Speed, agility, and vertical leap are all important for wide receivers in football—but without good hands, you’ll be stuck on the sidelines.
It takes some fantastic body control and sometimes a little bit of luck to make catches on the football field, whether it be one-handed, through the legs, on the helmet, or behind the back.
Here's a look look at the top NFL catches of the millennium:
The New York Giants rookie was well-known in football circles during his first season with the team in 2014—but what he did against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football made him a worldwide star overnight. After a play-action fake, quarterback Eli Manning launched the ball down the right sideline from just beyond the 50-yard line to a streaking Beckham and the rest was history—perhaps the best catch in football history.
Even with Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr tugging at his jersey—and getting flagged for a penalty—Beckham showed off some insane body control: He fully extended his right arm, made the catch with one hand, somehow kept his body in-bounds, and fell into the endzone to score a touchdown. Replays showed that Beckham never even put his left hand on the ball, making one of the most athletic, unbelievable, and stunning catches in NFL history.
Leading up to Super Bowl XLII against the New England Patriots, New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree was having a terrible week of practice. According to Tyree himself, he couldn’t catch a thing: "A bad day for a receiver in practice is probably to drop two balls," Tyree said, according to ESPN. "I don't know what kind of day I had because I probably dropped five or six."
That horrible week of practice made it even more improbable that the backup wide receiver would make an impact against the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl—but that’s what makes sports so special in the first place. The Giants—down 14-10 with just over a minute left in the game—had a 3rd down-and-5 on their own 45-yard line when Eli Manning took the snap.
After somehow breaking out of the grasp of multiple Patriots players, Manning heaved the ball 40 yards down the field to Tyree. The wide receiver was blanketed by three Patriots players, but somehow he was able to leap up and grab the ball—pressing it with one hand on the side of his helmet to complete the catch. The announcers were stunned, the Patriots were stunned, and the Giants were stunned—but Tyree came down with the catch to complete what many say is the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
Even though this catch wasn’t in the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin made a championship effort on the play during the playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings to earn the first down. With temperatures dipping below zero in Minnesota, Baldwin elevated to his highest point with some ridiculous vertical leaping skills to pull down the high pass from Russell Wilson—all with one hand. Baldwin had no idea if he was about to get knocked out by a Vikings player, but he didn’t care: He made sure he made this catch.
For a very long time, many football fans saw this catch by Antonio Freeman as the greatest catch of all time—or at least one of the most surprising ones. While playing against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers wideout went for a deep pass down the sidelines from gunslinging quarterback Brett Favre.
Initially, it appeared that a defensive back for the Vikings smacked the ball away from Freeman—but instead, he deflected the ball right to Freeman, who was laid out on the ground trying to make a diving catch. The Vikings defense thought the play was over, but Freeman had other ideas—after bobbling the ball a couple times (but keeping it off the ground), Freeman stood up, avoided a couple tacklers and scampered his way into the endzone for the touchdown.
Making a great catch in the Super Bowl always elevates the importance of a play, and this one by Jermaine Kearse against the New England Patriots certainly fits in that category. Even though the team ended up losing the game, this bobbling catch by Kearse showed a ton of body control, quick hands, and some great reaction time. Kearse went toe-to-toe with Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler to try and catch the ball, which forced it to bounce just out of his reach as the two fell to the ground. But instead of giving up on the play, Kearse corralled the ball in his lap before it bounced up again—and then he snatched it out of the air to complete the play. Talk about a Super Bowl effort.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wideout went full-on acrobat for this catch against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the 2016 playoffs. Bryant cut to the corner of the endzone on a fade route, spinning around to catch the ball with two hands, but after landing, the ball slips out and he’s forced to pin to the side of his leg. Bryant somehow kept control of the ball as he flipped forward, putting the ball through his legs and scoring the touchdown.
Call this catch David Tyree Part 2.
With the New York Giants down by two in the Super Bowl with less than four minutes left against the New England Patriots—sound familiar?—Eli Manning threw a ball down the left sideline in the direction of wideout Mario Manningham. With two players closing in on him in fast pursuit, Manningham reached up and plucked the ball out of the air just inches from the sideline. Manningham brought the ball into his chest, planted two feet inbounds, and got lit up by Patriots players—but the ball never moved.
The catch was called complete, the Giants eventually scored a touchdown, and won another Super Bowl against the Patriots.
Game-winning catch in the Super Bowl? It doesn’t get much more exciting than that. After an Arizona Cardinals touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald with less than three minutes left in the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers drove down the field to try and re-take the lead. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got the team in position just 10-yards from the endzone, and with less than a minute to go, he zipped a pass to Santonio Holmes on the right sideline. Holmes used all of his athletic ability on the play—his height allowed him to snatch the ball over the Cardinals defensive backs, his fantastic body control enabled him to keep two feet on the sidelines, and his strong hands kept the ball from moving as he tapped into the endzone to score what would be the winning touchdown.
Like future teammate Odell Beckham would do a few years later, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz showed off some fantastic body control on this play against the Seattle Seahawks. On third-and-13 in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning launched a deep ball down the right sideline towards Cruz—but also right at two Seahawks defenders. Seattle safety Kam Chancellor got his hands on the ball, but it tipped away from him and flew up in the air, allowing Cruz to spin his body around and catch it one-handed. Cruz snatched the ball and sped away from All-Pro safety Richard Sherman to score a touchdown for the Giants.
The Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver pulled off an Odell Beckham-style catch before OBJ was even in the league. Avant fully extended his body, pulled in the ball with one hand, and was able to get his left arm down inbounds before being tackled against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While with the New England Patriots, Randy Moss made the New York Jets look silly on this play—especially All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. With time ticking down in the first half, Tom Brady launched a deep ball down the middle of the field, finding Moss a couple steps ahead of Revis in the endzone. Moss caught the ball with one hand—making it look routine—to score the touchdown.
Juggling catches are always exciting, but this one by Dwayne Bowe against the Indianapolis Colts was one of the best. The Kansas City Chiefs receiver went after the ball in the endzone with a defender in his face, forcing the ball up in the air and seemingly out of his reach. But Bowe kept his body moving in the first direction, tipped the ball to himself—twice!—and pulled it in to score the touchdown.
The former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver has made some amazing catches through his career, but this one against the Seattle Seahawks might be his best. Lloyd was darting up the sideline at full speed when 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia launched a pass towards Lloyd—but Garcia was hit as he threw, forcing the ball to come up short. Lloyd somehow was able to change directions, spin his body around, and then fully extend for the ball, tipping it with one hand before bringing it in for the catch. Making it even more impressive: Lloyd was right against the sideline and was able to keep both feet in while securing the ball.