NFL Network's Top 100 Players of All Time: Why Jerry Rice Shouldn't Be No. 1
Rice was arguably the most dominant wide receiver in history, holding records in receptions, yards and touchdowns by a wide margin.
To most, Rice is a logical choice for the NFL's best player, and perhaps they're right. But, let's play devil's advocate for a bit here. These are 10 reasons why you should hold off on crowning Rice the greatest player in NFL history.
10. Lawrence Taylor
Ken Levine/Getty Images
When discussing the greatest player of all time, defensive players' contributions to the game tend to be valued less than those of offensive players. Taylor is no exception to this rule.
We don't know how many tackles Taylor finished his career with, but he was the single most dominant defensive player in NFL history. He struck fear into opponents with his tenacious style of play, and his thunderous hits are still renowned to this day.
Taylor was a force of nature up until his retirement. I'm not saying Taylor's better than Rice, just that he deserves a long, hard look.
9. Stacked Deck
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
I'm not saying Rice wasn't a talented wide receiver, but the deck was pretty stacked in his favor. With two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history throwing you the ball, it's not hard to put up big numbers.
Joe Montana was one of the all time great quarterbacks, a guy who made everyone better every game. In Steve Young, Rice had a quarterback who he developed an unprecedented relationship with, someone who knew where he would be on the field at all times.
In short, Rice couldn't have walked into a better situation in his career than the one in San Francisco. That has to be taken into account when choosing the greatest player in NFL history.
8. Barry Sanders
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
When discussing the greatest players in NFL history, one cannot leave out Barry Sanders. The former Detroit Lions running back did things no other player had ever done, and was without a doubt the most exciting player in the NFL during his 10-year career.
Sanders never battled injury issues, nor did he seem to be losing a step at age 30 when he retired. He put up massive rushing numbers in his career despite being his team's only real offensive threat for most of his career.
If he had stayed around and let his career arc finish, there is no doubt Sanders would have come close to eclipsing Rice's career numbers. But instead, Sanders left all of us wondering what might have been. For that reason, he has a strong case for being the NFL's greatest player.
7. Playing The Percentages
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Here's the thing about Jerry Rice: In the course of his career, he averaged just 5.1 receptions per game. That means that for every game he played, he touched the ball just five times.
A player who touches the football that rarely should not be considered the greatest player of all time. Quarterbacks and running backs see the ball far more than wide receivers do, and therefore their impact on the game is greater.
While Rice was undoubtedly one of the greatest players in NFL history, calling a guy who touched the ball just five times per game the greatest is hard to do.
6. Product Of The System
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
I'm not saying Rice wouldn't be a fantastic reciever regardless, but Rice was drafted into the perfect system for his skill set.
Rice was a fantastic route runner and tackle breaker, and the West Coast offense of Bill Walsh was designed to spread the field and give receivers space to break tackles and get yards after the catch. Rice was built to play in Walsh's offense, and it showed in his stats.
Rice's career could have been completely different had he played in a system where he had to beat a corner downfield, rather than using his superior route running skills to beat them.
5. Johnny Unitas
Unitas might be the greatest player in NFL history. The Baltimore Colts quarterback was one of the greatest team leaders in all of football, and his passing remains the stuff of legend.
For a quarterback of the era Unitas played in to put up the kinds of numbers he did is remarkable. Much of his impact is immeasurable. Once again, he may not be better than Rice, but Johnny U deserves a good, hard look as the greatest ever.
4. Don Hutson
Hutson is the only wide receiver who can come close to challenging Rice for supremacy. But the Green Bay Packers standout from the 1930s and 1940s puts up quite the fight.
Hutson scored 99 touchdowns and racked up 7,991 yards. While neither of those numbers are terribly impressive, consider that Hutson compiled them in an era when the forward pass was very much a foreign concept, looked down upon and criticized as being too risky.
If Hutson had been playing in today's pass happy NFL, he'd be challenging Rice for many of the records that the 49ers' great holds.
3. Joe Montana
Alvin Chung/Getty Images
Montana is the best quarterback in NFL history. He won big games when it mattered, he made plays and he was a leader.
Montana's worth cannot be measured in statistics. He was the best quarterback of his era, and deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest of all time.
As the man responsible for much of Rice's success, shouldn't we take a look at Joe as the greatest of all time before Rice?
2. Jim Brown
Jim Brown is the greatest running back in NFL history. He did what Barry Sanders did years later for the running back position, only Brown was better.
In just nine seasons, Brown totalled 14,811 total yards, 12,312 of which came on the ground. If he hadn't struggled with injury he would have even more.
People who saw Brown play speak in reverent tones about him. He was a back before his time, a player who could have undoubtedly been the best player in the NFL if he'd played later. For that reason, Brown is better than Rice.
1. Rice's Position
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
I'm not talking percentages anymore, this is about the role of a wide receiver. Wideouts are at the mercy of their quarterback. If he doesn't throw to them, they don't get the stats.
How can the greatest player in NFL history play a position whose performance is based so heavily on what the quarterback does with the football? Then shouldn't the best of all time be a quarterback? Or a running back, who is more independent of other members of his team in terms of making plays.
While Rice is more than worthy of being in the conversation regarding the greatest of all time, his position hurts his case. Could he still be? Perhaps. But this list shows us that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to crown him.