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Updating and Ranking The 50 Greatest NFL Players of all time

Now that we’re a few years removed from the NFL’s 100th Anniversary, it’s time to update our rankings of the 50 Greatest NFL Players of all time. The list needs some slight updating and ordering, as (spoiler alert) a new GOAT has been crowned.

This is the definitive ranking of the 50 Greatest NFL Players of All Time.

50. Terrell Owens

Position: WR

Years active: 1996-2010

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2018); 5x First-Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl

Hot takes only on this list. Despite the heavy controversy surrounding his career, Terrell Owens was the greatest wide receiver of his day outside of Randy Moss. He was unfortunately stuck on some heartbreakingly good teams: his Niners were on the verge of glory before they ran into a historical anomaly in the early 2000’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and later was a part of the Eagles team that fell victim to Tom Brady. Despite that, his NFL stats and influence are both undeniable.

49. Steve Young

Position: QB

Years active: 1985-1999

Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2005); 3x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x MVP; 1x OPoY; 3x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 7x Pro Bowl; 2x NFC OPoY; 2x Bert Bell Award

The heir to Joe Montana’s throne in San Francisco, Steve Young was a proper successor to the heritage of the Niners. One of the first great mobile quarterbacks, Young was extremely efficient, and has the second-most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, with 43.

48. Forrest Gregg

Position: T

Years active: 1956-1971

Teams: Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1977); 3x Super Bowl Champion; 5x NFL Champion; 7x First-Team All-Pro 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

The unheralded offensive anchor to the legendary Vince Lombardi’s legendary Packers teams, Forrest Gregg was the wall and heart of eight total NFL championships, including their first two. He later joined Roger Staubach and the Cowboys to nab his third Super Bowl towards the end of his career.

47. OJ Simpson

Position: RB

Years active: 1969-1979

Teams: Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1985); 1x MVP; 1x OPoY; 5x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Pro-Bowl; 1x AP Athlete of the Year; 1x Bert Bell Award; 1x AFL All-Star

We all know why OJ Simpson is ranked this low. You’ll find less successful running backs with shorter careers higher than him on this list, and if not for his sordid history off the field, he might have just been up there with them.

46. Chuck Bednarik

Position: C/LB

Years active: 1949-1962

Teams: Philadelphia Eagles

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1967); 2x NFL Champion; 10x First-Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Concrete Charlie, as he was named, is distinctive as the last and greatest of the NFL’s “60-minute men”. What does that mean? He played full-time minutes on both offense and defense, and was the most-feared tackler of his era.

45. Roger Staubach

Position: QB

Years active: 1969-1979

Teams: Dallas Cowboys

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1985); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 1x MVP; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl; MoY; Bert Bell Award

The leader of the first great Cowboys dynasty, Staubach led Dallas to five Super Bowl appearances, winning two. What’s even crazier is that if not for a long tour of Vietnam after college, he might have had five more cracks at the NFL chip.

44. Jim Thorpe

Position: RB

Years active: 1920-1928

Teams: Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Oorang Indians, Rock Island Independents, New York Giants, Chicago Cardinals

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1963); 1x First-Team All-Pro

Jim Thorpe is remembered more for his general cultural impact than NFL influence. A Native American icon, and the AP “greatest athlete” from the first half of the 1900’s, Thorpe is deified as one of the greatest and most versatile athletes in modern history. He was a rare three-sport pro, playing football, basketball, and baseball, while also setting an Olympic record in the decathlon. He also served as the first president of the APFA (the precursor to the NFL), and has an entire town named after him.

43. Earl Campbell

Position: RB

Years active: 1978-1985

Teams: Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1991); 1x MVP; 1x PFWA MVP; 3x OPoY; 3x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Pro Bowl; ORoY; Bert Bell Award

The centerpiece of one of the most successful Oilers eras in history, Campbell has a legitimate claim to be the greatest power runners in NFL history. His career was shorter than one would like, but an MVP-caliber season where he led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns bumps him up several spots.

