Receiver U. - Top All-Around WR Schools
Percy Harvin, Ike Hilliard, & Jabar Gaffney
Percy Harvin, Ike Hilliard, & Jabar Gaffney
Posted May 1, 2009

What schools are the best when it comes to cranking out great running backs based on a combination of college production and pro talent? Richard Cirminiello gives his take on the top 15 Wide Receiver Universities over the last 40 years.

Receiver U. - Combined Version

The Wide Receiver Factories
(Part College , Part Pro)

By Richard Cirminiello | Fiu Version of WR U. (College & Pro)
- R.C Version of RB U. (College & Pro) | Fiu version of RB U. (College Only)
R.C. version of QB U. |
Fiu version of QB U.

The ever-increasing popularity of the forward pass has dramatically transformed the role of the wide receiver over the last three decades. Although it’ll be a while before Nebraska makes a run at being dubbed Wide Receiver U., despite its attempts.      

Wide Receiver U. is not about brief spurts of excellence. It’s about sustained consistency to go along with those brief spurts. Earn the name and your school has participated in a marathon, not a sprint. Quality and quantity are prerequisites, and it can certainly help if your big men on campus went on to command big paychecks in the pros.

For this subjective exercise, only college players over the past four decades have been considered. Keep that in mind while you’re feverishly searching for Ray Perkins or Fred Biletnikoff. The timeframe could have easily been, oh, 30 or 50 years, but either way, the objective was to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the modern era of college football and a time when the game, the players and the schools were dramatically different than they are today.  Something about apples and oranges comes to mind.  Go deep enough into the annals and you might be compelled to champion schools which are no longer relevant to this conversation. 

While the emphasis here is on collegiate results, pro performance has clearly been factored into the inexact equation. As it should be. Leaving it out would be to suggest players like Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin have no relevance to the discussion because they didn’t find their groove until they reached the NFL. Nonsense.     

Like most opinion-based responses, there is no right answer to the question of who truly deserves to be dubbed Wide Receiver U.  Just plenty of different answers, which makes the subject so deliciously appetizing.   

1. Florida
The Flag-Bearer
– Wes Chandler
The Ensemble –
Cris Collinsworth, Nat Moore, Percy Harvin, Reidel Anthony, Jabar Gaffney, Ike Hilliard, Willie Jackson, Jacquez Green, Reche Caldwell, Darrell Jackson, Carlos Alvarez, Chris Doering, Ricky Nattiel, Jack Jackson, Travis Taylor, Travis McGriff, Taylor Jacobs, Derrick Gaffney, Chad Jackson and Ernie Mills

When you look at the facts, it could really be no other. The depth, the numbers and the awards have been staggering: In each year from 1994-2003, the school had a receiver chosen in the NFL Draft. Gators have been staples on the All-SEC teams since 1990, and at least one appeared on an All-American team every season from 1991-2001.  Eight have participated in a Pro Bowl, a clear indication that success has not been limited to Gainesville. Heck, Florida’s had as many Jacksons—Jack, Willie and Darrell—named All-American than most schools have had All-Americans. And this has not been exclusively about the Fun ‘n Gun. Even before Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater, Florida had outstanding receivers like Chandler, Collinsworth, Moore and all-time receptions leader, Alvarez.

2. Tennessee
The Flag-Bearer –
Stanley Morgan
The Ensemble –
Carl Pickens, Peerless Price, Willie Gault, Robert Meachem, Anthony Miller, Tim McGee, Alvin Harper, Donte' Stallworth, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash, Cedric Wilson, Kelly Washington, Richmond Flowers, Larry Seivers, Clyde Duncan and Anthony Hancock

If any program can squawk about not being No. 1, it’s Tennessee. If speed kills, UT pass-catchers better find a good lawyer because for much of the 1980s and 1990s, the unit looked more like a track team masquerading as wide receivers. Since 1977, a whopping 17 Vols have been chosen in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft with ten going in round one. Morgan and Pickens head an impressive list of choices that panned out quite nicely.  Morgan, who was All-SEC as a back and a receiver, played in four Pro Bowls and hauled in 72 touchdown receptions. Ironically, Seivers—one of the lesser known of the ensemble—is the only Vol receiver to be named All-Americn twice.     


