The Greatest Players of All Time: Team by Team
Each team in the National Football League has at least one player. One player to always fall back on. One player that showed dynamic skills beyond their years.
Whether they're the league doormat, or one of the dynasties, ever team has one player that is their greatest player of all time.
It is extremely difficult to narrow down the choices for most teams down to just one player, especially when a team has a rich history like the Packers or Steelers.
I know I will likely have many choices you will disagree with, so I encourage you to voice your opinion in the comments section.
The only criteria is that past incarnations of the franchise also count (for example: St. Louis Cardinals = Arizona Cardinals, etc.)
Buffalo Bills: Bruce Smith
You can take your pick in Buffalo. Thruman Thomas, Jim Kelly and Andre Reed were all amazing players. But one guy shined the most
Bruce Smith was that guy.
Smith was an 11-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, but more importantly, he holds the record for the most career sacks. An even and very pretty 200.
Smith was one of the most feared players in the NFL in his prime years, but was a mild mannered and well kept man off the field.
To this day, some consider Smith the greatest defensive end of all time.
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson
In the Texans' even shorter history, fans have had little to cheer about.
But Andre Johnson is a very bright spot, in a team on the rise.
Considered by some to already be the best wide receiver in the NFL, Johnson has three Pro Bowls under his belt, and has caught 486 passes for 6,379 yards with 33 touchdowns.
Along with defensive anchor Mario Williams, Andre Johnson gives the Texans' fanbase something to cheer about, and he can only get better.
With the Texans pushing for their very first playoff berth, Johnson will step up to the plate more than ever, and continue to impress for years to come.
Denver Broncos: John Elway
John Elway was the quarterback of the Broncos for an unprecedented 16 seasons.
During his tenure, Elway was picked for nine Pro Bowls, was named the 1987 NFL MVP, and suffered Super Bowl failure and success.
Elway is easily in the top 10 greatest quarterbacks of all time, and his numbers back it up. 300/226 TD/INT ratio, over 50,000 yards passing, and an 80.0 career QB rating.
But Elway's career was a rocky one. He suffered three truly embarrassing Super Bowl defeats, with the Broncos being outscored 136-40 in the three losses.
However, Elway came out on top at the end of his career. With help from Terrell Davis, the Broncos won two straight Super Bowls. Elway concluded his career with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis
In the Ravens' short history, no player on the team has even come close to the impact that Ray Lewis has made.
A 10-time Pro Bowler, and a two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis is not only by far the best Ravens player of all time, but also one of the greatest defensive players of all time.
In his career, Lewis has recorded 33.5 sacks and 28 interceptions, making him a member of the 20/20 club.
Lewis also anchored one of the best defenses of all time in 2000, when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
Lewis is an extremely vocal leader. Combined with Ed Reed, his lockerroom speeches are some of the most motivating ever made.
Dallas Cowboys: Emmitt Smith
Here's where things get a little tricky.
The Cowboys have a very rich history, and it's hard to pick between any of the Triplets. It's even harder when you throw guys like Roger Staubach into the mix.
But Emmitt Smith is the greatest Cowboy of all time.
The NFL's all time leading rushing supplanted a Cowboys' 1990s dynasty that brought Dallas three Super Bowl titles.
Oh yeah, and Smith was also pretty good at running.
An eight time Pro Bowler, along with a 1993 NFL MVP award, are just footnotes in a career that produced 18,355 yards. The 164 touchdowns isn't too bad either, especially considering it's the most of all time for running backs.
People argue to this day who really is the greatest runner of all time. But I think it's a given that Smith is at least the most durable running back of all time.
Chicago Bears: Walter Payton
Like the Cowboys, the Bears also have a rich history, spanning back to guys like George "Papa Bear" Halas, Sid Luckman, Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers and Bronko Nagurski.
However, I feel that Walter Payton rises above all those men and that's saying something.
"Sweetness" was a nine time Pro Bowler, the 1977 NFL MVP, and held the NFL's career rushing record until Emmitt Smith broke it in 2002. 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns only add to the legend.
Payton was also the offensive centerpiece for arguably the greatest NFL team of all time: the 1985 Bears. The Bears went 15-1 that season and trumped the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, 46-10.
