Cleveland Browns: Top 50 Players of All Time

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IJune 22, 2011

Cleveland Browns: Top 50 Players of All Time

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    The Browns have had many great players throughout their illustrious history, dating back to when the team was established in 1946. 

    With not a whole lot happening in the NFL at present thanks to the lockout, it seems a good time to look back and review what are, in my opinion, the 50 greatest players in NFL history. 

    You won't find any current Browns on this list, as none have had the chance to establish themselves as worthy of being included in this pantheon just yet, but there are a few who I have a feeling will find their way onto this list in the future. 

    But for now, enjoy the trip down memory lane as we review 50 of the greatest football players ever to don the orange and brown. 

    Author's Note: The players included here are not necessarily in an exact ranking order descending from 50 to 1. I feel it is impossible to make such determinations with absolute certainty when comparing players from different eras at different positions, though I do feel that most are around or near the place in this list where the rightfully belong.

50. WR Dave Logan

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    Wide receiver Dave Logan was the Browns third-round pick in 1976 and spent all but his final year in the NFL with the Browns (the last, 1984, was spent with the Broncos). 

    Logan had 4,247 receiving yards for the Browns and 24 receiving TDs. 

    After retiring from football, Logan began a second career in broadcast. He is the Broncos play-by-play radio announcer.

49. WR Brian Brennan

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    Like Dave Logan before him, WR Brian Brennan spent all but his final season in the NFL with the Browns, racking up 4,336 yards and 20 TDs over the course of eight seasons.

    While Brennan was not the most prolific receiver for the Browns statistically speaking (and even falls a bit behind Logan in most categories), he had tremendous value on the field in ways that cannot be statistically quantified.

    Brennan was, above all else, a playmaker. Even on a team stacked with offensive talent, he repeatedly stood out as the guy who was always open and always seemed to be able to make things happen when the Browns needed it most.

48. TE Milt Morin

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    For 10 years, from 1966-1975, TE Milt Morin was a go-to pass catcher for the Browns. Morin had 4,208 career yards and 20 TDs. 

    Morin spent his entire career with the Browns and is a player whom many argue should have been a Hall of Famer.

    Sadly, Morin passed away last summer, dashing the hopes of many Browns fans that he would be enshrined in Canton before he died. 

47. OT Cody Risien

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    OT Cody Risien also spent his entire impressive career in a Browns uniform. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and as reliable at pass protection as they come.

    He started all 16 games of the season in all but two of his exceptional years in the NFL.

46. DT Walter Johnson

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    Not to be confused with the great Senators' pitcher of the same name, Browns DT Walter Johnson had quite the athletic career in his own right. 

    Johnson played 13 NFL seasons (the last one with the Bengals) and was a three-time Pro Bowler with 11 fumble recoveries for two touchdowns as well as two career INTs.

45. DE Paul Wiggin

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    Old-time great Paul Wiggin was a sixth-round pick at DE in the 1956 NFL draft, whose play turned out to be far better than his draft slot indicated. 

    Wiggin spent his whole career with the Browns, from 1957-1967 and was selected to the Pro Bowl roster twice. 

44. CB Warren Lahr

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    You'll have to go all the way back to 1947 to find the start of CB Warren Lahr's impressive career. Lahr was with the Browns back in the early days when the franchise was first established and spent his entire career with the team. 

    During his time in Cleveland, Lahr had 44 interceptions, five of which he returned for touchdowns. 

43. P/WR Horace Gillom

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    Another player who was with the Browns in the early days of the franchise, beginning in 1947, Horace Gillom was one of the earliest examples of an professional football "double threat." 

    To be fair, double threat doesn't quite cover it. Gillom played so many positions for the Browns that there is no buzz word to describe his versatility. He was primarily a punter (and darn good at it), but he also returned kicks, logged some rushing yardage and even played a little defense. 

42. DE Bill Glass

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    Beginning in 1958, DE Bill Glass spent the first four years of his professional football career with the Detroit Tigers and the seven years that would follow with the Browns.

    He was considered one of the best defensive linemen of his time and was chosen for the Pro Bowl roster four times. 

41. LB Walt Michaels

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    LB Walt Michaels was a crushing defender for the Browns from 1952 to 1961, bookended by one season each with the Packers and the Jets, respectively. 

