Who’s the best wide receiver not in the Hall of Fame?


Owens 3

(Photos courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs & San Francisco 49ers)

Talk of Fame Network

Another logjam is forming at wide receiver in the Hall-of-Fame selection process with Terrell Owens already in the queue, Hines Ward arriving in 2017 and Randy Moss just down the road. But they aren’t the only wide receivers worthy of busts in Canton — or at least worthy of the opportunity to be finalists and have their candidacies discussed and debated.

In this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll, we ask our listeners and readers who the best receiver not in the Hall of Fame is. We offer up some elite candidates from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, in addition to a couple of more recent vintage. So here are your options:

Isaac Bruce. His former head coach, Mike Martz with the St. Louis Rams, thought it an injustice that Owens vaulted over Bruce in the Hall-of-Fame queue in 2016. Bruce was a key element of the Greatest Show on Turf that went to two Super Bowls and won one. Bruce is a member of the 1,000-catch club (1,024), gained 15,208 yards and scored 91 touchdowns. He went to four Pro Bowls in his 16 seasons.

St. Louis Rams Archive

(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)

Stanley Morgan. Few receivers in NFL history made the plays down the field of Morgan, who averaged 19.2 yards per his 557 catches. But he has never been a finalist for the Hall of Fame.He played before the NFL’s passing explosion of the 1990s and 2000s but still gained 10,716 yards and scored 72 touchdowns in his 14 seasons. He went to four Pro Bowls with the New England Patriots.

Stanley Morgan 2

(Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Terrell Owens. A first-time Hall-of-Fame finalist in 2016, Owens was passed over by the selection committee despite ranking second all-time in receiving yards (15,934), third in receiving touchdowns (153) and sixth in receptions (1,078). Owens played for five teams in his 15-year career — the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills and Bengals — and went to six Pro Bowls.

Drew Pearson. A first-team all-decade performer in the 1970s for the Dallas Cowboys, Pearson played 11 seasons and won an NFC receiving title in 1976. He caught 489 passes for 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns, averaging 16 yards per catch. He went to three Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl. He’s never even been a Hall-of-Fame finalist.

Otis Taylor. Among the first of the game’s jumbo receivers, Otis Taylor was to the AFL in the 1960s what Charley Taylor was to the NFL that decade. Charley became a Hall of Famer for the Redskins, but Taylor has never even been a Hall finalist for the Chiefs. Otis Taylor was the only NFL wide receiver with a 1,000-yard season in 1971 and finished his career with 410 catches for 7,306 yards and 57 touchdowns.

Billy Wilson. The pass was an afterthought to the 49ers in the 1950s with their “million-dollar backfield” of Joe Perry, Hugh McIlhenny and John Henry Johnson — all Hall of Famers. But the passing game wasn’t an afterthought when Billy Wilson was the target of those passes. He played 10 seasons, went to six Pro Bowls and won three NFL receiving titles. He has never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist.

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(Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

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19 Comments

  1. Sports Fan
    February 24, 2016
    Reply

    How does Cliff Branch match up against these Excellent Players listed?

  2. Rasputin
    February 24, 2016
    Reply

    Hey, Gosselin actually mentioned a Dallas Cowboy! Granted he made a bare bones, ho hum case for him, but it’s all good, Cowboys fans. Your “representative” is doing his job.
    As for the modern era, I’d say Sterling Sharpe is the most deserving. He was one of the Big 3 WRs of the 1990s, along with Irvin and Rice, and I’d take Sharpe on my team over Owens or any of those other modern era WRs Gosselin cherry-picked to list above any day.

  3. Rob
    February 24, 2016
    Reply

    How does Harold Carmichael match up with these accomplished players?

    • Rick Gosselin
      February 25, 2016
      Reply

      Carmichael belongs in that group. So does Henry Ellard.

  4. Sam Goldenberg
    February 25, 2016
    Reply

    Love him or hate him Terrell Owens should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. He was a dominant force, and his numbers speak for themselves.

    As for the others, Drew Pearson was a good WR on excellent team with a Hall of Fame QB, I think he falls short. Otis Taylor is an interesting case. His yards per catch are a lofty 17.8. He was a unique player that the defense had to give special attention. His overall numbers are a little low, especially considering he played in the AFL and it was a more wide open game. In my opinion, he is close but probably just falls short. Issac Bruce on the other hand, I think is a Hall of Famer. His numbers warrant it and he was very hard to defend.

    • Rasputin
      February 25, 2016
      Reply

      Owens led the league in drops and failed to win a championship, so his problems aren’t limited to many not liking the guy. He was a great athlete but didn’t have reliable hands. Teams often felt compelled to force the ball to him. He caught many of those passes and had great longevity, resulting in HoF worthy career volume totals. But he also failed to catch a lot of those passes, which is one of the reasons no team ever won a Super Bowl with him.

