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Top 50 Greatest NFL Players All-Time

8 Jun

50. Charles Woodson – Charles Woodson is a dynamic, defensive player. He does not have the exceptional foot speed that most of the best corners in NFL history had (though he is not slow either), but he always makes the big plays. His technique in coverage is flawless and he uses great preparation before games and superb instincts during the game to make his impact. He is a former Heisman trophy award winner and NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

49. Terrell Davis – Terrell Davis ran like a bull with its tail on fire. He had one of the most productive years in NFL history in 1998 when he rushed for 2,008 yards. He won NFL MVP that year. He held a Super Bowl record for having 3 rushing touchdowns in SB XXXII. Davis ran with a purpose. He was a downhill runner, but possessed break away speed too, which is rare in running backs. Injuries slowed and then ended his career, but he was one of the best when healthy.

48. Terrell Owens – T.O. is one of the best athletes that ever played wide receiver in the National Football League. Once he touched the football, he was instantly a threat to score a touchdown. He has powerful hands, runs precise routes, and has break away speed. He is currently 2nd or 3rd in every wide receiving statistic that the NFL has. And, if Owens caught half of the balls that he dropped during his career, then he could have been the most decorated receiver in NFL history.

47. Kurt Warner – At a position where accuracy defines the effectiveness of a player, Kurt Warner was the most accurate quarterback in league history. He holds the single game completion percentage record after completing 24 of 26 passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009. He has the seventh highest passer rating and the second highest regular season completion percentage in NFL history. Warner has the best playoff completion percentage, yards per attempt average in the playoffs, and the second best playoff passer rating in NFL history.

46. Randy Moss – Moss is one of the most prolific wide receivers to play the game of football. He has big hands, a tall frame, and world class speed. He is a threat to score at any time and is double-teamed on almost every play. Moss is the other wideout that is either second or third in every statistical category for receiving. If he could have controlled his attitude he could have been the best wide receiver that the NFL has ever produced.

45. Derrick Thomas – Derrick Thomas holds the record for most sacks in a game, one of the most unattainable records in the NFL, with 7. He is still considered to be one of the preeminent pass rushers in NFL history. Thomas combined great power with a lightning quick first step. He was often in the backfield before his lineman across from him could finish his first step backwards to block him. He and Okoye their running back on the offensive side of the ball, brought the Kansas City Chiefs to national prominence.

44. Champ Bailey – Champ Bailey may be the best cover corner in the game since Deion Sanders. He renders star players completely useless for 60 minutes in single coverage with sound technique and amazing natural ability. During his prime, almost no receiver scored on Champ. He was rarely, if ever fooled, and had some of the best closing speed that the NFL has ever produced.

43. Richard “Night Train” Lane – Night Train Lane is still one of the most prolific and most feared corner backs in league history. He holds the NFL record for most interceptions in one season with 14, but he was even more terrifying as a tackler. He would hit players at full speed with a clothesline, a forearm, or a shoulder in an attempt to dislodge the ball if he could not intercept it cleanly. He played in the era of football when almost no type of hit was illegal and he used that to intimidate his opponents.

42. Rodney Harrison – Harrison is one of two players in league history to record 30 interceptions and 30 sacks. Harrison was the backbone of every defense that he played. He laid down punishing hits to intimidate his opponents and was not above taking a cheap shot to get his point across.

41. Marcus Allen – Marcus Allen was not fast. He was not extremely quick. But he was one of the most productive running backs to ever play in the NFL. No one has ever gotten a clean hit on Marcus Allen which is the mark of a good back. When this shiftiness is coupled with his pedestrian speed, it is remarkable that he accomplished so much in the NFL. He left the NFL as the leader in rushing touchdowns, he had 12,243 rushing and 5,412 receiving yards becoming the first player to have 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards in their career. He was also threw a pretty good spiral having scored six touchdowns as a passer.

40. Eugene Upshaw – Gene Upshaw was one of the nicest guys off the field and one of the toughest guys on it. He would tape his arm into almost a cast and rattle defenders’ helmets with it before he ran them out of the play. He went on to be president of the players’ union and one of the most respected NFL personnel guys by the suits and the players.

39. Tim Brown – Tim Brown was a very talented wide receiver. Despite being smaller and less dynamic in the open field than Jerry Rice, his best contemporary, he used quick moves and precise route running to get open and post one of the best careers that a NFL wideout has ever had. He is currently third in NFL history in receiving touchdowns. He led the league in punt returns in 1994 and in receptions in 1997. He was the face of the proud Oakland Raiders franchise for most of his career.

