Selecting a wide receiver has been a hit or miss in the first round of the NFL Draft, as teams have debated whether they have received a good return of investment for a player taken on the first night. For every Justin Jefferson there is a Jalen Reagor, making the draft pick even harder to project how the player will turn out.
The wide receiver projection is certainly a wild card, as 94 players have been taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2000. Of those 94 players, 33 have been taken in the top 10 and 12 have been selected in the top five. No receiver has been taken No. 1 overall since Keyshawn Johnson in 1996, but the players taken in the top five have been a massive hit or a huge swing and a miss.
Who have been the best wide receivers taken in the first round of the draft since 2000? There are plenty of impressive resumes to choose from.
- Draft selection: No. 3 overall, 2004 (Arizona Cardinals)
- Arizona Cardinals (2004-2020)
Fitzgerald is awaiting his ticket to Canton as the Cardinals legend should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer with his impressive resume. He caught 1,432 passes for 17,492 yards and 121 touchdowns in his career, all with the Cardinals. Fitzgerald is second only to Jerry Rice in receptions and receiving yards and sixth all time in receiving touchdowns. He holds 24 NFL records and 40 franchise records, etching himself as one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Fitzgerald spent 17 seasons with the Cardinals, posting nine 1,000-yard seasons and five 100-catch seasons -- and led the NFL in receiving touchdowns and receptions twice. Fitzgerald made 11 Pro Bowl teams, was an All-Pro in 2008 and earned the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
Home run pick by the Cardinals.
- Draft selection: No. 2 overall, 2007 (Detroit Lions)
- Detroit Lions (2007-2015)
Already in the Hall of Fame, Johnson was arguably the greatest receiver through the duration of his nine seasons in the league. No player had more receiving yards (11,619), receiving touchdowns (83), and 100-yard games (46) than Johnson from 2007 through 2015.
Johnson holds nine NFL records, including having the most receiving yards in a season with 1,964 in 2012. He has three All-Pro selections, six Pro Bowl selections, and was a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team (and he retired in 2015). Johnson also is tied for the most 1,600-yard seasons in NFL history with four other players.
Johnson only played nine seasons to be one of the all-time greats. The Lions made sure they got that No. 2 pick right.
- Draft selection: No. 3 overall, 2003 (Houston Texans)
- Houston Texans (2003-2014), Indianapolis Colts (2015), Tennessee Titans (2016)
Johnson is certainly on the road to the Hall of Fame, and will become the first Texans player to be inducted into Canton. Johnson led the league in receptions and receiving yards twice, also leading the NFL in yards per game three times. He finished his 14-year career with 1,062 catches for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns -- earning seven Pro Bowl selections and All-Pro honors twice.
Johnson is 11th all time in receptions and receiving yards and owns every major franchise receiving record for the Texans. He has the most seasons in NFL history with 100-plus receptions and 1,400 yards (four).
He'll be enshrined in Canton soon. Not bad for a top-five draft pick.
4. Julio Jones
- Draft selection: No. 6 overall, 2011 (Atlanta Falcons)
- Atlanta Falcons (2011-2020), Tennessee Titans (2021), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2022)
The most accomplished receiver of the 2010s, Jones has made seven Pro Bowls and earned two All-Pro selections in his 13-year career. Jones has 13,629 career receiving yards (the most in NFL since 2011, his rookie year), and has led the league in receiving yards twice (2015 and 2018). He leads the NFL in yards after the catch since 2011.
Only Jerry Rice (15,123), Marvin Harrison (13,697) and Torry Holt (13,382) have more receiving yards than Jones after their first 11 seasons (13,330). Jones had 1,300 receiving yards in six straight seasons (2014-2019), tied with Holt for the longest streak in NFL history (only Rice has more 1,300-yard seasons in a career with seven). His 59 games with 100 yards receiving are third-most in the Super Bowl era, trailing only Rice (76) and Randy Moss (64).
