There is no question that the Minnesota Vikings have seen many great receivers come and go. They date back to the late 1970s and early 1980’s when Sammy White and Ahmad Rashad played. In the late 2000s when Percy Harvin ran wild alongside the tall and lanky Sidney Rice. Whatever decade you jump to, it seems that there are one if not multiple wide receivers that the Minnesota Vikings had playing that were special. Today I want to look at and identify the five wide receivers I think are the best that have donned the purple and gold.
Greatest Vikings Wide Receivers of All-Time
5) Jake Reed (1991-1999, 2001)
One of three pieces to the well-known “Three Deep” that the Minnesota Vikings wide recievers had back in the 1990s catching the ball. Jake Reed is probably the lesser-known of the three, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t equally as impressive or important as the other two pieces. Don’t worry, we will get to the other two players in a second if you’re unfamiliar with “Three Deep.”
Reed played ten seasons with the Vikings, and as of today sits at number four on the Vikings’ all-time receiving list. Reed totaled 6,433 receiving yards in 134 games played. That yardage total puts him ahead of the great Sammy White and Ahmad Rashad. Reed also averaged 15.6 yards per reception and scored 33 touchdowns for the Vikings.
He may not have been the flashiest of receivers, but it didn’t matter. Reed was the perfect complimentary piece to the team in the 90s. If it wasn’t for him, they probably wouldn’t have been as successful as they were. Watching him run routes perfectly with Randy Moss and Cris Carter was a thing of beauty. If the other two were blanketed, you knew that Reed was open and he would make the catch as needed. Reliability is key, and Reed was just that. As a kid, it was those three that really made me love the Vikings. I don’t know if it was my age at the time, or the success they were having. But I’ll always remember Jake Reed being a top-notch team player and a wide receiver that I’ll never forget on the Minnesota Vikings.
4) Adam Thielen (2013-Present)
The home-state hero. Born and raised, Minnesota State University Mankato product that made the practice squad. You know the story, and I won’t bore you with it for the 1,000th time. Truth is, Thielen has become one of the best wide receivers we have seen for the Vikings. He sits seventh on the Vikings’ all-time receiving yard list He has the very genuine possibility to surpass Steve Jordan, Sammy White, and the aforementioned Jake Reed in 2022.
There is a guy I’ll talk about later that may have had the surest hands in the game. But Thielen is no slouch in that department. I don’t know how many times we have seen him make ridiculous catches week in and week out. It doesn’t matter if the pass is on the numbers or two feet out of play, odds are real good he’s going to catch it.
He has grown into a leader in that locker room, and players look up to him. We have a young wide receiver room, and I have no problem at all knowing that Thielen is the veteran there guiding and mentoring them. If they can adopt his mindset and hard-working ethic, we have a bright future of players.
There have been many moments that made us hold our breath and cheer loudly due to his play. Just a few years ago is one of my favorites. A playoff game against the New Orleans Saints when Kirk Cousins dropped a dime into Thielen’s breadbasket. That helped set up the game-winning touchdown throw to Kyle Rudolf. Thielen was looking straight up into the air while running downfield, opening up his arms to let the ball fall in. He did this and caught it, all while Saints’ Patrick Robinson drug him down from behind.
Now that he is sticking around a while longer, it will be fun to see what else Thielen does, and how much farther he can climb the ranks in the Vikings all-time receiving list.
3) Anthony Carter (1985-1993)
I wish I could say that I’m old enough to remember watching Anthony Carter play football, but sadly I can not. When Carter was in his prime I was a toddler. So for this pick, I had to do a little digging and look at his stats from his nine seasons of playing for the Vikings. To no surprise his stats are stellar. They should be, he’s number three on the Vikings wide receivers list with 7,636 yards. Not only that, but he tallied up 52 receiving touchdowns in his Vikings career.
