NFL stars are some of the most spectacular athletes on the planet. There’s nothing better than when a quarterback launches a pass toward a receiver and they pull off an amazing catch. Some of these wideouts produce the greatest catches of all time with jaw-dropping athleticism.
So today, we looked back at some of the greatest catches in NFL history. Many of them took place in clutch situations after the QB threw a desperate Hail Mary pass. There are also many one-handed catches and acrobatic efforts that saw players struggle to stay in bounds. Relive the greatest catches in NFL history right here.
Stefon Diggs – 2022
There were two brilliant catches in the space of a week in 2022. Justin Jefferson stole the headlines with his mesmerizing effort against the Bills but Diggs also had a brilliant moment. He produced an outstanding 25-yard reception of a Josh Allen pass against his former team (via Democrat & Chronicle).
He leaped into the air with one arm raised high and calmly snatched the ball out of the sky. It seemed like there were magnets in his gloves and the ball because he made it look so easy. Ultimately, the Vikings won the game and overshadowed Diggs’ highlight moment but it was still fantastic.
Cromartie called his one-handed interception the best play of his career. It’s no surprise because it was an exceptional moment that defined him as a player and was also one of the greatest catches ever. The amazing part of this effort was that it was his first game as a corner and he played against Peyton Manning.
The Chargers’ star was falling backward when Manning underthrew a pass. Cromartie reached out like he was plucking an apple from a tree and completed the interception. It was a career day for the former special teams player as he won the Defensive Player of the Week award (via ESPN).
Detroit fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about over the past decade but there were some moments of light. Whenever Matthew Stafford and Johnson combined they knew they would witness something special. The Lions played the Bengals when Johnson caught a Stafford rocket in spectacular style.
The way he jumped above the Bengals’ defenders was spectacular. He rose a head and shoulders over them as he seized the ball from the air. Meanwhile, he had two touchdown catches as he started the season on fire. It’s a shame that Stafford and Johnson couldn’t take the Lions to the next stage (via USA Today Sports).
Butler’s iconic interception may not have been the most spectacular catch on this list but it was a moment of pure drama. The Seahawks had the ball inches away from the Patriots’ end zone and knew that a score would win them the game. But Pete Carroll infamously instructed Russell Wilson to throw the ball instead of simply handing it off to Marshawn Lynch.
Then the rookie plucked the ball out of the air and sealed the deal for New England. He was an unlikely hero because most fans around the league didn’t know him well. But he successfully broke Seattle’s hearts and became a cult figure in Patriots’ history. That’s why he’s worthy of a place amongst the greatest catches in NFL history (via NBC Sports).
Unsurprisingly, wide receivers dominate this list but tight ends are capable of producing some of the greatest catches too. Enter Moeaki, who achieved one of the best that Arrowhead Stadium ever saw. The Chiefs played the 49ers when Moeaki scored a crazy touchdown as he showed his elite athleticism.
The NFL is home to some of the most outstanding physical specimens on the planet and Moeaki epitomized this. Matt Cassel threw the pass as Moeaki raced past the linebacker and dived for the ball. Then he reached out a hand like Superman and scored the best touchdown of his career (via SBNation).
The postseason always elevates the significance of the greatest NFL catches because they have more meaning. This one occurred in the AFC Wild Card round as the Steelers played the Bengals. It’s not the longest catch on this list but it’s still one of the most spectacular because Bryant had so much to do.
Somehow he trapped the football between his legs before flipping and catching the ball. This was an outrageous piece of improvisation that he’ll never be able to replicate again. Fans never know what to expect from the best receivers because they produce elite moments of beautiful chaos (via Bleacher Report).
The Chiefs witnessed one of the greatest juggling catches ever when Bowe pulled off the impossible. It was an exceptional day for multiple reasons because they also completed an amazing comeback against the Colts. They overcame a 17-point deficit to win the game and Bowe’s catch was a big reason as a true highlight reel moment.
He scored a 41-yard touchdown off the catch as he refused to allow the ball to slip away. It appeared that he had lost control a couple of times but he stayed calm and maintained his grip. In the end, he got a crucial score for the Chiefs on their path to victory. There’s no doubt that he remembers this day with fondness (via SBNation).
There’s no doubt that this is one of the greatest catches in NFL history because of its unlikely nature. It’s also fair to say that it wouldn’t happen today because officials intervene quicker than they did 20 years ago. The Packers played the Vikings on Monday Night Football when Freeman made this ludicrous catch.
