I recently read an article that dubs the top player in the history of every team in the NFL. Overall, I thought that article had strong points, but it compelled me to write my list, rather than just comment on one.
I don't look purely at total numbers, because total numbers can be misleading. Moreover, some statistics did not exist at certain times, or are affected by the total numbers of games per season, and so, looking purely at stats can be misleading.
For instance, the sack was not a stat until 1982, and so, a player like defensive end Deacon Jones often goes overlooked by fans.
I also consider the big picture of the respective team, such as his role and significant achievements, and whether he fits a narrative, such as an offensive lineman that blocked for multiple skill position players such as Bruce Matthews.
I also consider whether the player is historically relevant to the history of the NFL as a whole.
I should add a disclaimer that a few of my picks could rattle people, but it is my honest to goodness view.
I will add that one such pick requires an explanation about the player I did not pick, a player whom I have often called over-rated.
Some may call it bias, and maybe it is. But I always contend that everyone is biased, and to say otherwise would make you a liar.
Thus, the bias is unimportant, and the true importance is how well you evaluate the totality of facts and defend the argument.
Eleven-time Pro Bowler, eight time All-Pro and tallied 200 career sacks.
Bruce Smith anchored the defensive front for a Buffalo team that appeared in four Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
I could have picked Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, OJ Simpson, and even Steve Tasker.
Though Tasker transcended the unit of special-teams, it is still difficult to quantify his production for the Bills.
Thomas has more rushing yards in franchise history than Simpson does, Thomas however, also makes it difficult to pick between him and Kelly, because neither one can truly claim to have symbolized the offense.
Smith, meanwhile, was definitely the best defensive player for a team that excelled from top to bottom, and the fact is that, Smith currently has the NFL record for career sacks.
Honorable Mention: Jim Kelly, quarterback
As much as I like to sling mud at the career of Dan Marino, Marino's statistics far surpass any other in Dolphin's history, as well as, NFL history.
I should note however, that Marino's career engendered quite a few myths about quarterbacks that I think are bad for the game, but that is not Marino's fault.
Honorable Mention: Larry Csonka, fullback
Here it is.
The popular perception would surely think that Tom Brady belongs here, yet hear me out on this one.
I think special-teams players are grossly underrated in the history of pro football; primarily by people who can't understand analytical relationships, or wrongly accredit a player for something that he didn't do.
The fact is that, if not for Adam Vinatieri, the career of Tom Brady would have ended with the "Tuck Rule Game" in January 2002.
It was Vinatieri that kicked a 45-yard field goal in a snowstorm to force overtime, and subsequently kicked the game-winning field goal, and thus advanced to the AFC Championship game the next week, a game in which Brady was bailed out by Drew Bledsoe after Brady incurred an injury.
It was Vinatieri again that made the game-winning score against the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
And it was Vinatieri again in the Super Bowls against Carolina and Philadelphia with the game-winning or go-ahead points.
Vinatieri would also kick three field goals for the Indianapolis Colts against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Technically, Vinatieri accounted for more points than any other individual Colts player.
It is also important to note that the Colts had struggled to win in previous seasons, as a result of Mike "Idiot Kicker" Vanderjagt and his inability to kick in the clutch.
People definitely underrate the value of a clutch kicker, because fans expect it to be automatic, when nothing is automatic in pro sports. Just ask Scott Norwood.
And you can clearly see that Vinatieri has played a pivotal and needed role in the success of two Super Bowl winning franchises.
Thus, Brady cannot take full credit for a victory when the kicker scored the winning points...multiple times, and for multiple teams.
Recalling the question about Brady: Until the acquisition of Randy Moss in 2007 and league rules to inflate passing statistics, Brady's stats were ho-hum.
Brady's bread and butter was his "cool" under pressure, and yet, the Patriots relied on defense, special-teams, and running in 2003 and 2004, and clutch drives by Brady. Yet, due to "Spygate," those "magical drives" are now tainted.
