According to ESPN (subscription) via Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, the 2004 Indianapolis Colts had the NFL’s best wide receiver trio of all time—using Football Outsiders’ DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement statistics):
1. 2004 Indianapolis Colts
Easily the best wide receiver trio of all time. This list is ordered by harmonic mean of DYAR between the three receivers; the gap between the 2004 Colts and the 2015 Cardinals at No. 2 is equal to the gap between No. 2 and the 2007 Patriots at No. 10.
Wayne had the best DYAR total of his career, leading the league for the 2004 season. Although Harrison tied a career high in touchdowns, he had enjoyed more receiving yards and a higher DYAR in each of the five previous seasons. Meanwhile, while we think of Stokley as a prototypical small slot receiver working near the line of scrimmage, he was three inches taller than Welker and averaged 15.9 yards per reception. He was running downfield routes out of the slot, not just short slants and crosses.
The Colts are the only team with all three wide receivers to have over 1,000 total receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns respectively (even with the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers star-studded wide receivers’ current production projected over a full 16-game season for a fair comparison, in what’s even a much more pass friendlier league than it was over 15 years ago when the Colts trip accomplished such an impressive mark).
In fact, the Colts’ prolific 2004 wide receiver trio remains the only group to accomplish such a feat in NFL history.
That special season, legendary Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 4,557 passing yards and 49 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. His 49 touchdowns were his most in a single season with the Colts franchise and second most throughout his illustrious 18-year career. That touchdown mark still ranks 4th most all-time too for any single season in NFL history.
(*That was also when sitting out the fourth quarterback of the infamous 2004 Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving ‘turkey shoot’, when he already had 6 passing touchdowns before being shut down for the final quarter in a 41-9 Colts’ blowout win, as well as that year’s season finale against the Denver Broncos [as he threw 2 pass attempts that game] in a 33-14 Colts’ loss—as Indianapolis rested key starters for the upcoming AFC playoffs).
Manning would win NFL MVP honors (for a consecutive campaign) that record-breaking 2004 season, and it certainly helped by throwing to a 2004 NFL Second-Team All-Pro [and future Hall of Famer] (Harrison), Pro Bowler [and well deserving Hall of Fame candidate] (Wayne), as well as one of the best natural slot wide receivers that the game has ever seen (Stokley).
Here’s tipping the cap to the best trio to still ever do it, not just with the Colts, but of all-time!