Compiling an all-time team can be a lot of fun (albeit time-consuming), and it always leaves plenty of room for discussion and/or argument. The Jets are no exception.
Do you choose guys from the 1968 team over the fabled members of the Sack Exchange? Do you pick steady long-term performers such as Kyle Clifton over more celebrated players with brief Jet careers, such as Bryan Cox?
What about safety? The team has had several decent ones, but none really stands head and shoulders above the others.
Needless to say, some picks (i.e. Namath at QB, Curtis Martin at RB) are no-brainers. Other choices involved a lot of weighing of statistics, service, performance, and even popularity.
As far as the list itself is concerned, I put the starters at the top, with other noteworthy performers listed below them under the heading "honorable mention."
I must admit that my own biases lean toward service (number of years spent with the team), performance (starts at position, All-Pro and Pro Bowl picks), and lastly, popularity (maybe not the greatest player, but a fan-favorite, such as Wayne Chrebet).
That being said, I'll always pick someone like Wesley Walker over Keyshawn Johnson, and Gerry Philbin over John Abraham. Remember, these are just my opinions, and I welcome all readers to leave comments. Enjoy!
Joe Namath (1965-1976)
Sure, his numbers aren't fantastic (50.1 career completion percentage, 47 more career INTs than TDs), but he still holds team records for career passing yards and TDs. Was invited to five Pro Bowls and received one All-Pro nod during illustrious career. Also led the league in passing yards three times, including 1967, in which he became the first pro QB to eclipse 4,000 yards in a season. Most notably, he engineered one of the most pivotal games in NFL history, the Jets' stunning 16-7 upset of the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III, earning MVP honors for his effort. 1983 selection for The Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ken O'Brien (1984-92)
Never quite lived up to expectations, but then again, no Jets QB since Namath really has. O'Brien was a very good pocket passer who was chosen for two Pro Bowls during his career. His 24,386 career passing yards and 128 TD tosses are both second to Namath, and he holds the team mark with 2,039 completions. Best season was 1985, in which he threw for 3,888 yards with 25 TD passes and only eight INTs.
Richard Todd (1976-83)
Shouldered the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Namath, and was never able to win over the tough New York fans. He ranks third in team history with 18,241 passing yards and 110 TDs. Never made the Pro Bowl, but had a Pro-Bowl-caliber 1981 season, in which he threw for 3,231 yards and 25 TDs while guiding the team to its first playoff berth in over a decade.
Vinny Testeverde (1998-2003, '05)
In his first year with the Jets, the 35-year-old veteran threw 29 TDs (with just seven INTs), won 12 of his 13 starts and led the team into the playoffs, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. The following year, he was injured in the first game and missed the rest of the season, and the team struggled to an 8-8 record in his absence. This was to be the trend during Testaverde's seven Jet seasons, as he only started 61 of the team's 112 games in that span.
Nonetheless, he provided much-needed wisdom and leadership for the team, and helped restore Jets fans' faith in the quarterback position. Passed for 12,497 yards and 77 TDs as a Jet.
Curtis Martin (1998-2005)
Martin came to the Jets after three very successful seasons in New England, and immediately began his assault on the team's rushing records. He topped 1,000 yards in all but his final season, making three Pro Bowls as a Jet. He received All-Pro recognition in 2004 when he led the NFL with 1,697 rushing yards and scored 14 TDs. Holds team records with 10,302 rushing yards and 58 rushing TDs, making 367 receptions (five TDs) to boot. Though he never won a Super Bowl, Martin's accomplishments alone should earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Freeman McNeil (1981-1992)
Tough back became a starter during his rookie season and never looked back. He spent his entire career as a Jet, making the Pro Bowl three times.
He was All-Pro for the strike-shortened 1982 season, in which he led the league with 786 rushing yards at 5.2 yards-per-carry. When he retired, he held the team record with 8,074 rushing yards (since passed by Martin). Also made 295 receptions (10-yard average) and scored 50 total TDs.
