In the 100-year history of the NFL, there have been so many great wide receiver tandems that it’s certainly not easy to break down the best. The modern era is loaded with great duos but the NFL has certainly become more of a passing league these days so numbers might be a little bigger.
But bigger isn’t always better. Yes, stats can be very impressive and must be taken into account. But so does the era in which certain tandems played. Clutch plays have to be considered as well. It’s a little difficult to lock down a top five but we’ll give it a go anyway.
- Fred Biletnikoff & Cliff Branch, Oakland Raiders
- Tom Fears & Elroy Hirsch, Los Angeles Rams
- Don Maynard & George Sauer, New York Jets
- Marvin Harrison & Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
5. Isaac Bruce & Torry Holt, St. Louis Rams
It certainly didn’t hurt having Marshall Faulk in the backfield but Issac Bruce and Torry Holt were a major part of “The Greatest Show on Turf” and helped the St. Louis Rams to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, which was Holt’s rookie season.
In the five years prior to Torry Holt entering the NFL, Issac Bruce was already one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. But having a receiver like Holt on the other side of the field only opened things up even more. In their nine seasons together, Bruce and Holt combined for 1,435 catches for 21,310 yards and 126 touchdowns.
4. Mark Duper & Mark Clayton, Miami Dolphins
Entering the NFL just a year apart, the duo of Mark Clayton and Mark Duper were the primary targets for Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. Although they never won a Super Bowl, Duper and Clayton were a phenomenal tandem.
When the Dolphins actually did go to the Super Bowl following the 1984 season, a loss to the 49ers, Clayton led the NFL with 18 receiving touchdowns. Both had more than 1,300 receiving yards that season, one of three times the pair both racked up more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
3. Cris Carter & Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings
When Randy Moss burst onto the NFL scene with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, Cris Carter was already one of the best wide receivers in the game. With five straight seasons over 1,000 yards, Carter would no longer have to carry the load as Moss came in and made an immediate impact, racking up 1,313 yards his rookie season. Carter had his sixth consecutive season of 1,000 yards or more as the Vikings went 15-1 in the regular season.
For the next three seasons, Carter and Moss were a lethal combination. Carter became comfortable as the second option and had two more 1,000-yard seasons as Moss became a superstar. Carter left the Vikings in 2002 and played his final NFL season with the Dolphins and Moss left for Oakland in 2005.
2. Lynn Swann & John Stallworth, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ defensive unit, aptly named the Steel Curtain, gets a ton of credit for the four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s but the offense was quite a force as well. Coming into the NFL together in 1974, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth became great targets for Terry Bradshaw.
Swann recorded a then-record 161 yards in Super Bowl X, winning MVP honors. But it honestly wasn’t the stats that made this duo great. They don’t have the overall numbers of some of the other pairs on this list but their ability to perform in the clutch sets them apart. Watch any NFL playoff highlight reel from that era and it’s a guarantee that Swann or Stallworth is on it.
1. Jerry Rice & John Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
Honestly, Jerry Rice could be on this list multiple times. He lined up with Terrell Owens for five years before leaving for Oakland. Once there, he paired with Tim Brown. But there was no better pairing than Jerry Rice and John Taylor in the glory days for the San Francisco 49ers.
While it was Rice that often got most of the attention, John Taylor was a fantastic receiver in his own right and made so many clutch catches in his career. For example, in the Niners’ Super Bowl XXIII win over the Bengals, Rice was named the MVP with 11 catches for a record 215 yards and a touchdown. However, it was Taylor that caught the game-winner from Joe Montana with 34 seconds remaining.