The Best All-Time NFL Players by Position
This is my all-time NFL team, with players listed by position. The first name
listed and bolded is the starter. I have explained some of my
more "unusual" choices in the NOTES & QUOTES section. Below the notes,
I have listed my honorable mentions for each position.
tds=touchdowns; ypc=yards per carry; ypr=yards per reception
QB: Peyton Manning (539 tds), Brett Favre (508 tds), Drew Brees
(452 tds), Tom Brady (440 tds), Dan Marino (420 tds)
FB: Jim Brown (5.2 ypc), Marion Motley (5.7 ypc), Bronko Nagurski, Earl Campbell aka "The Tyler
RB: Bo Jackson (5.4 ypc), Red Grange aka "The Galloping Ghost"
(5.4 ypc), Jim Thorpe, O. J. Simpson
RB: Gale Sayers (5.0 ypc), Barry Sanders (5.0 ypc), Walter
Payton aka "Sweetness", Emmitt Smith
WR: Jerry Rice aka "World" (14.8 ypr), Lance Alworth aka "Bambi"
(18.9 ypr), James Lofton (18.3 ypr), Randy Moss (15.6 ypr)
WR: Don Hutson (16.4 ypr), Paul Warfield (20.1 ypr), "Bullet"
Bob Hayes (20.1 ypr), Elroy Hirsch
aka "Crazy Legs" (18.2 ypr)
TE: John Mackey (15.6 ypr), Rob Gronkowski (15.1 ypr), Tony
Gonzalez (11.4 ypr), Jason Witten (10.8 ypr)
C: Chuck Bednarik aka "Concrete Charlie", Jim Otto, Mike Webster, Mel Hein
OT: Anthony Munoz, Art Shell, Forrest Gregg, Bob St. Clair aka
"The Geek", Jackie Slater
OT: Jim Parker, Randall McDaniel, Jonathan Ogden, Dan Dierdorf
OG: John Hannah, Bruce Matthews, Mike Munchak
OG: Gene Upshaw, Larry Allen, Eric Williams
DE: Reggie White aka "The Minister of Defense", Bruce Smith,
Bubba Smith, Carl Eller
DE: David "Deacon" Jones, Gino Marchetti, Jack Younblood, Jim Marshall
DT: "Mean" Joe Greene, Alan Page, Randy White, Warren Sapp
DT: Bob Lilly, Merlin Olsen, Buck Buchanan, Doug Atkins, John
LB: Lawrence Taylor, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Ray Lewis, Derrick Thomas,
LB: Dick Butkus, Chuck Bednarik aka "Concrete Charlie", Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell, Junior Seau
LB: Ray Nitschke, Mike Singletary, Sam Huff, Brian Urlacher,
CB: Dick "Night Train" Lane, Ron Woodson, Darrell Green,
CB: "Neon" Deion Sanders, Mel Blount, Willie Brown, Herb Adderley,
S: Ronnie Lott, Jack Tatum, Steve Atwater, Lester Hayes, Jack
S: Ed Reed, Willie Wood, Ken Houston, Charles Woodson, Emlen
Tunnell, Larry Wilson
Place Kicker: George Blanda (also a great quarterback), Adam Vinatieri
Punter: Slingin' Sammy Baugh (also a great quarterback and safety)
Kick Returner: Gale Sayers (also a great running back), Deion Sanders (also a
Punt Returner: Gale Sayers, Deion Sanders, Jack Christiansen (his 12.8 yards per
punt return remains the best ever)
NOTES & QUOTES
Chuck Bednarik is my starting center on offense and also makes my all-time NFL
team on defense. Gil Brandt listed Bednarik as his number two all-time center,
behind Jim Otto. But how great would Bednarik have been if he hadn't played
full-time on defense? I think it's safe to say that he would have been even
better. But Slingin' Sammy Baugh may have been the most versatile of the great
two-way players because he was an all-world quarterback, an all-world safety,
and an out-of-this-world punter who set records that remained many years later.
Bruce Matthews may have been the most versatile offensive lineman ever, starting
at least 17 games at all five positions. He retired having played a then-record
296 games. Lou "The Toe" Groza made my honorable mentions as an offensive tackle
and as punter.
