Saturday, June 22, 2019

Best Receiver of Each of the Decades

By John Turney

Recently we did a series of posts detailing who we think were the top players in each decade and each mid-decade (beginning and ending in the middle of a decade). They can be found HERE.

Then we expanded it to offensive and defensive linemen and defensive backs afre upcoming.

Now, here are the receivers, (ends, tight ends, wide receivers all grouped together). We begin with 1935-45, the first full "decade" that receiving stats were available.
Don Hutson was so far ahead of the game it was ridiculous. Jim Benton was the only guy close and there was a big gap between him and Hutson. Perhaps Benton deserves a long look for the Centennial Class of the Hall of Fame.

Pete Pihos, who was also a fine defense end was the next consistently great receiver. He was an end, usually tight, but all of the ends back then were.

The 1950s was tough because there were guys who flashed and then disappeared. Hirsch was fairly consistent, but he had one MVP-type year then nothing else close. Billy Howton had two monster years then little else close

Lance Alworth was an easy choice for the 1960s. John Mackey was the next-most impactful receiver of that decade.

Harold Jackson does not get a lot of love, but from 1969-81 he led the NFL in receptions, yards, touchdowns and was fifth in yards per catch. He also led the NFL from 1970-79 in same categories. Drew Pearson was a big-play receiver from his rookie year to the end.

Steve Largent was excellent every year from 1975-85. Lynn Swann's skills were a big part of the Steelers offense and were key to their wins. He had a short prime (career ended after 1982) but his impact was felt—especially in Super Bowls X, XIII, and XIV.

For the 1980s the biggest deal was Kellen Winslow who changed the game as part of Air Coryell. Again, another player who had injuries cut into production but we go by impact and peak performance not just stats. James Lofton takes the next spot, he was a throwback to the deep receivers of the 1950s-70s.

Jerry Rice dominates from mid-1980s through the 1990s. Sterling Sharpe and Cris Carter back him up, but they were not that close.

For the mid-90s to mid-00s Marvin Harrison takes the top slot and we are going with Ike Bruce behind him though Terrell Owens and Randy Moss are qualified. Ike's ring helped make the decision.

For the 2000s Randy Moss ranks first then T.O. was next. 

Megatron was the "next great thing" and he's number one from 2005-15 and his runner up was Larry Fitzgerald.

For the 2010s the receiver with the most impact was tight end Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown us next. Julio Jones is an honorable mention and is very close to Brown but Brown's numbers exceed Jones by enough to make a difference. However, since there is one year left in the 2010s we reserve the right to change if Jones has a monster year and maybe Brown disappoints.


  1. A great list as usual guys...

    Though Hutson dominated the late 30s and 40s, Benton and Kavanaugh, both deserve to be in the HOF and I believe Kavanaugh's stats would have been better if he had not served military duty...

    Howton deserves to be in the Hall as well, but during the 50s, Tom Fears and Kyle Rote were just as impactful for their championship ball clubs.

    The 60s were interesting choices, but despite his greatness as a tight end/open field receiver, John Mackey , didn't have the impact of a Bob Hayes, and Pete Retzlaff had much better hands.

    The 70s had great postseason receivers in Drew Pearson and Lynn Swann but we're they better overall than Cliff Branch or John Stallworth ?

    Lofton and Largent were the best of the 80s, with Charlie Joiner and Henry Ellard having just as much impact as the great Kellen Winslow, who was the best huge receiver, since the days of Jackie Smith and Harold Carmichael.

    Yes, Rice dominates the 90s and a healthy Sterling Sharpe would have to, but I would put Michael Irvin and Andre Reed ahead of Cris Carter, who had great hands. Yes, Irvin pushed off alot, but he was a team leader who had great postseasons as well, just like Reed for Buffalo.

    Great Receivers in the 2000s with Harrison leading the way, but despite great numbers, Terrell Owens was a team cancer. I would take Hines Ward ahead of him any day, because he had more impact despite less talent.

    Thanks guys for letting me post and please HOF committees, please consider more of these great receivers like Cavanaugh, Benton, Howton, Rote, Retzlaff, Branch,Pearson, Ellard, Ward and other receivers like Otis Taylor, Art Powell, Carrol Dale to the HOF.

  2. That's Kavanaugh with a K...haha

  3. It says you did it already for defensive backs yet I can't find that one.

  4. Is Jackie Smith the most overlooked HoFer of all time? Compare his work in the 60's with Mackey and I think he should at least get a mention

    1. His work was compared to Mackey and he didn't measure up in terms of impact, All-Pros and testimonials.

  5. Sorry John, but I disagree. Yes, alot of players endorse his ability to break tackles and his run after the catch prowess, but when your own HOF QB doesn't endorse you, how could he be much better than Jackie Smith, Jerry Smith, Pete Retzlaff, and Mike Ditka ?

    Like Terrell Owens, once the the ball was in his hands, Mackey was a beast but he had to catch it first.

    1. It's fine to disagree. People are always welcome to post that. I think we have different criteria but in my opinion impact for an era includes more than stats. It includes honors and also testimonial of other players. At the end of the 1960s Mackey was called the best TE. Not Smith or Smith of Ditka or anyone else. Ditka was runner up.

      And Jackie Smith never made a first-team All-Pro nor did he make the All-Decade team.

      And in my research Mackey had tons of "endorsements". Yeah, he wasn't perfect, he did drop some. But Smith was not regarded as highly as Mackey in terms of impact, or endorsements or All-pros and he was a force after the catch.

      So, we disagree, all I can say is I did my research and looking at everything, Mackey was simply better than the rest