Brett Favre slung the ball in Freeman’s direction but it appeared that a Minnesota defensive back intercepted it. However, he dropped the ball as Freeman slid to the ground beside him. Somehow the ball bounced off Freeman’s back and he caught it before it touched the ground in a miraculous moment (via Green Bay Press-Gazette).
It’s a shame that Hopkins spent most of his best years with a horrible team. But he was a rare bright light on a miserable roster of players with the Houston Texans. Hopkins had a sensational catch in 2017 when he faced the Steelers on Christmas Day. It wasn’t a happy holiday for the Texans because they had a terrible game.
But Hopkins showed his class with a phenomenal one-handed catch as the defender fell on top of him. Somehow he maintained his grip on the ball despite the physical contact and the icy conditions. He also deserves more credit because the Texans had a miserable situation in the quarterback room (via Sports Illustrated).
Monday Night Football fans witnessed one of the greatest catches ever in 2021 when the Titans played the Bills. Many people doubt Ryan Tannehill’s abilities as a quarterback but his life was easier the rare times when Jones was on the field throughout his one year in Nashville. The QB threw the ball upfield and it bounced off the defender’s helmet and toward the sideline.
Miraculously, Jones recovered his balance before turning and snatching it before it left the field. First, the officials ruled that it was out of bounds but they changed the decision because Jones did everything right. This is exactly the effect that an elite receiver can bring and the Titans were happy they had him that day (via Draft Kings).
There’s no such thing as an easy one-handed catch, but Lloyd’s was one of the most difficult in history. This one happened when he was a member of the Niners’ roster and saw him produce against the Seahawks. This was similar to Odell Beckham Jr’s more famous effort but it was equally amazing (via Fanduel).
If social media was around when Lloyd played for the 49ers he would have become a viral sensation. However, many diehards remember this moment because it was iconic. It was also one of the greatest catches of his career. Lloyd was no stranger to spectacular catches but this was special even by his standards.
When fans discuss the best catches, they automatically think of receivers jumping into the air and making an amazing grab. But defensive players also make great catches as Alexander proved against the Detroit Lions. He made a crucial interception from a Jared Goff intercepted a pass as he took command of the ball.
Alexander stepped across Amon-Ra St. Brown and claimed the ball with aplomb. He made it look easy in a masterful display of defensive class. There was nothing physical about this interception but it was a demonstration of perfect timing and awareness. That’s emblematic of all of the best catches on the field.
Wallace delivered one of the greatest one-handed catches in NFL history in 2017 when he scored against the Packers. The Ravens veteran showed that there was still life in the old dog as he showed his tenacity and skill. Joe Flacco threw a difficult pass toward his receiver who caught it with his left hand.
Then he pressed the ball against his body before stumbling past the Packers’ secondary into the end zone. Somehow he made it past DeMarcus Russell who was all over him like rash. Then he capped it off with a Lambeau Leap after scoring one of the most tenacious touchdowns on this list (via SBNation).
Harrison had many glorious moments for the Indianapolis Colts. Arguably, the wideout’s most impressive catch came during the regular season against the Patriots. He made a one-handed catch that Odell Beckham Jr. would have been proud of but received less attention than the future Pro Bowler.
The Hall of Famer didn’t receive the same attention for this outstanding moment because it happened just before the imminent dawn of social media. But make no mistake, it was an outrageous piece of skill as he caught the ball and demonstrated amazing balance to stay on the field (via Yahoo Sports).
The NFL rated this to be the best catch of 2016 and it’s also it one of the greatest catches ever. Evans and his fans enjoyed this moment against the Atlanta Falcons because of the difficult nature of it. The play took place in Week Nine when the Buccaneers trailed against Atlanta.
Jameis Winston threw the ball Evans’ way but it appeared to be too high. Somehow Evans saved his quarterback’s blushes with the catch of the season. He rose into the air and plucked it with one hand like a claw machine. Then he landed on both feet with full control of the ball before he took a hit (via USA Today Sports).
These days everybody knows what a Hail Mary is but the term didn’t exist before 1975. That’s when Roger Staubach threw a desperate long pass toward his Cowboys’ teammate, Pearson. Usually, Staubach receives more credit than the wideout but Pearson played a key role in the play.
