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Who are the best players ever from each NFL team?
October 24, 2007 - Chris Masse
Because my mind so often is on sports, I thought I'd go through history and give who I think are the best players ever from each team in the NFL. I had fun doing this the last couple of days. Just my opinion on these and I'm sure others will have different ones that are good too. I just love the NFL so I thought this might be something fun to do. Away we go...
Note: For clarification, this is the best player for an individual team. For example, if I say that Dan Marino is the best Dolphins player ever but Joe Montana is not the best 49ERS player ever that does not mean I am saying Marino is better than Montana. It's just purely the best player to ever where his respective franchise's uniform. Also, players who made token appearances for different teams are not eligible to be that franchise's greatest player ever. For example, Johnny Unitas will not be considered for the Chargers.
Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis: Team has existed since 1996 which also is Ray Lewis's rookie year. Lewis has been the face of this franchise and love him or hate him he is a dominant football player and one of the best linebackers ever.
Buffalo Bills, O.J. Simpson: I am disappointed by his actions off the field, but he was a phenomenal football player. Only player to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a 14-game season and he almost always got his yards during his career playing for sometimes bad and almost always one-dimensional teams whose opponents loaded up the line against him.
Cincinnati Bengals, Anthony Munoz: One of the greatest offensive linemen ever, Munoz made the pro bowl every year except his first and last ones. He was a huge part of some great offensive teams and set a great standard of consistently outstanding play.
Cleveland Browns, Jim Brown: Almost went with Tim Couch here. Just kidding. Brown in my opinion is the best running back ever and also might be the best player ever (He's second in my book). Bottom line, this guy was unreal. Nine years in the league, eight rushing titles, nine pro bowls. He ran over people and around them and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. 5.2! Like Barry Sanders, he retired in his prime after recording seven 1,000-yard seasons when the league had 12 and then 14-game schedules.
Denver Broncos, John Elway: A great blend of awesome physical talent and a burning desire to win, Elway is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play. The big one eluded him for a long time but that he got his teams to three in the 80s was impressive on its own since they didn't have tremendous receivers or running backs (although Bobby Humphrey was good in 89). Also have to love the fourth-quarter comebacks this guy always seemed to be able to mount.
Houston Texans, Andre Johnson: Not much to choose from in this team's bleak 5-year history. Good receiver who has played well despite quarterbacking struggles.
Indianapolis/Baltimore Colts, Johnny Unitas: Peyton Manning is closing in, but Johnny U still is tops in this franchise for now. Unitas set most of the passing records back in an era where the forward pass was kind of frowned on and when the pass coverage rules were much much tighter than they are now. Threw a TD pass in 47 straight games, called all the Colts plays, tough as nails and won three championships. Johnny U was the epitome of what you want a quarterback to be.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Jimmy Smith: Always underrated but always steady, Smith had nine 1,000-yard seasons with the Jags and helped Jacksonville reach the playoffs four straight years in the 90s.
Kansas City Chiefs, Buck Buchanan: Len Dawson was a great quarterback but I like what Buchanan brought to the Chiefs during their glory days. Buchanan was a beast on the defensive line and made eight straight pro bowls from 1964-71.
Miami Dolphins, Dan Marino: If only the Dolphins could have given Marino a better running game. Marino was greatest passer in NFL history and one of its greatest quarterbacks. Dolphins never seemed to learn, though, that football is a team game and they needed more to help Marino get his ring.
New England Patriots, Tom Brady: I was tempted to pick John Hannah, but Brady is second in NFL history in winning percentage, has three super bowl rings and has been a rock of consistency since becoming the starter in 2001. His 12-2 playoff record doesn't hurt either, nor does the fact that he's never thrown more than 14 interceptions in a season..nor does the fact that he doesn't have a legend like Johnny Unitas that also played for his franchise. And what Brady is doing so far in 2007 (27 touchdown passes, just two interceptions is unreal). It's one of the greatest runs in NFL history thus far.
New York Jets, Curtis Martin: Some people might say Joe Namath, but Martin was the epitome of consistency. One of the game's quiet stars he retired as one of the league's fourth all-time leading rusher and gained more than 1,000 yards each season with the Jets except his last one that was cut short by injuries.
Oakland Raiders, Marcus Allen: Why Al Davis didn't like this guy is beyond me. One of the most versatile running backs to ever play, Allen could do it all. He's 10th all-time in rushes and 50th in receptions and also was a tremendous touchdown score, racking up 144, good for third most in NFL history. Helped lead the Raiders to the 83 super bowl and had one of that game's all-time performances, rushing for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also topped 100 yards in five Raider playoff games.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Mean Joe Greene: This is a tough one since there are so many to choose from, but I'm going with Mean Joe because it all started with him. Greene was Chuck Noll's first draft pick and the guy they built everything else around. He was a ferocious pass rusher and was great against the run. The Steel Curtain started up front and one of the reasons great linebackers like Lambert and Ham were able to do so much damage is because guys like Greene dominated so much up front and offensive lines had to deal with them first, leaving Lambert and Ham to roam and wreak havoc. A 10-time pro bowler, Green was all-pro the first eight years of his career.
