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The NFL’s Most-Feared Receivers of the 21st Century

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Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys wideout hauled in an impressive number of touchdowns from 2012-2014, recording 41 scores in that three-year span. Though his statistics have dwindled a bit due to injuries over the past couple of seasons, Bryant is back to being healthy, and now he has a young Dak Prescott to deliver him the ball. With Dallas expected to continue to be a threat in the NFC, Prescott and Bryant could team up for some big plays throughout the 2017 campaign. He already has three touchdown receptions over the first five weeks.

Steve Smith Sr.

Steve Smith was one of the most exciting players to watch over the past 15 years. What he was lacking in size, he made up for with pure talent, using his speed and strength to muster his way into the endzone. He reached 1,000 yards in half of his 16 seasons playing in the NFL, and continuously found his way onto the highlight reels. Throw in that he was a dynamic return man, and it’s certain that he was one of the bigger playmakers since the turn of the century.

 Roddy White

Roddy White was always a consistent force in the open field no matter who was throwing him the ball. A dedicated Atlanta player, White was elected to four Pro Bowls and racked up more than 1,200 receiving yards with three different quarterbacks, including current Falcons QB Matt Ryan. He completed his 11-year NFL stint in 2015, finishing with over 10,000 total yards.

Amari Cooper

Mr. Cooper is part of a young and hopeful Oakland Raiders squad that really poses a threat out in the AFC West. With rising quarterback Derek Carr at the helm, Cooper has already earned two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first two years at wideout. After a dominant stretch a year ago, many believe Cooper and the Raiders can push further into the postseason if they can remain healthy. Although he’s off to a sluggish start, Amari Cooper’s great hands will more than likely play an important role in getting the black and silver to compete for a championship.

Antonio Brown

Arguably the best at his craft, Pittsburgh Steelers phenom Antonio Brown has been performing at an elite level since 2011. The 5’10″ receiver has already accumulated five 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his young career, and over the past four years alone, Brown has chalked up a whopping 6,315 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns. It’s almost certain that with a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, Brown can see these sort of numbers rack up again this year. He’s without a doubt the most reliable target in the Steel City, with over 500 yards already thus far.

Amani Toomer

The New York Giants have hardly had a more reliable wideout than Amani Toomer. Though he was never a superstar, Toomer averaged more than 10 yards a catch throughout his career, allowing Eli Manning a sure source to depend upon. He was also an instrumental part of the Giants 2007 Super Bowl victory, and is still their franchise leader in yards, catches and touchdowns.

Julio Jones

Julio Jones and Falcons QB Matt Ryan have been as dominant a pair as milk and cookies since Atlanta traded up to take the Alabama wide receiver back in 2011. They gave up a lot of picks in order to do so, but the return has been plentiful, as Jones has been a force at the position since his debut. Number 11 is nearing 8,000 career receiving yards, and he already has 40 career TD’s. By far one of the most dominant downfield threats in the NFL, it will be interesting to see if Ryan and Jones can combine their star power to push for another Super Bowl run.

Derrick Mason

Derrick Mason is another one of those guys who consistently delivered each and every season. He caught over 900 passes for more than 12,000 yards during his career, making him a threat in both Tennessee and Baltimore. In 2000, Mason put up a whopping 2,690 all-purpose yards, which was a single season record until 2011. His return skills were arguably as good as his hands.

Jordy Nelson

The best slot receiver in the league wears number 87 and plays for the Green Bay Packers. As one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets, Jordy Nelson has lit up the field for seven of his past eight seasons, with the lone exception being when he missed the 2015 campaign due to a torn ACL. With 6 scores already this season, Nelson has maintained productivity, and with some of the most reliable hands out there, he will always be a menace to defenses plotting to slow him down.

Joe Horn

Coming from humble beginnings, Joe Horn fought hard to make waves in the NFL. Horn came up through the Canadian Football League rather than the NCAA, and when he got moved from Kansas City to New Orleans, he really began to shine. Horn had four 1,000-yard campaigns and four additional trips to the Pro Bowl at the turn of the century, putting him up there with the elite. Almost 90 percent of his career totals came during his time in the Big Easy.