38. Lynn Swan – Lynn Swan was as graceful as anyone that ever donned a football uniform. He leaped into the air to pluck the ball away from corner and outran them to the end zone. He lead the league in return yards as a rookie and won his first of four Super Bowls. He became the first wideout to win Super Bowl MVP with 161 yards and a touchdown the next year. In his next appearance in the Super Bowl he had 124 yards and a score. He was captivating and played well when it counted most.

37. Marshall Faulk – Marshall Faulk, to this day, is the best dual threat running back that has ever lived. He broke the touchdown record in a season and led the NFL in rushing while scoring as a receiver too. He is one of three players to break the 10,000 rushing yard and the 5,000 receiving yard plateau during their NFL career and the only player to ever reach 12,000 rushing and 6,000 receiving yards. He is the only NFL player to score 70 rushing touchdowns and 30 receiving touchdowns.

36. Ozzie Newsome – Newsome changed the way that tight ends played the position. Before he played in the league, tight ends were blockers on run plays. He released caught the football, and then scored touchdowns. He was the progenitor to guys like Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez.

35. Chris Carter – If you threw the football near Chris Carter, he was going to bring it down. He was not the fastest guy or the biggest (though he was not the slowest or smallest either), but he had one of the largest catch radiuses in the league. He helped mold the career of Randy Moss. He is second on the all-time receiving touchdown list with 130.

34. Tony Gonzalez – Tony Gonzalez is a real athlete. He played basketball and football at Cal. He is quick of the ball and explosive off the ground. And he has been the best tight end in the NFL by numbers. He now holds all the records for tight ends and is consistently among the leaders at that position.

33. Shannon Sharpe – Shannon Sharpe was a better athlete than Gonzalez. He ran and caught the ball like a wide receiver, had the girth and strength of a tight end, and mean streak of a linebacker. He is the progenitor to guys like Kellen Winslow Jr. and Antonio Gates. He won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos and was the best player in the first win. He left the NFL as the leader in all statistical categories for tight ends.

32. Junior Seau – Junior Seau was one of the quickest and most versatile linebackers to ever play football. He started his career as a middle linebacker and ended as an outside one. He was prolific at both positions. He was adept at stuffing the run and in coverage.

31. Bruce Mathews – Bruce Mathews could be the best lineman to play NFL football. He was definitely the most versatile. During his 19 year career, he made 14 Pro Bowls and played all positions on the offensive line, center, guard, and tackle. When he retired he had played more games in the NFL than any other player. He is still second to only Brett Favre.

30. Rod Woodson – Woodson has the most interceptions returned for touchdowns in history with 12, the record for career interception yardage, and was the 1993 Defensive Player of the Year. He was one of the most prolific secondary players in the history of football.

29. Joe Namath – Joe Namath’s reputation was built on a promised. He said that he would win Super Bowl III despite being outmatched and he did. He won Super Bowl MVP and legitimized the AFL to the NFL. Joe Namath was a brash, but talented quarterback and was slowed by knee injuries.

28. Bruce Smith – Bruce Smith is the all-time leader in sacks with 200. He is one of five people to get a Super Bowl safety, and he played in four consecutive Super Bowls though he did not win one. Bruce Smith knew how to get to the football. He always got a good jump off the line of scrimmage and often bullied offensive lineman while getting to the quarterback.

27. Terry Bradshaw – Terry Bradshaw is a winner. He was the first man to win 3 and 4 Super Bowls. He had a strong arm that was often on display with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

26. Mike Webster – Mike Webster was so great at the center position that his quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, would celebrate with him after touchdown passes instead of celebrating with his wide receivers. Webster was one of the most physically powerful and cerebral football players to ever play the game. He directed the line so that Bradshaw could concentrate on the play that was being run.

25. Johnathan Ogden – Johnathon Ogden is the best offensive left tackle that ever played football. He was 6’9″ with a eight foot wingspan and quick feet. He buried pass rushers that tried to get to his quarterbacks blindside. Not only did he only block several players on most plays, but he also carried them off the field.

24. Larry Allen – Larry Allen is the best offensive lineman that ever lived. He was a mountain of a man, with two of the lightest and quickest feet that the National Football League has ever seen. He was freakishly long-armed and athletic even though he weighed upwards of 350 lbs. and he was just as mean as he was talented. He played in the Pro Bowl in eleven of his twelve NFL seasons. He once benched 692 lbs which is the equivalent of two NFL linemen. He is one of three players to go to the Pro Bowl for multiple positions on the offensive line in their career.