3. USC
The Flag-Bearer –
Lynn Swann
The Ensemble –
Keyshawn Johnson, Johnnie Morton, Curtis Conway, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Bob Chandler, Kareem Kelly, Steve Smith, Eric Affholter, Steve Smith, R.J. Soward, Keary Colbert, Gary Wellman and Sam Dickerson

From Swann in the 1970s to Williams and Jarrett, the Trojans have always had their share of big-time stars. Swann opened the door to the All-American squad in 1973 and was followed by Affholter, Conway, Morton, Johnson, Williams and Jarrett. Johnson was a one-man show his final two years, and the top overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. Morton and Conway have both caught more than 500 passes in the NFL, but Soward—a first round pick in 2000—wa one of that year’s biggest busts. Chandler played 12 seasons in the NFL, despite being one of the less heralded of the Trojan receivers.  Colbert has been overshadowed by his teammates the last two years, but has the skills to have a long pro career.       


4. Miami
The Flag-Bearer –
Michael Irvin
The Ensemble –
Eddie Brown, Brian Blades, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Kevin Williams, Lamar Thomas, Brett Perriman, Randall Hill, Wesley Carroll, Horace Copeland, Yatil Green and Chris T. Jones

Miami is home to Quarterback U. because of the school’s ability to throw the ball.  On the receiving end of those passes since the early 1980s has been a long line of talented wideouts. Since 1985, ten Canes have been selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, including a half-dozen in the first round.  One of those high picks, Brown, was the first of three receivers to be named All-American. Williams and Moss, who doubled as premier return men, were the others. Irvin played in five consecutive Pro Bowls in the 1990s and was a key member of three Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboy teams. Perriman and Blades had productive ten-year NFL careers, while Brown, Hill and Green were disappointments. Moss, Wayne and Johnson became special.     

5. Michigan
The Flag-Bearer –
Anthony Carter
The Ensemble – Desmond Howard, Amani Toomer, Braylon Edwards, David Terrell, Derrick Alexander, Tai Streets, Jim Smith, Marquise Walker, Mario Manningham, Greg McMurtry, Jack Clancy, Glen Doughty, Jason Avant and Chris Calloway

Get a load of the Big Ten, doing its best impression of the Pac-10 and sending three programs to the ranks of Wide Receiver U. Since Michigan quarterbacks have come on like gangbusters, it goes to figure Wolverine wideouts would be the primary beneficiaries. Carter and Howard were like magicians during their days in Ann Arbor; few receivers were more explosive in the open field or more dangerous in the kicking game. Howard won the 1991 Heisman Trophy, while Carter finished in the Top 10 from 1980-1982. Toomer and Alexander had very solid NFL careers, but Terrell was a disaster. The 2004 trio of Biletnikoff Award-winner Edwards, Avant and Steve Breaston formed one of the best receiving corps in school history.    

6. Michigan State

The Flag-Bearer –
Andre Rison
The Ensemble – Charles Rogers, Plaxico Burress, Gene Washington, Kirk Gibson, Derrick Mason, Mark Ingram, Mushin Muhammad, Courtney Hawkins, Devin Thomas, Daryl Turner, Gari Scott and Herb Haygood

Surprise, surprise. Spartan receivers have been terrific in East Lansing, but, collectively, they’ve been even better once making it to the NFL. Burress and Rison, a five-time Pro Bowler, lived up to the expectations of being first-round picks, and second rounders Turner and Muhammad each had huge seasons in the pros. Ingram and Hawkins were serviceable for a decade apiece, and Mason blossomed into an unexpected star for the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. The same Gibson who spent 16 seasons playing Major League Baseball was also an All-American at Michigan State in 1978. Rogers has silly talent, and resides in a class all by himself on a college scale, but was a bust at the next level.  

7. Florida State
The Flag-Bearer –
Peter Warrick
The Ensemble –
Ron Sellers, Laveranues Coles, Lawrence Dawsey, Marvin Minnis, Anquan Boldin, Barry Smith, Craphonso Thorpe, Jessie Hester, Kez McCorvey, Hassan Jones, E.G. Green, Javon Walker, Andre Cooper, Kevin Knox and Tamarick Vanover

Consistent with its attacking style of offense, Florida State has always had a roster full of quality receivers.  However, you’d have to go all the way back to the mid-1960s and Fred Biletnikoff to find a Nole receiver, who played lights out in both college and the pros. Until recently, most have fizzled once they reached the NFL. Coles and Boldin are doing their part to change that trend, but neither dominated in Tallahassee compared to the stars they were next to. 

