There have been many great players in the history of the NFL, and it is tough to distinguish greatness from position to position, but here is a list of the players I consider to be the top 10 players in the history of the NFL.
1) Jerry Rice
Rice's record-breaking year in 1984 at Mississippi Valley St. caught the eye of the NFL, but his 4.7 40-yard time put a lot of teams off. Still, two teams thought enough of Rice to try and select him with a first-round pick: the Cowboys with the 17th pick and the reigning Super Bowl champion 49ers with the 31st pick.
Realizing what Dallas was planning on doing, the 49ers quickly set up a trade with the Colts for the 16th pick, and the rest is history. Rice won three Super Bowls with the 49ers, and he appeared in one other with the Raiders.
He holds career records in receptions, receiving yards, yards from scrimmage, and total TDs. There will never be another receiver to put up the kind of numbers with the same consistency as Rice did in his career.
2) Jim Brown
Widely considered as the greatest running back of all time, Jim Brown could probably be great even in today’s NFL. Brown is the NFL's eighth all-time leading rusher. However, the most impressive thing about that is that it was done in four 12-game seasons and five 14-game seasons.
Brown's career ended abruptly when Cleveland Brown owner Art Modell told Brown to choose between his movie career or his football career. He gave him the choice of going to training camp to play football, or keep working on the Dirty Dozen and retire. Unfortunately for football fans, he chose to retire and focus on making movies.
3) Lawrence Taylor
In 1980, the New York Giants went 4-12 and landed the second-overall pick. The GMs of the NFL were polled on whether they would take LT with the first pick of the draft, and 26 of 28 said they would.
One of the two that said they wouldn't was the GM of the New Orleans Saints, who had the first pick of the draft.
There was controversy surrounding the Giants' pick of Taylor when he said that he wanted $250,000 his rookie year. Several Giants said that they would walk out on the team if they gave Taylor that much money. But after meeting LT, everyone was on board. Taylor was an All-Pro performer his first 10 years in the league. He won NFL DPOY three times and the NFL MVP in 1986. He will always be considered the most disruptive LB in NFL history.
4) Joe Montana
Montana played in four Super Bowls, and he won all of them. Coming out of Notre Dame, he wasn't even close to being considered the best QB in his draft class. Never has there been another QB with the calmness under pressure that Montana was blessed with. Montana won the NFL MVP award twice and Super Bowl MVP three times.
5) Walter Payton
"Sweetness" was one of the best running backs ever. But as great as he was as a player, he was an even better person. Once the all-time leading rusher in NFL history, the 1975 fourth-overall pick had an inauspicious start to his career, with 679 yards and seven TDs in his first season.
That quickly changed, however, as he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 17 TDs in his second season, and over 1,800 yards his third season when he won AP NFL MVP. In 1999, Payton’s life was tragically cut short from liver disease.
6) Tom Brady
Largely ignored coming out of Michigan, he was picked in the sixth round by the Patriots. Brady spent his first year on the bench, going three of six for six yards.
In the third game of the 2001 season, Brady was thrust into action after starter Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding after being hit. The Patriots won 11 of the 14 games Brady played in and made it to the playoffs, where they eventually won the Super Bowl. Brady has made it to four Super Bowls and won three. He is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and he also won the 2007 NFL MVP.
7) Reggie White
"The Minister of Defense", as he was known, was probably the most dominating D-end in the history of the league. White started his pro career in Memphis in the USFL where he had 23.5 sacks and 192 tackles in two seasons.
After the USFL folded, White went into the NFL and spent eight years with Philly, six years with the Packers, and one year with the Panthers. White helped lead the Packers to two Super Bowls, and he finally got his ring after winning in Super Bowl XXXI. Sadly, White died of SADS in December of 2004.
8) John Elway
Elway's greatness and comeback-ability were personified in what is now known as "The Drive", the 98-yard touchdown drive that he lead to beat Cleveland in the 1986 AFC Championship game.
Originally drafted by the Colts, Elway stated that he would not play for them, saying that the team could not allow him to be successful. The Colts traded Elway to Denver, and although he lost the first three Super Bowls he played in, he finished strong and beat the Packers and Falcons in back to back Super Bowls.
9) Dick Butkus
Chicago born and bred, Butkus attended and played football at the University of Illinois, and was then drafted by his hometown team, the Chicago Bears, in the first round.
Though he only played for nine years, Butkus was always known as one of the most feared men in football. In fact, Sports Illustrated put him on the cover of a 1970 issue with the caption "Most feared man in the game."
Butkus’ career ended after he felt the Bears made him play on busted knees. He sued the Bears in 1975, saying the Bears had kept him on the field even though they knew he needed surgery.
10) Brett Favre
You would think that a guy who has won a Super Bowl and holds all the NFL passing records would be higher on this list, yet some would argue that he doesn’t belong on this list at all. The gunslinger from Mississippi holds the NFL records for passing TDs, passing yards, passing attempts, passing completions, regular season wins by a QB, and interceptions. Favre will always be known as an all-or-nothing player who was the face of the NFL for the last 10 years.
Johnny Unitis, Bartt Starr, Barry Sanders, Anthony Munoz, Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, Deacon Jones, Sammy Baugh