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Updated by GOAT Series Staff on Apr 17, 2018
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Greatest Football Catch of All Time

What is the greatest football catch of all time?

Odell Beckham Jr. - '14 New York Giants

ODJ’s mind-blowing touchdown during the 2nd quarter of last night’s Cowboys-Giants game was a God-like display of agility, coordination, dexterity, and balance. While running a fly route down the right sideline, Beckham became entangled with cornerback Brandon Carr. As Eli chucked one of his trademark “close-your-eyes-and-heave” passes, ODJ was somehow able to shrug off the foul by Carr, re-adjust his hips, and elevate. He leapt and extended his right-hand, barely able to snag the tip of pigskin that had just sailed over 50 yards through the air. Like some kind of humanoid alien, he uses only his thumb and two fingers to completely stop and secure the ball in mid-air before pulling into his body. The critical taps of the left and right feet ensure the catch is legal, and they keep Beckham within the pylon for the score. It’s a rare play that exceeds the copious hype it is justifiably getting today, and it will go down as one of the greatest athletic feats in sports history.

Date: November 23, 2014 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 12 Reg. Season (L) | Team: NY Giants | Opponent: Dallas Cowboys

Reception Distance: 43 yards | Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 2nd Quarter, leading by 4

JJ Worton - '13 UCF Knights

There are plays with incredible circumstances (The Miracle in Michigan and Doug Flutie come to mind), there are plays with incredible athleticism (ODJ and Devin Smith come to mind), but an exceptionally rare handful of plays exhibit both of these characteristics. JJ Worton’s game-tying touchdown catch for the UCF Knights in 2013 did just that. UCF trailed Temple 36-29, with 1:15 left in the game. They had the ball on the 30 yard line, and only a touchdown would keep them alive in the game. Quarterback Blake Bortles took the snap out of the shotgun and immediately felt pressure from the weak side. He was forced to scramble and runs towards the left sideline. As he takes a big hit, Bortles launches a desperation heave. It was an unadvisable throw that had bad outcomes written all over it. But as the camera pans, we see the streaking Worton running wide open across the goal line. But the pass is overthrown! No man could run that thing down. Somehow Worton did. As if propelled by a jet-pack, Worton lays his sprinting body out and extends as far as humanly possible. A two-handed reach would have fallen a few inches short, so Worton opts to extend his right-hand alone, he hangs for what seems like a minute in space, and the balls sticks to his hand like the magnet. It was a back-breaking play for the Owls, and for a few hours it was a play that broke the internet as well.

Date: November 16, 2013 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 9 Regular Season (W) | Team: University of Central Florida Knights | Opponent: Temple Owls

Reception Distance: 30 yards | Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 4th Quarter, 1:15 left, trailing by 7

Edwin Baptiste - '08 Morgan State Bears

A one-handed display of athleticism that will be immortalized in countless .GIF tributes for all eternity. Edwin Baptiste’s one-handed snag is well deserving of the millions of Youtube replays it has garnered since the play was authored in 2008. During the first half of a largely forgettable win against Winston-Salem State, Baptiste treated the hometown Morgan State fans to a play they would never forget. While backed up near their own end-zone, the Morgan State QB lets fly a 35 yard floating pass down the center of the field. As the defender desperately dives to disrupt the play, the ball looks to be clearly over-thrown. No chance Baptiste makes a play on the ball. But as if lifted by invisible strings, he finds the energy to rise and fully extend his body, jumping backwards and thrusting one hand towards the heavens. The ball magically lands squarely in his palm, he clutches it to his body, slams to the ground on his back, and performs a full backwards roll on the turf. The ball never left his grasp and the play immediately became the stuff of legend.

Date: Sept 20, 2008 | Team: Morgan State Bears | Opponent: Winston-Salem State | Game Detail (outcome): Week 3 Reg. Season (W)

Reception Distance: 35 yards | Result of Play: First Down | Game Circumstance: 2nd Quarter, leading by 7

Devin Smith - '12 Ohio State Buckeyes

The date is September 1st, 2012. It’s the first game of the Ohio State Buckeyes college football season. It was a rainy home game against a far weaker Miami of Ohio opponent. No one would have blamed a season ticket holder for “gifting” their seats away for this one. But missing this game meant missing one of the greatest catches by a receiver in the history of football. After a slow start, OSU had put together a strong drive early in the 2nd quarter. With the ball on the opponent’s 23 yard line, an isolation play was called for wide receiver Devin Smith. Recognizing the single coverage on the outside, Quarterback Braxton Miller throws a pass deep into the end zone towards Smith. The pass had Smith crossed-up, he had looked and turned over his left shoulder, but the pass was going over his right. With the finesse of a ballerina (at full speed no less), Smith desperately jumps and spins his body 360 degrees. As he jumps and turns, his dominant right-hand reaches back to snatch the ball out of the air. It was a play that seemed to defy the laws of physics and it will go down in OSU lore forever.

