Is it Randy Moss? No. Is it Jerry Rice? No. The greatest wide receiver to ever play the game is the legendary Green Bay Packer, Don Hutson.
How could anybody say that Jerry Rice isn't the best wide receiver to ever play? Easy. Hutson completely revolutionized the position, still holds multiple receiving records, and did so in an era where teams pounded the ball and rarely aired it out.
Before Hutson, teams always ran the ball. Passing was simply a dangerous act that was only used as a gimmick in an act of desperation. According to the NFL Record and Fact Book, Hutson still holds the following records:
- Most seasons leading league in pass receptions—eight
- Most consecutive seasons leading league in pass receptions—five
- Most seasons leading league in pass receiving yards gained—seven
- Most consecutive seasons leading league in pass receiving yards gained—four
- Most seasons leading league in pass receiving touchdowns—nine
- Most consecutive seasons leading league in pass receiving touchdowns—five
- Most seasons leading league in scoring—five
- Most consecutive seasons leading league in scoring—five
Hutson also holds the highest average of touchdowns per game for a receiver—0.85.
The man took the league by storm. He invented most of the routes that were run by Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. In his most successful season, Hutson had 17 receiving touchdowns in 11 games. This record lasted until 1984 when Mark Clayton broke the record with 18, playing in 15 games. Jerry Rice's best season featured 22 touchdowns in 12 games. Moss completed his best season with 23 touchdowns in 16 games.
At first glance, this would indicate that Rice had the most successful season a wide receiver has ever had with 22 touchdowns in 12 games. During this season, San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks completed 322 of 501 attempts. During Hutson's most productive season, the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks attempted 330 passes completing 172.
Randy Moss and Jerry Rice will go down in history as great wide receivers, who took advantage of their time periods. As passing has become more frequented in the NFL, receiving numbers will continue to climb. But as Hutson changed the game, he allowed receivers, such as Rice and Moss, to do what they do.