College Football: The 25 Greatest Receivers of the 2000s
The forward pass was made a legal play in 1906, even though the first forward pass on record occurred in 1876 game between Yale and Princeton.
Even though the play was illegal, the referee simply flipped a coin (literally) to determine if he would let the play stand.
After the 1905 season, in which 18 football players across the nation had died, there were calls for the game to be banned as too dangerous. Luckily, President Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of football and simply ordered changes to the rules in order to make the game safer.
Over sixty colleges and universities met to discuss a uniform set of rules that would make the game safer, and they decided to make the forward pass a legal play.
The meeting between these schools eventually led to the formation of the NCAA, so it's not a stretch to say that the forward pass gave birth to the NCAA.
In the 104 season since, there may be no decade that produced such a large number of stellar receivers than the 2000s.
That's partly due to the increase in athleticism, an increase in the talent level of quarterbacks around the nation, and because the country has become accustomed to games with final scores 48-41 or 42-35 rather than 10-7 or 7-3. Receivers are in high demand, and they attract a lot of attention.
Because of the plethora of amazing talent in the new “spread” college football game, there are bound to be some very good receivers absent from this list. That doesn't mean they weren't good, but narrowing a list like this down to 25 players is bound to leave someone off.
It's important to remember that statistics are only part of a player's impact on the game. After all, what good is 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns if your team finished the year 6-6?
Keeping that in mind, let's look at our list of the 25 greatest receivers since the turn of the millennium.
25. Jeremy Maclin
In his two seasons at Missouri, Jeremy Maclin showed off is skill not only as a great receiver but also as a great returner.
As a favorite target of Chase Daniels, in two seasons, Maclin had 182 receptions for 2,315 yards and 22 touchdowns.
24. Reggie Williams
Reggie Williams was a great receiver on a not-so-great Washington team. In his two seasons for the Huskies, Williams never failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
His talent went mostly unreported as the Huskies struggled through the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
He accumulated 183 receptions, 2,563 yards and 19 touchdowns in his two seasons.
23. Jabar Gaffney
Gaffney was one of the best receivers Florida ever produced under Steve Spurrier. Gaffney had amazingly soft hands, as he rarely dropped passes he touched.
He was also a premier route-runner, and his timing made him a prime target for Florida quarterbacks.
In his junior and senior seasons, Gaffney had 2,375 yards and 27 touchdowns on just 138 receptions.
22. Jerricho Cotchery
Jerricho Cotchery was twice selected as an All-ACC receiver, and by the time he left NC State, he had climbed all the way to second place on the school's all-time reception yards list.
He topped the school's list in receptions in a career (200) and games with over 100 receiving yards (15) Cotchery was a top target of Phillip Rivers, and Cotchery is currently ranked in the top 40 in all-time FBS receiving yards.
While Cotchery could certainly put up amazing yardage numbers, his lack of putting up points hindered NC State, and hinders Cotchery's position on our list.
Just 17 touchdowns in his final two seasons (2002 and 2003) on 153 receptions with 2,561 yards keeps his ranking low.
21. Ryan Grice-Mullen
When you're a receiver for Hawaii, you know you're going to have the opportunity to put up some pretty amazing numbers. After all, the one thing Hawaii is known for is an amazingly prolific passing attack.
Grice-Mullen didn't disappoint as he led the Warriors in receptions during his senior year and helped lead the team to an undefeated regular season and Sugar Bowl berth.
In his final three seasons at Hawaii, Grice-Mullen had 237 receptions, 3,370 yards and 36 touchdowns—all that while missing significant time due to injury his junior year.
20. Julio Jones
Jones was a much-hyped recruit coming out of high school, and he lived up to expectations for the Crimson Tide.
What keeps Jones from rising higher on this list is the fact that his stats seem to be a little depressed compared to many of the greats on this list.
Still, there's no question Jones was a very talented wideout and had a great impact for Alabama, helping the Tide to a BCS title in 2009.
But it wasn't until 2010 that Jones eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark before heading off to the NFL.
In his best season, his 2009 junior year, Jones had 78 receptions for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns. While not stellar, it was certainly better than his mediocre sophomore season, where Jones had 43 receptions for just 596 yards and four touchdowns.
19. Jeff Samardzija
Jeff Samardzija was a great athlete for Notre Dame. Besides catching balls for the Irish, he also threw them—as a pitcher on the Notre Dame baseball team.
Samardzija was one of the better receivers of the past decade for Notre Dame, and he had the advantage of being in the right place at the right time, as he was a member of one of the more prolific Irish offenses we've seen in a while.
Samardzija was a top target of Notre Dame great Brady Quinn, which earned Samardzija All-American honors twice.
As a junior and senior in South Bend, Samardzija accounted for 155 receptions, 2,266 yards and 27 touchdowns.
He's currently a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
18. Lee Evans
Lee Evans was a great receiver for the run-first Wisconsin Badgers offense. Wisconsin was such a run-heavy team, that it was rare to find any great threats down the field, but Evans was one of the few.