A class act off the field, Payton died in 1999 due to a rare liver disease.
Atlanta Falcons: Tommy Nobis
The first Atlanta Falcon of all time may also be the greatest.
"Mr. Falcon" was a five-time Pro Bowler, but his other stats become shaky at this point. The NFL did not officially record tackles as a stat until 1982, and even those numbers are hard pressed to be trusted.
What is known, is that Nobis recorded 294 tackles his rookie year, which easily won him the NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
Nobis also had 12 interceptions in his career, and still holds to this day a number of the Falcons' team records.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Wilson
The Cardinals are certainly a franchise that never really had a string of good seasons, but they did have one of the greatest safeties to ever play.
Larry Wilson played for the then St. Louis Cardinals for 12 seasons.
In those 12 years, he was named to eight Pro Bowls, had 52 interceptions, and five touchdowns.
Wilson was also renowned for his amazing toughness. He once intercepted a pass with broken wrists on both hands.
Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino
To have a guy like Larry Csonka play for your franchise and still be considered the best is certainly an achievement.
Dan Marino held most major passing records when he retired. Over 60,000 yards passing, a 420/252 TD/INT ratio, and a career 86.4 quarterback rating (it's like quarterback stats are becoming my motto I've posted them so much!).
Marino was also named to nine Pro Bowls and was named the 1984 NFL MVP.
But the only thing that eluded Marino his entire career, was a Super Bowl title. In his only Super Bowl appearance, Joe Montana and the 49ers trounced the Dolphins, 16-38 in Super Bowl XIX.
It's truly unfortunate that every great quarterback of the current era that is unable to win a Super Bowl is considered the "Dan Marino" of his time.
Cincinnati Bengals: Ken Anderson
It was difficult to pick between Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason, but considering Anderson spent his entire career with the Bengals, the choice became more clear.
Anderson had a 197/160 TD/INT ratio, over 32,000 yards passing, and an 81.9 career quarterback rating.
He also was named to four Pro Bowls, and was the 1981 NFL MVP.
During the Bengals' glory years in the 80s, Anderson led the team to Super Bowl XVI. The Bengals went down 20-0 at the end of the first half, but Anderson managed to cut the deficit to 20-14 at one point.
However, Joe Montana started to be Joe Montana again and the Bengals ending up losing, 26-21. The second meeting between these two teams would prove to be more memorable, but with the same result.
Thankfully for Anderson, he earned a Super Bowl ring as the Steelers' quarterbacks coach in Super Bowl XLIII.
Indianapolis Colts: Johnny Unitas
This one may be a shock to some. Peyton Manning is indeed an outstanding player and will be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time when he retires.
But nobody can touch The Golden Arm.
Unitas' stats are still great even by today's standards, 290/253 TD/INT ratio, over 40,000 yards passing, and a 78.2 quarterback rating. Unitas was a 10 time Pro Bowler, and a THREE time NFL MVP in 1959, 1964, and 1967.
Unitas also left a record still unbroken to this day: throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games.
However, even greater than his stats are his undeniable influence and impact he has left on the game.
Under Unitas' leadership, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants in overtime of the 1958 NFL Championship, which was dubbed "The Greatest Game Ever Played".
The game drew an amazing 45 million viewers, set forward a chain of events that would eventually result in the AFL-NFL merger, and the game that we watched today was all thanks to Unitas' clutch performance.
Not only is Unitas the greatest quarterback of all time, but he may very well be the greatest football player of all time. There's some fire for you.
The 1958 NFL Championship remains the only NFL Championship to be played into overtime to this day.
Kansas City Chiefs: Bobby Bell
It was difficult to choose Bobby Bell when you have guys like Emmitt Thomas, Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, and even Tony Gonzalez to choose from. Derrick Thomas would probably be the greatest had it not been for his truly tragic death.
But of all those guys, I feel Bobby Bell sticks out the most, especially on the basis that he spent his entire career with the Chiefs.
Bell was a nine time Pro Bowler, and recorded 26 interceptions with 40 sacks, making him a member of the 20/20 club.
Bell also played a key part in a 1969 Chiefs team that beat the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, 7-23. The Super Bowl victory remains the only Super Bowl title for the Chiefs.