San Diego Chargers, Ladainian Tomlinson: This guy is freakishly good and if he continues to play at the level he has his first six years he will be talked about as one of the greatest running backs ever. One of the most complete backs we will ever see, LT does everything a running back can. He's a great runner with power and elusiveness and also is a great pass catcher. He's never rushed for less than 1200 yards or had fewer than 50 catches in a season or had fewer than 10 touchdowns. He's already sixth in career touchdowns with 111, he's already 24th in career rushing yards and he's averaged a whopping 4.5 yards per carry for his career while helping the Chargers go from a laughingstock to a super bowl contender. Dan Fouts gets a shout out, but LT is the best on this team.
Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers, Bruce Matthews: Most will probably pick Earl Campbell and it's tough to argue with him because he was so dominant. I went with Matthews, though, because Campbell wore down after six amazing seasons while Matthews was one of gameás best linemen for 19 years. Matthews, a hall of famer, reached the pro bowl his last 14 years in the league and helped the Oilers/Titans have some great offensive teams during his long career.
Arizona Cardinals, Aeneas Williams: One of the game's best cornerbacks for a long time, Williams was one of the few bright spots on some bad Cardinals teams. He was an eight-time pro bowler and missed just one from 1994-2002. He later was a good corner for the Rams and helped them reach the 2001 super bowl.
Atlanta Falcons, Deion Sanders: Not a lot of real standouts here and although Deion only played five seasons with the Falcons he was great during that tenure, making the pro bowl his last three years while developing into the league's top cover corner. Deion was so good that teams basically started giving up even throwing to his side. Prime Time also returned punts sometimes and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.
Carolina Panthers, Steve Smith: This might not be a popular choice but with the Panthers only being in existence since 1995 it was hard finding players that have been standouts for extended periods. They've had guys that have been great for a few years and I almost with Muhsin Muhammad but Smith already had more 1,000 yard seasons then he did. And Smith has arguably been the best receiver in the game the last few years and also was a great special teamer early in his career. He's also a money player who has topped 100 yards in four of seven playoff games while scoring a touchdown in six of those seven contests.
Chicago Bears, Walter Payton: If not for Jim Brown, Sweetness would get my vote as the greatest running back ever. Payton was incredible and for not being very big was one of the hardest running running backs weáll ever see. If not for the strike in 1982 he would have recorded 12 straight seasons of more than 1,000 yards. Scored 125 touchdowns, almost single-handedly carried the Bears until the mid 80s and also caught 492 passes.
Dallas Cowboys, Emmitt Smith: The guy who broke Payton's record, Smith was a dynamo and was at the center of the team's turnaround from 1-15 in 1989 the year before his arrival to world champions in 1992 and 93. Had 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons and in a full season never rushed for fewer than 900 yards. Also second in career touchdowns with 175 and had seven 100-yard rushing games in the playoffs.
Detroit Lions, Barry Sanders: The great running backs keep on coming. If he didn't retire while still going strong, Sanders would have shattered the NFL rushing record. Never rushed for fewer than 1,300 yards in his 10 seasons, scored 109 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry. And he did all this behind a terrible offensive line and while playing in the run and shoot offense for much of his career without the benefit of having a fullback in front of him. He was a human highlight reel.
Green Bay Packers, Don Hutson: A lot of people forget about this guy because he played so long ago but what he did was truly amazing. He caught 100 touchdown passes in a day and age where teams were lucky if they threw 10 times a game. He was a man amongst boys at receiver and dominated his position like nobody did until Jerry Rice came along. Tough to leave off Favre along with some of the legendary players from Vince Lombardi's teams but Hutson was unreal in his era.
Minnesota Vikings, Fran Tarkenton: Fran the Man was the game's all-time leader in yards and touchdown passes when he retired, throwing for 47,003 and 342 back in a run-first era. Had he won one of the three super bowls he led the Vikings to he probably would get more recognition and be talked about more as one of the gameás best quarterbacks ever. Also a gifted runner, Tarkenton is one of the game's most mobile quarterbacks ever.
New Orleans Saints, Willie Roaf: A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Roaf was one of the best offensive linemen to play the game during his career and was a seven-time Pro Bowler during his Saints career.
New York Giants, Lawrence Taylor: One of the greatest if not the greatest linebackers to ever play, LT changed everything for the Giants, helping them go from perennial also-ran to two-time world champion and perennial super bowl contender. A monster of a man with amazing speed and toughness, LT was a great pass rusher, could play the run well and could drop back and make interceptions. Had the ability to take games over with his play and made offensive coordinators have to game plan around him most of the time.