    Michaels had 11 interceptions resulting in two touchdowns and eight fumble recoveries and was a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

40. DE/LB Jim Houston

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    A first-round pick for the Browns in 1960, Ohio State alum Jim Houston stood out as a DE initially and later, for the bulk of his career, as a linebacker. 

    In his career from 1960-1972, Houston had 14 interceptions for three touchdowns, 11 fumble recoveries and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

39. WR Dub Jones

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    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'
    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'

    William Augustus Jones, better known to teammates and Browns fans as "Dub" Jones, played with Cleveland from 1948-1955.  

    A two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro, Jones had 1,910 yards and 20 TDs in his eight years as a wide receiver for the Browns. 

38. RB Eric Metcalf

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    Browns diehards of the late 1980s and early 1990s fondly remember prolific running back and kick returner Eric Metcalf as one of the best of his era. 

    Metcalf spent six years with the Browns before moving on to short stints with six other teams. While with Cleveland, Metcalf 1,341 punt-return yards for five TDs, 2,806 kick-return yards for two TDs, 2,229 total rushing yards for 11 TDs and even had 15 receiving TDs.

    Many consider him to be the greatest kick returner ever to don the orange and brown. 

    In his career, Metcalf was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro and amassed over 9,000 total kick- and punt-return yards. 

37. OT Doug Dieken

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    OT Doug Dieken spent 14 seasons (his entire career) with the Browns beginning in 1971. He took over the LT job from the great Dick Shafrath in 1971 and recovered 13 fumbles during his long and productive career. 

    After retiring from play, Dieken became a color commentator for the Browns.

36. RB Kevin Mack

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    RB Kevin Mack was a standout even among the overall excellent roster the Browns amassed in the mid-late 1980s. 

    Mack was drafted by the Browns in the 1984 supplemental draft and spent his whole career in Cleveland from 1985-1993. During that time, he had 5,123 rushing yards and 46 rushing TDs as well as 1,602 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs.

35. DT Jerry Sherk

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    DT Jerry Sherk spent his entire 14-year career with the Browns from 1970-1981. In that time, Sherk had 69.5 sacks and 10 fumble recoveries and is thought of by many as one of the greatest Browns linemen of all time. 

    He was a four-time Pro Bowler in consecutive seasons and was first-team All-Pro in 1976 as well as the NFL Defensive Player of the year in that same season. 

34. G Jim Ray Smith

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    Jim Ray Smith was a five-time Pro Bowl guard in his seven seasons with the Browns, which began in 1956. 

    He was a also a three-time All-Pro for Cleveland before spending his final two NFL seasons with the Cowboys

33. RB Earnest Byner

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    RB Earnest Byner was a tremendous running back who will, unfortunately, always be remembered most for that iconic disaster that was "The Fumble." He spent seven years with Cleveland, from 1984-1988 and 1994-1995 with a stint with the Redskins in between. 

    In those seven years, he collected 3,364 rushing yards and 27 rushing TDs as well as 2,630 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs. 

    In his entire career, he had 8,261 rushing yards and 56 rushing TDs and 4,605 receiving yards and 15 receiving TDs. Strangely, he did not make the Pro Bowl with the Browns but made it there twice with Washington in 1990 and 1991.

    In addition to those two 1000-yard seasons in Washington, he had one 1000-yard season in Cleveland in 1985.

32. K/P Don Cockroft

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    Kicker Don Cockroft spent his entire career with the Browns from 1968-1980. His career field-goal percentage was 65.9, and he is third all-time in points scored for the Browns with 1,080. 

    He was first-team All-Pro in 1972 and was second-team all-conference in 1978.

31. DB Tommy James

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    Another old-time great is DB Tommy James, whose career with the Browns lasted from 1948-1955. He spent one year before his time in Cleveland with Detroit and one year after it with Baltimore

    With the Browns, he had 34 interceptions and five fumble recoveries and was a Pro-Bowler in 1953.

30. QB Frank Ryan

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    QB Frank Ryan began his career with the Rams in 1958 but had his best years while he was with the Browns from 1962-1968.

    During his seven years in Cleveland, Ryan had 907 completions, 13,361 passing yards and 134 TDs. He was a three-time Pro Bowler from 1964-1966 and was voted first-team All-Pro in 1965.

29. RB Mike Pruitt

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    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'
    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'

    Running Back Mike Pruitt spent the first nine years of his impressive NFL career with the Browns, amassing 6,540 rushing yards and 47 rushing TDs during that time.

    He also tacked on 1,761 receiving yards and five receiving TDs to those totals while playing in Cleveland. 

