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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 Most Underrated Wide Receivers of All Time

Top 10 Most Underrated Wide Receivers of All Time

Publish Date: 12/27/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

You know them; they’re the flat-liners whose trademark consistency erodes in teams of average-to-bad teams, smaller markets or organizations with limited or no history of success.

These players toil away at seemingly less prominent positions on teams rarely seen on highlights shows or national television, often overshadowed by more well-paid, higher-profile teammates and shameless self-promoters.

We’re discussing some of the NFL’s least celebrated, underappreciated players in history. If you love reading about the history of the NFL you will love our rankings of the top 30 Greatest Cornerbacks in NFL history.

Criteria

To make this top Ten, you must be overlooked or long since forgotten, even though your numbers and production matchup with guys who may even be in the hall of fame. These are the guys that get lost in the cracks of history. If they make it to the Hall of Fame, it will be thirty years later than it should have been.

10) Henry Ellard, Los Angeles Rams

Henry Ellard made waves for 16 seasons as both a pass receiver and punt returner. Seven times, he exceeded 1,000 yards on pass receptions – most often on slants or corner routes. This former college triple-jumper also played alongside Jim Everett.

Ellard was effective during his playing days, yet rarely mentioned when discussing who was best at their position. No matter his accomplishments, no one could ever surpass Jerry Rice, who cast such a long shadow within their conference.

Add Ellard to an earlier era or in the AFC with an accomplished quarterback, and his legacy as The Greatest Wideout Not Called Jerry Rice would only grow stronger.

  • 3 Time Pro Bowler
  • 2 Time First Team All-Pro
  • NFL Receiving Yards Leader(1988)
  • Career Receiving Yards 13,777
  • Career Touchdowns 65
Video: Top 25 Henry Ellard Touchdowns | Henry Ellard Highlights

Top 25 Henry Ellard Touchdowns | Henry Ellard Highlights

9) Stanley Morgan, New England Patriots

Stanley Morgan stands as one of the greatest long-ball threats in NFL history. He ranks 10th in yards per reception (19.2) and 39th in touchdown catches (72).

Do not let Morgan’s numbers deceive you – he was not simply a one-trick pony! Stanley could run every route possible and was an exceptional performer when handling the ball himself. Morgan was on some great patriots team and the best may have been the 1976 Patriots!

Morgan was miscast in a run-heavy offense during a less pass-friendly era; this wasn’t helped by having ordinary quarterbacks like Tony Eason and Steve Grogan throwing him the ball.

IF Morgan had played in a pass-heavy offense with an all-pro quarterback and hands-off rules, you might find him in Canton today.

  • 4 Time Pro Bowler
  • NFL Touchdown Receptions leader(1979)
  • Career Receiving Yards 10,716
  • Career Touchdowns 72
Video: STANLEY MORGAN 12 LONGEST NFL TOUCHDOWNS (NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 1977-1989)

STANLEY MORGAN 12 LONGEST NFL TOUCHDOWNS (NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 1977-1989)

8) John Gilliam- Saints, Cardinals, Vikings, Falcons, Bears and Saints

Gilliam was an exceptional deep threat and always came through in crucial situations when needed. In 1972, he led the NFL in yards per catch (22) while finishing 2nd in receiving yards (1,035) and receiving yards per game (73.9). By 1973.

Again finishing 2nd for receiving yards (907 in all) and yards per game (64.8), earning 1st Team All-Pro honors from Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association and Pro Football Writers Association PFWA; additionally receiving 1st Team All-NFC by Sporting News and UPI.

Gilliam earned fame during the Saints’ inaugural game against the Los Angeles Rams in 1967 by returning the opening kickoff 94 yards for their inaugural touchdown. Later in Super Bowl VIII, he returned the second-half kickoff 65 yards back towards Miami 34 before being penalized with an unfair clipping penalty which erased almost all the yardage gained. He is most famous for his time spent with Minnesota Vikings under Hall-of-Famer Fran Tarkenton.