Emerson Boozer (1965-75)
Teamed with Matt Snell to give the pass-happy Jets of the Namath era a steady running attack. He made two Pro Bowls and piled up 5,135 rushing yards during his career. Also made 139 receptions and was used as a kick-return specialist early in his career. His 52 career rushing TDs were a team record for nearly 30 years, until surpassed by Curtis Martin.
Matt Snell (1964-72)
Bruising fullback who liked to get his yards the hard way: by lowering his head and smashing into people. Unfortunately, his style made for a short career, and he only saw limited duty during his final three years. Rushed for 4,285 yards, 24 TDs, and made 193 receptions during his career, earning three Pro-Bowl spots and one All-Pro selection. Was the unsung hero of Super Bowl III, pounding the Colts for 121 yards and scoring the Jets' lone TD.
Johnny Hector (1983-92)
Spent career as the "other guy" to Freeman McNeil, but the reliable Hector was pretty productive on his own. Gained 4,280 yards on the ground for the Jets, and led the NFL with 11 rushing TDs in 1987. Actually notched more career rushing TDs (41) than McNeil (38).
John Riggins (1971-75)
The zany Riggins will best remembered for his accomplishments with the Redskins, but his early career with the Jets is definitely worth noting. He immediately took over fullback duties from Matt Snell, and led the team in rushing four of his five seasons in New York. Best year was 1975 when he rushed for 1,005 yards, becoming the first Jet runner to top the 1,000-yard plateau, and made the Pro Bowl.
Bill Mathis (1960-69)
Tough fullback was an Original NY Titan, and is one of only 20 players whose career spanned the entire existence of the AFL. Spent whole career with the Jets, rushing for 3,589 yard, 37 TDs, and making 149 receptions (11.9-yard avg.) with nine TDs. Made two Pro Bowls and earned an All-Pro selection in 1961.
Don Maynard (1960-72)
Spent one year with the Giants before embarking on Hall-of-Fame career with the Jets. Made four Pro Bowls and earned one All-Pro nod during his career, topping the 1,000-yard mark on five occasions (including a league-leading 1,434 yards in '67). His team career records of 627 receptions, 11,732 yards and 88 TD grabs still hold up over 35 years later. A no-brainer choice for the AFL All-time squad, Maynard was a 1987 enshrinee in Canton.
Wesley Walker (1977-89)
Speedy wideout was one of the top deep threats in NFL history. Racked up 438 catches for 8,306 yards and 71 TDs with the Jets, making the Pro Bowl twice. Earned All-Pro status in 1978 when he led the NFL with 1,169 receiving yards and an outstanding 24.4-yard average. Amazingly, Walker averaged over 20 yards-per-catch in eight of his 13 seasons.
Wayne Chrebet (1995-2005)
Perhaps the ultimate NFL Cinderella story, the undrafted Chrebet made the team as a walk-on, and earned a starting spot his rookie season. Over the next decade, he amassed 580 receptions for 7,365 yards and 41 TDs. Never a Pro-Bowler, the gutsy receiver became a fan favorite with his fearlessness, unselfish play, and sure-handed ability in 3rd-down situations. Retired as one of the most popular players in team history.
Al Toon (1985-92)
Gifted and graceful, Toon made three straight Pro Bowls ('86-'88) and was poised to become an all-time great. Unfortunately, he was hampered by chronic concussion injuries, which slowed his productivity and forced him into early retirement. Still managed 517 catches for 6,605 yards and 31 TDs during his eight seasons. He led the NFL with 93 receptions in 1988.
Laverneus Coles (2000-03, 2005-current)
The best Jets wideout of late, Coles is a reliable short-yardage target who can also burn opponents on deep patterns. Through the 2008 season, he's registered 459 receptions for 5,941 yards and 37 TDs for the Jets.
George Sauer (1965-70)
The scrappy Sauer teamed with Maynard to form pro football's most dangerous receiving duo in the late '60s. He made the Pro Bowl each year from '66 to '69, and was voted All-Pro in '67 and '68. Sauer quit football following the 1970 season, having accumulated 309 receptions for 4,965 yards and 28 scores. Another unsung hero of SB III, Sauer caught eight Namath passes for 133 yards in that historic contest.
