The 7 Greatest NFL Wide Receiver Seasons Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 7, 2023

The 7 Greatest NFL Wide Receiver Seasons Since 2000

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    Wes Welker and Randy Moss
    Wes Welker and Randy MossAP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File

    As the 2022 NFL season nears its conclusion, Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson is putting the final touches on one of the greatest seasons for a wide receiver.

    But before Jefferson's dynamic year takes its place in history, which wideouts since 2000 have done something similar?

    Randy Moss, that's for sure. Most impressively, the Hall of Famer accomplished iconic years both as a member of the Vikings and the New England Patriots. He set the standard that more recent icons, such as Calvin Johnson, Cooper Kupp and Jefferson, have chased.

    Only the regular season is considered. For example, Larry Fitzgerald's 2008 campaign with the Arizona Cardinals would otherwise be prominently featured thanks to his electric playoff run.

    Key factors are total production with a slight emphasis on both efficiency and touchdowns.

Honorable Mentions

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    Marvin Harrison
    Marvin HarrisonPhoto credit should read TOM MIHALEK/AFP via Getty Images

    Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts (2002)

    Few offenses have caused as many nightmares as the Indianapolis Colts' scoring attacks with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Harrison put together his career-best season in 2002, setting a then-NFL record with 143 receptions on the way to 1,722 yards and 11 scores.

    Steve Smith Sr., Carolina Panthers (2005)

    Size didn't stop 5'9" Steve Smith Sr., who earned the receiving triple crown in 2005. He paced the NFL in all three major categories with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (2019)

    Seventeen years after Harrison broke the mark, Michael Thomas became the single-season receptions leader. The slant-route maestro caught 149 passes, finishing with 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns.

7. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (2015)

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    SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons runs with the ball after making a catch during their game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    From the 2014 season through 2019, few receivers could match the impact of Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones.

    The potential Hall of Famer peaked in 2015, racking up NFL highs of 136 catches and 1,871 yards—the third-most ever in a season. He also caught eight touchdowns.

    During the 16-game season, Jones tallied five-plus receptions in 15 games and finished with 88-plus yards in 13 contests. Notably, he cleared the 160-yard mark in four outings—something only a handful of players have accomplished in the history of the league.

    Jones also landed his first of two career AP first-team All-Pro honors.

6. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (2015)

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 20:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown pass in the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field on December 20, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    One of few players to rival Jones' contributions, Antonio Brown was a four-time All-Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010s.

    Brown rattled off six consecutive years of 100-plus catches and at least 1,284 receiving yards. And in 2015, he accumulated career-high marks of 136 receptions—tying Jones for the NFL lead—and ranking fifth in league history with 1,834 yards. Brown scored 10 touchdowns too.

    That season, Brown notched one of the most prolific games ever. During a win over the Oakland Raiders, he caught 17 passes for 284 yards. The totals still are sixth and 10th, respectively, in the record book.

    Brown provided three more outbursts of at least 187 yards en route to an AP Offensive Player of the Year runner-up finish.

5. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (2012)

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    Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) runs the ball as Indianapolis Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn (32) defends in the first half of an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
    AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

    The critical fact remains that Calvin Johnson set a still-standing NFL record of 1,964 receiving yards in 2012. Megatron collected the yardage on a league-leading 122 catches with the Detroit Lions.

    It is, quite simply, a legendary year.

    Simultaneously, his modest five touchdowns is a negative when compared to other historically great seasons. Oddly enough, Johnson sandwiched this five-score campaign between years of 16 and 12.

    Context is important for a ranking. But that shouldn't minimize the excellence of Johnson's record-breaking year.

4. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers (2020)

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    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 06: Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers looks to carry the ball into the end zone for a touchdown following a reception against Darius Slay #24 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter of their game at Lambeau Field on December 06, 2020 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The touchdown marks the 400th career touchdown pass for Aaron Rodgers,. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Staying in the NFC North, Davante Adams played an integral part in Aaron Rodgers' MVP honors in 2020.

    The since-separated Green Bay Packers duo connected 115 times for 1,374 yards and a staggering 18 touchdowns. Only two receivers ever—Jerry Rice (1987) and Randy Moss (2007)—have collected more trips to the end zone in a single year.

    By far, the wildest part is Adams missed two games.

    Adams caught at least one touchdown in 11 of his 14 appearances and scored multiple times in five outings. He otherwise provided seven games of 100-plus yards for the 13-win, division-champion Packers.

3. Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings (2003)

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    UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 09:  Football: Closeup of Minnesota Vikings Randy Moss in action vs San Diego Chargers, San Diego, CA 11/9/2003  (Photo by Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)  (SetNumber: X69603 TK1)
    SetNumber: X69603 TK1

    Hello, legend.

    First-ballot Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss exploded onto the NFL scene as a rookie in 1998. He remained an absolute force with the Vikings until his final season in Minnesota in 2004.

    During the 2003 campaign, Moss reached his Minnesota peak. He set personal-best marks of 111 catches and 1,632 yards, and pulled in 17 touchdowns while securing first-team All-Pro recognition.

    Moss surpassed the 100-yard barrier eight times, including a high of 172. The season also included his iconic lateral to Moe Williams during an October game against the Denver Broncos.

    Most impressively, it wasn't the best season of Moss' career.

2. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams (2021)

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 05: Los Angeles Rams Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp (10) on his way to a touchdown during the NFL game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Rams on December 5, 2021, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Although the Los Angeles Rams' playoff performance has no influence on the order, Cooper Kupp is nonetheless in exclusive territory as the list's sole receiver with a storied year and a Super Bowl victory.

    Kupp ended just shy of single-season records, reeling in 145 passes for 1,947 yards. While there is an asterisk of a 17-game season, both are No. 2 on the all-time leaderboard. He completed the impressive year with 16 touchdowns.

    Kupp matched Johnson (2012) and Michael Irvin (1995) with 11 games of 100-plus yards—and it'd be 13 if including the playoffs, during which he scored six times.

    Along with finishing third in MVP voting, he landed AP Offensive Player of the Year and a first All-Pro honor.

1. Randy Moss, New England Patriots (2007)

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    UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 04:  Football: New England Patriots Randy Moss (81) in action, making catch and scoring touchdown vs Indianapolis Colts, Indianapolis, IN 11/4/2007  (Photo by John Biever/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)  (SetNumber: X78979 TK1 R4 F8)
    SetNumber: X78979 TK1 R4 F8

    Considering the price New England paid to acquire Moss, this is one of the single-greatest trades in NFL history.

    Minnesota dealt Moss to the Oakland Raiders before the 2005 season, and it didn't work out for either side. After his mediocre 2006 campaign, the Raiders shipped the polarizing receiver to the Patriots during the 2007 draft in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

    Advantage, uh, New England.

    Moss promptly regained his All-Pro form, creating a devastating pairing with Tom Brady. While making 98 receptions for 1,493 yards, Moss set a record with 23 touchdown catches and helped the Pats finish 16-0.

    Though the New York Giants upset New England in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots likely wouldn't have been there without Moss.