Quarterbacks put up gaudy numbers these days, but you can’t complete passes without somebody to catch them. In addition to a history of elite passers in the NFL, there have been a bevy of notable receivers as well. We focus more on the big passing yard seasons but don’t overlook the seasons with the most receiving yards. All 32 franchises in the NFL have a player who has racked up more receiving yardage than any other player in their history. Here are those players.
Anquan Boldin set receiving records as a rookie, and Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in franchise history, but neither guy had a bigger season than Boston in 2001. The bulky receiver had 98 catches for 1,598 yards. A couple of years later he would sign a big contract with the Chargers but was cut after one year due to personality issues and a lack of work ethic. He then signed with the Dolphins but was busted for PEDs and was out of the NFL by 2005.
You can still debate if Jones or A.J. Brown should have been the first receiver taken in the 2011 NFL Draft, but you can’t argue with Jones’ production on the field. While he’s never been a touchdown machine, he’s led the NFL in receiving yards twice and receptions once, and was named to the All-Decade Team for the 2010s. His top year came in 2015 when he had a staggering 136 receptions for 1,871 yards.
The Ravens played their first season in Baltimore in 1996, and that was when the record for receiving yards was set for the franchise as well. A holdover from the Browns, Jackson had 76 catches for 1,201 yards and an NFL-leading 14 touchdowns. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of yards, this is the lowest number to serve as a franchise record. We assume that this record won’t stand forever, and eventually, somebody will beat it.
Josh Allen had an incredible breakout campaign in 2020, and his ability to improve his accuracy definitely deserves some credit for that. However, it also definitely helps to add a receiver like Diggs into the mix. Brought in via a trade from the Vikings, Diggs led the NFL in yards in his first year with the Bills. He notched 1,535 yards, which also set a new record as he helped lead Buffalo to its first division title since 1995.
Undersized but tenacious, Smith fought for every ball thrown his way. It paid off in his career, as he became a legend in Carolina. Smith’s top campaign came in 2005 when he set the Panthers’ franchise record with 1,563 yards, one of a handful of records he holds with the team.
The Bears have a history of unremarkable quarterback play, which has not helped the receivers that have come through Chicago. Sometimes, though, a receiver is able to put up some impressive numbers regardless. In 2012, Marshall was traded to the Bears from the Broncos, notching 101 catches for 1,508 yards, both team records. Marshall was named to the Pro Bowl, the first time a Bears receiver got that honor since 1971.
Call him Johnson or Ochocinco. We’ll just call him a dynamic player who was definitely a personality on and off the field. As goofy as he could be, Johnson proved time and time again that he could deliver as a receiver as well. In 2007, he broke the Bengals’ record with 1,440 yards. Then he tried to play professional soccer and it went less well.
If marijuana was treated differently in this country, Gordon could have had a very different career. Gordon was a rare supplemental draft pick due to being suspended from Baylor due to a positive marijuana test. His entire NFL career has been a mix of excellence on the field and suspended for breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policies. He’s rarely been able to put together a full season, but in the 2013 season he racked up 87 catches for 1,646 yards in only 14 games for the Browns. The next year he would be suspended for 10 games.
Irvin was one of the “Triplets” that powered the Cowboys to multiple Super Bowls in the ‘90s. Troy Aikman threw the passes, Emmitt Smith ran the ball, and Irvin reeled in the receptions. His top year came in 1995 when he had 1,603 yards. The Cowboys have had some big-name receivers since Irvin retired, but none have bested him.
Thomas had an underrated career when you look back at it. That’s in spite of the fact in college he played in a triple-option offense and early in his pro career, Tim Tebow was his quarterback. Then, Peyton Manning arrived and Thomas took off as a receiver. He had five seasons in a row with over 1,000 yards with the Broncos, including 1,619 yards on 111 catches in 2014. The next year, he’d win a Super Bowl as well.
Since the retirement of Barry Sanders, there have been few bright spots for the Lions as a franchise. Johnson is the brightest of the bunch. The team that once had the league’s best running back now had the league’s best receiver. The pinnacle came in his incredible 2012 season. That year, “Megatron” managed to accumulate 1,964 yards. This was a new NFL record, once that still stands to this day. If only he could have gotten over the 2,000-yard mark.
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have a great connection now, but Adams still plays second fiddle in the heart of Rodgers to Nelson. Nelson was a touchdown machine, he had three seasons with double-digit scores, and in 2014 he had 1,519 yards. That was with 13 touchdowns as well. What a year for Nelson, who also has the record for the most receiving yards in a Super Bowl with 140.
Having one season with over 1,500 yards in your career is impressive. Johnson managed to do it three times, which helped him make five All-Pro teams. The Texans legend – one of only a few – led the NFL in receiving yards in 2008 and 2009, but it was actually 2012 when he set the Houston record. That year, he had 1,598 yards.
Before Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning helped build up the reputation of Harrison. Not that Harrison was a slouch. You don’t end up in the Hall of Fame just because you played with an all-time great at quarterback. His 2002 season was the stuff of legends, as he set a (now-bested) record for receptions in a season with 143. He also notched 1,722 yards as well. When Harrison retired, he was second in the NFL in career receptions, and that came with plenty of yards along the way.
Did you know Smith is a two-time Super Bowl champ? It’s true, as he was technically a member of the 1992 and 1993 Dallas Cowboys, though he did not record a single reception. In 1995, the expansion Jaguars signed Smith off of a tryout, and the rest is history. Smith spent 11 seasons with the Jags and became one of the franchise’s first stars. He had nine seasons with over 1,000 yards including the 1999 campaign when he had 1,636 yards.
