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Who is the greatest NFL player of all-time?
Is Tom Brady the greatest player to ever play pro football? SportyTell takes a look. Find out if your favourite pro football players made our top-20 list of the best NFL players in history.
Over ten decades of phenomenal and intriguing football enjoyed in the NFL, the league has seen some of the best players, most of whom have hung the boot already, a few still actively present in the game while others are at the horizon of their careers. These players are the primary reasons thousands pull through to various American football stadiums in flags and colours to enjoy another wonderful, entertaining pro football event. They are the threshold of the gridiron world.
With a thorough insight, we have compiled a concise list of players who we believe are the best pro football players since the history of the NFL. While this list may somewhat be influenced by our sentiments, the players’ exceptional pro football career achievements play a significant effect on their rankings. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into the top-20 countdown.
Mostly called T.O. as his initials imply, Terrell Owens earned 6 Pro Bowl invites and 5 First-team All-Pro selections in his 16 season stint in the NFL. Aside from garnering attention for his impressive play, he was popular for his stylish touchdown celebration. In 2018 T.O. was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In his debut year in the NFL, Marshall Faulk was named the offensive rookie of that year, a promising start to a great career. He played as a running back throughout his 12 seasons in the NFL. The NFL most valuable player of the 2000 season is one of only three players that achieved 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards. He earned 7 Pro Bowl selections and won the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams.
LaDainian Tomlinson is the first footballer whose career began in the 21st century to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. undoubtedly one of the best NFL players in history and also among the greatest running backs of all time, Tomlinson, earned 5 Pro Bowl selection honours and appeared in three All-Pro games as well as setting several scoring records in his playing times.
One of the best quarterbacks in the game, Brett Favre was the first quarterback to reach 6,000 successful passes. He was NFL passing yard leader in the 1991 and 1998 seasons. In the course of his career, he won the Super Bowl once, was selected to 11 Pro Bowls and won a host of other awards including NFL offensive player of the year back in 1995. Favre was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
If the Super Bowl was a gift of wishes, fans, sports analysts and coaches would wish him one. That was his only shortcoming in his impressive 17 years stint in the NFL filled with jaw breaking records tied to his quarterback roles. He earned 9 Pro Bowl selections and was named NFL comeback player of the year in 1994. Marino was also included into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
The cornerback/safety spent 14 seasons in the NFL playing for four different franchises, which saw him earn 10 Pro Bowl selections and won 4 Super Bowl championships. He’s one of the best at the safety position. Lott was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
Bruce Smith is the only quarterback with a career record hold of 200 sacks. He played in four Super Bowl games with the Buffalo Bills, starred in 11 Pro Bowls and won NFL defensive player of the year on two different occasions. Among his best career highlights are his 8-time Frist-team All-Pro and 2-time Second-team All-Pro and a host of other accomplishments. In 2009, Smith was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dick Butkus spent nine impactful seasons in the NFL with the Chicago bears and was selected to eight Pro Bowls and also earned six First-team All-Pro as well as two Second-team All-Pro. He is evidently known for his brutal, determined and fierce style of play. Opposition offence was always wary of him. Twice, he was awarded the NFL defensive player of the year. He is considered one the greatest linebacker in the reign of the NFL and unofficially his impressive overall performance in the NFL is often used as a measure to rate other linebackers.
Ray Lewis’ impressive run with the Baltimore Ravens for all 17 years with them put him 12th on our list of the greatest NFL players ever. He’s arguably the best linebacker in the history of the league, having led the Ravens to two Super Bowl titles. Lewis was crowned NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice and he’s a 13-time Pro Bowler.
“Minister of Defense” was a nickname coined for Reggie White for his evangelism work while being a pro football player. The Super Bowl XXXI champion is one of the most awarded players in the history of the NFL and is famously known for his 198 record career sack. He was awarded NFL Defensive Player of the Year on two occasions. White is a 13-time Pro Bowler, 8-time First-team All-Pro and 5-times Second-Team All-Pro.