Keyshawn Johnson (1996-99)
He may not have won many fans with his mouth or his attitude, but Johnson was one of the better receivers in the league while with the Jets. In just four years, he amassed 4,108 yards on 305 receptions, including 31 TD grabs. He reached the Pro Bowl in both '98 and '99.
Mickey Shuler (1978-89)
Was used primarily as a blocker during his first few seasons, but became the regular starter in 1984 and responded with 68 catches for 782 yards and six TDs. A good all-around player, Shuler made the Pro Bowl twice with the Jets, and probably would have made more if he hadn't the misfortune of playing in the same era as Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow, and Todd Christensen. While in New York, he racked up 438 catches for 4,819 yards and 37 TDs. Nearly 20 years since his departure, the team still hasn't found a suitable replacement.
Jerome Barkum (1972-83)
Began career as a large wideout, where he put up his biggest numbers and made his only Pro Bowl, and ended career as a smallish tight end. Barkum swapped positions with the equally versatile Rich Caster in 1977, and held the starting job until his retirement. In all, he amassed 326 receptions for 4,789 yards and 40 TDs with the Jets.
Richard Caster (1970-77)
Had the size of a tight end, but the speed and agility of a wide receiver, which allowed him to get open downfield. He made the Pro Bowl three times between '72 and '75 and posted unusually high yards-per-catch average for a TE. Made 254 catches for 4,434 yards (18.1 average) and 36 TDs as a Jet before moving on to Houston.
Kevin Mawae (1998-2005)
The Jets have been fortunate enough to have had four noteworthy centers during their existence, and Mawae proved himself the most talented of the bunch. Just ask Curtis Martin, who spent eight seasons running behind the powerful center. Mawae came to New York following four seasons as a starter in Seattle, and became the most dominant center in the league. He made six straight Pro Bowls from '99 to '04, and was named All-Pro twice. He was unceremoniously cut by the Jets after a season-ending injury in '05, but was quickly picked up by Tennessee, where he eventually became head of the NFL Players Association.
Joe Fields (1975-87)
The durable Fields became the starting center during his second season and held that position for the next eleven years. A reliable performer and a student of the game, Fields made two Pro Bowls and was All-Pro in 1982.
John Schmitt (1964-73)
Took over at center during his third season, where he remained through the 1973 campaign, never missing a game during that span. Was overlooked for the Pro Bowl throughout his career, but Namath, Boozer and Snell could all attest to Schmitt's value to the team's success.
Jim Sweeney (1984-94)
Another Jet stalwart who was neglected by Pro-Bowl voters, Sweeney played all over the offensive line during his first four seasons. Became the starting center in 1988 following Joe Fields' departure, a position he held through the 1994 season.
Winston Hill (1963-76)
Had he spent his career in the NFL playing for the Packers or Cowboys, Hill would probably be in the Hall of Fame. As it is, he's just another stellar player who's overlooked by the Hall of Fame Committee just because he spent most of his career playing in the AFL. Regardless, Hill was a powerful tackle who made eight Pro Bowls between '64 and '73. Never was named All-Pro, only because Ron Mix and Jim Tyrer happened to be playing during the same era.
Marvin Powell (1977-85)
Bludgeoning tackle was one of the best at his position, making the Pro Bowl each year from '79 to '83 and earning three All-Pro picks during that period. Clark Gaines, Kevin Long, Scott Dierking and the great Freeman McNeil all have Powell to thank for their success.
Randy Rasmussen (1967-81)
Aside from kicker Pat Leahy, Rasmussen holds the Jets' records for seasons played (15), games played (207) and is second to Mo Lewis with 198 starts. Never achieved Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition, but didn't miss a single game from 1971-79 and cleared the way for a handful of very good running backs.
