Some would say the decade doesn’t end until December 31, 2020. To those we say, “We don’t care what you say.” Most say it ends next Tuesday. So, like pretty much everyone else, we’re creating Top 10 lists for the last 10 years. Now, the receivers.
1. Julio Jones. He entered the league with high expectations when the Falcons made a huge jump in round one nearly nine years ago to get him. He has delivered, with more receiving yards than anyone else in the decade (12,047), and a level of ability that constantly commands extra attention from defenses. He’s a two-time All-Pro who has led the league in receiving twice, and who has made it to seven Pro Bowls. Eventually, he’ll have a bronze bust in Canton.
2. Antonio Brown. Dominant for most of the decade, Brown’s reputation took a major hit this year with his endless off-field shenanigans. The ensuing lost season perhaps kept him from the No. 1 spot. He still outperformed every receiver in the decade from a receptions standpoint, with 841. Like Jones, Brown led the league in receiving yardage twice and made it to seven Pro Bowl rosters. Unlike Jones, Brown was a first-team All-Pro four times, helping flip a Pittsburgh franchise from being known for defense to being dominant on offense. He’ll be remembered for reasons other than his skills and abilities, unfortunately.
3. Larry Fitzgerald. Steady, consistent, and effective, Fitzgerald in the past decade has gone from great player to sure-fire Hall of Famer to one of the finest players of all-time, at any position. A consummate professional who has endured without complaint or agenda a revolving door of mediocrity at quarterback, Fitzgerald has shown up for work, done his job, and done it very well, with 751 catches for 9,051 yards and 61 touchdowns during the past 10 seasons for the Cardinals.
4. Calvin Johnson. The single-season receiving yardage leader with 1,964 in 2012, Johnson would be even higher on the list if he’d played deeper into the decade. But he surprisingly retired after the 2015 season, with numbers in six seasons that are still more than enough to get him on the list. Dominance characterized his run in the NFL, and a two-year run starting in 2011 generated more than 3,600 receiving yards. His eventual Hall of Fame case is an intriguing one; he burned very bright for a relatively short period of time — without a single postseason win to show for his tenure in Detroit.
5. DeAndre Hopkins. A great player who at times hasn’t gotten the opportunities that would have allowed him to be even greater from a performance standpoint, Hopkins has been the most consistent and potent threat in Houston’s offense throughout the seven years since he entered the league. With five 1,000-yard seasons and a pair of first-team All-Pro designations, Hopkins had more catches and receiving yards in the past decade than Johnson, in one additional season.
6. A.J. Green. Arriving like Julio Jones in 2011, Green started his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons and seven straight Pro Bowls for the Bengals. Injuries began to take a toll in 2016, and he missed all of 2019 due to an injury suffered during training camp. He still has more than 8,900 receiving yards and 600 catches. It will be interesting to see what he does in a new decade, possibly with a new team.
7. Demaryius Thomas. A pass-catching machine during the Peyton Manning heyday in Denver, Thomas had two so-so seasons with bad quarterbacks until Peyton arrived, sparking a three-year run of 1,434, 1,430, and 1,619 receiving yards and 35 total touchdown receptions. Thomas’ production tailed off significantly post-Peyton, but the first-round pick from the first year of the decade deserves a spot among the best players at the position of the decade, with 724 catches, 9,763 yards, and 63 touchdowns.
8. T.Y. Hilton. An instant success from the moment he arrived in 2012, Hilton has quietly racked up big numbers (549 catches, 8,526 yards, 45 touchdowns) as the clear-cut No. 1 option in the Colts’ passing game, both with and without Andrew Luck. Injuries have made this a down season for Hilton. He’s still among the very best of the past decade.
9. DeSean Jackson. A speed burner who can singlehandedly transform an offense, Jackson has been a factor since arriving in 2008. From Philly to Washington to Tampa back to Philly (albeit for only one game this season), Jackson still strikes Randy Moss-style fear in defenses, given Jackson’s ability to take the top off a defense — and in turn to open up everything else underneath. His numbers for the decade are more than solid (474 catches, 8,352 yards, 44 touchdowns, 17.6 yards per catch), but it’s the constant threat of what he might do that helped make every offense for which he played better than it would have been without him.
10. Dez Bryant. The only receiver who spawned a catch phrase this decade, Dez caught it plenty of times during his career in Dallas that stretched from 2010 through 2017. An Achilles’ tendon tear derailed his in-season effort to help the Saints last year, and he hasn’t played since leaving Dallas. He did more than enough in those eight seasons, with 531 catches, 7,459 yards, and 73 scores — all coming from one spot (the X position) in a meat and potatoes offense that did little to help him get open. If he’d played for a team that did more than rely on him to use his size and speed to kill what he ate, his numbers would have been even better.
Earning consideration but missing the cut: Mike Evans (it was basically a coin flip between him and Bryant), Emmanuel Sanders (generally underrated but ultimately not potent enough), Jordy Nelson (7,900 receiving yards and 68 touchdowns got him close to the top 10), Brandon Marshall (if he’d started his career in 2010 instead of 2006 he’d be close to the top), Odell Beckham Jr. (unfulfilled potential), Andre Johnson (not enough great years this decade), Michael Thomas (arrived too late in the decade), Jarvis Landry (very solid, but not enough of a consistent game-changer), Doug Baldwin (numbers weren’t strong enough), and Julian Edelman (the only Super Bowl MVP of the bunch, but not enough production in the regular season).