Bell was an amazing athlete, considered the quickest linebackers of his time, and even by today's standards, he would play an amazing linebacker on any team.
New York Giants: Lawrence Taylor
It's no contest in New York.
The original LT, and the greatest defensive player of all time is by far the greatest New York Giant. No player has quite dominated the field like Lawrence Taylor.
His stats are just the beginning of a tale: 142 sacks, nine interceptions, and over 1,000 career tackles. Combine that with 10 Pro Bowls, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a 1986 NFL MVP honor; you have the complete package.
Taylor also helped the Giants win two Super Bowls.
No player has ever been more feared than Taylor, and his play was so aggressive, it forced coaches to make new offensive schemes that are still in play today to keep him in check.
Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders
The Detroit Lions are one of the worst franchises in NFL history, but for 10 seasons, they had the best running back in the NFL.
Sanders was a 10-time Pro Bowler, and the 1997 Co-NFL MVP. His stats were equally impressive, 15,269 yards, with 109 touchdowns. He also is one of the few members of the 2,000 yard rushing club.
Sanders was an extremely explosive and agile runner, it often took at least two men to bring him down, and he would always fight for the extra yard.
However, Sanders will probably be most remembered for retiring at the peak of his career, one season striking distance from breaking the then career rushing yards record held by Walter Payton.
Regarded by some as the greatest running back of all time, Sanders is someone that all Detroit fans can always look back on.
Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith
The Panthers are a still fairly young franchise, having played for 13 seasons now.
In those 13 seasons, quite a few names have come and gone, but Steve Smith stands above the rest of them.
Smith is a four time Pro Bowler, and has 509 receptions for 7,348 yards. Not to mention his 43 touchdowns.
Smith initially broke onto the scene as a return specialist, but has proved himself more than worthy as a receiver. Already considered one of the best receivers in the league today, Smith is a force to be reckoned with.
Perhaps most memorable was his 2005 season, when he led the league in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana
In San Francisco, nobody could do it better than "Joe Cool."
Montana led a 49ers 1980s dynasty, where the 'Niners won four Super Bowls. In his career, Montana appeared in eight Pro Bowls, and was a two time NFL MVP.
He had a 273/139 TD/INT ratio, over 40,000 yards passing, and a 92.3 quarterback rating.
Montana is easily one of the top-five quarterbacks of all time, perhaps even the greatest. His ability as a quarterback never faltered, even during his time with the Chiefs, where he led the team to an AFC Championship.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Really, who else? Before this decade, the Patriots were at the very least, an underachieving franchise who were best known for harassing a female reporter during a 1-15 1990 season.
But things changed after Drew Bledsoe went down. Things changed a lot.
Off the bench came Tom Brady, who would lead the Patriots to a three Super Bowl dynasty, and led the Patriots to the very first 16-0 season.
Brady is a four time Pro Bowl selection, and was the NFL MVP in 2007, the same year he set the record for most touchdown passes in a season.
He has a 197/86 TD/INT ratio, over 26,000 yards passing, and a 92.9 quarterback rating.
Despite the major injury he suffered this past season, Brady shouldn't falter, and will continue to post major numbers. Who knows? He may still lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns: Jim Brown
Jim Brown's closest competition in Cleveland could only be Otto Graham, and even that's a pretty long shot.
Brown was a spectacular running back, rushing for 12,312 yards, with 126 touchdowns over nine seasons. He was elected to the Pro Bowl in all nine of those seasons.
On top of all those mind boggling statistics, Brown was a three time NFL MVP. Brown also holds the amazing distinction of averaging 100 yards rushing per game.
The scary thing is, he did this all in only nine 14 game seasons. If Brown is not the best running back of all time, he's at the very least in the top three.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor
Like the Panthers, the Jags have only been in play 13 seasons, but they have also had a plethora of faces pass through.
But Fred Taylor is the most notable.
Taylor suffered injuries in the early part of his career, but broke through towards the end, and was beloved by Jaguar fans.
He has only been selected to one Pro Bowl, but his stats have added up. 11,271 yards, and 62 touchdowns. The only question that remains for Taylor, is if he could have stayed healthy, what might have been?
Oakland Raiders: Marcus Allen
The Raiders, despite being a poor franchise since their Super Bowl loss in 2002, are one of those teams with a great history.
