These men were the playmakers for their franchises, but have yet to enter the halls of Canton. Today I rank the top 10 wide receivers not in the Hall of Fame.
10. Gary Clark
He was the playmaker of "The Posse"
A second round pick in the 1984 supplemental draft, Gary Clark played two years in the USFL before joining Washington. He quickly established himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL. He followed up his superb rookie season in 1986 with a Pro Bowl year catching 74 passes for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. For almost a decade, he was the team's big play receiver next to possession receiver Art Monk. Clark spent his final years with the Cardinals and Dolphins before retiring in 1995. He was a four time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, two time Super Bowl champion, and holds the Redskins record for most receiving yards in a game.
Clark not only has the misfortune of playing opposite another Hall of Famer in Art Monk, but also becomes lost in history thanks to the explosion of the passing game in the last decade. At the time of his retirement, he ranked in the top five in career receptions and receiving yards. He now ranks 30th and 23rd in those categories.
9. Andre Rison
"Bad Moon" had the talent to be the best ever.
A first round pick in 1989, Andre Rison was almost an instant star. After a great rookie season in Indianapolis, he was traded to Atlanta where he really came into his own. His sophomore season marked the first of five very productive campaigns with the Falcons. During these years, he finished near the top of most receiving categories, and led all NFL receivers with 15 receiving touchdowns in 1993. Rison was only the fifth receiver in NFL history to score 60 touchdowns in his first six seasons and led the NFL in most receptions in his first four and five seasons. Rison retired in 2000 as a five time pro bowler, four time All-Pro, and Super Bowl XXXI champion.
The big thing keeping Rison from a gold jacket is his attitude. He left Atlanta for a big contract then unleashing an embarrassing tirade at heartbroken Cleveland Browns fans who were booing the team because they were moving to Baltimore. He then posted mediocre numbers and bounced around the league before having one final good year in Kansas City. He could have ended up among the ranks of Charlie Joiner and Fred Biletnikoff. Instead, thanks to emotional outbursts and a strange and rapid decline in performance, he's the embodiment of the diva wide receiver.
8. Wes Chandler
He was the playmaker for the "Air Coryell" offense.
After spending his first three and a half seasons in New Orleans, Wes Chandler was traded to the Chargers in 1981 to replace star receiver John Jefferson, who was traded to the Packers after a bitter contract dispute. In his second year in San Diego, he led the NFL with 1,032 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in the strike shortened 1982 season and his average of 129 yards receiving per game that year is still an NFL record. After a final year with San Francisco, Chandler retired in 1988 as a four time pro bowler and two time All-Pro.
The big thing keeping Chandler out of Canton is the talent around him. He had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Dan Fouts throwing to him and he was part of arguably the greatest receiving corps in history. With Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow also in the offense, Chandler often gets overlooked.
7. Mark Clayton and Mark Duper
"The Marks Brothers" have better numbers than some of the receivers in the Hall of Fame.
A second round pick in 1982, Mark "Super" Duper was the team's deep threat receiver for over a decade. A track star in college, he was the perfect receiver for Dan Marino's cannon arm. In his 11 years in Miami, he was a three time pro bowler, two time All-Pro, and recorded 511 receptions for 8,869 yards and 59 touchdowns.
An eighth round pick in 1983, Mark Clayton was a Marino's favorite target and was the team's primary return specialist. He ranks tied for 39th in league history in receiving yards and 13th in receiving touchdowns. He holds Dolphins records for career pass receptions and touchdowns as well as receiving yards in a single season. Clayton spent one final season in Green Bay before retiring in 1993. In his 11 year career, he was a five time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, and recorded 582 receptions for 8,974 yards and 87 touchdowns.
The big case against the Marks Brothers was, were they only great because of Dan Marino? Also it didn't help they never won a Super Bowl and they didn't look the part of ideal NFL receivers.
6. Jimmy Smith
He went from being unused in Dallas, to being the best receiver in Jacksonville.