Presently working as a sports analyst, Randy Moss during his playing days set a series of touch down records including a season touch-down reception record by a rookie in his NFL debut year. He also won the NFL offensive rookie of the year in his debut year. Moss featured in two Super Bowls, although losing both. He is a 6-time Pro Bowler and 4-time First-team All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
Often called by his initials L.T., Lawrence Taylor was a linebacker for the New York Giants and is widely regarded by media, fans, ex-coaches and players alike as the greatest defensive player the NFL has ever seen. He is undoubtedly one of the NFL greats. Upon his debut in 1981, Taylor won the NFL defensive Player of the Year becoming the first and only player in NFL history to lay hands on the award in a rookie year. Taylor went on winning series of awards and team titles including two Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants and an NFL MVP award. He is also a 10-time Pro Bowler, 8-time First-team All-Pro and 2-time Second-team All-Pro.
Several sports magazines, online sports, radio, press media dubbed him the greatest football player in his time. Joe Montana’s 16 seasons in the NFL earned him countless awards including four Super Bowl titles, eight Pro Bowl invite, and one-time NFL offensive player of the year in the 1989 season. Montana was the first player in NFL history to have been awarded Most Valuable Player at the Super Bowl for a record three times.
Peyton Manning is the only quarterback to clinch Super Bowl championships with more than one franchise. He inputted 18 glorious seasons in the NFL featuring in 14 Pro Bowl and winning two Super Bowl championships as well as Super Bowl MVP on one of those occasions. Manning was the NFL Come Back Player of the year in the 2012 season. With over 500 passing touchdowns, Manning holds numerous passing records in the NFL, thus, joining the ranks of the greatest players to have ever played in the league.
Walter Payton played all seasons of his career in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and was the franchise’s full time running back. Described as one of the greatest American football players in the NFL by coach Mike Dikta, he was a prolific, versatile, swift rusher with a minimum of 300 rush attempt mark. In the span of a career that lasted 13 years, Payton earned 9 Pro Bowl selections and is one-time Super Bowl Champion. Back in 1993, Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The league’s all-time leading rusher with three Super Bowl championships to his credit, Emmitt Smith primarily played for the Dallas Cowboys. He is the only running back to win the Super Bowl championship, pick the NFL MVP award, the NFL rushing crown and the Super Bowl MVP award in a single season. With 8-time Pro Bowl selections, 4-time First-team All-Pro and 2-time Second-team, Smith is among the four running backs who top the NFL in rushing yards in three or more sequential seasons. In 2010, he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One of the evasive running backs in the NFL with astounding swiftness and a notorious ample of strength and agility, Barry Sanders topped the NFL rushing yards chart as leader four times. He was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in the 1994 and 1997 seasons and earned 10 Pro Bowl invites in the span of his career. He is one of the greatest NFL players who sadly did not feature in the Super Bowl.
He spent a stint of 9 seasons in the NFL and earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl in every single season he played as well as an 8-time First-team All-Pro. Jim Brown emerged NFL champion with the Cleaveland Browns in 1964 and was voted NFL MVP thrice. He sets a number of rushing yard records and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
One of the bottom pick in the NFL draft to rise to the height of phenomenal performance is Tom Brady. Currently playing for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he spent 20 fruitful seasons with the New England Patriots which saw him feature in 9 Super Bowl, winning 6 of them. He has been named Super Bowl MVP a record 4 times. In the course of his career, he sets numerous records including being the only quarterback to have achieved 200 regular-season wins. So far he’s earned 14 Pro Bowl invite and was twice named NFL Offensive Player of the Year. With his consistent form, there’s no doubt more awards would definitely grace the 42-year-old. Brady is undoubtedly a major contender of the NFL greatest of all-time title.
Definitely the greatest of all time, Jerry Rice topped every category you’d expect a wide receiver which was his playing position to lead. It’s no surprise the official sporting news bulletin named him top list among the 100 football greatest. He played in 13 Pro Bowl, earned 10 First-team All-Pro, won three Super Bowls and was named Super Bowl MVP on one of those occasions. In 2005 he hung up the boots to his playing career and a few years later he celebrated his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.
Sources: NFL, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Hall of Fame