Commentary

Responding to your insights about our WRs 'slights'

Judging from the deluge of comments about ESPN.com's list of 10 greatest receivers, many feel their favorite wideouts were overlooked. Mike Sando samples the comments and responds.

Originally Published: March 29, 2008
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff & Andre ReedGetty ImagesPittsburgh'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.
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.

Top 10 WRs of All Time

Raymond Berry, Boyd Dowler, Mike Holmgren, Ken Houston, Warren Moon, Keyshawn Johnson and Ted Thompson helped ESPN.com evaluate the best wide receivers in NFL history. ESPN.com weighed their contributions, balancing rankings with anecdotal evidence, to create the following list. (Click here for ZOOM Gallery.)

1. JERRY RICE
Career: Played for 49ers, Raiders and Seahawks from 1985-2004. Holds NFL records for receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), TD receptions (197), TDs (207).
Quick quote: "Jerry had a tremendous combination of speed, size, toughness, smarts." -- Holmgren, Rice's offensive coordinator in San Francisco

2. RANDY MOSS
Career: Set NFL record with 23 TD catches last season with Patriots.
Quick quote: "Randy Moss catches the ball so well almost without looking at it sometimes. He is scary physically." -- Boyd Dowler, retired scout and former NFL receiver.

3. DON HUTSON
Career: Played for Packers from 1935-45. Held 18 NFL records when he retired. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1963.
Quick quote: "Lean and swift, and boy, he could catch the heck out of it." -- Hall of Famer Berry, who studied films of Hutson in detail.

4. MICHAEL IRVIN
Career: Played for Cowboys from 1988-99. Had 750 career receptions for 11,904 yards. Elected to Hall of Fame in 2007.
Quick quote: "People might not like some of the other things, but when he was on those stripes, he was as competitive as there is." -- Hall of Fame QB Moon

5. PAUL WARFIELD
Career: Played for Browns, Dolphins from 1964-77. Averaged 20.1 yards per catch. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1983.
Quick quote: "Warfield was a lot like Charlie Joiner. Every step meant something to those guys. Warfield got into his route and it was like somebody falling off the face of the earth. That's how quick he could be into it." -- Hall of Fame safety Houston

6. CHARLEY TAYLOR
Career: Played for Redskins 1964-77. All-time leading receiver with 649 catches for 9,110 yards when he retired. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1984.
Quick quote: "Those types of athletes who played more than one position --- Charley Taylor -- are worth the price of admission just to see them line up. That is an athlete right there, a subject in itself." -- Berry

7. STEVE LARGENT
Career: Played for Seahawks from 1976-89. Had 819 catches, 13,089 yards, 100 TDs. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1995.
Quick quote: "He was as crafty as anybody I could recall. He wasn't a big guy, but he knew exactly how to lean on people and his hands were unbelievable." -- Packers GM Ted Thompson

8. CRIS CARTER
Career: Played for Eagles, Vikings, Dolphins from 1987-2002. Had 13,899 yards receiving, 130 TD receptions.
Quick quote: "I've never been around a guy as competitive as he is. He is so confident. He was a hard worker, which I enjoyed because whatever I got in practice, I knew that's I was going to get in the game." -- Moon

9. TERRELL OWENS
Career: Has 129 TD receptions in career with 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys.
Quick quote: "My biggest knock on him is he drops too many balls, but he makes a lot of big plays and he's as good as there is after the catch and he makes difficult catches." -- Moon

10. MARVIN HARRISON
Career: Has spent entire 12-yard career with Colts. Set NFL record with 143 receptions in 2002.
Quick quote: "Of all the things that impresses me, it's how he goes about his job, how he goes about his business. He's not a fanfare guy. He's just a football player." -- Holmgren

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.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Bruce, Torry Holt
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesWhere's the love for one-time Rams' tandem Isaac Bruce (80) and Torry Holt (81)?

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.

[+] EnlargeLance Alworth
Cliff Welch/Icon SMILance (Bambi) Alworth's American Football League heritage might have worked against him in the rankings.

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.

Raymond Berry Born: Feb, 27, 1933
Credentials: Hall of Fame receiver retired as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions (631) and receiving yards (9,275). A six-time Pro Bowl choice, Berry caught 68 touchdown passes during the Baltimore Colts' glory years with Johnny Unitas at quarterback ... Caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown during the 1958 NFL championship game ... Also helped the Colts win a championship the following season ... Fumbled only once during a 13-year career and almost never dropped a pass ... Named to the NFL's 75th anniversary team and its all-decade team for the 1950s. Berry served as an assistant coach before New England hired him as head coach in 1984. He led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl appearance, posting a 48-39 record (.552) over six seasons.
Boyd Dowler Born: Oct. 18, 1937
Credentials: Caught 474 passes for 7,270 yards and 40 touchdowns during a 12-year NFL career. A two-time Pro Bowl choice, Dowler played on five championship teams in 11 seasons with Green Bay, earning a spot on the NFL's all-decade team for the 1960s. A big target at 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, Dowler helped the Packers beat Oakland in Super Bowl II with a 62-yard touchdown reception. Dowler worked as an assistant coach for five NFL teams before joining Carolina and later Atlanta as a scout. He joined the Falcons in 1997 and retired after the 2007 draft.
Mike Holmgren Born: June 15, 1948
Credentials: Seattle Seahawks head coach broke into the NFL with San Francisco just as Jerry Rice was becoming the game's most feared receiver. Holmgren collected two Super Bowl rings with the 49ers and one as head coach of the Packers ... Helped the Seahawks end an 11-year playoff drought and a 21-season run without a playoff victory ... Also guided the Seahawks to their lone Super Bowl appearance ... Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1970 as a quarterback from USC.
Ken Houston Born: Nov. 12, 1944
Credentials: Hall of Fame safety picked off 49 passes, returning nine for touchdowns, during a 196-game career with Houston and Washington from 1967 to 1980 ... Returned nine interceptions for 220 yards and four touchdowns during the 1971 season alone ... Also scored touchdowns by punt return, fumble return and blocked field-goal return during his career. A 10-time Pro Bowl choice, Houston appeared on the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team, joining Ronnie Lott and Larry Wilson as the only safeties. The NFL also named Houston to its all-decade team for the 1970s.
Keyshawn Johnson Born:July 22, 1972
Credentials: Caught 814 passes for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns during an 11-year career with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina. A three-time Pro Bowl choice, Johnson started 162 of the 167 regular-season games he played from 1996 to 2006 ... Helped the Bucs reach and win a Super Bowl for the first time ... Caught 10 touchdown passes during the 1998 season while helping the Jets to the AFC title game, two seasons after the team posted a 1-15 record when Johnson was a rookie.
Warren Moon Born: Nov. 18, 1956
Credentials: Hall of Fame quarterback passed for nearly 50,000 yards during 17 NFL seasons with Houston, Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City ... Passed for 9,379 yards and 56 touchdowns over the 1990 and 1991 seasons. A nine-time Pro Bowl choice in the NFL, Moon also passed for more than 21,000 yards while winning five Grey Cups during a six-year run in the CFL from 1978 to 1983, all with Edmonton.
Ted Thompson Born: Jan. 17, 1953
Credentials: Packers general manager since 2005 ... Previously spent 13 seasons in personnel for Green Bay and Seattle ... Claimed a Super Bowl ring with Green Bay following the 1996 season ... Used a 2006 second-round draft choice for Greg Jennings, who caught 12 touchdown passes for the Packers last season. Thompson played linebacker for the Houston Oilers from 1975 to 1984, missing only one game during that span ... Broke into the NFL as an undrafted free agent from SMU.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.