Top Wide Receiver Prospects in NFL Draft History: Calvin Johnson Tops List, Where Does Marvin Harrison Jr. Stand?

As the NFL Draft approaches, Marvin Harrison Jr. is receiving plenty of acclaim. Where is he among the best wide receiver prospects ever?

Normally, as teams and media alike create their draft boards, there are disagreements near the top. However, as boards begin to take shape for the 2024 NFL Draft, one name sits atop the majority of them.

Marvin Harrison Jr. has been labeled a “generational prospect,” but where would he stack up in a draft of the greatest receiver prospects of all time?

Top Wide Receiver Prospects in NFL Draft History

These rankings are indicative of these players as prospects and do not account for their careers in the NFL, either positively or negatively. I’m also not accounting for the era they played in, nor am I weighing how much better these guys were than the rest of their draft class.

Simply put, in a draft consisting solely of the best receiver prospects in NFL History, who would go first, and where would Harrison factor in?

Honorable Mentions

  • Julio Jones, Alabama (2011)
  • Amari Cooper, Alabama (2015)
  • Chad Johnson, Oregon State (2001)
  • Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (2021)
  • Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2012)

5) Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh (2004)

  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 225 pounds
  • Best Trait: Hands

It’s odd reading old scouting reports for Larry Fitzgerald because the consensus split. There were several scouts in the media and in the league who called him a generational prospect. However, there were also plenty who had concerns and more than a few team scouts who were certain he was going to be a bust.

Fitzgerald has massive hands, and that helped him catch everything. He wasn’t a blazer but was very effective at changing speeds and using change of pace in his route running.

He was the ultimate possession receiver and chain-mover, picking up 911 first downs in his career. He wasn’t a bad red-zone target either, as he put up 121 touchdowns in his career, finishing second only to Jerry Rice in yards and receptions.

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The scouting reports for Fitzgerald are a reminder to be wary of blindly trusting every league source. Even the guys who are paid to scout players are wrong fairly often.

In the case of Fitzgerald, hindsight is certainly a benefit. Still, the scouts who insisted Fitzgerald would fail in the league pointed to things like him not breaking enough tackles after catching tough passes or his average 40-yard dash, even though the effective speed was clear on film.

4) A.J. Green, Georgia (2011)

  • Height: 6’3 1/2″
  • Weight: 211 pounds
  • Best Trait: Hands

A.J. Green was part of arguably the best receiving duo we’ve seen in a single class, as running mate Julio Jones just missed this list. Green had everything except elite speed as a prospect, which never prevented him from dominating at every level of football.

His combination of hands and body control is some of the best we’ve ever seen from a prospect.

In fact, the only player among recent prospects is the guy topping draft boards in 2024. Green lacked elite speed, running a 4.48 40-yard dash, but he could separate with underrated route-running ability and acceleration out of his breaks.

Green’s one weakness as a prospect was his injury history. He missed seven games due to injury in college and 19 games over 11 years in the NFL, though he played through several more injuries and was rarely at full strength after his first three NFL seasons.

Green amassed over 10,000 yards and 70 touchdowns as a pro, including five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start his career. Green slowed down later in his career but still finished second all-time in receiving yards as a Bengal.

3) Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State (2024)

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 205 pounds
  • Best Trait: Body Control

It’s funny that Harrison beats out Green on this list because Green is a common comp for the 2024 prospect. Harrison, too, has all-time great body control and excellent hands, though Green would certainly have the advantage in the latter.

What separates Harrison and gives him the edge here is his long speed, as he could potentially run a 40-yard dash time in the high 4.3s. Earlier this season, he was tracked at 22.2 miles per hour on a touchdown reception, so the speed translates to the field as well.

The Ringer recently gave Harrison a hilarious but accurate player comp: “Like if Marvin Harrison Sr. had a really tall son.”

It’s meant to be humorous, but there’s a lot of truth in that the younger Harrison has a lot of the shiftiness and route-running nuance that his dad had despite being four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.

There will always be a contrarian who says one of the other guys in this class is on Harrison’s level. As we know, based on situation, injuries, or even luck, the best prospect doesn’t always turn into the best player. But don’t be fooled; Harrison is the best receiver prospect in over a decade.

2) Randy Moss, Marshall (1998)

  • Height: 6’3 1/2″
  • Weight: 195 pounds
  • Best Trait: Catch-Point Strength

People yell “Kobe” when they shoot a piece of paper into the trash can, and they yell “Mossed” when making a catch over somebody else. You don’t get that sort of rarified universal acclaim without being historically good at something.

That was the case with Randy Moss, who is living proof NFL scouts aren’t perfect. Somehow, Moss was the second receiver picked and fell all the way to 21st in the 1998 NFL Draft. Maybe part of that had to do with character concerns, but regardless, scouts for teams picking from first to 20th dropped the ball.

Moss was the first truly great receiver prospect, running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at Marshall’s Pro Day and checking the box as arguably the most productive college receiver ever.

Moss set FCS records in 1996. Then, when Marshall moved up a level in 1997, he broke FBS records on his way to a fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.

He caught 174 passes for 3529 yards and 54 touchdowns in just two seasons and was still passed over in the draft. In the 2020s, a receiver with Moss’ exact profile wouldn’t fall past fifth in the draft, partially because of Moss himself.

Moss is still second all time in career touchdown receptions and fourth in receiving yards. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.

1) Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (2007)

  • Height: 6’5″
  • Weight: 240 pounds
  • Best Trait: Height-Weight-Speed Combination

Calvin Johnson certainly wasn’t the first height-weight-speed receiver, but he was the guy who put the term on the map. Bigger than some edge rushers, Johnson ran an absurd 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

At his Georgia Tech Pro Day, Johnson put up an incredible broad jump of 139 inches and a vertical jump of 42.5 inches. With his 36-inch arms, Johnson has an argument for largest catch radius in the history of the NFL.

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Unlike some other freakish athletes, though, Johnson had nuance to his game. He was an intelligent route runner who did more than simply run deep and jump high. He was a more than capable route runner with soft hands.

Johnson only played nine seasons but eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in all but two of them, breaking records in his historic 2012 season. Despite his abbreviated career, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2021.

While it’s likely that we’ll eventually see another prospect in his athletic range, every freakishly athletic receiver will be compared to Megatron.

All the 2024 NFL Draft resources you need — the draft order, the top QBs, the Top 100 prospects, and the full 2024 Big Board — right at your fingertips at Pro Football Network!

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