There have been countless great players that have played in the NFL throughout the years.
A few players that come to mind are: Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Reggie White, etc.
However, this list stems to look for the most unique players in NFL history.
The criteria that I used for unique are:
- unusual characteristics
- uncommon NFL season and career records
- uncommon circumstances
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the list and feel free to leave suggestions or feedback in the comments section below.
**Note** I decided to ignore anything concerning unique personalities due to countless articles everywhere that already illustrate that point.
Jerome Bettis - bowled perfect 300
Randy Moss - owns a fruit smoothie franchise in West Virginia and owns a NASCAR truck team
Terry Bradshaw - Only NFL player with a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Washington Redskins - Did not have a first-round pick during the entire 1970s!
Miami Dolphins - Have only drafted two QBs in the first round—HOFs Bob Griese and Dan Marino
Cleveland Browns - Only NFL team still not to have a primary logo on their helmet
Tony Gonzalez, Julius Peppers and Terrell Owens are examples of NFL players who also played basketball in college.
However, what makes Antonio Gates and Marcus Pollard unique is that they never played football in college.
Moreover, another unique thing about Pollard is that he went to a school that DIDN'T EVEN HAVE A FOOTBALL TEAM!!
He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 1995 and become one of the best passing TEs in the league during his 10-year tenure with the Colts.
Gates played basketball at Kent State and averaged 16 points per game in his junior year and 20.6 points his senior year.
Despite not playing college football, he is now in the debate among the best TEs to ever play the game.
seven-time Pro Bowler
NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Everything about Doug Flutie screams unique. Throughout his career, he went to the USFL out of college for a year and then to the NFL for a couple of years. After that, he went to the CFL for four years and starred and returned back to the NFL and even went to a Pro Bowl.
In addition, he is listed at 5'10" but is rumored to be shorter, which is unreal for a QB in this modern day of the NFL.
However, despite his extraordinary career path, he is on this list for something else.
On January 1st, 2006 against the Miami Dolphins, Doug Flutie of the New England Patriots successfully kicked a drop kick for an extra point.
Before that, the last time that a drop kick was successful in the NFL was in 1941!
Walter Payton, Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, LT and several other running backs are examples of running backs who have had an effect on the game by rushing, receiving, returning and even passing.
However, no matter how great the running back, they are always compared to Gale Sayers.
Best known for his relationship with former teammate Brian Piccolo thanks to the movie Brian's Song, Gale Sayers was a unique player ahead of his time.
Most running backs from the 1960s and before were known for hard-nosed running like Larry Csonka or a speedy outside running back like Mercury Morris.
However, Gale Sayers dominated the game during his first three seasons by rushing, passing, receiving and the return game.
After that, injuries took a toll on his career.
Stats through the first three seasons:
1,080 receiving yards, nine TDs , 13.67 yards per catch
2,978 rushing yards, 29 TDs, 5.1 yards per rush
111 passing yards, 4-of-14, one TD, two INTs
1981 kick return yards, six TDs, 33.02 avg
362 punt return yards, two TDs, 14.48 avg
** Photo Courtesy of Posters57.com
Marvcus Patton can be on this list for the reason that he played 13 seasons in the NFL and never missed a regular season game.
However, what truly makes Marvcus truly unique is that he is the son of a former professional football player...Barbara Patton of the Women's Professional Football League.
This is one instance where you can say "Mom showed him best!"
Rodney Harrison was a great tackler and a big-time hitter.
Unfortunately, he was also regarded as "the most dirty player" in the NFL on a couple of occasions by players in the NFL.
In fact, he holds the record for most personal fouls committed in an NFL career.
However, another unique aspect of Rodney Harrison is that Ray Lewis and he are the only players in NFL history to be a part of the 30-30 club, which is 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in their career.
**Note: Ronde Barber is 4 sacks away from becoming the second member of this club.
Sterling and Shannon Sharpe
We may never know how great of a career Sterling Sharpe could have had.
We do know that Shannon Sharpe had a fantastic career that ended up in the Hall of Fame.
However, in the 1994 season, they completed a unique feat of being the only brothers to each have a 1,000-yard receiving season in the same season.
Shannon got it done in Denver, and Sterling obtained it in Green Bay.
Jim Pyne is unique because his family was the first in NFL history to have three generations to play in the NFL.
His grandfather, George Pyne II, played for the Providence Steam Roller in 1931.
His father, George Pyne III, played for the Boston Patriots (AFL) in 1965.
He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns as an offensive lineman.
Clay Matthews III is a part of the second family in NFL history with three generations to play in the NFL.