To me, it now looks like the Patriots were just hustling their opponents...and Brady even had the gall to laugh in the face of Ray Lewis.
Thus, Brady's career has always been relative to dependence on something else and doesn't stand out as independent; whether it was Adam Vinatieri and Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Vinatieri, special teams and defense in 2003, then Corey Dillon in 2004, and then Randy Moss after 2007. And of course, Bill Belichick and his play-calling throughout.
Honorable Mention: Randy Moss, wide receiver
With 11,834 career receiving yards and 88 career touchdowns, Don Maynard was the most consistent pass-catcher for New York and quarterback Joe Namath when the Jets won Super Bowl III.
In doing so, Maynard was amongst other receivers in the American Football League (ex, Fred Biletnikoff, Lance Alworth, Art Powell) that defied the status quo of pro-football by emphasizing the passing-game, which ultimately would redefine pro-football.
Despite Namath's indelible role in the history of pro-football, his career numbers aren't extraordinary, and even declined significantly once Maynard left after the 1972 season.
Honorable Mention: Curtis Martin, halfback
Arguably the most dominant inside linebacker in the history of pro football, Ray Lewis has anchored a legendarily tough defense that propelled the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV.
Honorable Mention: Matt Stover, placekicker
In the 1980s, the Cincinnati Bengals featured a prolific offense that powered the Bengals to two Super Bowl appearances, with two different quarterbacks in Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.
The constant was the 11-time Pro Bowler and nine time All-Pro left tackle, Anthony Munoz.
Honorable Mention: Ken Anderson, quarterback
This pick goes without much explanation. Until Walter Payton surpassed him, Brown held the NFL record for rushing yards.
Honorable Mention: Otto Graham, quarterback
Picking a player for Pittsburgh was very difficult, with a list that includes Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jerome Bettis, Joe Greene, and Jack Lambert.
I ultimately went with the player that redefined the position, and that is Mel Blount. Blount played a critical role in the legendary Steel Curtain defense that propelled the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s.
Blount was so dominant that the NFL would create a rule to negate the dominance of cornerbacks with the Mel Blount rule.
Honorable Mention: Terry Bradshaw, quarterback
Not much explanation needed here.
Since 2003, Andre Johnson has been Houston's best receiver but also one of the league's best with over 7,000 career yards.
Honorable Mention: Matt Schaub, quarterback
Johnny Unitas helped pave the way for the popularity of passing, and he did so when defensive backs could still clothesline the receiver, such as Dick "Night Train" Lane.
Honorable Mention: Peyton Manning, quarterback
Some would pick Fred Taylor, but wide receiver Jimmy Smith led the Jacksonville Jaguars in all but one season with Jacksonville, and that one year when he did not, he was a return specialist.
The high-powered offense would symbolize the early days of the Jaguars, yet even without quarterback Mark Brunell, left tackle Tony Boselli, and receiver Keenan McCardell, Smith just kept on producing at a high level.
With 862 career receptions, 12,287 career yards, Smith is one of the league's best.
Honorable Mention: Fred Taylor, halfback
Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews entered the NFL from the legendary Draft of 1983 and only missed one game in 18 seasons with 14 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pros.
He did so by spending at least one season at each spot on the line, but primarily played inside.
During that time, Matthews briefly blocked for Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, quarterback Ken Stabler, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, halfback Eddie George, and quarterback Steve McNair.
Honorable Mention: Warren Moon, quarterback
Honorable Mention: Tom Jackson, linebacker
Will Shields began his career in 1993 and never missed a game in 14 seasons en route to 12 Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro awards.
During that time, Shields would anchor an offensive line that blocked for explosive offenses that included running backs Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, and Larry Johnson, but also quarterbacks Joe Montana and Trent Green, as well as tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Thomas, linebacker
For whatever reason, many like to disparage the career of Ken "The Snake" Stabler, which has prevented his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
Yet, you cannot deny that Stabler would define the misfit image of the Raiders during the 1970s that has endured ever since, but more importantly, the history of the NFL and even college football cannot be told without frequent reference to Stabler.
