The trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo last week left many wondering how he’d be replaced in the Minnesota Vikings’ offense. It also left Vikings historians — i.e. Minnesota sports observers of a certain age — such as yours truly wondering where Diggs ranks among the team’s all-time greats at the position.
Wide receiver is a top-heavy position in Vikings lore, with a few obvious, all-timers firmly entrenched at the front of the line. So, with all that in mind, here’s my countdown of the top dozen wide receivers in Vikings history.
12. Hassan Jones
This list would not have felt complete without at least mentioning Jones, who ranks ninth all-time among Vikings wide receivers in yards (3,733) – more than the next three players on this countdown, albeit in more games played. In his seven seasons (100 games) with the Vikings, Jones was generally a second or third option in the passing game behind the likes of Anthony Carter and tight end Steve Jordan. His best season came in 1990 when he caught 51 passes for 810 yards and seven touchdowns.
11. John Gilliam
Gilliam wore No. 42 at a time when NFL wide receivers almost always had jersey numbers in the 80s, but that’s not the only reason he stood out. Had he played more than four seasons with the Vikings, he undoubtedly would have been higher in this countdown. From 1972 to 1975, he led the Vikings in receiving yards three times and helped the team reach two Super Bowls as Fran Tarkenton’s deep threat – the only Vikings player ever to catch at least 100 passes (he caught 165) while averaging at least 20.0 yards per reception. Gilliam is one of seven wideouts in this Top 12 list to be named one of the “50 Greatest Vikings,” as announced by the team in 2010.
10. Gene Washington
The Vikings’ predecessor to Gilliam, Washington played wide receiver for the Vikings from 1967 to 1972, when people were shorter and lived closer to water. That was also back when NFL offenses averaged about 13 completions and 150 passing yards per game. He was one of three Vikings first-round picks in 1967 (eighth overall) along with Clinton Jones (second overall) and some guy named Alan Page (15th). Washington made two Pro Bowls in an age when that game still kind of meant something: in 1969 and their first Super Bowl season of 1970. Only Randy Moss (six seasons), Cris Carter and Anthony Carter (five each) have led the Vikings in receiving yards more often than Washington (four).
9. Percy Harvin
Aside from the Superfreak at No. 1 on this list, Harvin is the most physically-gifted wide receiver to ever don a Vikings uniform. A receiver/running back hybrid, Percy was the proverbial “threat to score any time he touched the ball,” whether on a reception, hand-off or kick return. Had he stayed healthy and perhaps gotten along better with certain coaches, there’s no telling what he might have achieved. He’s one of the bigger “what ifs” in Vikings history. Even so, he led the team in receiving yards three times and put together a jaw-dropping highlight reel during his time in purple.
8. Adam Thielen
As a native Minnesotan, Thielen will always hold a special place in the hearts of Vikings fans. Even when setting aside any regional bias that could easily dilute the objectivity of such a prestigious list like this, Thielen warrants this high of a ranking. The production speaks for itself. And since he’s still going, there’s still room for him to leapfrog his now-former tag-team partner and climb a few more rungs on the ladder. To do so, he’d need to join the shortlist of 30-something wide receivers in Vikings history to have big seasons, as some old scribe detailed last week in this space.
7. Stefon Diggs
And now we arrive at Diggs. Placing him seventh was pretty easy if you just paint by the numbers. He ranks seventh all-time among Vikings wide receivers in both receptions (365) and yards (4,623), just ahead of Thielen (323, 4,315) in both metrics. He also ranks seventh among Vikings wide receivers in touchdowns (30). Diggs warrants some extra credit for his ridiculous route-running and big-play ability. Oh, and the “Minneapolis Miracle” is worth major bonus points as well… still not quite enough to bump him ahead of the sixth man on this list.
6. Jake Reed
Reed is perhaps best remembered for playing third fiddle alongside Randy Moss and Cris Carter in the Vikings’ vaunted “Three Deep” passing attack of 1998 and 1999. You can still find the poster on eBay. Prior to that, however, he was Carter’s running mate, as the two became the first teammate duo in NFL history to top 1,000 receiving yards in four consecutive seasons (1994-97). Reed ranks fourth in Vikings history in receiving yards and is one of five wide receivers with at least 400 receptions as a Viking.
5. Ahmad Rashad
Before joining the sports media, becoming one of Michael Jordan’s BFFs, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous and marrying Bill Cosby’s TV wife (Phylicia Rashad), Rashad was a college running back named Bobby Moore. In between, he was one of the best two wide receivers in the first quarter-century of Vikings football. Only four wide receivers have caught more passes as a member of the Vikings than Rashad’s 400 — and few receptions in team history are more iconic than his one-handed, Hail Mary grab against the Browns that sent the Vikings to the playoffs in 1980, dubbed “The Miracle at the Met.” It remains a “remember where you were” moment for Vikings fans.
4. Sammy White
White was named alongside the guy just below him on this list as the two wide receivers on the Vikings’ 25th Anniversary Team in 1985. Arguably the most dangerous wide receiver to wear a Vikings uniform prior to the Carter Era, White made the Pro Bowl his first two seasons in the league (1976 and 1977). His 6,400 receiving yards rank fifth in team history, nearly 1,000 more than the next wideout (Rashad with 5,489). He had 28 touchdowns through three seasons (44 games) and finished his career in purple with an even 50 scores – fourth-most in Vikings history, just two behind the man just above him on this countdown.
Carter cemented his Vikings legacy during the 1987 playoffs, leading them to road upsets of the Saints and mighty 49ers before they fell to Washington in the NFC Championship. AC totaled 16 receptions for 306 yards and a touchdown plus a punt return touchdown in the two playoff wins, landing him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. His 24.3 yards per reception in 1987 led the NFL and he made his first of three straight Pro Bowls. Only two wide receivers in Vikings history have amassed more receptions, more yards and more touchdowns than he did. Take a guess.
2. Cris Carter
These top two guys require little explanation. Carter was making one-handed catches look routine before it was cool. He’s the Vikings’ all-time leader in receptions (1,004), receiving yards (12,383), total touchdowns (110) and sky points. Such achievements would be enough to warrant the top spot on lists such as these for about 30 of the 32 NFL teams. If this was a list of the best hands or best waiver claims in NFL history, he’d be No. 1. But “c’mon man!” there can be only one No. 1 on this list.
1. Randy Moss
Was there any doubt? With apologies to Justice Page, Sir Francis and Adrian Peterson, Moss is the most impactful player in Vikings history. He’s also the most talented wide receiver in the history of the game. Note: I didn’t say the greatest (or the GOAT, as the oh-so-clever kids say these days); that title still belongs to Jerry Rice. Nevertheless, Moss changed everything for the Vikings and every team they faced. In seven seasons with the Vikings, he averaged (yes, averaged) 1,331 receiving yards and just over 13 touchdowns.