Peyton Manning is my number one quarterback based on
his career achievements, which speak for themselves. Joe Montana often
gets favor for winning more Super Bowls, but he played on teams
with hall-of-famers like Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig and
Ronnie Lott. Terry Bradshaw played with Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Franco
Harris, Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mike Webster, Mel Blount and
other stars. Did the other quarterbacks win Super Bowls by themselves? Of course
not. And no one in his/her right mind would suggest that Dick Butkus wasn't one
of the greatest linebackers because he didn't lead his teams to multiple Super
Bowl victories. If Peyton Manning had played on those great Steelers and 49ers
teams, he might have won ten Super Bowls.
I moved Jim Brown to fullback and
chose two starting running backs whose careers were cut short by injuries: Bo
Jackson and Gayle Sayers. When they were in their prime, I believe they were
more electrifying and game-changing than any of the better-known players with
longer careers. In my offense, I would change formations and sometimes have
three running backs, sometimes two, sometimes one. Sayers averaged 5.0 yards
per carry for his career, which is substantially better than all the running
backs on the team other than Brown and Jackson. Sayers also averaged an
astounding 30.6 yards per kickoff return for his career, an NFL record. His
career average of 14.5 yards per punt return is better than any of the leading
specialists' averages. He was crazy good, and a threat to score every time he
touched the ball. Bo Jackson averaged an amazing 5.4 yards per carry for his
career, and his last year in the NFL he averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Bo was a
freak of nature, with a hand-recorded 40 yard dash of 4.12, which remains a
record for the NFL. He is the only athlete to be an all-star in the NFL and
major league baseball. He was named the greatest athlete of all time by ESPN.
And really, he was playing pro football part time, but still managed to do so on
an entirely different plane. Everyone knew that he was going to run the ball,
and yet he averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Truly, only Bo knows how to pull
off such miracles! Bo's 221 yards rushing on November 30, 1987, just 29 days
after his first NFL carry, is still a Monday Night Football record. That is the
game in which he famously ran over Brian Bosworth to score one of his three
touchdowns. Bo was a two-time Alabama high school state champion in the
decathlon, and set state records for indoor high-jump (6'9") and triple-jump
(48'8"). Playing NCAA baseball, he batted .401 with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs in
1985. Playing NCAA football, he won the Heisman trophy and set an SEC record 6.6
average yards per carry. He and Willie Mays are the only major league baseball
players to hit a home run and steal a base in an all-star game. Bo tied a major
league baseball record by hitting home runs in four consecutive plate
appearances. He was fleet as a deer, but strong as an ox. Sometimes when he
struck out, he would snap his bat like a toothpick, either over his knee or over
his head. He once ran up an outfield wall like he was Spiderman, rather than
crashing into it like an ordinary mortal. Bo promised his mother that once he
returned from hip replacement surgery he would hit a home run for her. In his
first at bat after surgery, on his first swing, he hit a home run. And so it
goes ... the stuff of legend ...
The great Pittsburg Steelers team of the ages (four Super Bowl victories from
1974-1979) is well represented above and in my honorable mentions with Mean Joe
Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Andy Russell, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, L. C.
Greenwood, Dwight White, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John
Stallworth, Larry Brown, and Mike Webster. That would be my pick as the
best NFL team of all time.
Vince Lombardi called Forrest Gregg "the best player I ever coached."
Barry Sanders' father was frequently quoted as saying that Jim Brown was "the
best I've ever seen." Brown himself didn't disagree, pointing out that "When
running backs get in a room together, they don't argue about who is the best."
Presumably they all knew that he was the best! Brown averaged 104.3 yards per
game and 5.2 yards per carry for his career; those are figures only Barry
Sanders approached, so there is a good argument for saying that Brown was the
best NFL running back of all time.