The big difference between Jim Pyne and Clay Matthews is that Clay Matthews has three generations...of the same name!
Clay Matthews Sr. - four-year veteran of the San Francisco 49ers(1950, 1953-55)
Clay Matthews Jr. - 19-year veteran for the Cleveland Browns (1978-93) and Atlanta Falcons (1994-96)
Clay Matthews III - Dominant pass-rushing linebacker on the Green Bay Packers (2009-present)
In fact, the NFL practically runs through the family... try to keep up if you can.
Clay Matthews Jr.'s brother is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews.
Bruce Matthews's son is Kevin Matthews, offensive lineman for the Tennessee Titans (2010-present).
Clay Matthews III's brother is Casey Matthews, a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft to the Eagles.
However, what makes them truly unique is that out of about 350 cases of brothers in NFL history, they are the only brothers to each be taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
In fact, another unique fact is that they were the only brothers not only to win the Super Bowl in consecutive years but win the Super Bowl MVP in consecutive years too.
Random tidbit: They are a second-generation family and could have been the only father-son combo to both be drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL draft (Archie Manning was drafted No. 2 overall in the 1971 NFL Draft.
If you look at the stats, you would think that Troy Polamalu is one of the most overrated players in the NFL.
Through 8 seasons:
- 27 INTs
- 8 Forced Fumbles
- 4 Fumble Recoveries
- 3 Defensive TDs
In fact, I always love arguing for how Ed Reed is better.
However, if you actually watch his games, there is no question that Troy Polamalu is a unique talent. First, he is one of the shortest safeties in NFL history.
Next, he does everything expected of an elite safety from the great catches and hard hits.
However, what truly makes him unique is his football instinct.
There are countless times where he blows up a play in the backfield or makes plays in the secondary that few have ever saw.
Therefore, he is unique because he is a modern NFL player that has become a great player despite not having the best stats.
**Addition courtesy of Fatboy Slim
Bo Jackson + Tecmo Bowl = Pure Dominance.
Unfortunately, due to a hip injury, we can only dream of how great of a player Bo Jackson truly could have been.
Being drafted by other professional leagues is commonplace, especially when players are coming out of high school.
However, what made Bo Jackson truly unique is that he decided to play two professional sports...at the same time.
It had been done in the 30s, 40s and 50s, but it is arguable that he was the best to do it.
In four NFL seasons, he rushed for 2,782 yards averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 16 TDs.
In four MLB seasons before the injury, he averaged about 27 home runs and his best season consisted of
32 HRs and 105 RBI, which is pretty impressive.
Like the previous slide, Deion "Neon Deion" "Primetime" Sanders was also known for being a two-sport player. In fact, he is the only player to play in both the World Series and the Super Bowl.
While it was amazing enough that he was a two-sport player, being a three-way player is what made Deion unique.
He is well-known for his cover skills due to his label as a "shutdown" corner and 54 career interceptions. However, he is also well-known for his returning skills and his role on offense where he was utilized as both a receiver and occasional rusher.
Finally, he is the only player in MLB and NFL history to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week.
Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Warren Sapp formed one of the most underrated defenses under Tony Dungy and, for a brief period, under Jon Gruden.
In fact, Barber has been one of the most consistent cornerbacks in the NFL since he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1997 NFL Draft.
Coincidentally, his twin brother, Tiki Barber, has also had a good career, rushing for over 10,000 yards before his early retirement at the age of 31.
There were about 10 players apart of the 20-20 club, which is 20 sacks and 20 interceptions. What originally made Ronde unique is that he was the only cornerback to be a part of that club.
Now, what makes him unique is that he is the only player in NFL history to record 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in his career.
**Addition courtesy of Spencer Tucksen
Carson Palmer at one point in time, was considered one of the top 5 QBs in the NFL. However, through injuries and inconsistency on the field, he has not maintained the Pro Bowl ability that he showed early in his career.
Despite that, one of his teammates, Jordan Palmer, is both a sibling and a quarterback.
Therefore, what makes this unique is that it made them only the second brother combo during the Super Bowl era to both play quarterback on the same team (Koy Detmer and Ty Detmer both played on the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997).
Moreover, on November 21, 2010 against the Buffalo Bills, they became the only QB brothers in NFL history to play quarterback for the same team in the same game.
**Addition courtesy of Austin Korte
Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis
Haloti Ngata is one of the best defensive tackles that we have ever seen in the NFL.
However, it is becoming more commonplace in the NFL to have a DT around the size of 6'4" and 330 lbs.
