Ricky Proehl had one of the truly unique careers in NFL history. He played 17 years in the NFL as a wide receiver, never made a pro bowl, and wasn’t really involved heavily as a special teams returner. If you look at the list of guys who played the most career games without ever being selected as a pro bowler, Proehl is seventh in games played. The six guys in front of him include two long snappers, two kickers, and a punter. Blair Bush is the only position player to appear in more games.
I would submit that you have to be pretty good to keep getting opportunities when you aren’t one of the elites at your position. And this post is an homage to the Ricky Proehl All-Stars, those wide receivers who put up solid if unspectacular stats and continued to get opportunities because they were better than a lot of other guys.
To come up with this list, I used a simplified point system. A season with 601-700 receiving yards counted as a 10. Both 551-600 and 701-750 yard seasons counted as 8 points. Seasons of 501-550 and 751-800 were worth 6 points, and after that every 50 yards was one more point off. However, because we are trying to find the guys with these average starter stats, huge seasons are actually negative points. Thus, our Proehl All-Stars should be racking up seasons of between 450 and 900 yards. (All career data is courtesy Pro Football Reference).
I went back to guys who played the majority of their careers since 1988. Here is your list:
#1 Ricky Proehl (78 points)
Proehl’s career high was 65 catches and 877 yards in 1993. But he had at least 40 catches in a season nine times, and had at least 441 yards in 12 different seasons. He played for six different franchises and caught touchdown passes from 16 different quarterbacks, led by Steve Beuerlein (10) and Kurt Warner (8).
#2 Nate Washington (74 points)
Nate Washington, the best player ever from Tiffin, spent his career going from being the third receiver in Pittsburgh to playing in Tennessee with a menagerie of quarterbacks on mostly bad passing teams. His career high was 1,023 yards in 2011, and he caught touchdowns from Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Jake Locker, a 36-year-old Matt Hasselbeck in his career year, and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Zach Mettenberger while in Nashville. Washington played to age 32 and had eight seasons with between 450 and 800 yards.
#3 Shawn Jefferson (67 points)
Jefferson, a ninth round pick in 1991, moved into a starting role with the Chargers during their 1994 Super Bowl year. He went to New England two years later and started 61 games over four years, and then went to Atlanta. His career high was 841 yards in 1997 with the Patriots, and he had a seven year stretch with between 621 and 841 yards every season.
#4(t) James Jones (60 points)
James Jones had his career high of 890 yards in his final season in 2015 when he returned to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers. He spent one year in Oakland, gaining 666 yards. He averaged 649 yards per season while in Green Bay.
#4(t) Danny Amendola (60 points)
Danny Amendola has never reached 700 yards receiving in a season. His career high of 85 catches and 689 yards came in St. Louis with Sam Bradford. He spent every other year with New England hurt, and in odd-numbered years, had about 650 receiving yards. He then signed with Miami last year at age 33 and put up a very Amendola stat line. 59 catches, 575 yards (right on his 9.7 career average) and one touchdown.
#6 Ike Hilliard (58 points)
Ike Hilliard spent much of his prime in New York serving as a second receiver to Amani Toomer (and third or fourth option when you consider Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey). He topped out at 996 yards at age 23 and had a 12-year career in the NFL. In 2007, after two years as a backup in Tampa, he had 62 catches for 722 yards at age 31.
#7(t) Michael Crabtree (56 points)
You might be surprised to see Michael Crabtree on this list. But while he has been a consistent possession receiver and red zone threat (8 touchdowns or more in four different seasons) he has only averaged more than 60 receiving yards in a season twice (and both of those just barely). He has finished with 618 and 607 yards in the last two seasons, is a free agent, and will turn 32 in September.
#7(t) Deion Branch (56 points)
Deion Branch won a Super Bowl MVP award as a member of the Patriots. His career high was 998 yards in 2005. He was traded to Seattle after that season, and put up middling stats before being sent back to New England, and excelling for a 1.5 year stretch. In total, he played 11 seasons and had between 400 and 1,000 yards in all but the final one.
#9 Torrance Small (55 points)
Torrance Small spent a decade in the league, after being a 5th round pick out of Alcorn State. From ages 24 to 30, he had between 32 and 49 catches every season. Over that time, he bounced from the Saints to the Rams to the Colts to the Eagles. He had his best season in his one year in Indy, when he caught seven touchdowns from a rookie named Peyton Manning.
#10(t) Brandon LaFell (53 points)
Brandon LaFell is the definition of the second or third option. He finished as the 2nd or 3rd leading receiving on a team in seven of his nine seasons so far. He was behind Steve Smith and Greg Olsen in the pecking order in Carolina, then a third option in New England as the outside receiver, before moving to Cincinnati behind A.J. Green. His career high is 968 yards, in New England in 2014.
#10(t) Irving Fryar (53 points)
Irving Fryar’s name might surprise here. Even with the penalty for big seasons, he makes the list. He had five seasons over 1,000 yards, but the first didn’t come until age 29. And he had ten different seasons with between 450 and 910 receiving yards. The final one came at age 38, in Washington. He caught a touchdown pass from 19 different players, and caught at least 10 from the eclectic quartet of Dan Marino, Steve Grogan, Ty Detmer, and Tony Eason.
Others of note:
Wayne Chrebet (52 points)
Antwaan Randle El (52 points)
Curtis Conway (50 points)
Kelvin Martin (50 points)
Jabar Gaffney (48 points)
Mark Carrier (48 points)
Jason Avant (47 points)
Michael Jenkins (47 points)
Bill Brooks (47 points)