While Jones's playing days are numbered, he's still on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
5. Reggie Wayne
- Draft selection: No. 30 overall, 2001 (Indianapolis Colts)
- Indianapolis Colts (2001-2014)
Another receiver who appears to be heading for the Hall of Fame, Wayne has played the most games in Colts history and has been involved in the most wins by a player for the franchise. Wayne has 1,070 receptions (10th-most in NFL history) and 14,345 yards (also 10th) to go with 82 touchdowns.
Wayne has four 100-catch seasons and eight 1,000-yard seasons with six Pro Bowl selections. He was also a key piece on the Colts' Super Bowl XLI championship team.
Not a bad resume for a player drafted late in the first round.
6. Mike Evans
- Draft selection: No. 7 overall, 2014 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014-present)
Evans has never had a season where he had less than 1,000 yards. He's played nine seasons and has reached 1,000 receiving yards all nine times, the most consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards to begin a career. Evans is the youngest player in NFL history to have 6,000 and 7,000 receiving yards and the youngest player to have six seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards.
Evans has 683 catches for 10,425 yards and 81 touchdowns, earning four Pro Bowl selections in his nine-year career. Keep in mind he's not even 30 years old (2023 will be his age-30 season). He's already 45th on the career receiving yards list and 30th on the active touchdowns list. Evans also has a Super Bowl LV title.
He's on his way to Canton with a few more productive seasons.
7. Justin Jefferson
- Draft selection: No. 22 overall, 2020 (Minnesota Vikings)
- Minnesota Vikings (2020-present)
Jefferson has only been in the NFL three seasons, yet he's been so productive over the course of his record-setting start thus far. Jefferson has 324 catches for 4,825 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first three seasons, the most receptions and receiving yards by a player after his first three seasons in the league.
Jefferson already has three Pro Bowl selections, an All-Pro selection, and an NFL Offensive Player of the Year award (2022). He's led the NFL in catches and receiving yards once in his short career and is arguably the best wideout in the league. Jefferson is the youngest player to lead the NFL in catches and receiving yards (23).
The Vikings wideout is just scratching the surface of what is the best start to a career for a wide receiver in NFL history.
- Draft selection: No. 27 overall, 2013 (Houston Texans)
- Houston Texans (2013-2019), Arizona Cardinals (2020-present)
Injuries have gotten the best of Hopkins over the past two seasons, yet he's still been one of the most productive receivers of his era. Hopkins has the eighth most receiving yards through a player's first 10 seasons in NFL history (11,298) and the fourth most receptions after a player's first 10 seasons (853). He's been an All-Pro three times and selected to the Pro Bowl five times in his 10 NFL seasons.
Hopkins has four 100-catch seasons and six 1,000-yard seasons in his career. Turning 31 this year, Hopkins is 28h on the all-time list in receptions, 36th in receiving yards, and 46th in receiving touchdowns. There's still time to make a Hall of Fame case.
- Draft selection: No. 5 overall, 2021 (Cincinnati Bengals)
- Cincinnati Bengals (2021-present)
Chase is already one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, showcasing how evolved wide receiver has been in this era of football. Already a two-time Pro Bowl selection, Chase has 168 catches for 2,501 yards and 22 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Bengals -- a game-changing player for that franchise.
Chase has the most receiving yards in a season by a rookie and is the youngest NFL player with multiple 100-yard receiving games in a single postseason (21) while his 368 receiving yards in a single postseason is the most by a rookie. Chase has the fifth most receiving yards after a player's first two seasons.
This is just the beginning for Chase.
10. A.J. Green
- Draft selection: No. 4 overall, 2011 (Cincinnati Bengals)
- Cincinnati Bengals (2011-2020), Arizona Cardinals (2021-2022)
The recently retired Green is one of the best Bengals wide receivers to ever play for the franchise. Green is second in Bengals franchise history in receptions (649), receiving yards (9,430) and receiving touchdowns (65) -- trailing only Chad Johnson in each category. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven years and recorded six 1,000-yard seasons in his 10 seasons with the team.
Green's 10,514 receiving yards rank 44th in NFL history, and he is one of just 27 players to record at least 725 receptions, 10,000 receiving yards, and 70 receiving touchdowns in his career. He finished with 727 receptions, 10,514 receiving yards, and 70 touchdowns in his 12 seasons.