Philadelphia Eagles, Reggie White: Man, this was really tough deciding between the Minister of Defense or Concrete Charlie, Chuck Bednarik, but I went with Reggie because he was just so dominant on the defensive line and might be the greatest pass rusher of all-time. Reggie was just a beast and at times was just not blockable. In 1987 he nearly broke the sack record in just 12 games due to the strike. He made his fellow defensive linemen strong too, especially a guy like Clyde Simmons who consistently had double-digit sack totals because opponents were doubling and triple teaming Reggie and freeing them up for more sacks. Reggie was at the center of the Eagles revival in the late 80s and early 90s and that then Eagles owner Norman Braman let him leave after 1992 is one of the dumbest decisions in the history of sports.
San Francisco 49ERS, Jerry Rice: This is hard for me because I believe Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback ever. However, Rice, in my opinion, is the greatest football player ever. He holds every major receiving record in the regular season, post season, super bowl..you name it he has it. Just an unbelievable player who had 14 1,000-yard seasons, caught a pass in every game he played in from 1985 through early 2004. The amazing thing about Rice is that he scored 207 touchdowns, 32 more than the next closest competitor. That's just mind boggling for a receiver to do that because he is touching the ball 5-10 times a game or so and does not have the luxury of carrying the ball in for 1-yard touchdowns and things like that. He was just unstoppable for much of his career. There are two things I like most about Rice: 1, he was the ultimate big-game player. In three super bowls with the Niners his WORST game was 7 catches, 148 yards and three touchdowns. In the other two he had 11-215 and a TD and 10-149 and three touchdowns. He had eight 100-yard games in the playoffs and scored 22 touchdowns. 2, I love that he was a complete player. Heád go anywhere on the field to catch a pass, had great hands and great speed...but above all, I love that he was a terrific blocker. If you watch some of the great runs in Niners history, Steve Young's 49-yard game-winning TD against the Vikings in 1988, Roger Craig's bull-dozing 46-yard touchdown run that same year or John Taylor's 92 and 96-yard Tds against the Rams on Monday night in 1989 what you see is Rice throwing key blocks not only near the line of where the ball is caught but also way down field as he hustles down and blocks guys before they could make the tackle. Just an amazing player with one of the greatest work ethics I've ever seen.
Seattle Seahawks, Steve Largent: If Shaun Alexander continues having big seasons he will replace Largent, but a lot of people forget that many of the records Rice broke once belonged to Steve Largent. He scored 100 touchdowns and had eight 1,000-yard seasons. Had it not been for strikes in 1982 and 87 he probably would have had 10 straight 1000-yard seasons. A tough receiver, Largent would go anywhere on the field to make a catch and rarely dropped a ball.
St. Louis Rams/Los Angeles Rams, Marshall Faulk: This was a really tough choice because this franchise has a lot of great players like Crazy Legs Hirsch, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Norm Van Brocklin and Eric Dickerson (although he only played four years for the Rams) to name a few. I went with Faulk, though, because he was such a complete back for the Rams and because his arrival was instrumental in helping the Rams go from 4-12 the year before he came to St. Louis to world champions his first year there and becoming one of the league's all-time best offenses. He was a freak of a back who topped 1,300 yards rushing, 700 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns his first three years with the team. He became the second running back to ever rush for 1,000 yards and have 1,000 receiving yards in the same year in 1999 and he caught 80 passes or more his first three years with the Rams while leading them to three super bowls. He won the MVP in 2000 when he broke the NFL record for touchdowns (since broken three times) and in my opinion he should have won it from 1999-2001 because as good as Kurt Warner was in 99 and 2001, Faulk was the engine that drove that machine and opened everything up. He also averaged more than five yards per carry during the Rams best years and helped lead them to three division titles in five years.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Derrick Brooks: If I was starting a football team, this is one of the first players I would want because I think he's one of the best linebackers ever. He can do just about anything on the football field as he showed in 2002 when he not only spearheaded a world champion defense and won Defensive Player of the Year but also returned four interceptions or fumbles for touchdowns...and then added a fifth in the super bowl. He's made the pro bowl nine straight years and his arrival was instrumental in helping the Bucs go from perennial laughingstock to perennial super bowl contender in the late 90s and early this decade.
Washington Redskins, Sammy Baugh: When a lot of people talk about the greatest quarterbacks ever Baugh's name isn't mentioned nearly as much as it should be. This guy was the game's best quarterback for a long time and shined in an era where teams ran the ball almost exclusively. Still, he held the single-season completion record for 37 years. He led the league in passing six times. He led the Redskins to the championship as a rookie, throwing for over 300 yards in the title win and also led them to another championship in 1942, ruining the Bears perfect season. With Baugh at quarterback, Washington played in five championships. What's amazing about Baugh is that he also was a terrific punter (one of the best ever) and a great defensive back. His 45.2 career punting average is second-best ever and he had a 51.4 average in 1940, a record that still stands. He also intercepted four passes in a game, a record that has been tied but not broken, and held almost every passing record when he retired.
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