This is not another article championing Julian Edelman’s case for the Hall of Fame. If you want a deep dive on the recently retired Edelman’s career, I’d advise you to check out this article that ranks Edelman’s regular and postseason achievements against past and present receivers.
This story is instead focused on identifying five former receivers that should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame before Edelman, who won’t be eligible for induction until 2026. While his zero Pro Bowl berths and so-so regular-season stats will be held against him, it also doesn’t help that Edelman is a receiver, the hardest skill position as far as getting into the Hall of Fame. And while Edelman’s Hall of Fame wait won’t begin for another five years, many deserving receivers have been waiting years — decades in some cases — to receive the call to Canton, Ohio.
While there are several receivers worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, let’s take a look at the five eligible receivers who most deserve induction before Edelman. While it wasn’t the only criteria we used when putting this list together, we did lean on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor, which calculates each players’ value as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. This list does not include Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson, who won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2022.
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5. Torry Holt
Holt’s Hall of Fame “monitor score” according to Pro Football Reference is 105.27; which is just above the average monitor score (105) for receivers who are currently in the Hall of Fame. Holt’s score is higher than current Falcons receiver Julio Jones and Hall of Fame receivers Paul Warfield, Isaac Bruce (Holt’s teammate in St. Louis), Michael Irvin, Don Maynard, Marvin Harrison and Art Monk, among others.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL’s All-2000s Team, Holt played an integral role on the Rams‘ 1999 championship team. The league’s leading receiver on two separate occasions, Holt was the Rams’ No. 1 receiver when St. Louis made a return trip to the Super Bowl in 2001.
4. Otis Taylor
A player who was truly ahead of his time, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Taylor was one of the first receivers to fully use his physicality to his advantage. In 1965, Taylor spurned the NFL (he was drafted by the Eagles with the 203rd pick in the NFL draft) to play for the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. In his second season, Taylor led the AFL in average yards per catch while helping lead the Chiefs to the first-ever Super Bowl. The AFL’s leader in touchdown catches the following season, Taylor helped the Chiefs capture their first Super Bowl win at the end of the 1969 season. His 46-yard touchdown sealed Kansas City’s 23-7 win over the Vikings, the last game ever played between the rival leagues.
Taylor’s transition to the NFL was seamless after the two leagues merged in 1970. A year after the merge, Taylor led the NFL in receiving yards while earning All-Pro honors. He earned Pro Bowl honors again in 1972 at the age of 30.
3. Hines Ward
The Steelers‘ all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns, Ward is also eighth all-time in career postseason receiving yards (1,181). Three of Ward’s four consecutive Pro Bowl selections came with different quarterbacks: Kordell Stewart (2001), Tommy Maddox (2002-03) and a rookie named Ben Roethlisberger (2004). In 2005, Ward won Super Bowl MVP honors while helping lead Pittsburgh to its fifth Super Bowl victory. He was the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver when Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals three years later in Super Bowl XLIII.
Ward is regarded as arguably the most physical receiver in league history. Ward’s physicality was key during the Steelers’ legendary matchups against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens during the 2000s.
2. Reggie Wayne
Wayne’s Hall of Fame monitor score (108.1) is the highest in NFL history for a receiver who is not currently in the Hall of Fame. While he spent a considerable portion of his career in Marvin Harrison’s shadow, Wayne actually finished just 235 yards behind Harrison on the all-time career receiving list.
A six-time Pro Bowler from 2006-10 and in 2012, Wayne led the NFL in receiving yards in 2007. His 53-yard touchdown catch during the previous year’s Super Bowl helped the Colts win the franchise’s first Super Bowl following their move from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Wayne was Peyton Manning’s No. 1 receiver when the Colts made it back to the Super Bowl in 2009. And despite Manning’s departure in 2012, a 34-year-old Wayne earned Pro Bowl honors that season while catching passes from a rookie quarterback named Andrew Luck.
1. Cliff Branch
The greatest deep threat of his era, the speedy Branch earned four straight Pro Bowl selections and three consecutive All-Pro nods. He led the NFL in receiving once during during that span while pacing the league in touchdown catches on two separate occasions. A model of consistency, Branch continued to produce well into his 30s. At age 35, he played an integral role in the Raiders‘ 38-9 win over Washington in Super Bowl XVIII; his 50-yard catch early in the game set up his 12-yard touchdown reception.
One of the most productive receivers in NFL history, Branch played a key role in all three of the Raiders’ Super Bowl wins. After a Pro Bowl season on the Raiders’ first Super Bowl team in 1976, his two touchdown catches in Super Bowl XV propelled the Raiders to a 27-10 win over the Eagles in 1980. Branch flourished while playing with quarterbacks Ken Stalber and Jim Plunkett.