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Do Top Quarterbacks Need Great Receivers?

The Green Bay Packers will have the challenge of facing New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees at Lambeau Field on October 22. It should be a great contest – and a likely shootout.

I recently mentioned that Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who ranks third on the all-time passing yardage list, will soon obliterate the career passing marks of Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. I couldn’t think of any great wideouts that Brees has played with, which got me to wondering whether Brees has had a substandard receiving corps during his illustrious career.

I decided to take a look at the NFL’s four top all-time passing yardage leaders – and their receivers. I also added Aaron Rodgers, who will likely be number four when he ends his career.

The current career yardage leaders (ages in parentheses) are: Peyton Manning, at 71,940; Brett Favre at 71,838; Drew Brees (38) at 66,111, and Tom Brady (40 in August) at 61,582. Among other active players are: Eli Manning (36) at 48,218, Ben Rothlesberger (35) at 46,814, Carson Palmer (37) at 44,269, Matt Ryan (32) at 37,701, and Aaron Rodgers (33) at 36,827.

Eli Manning is eighth on the all-time passing yardage list, Big Ben 10th, Palmer 14th, Ryan 21st, and Rodgers 23rd. Barring injuries, and of course depending on how many more years these QBs play, Matt Ryan poses the biggest threat to finish his career ahead of Rodgers. Because Aaron sat on the bench for his first three years, he doesn’t have a realistic chance of catching Manning or Favre.

Who’s Had the Best Receivers?

I’ve reviewed the careers of the five quarterbacks shown below. The years listed are those in which the quarterbacks were starters and the listed receivers were on the team. I attempted to list only top receivers, and I’ve tried to grade them according to their ability and talent at the time they were with the respective QBs, but that grading is meant as only a rough guide. I suspect I’m omitting one or more fine receivers.

Peyton Manning – Colts
A+ Reggie Wayne – 2001-2010
A+ Marvin Harrison – 1998-2009
A Demaryius Thomas – 2012-15 (Denver)

Brett Favre – Packers
A+ Sterling Sharpe – 1992-94
A- Antonio Freeman – 1995-2003
A- Donald Driver – 1999 -2007

Drew Brees – Saints
A Jimmy Graham – 2010-14
A- Marques Colston – 2006-2015
A- Antonio Gates – 2004-05 (Chargers)

Tom Brady – Patriots
A+ Rob Gronkowski – 2010-16
A Wes Welker – 2007-2012
A Randy Moss – 2007-2010
A- Aaron Hernandez – 2010-12

Aaron Rodgers – Packers
A+ Jordy Nelson – 2008-2016
A- Greg Jennings – 2008-2012
A- Donald Driver – 2008-2012
A- Jermichael Finley – 2008-2013


Of the above names, these are among the 101 all-time leading yardage receivers in NFL history: Randy Moss (3), Marvin Harrison (8), Reggie Wayne (10), Antonio Gates (33), Donald Driver (44), Wes Welker (47), Marques Colston (49), Greg Jennings (81), Sterling Sharpe (87), and Demaryius Thomas (101).

By a wide margin, Peyton Manning was blessed with the most gifted receivers, especially in view of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne each having been with Manning for at least 10 years. Manning played a cumulative total of 25 years with those on the above Top 101 list.

I would rate Drew Brees as having the least talented receivers during his 11 years with the Saints, and five with the Chargers. Though Brees played a combined 17 years with top 101 players, I still rate this the least talented receiver group due to Colston, who was steady and had a lengthy career, but was never even named to a Pro Bowl. Brandin Cooks, who appears to be headed for greatness, was inexplicably traded to the Patriots in March, after three years with Brees.

I am unable to separate the remaining three receiving corps.

Wes Walker put up tremendous numbers with Brady, though not too many people would term him a great receiver. Of the two tight ends, I give Gronkowski the highest of marks, much better than the overrated Aaron Hernandez. Randy Moss didn’t team up with Brady until his 10th year, but he did have three very productive seasons in New England. Brady has a combined 10 years of playing with top 101 receivers.

Brett Favre had only one top-level receiver, Sterling Sharpe, but they were only a duo for three years. Driver was consistent, but never a great receiver. I found Freeman’s numbers to be surprisingly ordinary. Favre played 12 combined years with top 101 receivers.

Like his predecessor, Aaron Rodgers has had but one top-notch receiver in his nine years to date as a starter. In case anyone doubts Nelson’s grade, while he’s short on All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, the Rodgers-Nelson duo has, I believe, far and away the highest “efficiency rating” of any recent duo. This means that when Rodgers throws to Nelson the completion percentage, yardage gained per pass thrown his way, and interception rate are all fabulous – no current duo even comes close. To date, Rodgers has played 10 years with top 101 guys.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Cheese May 18, 2017

    Jermichael Finley an A-?? No way. This should be based on production, not coulda shoulda woulda but never did.

  2. PF4L May 18, 2017

    Ok, now take all those blue chip receivers and make Sanchez, Cutler, Bradford, Bridgewater, Tannehill, Bortles, and Fitzpatrick their starting QB.

    We saw what happened when Jennings went to join forces with the great Bridgewater and Tannehill.