  • 4 Time Pro Bowler
  • Career Receiving Yards 7,056
  • Career Touchdowns 48
Video: Greatest Moments in Saints History: John Gilliam Kick Return Touchdown | New Orleans Saints

Greatest Moments in Saints History: John Gilliam Kick Return Touchdown | New Orleans Saints

7) Wayne Chrebet- New York Jets

Chrebet went undrafted in the 1995 National Football League Draft but ultimately earned an undrafted free-agent opportunity with the New York Jets.. By 2004, Sports Illustrated honored Chrebet’s story as an inspiring rags-to-riches story; Chrebet recorded 580 receptions which placed him 2nd all-time, while 7365 yards from scrimmage placed him 5th all-time in New York Jets records.

  • New York Jets Ring of Honor
  • Career Receiving Yards 7,365
  • Career Touchdowns 41
Video: Rewind - Wayne Chrebet Career Highlights

Rewind – Wayne Chrebet Career Highlights

6) Donald Driver- Green Bay Packers.

Donald Driver was one of the greatest slot receivers in NFL history. As an all-time receiving leader for Green Bay Packers (in both yards and receptions), and as the only player ever to record seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons, Driver made four Pro Bowl selections (2002, 2006, 2007, and 2011) throughout his career and eventually helped led Green Bay to win Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 28, 2010, earning himself his first championship ring.

  • Super Bowl Champion
  • 5 Time pro bowler
  • Green bay Packers Hall of Fame
  • Career Receiving Yards 10,137
  • Career Touchdowns 61
Video: Donald Driver Top Plays With The Packers

Donald Driver Top Plays With The Packers

5) Herman Moore- Detroit Lions

Moore held Detroit’s records for career receptions (670) until being overtaken by Calvin Johnson during Week 5 of the 2015 NFL Season. On November 10, 2013, in Chicago, Moore’s touchdown catch record of 62 was also broken by Johnson. On December 8th 2013, Johnson also broke his career receiving yards record, reaching 9,174.

Johnson earned MVP on offense honors after setting club marks in both receptions (an NFL record 123) and yards (1,686) while scoring 14 touchdowns for the Detroit Lions. Moore had his finest single-game performance against the Chicago Bears on December 4, 1995 when he amassed 14 catches for 183 yards – the fifth-best total in Detroit history. Unfortunately for Moore, he never got to play with one of Detroit’s marquee quarterbacks.

  • 4 Time Pro Bowler
  • 2 Time NFL Receptions Leader
  • Career Receiving Yards 9,174
  • Career Touchdowns 62
Video: Herman Moore Highlights

Herman Moore Highlights

4) Jimmy Smith- Jacksonville Jaguars

Smith’s best career performance came against one of the toughest defenses ever seen in NFL history: against the Baltimore Ravens (eventual Super Bowl champion). Smith registered 15 receptions, 291 receiving yards (fifth all-time in NFL history) and three touchdowns en route to an impressive performance. Smith finished his NFL career seventh overall with 862 catches and eleventh in league history with 12,287 yards, tallying 67 touchdown catches in his Jaguars career and being selected five straight years to the Pro Bowl from 1997-2001.

Smith holds the Jacksonville Jaguars all-time receiving leader title and led their receiving game from 1996 through 2005, setting team records with 116 receptions (also leading the league) and 1,636 yards in 1999 – both career highs. In addition, eight touchdowns were scored during 1998-2001 with him likely retiring too early and leaving us to speculate what his final numbers may have been had he not retired so early.

  • 2 Time Super Bowl Champion
  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
  • NFL Receptions Leader 1999
  • Career Receiving Yards 12,287
  • Career Touchdowns 67
Video: Jimmy smith (Career) Highlights (Underrated)

Jimmy smith (Career) Highlights (Underrated)

3) Otis Taylor-Kansas City Chiefs

Taylor had long had difficulty entering the Hall of Fame due to his relatively modest stats: 410 receptions for 7306 yards. Many players during the modern erapassed him in terms of stats, but with 17.8 yards per catch and over 1,000 career receptions overall, he proved himself just as effective a deep threat as Hall-of-Famer Lance Alworth or Don Maynard, who earned their place there as AFL receivers.