Mike Evans

For a guy whose career is just beginning to blossom, Mike Evans is off to a ferocious start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Evans is already three for three in 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and a year ago, Jameis Winston completed 96 passes to the 6’5″ wideout on a staggering 173 attempts. Getting Evans involved is clearly a focus for the Bucs offense, and on a team that’s looking to elevate their stature in the NFC, allowing him to make big plays will certainly serve as a momentum shift that can give the whole organization confidence.

Hines Ward

It’s hard to think of an NFL player with a better smile than Hines Ward. A loyal Pittsburgh Steeler, Ward is also a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champ, earning himself the MVP honors in one of those. His consistency and ability to come in clutch in big situations made him great, and his run blocking abilities were helpful as well. He totaled exactly 1,000 catches during his career which exceeded 12,000 yards, verifying his playmaking abilities.

T.Y. Hilton

Last year’s league leader in receiving yards, T.Y. Hilton has been one of the most consistent players at the position since entering the league in 2012. Since then, Hilton has never failed to rack up less than 800 yards in any given season, eclipsing 1,000 in each of his last four. Hilton is one of quarterback Andrew Luck’s main weapons, and he is also one of the highest targeted wideouts in the whole NFL, so expect him to continue to be one of the game’s best. He’s already on pace to put up monster numbers again this year.

Wes Welker

The speedy and shifty Wes Welker caused problems for defenses no matter which team he lined up against. As a Patriot, Welker made it to the Pro Bowl an impressive 5 consecutive seasons between 2008 and 2012, and twice was voted a First-Team All-Pro. However, his greatest hindrance was probably the inability to win a Super Bowl ring, with his team losing in all three appearances the receiver made in the big game.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Although he will miss the remainder of the season due to a fractured ankle, there’s no debating that OBJ is still one of the best at his position. After bursting onto the scene in 2014, even past injuries haven’t hampered his ability to deliver. Beckham caught balls for 1,000+ yards in all three seasons with the Giants, while more impressively notching double-digit touchdowns in each of those seasons as well. Though he won’t be able to keep that streak going, it’s not hard to believe that OBJ will return with a fire in his belly next season.

Randy Moss

You could argue that Randy Moss is the greatest pure-talent wide receiver to ever play the position. From his rookie season in Minnesota, Moss made unbelievable plays and put up massive numbers year in and year out. It took him just 982 catches to total over 15,000 receiving yards during his career, which includes 10 separate individual 1,000-yards seasons. His 156 TDs puts the six-time Pro Bowler at number two all time behind only Jerry Rice.

DeAndre Hopkins

Now that DeAndre Hopkins has a young gun like Deshaun Watson under center, we should really be able to see him put up big numbers in 2017. Though Hopkins was unable to follow up his career-best stats from two years ago due to a struggling Houston Texans team in 2016, the ex-Clemson wideout is happy to be reunited with his college QB. Throw it up and D-Hop will bring it down. The young man has already recorded five scores in five weeks thus far, so it already seems that the Watson-Hopkins combo is off to a productive start.

Donald Driver

Donald Driver was one of the most sure-handed receivers the Green Bay Packers have ever had. Thanks to his fearless ability to catch passes in even the most dangerous parts of the field, Driver became a reliable outlet for Brett Favre to target on a weekly basis. Putting together seven 1,000-yard campaigns solidified him as a menace to defensive backs, and the wideout continues to hold many of the Packers’ all-time receiving records.

A.J. Green

Easily one of the greatest deep threats in the NFL, A.J. Green has been a consistent force in Cincinnati since his arrival back in 2011. Up until last year, Green had recorded 1,000+ receiving yards in every campaign, and the only reason he had failed to in 2016 was due to injury keeping him off the field for six weeks — but he still had 964 despite missing time. Though he is often double and sometimes even triple covered, Green continues to excel beyond expectations, achieving some of the best receiving stats year in and year out.

Terrell Owens

On and off the field, there was hardly a more captivating player to watch than T.O. He is the only player in NFL history to have scored a touchdown against every team, and his insane ability to put up big numbers every year made him one of the best ever. Owens played for five different teams over his 15 seasons, nearly achieving 16,000 career yards. He and Moss dominated the early 2000’s, although Owens might’ve been a bit more consistent.