You could name anyone, but Marcus Allen is the greatest Raider.
Allen was a six time Pro Bowler, and the 1985 NFL MVP. In his career, he rushed for 12,243 yards and 123 touchdowns.
But Allen is probably best remembered for his amazing performance in Super Bowl XVIII. Allen rushed for 191 yards with two touchdowns in a 38-9 Raiders destruction of the Redskins.
Allen took home MVP honors thanks to his outstanding game.
Philadelphia Eagles: Chuck Bednarik
When people think of 1950s football, they think of tough, gridiron aggressiveness.
Chuck Bednarik was the epitome of that definition.
An eight time Pro Bowler, Bednarik played center and linebacker...and he played both positions with never-ending ferociousness.
Bednarik also grabbed 20 interceptions in his career, but he is best remembered for his incredible hits. He once knocked Frank Gifford of the New York Giants out of play for eighteen months.
"Concrete Charlie" was the gridiron, smash-mouth player that you never get to see anymore these days.
Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre
The Packers have an incredible history, so it's even more incredible for Brett Favre to easily stick out as the best.
Favre currently holds most of the NFL's major passing records, and his stats reflect it.
A 464/310 TD/INT ratio, over 65,000 yards passing, and an 85.4 quarterback rating. These stats are just the beginning of one of the NFL's greatest stories.
Favre was a 10 time Pro Bowler, and a three time NFL MVP, all three won in a row from 1995-1997. Favre also may be the most durable quarterback of all time, and holds the record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback at 269.
Favre is also one of only three quarterbacks to have beaten every team in the NFL.
Is Favre the greatest quarterback of all time? Some think so, but I would personally place him in the top five, if not the top 10. You really could write 100 pages about Favre, and you wouldn't even come close to explaining his entire career.
New Orleans Saints: Archie Manning
For the New Orleans "Aints", Archie Manning was a bright spot on a mainly dark franchise.
Mannings' stats are fairly underwhelming. A 125/173 TD/INT ratio, over 23,000 yards passing, and a 68.1 quarterback rating. He was also a two time Pro Bowler.
But you must consider the conditions Manning played under. The Saints were an extremely mismanaged and poor franchise who failed to make the playoffs for their first 20 seasons.
Not to mention their failure to win a playoff game until 34 seasons into their history. Manning rose above that mediocrity and did everything he could to lift the Saints into the stratosphere.
Oh yeah, his kids aren't too bad at football, either.
Seattle Seahawks: Steve Largent
Steve Largent played his entire 13-year career with the Seahawks, and proved himself to be above and beyond the greatest Seahawk of all time.
Largent was a seven-time Pro Bowler, and had 819 receptions for 13,089 yards with 101 touchdowns. When he retired, he held all major NFL receiving records.
During his time as a player, Largent established himself as a class act, and holds the unique distinction of being the first Seahawks player elected to the Pro Bowl.
New York Jets: Joe Namath
Without Joe Namath's famous guarantee in Super Bowl III, we may not be watching football.
However, as always, I'll start with his stats. Namath's stats aren't really anything to write home about. A 173/220 TD/INT ratio, over 27,000 yards passing, and a 65.5 quarterback rating. He was also a five time Pro Bowler.
But Namath will always be remembered for his Super Bowl guarantee.
As the Jets readied themselves to face off against the mighty Baltimore Colts, nearly everyone still believed the NFL was a mile above the lowly AFL. This thought was only reinforced with the routs the Packers served in the first two Super Bowls.
Namath became angered when heckled during a pregame conference and stated "We'll win the game. I guarantee you."
He made good on his promise. The Jets shocked the world by defeating the Colts 16-7, and proved that the AFL was worthy of merging with the NFL. The rest, as they say, is history.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Greene
Many would think Terry Bradshaw was the Steelers' greatest player, but Bradshaw, in my honest opinion, was a game manager. He was effective, but the real men behind the Steelers' 1970s dynasty was the Steel Curtain defense.
And Mean Joe Greene was the ringleader of one of the greatest defenses of all time.
Greene was a 10-time Pro Bowler, and a two time Defensive Player of the Year. His stats are skewed, as most defensive stats weren't recorded until 1982, but it is believed Greene had 78.5 sacks. with 16 fumble recoveries.
