The Greatest NFL Players of All-Time

Like opinions, everyone has their own, varying list of greatest players ever. No matter which of the four major North American sports, there, inevitably, exists, a collection of players, in each sports fan’s respective mind, that cannot be surpassed.

Being a sports columnist, I’m no different from anyone else. So, with another NFL season coming to an end, I have taken the time to assemble my assortment of greatest football players ever.

Once again, bear in mind, that these are solely one man’s opinion. Readers are encouraged to reply for a poll whose results will be published at a later date.

Quarterback
Some say Johnny Unitas was the greatest quarterback of all-time, but that was before my era, and although I’ve seen tons of old Johnny U. highlights, I still can’t believe there’s ever been a better quarterback than Dan Marino.

I know a lot of people will read this and want to rip me for not picking Joe Montana or John Elway, two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, as the greatest of all-time, but for me, Marino was better than both of those outstanding players at getting his team into the end zone, which, ultimately, is a quarterback’s foremost task.

I know a lot of people judge a players’ greatness on how many championship rings he has won, but, to be honest about it – that’s a bunch of baloney.

Think of how many times Dan Marino’s Dolphins lost games throughout the 80s because the Dolphins had no defense and no running game whatsoever. Marino would unleash an astonishing aerial attack in leading the Fish to 28 or 35 points, nearly weekly, only to see his teams’ defense, helplessly give up 38 or more.

What amazes me though, is the fact that, although Miami had no defense or running back of substance- and teams prepared for Miami’s airborne offense – no one could stop them. Just think of how tough it is to throw the ball when teams know that’s exactly what you’re going to do.

Marino’s quick release was a thing of beauty, and it allowed him to do what his lack of mobility couldn’t – avoid sacks. He was as intelligent as any quarterback and was the embodiment of what a leader should be. He was almost cerebral in picking apart any of the complex defenses he faced week in and week out, and would chew out any teammate who looked like he wasn’t giving his full effort.

Simply put, Marino was the best ever at getting his team into the end zone. Just check the numbers. It isn’t even close. Marino’s career totals are staggering. He completed 4,967 of 8,358 passes for 61,361 yards, and threw 420 touchdowns during his 242-game NFL career.

Thirteen times in his career, Marino passed for 3,000 yards or more in a season which includes the six seasons he reached the 4,000-yard plateau. He also passed for 300 yards in a game 63 times and threw for 400 or more yards in a game 13 times. So what he never won a Super Bowl. If Marino were on those same San Francisco teams that won four championships under Montana, they still win them all – except by a larger point spread.

Running Back
When I was a kid, I thought I would never see anyone better than, the ‘Juice,’ but then, along came ‘Sweetness,’ and I was blown away.

Guess what?

I’m still blown away.

Yes, O.J. Simpson was my main man [well before he was ever charged with murder, mind you] until Walter Payton came along and changed everything.

There has never been, nor, will there ever be, a player like Walter Payton. There are so many positive things I could say about Payton, I don’t know where to begin, but I will say, he was the ultimate class act, and everyone who knows a thing about football, knows it.

I could go on listing his accomplishments forever, but I won’t. I’ll simply let his numbers speak for themselves. Everyone knows he finished his career as the all-time leader in rushing yards, but that doesn’t say the half of it.

The records Payton held at the time of his retirement included 16,726 total yards, 10 seasons with 1,000 or more yards rushing, 275 yards rushing in one game against Minnesota in 1977, 77 games with more than 100 yards rushing and 110 rushing touchdowns. “Sweetness” also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 10 of his 13 seasons and missed one game in his rookie campaign before playing in 186 consecutive games.

Most folks don’t remember that Payton endured almost a decade of losing with the horrible Bears teams throughout the late 70s and early 80s, while simultaneously gaining nearly 1,800 yards a season and strapping those same, atrocious teams on his back and carrying them to whatever moral victories they could earn. Most people don’t remember, but I do. Walter will always be my greatest running back of all-time.

Tight End
Kellen Winslow is hands down, bar none, the greatest tight end to ever play the game. The 6’5 250 pounder who played for the San Diego Chargers from 1979 to 1987 totally revolutionized the position, taking it from a mainly blocking position and making it one where the tight end actually had to be respected against the pass.