23. Jim Kelly – Jim Kelly is often disregarded because he never won the Super Bowl. But, he accomplished something that may never be accomplished again. He took his team to four consecutive Super Bowls. Kelly also orchestrated the largest playoff comeback in NFL history by scoring 30+ points in the second half of a game to beat the Houston Oilers. Jim Kelly made the playoffs in 8 of his 11 years in the NFL and scored over 320 touchdowns and 45,000 yards in his entire professional football career, including his days in the USFL.*

22. Alan Page – Alan Page was the best of the Purple People Eaters. He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the Most Valuable Player award and the Most Valuable Player award in 1971. He is one of two defensive players to win MVP in the history of the league. Page was regarded as one of the best pass rushers of his time period and is now a Minnesota Supreme Court Judge.

21. “Mean Joe” Greene – Mean Joe Greene hated to lose. In his first season with the Steelers, the team was 1-14, though he did win Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. He challenged Dick Butkus to a fight and spat in his face. He is regarded by many as one of the players that turned that Steeler’s franchise into a sports dynasty with his competitiveness and disdain for failure.

20. John Elway – John Elway finished his career at second place in every statistical category for a quarterback in the NFL. He played in a NFL record 5 Super Bowls, winning two of them. He is one of three quarterbacks to be drafted #1 and be elected into the Hall of Fame. He holds one of the best records as a starting quarterback and was one of the best athletes to ever play at quarterback in the NFL. He was known for making comebacks because of his unwavering competitiveness.

19. Jack Lambert – Lambert was crazy. He would clothesline you for saying hello. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1976. When half the team went down with injuries, the Steelers languished with a 1-4 record. The only way that they could defend their Super Bowl was if they won all the rest of their games. The Steelers did because Lambert said that any one of his teammates that did not give enough effort would have to answer to him.

18. Dick Butkus – Butkus was mean. He hit people when they had the football. He hit people that did not have the football, so that they would not want to carry it later. He was known for stripping the football, though forced fumbles was not an official stat in his era. He made the Hall of Fame in only nine years of NFL football. If his knees would have held for a few more years, he could be near the top of this list.

17. Mike Singletary – Singletary was calculated and fierce. He was the heart of the legendary Bears defense of 1985 that won a Super Bowl. He anchored that defense which was historically the best when it played. His intensity is still feared and respected by players of this era.

16. Ray Lewis – Ray Lewis is one of the biggest hitters in NFL history. He is one of six players to have won won Defensive Player of the Year multiple times. He is a Super Bowl champion and the first linebacker in the NFL to win Super Bowl MVP. His Baltimore Ravens defense was the best in history in 2000. It is still the highest scoring defense in NFL history.

15. Earl Campbell – Earl Campbell was one of the most unstoppable forces to ever play in the NFL. He pounded and punished defensive linemen, linebackers, and obliterated the secondary with his rugged running style. He was a threat to break for a touchdown on every play because he had great speed, but he preferred to hit the opposing team. That is my kind of player.

14. Deacon Jones – Deacon Jones is probably the most appropriate nickname any player ever had, because offensive lineman were praying that he would miss the game. He gave linemen concussions with his infamous head slap, then he tried to break quarterbacks in two. If they counted sacks as an official statistic during his entire career, most historians believe that Jones would have made the all-time sacks record unattainable.

13. Reggie White – Reggie White was the most disruptive interior lineman to ever play professional football. During his career he faced a double-team on every play and occasional triple-teams, but still managed to make plays and get to the quarterback. He was stronger than everyone he faced, quicker than anyone that lined up against him, and had a beautiful swim move and spin to complement his immense talent.

12. Dan Marino – “Golden Dan” Marino, the man with the golden arm had the quickest release of any quarterback present or past. Plus, he was extremely accurate. He took a Dolphins team that had no offensive rushing or receiving threat on his back and to a Super Bowl, though he could not win it all. He left the NFL as the leader in every passing statistic that the league has and still holds the record for total passing yards in a season with 5,084 despite never having a Pro Bowl receiver and only one Pro Bowl running back.

11. Tom Brady – Tom Brady could end up as the best quarterback to ever play professional football. His calmness and ability to execute under pressure has no rival in his contemporaries. He can only be compared to Joe Montana under duress. His two-minute drill is the best in football. He had the single most prolific season in pro football history, he has the most consecutive victories with 21 over two season, and he holds the record for most touchdowns in a single game. Brady has the most touchdowns in a single season with 50, the highest touchdown to interception ratio in a single season at 9:1,  and led the Patriots to the only perfect regular season since the league began the current 16 game structure.