42. Mike Singletary

Position: LB

Years active: 1981-1992

Teams: Chicago Bears

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1998); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 2x DPoY; 8x First-Team All-Pro; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl; 3x NFC PoY; MoY

The marquee name of the Chicago Bears defense in the 1980’s (known as the Monsters of the Midway), Singletary was one of the most feared and yet most respected defenders in the NFL. He only missed one All-Pro and Pro Bowl team each in his career, and was as hard-hitting as the Bears of the past.

41. John Hannah

Position: G

Years active: 1973-1985

Teams: New England Patriots

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1991); 1x OPoY; 10x All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Easily the second-greatest offensive lineman in NFL history (the greatest will make his appearance down this list), Hannah held the title himself, dubbed the lineman GOAT by Sports Illustrated in 1981. He is also notable for being the first-ever player inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.

40. Ray Nitschke

Position: LB

Years active: 1958-1972

Teams: Green Bay Packers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1978); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 5x NFL Champion; 11x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Second-Team All-Pro; 1x Pro Bowl

When you talk about football history, you can’t not talk about Ray Nitschke. He was the commander of Vince Lombardi’s (yes, that Vince Lombardi) defense on the Green Bay Packers. A career Packer, Nitschke led Green Bay to five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls in history. You can owe the Packers’ existence and prestige to him.

39. Eric Dickerson

Position: RB

Years active: 1983-1993

Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders, Atlanta Falcons

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1999); 1x OPoY; 5x First Team All-Pro; 3x NFC OPoY; 6x Pro Bowl; ORoY

The reigning holder of the NFL’s single-season rushing record (2,105), Eric Dickerson amassed 13,000 career rushing yards and nearly broke the 2,000 rushing-yard benchmark his rookie year, despite playing only 14 games.

38. Mel Blount

Position: DB

Years active: 1970-1983

Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1989); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 2x First Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 1x AFC DPoY; 5x Pro Bowl

The primary perimeter lynchpin of the iconic Steel Curtain Steelers, Mel Blount was as physical as his more famous NFL teammates, and feared as the prototypical secondary defender in the league.

37. Rod Woodson

Position: DB

Years active: 1987-2003

Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2009); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 1x AFC PoY; 6x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

An heir to the great Steelers defenses of decades past, Woodson did his part to continue that legacy before helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. Built like a tank (6’0, 205 lbs), Woodson was was a deceptively skilled ball hawk, nabbing 71 career interceptions (3rd all-time) and 32 career defensive fumble recoveries (1st all-time).

36. Tony Gonzalez

Position: TE

Years active: 1997-2013

Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2019); 6x First Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 14x Pro Bowl

Tony Gonzalez retired with no Super Bowl wins or appearances, paling in comparison to other greats at the position, including Gronk, Shannon Sharpe, and even Travis Kelce. But what makes him the greatest tight end of all time is his stats. For his career length alone, he holds the positional all-time record for career receiving yards (15,127) and receptions (1,325), trailing only two wideouts for the most receptions overall. Gonzalez also famous for his durability and glue-like hands: he only missed two games over his entire NFL career, and has only fumbled the ball twice in his career. So don’t blame him for his lack of a championship resume. He’s a winner all the same.

35. Gino Marchetti

Position: DE

Years active: 1952-1966

Teams: Dallas Texans; Baltimore Colts

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1972); 2x NFL Champion; 9x First Team All-Pro; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

The enforcer behind two of Johnny Unitas’ pre-Super Bowl championships with the Baltimore Colts (we’ll see Unitas in a little bit), Marchetti was one of the first great defensive players in NFL history, and was voted the league’s all-time greatest DE in 1972. His hard work and heart were famous, as he notably made a switch to OT briefly to understand how to beat blockers. Whatever he did worked, as the next year he ended up in his first Pro Bowl.

