13) Mel Gray
Mel Gray and Issac Curtis were the fastest receivers in the NFL in the 1970s. 1975 was Gray’s best season. Gray struck fear into the hearts of Defensive Backs.
12) Gene Washington
It’s the 49ers’ Gene Washington that I particularly want to highlight. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 1970, receiving TDs in 1972, receiving average in 1974. He had the third-most yardage of any receiver in the ’70s, and the second-most TDs (tied with Harold Carmichael). Wahington was also a four-time Pro Bowler.
11) Harold Carmichael
During the 1970s, Carmichael ranked 2nd in receptions, tied for 2nd in receiving TDs, and 4th in receiving yardage. Carmichael was a Touchdown machine as he made the top 10 in receiving TDs eight times. He was one of the first big athletic receivers in NFL history, he was a man before his time.
10) Issac Curtis
Isaac Curtis was fast. He terrified defenses and dictated coverage. Since no one could keep up with Curtis, defenses had to rough him up. This inspired the 1974 “Isaac Curtis rule” (a precursor to the “Mel Blount rule”). Curtis led the league in receiving average in 1975, and while his stats don’t show it, Curtis made an impact on every game he played in because he was one of the greatest deep-threats in NFL history.
9) John Gilliam
During the 11 years that Gilliam played in the NFL, 32 players had a 900-yard receiving season. Eighteen of the 32 had multiple 900-yard seasons. Five of the 32 had three such seasons. And only one, John Gilliam, had four. Gilliam made four Pro Bowls, all with the Vikings, though he probably was just as good with the Cardinals. During his three years in St. Louis, Gilliam averaged 46 receptions, 929 yards (best in the NFL), and 6.3 TDs, compared to 41 receptions, 824 yards (best in the NFL again), and 6.8 TDs with Minnesota. Over his seven seasons with the Cardinals and Vikings, Gilliam had 400 more yards than any other receiver in football. Gilliam’s 7.3% advantage over second place is larger than Calvin Johnson’s 6.0% first-place advantage during his career.
8) Charlie Joiner
Joiner was a stat-compiler and only made three Pro Bowls and a lot of people have called him overrated and that’s just not the case. In the 1980s he was known for being a larger part of the Air Coryell offense and he was maybe the most productive older receiver in NFL history. But in the 1970s Joiner was one of only five players to top 6,000 receiving yards in the decade. His offensive coordinator in Cincinnati was Bill Walsh who called Joiner the most intelligent receiver he ever coached.
7) Fred Biletnikoff
Fred didn’t have blazing speeds but he ran great routes and caught everything that got to him. He was a big-time player in the postseason and in 19 postseason games caught 10 TD passes, Super Bowl XI was his crowning moment as he was named the Super Bowl MVP.
6) Lynn Swann
In Super Bowls X, XIII, and XIV, Swann combined for 16 receptions, 364 yards, and 3 TDs. Over 16 postseason games, Swann totaled 907 yards and 9 TDs. He had a short career and his best seasons came before rule changes revolutionized passing and receiving stats, so Swann’s numbers don’t stand out, even in his own era. But he was a high-impact player.
5) John Stallworth
Stallworth was a big-game player for the Pittsburgh dynast of the 1970s and Stallworth had 1,054 yards and 12 TDs in 18 postseason games! Stallworth had five 100-yard receiving games in the postseason, including 115 yards and 2 TDs in Super Bowl XIII, as well as 121 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XIV.
4) Ken Burrough
Burrough played eleven seasons with the Oilers, from 1971 through 1981. In 1975, Burrough was selected to the Pro Bowl, leading all NFL wide receivers with 1,063 receiving yards and in fact, was the only receiver to gain more than a thousand yards for the season. He scored eight touchdowns for the season and averaged 20.1 yards per reception.
3) Cliff Branch
Branch led the NFL in receiving touchdowns twice, and in receiving yards once. From 1974-76, he was the dominant force at his position. During that three-year stretch, Branch caught 157 passes for 3,096 yards and 34 TDs. His three-year yardage and TD totals are the highest for any receiver in the 1970s, including the later years with a 16-game schedule. When you think about his numbers in the context of 14-game seasons and the defense-dominated ’70s, they’re truly remarkable. From the AFL merger in 1970 through the end of the 14-game schedule in 1977, there were twelve 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Branch was the only player to reach 1,000 twice.
2) Drew Pearson
When the 1970s All-Decade Team was chosen, however, Pearson was a first-team selection, and Hall of Famer Branch was left off entirely. Their stats in the decade are comparable, but Pearson found the postseason glory that eluded Branch until the 1980s, and teammates called him Mr. Clutch.
1) Harold Jackson
In the 1970s, Jackson gained 7,724 receiving yards, far ahead of 2nd-place Ken Burrough (6,343) — 22% ahead. During the ’70s, Jackson led all players in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. Jerry Rice in the ’90s and Jackson in the ’70s are the only Modern Era players to lead any decade in every major receiving category.