    Pruitt's stint with Cleveland stretched from 1976-1984, and he was a Pro Bowler in 1979 and 1980. He finished his career with just under two years in Kansas City and four games in Buffalo.

28. OT Dick Schafrath

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    OT Dick Schafrath, one of if not the greatest offensive linemen in in Browns history, played his entire career in Cleveland from 1959-1971.

    He was a six-time Pro Bowler and was selected to the first team All-Pro four times. Nicknamed "The Mule," Schafrath was known for his relentless determination and grueling work ethic. 

    After a brief stint as the Redskins offensive line coach, Schafrath later was a member of the Ohio senate from 1987-2000.

27. DT Bob Gain

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    Though his last name would probably have been more fitting for a running back or a receiver, Bob Gain was certainly no slouch as defensive tackle for the Browns from 1952-1964.

    Gain was a five-time Pro Bowler who racked up 22 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries during his career. He received first-team All-Pro honors once and second team All-Pro honors seven times. 

26. WR/P Gary Collins

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    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'
    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'

    During his career with the Browns from 1962-1971, Gary Collins acted as both a punter and as a wide receiver.

    He had 13,764 punting yards and 5,299 receiving yards along with an impressive 70 receiving TDs.

    Though he made the Pro Bowl in 1965 and 1966, Collins' receiving career was tarnished by the fact that he never recorded a 1,000-yard season and came close just once in 1966 when he accrued 946 yards.

25. WR Webster Slaughter

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    Though only the first six seasons of his NFL career were spent with the Browns, Webster Slaughter managed to make a tremendous impact on the Browns and their fans during his time in Cleveland from 1986-1991. 

    Slaughter had 4,834 receiving yards in that time and 27 receiving TDs, a bit more than half his career totals (8,111 receiving yards and 44 receiving TDs, the rest of which were amassed over three years in Houston and one each in Kansas City, New York (with the Jets) and San Diego

    Slaughter, oddly, is one of only a few players on this list who has not been given the "Legends" designation by the Browns, and the only one in the top 40 listed here who has been denied this honor. 

24. RB Greg Pruitt

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    Running Back Greg Pruitt's impressive career with the Browns spanned the years 1973-1981. In his nine years with Cleveland, he accrued 5,496 rushing yards and 25 rushing TDs as well as 3,022 receiving yards and 17 receiving TDs. 

    Pruitt was a Pro Bowler four times for the Browns and once for the Raiders, with whom he spent the last three seasons of his career. 

23. WR Ray Renfro

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    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'
    e.g. 'Chicago Blackhawks', 'Chicago Cubs'

    WR Ray Renfro's entire career was spent with the Browns from 1952-1963. He made the Pro Bowl three times and 5,508 receiving yards and 50 receiving TDs. 

    He led the league in yds/reception in 1955 with 20.8 and also had 682 rushing yards and four rushing TDs.

22. QB Brian Sipe

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    QB Brian Sipe leads the Browns in nearly every statistical category for a quarterback but is sadly mostly remembered for the interception that cost the Browns a trip to the Super Bowl on a play known as the tragic "Red Right 88." 

    The fact that he is mostly known for a moment of failure puts Sipe behind both Bernie Kosar and Otto Graham on this list, though we need to acknowledge his tremendous statistical accomplishments as a quarterback. 

    Sipe was with the Browns for his entire career from 1974-1983 and in that time amassed 23,713 passing yards and 154 TDs. Despite Sipe's inopportune interception, for most of his career he was a truly prolific passer.

21. DT Michael Dean Perry

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    From 1988-1994, DT Michael Dean Perry struck fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks across the league. 

    A five-time Pro Bowler with Cleveland, he racked up 51.5 sacks for the Browns along with 470 tackles and seven fumble recoveries. He was also first-team All-Pro in 1989 and 1990. 

20. CB Frank Minnifield

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    CB Frank Minnifield was one half of the late 1980s Dawg Defense for the Browns and together with Hanford Dixon, was part of what was perhaps the greatest CB tandem in NFL history and certainly the greatest tandem in Browns history. 

    Many feel that Minnifield deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his play, but unfortunately, much of what made him so good was not quantifiable with stats and didn't receive a tremendous amount of attention outside of Cleveland. 