Stabler's legendary career began at the University of Alabama under Paul 'Bear' Bryant, as a backup behind Joe Namath.
Stabler would finish 28-3-2 as the starter and would include legendary games and plays, such as the, "Run in the Mud," during the Iron Bowl.
Ironically, Stabler has always been snubbed by the media, even before his days with the Raiders. In 1966, Stabler led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated record of 11-0 and a 34-7 blowout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl, only to finish third in the polls behind Notre Dame and Michigan.
Why does that sound so eerily familiar (I questioned sarcastically)? When Raider fans complain about the media, you should remember that Stabler and the Raiders are just another example of a team that the media cannot pigeonhole, and so that team gets underrated.
It should also tell you that if you hate the way that the college title is decided, then you should love the Raiders.
Stabler's statistics stack-up well, relative to his contemporaries, and he excelled in an era when league rules weren't designed to protect the passing game.
The main argument against Stabler's inclusion in the Hall of Fame is the length of his career, yet Stabler played in and won more games than his contemporaries, whom included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Fouts, Bob Griese, Joe Namath, Roger Staubach; and technically, Stabler played in more games than Terry Bradshaw and lost fewer games.
An NFL MVP in 1974 and member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1970s, Stabler is also the winningest AFC quarterback for the 1970s after his starting career began during "The Immaculate Reception" game in 1972.
Stabler would also be branded for life as the NFL's greatest trickster with "The Holy Roller" play against the San Diego Chargers, but he also ended the postseasons for the Miami Dolphins in 1973 with "The Sea of Hands" play to Clarence Davis and the Baltimore Colts in 1977 with the "Ghost to the Post" play to Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper.
I thought I'd also opine that I do believe that Stabler more than any other player is responsible for the NFL's decision in 1986 to implement the instant replay system.
Amongst the aforementioned plays like "The Holy Roller," the Raiders would also defeat the Patriots in the 1977 postseason (en route to the Super Bowl win), because the referee Ben Dreith wrongly penalized the defense for roughing the passer.
Instant replay has since created a trend in pro-sports. The NFL adopted the instant replay system because the USFL had implemented instant replay. Of course, the NFL technically lost in court to the USFL, in an anti-trust case in which Raiders owner Al Davis testified against the NFL.
The only way to defeat Al Davis was to re-write history.
Honorable Mention: Tim Brown, wide receiver/return specialist
The vertical game defined the American Football League in the 1960s, and as such, the AFL was viewed as inferior to the National Football League.
Yet, Lance Alworth would transcend the AFL and earn the title of "Pro Football's Best Receiver" from Sports Illustrated.
That was a significant achievement during a time when the sports media still favored the NFL.
Alworth would lead the league in receptions three times and set a then-record for the franchise with 85 touchdowns.
Honorable Mention: LaDainian Tomlinson, halfback
Many to choose from with the Dallas Cowboys, but I went with the NFL's all-time leading rusher and three-time Super Bowl winner, Emmitt Smith.
Honorable Mention: Tony Dorsett, halfback
Before Lawrence Taylor, the position of outside linebacker was just an ancillary position.
Taylor changed that with a career of 132.5 sacks, 10 Pro Bowls. eight All-Pros and two Super Bowl rings.
Honorable Mention: Frank Gifford, halfback/flanker
This was a tough call.
I considered Reggie White and quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The problem with Reggie White is that his career is almost evenly divided between Philadelphia and Green Bay, and he had significant achievements for both clubs.
I went outside the box on this one, because a significant reason for the success of the Eagles in the past 10 years has been the defense, which has been led by Brian Dawkins, in which he amassed eight Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro awards as an all-around threat at safety.