34. Aaron Rodgers

Position: QB

Years active: 2005-Present

Teams: Green Bay Packers

Notable accolades: 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 3x MVP; 3x First Team All-Pro; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Despite the bitterness surrounding him and the Packers, Aaron Rodgers is arguably the most talented quarterback to ever play the game by arm talent alone. He holds the all-time season passer rating record with 122.5, and holds the NFL’s all-time lowest career interception percentage (1.4%). He’s ridden both efficiency and talent to all-time statistical highs, and an MVP-level performance in 2020 is nothing to sneeze at.

33. Dick Lane

Position: CB

Years active: 1952-1965

Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1974); 7x First Team All-Pro; 7x Pro Bowl

Mostly iconic for his awesome nickname, Dick “Night Train” Lane was a DB infamous for his ball skills, nabbing a still-standing record of 14 interceptions his rookie year. He would nab 68 picks during his career, a mark good enough for fourth on the all-time list, and was even highlighted for his explosion and tackling.

32. Bob Lilly

Position: DT

Years active: 1961-1974

Teams: Dallas Cowboys

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1980); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 7x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

You’ll notice that defensive players with lengthy careers are super noticeable on this list, and Bob Lilly has the long career and one-team wonder status to boot. Before Jimmy Johnson made the Cowboys what they are today, Lilly established them as an initial power. In his time, Lilly was the lynchpin of a defense with an iconic nickname: the Doomsday Defense. Regularly double- and triple-teamed due to his athleticism, Lilly was a consistent threat, and was famous for rarely ever missing games (196 consecutive).

31. Sammy Baugh

Position: QB

Years active: 1937-1952

Teams: Washington Redskins

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1963); 2x NFL Champion; 2x NFL PoY; 4x First Team All-Pro; 4x Second Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl

Arguably the first great Washington player, Baugh’s place on this list is lower than expected due to how far back his career goes. His championships came before the Super Bowl era, relegating him to the prehistory of modern football. However, his talent and numbers cannot be denied — Baugh led the NFL in completion percentage eight times, with four passing yards titles and three titles in passer rating to boot. He also played heavy minutes as a punter and DB, probably due to the relative size of the league back then.

30. Ed Reed

Position: S

Years active: 2002-2013

Teams: Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Houston Texans

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2019); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 5x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Maybe his placement here is a result of recency bias, but Drew Brees is the greatest and most singular New Orleans Saint of all time, and deserves his place for what he has done and meant to his team and city. Of course, his stats and records are nothing to sneeze at either: aside from a Super Bowl win and several deep playoff runs, he owns the all-time record for season passing yards crowns (7) and passing touchdowns (4).

29. Drew Brees

Position: QB

Years active: 2001-2020

Teams: San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints

Notable accolades: 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x OPoY; 1 First Team All-Pro; 4x Second Team All-Pro; 13x Pro Bowl; MoY; CPoY

Maybe his placement here is a result of recency bias, but Drew Brees is the greatest and most singular New Orleans Saint of all time, and deserves his place for what he has done and meant to his team and city. Of course, his stats and records are nothing to sneeze at either: aside from a Super Bowl win and several deep playoff runs, he owns the all-time record for season passing yards crowns (7) and passing touchdowns (4).

28. Don Hutson

Position: E

Years active: 1935-1945

Teams: Green Bay Packers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1963); 3x NFL Champion; 2x MVP; 8x First Team All-Pro; 4x NFL All-Star

Don Hutson is from a bygone era of football. What the hell is an end, or an NFL All-Star? Well, if you’re enjoying wide receivers or dynamic pass-catching tight ends, thank Don Hutson. He was the first and greatest of the receiving ‘ends’, which during his era were just part of the offensive line. His rise and stardom launched the popularity of the forward pass, and to have him here rather than his quarterback points to the game changer that he truly was.

27. Bruce Smith

Position: DE

Years active: 1985-2003

Teams: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2009); 2x DPoY; 8x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl; 4x AFC DPoY

If for nothing else, the NFL’s career sack leader can’t slide lower than the low 20’s. As the highest-ranking Buffalo Bill, Bills Mafia would riot if he slid any lower than that too. How do you manage to even reach 200 career sacks? Von Miller and JJ Watt are the only active players that even reach triple digits. He has all of the accolades and all of the longevity, and if not for four straight championship-level heartbreaks, he would have four Super Bowl rings to his name as well.

