The Best Wide Receivers In NFL History
Wide receivers have to be fast to help move the ball down the field, and some cover more ground than others. The best receivers have played at the NFL’s highest level — setting and breaking records in the process.
Here are the top wide receivers in NFL history, based on their number of receiving yards. Did your personal favorite make the list?
25. Michael Irvin
Michael “The Playmaker” Irvin won three Super Bowls during his 11-year run with the Dallas Cowboys and tallied 11,904 receiving yards. His professional football career ended in 2000 due to a spinal cord injury sustained during a 1999 game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, when he caught a pass from Troy Aikman.
Currently working as an analyst for NFL Network, Irvin was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. His entertainment career includes stints in the 2005 remake of “The Longest Yard” and season nine of “Dancing with the Stars.” He recently experienced a throat cancer scare.
24. Derrick Mason
Derrick Mason played for 15 seasons in the NFL after being drafted by the Tennessee Oilers in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL Draft. He spent eight seasons with the Oilers and then the Titans, including two Pro Bowl selections (2000 and 2003).
He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005, becoming their all-time leading receiver with 5,777 yards from 2005 to 2010. Mason was released before the 2011 season, which he spent with the New York Jets and Houston Texans. Mason retired as a Baltimore Raven in 2012 with a total of 12,061 receiving yards.
23. Hines Ward
Former college quarterback Hines Ward retired as the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time leader in receptions (1,000), yards (12,083) and touchdowns (85).
Regarded as one of the greatest receivers in NFL postseason history (with 88 receptions for 1,181 yards and 10 touchdowns in playoff competition) and the greatest blocking receiver in NFL history, Ward now has a media career and acts as the Player Relations Executive for the Alliance of American Football.
22. Charlie Joiner
Charlie Joiner played professional football in the AFL before joining the NFL, where he remained for 18 seasons — the majority of that with the San Diego Chargers. When he retired after the 1986 season, he had the most career receptions (750), receiving yards (12,146), and games played (239) of any wide receiver in NFL history.
Joiner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996. San Francisco 49ers coaching great Bill Walsh reportedly described Joiner as “the most intelligent, the smartest, the most calculating receiver the game has ever known.”
21. Jimmy Smith
During his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars, Jimmy Smith tallied 12,287 receiving yards. His career peaked in 2000 when he posted 15 receptions, 291 receiving yards (fifth in NFL history) and three touchdowns for the Jaguars against the eventual Super Bowl champion the Baltimore Ravens.
Over the next few years, personal issues overshadowed his game and earned him a four-game suspension in 2003 for an undisclosed substance abuse violation. He retired abruptly in 2006 and 10 years later he was inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars (the franchise’s ring of honor).
20. Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall played college football at UCF and was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He later played for the Miami Dolphins (2010-2011), Chicago Bears (2012-2014), New York Jets (2015-2016), New York Giants (2017) and Seattle Seahawks (2018).
He was signed by the New Orleans Saints as a free agent in November 2018 but got released a month later without appearing in a single game for the team. To date, he has 12,351 receiving runs under his belt.
19. Art Monk
After playing college football at Syracuse University, where he was a four-year Orangemen letter winner, James Arthur “Art” Monk played in the NFL for the Washington Redskins (1980-1993), New York Jets (1994) and the Philadelphia Eagles (1995), tallying a total of 12,721 receiving yards.
He played 224 games and was the first player to record a touchdown reception in 15 consecutive seasons. A relative of jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk, the record-breaking receiver was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
18. Irving Fryar
Irving Fryar clocked 12,785 receiving yards during a total of 17 NFL seasons, playing for the New England Patriots (1984-1992), Miami Dolphins (1993-1995), Philadelphia Eagles (1996-1998) and Washington Redskins (1999-2000).
During his career he scored 84 touchdowns and gained 242 rushing yards, 2,055 yards returning punts and 505 yards on kickoff returns. Ultimately, this earned him 15,594 all-purpose yards. He played a total of 255 games in his career — the most ever for a New Jersey-born player — and made the Pro Bowl five times (1985, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997).
17. Steve Largent
Considered to be one of Seattle Seahawks’ all-time best players, Steve Largent tallied 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns while earning seven Pro Bowl selections during his career.
When he retired he held several receiving records. Largent was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, his first year of eligibility. Four years later he was ranked number 46 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players — the only Seahawk to be included. His career took a different direction in 1994 when he was elected into the U.S. House of Representatives for Oklahoma, where he served until resigning in 2002 to run for governor (he lost the election).
16. Andre Reed
Andre Reed played wide receiver in the NFL for 16 seasons, 15 of them with the Buffalo Bills (1985–1999) and the final one with the Washington Redskins in 2000. At the time of his retirement, Reed was second all-time in career receptions and boasted 13,198 receiving yards.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Reed is a Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) Ambassador and leads a literacy program for underprivileged youth in the BGCA, called the Read with Reed 83 Challenge.
15. Torry Holt
Torry Holt played college football at North Carolina State University before being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He spent the next ten seasons with the Rams but played his final season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 2010 he signed a one-year, $1.7 million contract with the New England Patriots but was placed on injured reserve that August as a result of a knee injury. Holt underwent surgery and was subsequently released by the team with an injury settlement. In 2012 Holt signed a ceremonial contract with the St. Louis Rams to retire with the team, with 13,382 receiving yards.