Even with the lack of passing talent that is typical of Wisconsin quarterbacks, Evans still found a way to top the 1,000-yard mark twice in his career in Madison, and in 2003, he had an amazing 258 yards and five touchdowns in one game—Wisconsin routed Michigan State 56-21 thanks in part to the 30 points Evans accounted for.
Evans tore his ACL during spring practice in 2002 and sat out the entire season, but in his three other years, Evans had 169 receptions for 3,286 yards and 27 touchdowns.
17. Golden Tate
Tate was one half of the Irish's dynamic receiving duo alongside Michael Floyd. Tate had two 1,000-yard seasons and won the Biletnikoff Award his senior season along with being named a first-team All-American.
In his junior and senior seaons, Tate had 148 receptions, 2,576 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Fighting Irish.
16. Chris Williams
For a guy who had 3,458 yards and 32 touchdowns on 234 receptions, Chris Williams is pretty low on the list.
That probably stems from the fact that he played for New Mexico State. The Aggies aren't exactly Notre Dame or USC, and they're not exactly taking on top competition every week or facing robust defenses.
Still, he put up some impressive numbers in his three seasons, and in his junior year, he played just eight games due to injury.
15. Dez Bryant
When you look back on Dez Bryant's career at Oklahoma State, you're forced to ask yourself, “What it?”
That's really a shame, because Bryant was one of the most promising receivers the nation has seen, but it was all cut short as Bryant left school after being attracted by the glitz and glitter of the NFL.
In just two brief seasons, Bryant emerged as one of the nation's top receivers, earning freshman second-team All-American honors in 2007 and consensus first-team All-American honors in 2008.
In those two seasons, Bryant had 130 receptions, 2,102 yards and 25 touchdowns.
14. Kevin Curtis
Kevin Curtis was a great receiver in college football, but no body knew who he was. How is it that a guy who had 174 receptions, 2,789 yards and 19 touchdowns was never heard of?
Well, when you attend Utah State, that's pretty much going to be your fate.
A JUCO transfer walk-on for the Aggies, Curtis had amazing speed which allowed him to put up some eye-popping numbers and earn All-WAC honors in 2001 and 2002.
Curtis went on to be drafted by the St. Louis Rams and is currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
13. Josh Reed
Recruited as a running back, Josh Reed made to move to wide out at LSU for his junior season, and it payed huge dividends.
In just two seasons as a wide receiver, both were 1,000-yard seasons, was All-SEC both seasons and was All-America in his senior year.
With 159 receptions for 2,867 yards and 17 touchdowns, it's easy to see why Reed makes the list.
12. Jarett Dillard
Jarett Dillard was a receiver able to attract national attention. That's pretty impressive for a guy playing at Rice.
Why does Dillard make the top 15 on the list? He did what few receivers do: rack up a trifecta of 1,000-yard seasons. He added a pair of 20 touchdown seasons to go with it, and that propels this small receiver from a small school into our top 15.
He was also the first All-American from Rice in a half-century and was a Biletnekoff Award finalist in 2008. The other finalists from that year also appear on this list.
In his three 1,000-yard seasons, Dillard had 257 recepitons, 3,614 yards and 55 touchdowns. Imagine what a kid with that kind of talent would have down on a team like Texas or Oklahoma State or any “big time” program.
11. Greg Jennings
Kalamazoo, Michigan isn't the center of the football world. Heck, it's not the center of any world.
K-zoo is a small city home to small teams like the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL, was made famous by the popular Glenn Miller song I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo (in which Western Michigan is indirectly referenced) but is probably best known for its odd name.
The word apparently comes from a bungling of a Native American phrase believed to mean “reflecting river.”
Kalamazoo eagerly watched native son Greg Jennings' career at his hometown Western Michigan where he became not only a top MAC receiver, but one of the top receivers in the nation.
He finished his Broncos career with 238 receptions, 3,539 yards, 39 touchdowns and a total of 5,093 all-purpose yards, a WMU record.
He is also one of just a small group of players in FBS history to finish his career with three 1,000-yard seasons, which places this current Green Bay Packer just outside of our top 10.
10. Roy Williams
We'll begin our top 10 with Roy Williams.
Roy Williams was an absolute haus as a receiver in college. He was huge, fast, strong and a real deep threat on every single play from scrimmage.
He was All-Big 12 three times, and his lack of production is probably only due to the fact that Texas was struggling to find a consistent quarterback at the time.
If there was a quality quarterback throwing to Williams throughout his career in Austin, it's likely his place would have been top five rather than top 10.
9. Dwayne Jarrett
Jarrett may have been something of a bust in the NFL, but he's not the only college football star that fate has befallen upon.
Jarrett was one of the best receivers in college, and his two-time All-American honors and place on USC's all-time records list shows exactly why Jarrett deserves a top-10 selection on our list.
Jarrett's time at USC may be looked back upon with embarrassment or disgust, but it's not because of Jarrett. His 3,138 yards over three seasons combined with 41 touchdowns was an amazing feat against some of the best competition in the nation.
8. Rashaun Woods
For Rashaun Woods, playing football seemed like an instinct. His natural ability was unquestioned, and his two-time All-Big 12 performance at Oklahoma State and place among the select few who have ever posted three 1,000-yard seasons place him firmly in any top-10 list of receivers from the last decade.
