Terrell Owens: The Best WR in NFL History?

By Matt Banks
Owens Touchdown
Getty Images

Terrell Owens has been an object of ridicule throughout his career. Much of the criticism was built around his personality. He rubbed many people the wrong way and it ultimately cut his career short. If not for his attitude, he would have been the greatest wide receiver to ever play in the NFL.

Many fans choose to remember Owens for “crying” after the media picked apart his quarterback Tony Romo. They may also choose to remember him for his famous driveway workout session with agent Drew Rosenhaus before he was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles.

I think of Owens as an amazing receiver who possessed incredible size, strength, and speed which few athletes could match. His on-the-field production will one day land him in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Jerry Rice is the gold standard when it comes to the WR position and when the numbers are analyzed, T.O. is as good if not better in every category.

Rice played in 303 games over the course of his 20 year NFL career. He’s the all-time leader in receptions (1,549), touchdowns (197), receiving yards (22,895). If that wasn’t enough he has three Super Bowl rings.

Owens played in 219 games over his 15 year career. He is sixth in receptions (1,078), third in receiving touchdowns (153), and second in receiving yards (15,934). He never won a championship, but he’s never been on a historically great team like the San Francisco 49ers, like Rice was.

Rice played 84 more games in his career which is the equivalent of 5.25 seasons. If Owens’ career averages are projected over that period of time it is clear Owens is on Rice’s level statistically.

Owens averaged just over ten touchdowns, 72 receptions, and 1,062 yards per season. When those are projected out over those five plus seasons he finishes with 21,510 yards, 206 touchdowns, and 1,456 receptions.

As you can see from the numbers Rice would still lead in two of the three categories, but not by nearly as much as one might think.

Perhaps the argument might be swayed a bit if we factor in their supporting casts.

Rice had two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game — Joe Montana and Steve Young — throwing to him. He also played with Rich Gannon in his MVP season where he was on fire. Rice also had John Taylor, Tim Brown, and even Owens himself taking the pressure off him on the other side of the field.

It’s true that Rice and Owens shared Young and Jeff Garcia while playing together but how impressive would Rice have been if he played with Ty Detmer, Tim Rattay, Drew Bledsoe, Trent Edwards, Donovan McNabb, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Romo and even Carson Palmer.

His supporting cast of receivers included names like Todd Pinkston, “FredEx” Freddie Mitchell, J.J. Stokes, Terry Glenn, Lee Evans and Chad Ochocinco.

Some of those names are serviceable, while others were downright awful. Rice always played with great players on great teams. 

Regardless of where he was playing, Owens produced at a high level. Owens is the only player in history to be named First Team All-Pro with three different organizations. Coaches, players, and schemes changed but Owens’ abilities never faltered.

He’s been labeled as a cancer and locker room destroyer and people just view him as a terrible person. They didn’t like his touchdown celebrations because he was showing people up. In hindsight was it really that bad?

In a league where players get second chances after getting arrested for drugs, domestic violence and even murder, Owens gets shunned because he got under some people’s skin? Sounds a little ridiculous to me.

If Owens was so selfish, how was he capable of one of the most selfless acts in NFL history?

After breaking his fibula late in the season, he came back and played in Super Bowl XXXIX on one leg. He caught nine passes for 122 yards and was the rightful MVP. That was all against a great New England Patriots defense.

Your perception of him doesn’t take away how great of a player he was. In my book Owens is the greatest receiver to ever play the game.

Matt Banks is a writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattBanks12, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ Network.


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