    • Rasputin
      February 25, 2016
      Reply

      As for Pearson, I’m sure Dallas HoF “representative” Rick Gosselin will be along any second to passionately defend his candidacy, but instead of holding my breath waiting I’ll take a stab at it. Pearson was voted first team All Decade because he was a GREAT WR and is widely seen as the greatest clutch WR of all time (unlike Owens), and one of the greatest sideline WRs.
      Pearson’s stats were great for his era. He topped 1,000 yards twice in a decade when that was rare; in fact he led the NFL in receiving yards in 1977 with 870, illustrating the vast statistical inflation that’s occurred since then. Pearson finished with 2,360 more yards than Steeler HoF WR Lynn Swann, and 153 more receptions. He averaged more yards/game and receptions/game over his career than Swann. A car wreck led to his career prematurely ending and him mostly missing out on the epochal leap in passing stat inflation that occurred in the 1980s, but in the 1970s Pearson averaged more yards/game than John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff, Charlie Joiner, Paul Warfield, Bob Hayes, and even Cliff Branch, though in fairness it took Branch a year longer than Drew to become a starter and Hayes declined near the end. That said, I just listed every HoF WR who played at least 5 years in the 1970s and Drew topped them all.
      Pearson was selected first team All Decade for good reason, and yet he’s the only member of the 1970s first team All Decade offense not yet in the HoF.
      Overall Pearson was named AP first team All Pro 3 times, more than Swann (1), Stallworth (1), Biletnikoff (2), Joiner (1), Hayes (2), and Warfield (2), and equal to Branch. Pearson’s stats are similar to Branch’s. Branch had slightly higher averages during his peak in the 1970s, though he averaged fewer yards/game over his entire career than Pearson, despite Branch playing longer into the more stat inflated 1980s. Branch was more of a deep threat (arguably why he later tailed off), while Pearson was more of an all around WR. I think they both deserve induction, but if I was building a team I’d choose Pearson for his all around ability and clutch play.
      Swann is supposedly enshrined more due to a few big Super Bowl plays he made than his stats. Drew Pearson was involved in as many historically important plays as any WR has been. Pearson caught the original Hail Mary, and the even more impressive sideline 4th down conversion earlier that set it up. He was the recipient of the Clint Longley “mad bomb” in the memorable Thanksgiving comeback win against the Redskins. He caught two TDs in the final four minutes of a comeback playoff win against the Falcons, Danny White’s famous “point” game. He caught the winning pass over the Rams in the 1973 playoffs. That, the Hail Mary, and the decisive Longley reception were all ranked by NFL Films as being among the top 75 plays of all time. The guy was directly responsible for THREE of those plays, meaning you can’t tell the story of the NFL without Drew Pearson. You can’t even explain where the term “Hail Mary” comes from.
      Unlike Owens, Pearson won a Super Bowl, and at his retirement was one of the most productive postseason WRs of all time. It’s true he was on a great team, but he was a big reason it was great. The Hail Mary itself directly led to that 1975 Cinderella run to the Super Bowl in a year the Cowboys were supposed to be rebuilding. The Cowboys won more games than any other team in the 1970s, and Drew Pearson was a vital part of that. His induction in Canton is way overdue.

      • Rasputin
        February 25, 2016
        Reply

        I’ll also point out that I just listed historically important passes caught by Drew Pearson that were thrown by three different QBs.

    • February 25, 2016
      Reply

      Sam, respect your opinion, but this isn’t the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame. This is about more than yards, catches and TDs. This is about the impact guys had on their teams, and T.O.’s was significant. Five clubs couldn’t wait to kick him to the curb at the top of his career. He was suspended twice … by his own teams. Andy Reid let him walk to a division rival a year after Owens starred in the Super Bowl for the Eagles. Reason: Addition by subtraction. Reid was finished with the guy, suspending for half his second season with the Eagles. Bill Parcells never showed up at the news conference to announce his signing because he didn’t want him. Furthermore, he never addressed him by his name while he was in Dallas. One of Jason Garrett’s first requests when he took over as head coach was to get rid of the guy. A HOF quarterback I consulted at the Super Bowl described Owens in two words: “A cancer.” If all those teams didn’t want him, why should the Hall? To quote Bill Polian on Owens: “The Hall of Fame should be for players who make their teams better, not disrupt them and make them worse.” Couldn’t agree more.

  5. Justin
    February 25, 2016
    Reply

    While Bruce had the longevity, Torry Holt was actually the better player. Seven time pro bowler, 1 AP all pro, 2000’s all-decade member, led the league in receptions once and yards twice. Bruce’s accolades were 4 pro bowls, 0 AP all pros, no all decade, never lead the league in receptions and once lead the league in yards. To me, both are HOFers, but if you had to order them, Holt over Bruce every time.