Demaryius Thomas

Playing in Denver for the entirety of his career, Demaryius Thomas has been nothing short of stellar for the Broncos. He’s been voted into the Pro Bowl for the last five consecutive seasons, and also was an integral part of the Super Bowl team in 2015. This year, Thomas will be striving for his sixth year in a row with at least 1,000 receiving yards, which is quite the feat. However, the biggest challenge he now faces is reliability at the quarterback position, as Trevor Siemian is still in the developmental stages of his young career.

Isaac Bruce

Playing alongside teammate Tory Holt, Isaac Bruce made up the second half of the “greatest show on turf.” With QB Kurt Warner slinging the ball, Bruce used his athleticism and solid hands the knife through defenses and make plays on a weekly basis. His 15,208 career receiving yards put him at fourth on the all-time list, and no one brought a better character and team presence to the locker room than Bruce.

Alshon Jeffery

Playing in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Alshon Jeffery is in a new setting for the first time in his career. The big and physical wide receiver saw his numbers decline over his past couple of seasons in Chicago, but this was largely due to an unproductive offense. Now that he has a fresh start with gunslinger Carson Wentz in Philly, Jeffery could become another weapon for the offensive-minded team to use. If he’s able to put up numbers like he did from 2013-2014, he will make a huge impact in the highly competitive NFC East.

Rod Smith

Long time Denver Bronco Rod Smith was about as solid a wideout as they come. Smith excelled in all facets of the game. Catching, route-running, and athletic ability all allowed him to be an important part of the game plan. Smith hardly missed a game over the span of his career, and his consistency in achieving 1,000-yard seasons makes his 11-year total of more than 11,000 receiving yards a deserved accomplishment.

Kelvin Benjamin

Like Jordy Nelson, Benjamin missed the entirety of 2015 due to a torn ACL, but the Florida State product bounced back and nearly had a 1,000-yard season a year ago. With a quarterback like Cam Newton, Benjamin should continue to play a big role in the Carolina Panthers’ passing game. With a huge 6’5″ frame, Newton will be expected to toss it up and let Benjamin bring it down, which is easily the best way to utilize the wideout’s deep threat abilities.

Andre Johnson

The size and skill of Andre Johnson made him one of the best wideouts since the turn of the millenium. He had an innate ability to break free and make big plays, albeit on a teams that had less than impressive offenses. Accumulating more than 14,000 total yards throughout the span of his 14-year career, he made his big play ability known throughout the league. If Johnson had a more reliable QB at the helm, there’s no telling how much more damage he could’ve done.

Doug Baldwin

The Seattle Seahawks receiver has undoubtedly been thankful for Russell Wilson’s talent, because he’s been a direct beneficiary of an oddly productive offense. Baldwin has been a crucial aspect of the Seahawks’ success for the last handful of years, and having a reliable target for an up-and-down QB like Wilson really helps. It’s no telling how much excitement might be generated out of the Seahawks offense this year, but one thing is clear: Toss Baldwin the rock, and he’ll make the most of it.

Reggie Wayne

The lifetime Indianapolis Colt was one of the most reliable number two receivers the league has ever seen playing behind Marvin Harrison. Wayne put up eight 1,000-yard campaigns of his own, and caught over 1,000 balls totaling more than 14,000 yards during his 14-year career. The six-time Pro Bowler doesn’t get enough credit because he played with Peyton Manning, but that’s no reason to overlook his more than consistent tenure in the league.

Jarvis Landry

Jarvis Landry has proved to be one of the most reliable hands receivers in the league since he joined in 2014. Though he hasn’t drawn as much attention as fellow college teammate Odell Beckham Jr., Landry caught 288 passes over his first three seasons despite a lackluster Miami team. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill recovering back to full strength, Landry will likely look to achieve his third consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season that will hopefully also propel the Dolphins into the playoffs for a second straight year.

Laveranues Coles

Coles had an interesting career, first making a splash with the Jets before moving to Washington for a couple seasons. He then went back to New York, but much of his success came early in his career when he served as an A+ deep threat. Coles’ quickness was definitely his strong suit, making it hard for defenders to keep up when taking shots down field.