HIGH HONORABLE MENTION
QB: Slingin' Sammy Baugh, Terry Bradshaw,
Len Dawson, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Otto Graham, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Joe Namath, Philip Rivers, Ben
Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Bart Starr,
Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas, Steve Young
RB: Marcus Allen, Jerome Bettis, Larry Csonka, Eric Dickerson,
Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, Eddie George, Frank
Gore, Franco Harris, Edgerrin James, Jim Kiick, Jamal Lewis, Curtis Martin, Mercury Morris
(5.1 ypc), Adrian Peterson,
Joe Perry (5.0 ypc), John Riggins, Fred Taylor, Jim Taylor, Thurman Thomas, LaDainian
Tomlinson, Derrick Henry
Note: The all-time best NFL backfield was surely Miami's when the Dolphins
had Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris.
WR: Raymond Berry, Fred Biletnikoff, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Brown, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Cris
Carter, Carroll Dale (18.9 ypr), Tom Fears, Larry Fitzgerald, Willie Gault (19.9
ypr), Frank Gifford, Marvin Harrison, DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Charlie Joiner, Julio Jones,
Michael Irvin, Steve Largent, Don Maynard (18.7 ypr), Art Monk, Terrell Owens
(14.8 ypr), Andre Reed, Lance Rentzel (18.0 ypr), Steve Smith, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann
(16.3 ypr), Otis Taylor (17.8 ypr), Gene Washington (17.8 ypr)
Note: John Stallworth and Lynn
Swann played together on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jerry Rice and John
Taylor played together on the San Francisco 49ers. Marvin Harrison and Reggie
Wayne played together on the Indianapolis Colts. Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch
played together on the Los Angeles Rams. Randy Moss and Cris Carter played
together on the Minnesota Vikings. Don Maynard and George Sauer played together
on the New York Jets.
TE: Dave Casper (13.8 ypr), Mike Ditka (13.6 ypr), Antonio Gates (12.4 ypr), Jimmy Graham
(12.2 ypc), Ozzie Newsome (12.1 ypr), Greg Olsen (11.8 ypr), Jerry Smith (13.1
ypc), Shannon Sharpe (12.3 ypr), Kellen Winslow (12.5 ypr)
C: Randy Cross, Dermontti Dawson, Travis Frederick, Frank Gatski,
Jim Langer, Alex Mack, Kevin Mawae, Jim Ringo, Dwight Stephenson, Clyde
OT: Bob Brown, Larry Brown, Roosevelt Brown aka Rosey Brown, Lou Groza, Walter Jones, Mike McCormack, Ron Mix, Orlando Pace, Jason Peters, Willie Roaf,
Joe Thomas, Rayfield Wright, Ron Yary, Danny Fortmann
OG: Joe DeLamielleure, Alan Faneca, Russ Grimm, Steve Hutchinson, Jerry Kramer,
Larry Little, Tom Mack, Will Shields, Dick Stanfel, Joe Stydahar,
DE: Willie Davis, L. C. Geenwood, Howie Long, Lee Roy Selmon, DeMarcus Ware,
DT: Geno Atkins, Buck Buchanan, Curley Culp, Alex Karras, Cortez Kennedy, Arnie Weinmeister
Note: Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp played together on the Kansas City
LB: Bobby Bell, Cornelius Bennett, Nick Buoniconti, Robert Brazile, Harry Carson, Bill George, Kevin Greene, Chuck Howley, Rickey Jackson,
Lee Roy Jordan, E. J. Junior, Luke Kuechly, Willie Lanier, Tommy Nobis, Andy
Russell, Joe Schmidt, Dave Wilcox
CB: Champ Bailey, Lester Hayes, Paul Krause, Dick LeBeau, Mel Renfro,
Roger Wehrli, Aeneas Williams
S: Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell
Punt Returners and Kick Returners: Cordarrelle Patterson, Mel Gray, Devin Hester, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson,
Eric Metcalf, Brian Mitchell, Rick Upchurch
Punters: Britton Colquitt, Craig Colquitt, Dustin Colquitt,
Jimmy Colquitt, Jeff Feagles, Stephen Gostkowski, Lou "The Toe" Groza, Sean Landeta,
Yale Lary, Shane Lechler, Ray Guy, Pat McAfee, Reggie Roby
Place Kickers: Gary Anderson, Morten Anderson, Mason Crosby, Jason Hanson, Sebastian Janikowski, Jan Stenerud,
Ryan Succop, Justin Tucker
QB: Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Roman Gabriel, Jim Kelly, Eli Manning, Steve
