‘Receiver’ review: Netflix’s revealing documentary worth catching

What a catch!

When we think of all the deeply talented wide receivers and tight ends in the pass-happy modern NFL, the highlight-reel receptions immediately come to mind — but as Randy Moss reminds us in the opening moments of the eight-part Netflix documentary “Receiver,” there’s so much more to the position.

“It’s always funny when people say a receiver has one job — catch the ball — when catching the ball is mostly out of our hands,” says Moss, one of the best to ever ply the trade. “The play call … the protection … the quarterback looking our way … so many things we have no control over have to go right … just for the chance to do our job.

“They call us divas despite our decoy routes. They call us distractions despite all the damn blocking we do. But no one seems to recognize the one thing we actually are. … Always open.”


An eight-part documentary streaming now on Netflix.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a better encapsulation of what it means to be a receiver in the NFL. (You gotta love that last little bit of bravado.) Just as cornerbacks never commit pass interference and no offensive lineman has ever been really guilty of holding, the best wideouts and tight ends will tell you they’re pretty much open on every play, even if they’re double covered. You need that type of confidence to succeed in one of the most high-profile positions in all of sports.

Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings explains on “Receiver” that he has an alter ego.


Produced by the same team that delivered last summer’s riveting “Quarterback,” providing the same level of insider access augmented by game footage that is somehow thrilling even though we know the outcome, and insightful interviews with coaches, teammates and family members, “Receiver” left me wishing the NFL season started yesterday.

There are at least two dozen marquee-name receivers in the NFL whose accomplishments would merit the docuseries treatment, but the “Receiver” team decided to follow these five top talents throughout the 2023 campaign: Deebo Samuel and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers; Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders; Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, and the Detroit Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown. (Of course, not every player might be amenable to having the Netflix cameras and microphones shadowing them. Travis Kelce turned down the series, and while that would have made for a wild ride, it might have overshadowed the series as a whole.)

As was the case with the “Quarterback” series, there’s no time spent detailing the history of receivers in the NFL — not even a montage featuring wide receivers such as Don Hutson, Raymond Berry, Otis Taylor, Jerry Rice, Calvin Johnson, or tight ends such as John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Kellen Winslow and Tony Gonzalez. We’re plunged into the 2023 season, with Samuel and Kittle hoping this is the year the 49ers win the Super Bowl, St. Brown and Jefferson looking to build on their already spectacular resumes, and Adams dealing with a level of adversity he has never faced in his Hall of Fame-level career.

The Detroit Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown works out in a scene from “Receiver.”


In addition to the great game-day footage and the practice sessions and interviews, “Receiver” makes ample time to chronicle the back stories for each player as we meet their parents, siblings and partners. In home movies, St. Brown’s father John, a two-time Mr. Universe, puts 8-year-old Amon-Ra through the paces, saying, “It’s the first step to victory on the way to the NFL.” A decade and a half later, St. Brown is in the league and thriving — and he’s able to name all 16 receivers who were taken ahead of him in the draft. Motivated much?

Tyshun Raequan Samuel recalls how he was always taking things as a toddler, which led to his father calling him “Deebo” after the Tiny Lister character in the movie “Friday.” Davante Adams dotes on his two young daughters during his downtime. Justin Jefferson guides us on a tour of his jars of candy and explains the difference between the shy and reserved Justin, and his bling-wearing, Griddy-dancing alter ego, “Jets.”

George Kittle and wife Claire take the Levi’s Stadium field in a moment from “Receiver.”


Then there’s the free-spirited George Kittle, whose family rides to home games in a party bus emblazoned with Kittle’s image and who brings an existential joy to his game, telling us, “I’m huge into speaking things into existence,” and leading teammates in a pre-game ritual in which he says, “Inhale confidence, exhale fear, inhale belief, exhale doubt.” When Kittle’s wife, Claire, whom he met at the University of Iowa, literally shoves him in the chest before a game, he runs onto the field and shouts, “I f- – -ing love her!”

As the football gods would have it, there’s no shortage of drama for these receivers in the 2023 campaign, as we’re reminded of how punishing the game can be. Samuel and Jefferson miss significant time due to injuries. When Adams suffers a painful AC joint injury during a game, offensive lineman Greg Van Roten says, “I did an AC in 2018, still f- – -ing bothers me,” to which Adams replies, “Very comforting, thank you, thank you.” (More frustrating for Adams: a rotating roster of quarterbacks who either can’t find him, or miss him when he’s wide open, leaving him vulnerable to countless hits. “I gotta get the f- – – out of here before I lose my f- – -ing life,” he laments.)

“Receiver” catches the Raiders’ Davante Adams doting on his daughters.


With “Quarterback” and now with “Receiver,” it’s all about the access. If these greatly gifted, hardworking, thoughtful and interesting and likable athletes let you into their lives, the expert camerawork and editing will do the rest. What next? Maybe “Linebacker” or “Defensive Back”? I’d vote for “Kicker.” Those guys are nuts, and I mean that in the best possible-documentary-subject kind of way.

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