It was also a crucial moment because the Cowboys trailed with a minute left in their NFC Championship Game clash against the Vikings. But they successfully turned the result around with Staubach and Pearson’s heroics. It was an ambitious throw but it was also a brilliant moment of calmness from Pearson (via L.A. Times).
The Seahawks traveled to Minnesota for a frigid playoff clash in 2016 but one moment warmed everybody in the stadium. It’s not fun to be a receiver in subzero conditions but Baldwin put in his best effort. He also produced one of the greatest catches in NFL history from a Russell Wilson pass (via Seattle Times).
This wasn’t even a good pass because it appeared that Wilson threw the ball too high. But Baldwin defied gravity and leaped into the air like a kangaroo with a stunning one-handed catch. If somebody said he had pogo sticks in his cleats we’d believe them because of his stratospheric jump.
Sometimes wide receivers make their quarterbacks look better than they were. Curry and Kerry Collins combined for a sublime moment of skill against the Broncos. It appeared that Collins threw the ball a little too high for his wideout but in the end, it didn’t matter. Curry jumped as high as he’s ever managed in his life.
Firstly, it’s remarkable how Curry jumped and caught the ball with one hand. But this wasn’t the best part of the move because he had a lot of hard work to do. The snowy conditions made it difficult for him to get off the ground but somehow he rose gracefully into the air (via Fanduel).
2015 saw some of the greatest NFL catches ever but it’s easy to forget about some of them. Bryant arguably had one of the best when he went airborne in a spectacular scene. He had one of the finest moments of his career against the Eagles when he scored a brilliant 18-yard touchdown.
It’s not the longest catch on this list but Bryant’s acrobatic athleticism earns this moment a place on this list. He jumped over a pair of Eagles defenders as well as his teammate before catching Tony Romo’s pass. It’s a miracle that he pulled off this ludicrous feat but that’s the type of skill in his locker (via Fansided).
This was easily the best moment of Manningham’s career. He produced a brilliant piece of skill in a clutch situation as the Giants trailed the Patriots. New England led by two points with just over three minutes left to play. Eli Manning saw that Manningham was available on the left side of the field (via Give Me Sport).
It didn’t matter that two Patriots defenders closed in quickly because Manning flung the ball at him. Somehow, he kept hold of the egg despite the New England pair smashing into him. He barely stayed on the field despite being millimeters from the sideline. Fans couldn’t believe what they saw and it definitely was one of the greatest NFL catches ever.
Ward had a stunning moment in 2022 as he demonstrated his amazing talents. The Cardinals took the lead against the Cowboys after a ludicrous fake punt and catch. Chris Banjo took the snap before throwing the ball toward Ward downfield but this was a difficult chance for the running back.
The Cowboys cornerback Nashon Wright interfered with Ward but it didn’t end well. Ward improvised by pressing the ball against his opponent’s helmet in an inspired moment. Then he secured the one-handed pass by pulling it back against his body. Fans loved this moment because of its unlikely nature (via USA Today Sports).
Jurevicius had some outstanding moments against the Philadelphia Eagles and made a habit of breaking their hearts. He helped the Bucs beat the Eagles in 2003 with an outstanding interception. The wideout jumped up and grabbed the ball out of the defender’s hands while he managed to stay in bounds.
Then there was a spectacular tipped catch in the same game. Jurevicius tipped the ball into the air before circling and diving to reclaim it. It was a sensational piece of improvisation that helped Tampa Bay to an emphatic victory. It’s safe to say that the Eagles were happy to see the back of him (via Bleacher Report).
Most people remember the pass that the Hawks missed against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. But it’s easy to forget that Kearse also made one of the most outstanding catches of the decade. It’s just too bad that he played for the losing team after this effort because it was a fantastic moment that lit up the game.
Kearse barely kept himself in play as he balanced precariously along the sideline. The best part was his reaction because he didn’t display any emotion despite his amazing effort. Later, Kearse described it as a ‘forgotten play’ because the Seahawks didn’t win the Super Bowl (via Seattle Times).
Here’s another of the great regular season catches that saw Holt produce a moment of magic. The Rams played the Seahawks in Week Six and Holt lit up the game. The quarterback flung the ball upfield and Holt caught it for one of the most precarious touchdowns in history (via KSDK).