10. Peyton Manning – If you need to win one game and you have to pick a quarterback, you pick Tom Brady. If you want to build a franchise with a quarterback, you take Peyton Manning. Manning is slowly becoming the leader in every passing category with strings of spectacular seasons and amazing durability. No one knows the name of Manning’s backup, because he never sees the football field. Manning does not miss games and in the last 6 consecutive seasons he has amassed 4,000 yards each year, an NFL record. He holds the NFL record for 4,000 yard seasons with 11, the highest passer rating in a single season at 121.1, and the most NFL MVP’s with 4.

9. Emmit Smith – Emmit Smith finished his NFL career as and still is the all-time leader in rushing yards, despite lacking break away speed. He did it with great vision, superb quickness in the hole, and decisive cuts. Emmit set and used his blocks perfectly and finished with the record for rushing touchdowns too. He was a small, powerful back that was difficult to hit.

8. Brett Favre – The last few years of melodrama with Favre have tarnished his reputation with the public, but he stands as one of the best quarterbacks that the National Football League has seen. He owns every statistical passing record in the NFL, including interceptions, because he played the game the way it was meant to be played. At quarterback, which is often seen as a position for prima donnas, he was one of the toughest guys in the league. He did not miss a game for years despite broken fingers, a broken ankle, and numerous sprains, strains, and dislocations. Brett Favre was a hell of a football player.

7. Barry Sanders – Barry Sanders made the most captivating two yard runs that I have ever seen. He made carries for losses must-see television. He alone made the Thanksgiving Day football games palatable because he could break a run for a touchdown on any play. He is by far the quickest running back to ever play in the NFL and he left on his own terms. He kept a 5.0 yards per carry average over the 10 years that he played and was the most elusive back in NFL history. He amassed 15,269 total rushing yards and 99 touchdowns and is currently third on the all-time rushing list despite being a small running back at 5’8″. He was a Pro Bowler in every year that he was in the league and won the NFL MVP in 1997. He was the most prolific running back ever too, and had he run for one more year, at even a slightly lower yard per carry average, he would have broken Walter Payton’s rushing record.

6. Walter Payton – Sweetness finished his career as the all-time leader in rushing yards, touchdowns, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards, and for rushing yards in a game with 273. He still holds the record for rushing yards with 16,726 yards. Payton’s stutter step has become a part of every current running backs arsenal, and the stiff arm that he used against would-be tacklers was downright disgusting.

5. Deion Sanders – Deion Sanders was so electrifying and quick to the football that he took half of the football field away from quarterbacks. He was so fast that he could leave his man, track the football in the air, and intercept it from another defender’s man. Deion has a NFL record nineteen defensive and return touchdowns and is tied for the most Pro Bowl interceptions. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994.  Sanders was so dynamic in the return game and on defense that his coaches began to use him on the offensive side of the ball too. He is the one of two men man in NFL history to score a touchdown in all six ways possible in their career.

4. Joe Montana – Joe Montana stands as one of the coolest quarterbacks that ever played. He never buckled under pressure and found a way to win. He won in every appearance in the Super Bowl and made at least one game-winning drives in almost all of his playoff appearances. He still owns the record for most Super Bowl wins as NFL quarterback with four and he looked cool while he won them. He is responsible for plays like half of the NFL playoff  highlight clips where a quarterback calms his team and wins the big game. Joe Montana was special.

3. Jim Brown – Jim Brown left football as the leader in every statistical category that a running back could pursue. Brown literally had every physical gift and technical move that a running back could possess. He was a huge man during the 60′s but was also a track athlete. He was bigger, stronger, and faster than almost everyone that he faced, but was capable of eluding them in addition to pounding them like Earl Campbell did.  He ran over, spun off of, and delivered punishing stiff arms to defenders when he was not just running past them. Every player on the defense knew that Brown was getting the football, and he still ran for a career 5.1 yards per carry average. More so, he was just a good man. Jim Brown was the consummate football player and leader for the Cleveland Browns while facing the bigotry and malice of racially prejudiced crowds.

2. Jerry Rice – Jerry Rice holds the all-time record for touchdowns, receiving yards, and any other statistic that regards wide receivers. He helped Joe Montana and Steve Young to Hall of Fame careers as he stretched the football field and caught the football in double and triple coverage. He made his teammates better by giving them more opportunities to get open, but dominated when the team needed to score. It seems like Jerry Rice never missed a jump ball and Montana knew to throw them to him. Jerry Rice scored touchdowns at will.