Therefore, what makes Ngata unique is his speed, quickness and versatility for his size. In fact, according to ESPN Jeffrey Chadiha's article on his life, his versatility was clearly shown in his second season.
He was utilized by Rex Ryan as a linebacker and a safety at least 10-12 plays each game.
For proof of this analysis, here is the article that I'm referring to:
Since the days of Marshall Faulk, more running backs are starting to become more of a dual-threat. However, small backs are still frowned upon as much as small QBs.
This explains why there are only two featured running backs under 5'10" in the top 25 in rushing yards last year.
- Ray Rice (5'8")
- Maurice Jones-Drew (5'7")
**As listed by NFL.com
However, what makes Maurice Jones-Drew a little more unique is that, although he is listed at 5'7", he is actually 5'6" according to the NFL draft combine.
Therefore, he is arguably the shortest feature back in NFL history, and he has been able to have an impact by rushing, receiving and even as a kick returner.
Granted, there are four players in this slide, but each one was unique.
With William Perry, he became the "largest FB" ever! With Mike Ditka inserting him as a lead blocker for goal line situations, he became a fan favorite overnight. Moreover, he occasionally got a hand off to try to get the touchdown.
With Mike Vrabel, he was a good defensive linebacker but he was "Mr. Perfect" on offense.
In his career, he had 10 receptions for 10 touchdowns.
With Troy Brown, he was a good receiver and a good returner, but for the 2004 season, he was needed on defense. He ended up recording three interceptions for the season and showing off the great versatility of the Patriots.
With Warren Sapp, he was a great defensive tackle but a good receiver as well. In fact, he has two career receiving touchdowns to show for it and one of the greatest celebrations of all time.
Here's a video of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZ8QsfqAa2k
Brett Favre holds so many records that it is hard to count them by now. Among them are:
- 3 straight MVPs
- Most consecutive game streak at 297 by a non-kicker
- Most passing yards
- Most Passing TDs
- Most Interceptions
However, what makes him unique is that he arguably holds the record for most retirements by an NFL player at three.
In addition, he is also the first and only QB in NFL history to defeat all 32 teams in the NFL.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are second all-time on the list by beating 31 teams (Can you guess the one team each of them have not beaten?)
**Addition courtesy of David Olsen
When he first entered the league, he became the NFL's version of the "utility player." He could be placed anywhere and thrive. The only question was where Pittsburgh was going to place him.
In the end, they ended up placing him at QB, and he gave a brief look of what a QB with speed could do against a modern defense.
He was able to have a couple of good seasons overall in his career.
However, what makes him unique is that more people dream of how great of a receiver he could have been instead of the quarterback he was in the league.
In fact, the same dilemma fits another current NFL player: Brad Smith of the Buffalo Bills.
Will he continue to be a wide receiver or follow the path of "Slash?"
People say that kickers are easily replaceable and shouldn't even be looked upon as a football player.
If history is correct, then Mark Moseley would be able to say differently.
During the 1982 strike-shortened season, he became the only kicker in NFL history to win the MVP award.
He made 20 out of 21 field goal attempts and 16 out of 19 extra point attempts.
I thought I would never see the day a kicker won the MVP award.
**Photo courtesy of NFL.com
He is considered the "greatest QB in Navy history," and his contributions didn't end at Navy.
He would have an 11-year career with the Dallas Cowboys that included two Super Bowl titles, six Pro Bowls, 1970s NFL All-Decade team and five-time All-NFL selections.
In all due respect, Pat Tillman and others that fight for our freedom deserve our gratitude and respect.
Therefore, any player that is willing to forego their NFL career for the military is truly unique.
Before he even started his NFL career, Staubach was required to do five years of military service, including a stop in Vietnam.
These three were added because they are all undrafted free agents with three different paths to their NFL careers.
With Warren Moon, after becoming undrafted, he played five seasons in the CFL.
His team would win an unprecedented five straight Grey Cups during his tenure.
After that, NFL teams started to bid for him and he was finally given an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Thus, he did not play his first game in the NFL until the age of 27 but would end up being one of the best quarterbacks of all-time.
Over the course of his career, he became a nine-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All Pro.
Moreover, he amassed 49,325 passing yards and 350 TDs. If the NFL combined his stats with the CFL, he would have gain over 70,000 passing yards for his career.
In fact, he is the only player in football history to be a part of both the Canadian Football HOF and the NFL Hall of Fame.
Adam Vinatieri played college ball with Division II South Dakota State. After he went undrafted in the NFL draft, he actually played a season in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals.
