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NFL - US Sports: Greatest wide receivers in history

Blockbuster trades and huge free-agent deals involving wide receivers have proliferated this year as the position has become increasingly important in the NFL.

Even surpassing the free-agent wideout market explosion of 2018, 2022 saw Tyreek Hill become the highest-paid non-QB in the league with his new four-year, $120million extension from the Miami Dolphins, while the deals involving Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, AJ Brown and Stefon Diggs all went stratospheric too.

As the evolution of the wide receiver position continues with the San Francisco 49ers seemingly at the forefront again - as they were with the West Coast Offence in the 1980s - it's worth remembering the greatest players ever to line up there.

Jerry Rice: 1985-2004

Universally recognized as the greatest wide receiver in the history of football, 49ers legend Rice was a workaholic in practice, a fierce competitor on gameday and as precise a route runner as has ever played the game.

In his 20 seasons in the NFL, he led the league in receptions twice, yards six times, and touchdowns six times. His 22 touchdown catches in 1987 set an NFL single-season record and that last 20 years and came in just 12 games, due to a strike-shortened season.

Rice topped 1000 yards receiving in 14 different seasons and caught double-digit touchdowns nine times, including five seasons of over 15 - all of which are still records, but numbers don't tell the full story of his greatness.

He had the sort of career longevity rarely seen in a contact sport, appearing in every single game of every single one of his 20 seasons, except for 1997, when he missed 14 games due to a torn ACL suffered in the opener.

And Rice was a behemoth of the postseason where, in 28 games, he caught 151 passes for 2245 yards and 22 touchdowns - three of which came in two different Super Bowls, of which he appeared in four and walked off a winner in three.

His 215 receiving yards in Super Bowl XXIII remain a record for the annual game and although detractors, of whom there are few, will point to the fact that he had two of the greatest QBs in the game throwing his way for most of his career, his achievements close down any argument.

Randy Moss: 1998-2012

Moss was a one-man highlight reel for 13 thrilling seasons in the NFL, during which he used his unique combination of breakaway speed, incredible wingspan, sticky hands and tip-toeing feet to terrorize defenses.

Although regularly more spectacular than Rice, he never quite managed to stay at the top for long enough or enjoy the postseason success of his forerunner.

That said, he was a four-time First-team All-Pro, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1998) and a six-time Pro Bowler during his peak years.

Moss broke Rice's record for the most TD receptions in a season (23) in 2007 and still holds it to this day, but he couldn't quite get the ring he craved as two Super Bowl appearances - one each for the New England Patriots and Niners - both ended in defeat.

Terrell Owens: 1996-2010

Owens had a big mouth and the talent to back it up - most of the time - in a glittering career in which he earned five First-team All-Pro nominations, six Pro Bowl selections and three seasons as the NFL's receiving touchdowns leader.

Along the road to him slotting in at number three of the list of all-time receiving yards, Owens endured a bitter break-up from the 49ers and a self-inflicted suspension from the Philadelphia Eagles after controversial comments directed at then-QB Donovan McNabb and the team in the wake of Super Bowl XXIX agony.

Although he drew attention to himself in all walks of life, defenders still couldn't seem to stay with him on the football field and he enjoyed a purple patch later in his career with the Dallas Cowboys, where he became the first player in NFL history with at least one touchdown catch and six receptions in seven straight games.

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Raymond Berry: 1955-67

Determination, dedication and desire took Berry, who needed to wear special shoes because one leg was shorter than the other, to the top in an era where quarterbacks weren't regularly flinging the ball to the flanks.

The Baltimore Colts split-end led the league in receptions and receiving yards three times and in receiving touchdowns twice.

In the 1958 NFL Championship Game, Berry caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown and he retired nine years later as the all-time NFL leader in both receptions and receiving yardage.

Lance Alworth: 1962-72

Alworth's trademark leaping catches and blistering after-the-catch runs became legendary in San Diego, where he starred for the Chargers for most of his career.

He caught 542 passes for 10,266 yards and hauled in 85 touchdowns across 11 seasons and was named All-AFL across seven consecutive years from 1963 to 1969.

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