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The Best Wide Receiver of All Time.

Updated on May 7, 2014
Don't worry, it's not Kenny Jackson.
Don't worry, it's not Kenny Jackson.

It's Not Jerry Rice.

I know.
This is blasphemy.

"He owns the majority of receiving records and played in multiple Super Bowls. He played at an elite level for twenty years, and is the golden standard that all wideouts are compared to."
You are absolutely right.
Jerry Rice caught 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns.
Wow.
That's insane.
Cris Carter is second in NFL history with 1,101 receptions and 130 touchdowns.
No biggie, Jerry just had 448 more catches and 67 more touchdowns.
As for yards, his former teammate, Tim Brown was second in NFL history with 14,934 yards. Only 7,961 yards.
No question. Jerry was amazing, and deserves all of the recognition in the world.
However...

I don't know if I can call him "the best ever".
Why not?
Well... Here's the thing.
I have a theory called the "Brett Favre/Cal Ripken rule".
That if you play long enough, your numbers will not appropriately reflect your career.
Brett Favre (currently) holds every record for a quarterback. His 71,838 yards, 508 touchdowns, and even his 336 interceptions are the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
An average season for Brett looks like this.
He threw the ball 508 times, completing 315 passes (62%) for 3,592 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions.
Not so impressive, huh?
I mean, an average season for Andy Dalton looks like he threw the ball 543 times, and completed 331 passes (61%) for 3,787 yards, 27 touchdowns, 16 interceptions.

Now... Brett also played in a different era. The passing game wasn't as smart as it was today, and the west coast offense that he loved so much is a completely different monster now when Brett was in his prime.
But you get the idea.
Overall stats don't tell the whole story.

Setting Brett aside... Mr. Jerry Rice played for twenty years...

An average season for Jerry was catching 77 passes for 1,145 yards and 10 touchdowns every year.
Still not bad.
That's a respectable season total in today's NFL.
The closest comparison was Eric Decker's 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. But that was just one season.
One season where not only was Decker surrounded by great talent, but he had a Hall of Fame QB throwing him passes.

And this is where we discover my argument.

When was Jerry Rice ever on a bad team?
The problem with analyzing all of the Montana-Young era 49ers is that they were always surrounded by talent. With more than a handful of Hall of fame players and a brilliant offensive scheme, everybody on those teams seemed like they were amazing.
Even when Jerry went to Oakland, they were using Gruden's west coast scheme, was partnered up with Tim Brown, and was catching passes from an established league MVP in Rich Gannon.

The bottom line is this.
As far as work ethic goes, I don't know if anybody was better than Jerry Rice. He played at a very high level for a very long time with some very good teams. The way he took care of his body is legendary, and his numbers will probably stand for a long time.
But if I could pick a wide receiver from any era to play on my team, it wouldn't be him. It wouldn't be his protege, Terrell Owens, or his partner in crime, Tim Brown.

It wouldn't be any of those guys.
In fact, the guy I would pick is still playing.

Calvin Johnson.

Yes.
Megatron.
I know what you're thinking.

"What have you done for me lately?"

"Oh you're just too young to have seen Jerry play!"*

"How many Super Bowls has Calvin won?
Exactly"

Calvin Johnson is perfect.
Try to find a weakness in his game. I dare you.
Just physically.
He's bigger and just about as fast as Randy Moss.
I know, that sounds crazy. That doesn't sound possible.
But it's true.
Calvin is 6'5 and 236 pounds, and at the combine he ran a 4.35 40 time. Moss is only 6'4 and 210 pounds, and blazed a 4.25 40 at his combine.
They're both big and fast. No question. And when it comes to going up to grab the ball, these two are legendary.
But every knows there are glaring flaws in Randy's game. As long as he played, he never focused on learning. He relied on his physical ability to make plays and never really learned how to run routes. But god damn, I don't know if anybody in NFL history ran a better 9 route.
Another problem with Randy is that he could never stay motivated. He gave up on plays, games, and even seasons (See: his time with the Oakland Raiders).
Calvin Johnson was a member of the Detroit Lions in 2008.
Do the 2008 Lions ring a bell? They should. They didn't win a single game.
They only came close to winning one game, in week 6 vs the Vikings, but they lost by two points. Why two points? Because QB Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back of his own endzone and gave up a safety. Yeah. They were that bad.
However, in that lost season, despite playing with 5 quarterbacks, Calvin had a great year.
Despite catching passes from the aforementioned Orlovsky, Drew Stanton, a fossilized Daunte Culpepper, Drew Henson and Jon Kitna, in only his second season, Calvin Johnson caught 78 passes for 1,331 yards, and 12 TDs.
That's an average season for Jerry Rice, remember? Except Jerry never had to catch passes from a QB that wasn't a league MVP, and Jerry didn't know anything about winless seasons.
"Oh, but since he was the only good player on that team, it's obvious that he would get the ball more."
True, but don't you think the defense would've figured that out as well?
Don't you think defensive coordinators would recognize the obvious threat and do whatever it takes to remove that threat from play?
Jerry Rice had to compete with other talented players for catches, but he was always the number one priority. The other talent would stretch the defense out and give a great player more opportunities.The same goes for Randy Moss and his best seasons. He was benefiting from Wes Welker or Cris Carter at different points in his career.
Calvin Johnson was the only good thing about the Lions for a long time, and the fact that everybody knew that, he was still able to dominate.
An average season for Calvin Johnson?
Looks like 82 catches, 1,333 yards, and 9 touchdowns.
Considering the only decent QB he's ever had is young and oft-injured, for his average numbers to look like that over 7 years? Yeah. That's impressive.

He's big, he's fast, he can run any route, outmuscle any corner, and take over a game.
Or, at least that's what he did in 2012, when he broke Jerry Rice's record for yards in a season... with a broken hand.


*I hate this line. "You're too young to have seen him play"
A. I'm in my twenties and a Raiders fan, so I actually did see him play. This goes for all the Elway supporters I've had a similar argument with. I am in fact old enough to have seen him play. I know, shocking.

B. Technology is a thing. I can watch any game in NFL history on my computer if I wanted to, and trust me, I've watched a bit of film. Is there something I'm going to miss by not seeing it live? Is it possible that the surprise of seeing it happen may have affected your recollection of the experience? Because watching Calvin Johnson live is pretty great too. Also, NFL Network is a thing. It's on the tube, grab the clicker and check it out.

C.It only takes a few years to understand the sport, and trust me, I've been watching a little longer than that. If you're not going to provide actual evidence, and have to revert to bringing my age into it, you obviously don't have any solid proof that I'm wrong.

© 2014 Ryan Smith

Comments

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    • Ryan Daniel Smith profile image
      Author

      Ryan Smith 3 years ago

      In his day, sure, but anyone from today's NFL would dominate the NFL back then. NFL athletes are a different kind of monster now.

    • Ty Tayzlor profile image

      TT 3 years ago from Anywhere

      If you are talking about dominance. No one was more dominant than Don Hutson in his day.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I'll agree in 3-5 years. But will hold off for a bit. While I agree that length of service with regards to NFL greatest should never be the biggest requirement for greatness, I do want to see 3 more years of consistency. But he has been on some bad teams. Can't argue with you on that. That being said, he is almost a lock for the HoFer by the time he's done. Let's get Cliff Branch in there first. Voted up.

    • profile image

      anniegelderman 4 years ago

      I'm sold

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