  6. Sports Fan
    February 25, 2016
    Reply

    Re-ask for Talk of Fame and Commenters too:
    Sports Fan
    February 24, 2016 at 11:19 am

    How does Cliff Branch match up against these Excellent Players listed?

  7. Rich Quodomine
    February 25, 2016
    Reply

    TO is just being punished, so I can’t really worry too much about him. He’s in next year. But I want to make a case for Henry Ellard. Not only was he an incredible WR on some definitively meh teams. He also returned 4 punts for TDs, and was an all-the-way around threat. Yes, Isaac Bruce and TOrry Holt wil; be part of the Greatest Show on Turf with Warner and the already-inducted Faulk. But I think that sadly works against Ellard. He retired a few years before the Greatst How on Turf, and while he had some good QBs throwing to him (Everett was very good in his prime), he didn’t have quite the QBs throwing that Warner and Bulger were. Bulger is kind of 2000s version of Lynn Dickey – talented player on some poor teams that could certainly sling it. But to return to Ellard, I thought he never quite got the due he deserved, playing at the time largely in the same division as Jerry Rice.

    • February 25, 2016
      Reply

      Wouldn’t be so certain about that T.O. comment, Rich. He didn’t make the final 10 this year, and there was significant opposition to his HOF case.

  8. Steve
    February 25, 2016
    Reply

    There are guys in the Hall already who don’t have Branch’s production. As a deep threat the Hall made it impossible to keep him out with a straight face once they elected Bob Hayes. And he held a boatload of postseason records in the pre-Jerry Rice era while being a big part of three Super Bowl winners. How is he not on this list?

    • Rasputin
      February 25, 2016
      Reply

      Not opposed to Branch’s induction, but to illustrate Bob Hayes’ tremendous impact on the league I’ll point out that in his first two seasons he averaged more TDs per game than Randy Moss did in his first two years. Remember back to the impact Randy Moss had and then consider that Hayes did what he did back in the 1960s, when it was a lot harder to pass.

  9. Sam Goldenberg
    February 26, 2016
    Reply

    Rasputin, I really respect your detailed response regarding Drew Pearson. I do not deny that he was a fine player, and you make some very strong points in comparing him to Swann, Stallworth, Hayes and Warfield. I just feel the difference between these other WRs is that each was just a little more dominant than Pearson. When watching Swann, Stallworh, Hayes and Warfield you always had a feeling they could break a big play at any time. These guys required special attention (double coverage etc). I just didn’t get that same feeling with Pearson. I know Pearson made his share of big plays, but it is an intangible thing.

    I am not a TO fan, but there is no denying how disruptive of a force he was on the field when he played. Off the field a definite distraction, but for all the TDs he scored and how difficult he was to defend he has to inducted.

    Cliff Branch is another tough case. Great career, great speed, made huge plays, but he is in a tough spot because Biletnikoff is already in. So both Raider WRs are Hall of Famers? He is in the same boat as Jerry Kramer and LC Greenwood. Kramer should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago, but there is a perception too many of Lombardi’s Packers are already in. Same thing with Greenwood and the great Steeler teams of 70’s. How many can you put in? Branch is in the same boat. So many of Madden’s Raiders are already in, with Stabler and Ray Guy just being inducted in the last few years. How many can be inducted? As I have said on other threads more than one or 2 Senior Candidates per year should be inducted.

    • Rasputin
      March 3, 2016
      Reply

      We’ll have to agree to disagree, since I think Pearson was even more dominant, being a more well rounded receiver. He didn’t have the flat out speed or size of some of the more one dimensional receivers, or the athleticism of a guy like Michael Irvin, but he was the most SKILLED Cowboys WR of all time (rout running, hands, etc.). Dallas spread the ball around, but when they went to him in the clutch he was seemingly unstoppable, even with defenders draped all over him or hitting him. That’s dominant.

      • Rasputin
        March 3, 2016
        Reply

        On your point about the teams, I’ll add that with both Steelers WRs in it’s even more absurd for neither Cowboy WR of that era to be in, despite Pearson and Tony Hill having better stats than Swann and Stallworth (per game stats with Hill versus Stallworth). Hayes is in for what he did in the 1960s with a mostly different team.

  10. Jerry Watson
    January 9, 2017
    Reply

    Drew Pearson should be in becsuse he wss double teamed all game. If he dropped any of those passes Staubach threw to him they would have lost the game. Jackie Smith for example is in for dropping a game tying touchdown. Go figure. I don’t think Drew Pearson really care about the snub though becsuse he survived the accident. Nonbody was better than Drew Pearson in the 70’s and he should be compensated for it.

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