Dave Herman (1964-73)
Became the starting right guard during his second season, where he remained until the close of his career, making two Pro Bowls along the way.
Along with Rasmussen, Hill, Schmitt and Sherman Plunkett, formed one of the most unheralded starting offensive lines in pro football history.
Dan Alexander (1977-89)
Yet another steady Jet O-lineman who never achieved Pro-Bowl recognition, despite a lengthy career of admirable service. Alexander manned the right guard position his entire career, never missing a game between '77 and '87 and starting in 182 of 192 games during his career.
Joe Klecko (1977-87)
The Jets made a steal when they picked the blue-collar kid from Temple in the sixth round of the 1977 draft. He quickly established himself as one of the strongest and most dedicated players in the game, making four Pro Bowls between '81 and '85, and earning two All-Pro picks. During that span, Klecko switched from tackle to end, and eventually to nose tackle. Undeterred, he managed to make the Pro Bowl at each position, a remarkable feat that has been unequalled since. His raw ability, unselfish attitude and love for the game endeared him to fans and earned him the respect of coaches and fellow players throughout the league. Probably deserves a spot in Canton, Ohio. The Jets honored him by retiring his No. 73 in 2004.
John Elliott (1967-73)
Possessing unusual quickness for a DT, Elliott made the first of three straight Pro Bowls following the 1968 Super Bowl season. He collected 30.5 (unofficial) sacks over the next two seasons, but unfortunately, he missed most of the 1971 campaign due to injury, and never quite returned to full form. He left his mark with 47 career sacks, an All-Pro selection in '69 and one Super Bowl ring.
Marty Lyons (1979-89)
Hard to categorize since, like Klecko, he played all over the defensive line throughout his career. Lyons never made the Pro Bowl or put up big sack numbers during his career, yet was an invaluable member of the Sack Exchange, tying up blockers while his teammates put the clamps on quarterbacks and ball carriers. He played in 147 games for the Jets, starting 135 and recording an unofficial 43 sacks.
Abdul Salaam (1976-83)
Due to the shortness of his career, Salaam is sort of the forgotten member of the celebrated New York Sack Exchange. Like Marty Lyons, he performed a lot of the grunt work, opening the way for Gastineau, Klecko and the Jets' swarming linebackers to make plays.
Jason Ferguson (1997-2004)
The big fella (6-3, 305) started as a left tackle, moved to nose tackle for two seasons, went back to left tackle for the 2002 campaign, then finished his Jet career at right defensive tackle. His size and strength forced double-team blocking, allowing roving backers Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones to target ball carriers.
Mark Gastineau (1979-88)
Love him or hate him, the fiery Gastineau was the NFL's top pass-rushing DE from '81 to '85, making the Pro Bowl each of those seasons, and earning All-Pro status three times. He led the league in sacks twice, and the 22 he posted in '84 stood as the 'official' single-season NFL record until broken by Michael Strahan in 2001. Unfortunately, his "me, me, me" attitude, steroid allegations and a fraudulent boxing career did not endear him to the fans.
Toward the end of his career, his celebrated 'sack dances', which once fired up the fans, just seemed silly and annoying. Nonetheless, he remains the dominant DE in team history and holds the team record with 107.5 unofficial sacks.
Gerry Philbin (1964-72)
The first truly great defensive end in team history, Philbin was one of the top pass rushers of the late '60s. He topped the 1968 Super Bowl champs with 19 unofficial sacks, making the Pro Bowl and receiving All-Pro recognition for that season. He repeated those honors in 1969, and was named to the AFL All-time squad. From '68 to '70, Philbin and John Elliott were the most feared pass-rushing duo in pro football.
John Abraham (2000-05)
The quick and powerful Abraham became the starting right DE in his second season and responded with 13 sacks, earning an All-Pro nod. During his six seasons with the Jets, he tallied 53.5 sacks and made three Pro Bowls. The Jets certainly regret not holding onto the talented Abraham, as he had his best season to date in 2008...with the Falcons.