He failed to make a clean catch immediately but somehow juggled the ball several steps before finally claiming it. This became a trademark of Holt’s game because he did the same thing a couple of times. Holt may never make the Hall of Fame but at least he has a great highlight reel.
Owens was one of the best wide receivers of his era, even if he made his quarterbacks hate him. He has an insane highlight reel that continues to impress younger NFL fans today. Meanwhile, Owens pulled off some of the greatest catches ever with a special one occurring against the Packers in the postseason.
The young wideout had a difficult game and struggled to catch passes of any kind. Meanwhile, the Packers gave him a tough time and hit him hard throughout. But Steve Young found him with a 25-yard pass and he bravely caught it over the middle of the field. It didn’t matter that the Green Bay defenders followed through because he had the ball (via NBC Sports).
Everybody knows that Hopkins is one of the greatest receivers of his era so it’s no surprise that he has a place on this list. He produced one of the greatest NFL catches ever in 2015 when he played for the Texans. Houston faced the Bengals in Week 10 when backup quarterback T.J. Yates replaced the injured Brian Hoyer.
Yates tossed the ball hopefully in Hopkins’ direction even though Adam Jones was all over the wideout. Somehow, Hopkins held off ‘Pacman’ and made an outstanding one-handed catch. This was a crucial moment because it ensured that the Texans held off the Bengals and won the game (via Sportsnet).
The Steelers didn’t win this game but that wasn’t Polamalu’s fault because he tried everything possible. The defensive specialist produced a stunning moment as he pulled off a ludicrous pick-six. Philip Rivers threw toward one of his receivers in icy conditions but he wasn’t able to avoid the Pittsburgh corner.
Then Polamulu slipped forward onto the ice and skimmed along the ground with one outstretched hand. Somehow he pulled off a ludicrous interception and reclaimed the ball for Pittsburgh. Then he charged forward and the play came to an end with a dramatic score. Polamalu was one of the best athletes of his generation (via 247 Sports).
Pickens added this amazing contribution to the greatest catches of 2022 against the Cleveland Browns. It’s a shame that most people won’t think of this brilliant moment but it was outstanding. The Steelers wideout complained that he wasn’t getting the ball enough but proved why Pittsburgh should pass it to him more (via Golf Digest).
Mitchell Trubisky flung the ball in his direction as Pickens sprinted up the field. He contorted his body and made a ridiculous one-handed catch that defied gravity. We don’t know how he achieved this without breaking his spine but it bodes well for the Steelers because he has a lot of talent.
When people think of the greatest catches their minds automatically jump to the postseason. This makes sense because these moments mean more as the stakes are higher. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate brilliant displays of skill like Gadsen’s during the 2000 regular season.
Gadsen resembled a figure skater or a ballerina as he jumped into the air. His feet left the ground with his arm extended in one of the most beautiful on-field moments ever. Once again, this occurred before the dawn of social media so fans didn’t appreciate it as much. But it was still a fantastic moment (via Miami Dolphins).
The immaculate reception remains one of the most iconic and controversial catches in NFL history. It also ignited a dynasty for the Steelers who became the team of the ’70s. Harris’s defining moment saw him make a fingertip catch off a rebound that Raiders fans insist was illegal.
Some of them think that the ball bounced off the ground before Harris grabbed it but ultimately history remembers it as a completion. Unsurprisingly, the Raiders and their fanbase loathed the Steelers because of this moment. This also kicked off a violent rivalry between the two teams (via CBS Sports).
NFL fans witnessed some outstanding catches in 2022 but this one stood out more than most. The Vikings upset the much-hyped Buffalo Bills as Jefferson played a key role in the game. He produced the catch of his life as Kirk Cousins launched the ball upfield. This gave Jefferson a lot to do because the Buffalo secondary was all over him.
Somehow he contrived to pull the ball away from the defender as he was falling to the ground. It was amazing that he kept control of the ball and prevented it from hitting the field. This was a crucial moment in the game as it ensured that the Vikings maintained control. Their fans hope that it’s a sign of even greater things to come (via CBS News).
One-handed catches are brilliant at the best of times but they’re even more spectacular when they happen in a Super Bowl. Rice made one of those catches for the Niners as he broke the Bengals hearts on the way to the 1989 game’s MVP award. He had an outstanding display as he caught 11 passes for a record 215 receiving yards.
