Receivers who’ve done it the hard way

Some receivers have it better than others. Indeed, some receivers have it so much better it’s almost unfair.

Wes Welker, for instance. He got to play with Tom Brady for six years in New England (well, five years and one game), and now he’s running routes for Peyton Manning in Denver. How sweet is that? Answer: five 100-catch seasons sweet.

Jerry Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young (not to mention Rich Gannon). Michael Irvin had Troy Aikman. Andre Reed had Jim Kelly. Talk about blessed.

Then there are those who aren’t as blessed. I started thinking about this the other day when it occurred to me that in his 13 seasons, most of them quite productive, the Redskins’ Santana Moss has had only one year in which his quarterback made the Pro Bowl. That would be 2012, when Robert Griffin III was voted in as a rookie (but couldn’t play because of a blown-out knee). Other than that, Moss has chased passes thrown by the likes of Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell and Donovan McNabb — some of whom had been Pro Bowlers in their prime, but not when they were teamed with Santana.

Which made me wonder: How unusual is it for a receiver to catch 700 balls — in Moss’ case 722 — essentially without the benefit of Pro Bowl quarterbacking? My research shows he’s not alone in this regard, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of company, either:


Catches Receiver, Team* Pro Bowl Quarterback Total Seasons
860 Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers Steve Beuerlein 1 of 14 (1999)
857 Anquan Boldin, 49ers Kurt Warner 1 of 11 (2008)
846 Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals Kurt Warner 1 of 10 (2008)
764 Eric Moulds, Bills Drew Bledsoe 1 of 12 (2002)
722 Santana Moss, Redskins Robert Griffin III 1 of 13 (2012)
712 Brandon Marshall, Bears Jay Cutler 1 of 8 (2008)


Catches Receiver, Team* Pro Bowl Quarterback(s) Total Seasons
943 Derrick Mason, Titans Steve McNair 2 of 15 (2000, '03)
927 Andre Johnson, Texans Matt Schaub 2 of 11 (2009, '12)
814 Henry Ellard, Rams Everett, Frerotte 2 of 16 (1990, '96)
814 Keyshawn Johnson, Jets/Bucs Testaverde, B. Johnson 2 of 11 (1998, 2002)

*Current team or the one he played for longest.

(Note: I excluded running backs, which is why Larry Centers isn’t listed.)

This raises any any number of questions, perhaps the biggest being:

How much does the quarterback make the receiver, and how much does the receiver make the QB? Would Moss and the others have put up even gaudier numbers if, like Donald Driver, they’d spent their entire careers huddling up with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay? And if you go along with this premise, might this make them a tad — or even more than a tad — underrated?

Food for thought, at the very least. Moulds, Moss and Marshall have one playoff win among them — one in 33 combined seasons. There’s something to be said for a receiver’s supporting cast, particularly at the quarterback spot.