Shaun Ellis (2000-current)
A steady performer who has quietly become one of the better linemen in team history. Through the 2008 season he has accumulated over 60 QB sacks, his best season being the 2003 campaign, during which he made 12.5 sacks, 79 tackles and received a Pro Bowl invitation.
Marvin Washington (1989-96)
Solid player on some extremely weak Jet teams of the early and mid-'90s. The team never posted a record better than 8-8 during his tenure, six times posting double-digit losses. The unfortunate Washington recorded 37.5 sacks in 124 games during his eight Jet seasons.
Mo Lewis (1991-2003)
Spent 13 seasons as one of the most versatile, well-rounded linebackers in the NFL. Played each linebacking position at some point in his career, and started a team-record 200 games. His impressive numbers include 52.5 sacks, 14 INTs (with four TD returns), 13 fumble recoveries (one TD return) and over 1,200 tackles. Was an All-Pro pick for 1998, making the first of three consecutive Pro Bowls.
Larry Grantham (1960-72)
Tough player didn't let his lack of size (6', 210) diminish his play on the field.
Made five Pro Bowls during lengthy career, and was selected All-Pro five straight times ('60-'64). His 24 career INTs are tied for third in team history and are the most ever by a Jets linebacker.
Kyle Clifton (1984-96)
The unheralded Clifton was one of the best in the league at tracking down running backs. He recorded over 100 tackles in nine of his 13 seasons, including a remarkable 199 stops in 1990. Also notched 12 INTs and 15 fumble recoveries to go along with nearly 1,500 career tackles. Clifton's steady play often went unnoticed, as the Jets were a pretty weak team during much of his career, and he was never invited to a Pro Bowl.
Marvin Jones (1993-2003)
Much like Kyle Clifton, Jones was an expert run-stopper who never achieved Pro-Bowl or All-Pro accolades, but put in over a decade of solid play. Recorded over 1,000 tackles in his career, and, along with Mo Lewis and Bryan Cox, formed one of the NFL's most effective linebacking corps during the late-'90s.
Al Atkinson (1965-74)
The fiesty Atkinson patrolled the middle-linebacker position for 10 solid seasons, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 1968. His 21 career picks are second to Larry Grantham among Jet LBs.
Ralph Baker (1964-74)
Manned the left backer position on the 1968 Super Bowl squad. Teamed with Grantham and Atkinson to form a tough and reliable, if unspectacular, linebacker unit from the mid-'60s to the early-'70s. Returned two of 19 career INTs for TDs, but is best known for his late-game fumble recovery during the 1968 AFL Championship Game, which clinched the 27-23 victory over the Raiders and advanced the Jets to Super Bowl III.
Greg Buttle (1976-84)
Another hard-nosed Jet LB who never reached the Pro Bowl despite a steady career of tough, reliable play. Was the starting left LB all nine of his seasons with the Jets, collecting 15 INTs (one TD) and eight fumble recoveries (two TDs).
Lance Mehl (1980-87)
Five straight years of strong play were finally recognized when Mehl was selected to play in the Pro Bowl following the 1985 season. Unfortunately, it was to be the last hurrah in an all-too-brief career, as damaged knees limited Mehl's play in '86 and '87 and forced him into retirement. Cemented his status in Jets lore with his heroic performance against the Raiders in the 1982 playoffs: Nine tackles, a forced fumble and two interceptions of Jim Plunkett in the final three minutes that clinched a 17-14 Jet victory.
Aaron Glenn (1994-2001)
The speedy Glenn was one of the NFL's better coverage corners during his Jet career. He made the Pro Bowl following both the '97 and '98 seasons, and his 24 INTs are tied for third in team history. Three of those picks went for TDs, including a 100-yarder in 1996. Was also a decent kickoff returner, with a 96-yard TD return to his credit.
James Hasty (1988-94)
Combined decent coverage skills with his reputation as one of the hardest-hitting corners in history to put fear in the hearts of opposing WRs and QBs. In his seven Jet seasons, recorded 24 INTs (tied with Grantham, Green and Glenn for third in team history) with one TD return and 18 fumble recoveries.