The most impressive moment came when he made the aforementioned one-handed catch but this was a complete performance. It’s difficult to deny that this San Francisco side was one of the greatest teams ever. They had two of the most devastating offensive players ever in Rice and Joe Montana (via UPI).
Moss’s one-handed catch over Darelle Revis is one of the greatest NFL catches ever. The legendary wide receiver caught a Tom Brady pass with ease against the odds. The craziest aspect of this play was how simple Moss made it appear to be. Brady threw the ball toward the end zone and Moss plucked it out of the air.
It may as well have been a balloon instead of a ball as Moss made a fool out of Revis. One-handed catches are always magnificent because they require intense concentration and control. But this was up there with the best of them as the veteran had one of the most iconic moments of his career (via NFL.com).
Carter claimed that this wasn’t his greatest catch but many of his fans disagree. First, he dove forward to grab the ball with one hand before successfully controlling it. Then he rolled and crawled forward into the end zone to seal the move for the Vikings. It was a spectacular and tenacious effort from the Minnesota star.
Later, Carter gave all of the credit to his quarterback, Wade Wilson. He said: “There is no defense for a great throw like that. There was a lot of luck involved. Once I got a hand on it, I had it” (via NFL.com). The footage of this brilliant moment aged like a fine wine and it’s safe to say it’s up there with his best work.
Super Bowl LI simultaneously saw the greatest comeback in NFL history as well as the most notorious capitulation. The Patriots somehow retrieved the game from a massive deficit as the Falcons blew their shot at glory. Meanwhile, Edelman had one of the greatest NFL catches ever as he helped set up the game-tying score.
This moment came late in regulation time with a few moments left on the clock. Tom Brady desperately flung the ball in Edelman’s direction but it appeared that he had too much to do. Somehow, Edelman squirmed free of the Atlanta defense and caught the ball with his fingertips (via Boston Herald).
Swann was a fascinating player because he constantly searched for ways to improve his game. He famously took ballet lessons because he wanted to enhance his balance and ability to control his body. Some people mocked it but he had the last laugh in Super Bowl X with one of the greatest catches in NFL history.
Terry Bradshaw launched the ball 53 yards toward Swann who soared into the air and caught it. The most amazing part of this was the way he appeared to defy gravity and hang in the sky. Then he landed on his feet and completed one of the most sensational catches football fans have ever seen (via 247 Sports).
It’s safe to assume that when people just call a catch “The Catch,” it was a good moment. The most iconic moment of Clark’s career earned this moniker after his highlight reel moment in the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco played the Cowboys with a place in the Super Bowl at stake (via Mercury News).
Joe Montana threw the ball to Clark with just 58 seconds left on the clock. Clark jumped into the air and snatched the ball as well a victory for the Niners. This moment had massive implications because it ended the dominance of ‘America’s Team.’ It was a new dawn as San Francisco began their unstoppable era.
Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger combined for one of the greatest catches in NFL history as well as potentially the best Super Bowl catch ever. Pittsburgh trailed against the Cardinals by a single score with less than a minute left on the clock. This was the ultimate clutch situation but the aforementioned duo came up trumps.
Roethlisberger threw the pass but Holmes finished the most difficult part of the play. It appeared that half of Arizona surrounded him but somehow he still stretched out and snatched the ball. Holmes barely kept his footing as he stood on tiptoes and scored an iconic touchdown (via USA Today Sports).
This was the moment that made Beckham an overnight superstar in New York City. The Giants played the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football with the entire nation watching. This play was all about elite athleticism and body control because Beckham delivered both of those in big amounts (via Dallas News).
Eli Manning flung the ball downfield toward Beckham who successfully fended off Brandon Carr. He extended his arm and caught the ball without dropping it in a moment that mesmerized viewers. Beckham only used his right hand throughout the entire play in one of the greatest catches the NFL has ever seen.
Many people agree that this is one of the greatest catches in NFL history and possibly the best ever. The Giants came into the Super Bowl as massive underdogs against the Patriots. Meanwhile, their backup wide receiver, Tyree, had a nightmare week in practice. He didn’t expect to finish one of the most iconic plays in Super Bowl history.
In the final minute, Eli Manning escaped from an army of Patriots defenders and threw the ball 40 yards toward Tyree. Somehow, Tyree grabbed the ball with one hand and pressed it against his helmet to secure it. It was an outrageous moment of ingenuity that arguably won the game for the Giants (via Sportskeeda).