Jimmy Smith ranks 16th in NFL history with 862 receptions. He's 17th with 12,287 receiving yards. He's 10th with 16.1 yards per catch. He's 39th in receiving touchdowns with 67. He posted nine 1,000-yard seasons and retired as the team's all time leader in every major receiving category. So why isn't Smith mentioned in any conversation about great NFL receivers? Most likely he's the victim of playing in Jacksonville, where the media spotlight is light. Had Smith played in a bigger market and mimicked that kind of production, we'd be asking when he's going to the Hall of Fame.
Since his retirement, Smith's legacy has been tarnished due arrests on drug charges. Nevertheless, Smith retired as a five time Pro Bowler, two time All-Pro, and the NFL's reception leader in 1999.
5. Sterling Sharpe
He could have been remembered as one of the greatest receivers ever.
A first round pick in 1988, Sterling Sharpe was an instant starter as a rookie. In 1989, he became the first Packer receiver to lead the league in receptions in over 40 years and broke team records fro receptions and receiving yards in a season. In 1993, Sharpe became the first player to have consecutive seasons catching more than 100 passes. He is one of only seven players to lead the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the same season. Sharpe's tenure at wide receiver was cut short by a neck injury suffered during the 1994 season and he was forced to retire. In seven seasons, he recorded 595 receptions for over 8,000 yards and 65 touchdowns. Sharpe was a five time pro bowler and All-Pro, two time league receiving touchdowns leader, and three time league receptions leader. He holds the league record for most games with at least three touchdowns.
If he would have had a longer career, he could have put a big dent in the NFL record book. His neck injury kept him from a greater legacy and possibly a shot at Canton.
4. Otis Taylor
He was as talented as any receiver in the AFL.
A fifth round pick in 1965, Otis Taylor became the favorite target for Len Dawson. At 6'3", 215 pounds, he possessed sure hands during his career and served as a devastating blocker, springing Chiefs running backs for many long runs. In his second season, he led the AFL in yards per catch and finished second in receiving yards. The next year, he led the AFL in receiving touchdowns and led the NFL in receiving yards in 1971. His biggest career highlight was a 46 yard touchdown in Super Bowl IV. Taylor ranks second in Chiefs history in all major receiving categories to only Tony González. He retired in 1975 as a three time pro bowler, two time All-Pro, two time AFL champion, and Super Bowl IV champion.
Why Taylor isn't in the Hall of Fame is a mystery to me. He has the stats, pro bowls, and championships. Give this man a gold jacket already.
3. Henry Ellard
He got better the longer he played.
A second round pick in 1983, Henry Ellard became defined by using his height and jumping ability to get to high passes, his leadership, and his superior skills as a route runner. After averaging less than 600 receiving yards in his first five seasons, he exploded over the next nine seasons. He posted seven 1,000 yard receiving seasons over that stretch and averaged 65 catches a year. After joining Washington in 1994, he had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Ellard retired in 1998 with 814 receptions for 13,777 yards and 65 touchdowns. He ranked third all time in receptions and fourth in yards at the time of his retirement. In his 16 year career, he was a three time pro bowler and two time All-Pro.
Like Clark, Ellard has been lost in history thanks to the evolution of the passing game. It also doesn't help that he never had a franchise caliber quarterback throwing to him at any point in his career.
2. Cliff Branch
He is the definition of a speedy receiver.
A fourth round pick in 1972, Cliff Branch was the ultimate game breaker. In 1974, he led the league in receiving yards and touchdowns and two years later, he led the league in yards per catch. He was one of only two Raiders to play in all three of the team's Super Bowl victories. At the time of his retirement, he had more receptions and receiving yards than any receiver in postseason history. Branch retired in 1985 as a four time pro bowler and All-Pro, three time Super Bowl champion, and holds the team record for longest reception.
Branch's inability to reach Canton stems from a couple things. First of all, for as long as he played, he only had 501 catches. Secondly, he was in the same receiving corps as Hall of Fame possession receiver Fred Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper. And finally, most people just remember Branch as a deep threat. If Bob Hayes is in the Hall of Fame, Cliff Branch should be too.