    His low interception total (20) and the role he played in allowing The Drive to happen in 1987 (along with other disappointing play in the playoffs) are ultimately what probably cost him a nod in Canton, though Browns fans will always remember he and partner in crime Hanford Dixon as two of the best Cleveland has ever seen. 

19. CB Hanford Dixon

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    That of course brings us to Minnifield's other half in the Browns great CB tandem of the late 1980s, Hanford Dixon. 

    Dixon, credited with inventing the Dawg Pound, thanks to his love for barking at the fans in the Cleveland end zone seats after big plays, enjoys the same designation as Minnifield as being part of Cleveland's all-time best CB tandem but has also not received a Hall of Fame nod for the same reasons as his partner. 

    With 26 interceptions, Dixon too falls a bit short in that category for Hall of Fame consideration and like Minnifield, saw his chances injured by poor play in the playoffs and a share of the responsibility for allowing The Drive to happen. 

18. QB Bernie Kosar

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    Among all of the adored players in Browns history, there is perhaps no one more Beloved than QB Bernie Kosar, who nearly led the Browns to the Super Bowl several times in the mid-1980s, only to be stopped by nemesis John Elway. 

    Kosar had 21,904 passing yards for the Browns in his nine years with the team, as well as 116 TDs. 

    While he may not appear to have earned the 18th spot on this list statistically speaking, there were many other things about Kosar that made him the 18th most valuable player to the franchise of all time.

    Bernie was, above all else, a guy who knew how to win, how to lead and how to win over a fan base. He is living proof that there is more to football than just numbers. 

17. Left End Mac Speedie

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    Left End Mac Speedie, together with End Dante Lavelli (who appears further along in this list) was part of the greatest tandem of Browns receivers of all time, and perhaps one of the greatest receiving tandems in pro football history. 

    Unfortunately most of us never got to witness Speedie's spectacular play, as his career spanned from 1946-1952. in that time he amassed 5,602 receiving yards and 33 receiving TDs, tremendous totals for that era, particularly when you take into consideration that he was sharing receiving duties with the great Dante Lavelli.

    Speedie was a Hall of Fame finalist in 1970 and 1972 and a senior candidate in 1983 but unfortunately failed to be enshrined before he passed away.

16. G Gene Hickerson

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    Guard Gene Hickerson is among the best at his position not just for the Browns, but in NFL history, evident in his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. 

    In his long and productive career from 1958-1973, Hickerson was a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the greatest offensive linemen ever to grace a football field. 

15. G Joe Delamielleure

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    Guard Joe Delamielleure spent more of his career in Buffalo (eight years) than he did in Cleveland (five years) but nevertheless went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Brown. 

    Like Hickerson, he is considered not just one of the greatest offensive linemen ever to play for the Browns but one of the greatest ever to play in the NFL.

14. T Mike McCormack

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    Tackle Mike McCormack, who played for the Browns from 1954 to 1962, was a six-time Pro Bowler (five of which were with the Browns, the other with the New York Football Yanks in 1951). 

    McCormack received All-NFL honors every year of his career with the Browns and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

13. MG Bill Willis

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    Middle guard Bill Willis was a Browns lifer, playing for Cleveland from 1946-1953. 

    A member of the inaugural Browns team in 1946, Willis was a three-time Pro Bowler and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1977.

12. LB Clay Matthews Jr

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    Perhaps one of the few players who can rival Bernie Kosar for the most beloved Brown of all time is LB Clay Matthews Jr. 

    Matthews, known for his superior play despite his relative small size for his position, played for the Browns from 1978-1993. In his impressive 16 years with the Browns, he had 62 sacks, 14 interception, 13 fumble recoveries and 1,561 tackles. 

    He is widely considered to be the biggest Hall of Fame snub for the Browns of all time, though most believe that he will eventually be enshrined in Canton. 

11. WR/HB Bobby Mitchell

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    Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell played for the Browns from 1958-1961 (he was then traded to Washington, where he spent seven seasons), but many still think of him primarily as a Brown, often because most felt he should not have been traded. 

    In his career, Mitchell amassed 7,954 receiving yards and 65 receiving TDs as well as 2,735 rushing yards and 18 rushing TDs. Mitchell was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

10. C Frank Gatski

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    Center Frank Gatski was the Browns center from 1946 to 1957. It is difficult, admittedly, to think of a center as a top-10 player for any team, but then it's also pretty difficult to find a center anywhere in the league in any era who was as good as Gatski. 

    One of the things that made Gatski stand out? He never fumbled the snap. NEVER. 