Brandin Cooks

There’s almost no receiver to have ever suited up in New England and not gotten better. Brandin Cooks was the latest acquisition this past offseason, and with a QB like Tom Brady, you can believe the relationship has already taken off nicely. Cooks was a menace during his first three seasons in New Orleans, but with the Pats losing Julian Edelman before the season’s start, he’s already become a factor for defenses. It’s no surprise that the speedy Cooks is a perfect fit in the Bill Belichick offensive scheme.

Marvin Harrison

Teaming up with a QB like Peyton Manning never hurt, but Harrison and Manning were arguably the best quarterback/receiver combination in NFL history. His impressive IQ on the field allowed him to sift through secondaries at will, and his effectiveness both in short yardage and deep play situations made him elite. Harrison put up incredible numbers for the duration of his career, ingraining him as one of the best receivers to ever play the game. 14,580 career yards is no joke.

Golden Tate

Now in his fourth season with Detroit, wideout Golden Tate is looking to build off of his strong performance last year where he surpassed 1,000 yards for the second time in his career. Being one of the main targets for quarterback Matthew Stafford, Tate has started every game for the Lions over the past three years, and each year he’s grabbed at least 90 balls, which solidifies his productivity. Tate has already hauled in 29 catches in just 5 games this season, so it seems that he’s on pace to reel in that many passes again in 2017.

Muhsin Muhammad

One guy that probably flies under everyone’s radar when considering impressive wideouts is Muhsin Muhammad. The numbers don’t lie though, as Muhammad racked up more than 11,000 yards over the span of his career, making him one of those hands receivers that always seemed to be hauling in passes on a week-to-week basis. Playing alongside Steve Smith Sr. in Carolina for much of his career also helped, allowing him to become a solid possession player.

Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald is a true ageless wonder. As he’s gotten older, he’s remained as productive as many of the “top” wide receivers in the league, and now at the age of 33, Fitzgerald insists he still has a few solid years ahead of him. Each of the last two seasons saw the Cardinals star wideout catch over 100 passes and reach 1,000 yards, and he’s already on pace to repeat in 2017. It’s no telling how long until Larry Fitz hangs up his cleats, but it’s certain that until that day comes, he’ll be on the receiving end of some Cardinals TD’s.

Chad Johnson (Ochocinco)

No one will argue the fact that Chad Johnson (aka “Ochocinco”) was one of the most fun players to ever take the NFL stage. Many thought Johnson was all talk, but his impressive speed, route-running and catch ability made him one of the most exciting receivers to watch on Sundays. Though he was a bit of a show-off that ran his mouth often, Johnson often turned heads and backed it up with his play. His seven 1,000-yard seasons certainly help his case.

Emmanuel Sanders

Since joining the Denver Broncos, Emmanuel Sanders has been nothing short of reliable. He’s consistently played behind Demaryius Thomas, and because of that, he’s proved to be a solid second option. Sanders’ speed and over-the-middle capabilities have allowed him to be a consistent target in Denver no matter who the quarterback has been, which has led him to always be targeted a healthy amount of times. With a duo like Sanders and Thomas, it’s a wonder how any secondary can really plan for the Broncos’ passing attack.

Tory Holt

The other half of the “greatest show on turf,” Tory Holt was slightly better than his teammate Isaac Bruce. Holt’s ability to be both insanely fast and pile up yards each and every season was more than impressive. Of his eight 1,000-yard seasons, Holt was able to notch over 1,300 yards in six of them. The sure-fire Hall of Famer was a problem for almost any defense that lined up against him, making him an easy shoo-in for this list.

Davante Adams

With a receiving corps like Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, it’s a wonder how a third receiver can be as productive as the other two. However, that’s what a QB like Aaron Rodgers can do for a pass-reliant team like the Packers, and Adams has always been up to the task. He set a career-high with 997 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, making him a factor on a weekly basis. Adams has continued to show his stripes in 2017, despite suffering a concussion in a nasty collision against Chicago earlier this season.