1. Drew Pearson
Drew Pearson was undrafted free agent quarterback who signed with the Dallas Cowboys and became one of the greatest wide receivers in the 1970s.
Known as Mr. Clutch, Pearson became known for making game winning touchdowns catches. Most notably the "Hail Mary" catch he made in the 1975 playoff game against Minnesota. Pearson amassed almost 500 receptions, 7,800 receiving yards, and 50 touchdowns while being named All-Pro three times and winning Super Bowl XII with the team.
Pearson's career was cut short in 1984 after a tragic car accident. The accident took the life of his brother and forced him to retire due to severe internal injuries.
His legacy continues to live on in Dallas as his jersey number 88 is only issued out if the team sees a player as the next best wide receiver. The team has only issued the number to Michael Irvin, Antonio Bryant, and Dez Bryant since.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why isn't Cliff Branch in The Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Answer: It’s a question I ask myself all the time. Fred Biletnikoff and Dave Casper are both in Canton. Cliff Branch was easily the most dangerous of the three and was a part of all 3 of the Raiders Super Bowl victories
Question: Drew Pearson should be in the HOF. The Super Bowl champ, all decade team and so on. Is he still eligible?
Answer: Yes he still is eligible, but any longer of a wait will make him a senior nominee.
Question: Why not Stanley Morgan? 500 catches, 10,000 yards for 50 TDS for NFL record 19.4 yards per catch. Deserves a Gold Jacket.
Answer: No question he deserves it. He just a victim to the explosion of the passing game the last decade and a half. Because of this he and other receivers from that era might not get in for years.
Question: Where are Billy Howton and Art Powell?
Answer: Both are lost to history would be my guess.
Question: What about Harold Jackson? Jackson torched defenses for 15 seasons. He gained 10372 yards, hauled in 579 catches and scored 76 TD's. He helped revamped LA Rams offense and partnered with Stanley Morgan in New England for several years. Surely he deserves a mention.
Answer: He only had three, 1000 yard receiving seasons. His stats are just big because he played a long time.
Question: Can't help but notice that all of the guys on the list are black. But the Raiders got two white guys on that team (Casper and Biletnikoff) in?
Answer: Many see him as just a deep threat and in a 14 year career, he averaged about 35 catches a season.
Question: Wasn't Andre Rison the best college football wide receiver ever?
Answer: Tim Brown and Desmond Howard have Heisman Trophies so my guess is no.
Question: How likely is it it Isaac Bruce, Tory Holt, Hines Ward and Andre Johnson get into the HOF?
Answer: They’ll all get in eventually. It will just take time for Bruce and Holt.
Question: Henry Ellard retired 3rd on the ALL-Time list For yards and 3rd most with 7X 1000+ yard seasons. He was a 2x 1st team ALL-PRO and 3X pro bowl. There are many players in the Hall that had no championships. So, why isn’t Henry Ellard in the HOF?
Answer: He just played in the wrong era for receivers. Because of the explosion of the passing game in the last decade and a half, Ellard’s numbers look minuscule compared to others.
Question: Why isn't Jerry Smith, TE REDSKINS, in the HOF?
Answer: Unfortunately, his personal life has been cited for the reason he is left out. Which is absolutely ridiculous considering when you look at his stats for that time.
Question: Was Riley Odoms ever even considered for the Football Hall of Fame? Check his stats compared to Dave Casper. Do you think Cliff Branch should be in the Hall of Fame given that his numbers aren't much better than Haven Moses who is never mentioned? The HOF has some deep issues.
Answer: Apart from Super Bowl XII, Odoms played on some mediocre Broncos teams. Moses only made two Pro Bowls and his stats look very minuscule by today’s standards.
Question: Why is Herman Moore not in the Hall of Fame?
Answer: People saw the 90s Lions offense just being Barry Sanders. Also, Calvin Johnson went on to shatter his team records.
