvin
Michael Irvin was a five-time Pro Bowler, a first team All-Pro in 1991 and a three-time Super Bowl champion.
Known as the "playmaker" and as Dallas' go to guy throughout the 1990's, Irvin, with the help of his QB Troy Aikman, would lead the NFL in receiving yards in 1991. In his first Super Bowl in 1992, he catch six passes for 114 yards and two TD's to help Dallas defeat Buffalo by a few points to kickoff the Dallas dynasty.
Irvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Indianapolis Colts: Marvin Harrison
It's already been forgotten just how good Marvin Harrison was.
With Reggie Wayne's emergence and Peyton Manning's ability to seemingly make any receiver/tight end look good---Jacob Tamme---, Harrison's greatness is often forgotten.
There was seemingly no better receiver than the quiet/nonchalant Marvin Harrison in the early 2000's.
As Peyton Mannin's number one option, Manning and Harrison would become quite possibly the greatest QB/WR duo of all-time. Harrison had eight consecutive 1,100 yard seasons from 1999-2006, had double digit TD seasons in all of those years, and had no less than 82 receptions a season during that span.
He led the NFL in receptions twice, receiving yards twice and TD's once. He holds the single seasons receptions mark with 143; the second best is Herman Moore and Wes Welker's 123. Harrison holds the mark by 20 receptions. He completely obliterated the mark in 2002.
Manning and Harrison also hold the record together for most TD's by a QB-WR duo.
Marvin Harrison ranks second in career receptions, 5th in TD's and 6th in receiving yards.
There was simply no receiver as dominant as Marvin Harrison in the early 00's.
New York Jets: Don Maynard
Don Maynard was one of the best receivers in the AFL during the 1960's. A four time Pro Bowler and first team All Pro in 1969, Maynard led the league in receiving yards and TD's. Maynard was also a four time All-AFL All Pro selection.
Maynard was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
St. Louis Rams: Isaac Bruce
Isaac Bruce played so long for the Rams that when he started his NFL career in 1994, the franchise was located in Los Angeles.
Bruce would go on to play for 14 years for the Rams, winning a Super Bowl in 1999, making another Super Bowl appearance in 2001, and being named to four Pro Bowls.
Bruce led the NFL in receiving yards in 1996 and had the second greatest season for receiving yards of all-time when he had 1,781 in 1995; which wasn't even the best that season. Jerry Rice had 1,848 that year.
Bruce gets the nod over Torry Holt because Bruce simply had more longevity than Holt, although Holt had a greater peak than Bruce.
Atlanta Falcons: Terance Mathis
Until the emergence of Roddy White most recently, the Atlanta Falcons have never really had a dominant receiver.
Terance Mathis was the closest thing the Falcons had to a "dominant receiver."
Mathis was a Pro Bowler in his first year with the Falcons in 1994, ranking third in all three major receiving categories with totals of 111 receptions, 1,342 receiving yards and 11 TD's.
Mathis would on to play in a Super Bowl with the Falcons as Chris Chandler's main weapon in Super Bowl 33 and play in the Atlanta until 2001, when the Mike Vick era began.
Cleveland Browns: Gary Collins
During the Cleveland Browns' run at NFL Championships during the 1960's, Gary Collins was the team's best receiver.
Collins won the MVP award in the Championship game in 1964 when he caught three TD passes in an upset over the Baltimore Colts. It is the last championship the Cleveland Browns, or any major Cleveland sports franchise, has won.
Collins still ranks first on the franchise list in receiving TD's and is second in receptions to Ozzie Newsome.
Washington Redskins: Art Monk
For the longest time people wondered why Art Monk didn't make it to the Hall of Fame. Although his career totals now don't look that great compared to modern day receivers, Art Monk once held the career receptions record before it was broken by (who else?) Jerry Rice.
Monk was the first player to record over 100 receptions in a season and over 900 receptions in a career.
A three-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Pro Bowler, two-time first team All-Pro and a member of the 1980's All Decade team, Art Monk finally achieved his goal of being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after being denied for seven years straight.
Seattle Seahawks: Steve Largent
To realize how good Steve Largent was in the 80's, get this: When Largent retired after 1989, he was the career leader in all major receiving categories in receptions (819), receiving yards (13,089) and finally, TD's (100).
At the time, he also held the record for most consecutive regular season games with a reception, with a 177-game streak.
Largent was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro selection and was selected to the 1980's All Decade Team.
Tennesse Titans: Drew Hill
As part of the Oilers' Run and Shoot Offense, Hill was probably the most dependable target Warren Moon had.
Hill was a two-time Pro Bowler who had five 1,000 yard seasons and formed the league's most potent passing attack with receiving mates Ernest Givins and Haywood Jeffries.
In five of the seven years that Hill was on the Oilers, he led the team in receiving. They made the playoffs five years, but never advanced past the divisional round.
This "three headed" trio is often forgotten due to the Oilers' lack of playoff success.
Kansas City Chiefs: Otis Taylor
Otis Taylor may be the only great receiver to ever play for the Chiefs. And he was a pretty good one all right.
Taylor was a two-time Pro Bowler, an AFL All-Star, an AFL Champion and a Super Bowl Champion.
Forty years after he last played in the NFL, Taylor ranks second in all major receiving categories in Chiefs history to only Tony Gonzalez.
Green Bay Packers: Sterling Sharpe
Sterling Sharpe was one of the premier receivers in the NFL in the late 80's and early 90's before a severe neck injury cut his promising career short.
In a mere seven years, he was an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler five years; he led the NFL in receptions on three different occasions and receiving TD's on two separate occasions. He broke the receptions record two different times; the first in 1992 breaking Art Monk's record with 107 receptions and then again in 1993, breaking his own record with 112.
In 1994, his 18 TD receptions in a single season were only second to Jerry Rice.
In 1994, it would have been hard to imagine that Sterling's little brother Shannon would turn out to become a better player and more remembered in NFL lore than Sterling, but when you think of the name Sharpe in 2011, you think of Shannon.
Sterling Sharpe would have probably ended his career as one of the top three receivers of all-time had a neck injury not cut his career short.
Philadelphia Eagles: Harold Carmichael
Harold Carmichael stood taller than everybody on the field: literally. Carmichael was 6'8'', and his play demonstrated that.
He's a four-time Pro Bowler who played for the Eagles for 13 seasons from 1971-1983, leading the league in receptions and receiving yards in 1973.
He was the Eagles' top receiver in Super Bowl 15, finishing with six catches for 91 yards. Carmichael still ranks 18th in career TD catches and was named to the 1970's All Decade team.
He is by far the best "giant" receiver to ever grace the game.