His team would lose in the World Bowl III, but he would be signed by the New England Patriots as a free agent in 1996.
The rest is history. He has played in five Super Bowls with the Colts and Patriots (sat out the sixth one with an injury), winning four of them and has been labeled as one of the "Greatest clutch kickers in NFL history!"
In addition, he was named to NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team.
Kurt Warner's story is truly remarkable. After being undrafted in the 1994 NFL draft, he was signed by Green Bay but released before the regular season started.
Therefore, he stocked shelves at a Hy-vee grocery store and became a graduate assistant at Northern Iowa. After that, he played in the AFL (Arena Football League for the 1996 and 1997 seasons and finished first team All-Arena both years.
After the 1997 season, he got a tryout with the Chicago Bears, but an injury to his throwing elbow prevented it from occurring.
Then, he signed with the St. Louis Rams for the 1998 season, and he actually was the third-string backup to Tony Banks and Steve Bono.
Finally, in 1999, the Rams signed Trent Green, but due to an injury, he became the starter and his career took off.
Similar to Moon, he didn't get to start a game until the age of 28, but he would become one of the most dominant quarterbacks of the 2000s.
He has played in three Super Bowls, winning only in his first appearance (1999).
Moreover, he has countless records that could be an article on its own.
However, the most remarkable tidbit is that he owns the first, second and third spots for most passing yards thrown in a Super Bowl.
George Blanda is one of the most unique players in NFL history. Throughout his career, he was used as a quarterback and a kicker.
There are a couple of other things that make him unique.
He was the first player to ever score more than 2,000 career points.
In addition, he was made strictly a kicker instead of a QB/K three different times in his career.
Finally, he had a 26-year career, longest in NFL history, that spanned over four decades...only one other player has played in four different decades (John Carney).
**Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports Blogs
Anthony Munoz is considered one of the greatest offensive lineman of all time. He played 13 seasons for the Cincinatti Bengals, and he went to 11 straight Pro Bowls, was a nine-time All-Pro and was a part of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
However, what made him unique is that he is one of the greatest receiving tackles in NFL history too!
Throughout his career, he caught seven receptions for 18 yards and four TDs.
Bob Kuechenberg is arguably one of the most versatile, toughest and greatest offensive lineman of all-time.
He held the record for most games played as a Dolphin when he retired and played at the tackle, center and guard position.
However, what truly made him unique is that he became the only player to be an All-Pro at two different positions in the same season. In 1978, he played eight games at guard and seven games at tackle.
Thus, he was selected to the Pro Bowl as a guard but received the All-Pro honor at both positions.
** Photo courtesy of Fanbase.com
Bob Steuber was one of the best running backs in the history of the Big Eight at Mizzou.
In fact, he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1943 NFL draft. However, after his first NFL game, he reported to the Navy to help with World War II.
The Navy made him report to DePauw University for training as an aviation cadet. While on campus, he and other Navy cadets noticed that the DePauw team struggled in its first game and requested to also be a part of the football team.
With little objection from the opposition, he would help the DePauw team outscore their opponents 206-6 in a five-game stretch.
Hence, he has been dubbed "The Best Pro a College Ever Had," and possibly, could be the first and only player to be allowed to return to college football after playing in the pros.
** Photo Courtesy of collegefootball.org
Jerry Rice is undoubtedly the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.).
In fact, one of his most unique records is that he had 11 straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
However, the GOAT is on this list because he is the only WR in NFL history to start in the NFL over the age of 40.
In fact, he started a game at 42 years old for the Seattle Seahawks in 2004.
In fact, he was the oldest non-kicker to ever play in the Super Bowl when he played for the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII at the age of 40.
Bill Dudley is arguably one of the most underrated players in NFL history.
There are a couple of things that made him truly a unique player.
First, he is the only player in NFL history to have a rushing touchdown, touchdown reception, punt return touchdown, kickoff return touchdown, interception return touchdown, fumble return touchdown, and a touchdown pass. Furthermore, that doesn't also include that he also kicked PATs and field goals.
Also, the other thing is that Dudley is the only player in NFL history to be the regular season leader in a offensive, defensive, and special teams category.
During the 1946 season, he led the NFL in rushing (604 yards), interceptions (10), and punt returns (27 total for 385 yards).
**Photo Courtesy of detroitlions.com
** Addition Courtesy of Nick Haynes
Sav Rocca played 15 years in the AFL/VFL and was rumored to be able to kick the ball about 65 yards straight ahead in his prime. Towards the end of his career, he decided to train a couple of years as a punter before trying out for the NFL.