Date: September 1, 2012 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 1 Reg. Season (W) | Team: Ohio State Buckeyes | Opponent: Miami of Ohio

Reception Distance: 23 yards | Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 2nd Quarter, trailing by 3

Denarius Moore - '11 Oakland Raiders

This play is sneaky great. Who knows why it never gets the press of the other great catches on our list. Maybe it’s because Denarius Moore never became the next Jerry Rice. Or maybe it’s because the Raiders and Bills have combined for exactly zero playoff appearances in the last decade. Whatever the reason, we are happy to remind the world just how great this touchdown truly was. Here’s the scene: The Raiders are down by 6, on the road in Buffalo with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter. The entire world knew the Raiders needed a touchdown to tie, and the Bills properly used double coverage on Moore (the one downfield threat capable of getting to the end zone). Raiders QB Jason Campbell must have said to himself, “double coverage be damned!” and he chucked a prayer to the streaking Moore. The ball sailed almost 60 yards. At a dead sprint, Moore begins to feel friction from the defender on his back, he also sees the defender in front of him closing fast. With a single miraculous leap, Moore elevates his 6’0” frame above both defenders. He rises, snatches the plummeting football from the air, and crashes to the goal line with both defenders riding his back like wolves. Both defenders lay stunned in the wake of the play; perhaps they felt the weight of falling victim to one of the greatest catches in NFL history.

Date: September 18, 2011 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 2 Regular Season (L) | Team: Oakland Raiders| Opponent: Buffalo Bills

Reception Distance: 50 yards | Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 4th Quarter, 3:50 left, trailing by 3

Tyrone Prothro - '05 Alabama Crimson Tide

This play happened in 2005. Apparently ESPN was using 90’s-era home camcorders to broadcast this game, but nonetheless, the grainy video evidence presented here will depict one of the greatest catches in the history of the game. It was Week 2 of the college football regular season and Alabama was hosting the University of Southern Mississippi. Alabama had come out completely flat; they trailed the underdog Golden Eagles 21-10 with 29 seconds left in the first half. On 4th down, the Tide needed 12 yards for a first down; head coach Mike Shula elected to go for it. Prothro ran a fly route down the right side of the field, while quarterback Brodie Croyle delivered a 50 yard pass that landed around the 4 yard line. Prothro and the defender converged on the landing point of the football, and both made a play for the ball. The players landed in a heap at the goal-line and the crowd waited breathlessly for the call. Only upon review can the sheer splendor of the play be fully appreciated. Prothro had actually trapped the ball on the defenders back while both players fell into the endzone. He clearly maintained possession throughout the play, and he was awarded a touchdown. We award him with a place among the all-time greats.

Date: September 10, 2005 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 2 Regular Season (W) | Team: Alabama Crimson Tide | Opponent: University of Southern Mississippi

Reception Distance: 44 yards| Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 2nd quarter, 20 secs left, trailing by 11

Calvin Johnson - '04 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Just like Polamalu, we will someday dedicate a study to the miraculous feats of Calvin Johnson. Of all the highlight reel catches he’s made in his storied football career, perhaps none top this catch during Week 8 of his freshman season at Georgia Tech. Calvin was 19 years old on the day he made this catch. It was early in the 4th quarter and the Yellow Jackets trailed the Wolfpack by 4. Legendary tales of the talents of Calvin Johnson were already common in college football, but this play helped launch his legend to the stratosphere and cement his Megatron reputation within the sport. It was a simple 11 yard reception, yet the degree of difficulty is equal to any other catch on our list. Running a crossing pattern, the ball was thrown well behind Johnson. In a freakish display of balance and athleticism, he stops on a dime, jumps in the air, leans back and grabs the ball with one hand. His momentum continues to carry him forward, but the equal force of his hand on the ball snaps his body sideways before he takes a big hit from the safety. It was an ominous foreshadowing of the terror he would soon unleash on defenders in the NFL, and it was absolutely one of the greatest catches in football history.

