NFL: Ranking the Five Deadliest Quarterback-Receiver Combinations in History


Photo: Matt Detrich / Indianapolis Star

With the possible season ending injury to Michael Crabtree weighing heavily on the minds of San Francisco 49ers fans everywhere, there are questions as to who will step up and become the No. 1 receiver this season as the 49ers look to make their way back to the Super Bowl.

While we toss around questions about Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, and A.J. Jenkins, we can’t help but do the one thing sports fans are truly great at: reminisce about the good old days.

So in true reminiscent spirit, here are my five deadliest quarterback-receiver combinations in history; you may be a little surprised, and yes, tight ends count.

Jim Plunkett Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

5. Jim Plunkett to Todd Christensen

Jim Plunkett spent much of his early career as a middle-of-the-road, somewhat unimpressive quarterback, despite being a Heisman Trophy winner. That is, until he found a home in Oakland, and a great tight end in Todd Christensen.

People seem to forget that Christensen has stats that stack up just as well, if not better than most HOF tight ends. Christensen had 60 more career receiving yards than Mike Ditka, and only two less career touchdowns, at 41.

Plunkett threw him 20 of those 41 touchdowns and together they led the Oakland Raiders to two Super Bowl victories in four years.

4. Jim Kelly to Andre Reed

Jim Kelly is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and he connected with Andre Reed more times than anyone else. In fact until recent years, the two had hooked up more than any quarterback-receiver combination ever.

This dynamic duo led the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowl appearances, and though they didn’t win any, the definitely earned a spot on this list.

3. Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry

This combination changed the game of football forever with well-timed routes at a time when sharp routes weren’t the norm.

Unitas and Berry practically invented the two-minute drill and ran it to perfection, mystifying defenses around the league and earning trips to Canton.

Not bad for a late draft pick and a quarterback who was cut by the Steelers.

Photo: Michael Maloney, San Francisco Chronicle

2. Steve Young to Jerry Rice

What? Steve Young? Yes, Steve Young.

Young spent the early part of his career being mentored by the best quarterback to ever walk on the field  in Joe Montana (my humble opinion). Not to mention, he inherited one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.

So why not Montana to Rice? Simple, Young and Rice hooked up for 85 touchdowns, that is 50 more than the prolific wide receiver pulled in from Joe.

Also, Rice had his best Super Bowl performance with Young, catching three of the six touchdowns thrown by Young against the San Diego Chargers

No one is saying that the Montana-Rice combination wasn’t great. I’m only saying that the Young-Rice hookup was better.

1. Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison

This one is almost a no-brainer.

Manning and Harrison hold nearly every quarterback-receiver record there is: most career hook-ups (953), most touchdowns (112), single-season receptions (143), and single-season and career passing yards (1,722 and 12,756).

Manning and Harrison racked up yardage and scored touchdowns like they were born to play the game as a team, and with that kind of track record, maybe they were.


It’s easy to look back and make lists like this one. There are records and stats that are written on the pages of history. What is more difficult is to quantify the intangibles, things that made quarterbacks like Montana and Troy Aikman great.

As difficult as it may be, however, that is what must be done as the 49ers look to their wide receiver corps to see who can fill the role of the next great receiver.