Responding to your insights about our WRs 'slights'

3/30/2008 - NFL
Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann (left), Oakland's Fred Biletnikoff (center) and Buffalo's Andre Reed (right) were among the receiving greats many readers felt needed inclusion on ESPN.com's 10 greatest list. Getty Images

Randy Moss and Michael Irvin ranked too high.

Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison ranked too low.

Lance Alworth, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Art Monk and -- fill in the name of your favorite wideout -- deserved a spot on ESPN.com's list of 10 greatest receivers.

Those were recurring themes among the more than 3,000 comments posted during the first 48 hours after publication.

ESPN.com's list drew from the insights and rankings of seven expert panelists, and yet no single panelist would have endorsed the final composite list. Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Don Hutson, Irvin, Paul Warfield, Charley Taylor, Steve Largent, Cris Carter, Terrell Owens and Harrison made the list even though Rice was the only receiver to appear in every panelist's rankings.

Singling out 10 receivers meant leaving out at least 16 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, each with a legitimate claim for consideration.

This is what we call a conversation starter.

We hereby dedicate the remainder of this column to issues raised by those who left comments (comments edited for clarity, punctuation and length).

Comment No. 1: Marvin Harrison is vastly underrated on this list. He has better stats than Randy Moss.

While all the great receivers impressed on the stat sheet, panelists discounted numbers as a primary tool for differentiating among the greats.

When panelists did consider stats, they often valued yards per reception and touchdowns. Moss holds up well by those measures, even though he hasn't always played with great quarterbacks.

Moss has averaged 15.8 yards per reception and 12.4 touchdowns per season over his 10-year career. Harrison has averaged 13.4 yards per catch and 10.25 touchdowns per season over his 12-year career. Harrison has never averaged better than 14.5 yards per catch.

Again, we shouldn't measure receivers by stats alone. But if we're going to compare Harrison's numbers to Moss' numbers, we should look at more than receptions. The panelists certainly did.

Comment No. 20: Tim Brown was a great receiver without ever playing with a great quarterback, and his stats prove it.

One of our seven panelists ranked Brown in his Top 10. "He could do it all," said Hall of Fame safety Ken Houston, who ranked Brown 10th. "He could catch the short ball, he could catch the long ball, he was tough and he played a long time."

Comment No. 32: How can Andre Reed not even be mentioned in this article?

Two of the seven panelists ranked Reed among the Top 10. Warren Moon was one of them.

"He made more big runs after the catch than anybody I've seen," Moon said. "He was almost like Rice in that vein as far as when he made the catch, he became a runner right away. He played in a good offense, but he was tough. He was another guy that could block, he broke tackles as a receiver and very rarely dropped a ball. I'm kind of surprised he hasn't made it to the Hall of Fame, but I think he will."

Comment No. 47: Moss, Terrell Owens and Michael Irvin were rated too high. Why?

Some panelists ranked those players higher than I would have expected. Four of our seven panelists ranked Moss second. A fifth panelist ranked him fourth. They could not deny his talent and production.

I considered bumping Owens from the Top 10 because a few panelists had serious issues with the dropped passes. In the end, I simply could not ignore a No. 3 ranking from one of our most qualified panelists. Boyd Dowler played the position at a high level and scouted until last year. Two other panelists ranked Owens sixth and seventh. Even Keyshawn Johnson ranked him 10th.

Some panelists loved the way Irvin played the game, and what he brought to the Dallas Cowboys in emotion and leadership.

Irvin appealed to panelists of various ages and backgrounds. Moon and Houston combined for 19 Pro Bowl appearances in 31 seasons between 1967 and 2000. They played on different sides of the ball, and across different eras, but both ranked Irvin in the top five. That was revealing.

Comment No. 112: How is Art Monk not in the Top 10? He played on a dominant running team for most of his career, with other good receivers. Yet, when he retired, he held the record for most receptions. [Note: Monk became the NFL's career receptions leader in 1994. By the time Monk retired in 1995, Rice had become the NFL's leader]. And he won three championships. He has better numbers than Irvin and was just as tough going across the middle.

Monk would have earned a spot on a Top 11 list. He was that close. The list favored receivers who received multiple top-five votes from our most seasoned panelists. Moon ranked Monk fifth, as did our youngest panelist, Keyshawn Johnson. That was nearly enough to put Monk on the list.