Honorable Mention: Donovan McNabb, quarterback
Slinging Sammy Baugh stands out as one of the all-time great players that handled multiple positions. Baugh excelled at quarterback, defense, and special teams.
Honorable Mention: Art Monk, wide receiver
Until Emmitt Smith took the record, Walter Payton was the NFL's all-time leading rusher and the main source of offense for the dominant Super Bowl Shuffle Chicago Bears of 1985 that won the Super Bowl.
Honorable Mention: Mike Ditka, tight end
All-time great in the NFL and thus an all-time great for the Detroit Lions.
Honorable Mention: Herman Moore, wide receiver
Obviously, not a player.
Yet, in the early days of pro-football, it was not uncommon for a player to double as a coach.
I chose Vince Lombardi here because I think that Lombardi, more than any other coach, defined the role of coach as separate from players.
Honorable Mention: Brett Favre, quarterback
Easily one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of pro football. Scramblin' Fran Tarkenton still ranks in the top ten of completions, touchdown passes, and passing yards.
Honorable Mention: Alan Page, defensive tackle
Warrick Dunn is one of the most underrated halfbacks ever, in part because he was overshadowed by Michael Vick. In Dunn's career, he amassed over 10,000 yards rushing and over 4,000 yards receiving.
Even though Dunn is normally associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he played in more games with the Atlanta Falcons and was central to a rushing attack that led the NFL and led Atlanta to the NFC Championship in 2004.
Honorable Mention: Alge Crumpler, tight end
With 81.0 career sacks and time to spare, Julius Peppers has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Carolina Panthers.
Honorable Mention: Muhsin Muhammad, wide receiver
Not much to say here.
Honorable Mention: Archie Manning, quarterback
It seems that people badmouth Warren Sapp because he often ran his mouth. Yet, Sapp's performances didn't lie, as he collected 96.5 career sacks.
Dominant three-technique tackles are much harder to find than other positions are.
He was the premiere three-technique tackle in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and anchor of a Super Bowl-winning defense that featured linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Ronde Barber, defensive end Simeon Rice, and safety John Lynch.
Honorable Mention: Mike Alstott, running back
I had a change of heart on this one. Originally, I published Aeneas Williams and Jim Hart as number one and two for the Cardinals.
Hall of Fame offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf is a better reflection of the big picture for the Cardinals. Dierdorf began his days under coach Don "Air" Coryell and quarterback Jim Hart. Dierdorf did not surrender a sack in the 1976 and 1977 seasons.
Dierdorf would also block for franchise-leading halfback Ottis Anderson before Dierdorf retired in 1983, while Anderson's final season with the Cardinals was 1986.
Honorable Mention: Dick "Night Train" Lane, defensive back
Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones wreaked an untold amount of havoc.
As member of the Los Angeles Rams "Fearsome Foursome" along with Hall of Fame tackle Merlin Olsen, Jones would dominate upfront.
Honorable Mention: Kurt Warner, quarterback
The success of the 49ers franchise begins and ends with Joe Montana. I know, I know, the 49ers had great players before Montana, including YA Tittle and Jimmy Johnson, but the Super Bowl era in San Francisco hinges on Montana and, "The Catch."
Moreover, Montana led the Niners to two Super Bowl victories without Jerry Rice.
Without Montana, I cannot imagine that the Niners would have been even close to the same. Of course, Montana won two awards for NFL MVP, three for Super Bowl MVP, eight Pro Bowl selections, and three All-Pro awards.
Honorable Mention: Jerry Rice, wide receiver
Some would still pick Steve Largent here, but I think he's been surpassed.
Since 2001, the Seattle Seahawks have featured the prolific offense of NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck that led Seattle to its first Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 2005 season.
Both Alexander and Hasselbeck are now franchise leaders at their respective positions, and left tackle Walter Jones was the constant in 180 games, nine Pro Bowl berths and four All-Pro awards.
Honorable Mention: Steve Largent, wide receiver