He had back to back to back 1,000-yard seasons, and in the previous season before that streak, he had a staggering average of 24.3 yards per reception. Do you have any idea how incredible that is? Let me put it into perspective for you. What do people remember Randy Moss for the most? The answer will most likely be the 1998 season and his unreal ability to catch the long ball and take it to the house. Well, what if I told you that Moss never even came close to Carter’s yards per catch average? It’s true. Moss’ best season was 19 yards per reception compared to Carter’s 24.3. Pretty incredible.
He was also a special teams stud. Let’s go back to the 1987 season. That year, Carter set the record for most punt return yards in a single playoff game. It would have been the Wild Card game against the New Orleans Saints, and Carter tallied up a whopping 143 punt return yards. Carter was also elected to the Pro Bowl in 1987, 1988, and 1989.
It sure does seem like Carter was destined for greatness in a Vikings uniform. If it hadn’t been for the next two players I’m about to talk about, he may have been the greatest Vikings wide receiver ever, period.
2) Randy Moss (1998-2004, 2010)
Where does one begin when talking about the “Super Freak?” I had a really tough time bouncing Moss and Cris Carter back and forth as the greatest on this list, but Moss couldn’t quite edge Carter. The moment Moss entered the league he made a gigantic splash, and he made sure that splash had ripples that lasted seven years with the Vikings. The rookie season was magical, in all aspects. But of course in true Minnesota sports fashion, it ended in utter and complete heartbreak. I would be lying to you if I told you that 11-year-old James didn’t bawl his eyes out sitting in his Uncle’s La-Z-Boy chair while Gary Anderson missed the biggest kick in Vikings history. But never-mind that.
Moss won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. That season he had 69 receptions for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 17 receiving touchdowns just so happened to be a record. Moss would finish his Vikings career second all-time in receiving yards with 9,316. Not only that, but he finished second all-time for receiving touchdowns with 92.
From squirting the referee on the sidelines to pulling off the “Lambeau Moon,” there was never a dull moment from Moss. People ate it up. Some called him immature and selfish. The thing was, he could back it up by completely destroying the team the Vikings were playing single-handedly. Those poor Cowboys on Thanksgiving in ’98 didn’t stand a chance. It might honestly be the single greatest stat line in the history of the NFL. It reads as such: three catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Unbelievable. Again, 11-year-old James was sitting in his Great Grandpa’s living room, shoveling in pumpkin pie with a gigantic grin on his face. That game itself pretty much solidified Moss into the Vikings’ ring of honor.
Moss had an illustrious career, but the bulk of the greatness came in a Vikings uniform. As someone who got to witness it firsthand, I can’t feel luckier to have been able to do that.
1) Cris Carter (1990-2001)
All he does is catch touchdowns. That was the slogan for Cris Carter when he was on the Vikings. They weren’t wrong either. Carter scored a stunning 110 receiving touchdowns in his 12 seasons in purple. Not only that, but Carter sits on top of the Vikings’ all-time receiving yards list with 12,383. The final piece of the deadly “Three Deep.”
Reed, Moss, and Carter were something. They were so good that local radio stations teamed up with Burger King to make a poster. To this day, that poster is one of the most coveted Vikings posters to fans. I’m lucky enough to say I have one framed in my garage. But back to Carter and his Vikings legacy. The man could do no wrong. He would catch touchdown after touchdown, and make countless circus catches. He was the King of the one-handed grab. I remember one catch specifically. It was against the Miami Dolphins. Carter came across the middle and a defender was blanketing him so he could barely see the ball coming. Carter started falling forward and somehow caught the ball with one hand. This is just one of his many “wow” catches.
It wasn’t just the yards, touchdowns, or catches that made Carter the best Vikings receiver in history. His likability and leadership on the team were just as important. He took Moss under his wing. He leads that offense and team in the 90s.
Carter will always be one of the greatest Vikings wide receivers, and one of my favorite Vikings regardless of position. If you haven’t seen them, look up his highlight reels. There are countless videos of him doing what he did best. Hall of Famer, eight-time pro bowler, and Walter Payton Award recipient.
Cris Carter was the best receiver to do it in purple.