Date: November 6, 2004 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 8 Regular Season | Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets | Opponent: North Carolina State Wolfpack

Reception Distance: 11 yards | Result of Play: First Down | Game Circumstance: Early 4th Quarter, trailing by 4

DeAndrew White - '13 Alabama Crimson Tide

Elevation? Check. One-handed? Check. Well defended? Check. Touchdown? Check. Here’s a catch that satisfies all the requirements of an all-time great. DeAndrew White is now a starting senior for the Crimson Tide, but it was last year, during his junior season when he authored this gem of a TD reception. AJ McCarron and the Tide were rolling when they found themselves up by 14 and threatening to score again in the 1st quarter against Georgia State. With 11 yards to go, a pass play was called for White. He ran a simple stop and go route, and McCarron lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone. The ball was well off target, a mere mortal would have done his best to prevent the pass from being intercepted, but DeAndrew would not be denied. He performs an amazing vertical leap, reaches directly over the top of the defender, snatches the ball with one-hand, and then withstands a shove and collision with the turf. Alabama had a bunch of blowout wins last season, so perhaps they needed highlight reel plays like this one to keep the fans engaged, either way, we think it was one of the greatest catches in all of football history.

Date: October 5, 2013 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 5 Regular Season (W) | Team: Alabama Crimson Tide | Opponent: Georgia State Panthers

Reception Distance: 11 yards | Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 1st Quarter, leading by 14

Kevin Norwood - '13 Alabama Crimson Tide

A superhuman play unlike any other on our list, Kevin Norwood’s snag in front of the home crowd was the second all-time great catch those fans had the pleasure of witnessing during the 2013 championship season. Already sporting a commanding lead in the 3rd quarter, AJ McCarron was looking to hammer in the final nail of the Volunteer’s coffin. After no one could get open to start the play, McCarron scrambles to his left. He points Norwood towards the far corner of the end zone and sends a fluttering pass his way. Norwood immediately recognizes the pass is overthrown. On the 9.5 yard line, he leaves his feet and fully extends himself backwards in a dive towards the football. When the ball crosses the 7 yard line, Norwood is completely horizontal to the ground, and both hands are on the football. Norwood’s head makes contact with the turf on the 5 yard line, and the balls plugs squarely in his belly. It’s a feat of acrobatics that would fit right in at Cirque Du Soleil, and it’s a worthy contender for the title of GOAT.

Date: October 26, 2013 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 8 Regular Season (W) | Team: Alabama Crimson Tide | Opponent: Tennessee Volunteers

Reception Distance: 34 yards | Result of Play: First Down | Game Circumstance: 3rd quarter, leading by 32

Aaron Dobson - '11 Marshall Thundering Herd

This play made Aaron Dobson look like a man amongst boys. The vivid green jerseys of Marshall are a fitting accompaniment for this masterpiece of touchdown making. In a critical home game against ECU, Marshall trailed by 7 points with 44 seconds left in the first half. They had successfully driven the ball down to the 12 yard line, but without an equalizing touchdown, the drive would have felt like a disappointment. The call came to Dobson and he did not disappoint. With deep, single-man coverage, ECU was banking on Dobson running his route to the end zone, but once the massive receiver gets there, the solo defender is completely helpless. The cover man probably commits pass interference and desperately tries to shove Dobson away from the approaching football, but in an act of pure “dad strength” Dobson pushes through the assault. He leaps and pokes out his right hand, plucking the ball out of the air as if it were a feather. It’s one of the greatest one-handed catches we’ve seen on any level.