8. Ohio State
The Flag-Bearer –
Cris Carter
The Ensemble –
David Boston, Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Jeff Graham, Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, Chris Sanders, Ted Ginn, Doug Donley, Brian Bachnagel, Dee Miller and Morris Bradshaw

Carter got the ball rolling in 1986 when he became the first Buckeye 1,000-yard receiver, and OSU has flourished ever since. While Carter was busy crafting a Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Vikings, his alma mater was attracting big-play receivers like Boston, Galloway, Holmes and Glenn, all stark contrasts to the possession receivers of the Woody Hayes era. In 1998, Boston ran roughshod through Big Ten secondaries for a Buckeye-best 85 catches and 1,435 yards. Each member of the trio has already had at least two 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL. In 2004, Jenkins became the fourth Buckeye receiver since 1995 to be selected in the opening round, and Holmes and Ginn were No’s 5 and 6.

9. Stanford
The Flag-Bearer –
James Lofton
The Ensemble –
Gene Washington, Ed McCaffrey, Troy Walters, Tony Hill, Ken Margerum, Justin Armour, Teyo Johnson, Emile Harry, DeRonnie Pitts and Chris Walsh

Lofton, whose career seemed boundless, played in eight Pro Bowls and was as high as No. 3 on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards. Forgotten in the haze of a very average professional career is the fact that Margerum was a two-time All-American and the weapon of choice for John Elway at Stanford. Washington, McCaffrey and Hill were all very productive at the NFL level. Each made at least one Pro Bowl and had at least one 1,000-yard season. Despite not having great size, Walters was one of the most electrifying Cardinal athletes in school history leaving The Farm owning most of Stanford’s career receiving records.    

10. NC State
The Flag-Bearer -
Torry Holt
The Ensemble –
Mike Quick, Haywood Jeffires, Koren Robinson, Jerricho Cotchery, Charles Davenport, Danny Peebles, Eddie Goines, Naz Worthen and Bryan Peterson

Florida State aside, no ACC school has churned out better wideouts than the Pack. With eight Pro Bowls between them, Quick and Jeffires are the old school representatives, while Holt, Robinson and Cotchery are seamlessly carrying the torch into the 21st century. A former first-team All-American, Holt, in particular, is rapidly maturing into one of the premier receivers in the NFL. He left State as the school’s all-time leader in receptions, and the ACC’s all-time leader in receiving yards. Cotchery isn’t blessed with Holt’s raw physical talent, but he does have his receptions record, a mark he picked up in 2003 as Philip Rivers’ favorite target.

Honorable U.


The Flag-Bearer –
Eric Martin
The Ensemble –
Josh Reed, Wendell Davis, Michael Clayton, Devery Henderson, Carlos Carson, Tony Moss, Todd Kinchen, Eddie Kennison, Early Doucet, Demetrius Byrd, and Dwayne Bowe

Martin starred with the Tigers before moving on to a very successful nine-year career with the hometown Saints.  Reed won the 2001 Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver.

San Diego State

The Flag-Bearer –
Isaac Curtis
The Ensemble – 
Webster Slaughter, Darnay Scott, Az Hakim, J.R. Tolver, Will Blackwell, Ken Burrow, Alfred Jackson, Kassim Osgood, Patrick Rowe, Tom Reynolds, Ronnie Smith, Jeff Webb and Clint Sampson

It’s fitting that offensive mastermind Don Coryell is the winningest coach in school history. Since the 1960s, the Aztecs have been sneaky good at producing quality receivers. Tolver and Osgood teamed to catch an NCAA-record 236 balls for 3,337 yards in 2002.  

Arizona State

The Flag-Bearer –
John Jefferson
The Ensemble –
Shaun McDonald, J.D. Hill, Keith Poole, Morris Owens, Derek Hagan, Aaron Cox, Steve Holden, Ron Brown, Eric Guliford, Fair Hooker and Ken Dyer

Jefferson was an All-American in 1977 and an NFL Pro-Bowler the next three years. Before orchestrating his way out of San Diego, he appeared to be headed for a Hall of Fame career. 


The Flag-Bearer –
Marvin Harrison
The Ensemble – Art Monk, Rob Moore, Kevin Johnson, Qadry Ismail, Scott Schwedes, Rob Carpenter, Shelby Hill and Tommy Kane

Like the Oklahoma State running backs, Syracuse has a couple of Hall of Fame-caliber standouts to get you excited, but not enough depth to muscle into the Top 10.


The Flag-Bearer –
J.J. Stokes
The Ensemble –
Flipper Anderson, Freddie Mitchell, Mike Sherrard, Craig Bragg, Brian Poli-Dixon, Danny Farmer, George Farmer, Jo Jo Townsell and Sean LaChappelle

Bragg concluded his Bruin career as the owner of many of the school’s receiving records. A series of leg Injuries kept deep-threat Sherrard from reaching his full potential at the NFL level.