Anquan Boldin

Anquan Boldin is one of those tough and physical receivers that never had a problem going over the middle. With a strong frame and even better hands, Boldin made up for his lack of speed by serving as a reliable target for whichever QB was throwing him the ball. His 13,779 career receiving yards proved he remained focused throughout his career, and this even allowed him to earn a Super Bowl ring during his time in Baltimore.

Stefon Diggs

Though he is yet to produce a 1,000-yard season, Stefon Diggs has made an immediate impact in Minnesota for the Vikings. Diggs hauled in 84 of 112 targets in 2016, and although he doesn’t find the endzone as much as they’d like, he consistently draws attention in the secondary. Between the quarterback situation and loss of Dalvin Cook in Minnesota, it’s only likely for the Vikings to implement Diggs even further into their game plan. Failing to do so would just be a misuse of talent.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Toting one of the most fun names in the NFL, T.J. Houshmandzadeh served as the perfect compliment to Chad Johnson during the two’s time in Cincinnati. While Johnson was busy running deep routes, Houshmandzadeh did a lot of the grinding, serving as a physical possession receiver who also shined in the red zone. With his size and reliability, Housh was definitely a nice surprise considering he was a seventh round pick.

Michael Crabtree

Alongside Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree presents a viable second option for an up-and-coming quarterback like Derek Carr. Crabtree has put up massive numbers since Carr took over the reins two seasons ago. Over that span, he’s caught 174 passes for 1,925 yards and an impressive 17 touchdowns. Being the other half of a dual-threat passing game, it’s only likely for Crabtree to continue to be targeted on a weekly basis, and since he’s remained healthy throughout his tenure thus far in Oakland, things are looking up for the Raider passing game.

Chris Chambers

Though Chris Chambers was never the best receiver in the league, he was a great asset to Miami and any team he played for after. Though he was a smaller guy, Chambers had both speed and toughness that allowed him to reach over 7,600 yards throughout his NFL career. Interestingly enough, he was high school teammates with Lee Evans, who also made this list.

Tyrell Williams

Since Keenan Allen has suffered from injuries over the past two seasons, the Chargers are delighted by the emergence of Tyrell Williams, who’s more than stepped up to the plate. With a steady QB like Philip Rivers, Williams has been able to elevate himself from a player who was fighting for a spot on the roster, to a receiver who hauled in 69 passes for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. This makes him a dependable target on a team that needs to be better at throwing the ball.

Joey Galloway

Galloway was another one of those guys who was great at hauling in the deep ball in a graceful manner. He was electric in both his tenures in Seattle and Tampa Bay, with a bit of a hiccup in the middle during his time in Dallas. Regardless, the deep threat put up more than 10,000 career receiving yards over his 16 NFL seasons, making him one of the most peculiar cases of players to have never been selected to a Pro Bowl.

Pierre Garçon

In his 10th NFL season, Pierre Garçon is still starting on Sundays and catching balls on a weekly basis. Finding his way to San Francisco via free agency at the end of last season, Garçon will now be a top target for QB Brandon Hoyer. His 1,000-yard season from a year ago has validated his worth in a tough league, and the 49ers need nothing more than a standout player who isn’t afraid to catch passes, whether they be over the middle, toward the sidelines, or even deep down field.

Calvin Johnson

Though it’s always the player’s choice, it’s a shame Calvin Johnson retired after only 9 seasons in the NFL. Megatron was an absolute beast during his time in Detroit, piling up a staggering 11,619 yards in less than 10 years. His six Pro Bowls validate his greatness, and his ability to catch nearly every pass thrown his way should still amaze you to this day. No one has been as dominate as Johnson since the likes of Moss or Owens, but we’ll always be left wondering what could’ve been if Megatron would’ve stuck around in the league for a bit longer.

Lee Evans

Lee Evans was a wide receiver who over-performed during his time in Buffalo. Though his teams weren’t the best, Evans became a major weapon for the Bills and notched over 6,000 receiving yards in his career. He was one of the fastest players in the league during his time, and he’s also the only player in NFL history to score two touchdowns of over 80 yards in the same quarter. Every year in Buffalo, Evans was good for at least one catch of 50+ yards.
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