Ranking NFL’s 10 greatest catches of all time: Where Justin Jefferson’s circus grab vs. Bills fits in

After 102 years, it’s hard not to see something on a football field that has never been seen before. Yet, late in the Vikings‘ wild win over the Bills on Sunday, Pro Bowl wideout Justin Jefferson made a catch that was truly one of a kind. 

The catch reinforced Jefferson’s status as one of the best offensive players in today’s game. Still just 23 years old, Jefferson has already eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards this season. His 69 catches so far match the total Randy Moss had for the entire year when he captured Rookie of the Year honors following his historic 1998 season with the Vikings. 

Like Moss, Jefferson is now the owner of one of the 10 greatest catches in NFL History. Below is a ranking of the NFL’s best catches so far, along with the criteria of how we came up with the list. 

  • Difficulty of the catch
  • Individual significance of the catch 
  • Historic significance/magnitude of the catch

Honorable mention: Marvin the Martian 

Marvin Harrison snared a host of catches that were otherworldly during his Hall of Fame career with the Colts. His best catch may have been his touchdown grab in a 2005 regular-season win over the Patriots. Harrison was able to stab at the ball with his left hand, enough to bring it closer to his body. Harrison then corralled the ball while keeping his feet in bounds. The catch, which occurred in front of a “Monday Night Football” audience, would surely have had a similar impact as OBJ’s catch eight years later had social media existed. 

10. Jefferson’s grab cracks the list

Only 10, you ask? Jefferson’s catch was unreal, as he literally pulled the ball out of the defender’s grasp with one hand while falling to the ground, then securing the ball before it could touch the ground. But since it just happened (in a regular-season game, no less), it doesn’t have the same historical significance as some others. If this catch contributed to a win that ultimately helped the Vikings capture the franchise’s first Super Bowl win, rest assured that Jefferson’s balletic effort will move up several spots. 

9. Mossed 

Randy Moss made breathtaking catches over defenders so routine that the term “Mossed” was coined in his honor. He made such a catch in front of All-Decade defensive back Darrelle Revis. It was catches like this that made Moss a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction. 

8. Rice being Rice 

While Moss has put it into question, Jerry Rice still holds the mantle as arguably the greatest wideout in NFL history. His one-handed catch in Super Bowl XXIII (which you can see at the 8-second mark in the video below) is just one example of Rice’s greatness. He won MVP honors that night after catching 11 passing for a still-standing Super Bowl record 215 yards. 

7. OBJ goes viral 

We’re not sure if this the first viral play in NFL history, but it is certainly one of the most talked about plays in league history. Social media certainly played a role in Odell Beckham Jr. becoming an overnight star following his one-handed catch against the Cowboys on “Sunday Night Football” in 2014. Beckham’s star remains bright eight years after the catch, as everyone continues to speculate on where he will play next. 

6. Edelman’s Super Bowl snag 

One of the biggest plays during the Patriots’ epic comeback in Super Bowl LI was Julian Edelman’s 23-yard, fingertip catch late in regulation. The catch, which was upheld upon further review, helped set up the game-tying score. New England, which trailed 28-3 with 17 minutes remaining, then completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history by winning the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. 

5. Swann’s levitating leap 

Lynn Swann famously took ballet in order to improve his leaping ability. It paid off in Super Bowl X, as Swann skied over Mark Washington before coming down with a 53-yard catch. The play — which immediately went down in NFL lore — was part of a dominant day for Swann, who caught four passes for 161 yards that included the game-winning score. 

4. Santonio’s six pack 

Santonio Holmes‘ game-winning touchdown late in Super Bowl XLIII is on the short list of all-time Super Bowl catches. The catch not only helped the Steelers pull out a 27-23 win over the Cardinals, it gave the Steelers a record sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

3. ‘The catch’ 

When a catch has that title beside it, it has to be a pretty elite grab. That’s certainly the case regarding Dwight Clark’s fingertip catch that defeated the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. The catch simultaneously jump-started the 49ers‘ dynasty while ending the Cowboys’ dynasty. 

2. The helmet catch 

Along with being a jaw-dropping play, David Tyree’s helmet catch near the end of Super Bowl XLII essentially ended the Patriots’ dreams of a perfect season. While not as significant, the catch also reshaped Eli Manning’s career from underachiever to Super Bowl MVP. 

1. Immaculate Reception 

As the greatest play during the NFL’s first century, Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” has to top this list. Harris’ fingertip catch, which came after a deflection on a fourth-down play, delivered the Steelers’ first-ever playoff win. The catch birthed a dynasty in Pittsburgh while creating a controversy (Raiders fans feel that Steelers running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua touched the ball first, which would have made Harris’ catch illegal) that John Madden never got over. 

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