26. Alan Page

Position: DT

Years active: 1967-1981

Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1988); 1x NFL Champion; 1x MVP; 2x DPoY; 6x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl; 1x NFC PoY; 2x NFC DPoY

How in the world did a true rushing defensive tackle manage to enjoy a 14-year long career? As the prototype for Aaron Donald, Page made his money as one of the most feared members of the Minnesota Vikings’ blitz package (shout out to the Purple People Eaters). Not only did Page play in over 200 consecutive NFL games, but he is also one of the few defensive players to ever win a league MVP.

25. Jack Lambert

Position: LB

Years active: 1974-1984

Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1990); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 9x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl; DRoY

The thunder to ‘Mean’ Joe Greene’s other thunder, Jack Lambert made his reputation as the more mobile half of Pittsburgh’s iconic ‘Steel Curtain’ defenses through the 1970’s. There are some players on this ranking that are celebrated for their winning, career length, or accolades, Lambert is the rare case that checks off all three boxes. His less iconic name prevents him from being higher on this list, but he has an argument to make the  top 20.

24. Randy Moss

Position: WR

Years active: 1998-2012

Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2018); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 3x MVP; 1x OPoY; 4x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl

Short of championships, Randy Moss was the heir to Jerry Rice’s throne as the best pass catcher in the NFL, and if not for a pesky New York Giants team and history on Ray Lewis’ side, would have gotten himself a pair of rings to boot. His talent has scarce equal on this list, and as the second-greatest wide receiver in NFL history (you’ll meet number one a little later), he has the stats and records to make a case for its most talented.

23. Brett Favre

Position: QB

Years active: 1991-2010

Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2016); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 3x MVP; 1x OPoY; 3x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

Mostly remembered for his time on the Green Bay Packers, Favre made history on the back of a legendary decade in the 1990s. His Super Bowl win won’t be remembered outside of Green Bay, sandwiched as it was in the middle of the more famous Cowboys and Broncos dynasties, but Favre’s peak as the league’s resident gunslinger was as good as anyone’s. He is the first quarterback to beat all 32 teams, and his three MVP years are the most times the award was consecutively received.

22. Gale Sayers

Position: RB

Years active: 1965-1971

Teams: Chicago Bears

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1977);  5x First Team All-Pro;  4x Pro Bowl

Point of order: Sayers’ accolades, to the untrained eye, don’t hold up to his contemporaries. But this list also celebrates peaks, and Sayers at his peak was as good as any running back to ever play in the NFL. He was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro back until injuries took his career at the turn of the 70s, and he remains the youngest ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at 34. He is second in the hearts of Bears lifers to only Walter Payton, and is remembered for his heart as much as his skill (RIP, Brian Piccolo).

21. Otto Graham

Position: QB

Years active: 1946-1955

Teams: Cleveland Browns

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1965); 3x NFL Champion; 4x AAFC Champion; 3x MVP; 2x AAFC MVP 4x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro 5x Pro Bowl; 3x First Team All-AAFC

Otto Graham is one of the forgotten greats of the game if you’re not a huge football fan, or a proper Cleveland Browns fan. You’ll see the first great modern quarterback later on in this list, but Graham was the first great quarterback, period (think basketball’s George Mikan, relevant since Graham played ball in the NBL himself). He was the Brown’s greatest leader alongside Jim Brown, and his career extends beyond that to the prehistoric AAFC. But the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in history and yards per pass attempt is nothing to sneeze at. Both records remain untouched, and if we count the NFL with its precursor, no quarterback until Brady matched Graham’s championship trophy count.