Greene was such a burden on offenses it took at least two, sometimes three defenders to hold him back. This allowed other Steelers players to run through the spotty line and sack the quarterback.
While this play did cut down his number of career sacks, Greene influenced NFL teams to rethink their entire offensive scheme to hold Greene, much like they had to do decades later with Lawrence Taylor.
Tennessee Titans: Earl Campbell
Before they were the Tennessee Titans, they were the Houston Oilers, and Earl Campbell was their running back.
Campbell, the five time Pro Bowler, was a sensational power back, and was named the MVP in his ROOKIE YEAR, an achievement that would be completely unheard of in today's game.
In his relatively short career, Campbell rushed for 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns.
But Campbell is still often brought up in debates concerning the best running back of all time. However, I believe it is very safe to say that Campbell is the greatest power back of all time.
San Diego Chargers: LaDainian Tomlinson
The new "LT" has already established himself as the greatest Charger of all time. The only others that really comes close are Dan Fouts and Junior Seau.
In the twilight of the dreadful Ryan Leaf era, San Diego fans desperately needed a franchise player. LT answered those prayers in quick fashion.
Tomlinson has been to five Pro Bowls, and was the 2006 NFL MVP. He has rushed for 11,760 yards with 141 touchdowns. Even in his injury-laden 2008 campaign, Tomlinson still managed to rush for over 1,000 yards.
Although he has lost some of his initial quickness, LT still ranks amongst the best running backs in the league today.
Washington Redskins: Darrell Green
Sammy Baugh and Art Monk were excellent, but even he couldn't top the "Ageless Wonder."
Green played an unprecedented 20 seasons with the Redskins, tying a record with Jackie Slater for most time spent on one team.
Not only did Green play 20 seasons for the Redskins, but he was a fantastic cornerback. He was picked for seven Pro Bowls, and recorded 54 interceptions over that time.
Green was a class act, and an extremely tough player, one time playing through a torn rib cartilage.
Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton
Outside of Randy Moss or Cris Carter, there isn't much of a contest in Minnesota.
Tarkenton was a nine-time Pro Bowler, was the 1975 NFL MVP, and held most major passing records when he retired.
Fran Tarkenton popularized the scrambling quarterback, a trait he was often criticized for at the time. But his scrambling extended plays for the Vikings and he retired as the career leader in rushing yards at the QB position.
Tarkenton lead the Vikings to three Super Bowls, but was never successful in leading them to victory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derrick Brooks
The Tampa Two defense were embodied by guys like John Lynch and Warren Sapp. But Derrick Brooks stayed with the Bucs for the longest, and remained the most productive.
Brooks was an 11 time Pro Bowler, and had 13.5 sacks to go with 25 interceptions over his career. He was also named the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Brooks was a key player in the 2002 Buccaneers, one of the greatest defenses of all time. He also was one of the greatest all-around linebackers of all time, excelling in both coverage and speed.
St. Louis Rams: Deacon Jones
Sorry, I just can't give this one to Eric Dickerson or Marshall Faulk. Dickerson and Faulk were both great running backs.
But Deacon Jones is the reason why the NFL currently records sacks as a statistic.
Jones had awesome speed for his size, and recorded 173.5 sacks over his entire career. A career where he was also nominated for eight Pro Bowls, and was named both the 1967 and 1968 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Jones completely revolutionized the defensive end position, and may be the greatest defensive end of all time.
So after spending about two days researching and writing this, I'll quick go over a few guys I had initially picked as their respective team's best player.
Rams: Marshall Faulk was my original choice before I did some more research on Jones.
Chiefs: I went through two guys on this one. First Len Dawson, than Derrick Thomas, before deciding on Bobby Bell.
Bills: I picked Jim Kelly at first when I realized I had completely forgotten about Bruce Smith. I promptly slapped myself for my misstep in judgment.
Titans: Warren Moon was my initial choice before I read that Campbell was named MVP his rookie year. That alone was enough reason to switch.
I thank you for checking this out, and encourage you to voice your opinion in the comments section. Whether you agree or disagree with me, remember these are only my opinions. What I think is definitely not the final word.