When you combine Hill’s speed with Patrick Mahomes, you have a recipe for success. Hill caught 12 touchdowns in the 2018 season, but we’re here for the yardage. That year, he also had 1,479 yards, which seems like a breakable record as long as Mahomes and Hill are joining forces in Kansas City.
Since we’re all about receivers winning the Heisman these days, let’s shout out Brown, who became the first receiver to do that in 1987. He then went onto a Hall of Fame NFL career as well, which he spent almost entirely in silver and black. Brown made nine Pro Bowls, including in 1997 when he tallied 1,408 yards for the Raiders.
So far, this list has featured only seasons from 1996 and beyond, most of them taking place in the new millennium. Well, we’re going old school here. Alworth's record came back in 1965 when the Chargers were still in the AFL and the Super Bowl wasn’t a thing yet. He had 1,602 yards that year, but remember that they only played 14-game seasons back then.
By comparison to the Chargers’ franchise record, the Rams’ record is thoroughly modern. Bruce broke the Rams record in 1995, before the “Greatest Show on Turf” even came into existence. The underrated Hall of Famer had a lengthy NFL career, playing from 1994 through 2009. And yet it was his sophomore campaign when he set the Rams record with 1,781 yards. Then Torry Holt showed up and he had the share the wealth.
In 1984, Dan Marino rewrote NFL records when he threw for over 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns. Of course, these days those numbers are less incredible, but the NFL was very different in the ‘80s, and think of how long his records stood. Of course, to have the first 5,000-yard season in NFL history, you have to have receivers to throw to. Clayton was the top target, setting the Dolphins record with 1,389 yards.
This was going to be a battle between Cris Carter and Moss, and Moss ended up with the victory. After Carter had ceded the team to Moss, and with Moss still in his prime, he put up 1,632 yards in the 2003 season. While Moss didn’t stick around in Minnesota as long as Carter did, he still put up some incredible numbers in his time.
Speaking of Moss, he set the NFL’s receiving touchdown record for a single season in New England. However, he did not set the receiving yards record for the Patriots. That record belongs to Welker, who was a reception machine out of the slot for the Pats. His ability to chew up yards after the catch helped him finish with 1,569 yards in 2011.
Thomas has been a magnet for the ball since he was a rookie. He’s never had fewer than 92 catches in a full season. In 2019, he took things to a new level. In addition to setting a Saints record with 1,725 receiving yards, he also broke the NFL record for receptions in a season with a whopping 149. That earned him Offensive Player of the Year, naturally.
Cue the salsa music! Cruz went undrafted out of Massachusetts and only appeared in three games in the 2010 season. He wasn’t even a starter when the 2011 season started, but he would finish the year with 82 catches for 1,536 yards, setting the new Giants record. Cruz would have over 1,000 yards in 2012, but injuries caught up to him and he retired after the 2016 season.
That’s right, Marshall has two franchise records for receiving yards. This is a testament to his skill, but also to his combustible personality. You may recall that Marshall was traded to the Bears before the 2012 season and then set the franchise record. Before the 2015 season, he was traded to the Jets. That year, he had 109 yards, 1,502 yards, and 14 touchdowns. The touchdowns led the NFL. The yards set a new Jets record.
There are a lot of recognizable names on this list. That’s due to a mix of talent and the fact a lot of these players had careers that are either still ongoing or ended fairly recently. Quick is likely the least-known name on this list so far. Not that he was anything approaching a slouch. He made five Pro Bowls, after all, and was a two-time All-Pro. However, he also retired in 1990 and hasn’t really been mentioned much since. So let’s give Quick some love, and also point out that in 1983 he had 1,409 yards. This wasn’t even in the season when he had a 99-yard touchdown catch!
Brown’s personality clearly has caused him problems professionally and personally, but he keeps getting chances because he’s shown himself to be a truly incredible receiver at his peak. When he was with the Steelers, he was arguably the best receiver in the league. That was almost certainly true in the 2015 season when he notched 1,834 yards.
Metcalf has measurables that are off the charts. The dude is chiseled out of rock and can run like the wind. He came into the NFL a bit raw, and that was still true in 2020, his sophomore campaign. However, Metcalf showed what raw talent can do when he finished with 1,303 yards, which was a new Seahawks record. That’s one of the lower franchise records, but it’s still impressive.
Rice is the best receiver ever. We won’t take any arguments otherwise. He owns several NFL records, though he did lose the record for receiving yards in a season to Johnson. Rice still has the second-best season ever, though, as he had 1,848 yards in 1995. Given the rise in the passing game in recent years, that makes Rice’s season a little extra impressive. Not that Rice needs us to toot his horn.
Evans has played in seven seasons, and he’s had over 1,000 yards in all of them. That’s a new NFL record. He already owns every career receiving record for the Bucs. He set the single-season touchdown record in 2020 with 13, and in 2018 he set the receiving record with 1,524.
Here we have the earliest season on the list, so you can be forgiven for not immediately knowing Hennigan’s name. He only played in seven seasons, all for the Houston Oilers, and he was retired by 1966. Way back in 1961, Hennigan had a robust 1,746 yards. Again, remember that back in the day they only had 14-game seasons. He was tearing it up for the Oilers.
Santana Moss had a really good career, but he had to settle for being the second-best receiver named “Moss” for the entirety of it. He only made one Pro Bowl, but it was quite the campaign in 2005. He had 84 catches for 1,483 yards that season. That year, Randy Moss had 60 catches for 1,005 yards for the Raiders. Chalk that one up for Santana!