McNair, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Kenny Stabler, Vinny Testaverde, Kurt Warner
RB: Shaun Alexander, Tiki Barber, John Brockington, Cory Dillon,
Warrick Dunn, Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Thomas Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Ricky
WR: Dez Bryant, Julian Edelman, Henry Ellard, Torry Holt, Irving Fryar, Derrick
Mason, Stanley Morgan (19.2 ypr), Carl Perkins, George Sauer, Sterling Sharpe, Charley
Taylor, John Taylor, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne
TE: Dallas Clark, Ben Coates, Todd Christensen, Vernon Davis, Russ Francis,
Keith Jackson, Brent Jones, Heath Miller, Jay Novacek, Charlie Sanders, Jeremy
Shockey, Jackie Smith, Frank Wycheck
DT: Casey Hampton
LB: Otis Wilson
CB: Ronde Barber, Jimmy Johnson, Ty Law
QB: Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Carson
Wentz, Russell Wilson
RB: Saquon Barkley, Le'Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles (5.4 ypc), Ezekiel Elliot, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry,
Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey
WR: Odell Beckman Jr., Tyreek Hill, Mike Evans, A. J. Green, DeSean Jackson
(17.4 ypr), Adam Thielen,
TE: Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker
OT: Taylor Lewan, Tyron Smith
OG: David DeCastro, Zack Martin
DE: Joey Bosa, Calais Campbell, Everson Griffen, Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan,
Khalil Mack, J. J. Watt
DT: Jurrell Casey, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald
LB: Von Miller, Bobby Wagner
CB: Marshon Lattimore, Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey, Darrell Revis, Richard Sherman, Aqib
S: Eric Berry, Kam Chancellor, Kevin Byard, Harrison Smith, Earl Thomas
OLDTIMERS: The Best Players from the NFL's Early Years
QB: Slingin' Sammy Baugh (1937-1952), Earl "Curly" Lambeau (1919-1929)
RB: Harold "Red" Grange (1925-1934), Jim Thorpe (1920-1928), John "Blood"
McNally (1925-1939), Earl "Dutch" Clark (1931-1938)
FB: Ernie Nevers (1926-1931), Bronko Nagurski (1930-1943) may have been the
toughest football player of all time
WR: Don Hutson (1935-1945) aka "The Alabama Antelope" held all major NFL
receiving records when he retired, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch (1946-1957)
C: George "the Brute" Trafton (1920-1932), Mel Hein (1931-1945) an eight-time
first-team all-pro known as "Old Indestructible"
T: Robert "Cal" Hubbard (1927-1936), Wilbur "Pete" Henry (1920-1928) the largest
player of his day at 5-11, 245 pounds!
DE: George Halas (1920-1928) aka "Papa Bear"
LB: Chuck Bednarik (1949-1962) aka "Concrete Charlie" and "the 60 Minute Man"
was the NFL's last "iron man" two-way player
The Best NFL Nicknames
Lance Alworth: "Bambi"
"Slingin'" Sammy Baugh
Chuck Bednarik: "Concrete Charlie"
Earl Campbell: "The Tyler Rose"
Mike Ditka: "Iron Mike"
Red Grange: "The Galloping Ghost"
"Mean" Joe Greene
Lou "The Toe" Groza
"Bullet" Bob Hayes
Ted Hendricks: "The Mad Stork"
Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch
Billy "White Shoes" Johnson
David "Deacon" Jones
Dick "Night Train" Lane
Peyton Manning: "The Sherriff"
Walter Payton: "Sweetness"
Darrell Revis: "Revis Island"
Jerry Rice: "World"
"Primetime" Deion Sanders, also "Neon Deion"
O. J. Simpson: "Juice"
Reggie White: "The Minister of Defense" (he was actually an ordained minister)
Related Pages: All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team,
The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time,
Cincinnati Reds Trivia,
Is Mike Trout the GOAT?,
Best Baseball Nicknames,
Mike Trout Nicknames,
Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia,
Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates,
Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame,
Big Red Machine Chronology,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7,
Weird Sports Trivia,
Who is the NBA
All-Time PPG Leaders,
NBA Greatest Scorers,
The Best All-Time SEC Basketball Players by Position