Winslow went on to play in five Pro Bowls and had 319 catches in a four-year period from 1980 to 1983. At the time of his retirement, Winslow ranked fifth among active receivers and 14th among all NFL pass-catchers. Not only was he the greatest pass-catching tight end of his era and all-time, but his will to win was unrivaled. This selection is a no brainier.
Wide Receiver

There is no question who is the greatest wide receiver of all-time. Only one name will suffice and that name would be – Jerry Rice.

He revolutionized the wide receiver position and rewrote the record book along the way. Rice came along at exactly the right time with the right team and right coach which obviously helped in his destruction of every receiving record of consequence. His 38 NFL receiving records may never be broken. His career touchdown record of 207 is absolutely amazing considering the position he played.

There are other receivers I like better than Jerry Rice and ones I think that may have had more talent, but simply put, Rice has set the standard to which all receivers will now be measured by.

Tackle
There have been so many great tackles throughout the history of the NFL, it’s been hard for me to pick out just one, but Anthony MuÃ?±oz was the best I ever saw [sorry Art Shell]. The 6’6, 278 pound offensive tackle, who was the first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals and the third player selected overall in the 1980 NFL Draft was huge, swift and nimble. Considered by many to be the premier tackle during his 13seasons from 1980 to1993, Munoz overpowered opposing players and intimidated most of them before they ever stepped on the field. MuÃ?±oz was elected to 11 consecutive Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro 11 straight times from 1981 through 1991. He was named the NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1987, and 1988 and the NFL Players Association Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1985, 1988, and 1989.

Not only was he overpowering in every sense of the word, but Mu�±oz missed only three games in his career due to injury, proving he was durable as well.

MuÃ?±oz was a mountain who could move – and move he did. All the way to Canton and my number one spot as the greatest tackle of all-time.

Guard
I loved the way John Hannah played the game. The 6’2, 265 pound guard from Alabama who was the fourth overall player selected in the 1973 draft by the New England Patriots was an eight-letterman star in football, track and wrestling and a two-time football All-American at Alabama.

He was a fierce competitor who would not be denied – and wasn’t. Much like Walter Payton, Hannah also played on some atrocious teams throughout the 70s but was named All-Pro from 1976 through 1985. He also won the NFL Players Association’s Offensive Lineman of the Year award four straight years from 1978 through 1981 and was named to nine Pro Bowls.

Hannah missed only five games of a possible 191 in his 13 season career and was good enough to make it to the Hall of Fame and also my number one spot as the greatest guard in pro football history.

Center
Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fifth-round selection and the 125th player taken in the 1974 NFL Draft was the driving force behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ great ground game that helped lead them to four Super Bowl victories during the 1970s.

He outsmarted bigger, stronger, players for years, and simply had his way with others. With a start in the final game of the 1975 season, Webster began a string of 150 consecutive starts that lasted until 1986, when he missed the first four games that year with a dislocated elbow.

Webster, who was the Steelers offensive captain for nine seasons, played more seasons (15) and more games (220) than any other player in Pittsburgh history.

Despite the troubles that plagued the Hall of Famer following his retirement after the 1990 season, he is my number one center of all time.

Webster was an all-pro choice seven times and was selected to the All-AFC team five times from 1978 through 1982. He also played in nine Pro Bowls, the first five as a starter.

Kicker
I know Jan Stenerud is the only modern era kicker in the Hall of Fame, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a kicker as clutch as Morten Andersen. Had Andersen played for more successful teams during his career, I’m sure he would have made more meaningful kicks as well.

As it was, Andersen nailed 79 percent of his kicks over a 24-year career earning him the top spot as my all-time greatest kicker ever.

Defensive End
I feel really fortunate to have seen Reggie White up close and personal during his playing days in Philadelphia. Not only was he one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, but there has never been a better defensive end than Reggie White.

White could do it all. In his prime, “The Minister of Defense” could beat you in any way he pleased. He could either put on a speed rush, use his now famous “swim move” or the equally recognized, “bulldoze” move to power his way over helpless offensive linemen. Some people forget that he spent the early part of his career with the Memphis franchise of the USFL, or his career sack total of 198 would be significantly higher. There have been tons of great defensive ends, but none as good as number 92. The “minister” was the best ever.

