Position U: Ranking the Top WR Schools of All Time
Welcome to the most contentious string of debates among college football fans: It's Position U week.
Bleacher Report writers David Kenyon and Kerry Miller are identifying the college programs that have generated the most productive NFL players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and defensive back since 1970.
In this edition of the five-part series, the focus is on wide receivers. This will be reiterated again later, but tight ends and pass-catching running backs were not part of the equation. Just wide receivers.
At every position, the discussion has several possible angles. Is your preference total NFL alumni? Number of players drafted from a certain position group? Actual NFL production? All of these measures are reasonable to use as a guide.
Throughout this Position U series, B/R's focus is on the latter point. While the total number of players is considered, on-field production since 1970 shaped the final order.
Florida has churned out a ton of role players, but few stars and nary a viable candidate for a ranking of the 25 greatest wide receivers of all time. Seventeen wide receivers with at least 1,800 career receiving yards is a nice long list, but it loses some luster when Wes Chandler and Cris Collinsworth are the most noteworthy names.
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State has one heck of an upper echelon of wide receivers. Derrick Mason, Muhsin Muhammad and Andre Rison each eclipsed 10,000 career yards in the NFL, and Plaxico Burress (8,499) was on pace to do so before he accidentally shot himself in the leg. But quantity—though not nearly as important as quality—was a key factor here, and only three other Spartans wide receivers drafted since 1970 have accounted for at least 700 career yards.
Tennessee has had a lot of players who were supposed to be great. The Volunteers have had 11 wide receivers selected in the first round of the NFL draft. No other team has had more than eight. But the only All-Pro in the bunch is Cordarrelle Patterson, who has made it three times as a return specialist. The top NFL pass-catcher to come out of Tennessee was Jason Witten, but as we'll discuss later, tight ends were not included in this exercise.
It was a difficult decision to omit the alma mater of Keyshawn Johnson, Lynn Swann, Johnny Morton and Curtis Conway, but the bar for landing in the top three was just that high. Had we included the more than 14,000 NFL career receiving yards by running backs Marcus Allen, Frank Gifford and Reggie Bush, the Trojans probably would have made the cut.
3. LSU Tigers
Had we been looking exclusively at players drafted in the past decade, LSU would've had a much more compelling case for No. 1. In fact, it would have been almost impossible to deny the Tigers the top spot.
Led by the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Brandon LaFell, LSU wide receivers selected since 2010 have accumulated 22,646 yards and 140 touchdowns in the NFL. In each of those categories, the Tigers are at least 15 percent better than everyone else.
And that doesn't even account for 2020 first-round pick Justin Jefferson. Neither team in our top two produced a first-rounder this year, so LSU gained a little bit of ground last week.
However, we're looking at five decades of production, not just the most recent one.
That isn't to say LSU's "ancient" history is full of duds. It's simply not as impressive as our top two teams.
From 1970 to 2009, there were 11 drafted LSU wide receivers who went on to rack up at least 1,000 receiving yards. The most noteworthy members of that group are 1996 first-round pick Eddie Kennison (8,345 YDS, 42 TD), 2007 first-round pick Dwayne Bowe (7,208 YDS, 44 TD), 1985 seventh-round pick Eric Martin (8,161 YDS, 49 TD) and 1980 fifth-round pick Carlos Carson (6,372 YDS, 33 TD).
In all, LSU has produced 35 draft picks, six of whom appeared in at least one Pro Bowl. And given the recent success of receivers from this program, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Tigers ascend to No. 1 if we run this exercise back in five or 10 years.
2. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
There are 48 players in NFL history with 10,000 or more career receiving yards, and Miami is the only school that can claim at least four of those players as its own.
Even more impressive: Three of those four players were at The U together for the 2000 season.
Reggie Wayne (14,345 yards, 82 touchdowns) and Santana Moss (10,283 yards, 66 touchdowns) were seniors on that team, and each was then selected in the first round of the 2001 draft. Andre Johnson (14,185 yards, 70 touchdowns) was merely a freshman who barely saw the field, but he was the third overall pick two years later after a 1,092-yard junior campaign. Getting to throw to those guys (and tight end Jeremy Shockey) makes Ken Dorsey the luckiest college quarterback ever.
The fourth member of that 10,000-yard club came more than a decade earlier, but Michael Irvin (11,904 yards, 65 touchdowns) is probably the most famous of them all.
Just between those four players, there are 19 Pro Bowls and more than 50,000 career yards.
But while Miami has seven wide receivers with at least 4,000 career yards in the NFL, Ohio State has 11 and a top tier that can at least hold a candle to Miami's. That extra depth was enough to give the edge to the Buckeyes.
One massive caveat to note, though: Since we disregarded tight ends and only looked at wide receivers—that was decided before digging into the data—it royally screwed over Miami, which has produced four tight ends—Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow II—who had at least 5,000 career receiving yards in the NFL. Ohio State, on the other hand, has just one tight end (Rickey Dudley, 3,024 yards) with more than 700 career yards.
If we were looking for Pass-Catchers U, Miami would have won easily. For Wide Receiver U, though, the 'Canes check in at No. 2.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State hasn't put much receiving prowess into the NFL in the past decade. Its most recent first-round picks at this position came in 2007 (Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez), and only three receivers drafted since 2010 have amounted to anything.
Granted, Michael Thomas is one hell of an exception to that rule, trailing only Julio Jones for the most receiving yards since the beginning of 2016. And Terry McLaurin had quite the rookie year with Washington in 2019, recording 58 receptions for 919 yards and seven touchdowns in just 14 games.
But aside from those two and Curtis Samuel—who is still trying to carve out a niche after three years with the Carolina Panthers—there hasn't been out of Columbus in recent years. The Buckeyes are certainly well behind LSU as of late.
From 1987 to 2009, though, it's hard to argue with what they brought to the table.
That era of wide receiver dominance began with Cris Carter, who put up 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns during his Hall of Fame career. Though he was ineligible his senior year and was forced to enter a supplemental draft because it was uncovered that he secretly signed with an agent, he was still one of the best college receivers and the best pro receiver in Ohio State's history.
In the 1990s, Ohio State produced Jeff Graham (8,172 yards; drafted in 1991), Joey Galloway (10,950 yards; drafted in 1995), Chris Sanders (3,285 yards; drafted in 1995), Terry Glenn (8,823 yards, drafted in 1996) and David Boston (4,699 yards, drafted in 1999). Galloway, Glenn and Boston were each selected in the top 10 and were each worth it. Boston's career numbers weren't great, but he was an All-Pro (and a fantasy football deity) in 2001.
The 2000s didn't provide anyone as dominant as Carter, Galloway or Glenn, but Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Brian Hartline have each accounted for more than 4,400 career receiving yards.
Throw in Paul Warfield—who was drafted in 1964 but an All-Pro in both 1971 and 1973—and there's no Super Bowl era alumni base of wide receivers better than this one.