The mid-2000s gave the NFL plenty of new trends, ranging from the emergence of the Patriot Way to the six-week period where the Wildcat revolutionized offenses before imploding in on itself like a dying star. The best of these, or at least the most entertaining, was the era of the petulant wide receiver.
No one embodied that more than Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, nee Johnson, two bombastic sigils of stardom and celebration. Ochocinco had seven 1,000-yard seasons in an 11-year career somehow more notable for over-the-top touchdown celebrations and a mid-career name change. Owens, the recent Hall of Fame inductee — even if he’s not interested in attending — finished his career as a top-five wide receiver but is just as known for his play off the field as he is on it:
Each player brings massive talent and similar headaches to the locker room. Owens burned his way through five different teams over the course of 15 years, eventually fading out of the league at 38 years old despite a 983-yard final season and a burning desire to keep playing (that continues to this day). Ochocinco’s career was slightly more stable, sticking in Cincinnati before the Patriots took a chance on him in 2011 to give him one final shot at NFL playoff glory (he had one catch in the postseason that winter).
At their peaks, each man was worth the trouble. Owens and Ochocinco were each field-stretching burners who could get downfield in a hurry or carve up shorter routes inside the hashmarks. Together, they caught 220 regular season touchdown passes. They were awesome — but if you had to pick one receiver for one season at his peak, who would you choose?
Which player would you rather have for one season at his prime: Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco?
Owens had the better overall career, but at their heights you can make an argument for either man. Ochocinco led the league in receiving yards in 2006. Owens led the NFL in receiving touchdowns three separate times. Each had at least four All-Pro seasons.
But getting them in their prime also means you’re getting them at their most attention-seeking. So who do you choose?
The case for: Hall of Famer Terrell Owens
Yes, Owens was the tougher player to deal with. He constantly stole the spotlight on and off the field, whether it was celebrating on the Dallas Cowboys’ midfield logo (and rightfully getting clobbered for it) or doing driveway crunches through an offseason impromptu press conference.
But on the field, he was one of the best receivers the NFL has ever seen. Owens has few peers when it comes to his case as the best wideout of the 2000s. From 2000 to 2007, he averaged 1,407 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns per 16 games. At 6’3 and 225 pounds and with 4.4-second 40 speed, he was uncoverable in stretches, able to beat cornerbacks downfield and out-muscle safeties in the red zone.
That was enough to make up for the celebrations, the quotes, the tears, and the Monday Night Football intros. Owens could beat you so many different ways, then make you feel like shit afterward.
And one area where he absolutely slaughters Ocho is in the postseason. Owens didn’t shy away from the biggest spotlights of his career. While there are plenty of playoff clunkers on his resume, he came up big when his teams needed him the most. Most notably in San Francisco:
But also with the Eagles, where he came back early from a broken freakin’ leg to haul in nine catches for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX. Ochocinco, on the other hand, has seven career postseason receptions. — Christian D’Andrea
The case for: Chad by-god Ochocinco
Terrell Owens is headed to the Hall of Fame, and Chad Ochocinco will probably never join him. Even with Owens and Moss getting in, there are still receivers like Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Hines Ward with much better résumés than Ochocinco.
But those are mostly a case of longevity. At his best — a six-season run between 2002 and 2007 — Ochocinco was ridiculous.
He had 531 receptions for 8,036 yards with 48 touchdowns over that span. Ochocinco is one of only eight receivers to ever eclipse 8,000 yards over a six-year span, and Owens isn’t on that list.
The peak of the Ochocinco era was 2005-2007 when he had 4,241 yards and 24 touchdowns in three years.
Point is: Owens may have the career stats, but prime Ochocinco was right there with him. He just didn’t do as long.
Maybe the bigger reason to go with Ochocinco over Owens is that he never did much to suggest he was a pain in the ass to have on the roster. Touchdown-dancing diva? Sure. But Ochocinco played 10 seasons for the same team.
Even when he was traded to the Patriots, and struggled so much that he was a healthy scratch for the 2011 AFC Championship, there wasn’t any drama from Ochocinco. His time in the NFL ultimately ended with off-field troubles, though: an arrest for domestic battery in 2012.
But the question here is which receiver would I pick in his prime. Give me peak Ochocinco. — Adam Stites
The honorable mention case for: Saints-prime Joe Horn
Even though my lasting memory of Horn is him digging under the goalpost padding to pull out a cell phone, the rangy wideout can make a case as the second-best free agent signing in Saints history. He recorded four seasons with at least 1,265 receiving yards over five years and caught 45 touchdowns in that span, all while playing with starting quarterback Aaron Brooks (and, for a short stretch, Jeff Blake).
Horn was never a straight-line speed burner, but he was a shifty runner who created separation in droves. He was smart enough to know when to break off routes and carve his way into open space downfield, providing New Orleans with the kind of home run threat who would be the template for Drew Brees’ ideal receiver for years to come. He didn’t have the numbers or recognition of Owens and Ochocinco, but Joe Horn was pretty damn good. — Christian D’Andrea
So which one is your pick?
Which pain in the ass, awesome-on-the-field WR would you pick?
This poll is closed
(looks around) (lowers voice) ...Joe Horn