20. Deacon Jones

Position: DE

Years active: 1961-1974

Teams: Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1980); 2x DPoY; 5x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Deacon Jones played at the very beginning of the Super Bowl era, and as such is largely forgotten, playing the shadow of the mighty Green Bay Packers. But his impact is no less for all of that: Jones is considered to be the prototypical modern defensive end, and is largely credited with being the first pass rushing specialist, and the person who coined the term ‘sack’:

“You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag. You’re sacking them, you’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.”

19. Anthony Munoz

Position: LT

Years active: 1980-1992

Teams: Cincinnati Bengals

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1998); 9x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl; MoY

The offensive line needs more respect. They’ll never get it, of course, but without a decent line, all the talent in the world wouldn’t be able to generate quality offense. Take Munoz, for example. There is a reason why the Bengals’ only two AFC titles came under his tenure, and why neither of his quarterbacks at the time are in the Hall of Fame with him. And yet, one of them one the MVP , and Munoz is largely forgotten in NFL history. Shameful.

18. Dan Marino

Position: QB

Years active: 1983-1999

Teams: Miami Dolphins

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2005); 3x Super Bowl Champion; MVP; RoY; MoY; 3x First Team All-Pro; 5x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

If you haven’t already noticed, one-team players, particularly one-team quarterbacks, are given special attention on this list. You’ll see a few more of these before this list is through. As for Marino, again, he never won a title, but his iconography on the Dolphins is second to none, and he was the eminent stat gobbler of his time. At the time of his retirement, Marino held over 40 total NFL records (you’ll see those record breakers later), and was the first quarterback to ever surpass both the 50 and 60,000 passing yard threshold, and the 400 touchdown pass mark.

17. Deion Sanders

Position: CB

Years active: 1989-2000, 2004-2005

Teams: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2011); 2x Super Bowl Champion; DPoY; 6x First Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Probably the greatest journeyman in NFL history, Deion Sanders is more known as his multi-dimensional athleticism. During his NFL career, Sanders also put in legitimate seasons (9 total) in the MLB. He is the only athlete to ever compete in both a Super Bowl and World Series, and it is this distinction that is a testament to his greatness.

16. Barry Sanders

Position: RB

Years active: 1989-1998

Teams: Detroit Lions

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2004); 1x MVP; 2x OPoY; ORoY; 6x First Team All-Pro; 4x Second Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl

Considered by many to be the greatest player to never compete in a Super Bowl, Barry Sanders is nonetheless still counted among the greatest running backs of all time. His name is synonymous with speed, footwork, and quickness, and he is rightfully cited as a high comp for every smaller back with turbojets in the league (re: Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey). He is the first NFL player to ever log 10 straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons, and simply couldn’t be tackled.

14. Dick Butkus

Position: LB

Years active: 1965-1973

Teams: Chicago Bears

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1979 Class);  2x DPoY; 6x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

One of the hardest hitters in NFL history, Dick Butkus’ accolades don’t necessarily measure up with his contemporaries this high on the list, but that’s fine considering his relatively short career. His reputation was built on the eye test, and his tackles were famous for being hard enough to generate regular turnovers. Similarly to other players at this point of the list with their own teams, the Bears wouldn’t be where they are without Butkus.

15. Ray Lewis

Position: LB

Years active: 1996-2012

Teams: Baltimore Ravens

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2018); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x DPoY; 7x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 13x Pro Bowl

Nostalgia makes it tempting to have Ray Lewis lower on this list. But this is as far as he can reasonably slip before we need to start talking about bias toward the past. Lewis is the first NFL player on this list in awhile to have at least one Super Bowl win under his belt, and he was the leader of both of his championship squads. Just like Butkus, Lewis is iconic and the undisputed GOAT of his team. The only difference is that he won more. Ray Lewis is the second greatest linebacker of all time, and the greatest of this era.

13. John Elway

Position: QB

Years active: 1983-1998

Teams: Denver Broncos

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2004 Class); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x MVP; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x AFC OPoY; 1x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Elway’s accolades don’t seem to really hold up for a rank this high, until you consider the following: under him, the Denver Broncos went to five Super Bowls. His five championship starts is the most of any quarterback not named Tom Brady, and as the greatest player in Broncos history (and having only played for Denver), Elway’s place in NFL lore is secure, as is his imagery.