Defensive Tackle
This was a toughie, but I think ‘Mean’ Joe Greene was the best ever at this position. Greene, Pittsburgh’s number one draft pick in 1969, controlled the interior line incredibly well. He was smart and fast and always seemed to be one step ahead of whomever he played against.

His Coca-Cola commercial of the 70s is the stuff of legend, and he certainly is a legend himself. He anchored the incredible ‘Steel Curtain’ offenses and helped lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories.

He was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969 when he received the first of his 10 Pro Bowl invitations. He was named All-NFL five times, and earned all-conference recognition 11 straight years from 1969 to 1979 was selected as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice.

He had a career-high 11 sacks in 1972 when Pittsburgh reached the playoffs for the first time ever. In a must-win game against Houston, Greene recorded five sacks and a fumble recovery that assured victory for the injury-riddled Steelers.

Linebacker
Just like the wide receiver position, only one name will suffice at this position – Lawrence Taylor. The New York Giants first round draft pick, the second player selected overall in 1981 draft was a wild man on and off the field, but Lawrence Taylor revolutionized the linebacker position forever.

He had a combination of raw power and speed that was unmatched and no matter what he did off the field, his accomplishments on the field can’t be matched.

He was named All-Pro his first nine seasons, All-NFC ten times and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1981, 1982 and 1986. Simply put, there will never be another Lawrence Taylor.

Cornerback
Mel Blount was a guy who was waaaay ahead of his time. He was big and fast and hung all over the receivers he covered like a cheap suit. No way is the Steelers famed “Steel Curtain” defense half as good without Blount. A third-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1970, Blount had ideal size, speed and quickness. I know a case could be made for at least three other cornerbacks as the greatest ever, but Blount who was named the NFL’s most valuable defensive player in 1975 by the Associated Press and earned all-pro status in 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1981 and played in five Pro Bowls, did it all, and he has my number one spot of all-time.

Safety
Ronnie Lott set the bar for all safeties. The San Francisco 49ers’ first round draft pick and the eighth player chosen overall in the 1981 draft, Lott was a fearless hitter and inspirational leader who was big, strong and fast.

In his first NFL season, Lott became the second rookie in NFL history to return three interceptions for touch. Known for his hard-hitting style, Lott earned 10 Pro Bowl invitations at three different positions – cornerback, free safety, and strong safety.

During his career with the 49ers (1981-1990), Los Angeles Raiders (1991-1992), and the New York Jets (1993-1994) Lott recorded 63 interceptions and twice led the league and had five seasons of at least 100 tackles. He made All-Pro eight times, All-NFC six times, and All-AFC once.

Punter
I could sit here until I’m blue in the face and debate with whomever about the greatest quarterback and running back of all-time. However, there is no doubting who is the greatest punter ever.

Ray Guy was the first pure punter to ever be taken in the first round of the NFL draft and he made all of the naysayers who called the Oakland Raiders crazy look very foolish.

Guy’s punting exploits are legendary. He once hit the top of the Houston Astrodome. During the 1976 Pro Bowl game, on a dare from his teammates, he hit the TV screen hanging from the rafters of the New Orleans Superdome and was an All-American football player at Southern Mississippi University where he averaged a remarkable 44.7 yards during three varsity seasons.

As a senior he recorded a 93-yard punt and is one of only four athletes to ever pitch a no-hitter for Southern Miss’ baseball team. In addition to his punting feats, Guy recorded 18 interceptions as a starting free safety and kicked (then NCAA record) a 61-yard field goal during a snowstorm in Utah.

Guy played in seven Pro Bowls with the Raiders from 1973-86 and had a streak of 619 unblocked punts and had a career punting average of 42.4 yards. During 14 seasons in the NFL he punted 1,049 times for 44,541 yards.

One of the biggest travesties in professional sports is that Guy has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“A lot of people don’t believe me, but that really doesn’t bother me,” said Guy. “There are a lot of other great players that
haven’t been voted in yet either. If it’s meant to happen then it will.”

If that statement doesn’t tell you every thing you need to know about Ray Guy, then nothing ever will.

So, there you have it, my compilation of greatest football players of all-time. I’m sure there will be plenty of disagreements with my list, so remember, readers are welcomed and encouraged to submit their own.

These might be the greatest players, but what were the best teams? Read The Greatest Teams in NFL History.

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