An entire Woods highlight reel could be made of his game against SMU, where he had an astounding seven touchdowns and 293 yards against the Mustangs.
From 2001 to 2003, Woods had 264 receptions, 4,085 yards and 42 touchdowns.
7. Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson was a pure specimen of wide receiver talent.
Even then, Miami was having their quarterbacking issues, but Johnson was still able to post nearly 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns between 2001 and 2002.
He was named the MVP of the Rose Bowl in 2002 (the 2001 season) and still ranks fifth on Miami's all-time career touchdown list.
He could outrun any cornerback he faced, and if he had only had some quality quarterback play, he very easily could have found his way into our top five. He'll have to “settle” for No. 7 on our list.
6. Braylon Edwards
Our only Wolverine to make the list, Braylon Edwards was one of most dominating receivers to come out of the Big Ten since Charles Woodson or Desmond Howard (both Wolverines themselves).
Edwards is another example of a three-time 1,000-yard receiver (of which there are fewer than a dozen all-time) and still holds numerous Michigan and Big Ten season receiving records. In his senior season, Edwards won the Biletnikoff Award, was named an All-American and was Big Ten offensive MVP.
He also earned the coveted “No. 1” jersey at Michigan—given to the team's top receiver and only if the head coach deems him worthy to wear the number.
In his three 1,000-yard seasons, Edwards had 249 receptions, 3,503 yards and 39 touchdowns.
5. Charles Rogers
We'll stay in the Great Lakes State for No. 5 on our list.
Another NFL bust (for the most part), Charles Rogers had one heck of a college career.
He broke the record held by Randy Moss for consecutive games with a touchdown and had consecutive 1,000-yard 10 touchdown seasons. He also still holds numerous receiving records at Michigan State.
After playing for his home state Spartans, Rogers was drafted by his home state Lions in the first round of the NFL draft as the second pick.
At MSU, his junior and senior seasons were downright impressive with 125 receptions for 2,551 yards and 25 touchdowns.
4. Mike Williams
In just two seasons at USC, Mike Williams dazzled the country with his pure talent and playmaking ability.
He still holds countless USC and conference records, he was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection and was an All-American, as well. As a sophomore, he was a Heisman candidate but finished outside of the top five in final voting.
With 176 receptions, 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns over the course of his two seasons combined with his highlight-reel career at USC easily places Williams in our top five.
3. Calvin Johnson
The good receivers are fast and have good hands. Or they're big and have good hands. Or they're fast and big. If you combine all three, you have a receiver who is great. You have Calvin Johnson.
This Georgia Tech phenom comes in at No. 3 on our countdown, and for good reason.
Johnson put up some amazing numbers, despite being really the only offensive weapon for the Yellow Jackets. Even though the opposition knew the ball was coming his way, they just couldn't stop him.
He was a three-time All-ACC player, an All-American, a Biletnikoff Award winner, an ACC Player of the Year... the list goes on and on.
Although only eclipsing the 1,000-mark once in his career at Tech, his pure talent and numbers given the circumstances make him clearly one of the best of the last decade.
2. Michael Crabtree
When getting to the top two, it's really time to split hairs. Michael Crabtree will probably appear at the top of as many lists as not, and in this case, it could essentially come down to a coin toss.
It's pointless to use superlatives to describe Crabtree. He was quite simply awesome.
From start to finish, Crabtree made opposing defenses look absolutely silly, and his domination of defenses earned him the Biletnikoff Award—twice (the only player ever to win the award more than once).
In 2007, he nearly broke the 2,000-yard mark with 1.962 yards and 22 touchdowns. He followed that performance up with a 1,165-yard season and 19 touchdowns in 2008 before going pro.
He'll be forever remembered at Texas Tech for his jaw-dropping catch against Texas to win the game, and he was immortalized on the cover of EA's NCAA Football 10 video game.
1. Larry Fitzgerald
In the long history of college football, there are a very select few that have been as good as Larry Fitzgerald and even fewer still that could be considered greater.
In his two short years at Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald proved he was one of the greatest receivers in history, and many people believe that Fitzgerald was robbed of the Heisman Trophy, which he lost to Jason White in 2003.
Wide receivers have always had a difficult time winning the Heisman, since all of their stats will be duplicated by the quarterback throwing the ball in their direction. Plus the quarterback is bound to have some additional stats of his own.
But if anyone was deserving of the award, it was Fitzgerald.
Still, Fitzgerald's accomplishments stand on their own. His 18 consecutive games with a touchdown still ranks as tops in FBS history. He also won the Walter Camp award in 2003 (generally viewed as the Heisman consolation prize), and he pretty much rewrote the Pitt record books.
He's also finding some pretty good success at the next level.
In his two years, he had 161 receptions, 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns. There are seniors who would love those kind of numbers, and Fitzgerald did it as a freshman and sophomore. Had he stayed at Pitt for another year or two, Fitzgerald might be considered one of, if not the best receiver ever.
But as it stands, he tops our list of the 25 greatest wide receivers of the 2000s.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!