12. Ronnie Lott

Position: S

Years active: 1981-1994

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, New York Jets

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2000 Class); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 8x First Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl

Lott is the first of three 49ers from the team’s iconic 80’s run, and just like the other two of the trio, Lott is considered by many to be the greatest at his position. While not as individually highlighted as some of his predecessors on this list, Lott’s viciousness as a hitter on the perimeter, and his leadership of arguably the greatest core of all time earns him his spot here.

11. Joe Green

Position: DT

Years active: 1969-1981

Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1987 Class); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 2x DPoY; DRoY; 1x MoY; 5x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl;

‘Mean’ Joe Green was the definitive defensive (some say overall) NFL player of the 1970’s, and was synonymous with the ‘Steel Curtain’ Steelers. If you’re looking for the progenitor of the modern, juggernaut Steelers, look no further. You don’t get their iconic defense and reputation without the most dominant defensive lineman to ever play.

10. Emmitt Smith

Position: RB

Years active: 1990-2004

Teams: Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2010); 1x MVP; 1x Super Bowl MVP; ORoY; 4x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl; multiple records (rushing yards, touchdowns, attempts

Okay, let’s talk about this. There might be more iconic names to non-fans or casual fans that have already been listed, but Emmitt Smith is by far the greatest of the Cowboys offensive trio that made Dallas the juggernaut brand it is today. As the starting running back for the most successful era of America’s team, Smith has an argument to be the greatest NFL running back of all time, and the stats back it up. His records are very much untouched, and his production remained even with Aikman and Irvin eating up possessions.

9. Peyton Manning

Position: QB

Years active: 1955-1973

Teams: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2021 Class); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 5x MVP; 2x OPoY; 1x MoY; 7x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 14x Pro Bowl; multiple records (career MVPs, Pro Bowls, 4,000-yard passing seasons, single-season passing yards (5,477), single-season passing TDs (55))

Numbers. That sums up Peyton Manning’s career. Honestly, the biggest nod to his greatness was the effectiveness of a Colts offense (and team, really) that rested solely on his shoulders. The next player on this list is more prototypical and more iconic/nostalgic in the sport of football, but Peyton, with his huge arm (and bigger forehead), is arguably the most talented quarterback, and player, in NFL history. How in the world does one even approach 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns?

8. Johnny Unitas

Position: QB

Years active: 1955-1973

Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1979 Class); 4x Champion (1x Super Bowl, 3x pre-Super Bowl); 3x MVP; 1x MoY; 5x First Team All-Pro; 3x Second Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl

Considered the first great quarterback by many, Unitas’ story a precursor to Tom Brady: drafted in the 9th round by Pittsburgh, only to be released before the season began, Unitas was asked at the last minute to join the Baltimore Colts. The rest, as you say, is history. While not as statistically brilliant as his successors, Unitas’ place here is not simply nostalgic. His NFL record of 47 straight games with a touchdown pass went unbroken until 2012, not by Brady or Manning, but by Drew Brees. You don’t get a nickname like the Golden Arm for nothing.

7. Reggie White

Position: DE

Years active: 1985-2000

Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2006 Class); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 2x DPoY; 3x NFC DPoY; 8x First Team All-Pro; 5x Second Team All-Pro; 13x Pro Bowl

Reggie White (RIP, Minister of Defense) is the greatest edge rusher of all time. At such a violent position, without today’s modern medicine and health solutions, imagine playing for nearly two decades, and only missing two All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods for your entire career. While not quite as impactful as the greatest defensive player of all time, Reggie White is a clear positional GOAT, and this is the lowest he can reasonably be slotted before we start to disrespect the defensive side of the game of football.

