Who is the Best Wide Receiver in Packers History?

Jordy Nelson retired last week and was recognized as one of the best Packers wide receivers ever. But is he the best?

Jordy Nelson retired last week and was recognized as one of the best Packers wide receivers ever.
But is he the best?

Jordy Nelson is one of the great receivers in Packers history. That statement should be as uncontroversial as it is obvious. One brief glimpse of one of his patented toe-tapping sideline catches or back-shoulder touchdown grabs is all anyone should need to know that at his best, he was something truly special.

But determining where he fits among all the pass catchers ever to wear a Packers uniform is a much trickier proposition. It’s easy to say he was great; it’s much harder to say how much more or less great he was in comparison to other all-timers. And even more difficult is trying to figure out which of those receivers is the best ever.

In fact, it’s so difficult I don’t think we should do it at all. Let’s play around with numbers instead.

The Packers receiving leaderboard has changed a ton

Receiving stats are fickle. For much of the NFL’s early history, the forward pass was considered foolhardy at best and actively harmful at worst. But once Don Hutson arrived on the scene, everything changed. The NFL’s first truly dominant pass catcher, Hutson rewrote the record book in Green Bay and in the league as a whole.

The game was never the same. With each passing year, new players rocketed up the Packers’ receiving yardage leaderboard, though nobody caught Hutson until James Lofton, who reigned supreme until Donald Driver broke the 10,000 yard mark.

But why read about the leaderboard changing when you can watch it? Here’s a year-by-year look at the Packers’ career leader in receiving yards, color coded by the decade in which that player made his debut.

A few takeaways:

  • It’s amazing how long Johnny Blood hung around in the Packers’ top 10 with 934 yards. If you ever needed evidence on how slow the NFL was on adapting the passing game, look no further.

  • Don Hutson was amazing and the gulf between his career total and everyone else when he retired is simply incredible.

  • We all know the 1970s were not a great decade for the Packers, but watching the chart turn from an animation to basically a static image is a really uncomfortable confirmation of that fact.

  • James Lofton was known for his big play ability and his rapid rise up the Packers’ receiving leaderboard shows just how quickly he racked them up. He made his debut on the Packers’ top 10 in 1979 and took over the all-time lead in receiving yards in 1985, just his seventh season with the Packers.

  • It’s a tragedy that injuries derailed Sterling Sharpe’s career, and we really see how that injury affects the Packers in this animation. Sharpe’s injury cut short his shot at the all-time receiving yards but also opened the door for both Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman to have a shot at making a bigger mark at the list. And much further down the line, Donald Driver probably never would have caught Sharpe had he maintained his pace.

The best Packers receiver is up to you

Choosing a favorite from among these great players id hard. Deciding definitively who was the best is all but impossible, depending almost entirely on your point of view.

Do you favor pure statistical dominance? Don Hutson is the choice. Are big plays your thing? You probably will tend to support James Lofton, who averaged an almost inconceivable 18.2 yards per catch during his Packers career. Do you prefer an unmatchable peak of excellence? Sterling Sharpe or Jordy Nelson would be the logical choice.

The point is, almost anyone who appears on the final version of this list can certainly be considered one of the greatest to ever play in Green Bay. As it stands today, the Packers all-time receiving leaderboard is a fantastic cross-section of the team’s history. Players from almost every decade of the team’s history still populate the list, while some of the brightest stars of the Favre-Rodgers era continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the passing game.