14. Henry Ellard
Henry Ellard started his NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams after being picked in the second round of the 1983 NFL Draft.
During his 11 seasons with the Rams, he went to three Pro Bowls, first as a punt returner before becoming a wide receiver in 1988. When he retired after the 1998 season, Ellard held Rams’ team records for career receptions (593), receiving yards (9,761), 100-yard games (26), punt return average (11.3), and total offense (11,663). He also played for the Washington Redskins (1994–1998), and the New England Patriots (1998) and amassed a total of 13,777 receiving yards throughout his whole career.
13. Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin stockpiled 13,779 receiving yards over 14 seasons in the NFL, playing for the Arizona Cardinals (joining the team in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft), the Baltimore Ravens (2010–2012), San Francisco 49ers (2013–2015) and Detroit Lions (2016). He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2003, was selected for three Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens. In 2015, he received the honor of Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his community service.
12. Cris Carter
Cris Carter, Pro Bowl star of the ’90s, retired with 1,101 catches for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns. A wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles (1987–89), the Minnesota Vikings (1990–2001) and the Miami Dolphins (2002), Carter was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. Since retiring from the NFL, Carter has worked on HBO’s “Inside the NFL,” ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown” and Yahoo! Sports online.
11. James Lofton
Before coaching for the San Diego Chargers from 2002 to 2008, James Lofton was a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers (1978–1986), Los Angeles Raiders (1987–1988), Buffalo Bills (1989–1992), Los Angeles Rams (1993) and Philadelphia Eagles (1993). He clocked up a total of 14,004 receiving yards over his career and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2017, Lofton paired with Andrew Catalon as an NFL analyst on CBS.
10. Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson played for the Houston Texans for the first 12 seasons of his NFL career, joined the Indianapolis Colts in 2015, then spent his final season in 2016 with the Tennessee Titans.
Along with an impressive career total of 14,185 receiving yards, Johnson holds nearly every Texans receiving record. Johnson made headlines around the world in 2012 when his foundation, the Andre Johnson Charitable Foundation, spent over $19,000 for kids from a local Family Protective Services branch to have a shopping spree at Toys ‘R’ Us.
9. Reggie Wayne
Reggie Wayne also spent his entire career — 211 games over 14 years — with the Indianapolis Colts after playing college football for the University of Miami. Like Harrison, he was part of the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI championship team that triumphed over the Chicago Bears. After retiring from professional football with a total of 14,345 receiving yards, Wayne became a volunteer receivers coach for the Colts, and in November 2018 he became the 15th player to be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
8. Marvin Harrison
An eight-time Pro Bowler and one of the most private, hard-working, enigmatic NFL players, Marvin Harrison retired in 2009 with 14,580 receiving yards and 128 touchdowns, after 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts — most of them alongside quarterback Peyton Manning. Harrison earned a Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl XLI, when the Colts beat the Chicago Bears. He was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014 and 2015 before being elected in 2016.
7. Steve Smith Sr.
Stevonne Latrall Smith, known as Steve Smith Sr., played 16 seasons in the NFL. He began his career with the Carolina Panthers, who drafted him in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft. After 13 seasons with that team, he signed with the Baltimore Ravens in March 2014. He remains the Panthers’ all-time leader in total touchdowns (67), receptions (836) and receiving yards (12,197). His career total for receiving yards is 14,731.
6. Tim Brown
Tim Brown played college football for Notre Dame, where he became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy. He spent 16 years with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015 and tallied 14,934 receiving yards during his career. Since retiring, Brown has carved out a successful media career and starred in the movie “Little Giants.”
5. Isaac Bruce
After playing college football for the University of Memphis, Isaac Bruce was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft. He finished his career with 15,208 receiving yards and will be remembered for one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history: catching the game-winning, 73-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining in the Rams’ victory over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Bruce played two seasons for the San Francisco 49ers before retiring in 2009.
4. Randy Moss
Former wide receiver Randy Moss (aka “The Freak”) played 14 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2012 (after one season with the San Francisco 49ers) with 982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. In 2007, Moss broke Jerry Rice’s single-season touchdown record with 23 touchdowns in 16 games. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2018 and is now a studio analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown” programs.
3. Terrell Owens
Commonly known as T.O., Terrell Owens finished his career with 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns. He’s also responsible for one of the boldest performances in Super Bowl history. He caught nine passes for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX for the Philadelphia Eagles — defying the advice of his doctors by playing a mere seven weeks after breaking a leg bone and tearing a ligament in his right ankle.
2. Larry Fitzgerald
To date, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has 1,303 receptions for 16,279 yards and 116 touchdowns. He played for the University of Pittsburgh football team, the Pittsburgh Panthers, under head coach Walt Harris and was widely considered one of the best wide receivers in college football from 2002 to 2003. He’s been selected for the Pro Bowl 11 times, and was named First-team All-Pro in 2008 and Second-team All-Pro in 2009 and again in 2011.
1. Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice is widely regarded as the greatest receiver of all time and holds pretty much every possible receiving record, including a total of 22,985 receiving yards (he’s the only player to have more than 17,000 yards). He actually got better with age, amassing more receiving yards during his 30s than he did in his 20s. In 2002, at the age of 40, he totaled 1,211 receiving yards to help the Oakland Raiders secure their place in Super Bowl XXXVII. Rice retired in 2006 with three Super Bowl rings, 1,549 passes and 197 touchdowns.