Question: What about Hines Ward? He has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than most of these 10. Pro bowler several times and super bowl mvp.
Answer: What’s the first thing people say when they think about Hines Ward? The best “BLOCKING” wide receiver in NFL history. He’ll get in one day but since Pittsburgh has always been viewed as a running team, it will take time.
Question: What about Hines Ward and Tory Holt?
Answer: Hines Ward is best remembered as the best blocking receiver ever and Tory Holt’s prime felt too short compared to other receivers
Question: What about Stanley Morgan? Why is he not on this list?
Answer: Only three 1,000 yard receiving seasons and only two years where he had more than 50 catches. He was an amazing deep threat who a part from 1985 played on some mediocre Patriots teams.
j mic on August 18, 2020:
hendricks, branch, dalby, and ray guy played in all 3 sb's
MWGooch on July 20, 2020:
It's criminal that Drew Pearson is not in HOF, only member of 70's ALL DECADE team not in hall. He was to cowboys what Swan and Stallworth were to Steelers. He's long over do!!!
Rodney Hemman on April 19, 2019:
Henry Ellard was one of the greatest route runner in league history. To amass the yards the he did without having a great QB throwing him the ball is insain. At the time of his retirement he 4th on receiving yards all time list. If the man played today he would be pushing the 18k yards mark.
Nate on February 10, 2019:
Sterling was the best by far, he is pretty much the gale sayers of wide receivers...Mr. Sharpe should be in..
Mistachill on October 27, 2018:
Clif Branch is by far the most deserving receiver not in the hall. In almost every big moment Raider highlight Clif Branch is in it somewhere. Remember the famous Marcus Allen super bowl run? Who was the receiver who came up from behind to help spring Allen for the last 25-30 yards of that run and ensure the TD? Clif Branch!
I'm also glad somewhere is acknowledging Gary Clark because I've felt that way for a while. I think he's MORE deserving than Monk. Monk move the chains, but Clark was the guy making the big plays.
David w Clark on August 31, 2018:
I think Otis Taylor deserve to be in the hall of fame because of what he did in the afl
Raider1156 on August 17, 2018:
Branch did what he was paid too do, and he did it to perfection! Most feared deep treat in the league of his time. Didn't have to catch a lot of passes when you got Fred Biletnikoff (who's a hof) on the other end, and Dave Casper(also a hof) at tight end. Lynn Swan is in, and other than winning one more SB than Branch; Branch had better career numbers than Swan and Biletnikoff! And Bob Hayes an hof mer.
Gary Ballas on March 11, 2018:
Another consideration could be the legally blind in 1 eye, world class sprinter of the Jets, Wesley Walker.
He had a 12 yr career, and some great numbers in the late 70s to mid 80s
Gary Ballas on March 11, 2018:
These were all great wide receivers, many of their numbers are better than HOF inductees. They all deserve to be in the HOF, they all had careers deserving of induction.
The great Stanley Morgan of New England deserves inducted as well. Roy "Jetstream" Green, deserves consideration.
Ray73 on February 13, 2018:
i say all of them belong in the hall of fame ..........
kman kiser on February 10, 2018:
Henry Ellard's over 13,000 receiving yards should be enough to get him the hall. That he is not in is a joke and insult to both Rams and Redskins fans.
Noel on November 23, 2017:
Please Stanley Morgan "the Steamer" should be in
Jody on October 13, 2017:
Shannon Sharpe is already in the Hall of Fame but Sterling should definitely be in
Clyde Z on September 18, 2017:
Shannon Sharpe is or should be a no brainer
david rentie on September 13, 2017:
All of the guys above had to fight their way down the field, until the ball was in the air. Don't think guys today would last one series with yesterdays game.
Kevin Goodwin on August 14, 2015:
Shannon Sharpe should be in the Hall of Fame no doubt.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 16, 2015:
Due to recent passing trends, there is a logjam of receivers deserving of the Hall that haven't got in.