So far, ranking the top 10 at each position in service academy history has gone about as expected. Pleasing all three rivals is a near impossibility, and we have been told who should and should not have been on the lists.
It’s a tall task to try and figure this out. You have different eras, different schemes, and different comparisons you could use when trying to rack and stack some of the greatest to ever don an Air Force, Army, or Navy uniform.
Today, I get the unenviable task of ranking the all-time greats at wide receiver. While this is probably not going to generate as much debate as say the all-time QB list, it still provided some tough decisions.
There’s no doubt wide receiver is not considered to be the strongest of positions for service academy football, largely based on the scheme being run by the schools, but there have been some really good players across a number of decades to play the position.
#10 Geraud Sanders-Air Force
I’ll admit, a little bit of recency bias creeped into this pick, which tends to happen. Just look at the Navy Athletics fan vote for best team of all-time over the past couple weeks which crowned the 2019 team as the Mids all-time greatest squad. An 11-2 season and victory over Kansas State is really, really good, but there’s no doubt in my mind that those results were skewed by some recency bias.
So, there were other Falcons deserving of consideration for sure here. Guys like Mike Kirby, who put up over 1900 yards in his career with 106 receptions and had some major plays, like the reception that helped set up the winning score against Notre Dame in 1983.
But Sanders had a terrific career for the Falcons, capped off by a terrific senior campaign. He finished his career with 1,176 yards and 10 touchdowns, seven of which he scored this year when he really took his game to another level.
He finished 2019 with the highest yards per catch in the country at an astounding 24.9 YPC!
#9 Aaron Alexander, Army
Alexander was a great player in the last years in Conference USA for Army. Though he played in three of the worst years for Army, he was a playmaker for the Black Knights, racking up 1820 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.
This was highlighted by a junior campaign that saw him grab 861 yards on 64 receptions with 6 touchdowns.
#8 Jamir Tillman, Navy
This is where it starts to get tough for me, because Tillman was the best Navy receiver of the modern era in my opinion, but he checks in on the list at #8. The Las Vegas native from Bishop Gorman high school had an outstanding career for the Midshipmen.
Playing largely in three seasons, he ended his career with 1,626 yards and 10 touchdowns, and was an instrumental component in the 2015 and 2016 teams that claimed a share of the West Division in the AAC in 2015 and played in Navy’s only conference championship game since joining the conference in 2016.
He was Navy’s go-to guy on the outside for three straight years, and ended his career second all-time for the Mids in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
#7 Mike Fahnestock, Army
Fahnestock was a contributor all four years for the Black Knights and was also an elite hurdler for the Army track team. He finished his career with 1,726 yards and 13 touchdowns.
His senior season in 1980 was by far his best of his career, as he racked up 937 yards and 7 touchdowns and became the first Army player with five 100 yard receiving games in a season.
The 937 receiving yards in 1980 was good for 8th in the country that year.
He still ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards and third all-time in receiving touchdowns for the Black Knights.
#6 Rob Taylor, Navy
Taylor, who starred for Navy from 1965-1967, is still the Mids’ all-time leader in receiving yards with 1,736 and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns with 13.
It’s crazy to think that in the modern era of football, even with Navy running the triple option for the last 15 plus years, that Taylor still is Navy’s leader in those categories from the 60’s.
He had 50 or more receptions and 700 or more yards in each of his last two seasons and his senior year his 61 receptions were good for sixth in the entire country.
#5 Clennie Brundidge, Army
Brundidge, who was technically a tight end for Army, still finds himself well entrenched in the receiving record books for the Black Knights.
And since we aren’t doing a tight end version of these lists, he undoubtedly still belongs in the top 10 wide receiver discussion all time for service academy football.
A two-star sport who also was a standout on the basketball team, Brundidge, who graduated in 1979, held most Army receiving records for nearly 30 years. He is still second all-time for the Black Knights with 2279 receiving yards, 147 receptions, and 14 touchdowns, and still holds the record for 100 yard games for Army with eight.
His 842 receiving yards in 1977 were ninth in the country that season!
#4 Phil McConkey, Navy
If we were going by all-time football careers at the position from service academy players, McConkey would no doubt catapult himself to the top of the list.
At Navy, he is third all-time with 1,278 receiving yards, behind Taylor and Tillman. His 13 touchdowns are tied with Taylor for the most all-time receiving, and he has a pair of rushing touchdowns and a punt return touchdown as well on his Midshipmen resume.
However, his NFL exploits is what he is probably best known for. After serving his full five years in the Navy, he was signed by the New York Giants as a receiver thanks to the connection with a newly named defensive coordinator in New York by the name of Belichick. He would go on to be a big-time contributor on the Giants’ Super Bowl XXI winning performance, with a huge punt return, flea flicker reception, and six-yard touchdown reception all to his name that night.
McConkey finished his six NFL seasons with that Super Bowl ring, 67 receptions for 1,113 yards and two touchdowns, 228 punt returns for 1,832 yards, and 69 kickoff returns for 1,324 yards.
#3 Jeremy Trimble, Army
We are moving into the top three territory here, and Trimble has to be considered the greatest wide receiver all-time at Army.
He finished his career #1 in receptions, yards, and touchdowns for the Black Knights and was a key component of those teams in the mid-2000’s.
Trimble finished with 2,330 yards which would be good for third all-time at receiver for service academy teams and 15 touchdowns, which would also be good for third. But more than anyone else, he was a guy you could count on to grab receptions consistently, bringing in 176 over his career, which was more than anyone in service academy history.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that he was a four-year star for Army, contributing significantly in every year season for the Black Knights. The four-year starter is always a rarity, and Trimble fits the bill.
He also had 3 punt return touchdowns for his career.
#2 Jalen Robinette, Air Force
Robinette was a stud for the Falcons from 2013-2016. He is #1 all-time for service academy receivers in yardage with 2,697 yards. Like Trimble, he was a four-year player, getting better every year before a monster senior season that saw him bring in 35 receptions for 959 yards and 6 touchdowns.
He finished with 18 touchdowns, good for second all-time for service academy receivers, but it’s his yards per catch that really stands out.
His 2016 season with 27.4 yards per catch was best in the NCAA that year and good for 16th all-time in the NCAA, but his 22.5 yards per catch for his career is #1 ALL-TIME in the NCAA.
#1 Ernie Jennings, Air Force
Honestly, this part was easy. Jennings is the gold standard for service academy wide receivers.
He was a consensus first team All-American in 1970, which is no small feat.
He finished 8th in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, and he helped Air Force to a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
He’s been a CFB Hall of Fame finalist multiple times, including on this past year’s ballot.
He’s second all-time at Air Force behind Robinette in receiving yards with 2,392, but he is far and away the leader in receiving touchdowns by a service academy wide receiver with 28 for his career.
His 17 receiving touchdowns in 1970 was best in the NCAA and his 1,289 yards that year were good for second on the season.
So, let us know, fans, what did we get wrong on this list? Who should have been added and who was ranked way too low or too high?
We will be keeping it going in the next few days by switching to the defensive side of the ball!