1. Lawrence Taylor – Lawrence Taylor did not just hit people. He hurt them. Taylor ended Joe Theisman’s career on a quarterback sack. He made left tackle the highest paid position in football and changed the type of player that could be recruited as a left tackle. After LT, left tackles had to be monstrous, agile freaks of nature. This was because Lawrence Taylor was a freak of nature himself. He was almost as big as the lineman in his era, but ran as fast as the wide receivers. He could bull rush a lineman on one play, finesse him with a spin move on the next, and then explode past him altogether. He was the most disruptive player to ever play in league that was ruled by offense. In fact, he is one of two, and the last defensive player in the complete history of the National Football League to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. Lawrence Taylor is the best football player in NFL history.



*Editor’s Note – As pointed out by our readers, it was actually Frank Reich that orchestrated the biggest comeback in NFL playoff history. But, that does not diminish the accomplishments of Jim Kelly.

11 Responses to “Top 50 Greatest NFL Players All-Time”

  1. Tim Parsons November 24, 2011 at 12:09 AM #

    How do you not have
    Anthony Munoz
    John Unitas
    There are a few others, but with this list I’m not sure it matters.

    • AFM November 24, 2011 at 8:30 AM #

      Johnny Unitas was great, but the modern quarterback has surpassed him. Kurt Warner is the only QB that could possibly be replaced by Unitas, however he has done things in the NFL that may not be repeated. Munoz was a difficult omission, but there are only a few slots for offensive linemen and Matthews and Webster are ahead of him.

      • Rob January 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM #

        “Kelly also orchestrated the largest playoff comeback in NFL history by scoring 30+ points in the second half of a game to beat the Houston Oilers.” —

        Absolutely false, he was benched before the comeback even started. It was Frank Reich who led that comeback. Reich also has the biggest comeback in College football history.

        • AFM January 27, 2012 at 9:41 AM #

          Thank you historian and statistician Rob. The point is that Jim Kelly was great.

        • William August 30, 2012 at 5:17 PM #

          It was actually Frank Reich that drove the bills to that comeback win over Warren Moons. Houston Pulses, not Jim Kelly.

  2. Vincent July 11, 2012 at 2:30 PM #

    Where is Ladanian Tomlinson and Dan Fouts at?

    • AFM July 12, 2012 at 3:12 AM #

      You are obviously from San Diego.

  3. Todd From Wisco July 9, 2014 at 5:35 PM #

    Interesting that the 1960′s Packers won 5 championships, but didn’t have any great players.

    • AFM July 11, 2014 at 1:38 AM #

      It is difficult to quantify how great some of the players before the seventies were because of the level of competition, the level of athleticism, and the quality of coaching. Though there were some great teams, only a few really meet the standards of individual greatness.

  4. Tony May 28, 2015 at 9:56 PM #

    Wow this list and the order of it is a joke. I laughed when you had Favre at #8 (ONE Super Bowl win and only two appearances) and DEON SANDERS at # 5…FIVE…but Rod Woodson at # 20?!? Mister Primetime belly flop rather than tackle anyone? Watch Super Bowl XXX to see how “great” Deon was.

    The fact you also dismiss Fouts and Tomlinson as not even worthy of a factual rebuttal, or can’t admit it was indeed Frank Reich and not Kelly that led that comeback says volumes. Based on this list I assume you were born in the ’80s and it shows. Lastly, Randy Moss at #46 LMAO?? OK…

    • AFM May 29, 2015 at 1:45 PM #

      Tony, look at the NFL record books if you want to know why Favre is number 8 on the list. He owns almost every passing record. Favre is one of the most underrated players in league history even though he is also one of the most celebrated. He is never mentioned when guys talk about the best to ever play the game. Peyton Manning will soon replace him with those records if he stays healthy for another year or two, but Favre won when he had the team. And, if you do not think that Deion Sanders is better a better corner than Rod Woodson, then you are delusional. Woodson had the better overall career because of longevity and because he switched to safety in his later years. Deion changed defensive game plans by himself. Coordinators could only use the opposite half of the football field against him. On, the 7th best cornerback tandem in NFL history is Deion Sanders and anyone that played with him. Let that sink into your head. At his peak which easily lasted 7 years, he took half the field away from offenses, and he held almost every return record until Devin Hester broke them recently.

      You were right about Frank Reich leading that comeback, Kelly was injured. That does not lessen Kelly’s stature in the game though, it just means that he had one less accomplishment. And, Randy Moss had nearly three years where he was uninterested and completely ineffective. I will concede that if Sanders is higher on the list because of his peak, then Moss could be higher too.

      Its good to talk football who understands the game even if we disagree. Thanks Tony.

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