    Gatski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, after failing to make it in as a finalist in 1976.

9. DE Len Ford

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    DE Len Ford played with the Browns from 1950-1957 and is considered among the all-time best defensive ends for the Browns and across the league. 

    While his statistics don't always indicate that, he was highly respected by his peers and considered an innovative player on defense. Ford was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in 1976. 

    While he is best known as a DE, he was also a force on offense at end, logging 1,175 career receiving yards and eight receiving TDs.

8. FB Marion Motley

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    FB Marion Motley mowed down opposing defenses for the Browns from 1946-1953. During those eight years, he racked up 4,712 rushing yards and a whopping 76 rushing TDs, as well as 1,107 receiving yards and seven receiving TDs.

    Motley was a two-time Pro Bowler and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.

7. K/OT Lou Groza

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    Kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza is one of the greatest kickers in NFL history and certainly the greatest ever to wear the orange and Brown. 

    In his seemingly never-ending career from 1946-1967, Groza racked up 264 field goals, 810 extra points and is still to this day the Browns all time leader at any position in points scored. 

    Groza was a nine-time Pro Bowler and was first-team All-Pro four times. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.

6. RB Leroy Kelly

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    RB Leroy Kelly beats out every rusher in Browns history except for the great Jim Brown, with 7,274 rushing yards and 74 rushing TDs. With the Browns from 1964-1973, he also accrued 2,281 receiving yards and 13 receiving TDs.

    He made the Pro Bowl six seasons in a row and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1994.

5. End Dante Lavelli

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    End Dante Lavelli is the exceptional other half of the receiving tandem mentioned earlier in this piece when discussing his partner Mac Speedie. 

    Lavelli was ahead of his time as a receiver in style and strategy, and he amassed 6,488 receiving yards and 62 receiving TDs in his career with the Browns from 1946-1956. 

    Lavelli made the Pro Bowl just three times in his career but was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

4. QB Otto Graham

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    Meet your top QB of all time, Cleveland: Otto Graham (was there any doubt?)

    Graham was essentially the Browns first QB, taking over the position in 1946 and setting up some big shoes to fill for every Browns QB who came after him right from the start. 

    In his career, Graham had 23,584 passing yards and 174 TDs. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and made first-team All-Pro seven times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1965.

3. WR Paul Warfield

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    Checking in at No. 3 all-time for the Browns is the great Paul Warfield, a wide receiver who is, to this day, one of the best ever to play in the NFL.

    Warfield was drafted in 1964 and played with the Browns until 1969, after which he went to Miami for five seasons, one of which was the Dolphins 1972 perfect season. At the end of his career, he returned to the Browns for two more seasons in 1976-77. 

    In his eight years in Cleveland, Warfield racked up 5,210 receiving yards (as well as an additional 3,355 in Miami) and 52 receiving TDs (as well as an additional 33 with Miami). 

    Warfield was an eight-time Pro Bowler in his career and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1983.

2. TE Ozzie Newsome

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    Who else? No. 2 all time for the Browns is the legendary Wizard of Oz, otherwise known as TE Ozzie Newsome. 

    The greatest TE of all time when he retired (and still among the best, to this day), Newsome was an offensive juggernaut. 

    Newsome spent his entire career with the Browns from 1978-1990, during which time he had 7,980 receiving yards and 47 receiving TDs. Impressive numbers for a WR but even more impressive for a TE. 

    Perhaps most impressive though, in his entire career, Newsome fumbled just three times. 

    He was of course elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999 after being a finalist in 1997 and 1998.

1. FB Jim Brown

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    It is without a doubt that the greatest player ever to wear the orange and brown was Fullback Jim Brown. He is the greatest rusher the Browns have ever seen and the greatest player at any position the Browns have ever seen. 

    Many think he is also the greatest running back of all time for any team, and there are those who would still take it a step further and say he is the greatest football player of all time. 

    In his career (all of it with the Browns) from 1957-1965, Brown certainly amassed the numbers to back up such an argument. Brown had 12,312 rushing yards and 106 rushing TDs and an additional 2,499 receiving yards and 20 receiving TDs.

    Perhaps more important to his No. 1 designation here than his stats is the fact that Brown literally changed the game. His style and innovation of rushing changed the NFL's ground game forever and for the better. Brown is not just a legend in Cleveland, he is a legend in football. 

    Brown made the Pro Bowl in nine of his ten seasons and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.