Taylor was physically intimidating at 6’3″and 220 pounds, running the 100-yard dash at 9.8 speed. When you think of Super Bowl IV, you think of Len Dawson and that 46-yard bomb to Taylor. Taylors greatest accomplishment was helping lead the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl Title.

  • Super Bowl Champion
  • 2 Time AFL Champion
  • AFC Player of the Year (1971)
  • 2 Time Pro Bowler
  • Career Receiving Yards 7,306
  • Career Touchdowns 57
Video: Otis Taylor, six Chiefs run-after-catch highlights

Otis Taylor, six Chiefs run-after-catch highlights

2) Isaac Curtis- Cincinnati Bengals

The Isaac Curtis Rule – not to be confused with the Mel Blount Rule, which was more stringent on defensive backs – came into play due to Curtis’ incredible world-class speed; no defensive back could keep up with him, and therefore, all teams would double and sometimes triple cover him.

So in 1973, during his rookie season, Curtis helped the Bengals win the Central Division and faced off against the eventual Super Bowl Champions Dolphins; their defensive backs weren’t fast enough to cover Curtis effectively; therefore, Head Coach Don Shula devised a plan in which they pushed, bumped, and held him down the field. Paul Brown told the NFL Competition Committee “what good it would do us to have performers if they can’t perform”

“The Isaac Curtis Rule”: Defenders can legally block receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage without penalty and an automatic first down being assessed against them. After these initial five yards have elapsed, any contact will be considered holding, resulting in a 5-yard penalty and automatic first down for holding.

Curtis earned four Pro Bowl selections between 1973 and 1976, earning two 2nd Team All-Pro selections during that span as well. Curtis helped lead the Bengals to an appearance in Super Bowl XVI, where he caught three passes for 42 yards; long after retiring his quarterback Ken Anderson described Isaac Curtis as “Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice.”

  • 4 Time Pro Bowler
  • Cincinnati Bengals Ring of Honor
  • Career Receiving Yards 7,101
  • Career Touchdowns 53
Video: Isaac Curtis Highlights

Isaac Curtis Highlights

1) Sterling Sharpe- Green Bay Packers

Sharpe earned five Pro Bowl selections over his seven-year career; unfortunately, a neck injury cut it short too soon. He became one of the Packer’s most potent combinations with Brett Favre. His rookie season saw him start all 16 games and catch 55 passes; during his sophomore campaign, he led the league with 90 receptions (first since Don Hutson in 1945!) as he broke records for both receptions and receiving yards gained. Sharpe earned himself a reputation as an aggressive receiver with strong hands willing to go over the middle to make tough catches in traffic situations.

Sharpe saw his stats surge after Favre joined, setting an NFL record with 107 receptions – surpassing Art Monk’s season mark by one reception. Sharpe became only one of seven players in NFL history to claim the “Triple Crown” at receiver: leading his position in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions. Don Hutson (1936, 1941-44), Elroy Hirsch (1951), Pete Pihos (1953), Raymond Berry (1959), Jerry Rice (1990) and Steve Smith (2005) are the only other players who have accomplished this feat.

Sharpe eclipsed his own record with 112 receptions during 1993; this made him the first player ever to have consecutive seasons catching more than 100 passes. By 1994, his 18 touchdown receptions ranked second-most all-time behind Jerry Rice’s 22 in 1987. We may never know what records Sharpe would have set had his career gone further but one thing is certain; Sharpe was an amazing receiver.

  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
  • 3 Time NFL Reception Leader
  • 2 Time NFL Receiving Touchdown Leader
  • Career Receiving Yards 8,134
  • Career Touchdowns 65
Video: Sterling Sharpe Career Highlights

Sterling Sharpe Career Highlights

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