Penn State Football

Who is Penn State’s best-ever WR? No. 1 was almost unanimous

Which wide receivers rose to the top?

We asked Penn State football players and writers to rank the top all-time wide receivers for the Nittany Lions.
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We asked Penn State football players and writers to rank the top all-time wide receivers for the Nittany Lions.

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Penn State football: The all-time Top 10 at each position

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We have made it to Day 4 of our summer series covering Penn State’s 130-year history.

Running backs were ranked first, followed by defensive tackles then defensive backs. Now, it’s time to figure out the top wide receivers in Nittany Lion lore.

As a reminder, we organized a group of 12 experts — six former players, six media members — to vote on the top-10 all-time players at each position. Each day we’ll release a new position, and if you think we missed something, you can vote in our fan poll, which will be released on July 22.

Here are Penn State’s top-10 wideouts based on the opinion of our 12-person panel.

WR Williams 1
Penn State's Derrick Williams (2) scores a touchdown during the second half of this NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 24-23. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Charlie Neibergall AP

10. Derrick Williams, 2005-2008

Best ranking / worst: No. 6 / unranked

Career stats: 161 receptions, 1,743 yards, 9 TDs; 594 rushing yards, 8 TDs; 1,095 return yards, 2 TDs

Every time Williams touched the football, something stunning was possible. Strictly as a receiver, Williams was just fine. In four years at Penn State, the most receiving yards he had in a season was 529; nothing special there. But on 278 touches from scrimmage, Williams averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. He was the first player under Joe Paterno to score a touchdown on a catch, kick and run in the same game, and in 2008, he was a second-team All-American because of his ability to break games open. He was a highlight-reel play waiting to happen.

WR Hamilton
Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton makes a catch for a touchdown during the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, December 30, 2017 at University of Phoenix Stadium. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

9. DaeSean Hamilton, 2014-2017

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / unranked

Career stats: 214 receptions, 2,842 yards, 18 TDs

Hamilton led the Big Ten in receptions (82) as a freshman, his production plummeted as a sophomore, the early part of 2016 was dampened by a dropped touchdown at Pitt, and the wideout gained redemption with an eight-catch showcase in the Big Ten Championship. Oh, and he left Penn State as the program’s most prolific pass-catcher, breaking Deon Butler’s receptions record by 34 snares.

Hamilton was a factor from his first game (11 catches, 165 yards in a Croke Park Classic win) to his last (110 yards, two touchdowns in a Fiesta Bowl victory). He is in the record books and left an indelible mark on Penn State’s wideout room. “He really set an example for guys that if you keep working,” quarterback Trace McSorley said, “over time, you’ll see those rewards.”

WR Johnson
Penn State's Bryant Johnson (24) tries to cut past Virginia's Jamaine Winborne (29) after catching a pass, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2002. Craig Houtz Centre Daily Times

8. Bryant Johnson, 1999-2002

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / unranked

Career stats: 110 receptions, 2,008 yards, 10 TDs

In 2001 and 2002 combined, Johnson accounted for 1,783 of the Nittany Lions’ 5,023 receiving yards — a staggering 35.5 percent clip. The 6-foot-3 wideout’s partnership with quarterback Zack Mills kept Penn State’s offense from treading water in 2001 and helped give running back Larry Johnson some breathing room in 2002. Johnson’s production was also appreciated in the NFL. He was drafted No. 17 overall in the 2003 draft and carved out a nine-year career in the league.

WR Jurevicius
Penn State vs. Wisconsin: Joe Jurevicius dances away from tacklers #17 Demetrius Brown and #24 Donte King Pat Little Centre Daily Times

7. Joe Jurevicius, 1994-1997

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / unranked

Career stats: 94 receptions, 1,894 yards, 15 TDs

Like Johnson, Jurevicius was only a two-year starter in Happy Valley and parlayed the opportunity into a fine NFL career. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and tallied 4,119 yards and 71 touchdowns over nine years in the league. While Jurevicius is the only receiver on this list to not reach 100 career catches with Penn State, he was effective with the Nittany Lions. He is the all-time leader with 20.1 yards per catch among Penn State receivers with at least 90 career receptions.

WR Godwin
Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin makes a catch for a touchdown around Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley during the Saturday, October 22, 2016 game at Beaver Stadium. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

6. Chris Godwin, 2014-2016

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / unranked

Career stats: 154 receptions, 2,421 yards, 18 TDs

Godwin’s nine catches, 187 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl highlighted his talent: He was a prototypical deep threat with the best hands to ever come out of Delaware. But Godwin’s production in “The Granddaddy of Them All” wasn’t a flash in the pan; the 6-foot-1 pass-catcher bodied defensive backs for two years at Penn State. Godwin’s 1,101 receiving yards in 2015 is the second-most by a Nittany Lion in a single season, and his 11 touchdowns a year later is tied for second-most in a campaign. When he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2016, NFL Network analyst Charles Davis equated Godwin’s game to “basketball on grass.” Makes sense.

WR Butler
Penn State's Deon Butler hauls in a catch past Michigan State's Danny Fortener in the second half at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, November 22, 2008. CDT/Christopher Weddle

5. Deon Butler, 2005-2008

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / unranked

Career stats: 179 receptions, 2,771 yards, 22 TDs

From 2005 to 2008, the Nittany Lions won 40 games and averaged 31.5 points per game with three different quarterbacks under center. The one constant? The wideout trio of Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler. And Butler was the top producer of the group.