Moved on to Kansas City in 1995 where he made two Pro Bowls.
Bobby Jackson (1978-85)
Was the starting left corner for most of his seven seasons, missing part of '81 and nearly all of '84 with injuries. Tallied 21 INTs for the Jets, having his finest year during the strike-shortened 1982 season, during which he matched a career high with five INTs and scored two TDs, one on a 77-yard INT return and one on an 80-yard fumble return.
Bill Baird (1963-69)
The Jets have a history of solid, if not exceptional, safeties, and Baird's accomplishments earn him a slight nod over the rest. Never recognized for the Pro Bowl, his 34 career INTs are still the team record almost 40 years after his retirement. Two of those picks went for TDs, and he also returned a punt for a 93-yard TD his rookie year. Spent the '65 and '66 seasons at cornerback before switching back to safety.
Dainard Paulson (1961-66)
Was able to take advantage of the carefree (and often careless) passing attacks during the early days of the AFL, making 29 INTs from '61 to '65. He spent his first two years at corner before switching to safety, where he topped the AFL with 12 picks in 1964, making the first of two Pro Bowls and setting a team record for INTs in a season (which still stands).
Burgess Owens (1973-79)
Decent safety spent seven seasons playing for some poor and mediocre Jet teams. Picked off 21 passes with two TD returns and 11 fumble recoveries. Also scored on an 82-yard kickoff return during his rookie season.
Victor Green (1993-2001)
Possessed good coverage skills and above-average instincts for sniffing out the run. He took over as the starting strong safety in 1995 and held the job through 2001, making 24 INTs (two TDs), recovering 13 fumbles and usually ranking among the team leaders in tackles.
Darrol Ray (1980-84)
After impressive rookie and sophomore seasons, Ray seemed on the verge of reaching all-league status. Unfortunately, he peaked early and never quite reached the potential the Jets had hoped for. During those first two seasons, Ray picked off 13 passes which he returned for over 350 yards, and scored four defensive TDs (three INT returns and one 75-yard fumble return). Over the next three seasons, he managed only eight INTs and was out of football by '85. He did hold the team record with 581 INT-return yards at the time of his retirement.
Erik McMillan (1988-92)
Like Darrol Ray, McMillan reached his full potential before age 25, leaving fans, coaches and teammates scratching their heads and wondering "what happened?" McMillan made 14 picks and scored five defensive TDs during his first two seasons and made the Pro Bowl both years. His performance slipped over the next couple of years, and he lost his starting position in '91, was a sub for all of '92, then spent '93 with three teams before quitting for good at age 28. To his credit, he still holds Jet career records with seven defensive TDs and 608 INT-return yards.
Pat Leahy (1974-91)
Steady kicker holds team record with 250 games played during 18-year career. Also the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 1,470 points, Leahy was a Pro-Bowl pick following the 1978 season.
Curly Johnson (1961-69)
The one-time Pro-Bowler still holds team mark with 22,718 punting yards, posting a respectable 42.5-yard average. Was a reserve offensive player early in his career. Johnson made the Pro Bowl following the 1965 season and had two receiving TDs during his Jet career.
Bruce Harper (1977-84)
The little scatback was the best all-purpose performer in team history, amassing over 11,000 total yards for the Jets. For his career, he caught 220 passes (11-yard average), averaged nearly five-yard-per-carry in limited rushing duty, returned 183 punts for 1,784 yards (one TD) and 243 kickoffs for 5,407 yards. In each of his first three years, he led the NFL in kickoff returns and kickoff-return yardage.
Leon Washington (2006-current)
In just three seasons, the all-purpose back has established himself as one of the most dangerous kickoff returners in the league. In addition to being a reliable runner and very good backfield receiver, Washington has already scored four kickoff-return TDs, while averaging nearly 26 yards-per-return. Averages 9.4 per punt return, and led the NFL with 2,337 all-purpose yards in 2008.