Date: November 26, 2011| Game Detail (outcome): Week 12 Regular Season (W) | Team: Marshall Thundering Herd | Opponent: East Carolina Pirates

Reception Distance: 12 yards | Result of Play: Touchdown | Game Circumstance: 2nd quarter, 44 secs left, trailing by 7

Hakeem Nicks - '08 North Carolina Tarheels

A subtle play that takes a few replays to even comprehend, this Hakeem Nicks catch during the 3rd quarter of the 2008 Meineke Car Bowl is one of the greatest examples of close-quarters receiving talent you will ever see. Running a simple crossing route on the play, TJ Yates throws a late bullet to Nicks on 3rd down. The pass was behind Nicks, forcing him to slow and reach back for it. As the linebacker closes quickly, Nicks see him and instinctively pulls the ball away from the defender. It all sounds fairly standard until you see that this instinctive move pulls the ball behind Nick’s back. For a split second, neither hand is on the ball as it floats near his back-side. He quickly reaches his right hand around the front of his body and behind his right shoulder where it secures the ball. Nicks gains full possession, and he proceeds to gain 6 more yards after the catch. Watch the play again if you don’t agree it is one of the greatest catches in the history of football.

Date: December 27, 2008 | Game Detail (outcome): Meineke Car Care Bowl (L) | Team: North Carolina Tar Heels | Opponent: West Virginia Mountaineers

Reception Distance: 7 yards | Result of Play: First Down | Game Circumstance: 3rd Quarter, trailing by 1

AJ Green - '07 Summerville Highschool

This play looks like a video game. AJ Green now stars in all kinds of video games, but since this was high school, we’ll call it a dress rehearsal. It was during the semi-finals of the Class 4A South Carolina State Championships when Green, the star senior at Summerville Highscool, laid down one of the meanest catches in the history of the game. What starts as a simple 10 yard out route, ends up as an insanely acrobatic reception that leaves the crowd in utter disbelief. AJ runs the route correctly, he looks over his left shoulder as he should, but like so many balls thrown in high school, the pass is grossly off target. The receiver has to fully rotate his body back towards the quarterback and time his leap to reach the overthrown football. His momentum prevents the luxury of a second hand, so he uses his left mitt to cradle the ball and pull it in for the catch. The play is pure poetry in motion and we think it has a worthy place among the elite pros on this list.

Date: Nov 23, 2007 | Game Detail (outcome): Third Round Class 4A South Carolina State Playoffs | Team: Summerville HS | Opponent: Gaffney HS

Reception Distance: 20 yards | Result of Play: First Down | Game Circumstance: ?

Troy Polamalu - '08 Pittsburgh Steelers

Someday, The GOAT Series will dedicate an entire study to Troy Polamalu doing things on a football field. The guy is a living highlight reel of gridiron gold. And his diving interception during the Steelers’ November 2008 home game against the Chargers will find a prominent place on that highlight reel. Just after kick-off, Philip Rivers and the team had a first down on their own 45 yard line. The QB sends a pass 20 yards downfield to Vincent Jackson who was heavily covered. As Jackson is hit, the ball pops into the air and appears to be headed for incompletionville. Out of nowhere, Polamalu dives into the frame like a bat out of hell. As he desperately lunges he carefully places his right-hand under the path of the falling football and somehow keeps it from landed on the turf. The 17 yard return was just gravy on top of the catch that will go down as one of the best interceptions in NFL history.

Date: November 16, 2008 | Game Detail (outcome): Week 11 Reg. Season (W) | Team: Steelers | Opponent: Chargers

Reception Distance: 17 yards | Result of Play: Interception | Game Circumstance: 1st Quarter, tie game

Chris Moore - '92 Western Washington University

Juggling circus catches are highly controversial. On the one hand, they are some of the most awe-inspiring events to witness in all of football. On the other hand, they are largely driven by pure luck, and they can be often confused with plays of greater individual skill and/or talent. We were careful when selecting circus catches to be included in this study, but it was simply impossible to deny this 1992 classic from Western Washington’s, Chris Moore. In what looks to be a 10 yard out route, Moore is sprinting towards the side-line. The pass is thrown on-target, but the diving defender has interfered with the flight of the ball. As Moore falls, the balls bounces off his chest, then off his left foot, then rolls up the back of his left calf, bounces off his back-side, onto his left heel, and then onto his right heel. At this point, Moore is falling backwards towards the side-line and he whips his left hand back towards his heels. He finds the balls, controls it, and then wraps it up and through the space between his legs before rolling off the field of play. Yes, it’s a freak one-in-a-million type event, but it must be included in any conversation of the greatest football catches.

Date: Fall 1992 | Game Detail (outcome): Regular Season Home Game (W) | Team: Western Washington University | Opponent: Puget Sound

Reception Distance: 12 yards | Result of Play: First Down | Game Circumstance: ?