The Virginia native who originally came to Penn State as a walk-on defensive back led the Nittany Lions in receiving all four years he started. Until Hamilton came along, Butler was the most prolific pass-catcher in Penn State history. Still, he sits second all-time in receptions (179) and third in touchdown catches (22) with a single-game record for receiving yards (216 against Northwestern in 2006).

WR Jackson 1
Penn State's Kenny Jackson (#82) and Notre Dame #12 during the 34-30 win against Notre Dame at Beaver Stadium on November 12, 1983. Pat Little file photo. Pat Little Centre Daily Times

4. Kenny Jackson, 1980-1983

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / No. 10

Career stats: 109 receptions, 2,009 yards, 25 TDs

The difference in votes between Jackson and those ranked Nos. 5 through 10 wasn’t really close. In 1981, Jackson’s two touchdown catches against No. 1 Pitt helped Penn State pull off its greatest upset of all-time. In 1982, Jackson became Penn State’s first All-American wideout; the New Jersey native was named first-team after helping the Nittany Lions to their first-ever national championship. And he was named second-team All-American in 1983 before being drafted No. 4 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the ‘84 draft — still the highest a Penn State wideout has ever been selected. Joe Paterno said after a 54-0 win over NC State in 1982 that Jackson was “the most dangerous (receiver) we’ve ever had” — and it’s easy to see why.

WR McDuffie 2
Penn State wide receiver O.J. McDuffie makes a catch ahead of a Boson College defender during the 1992 game.

3. O.J. McDuffie, 1989, 1991-1992 (1 first-place vote)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 9

Career stats: 125 receptions, 1,988 yards, 16 touchdowns; 1,547 return yards, 3 TDs

McDuffie earned his first-place vote. The 1992 consensus first-team All-American broke or tied 15 Penn State receiving, return or all-purpose yardage records before graduating. His career 125 receptions and all-purpose yards (1,831) in 1992 were program marks at the time. To this day, the only players with more all-purpose yards in a season were Saquon Barkley and Larry Johnson. The offensive MVP of Penn State’s 1992 Fiesta Bowl win, McDuffie was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the first round and became a franchise legend. The Ohio native — who ranks fourth in receptions and fifth in receiving yards in Dolphins history — was inducted into the organization’s Walk of Fame in 2013.

WR Robinson 1
Penn State's Allen Robinson hauls in a catch against Ohio State's Rod Smith on Saturday, October 27, 2012. Christopher Weddle CDT photo

2. Allen Robinson, 2011-2013 (1 first-place vote)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 9

Career stats: 177 receptions, 2,479 yards, 17 TDs

Robinson’s leaping grab against Michigan toward the end of regulation in 2013 — the most iconic play of the post-Paterno era, sans Barkley’s Rose Bowl run — highlighted a ground-shaking, four-overtime night at Beaver Stadium. But Robinson’s career was more than just one play.

In 2012 and 2013, when a scholarship-stricken Penn State squad was buoyed by Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense, Robinson was the featured man. When in doubt, throw to A-Rob. His program-record 97 receptions and 1,432 yards in 2013 may never be broken. The consensus first-team All-American was a complete pass-catcher — a jump-ball machine who was smooth in his routes and possessed the ability to take a screen pass and go the distance.

That skill set translated to the NFL, too. As a second-year player with the Jaguars in 2015, Robinson was the NFL’s receiving touchdowns co-leader and made the Pro Bowl. Not bad for a kid whose only offers out of high school came from Penn State, Toledo, Buffalo and Minnesota.

WR Engram 2
Bobby Engram against Iowa 11/18/1995 Pat Little Centre Daily Times

1. Bobby Engram, 1991, 1993-1995 (10 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 3

Career stats: 167 receptions, 3,026 yards, 31 touchdowns

The voting here wasn’t really close. Engram, who made the 2019 College Football Hall of Fame ballot, is the greatest wide receiver to ever play at Penn State.

The three-time All-American is Penn State’s leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches; he has more scoring snares than Allen Robinson and Bryant Johnson combined. Engram is the program’s lone Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the country’s best wide receiver. Engram earned that honor in 1994, when he accounted for 34.7 percent of the receiving yards on the nation’s top offense. The undefeated ‘94 squad was a juggernaut, with Engram, Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter forming arguably the best offensive trio the Big Ten has ever seen.

Engram once said, “If you want to call yourself one of the best, you have to be ready to make plays in the clutch.” For three years in Happy Valley, that’s what Engram did.

Top WR honorable mention: Chafie Fields, 1996-1999; Jack Curry, 1965-1967, Jimmy Cefalo, 1974-1977; Freddie Scott, 1993-1995

Voters in our panel: (Players) Keith Conlin, 1992-1995; Bill Contz, 1980-1982; Stephon Morris, 2009-2012; Joe Nastasi, 1995-1998; A.Q. Shipley, 2005-2008; Adam Taliaferro, 2000; (Media) Nate Bauer, Blue White Illustrated; Matt Brown, The Athletic; Cory Giger, The Altoona Mirror; John McGonigal, Centre Daily Times; Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times; Mark Wogenrich, Allentown Morning Call

How the voting was done: Each voter was given an online survey, with 20-50 players at each position, to rank 1-10. If a player was not listed, voters were given the option for a write-in. First-place votes gave players 10 points, second-place votes gave them 9, etc. We then added all the point totals together to find our top 10; honorable mentions have received at least 10 total points.

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