6. Walter Payton

Position: RB

Years active: 1975-1987

Teams: Chicago Bears

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1993 Class); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x MVP; 1x OPoY; 2x NFC OPoY; 1x MoY; 7x First Team All-Pro; 1x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

The late Walter Payton, rest his soul, has a legitimate argument to be placed multiple spots higher on this list. It seems almost criminal, therefore, to list him this low, but quarterbacks are generally more historically remembered, and the ‘greatest’ running back in NFL history is more iconic and is statistically comparable (even better in some cases) on a per-game basis. If this were a ranking of the ‘best’, rather than ‘greatest’ NFL players of all time, Payton would arguably be at the top of the list. His ranking here is still debatable and should be a credit to those ranked above him, rather than a knock on his legacy.

5. Joe Montana

Position: QB

Years active: 1979-1994

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2000 Class); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 3x Super Bowl MVP; 2x MVP; 3x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

The original “Joe Cool”, Joe Montana Just exuded Hollywood-style quarterback energy. Synonymous with the peak of the San Francisco 49ers, Montana was the undisputed GOAT quarterback before a certain Patriot/Buccaneer leveled up in the 2010s (more on that later). From his name, to his looks, to his stats, to nearly everything else about him, Montana has been the modern prototype for every hopeful signal caller in the NFL, and for good reason.

4. Jim Brown

Position: RB

Years active: 1957-1965

Teams: Cleveland Browns

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1971 Class); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 3x MVP; 8x First Team All-Pro; 1x Second Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl; RoY (1957)

Jim Brown marks the beginning of GOAT territory in this list: he and the three players ranked above him are the four greatest to ever play at their positions, all in a row. From here on out, we are dealing with absolutely undisputed top-of-the-mountain prestige. So it should speak to the talent above Brown that as the greatest to ever play arguably the second-most important role on an NFL team, he ranks at the bottom of this particular Mt. Rushmore.

3. Lawrence Taylor

Position: LB

Years active: 1981-1993

Teams: New York Giants

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1999 Class); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x MVP; 8x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 3x DPoY; DRoY

Naturally, as only one of two defensive players to earn MVP honors, and the only one to do so unanimously, Lawrence Taylor is popularly regarded as the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL. As the saying goes, ‘defense wins championships’, so Taylor naturally can slide no lower than 3rd on this list. He continues the trend of definitive GOATs at their position, and only slides down to 3rd because of the insane longevity of the two players ahead of him. A 12-year NFL career as the hardest hitter in football is no joke, though, and he has accolades to back up that claim. He brought modern love to the less glamorous side of football, and for that alone, he belongs here.

2. Jerry Rice

Position: WR

Years active: 1985 – 2004

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks

Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2010 Class); 3x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 1x MVP; 10x First Team All-Pro; 1x Second Team All-Pro; 2x OPoY; 13x Pro Bowl; All-Time Leader in touchdowns (208), receiving touchdowns (197), receptions (1,549), consecutive 1+ reception games (274)

You’ll find that wide receivers are rare on these types of lists. Up until recently, the game was predicated on defense, running backs, and if the air attack was good enough, quarterbacks. If you’re looking for the man who brought pass catchers into vogue, you found him. What makes Jerry Rice’s case unique is his longevity and extended excellence. Wide receivers are usually the lightest players in the NFL behind punters, kickers, and occasional quarterbacks, and most have had their careers but short by injury. Not Jerry. Until our number one-ranked player came along, he was the league’s iron man.

1. Tom Brady

Position: QB

Years active: 2000 – Present

Teams: New England Patriots; Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notable accolades: 7x Super Bowl Champion (1st All-Time); 5x Super Bowl MVP (1st All-Time); 3x MVP; 3x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 2x OPoY;  14x Pro-Bowl; multiple Super Bowl, playoff & regular season records

If you were wondering where Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. was on this list, wonder no longer. He was already named to the NFL 100 in 2019, but after smashing the massively favored Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV on his first try with a brand new team, he has silenced all questions about his individual greatness. Belichick was great in New England as well and was vital to Brady’s growth, but all questions have been answered. Tom Brady can now rightfully claim his title as the Greatest of All Time.