Comment No. 276: Wow, not even an honorable mention for Torry Holt?

Holt belongs in any discussion about top receivers, but invariably that conversation will include Isaac Bruce as well. No receiver on the list spent most of his career as part of an all-time great tandem. John Stallworth and Lynn Swann are both in the Hall of Fame, but neither received a Top 10 vote in this project. Mark Duper and Mark Clayton generated no votes.

Comment No. 367: Fred Biletnikoff should be on the list.

Panelist Raymond Berry agrees with you. He ranked Biletnikoff fifth. Other panelists showed great respect for Biletnikoff as a sure-handed receiver and overall craftsman. They simply didn't rank him high enough to bump another receiver from the list.

Comment No. 561: If ESPN asked every coach from the last 20 years to pick one receiver for their team, every one of them would pick Art Monk over every player listed second through 10th on this list.

We spoke to two head coaches from the past 20 years -- Berry and Mike Holmgren were panelists -- and both thought highly of Monk. They also combined to rank 13 receivers higher than Monk on their lists.

Comment No. 574: With the exception of the very few, most players from 30 or 40 years ago would do nothing in the NFL today. Players are too big, too fast and too strong.

Take another look at the list. Moss is the only Top 10 receiver with track-certified speed. Some of the more physical receivers on the list retired long ago, notably Charley Taylor, who stood 6-foot-3, weighed 210 pounds, and played running back early in his career. Harrison has put up huge numbers in the current era even though he is one of the smallest and least physical receivers on the list.

Current players are undoubtedly bigger, faster and stronger overall. They should be. Players today benefit from dramatic advances that allow them to keep playing even after significant injuries.

Receivers in particular also benefit from changes to the rules. Their predecessors took more punishment before the catch, and the rules allowed for rougher treatment once they did get their hands on the ball.

Bobby Engram caught 94 passes last season even though he was 34-years-old and coping with a thyroid condition. He also underwent reconstructive knee surgery early in his career. Hard work made it happen, but not without significant assistant from modern medicine.

Comment No. 673: Last year at this time, no one would have ranked Moss in the top three.

Moss' performance last season arguably validated his greatest seasons while making it easier to rationalize what happened in Oakland.

Most panelists considered Moss the most talented receiver in league history. Moss is also among the most productive. Rice and Moss are the only players on the list who can claim at least seven seasons with 1,200 yards receiving and four with at least 15 touchdowns.

Even in 2005, Moss' first season with Oakland, he finished with more receiving yards (1,005) than Deion Branch, Hines Ward, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth.

Comment No. 725: Lance Alworth was the best at his time and set many receiving records when rules allowed defensive backs to hit receivers downfield. He belongs in the Top 10.

Alworth's decision to play in the American Football League undoubtedly hurt his standing on the list. Some panelists raised serious questions about the defensive talent Alworth faced in the early days of the upstart league.

Comment No. 1,012: A lot of people are bringing up Andre Reed, and I have to agree. I also think Carter is second only to Rice.

Five of seven panelists ranked Carter among their Top 10, but only one put him in the top five. Rice was the only receiver to draw more Top 10 votes. Moss and Harrison also made five Top 10 lists.

Comment No. 1,819: You can squabble over the order after Rice, but you cannot have a Top 10 list without Lynn Swann.

Panelists mentioned Swann, but his candidacy never gained traction. As one panelist said, "He wasn't really a tough guy. He made some great catches. I'm not trying to down his career or anything like that because he was a tremendous receiver, but I think the guy who drove that engine was John Stallworth."

Comment No. 2,942: Where are Charlie Joiner, James Lofton, Henry Ellard and Gary Clark? A lot of names were left off this list.

Point taken. As Berry put it in the original story, "You reach a certain point and it's hard to do. I've seen too many great ones, and it's hard to find a standard."

The fun is in the trying.

Wide receiver evaluators

ESPN.com's seven-member panel has combined to make 30 Pro Bowl teams in 77 NFL seasons. The panelists have combined to win 12 NFL championships as players, coaches and executives. They feature two members of the league's 75th anniversary all-time team, and members of the all-decade teams for the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Three of the seven are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.