After being invited to training camp in 2007 to the Philadelphia Eagles, he would eventually beat out incumbent Dirk Johnson for the punter position.
What makes this situation unique is that it made Sav Rocca the oldest rookie in NFL history at the age of 33.
Amobi Okoye became the youngest rookie in NFL History at the age of 20 years 91 days when he played for the Houston Texans in 2007.
Ray Guy's name is constantly heard any time someone discusses Hall Of Fame snubs.
He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a six-time All-Pro.
However, what made him most unique is that he is the only punter in NFL history to have been drafted in the first round.
Steve Little, Russell Erxleben, and Sebastian Janikowski are notable kickers that have been drafted in the 1st round.
However, what makes Charles Gogolak unique is that he is the only kicker in NFL history to be drafted in the top-10 of the NFL Draft.
He was selected 6th overall by the Washington Redskins in the 1966 NFL Draft.
In addition, another thing that makes him unique is that he was one of the first "soccer-style" kickers to play in the NFL.
Moreover, his brother, Pete Gogolak, is considered the pioneer to the "soccer-style" kick that is popular in the NFL today rather than the "straight-on" approach seen in videos as late as the 1970s.
Fun fact: Pete and Charlie Gogolak combined to score 14 extra points in a 72-41 win by Charlie's Washington Redskins.
It is said to be tied for the most ever in terms of extra points.
As of now, Steve Young is the greatest left-handed quarterback of all time.
In fact, he is the only left-handed quarterback to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Upon his retirement, he also held the highest QB rating of all time for a career.
Another unique part of Steve Young is that he is the great-great-great-grandson of Mormon Leader Brigham Young, which could explain why he went to Brigham Young University (BYU).
Ellis Jones was an outstanding guard and linebacker at the University of Tulsa for three years and even became an All-American in 1944.
He would go on and play in the NFL for the Boston Yanks for one season.
The most unique part is that he was able to play football with just one arm.
Due to a childhood accident at 11 years old, one of his arms was amputated eight inches below the shoulder.
**Photo Courtesy of Corbis.com
Julius Jones and Thomas Jones became the first brothers to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season (2006).
Julius Jones did it with the Dallas Cowboys, and Thomas Jones did it with the Chicago Bears.
Jason Taylor is one of the more versatile defensive linemen in the NFL today.
What makes JT unique is that he holds the NFL's all-time record for most defensive touchdowns by a lineman with eight. Three of them have come from interceptions, and five of them have come from fumbles.
Shaun Rogers is undoubtedly be a talented defensive lineman.
Despite concerns of his conditioning or lack of dedication, he does have the unique achievement of holding the NFL record of most blocked kicks at 17.
In fact, the player in second place is none other than the versatile defensive lineman Julius Peppers at 10.
**Addition courtesy of Ryan Bournigal
Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk are the only two running backs in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and receive 1,000 yards in the same season.
In fact, Marshall Faulk was 92 receiving yards short of having another season in 1999.
Barry Sanders is arguably the best running back of all-time.
In fact, it's highly debatable that, if he had not retired, he would hold the mark for most rushing yards in a career.
However, what made him most unique is that he is the only running back in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard rushing yard season in every season that he played.
**Addition courtesy of Andy R
Randall Cunningham, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, and Roger Staubach are examples of quarterbacks that were fantastic scramblers.
In fact, Tarkenton is defined as the person that 'shone' the light for future scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL.
However, Mike Vick has accomplished a unique achievement in comparison to these players.
Yes, he got indicted for dogfighting but that was not the unique achievement that I was referring to.
In 2006, he became the only NFL quarterback in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard rushing season.
In that case, he is also the only player in NFL history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
**Addition courtesy of Josh Levengood
Each of these players are undoubtedly great NFL players.
However, what makes each of them unique is that they are the only players in NFL history to win the national championship and the Heisman trophy in college and then win the Super Bowl in the NFL.
Therefore, Marcus Allen is the only NFL player to also win the MVP.
Moreover, Charles Woodson is the only NFL player to also win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
When the Boston Patriots (New England Patriots) drafted him with the No. 1 pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, Plunkett became the first player in NFL history of Hispanic origin to be drafted No. 1 overall in the draft.
Also, similar to the players in the previous slide, he won the Heisman and the Super Bowl. However, what makes him unique is that he is the only player to be the No. 1 overall pick, win the Super Bowl, Super Bowl MVP, and the Heisman.
Sadly, he is also the only QB eligible for the Hall of Fame that has won two Super Bowls but has not been inducted.
**Addition courtesy of Rodd Cayton
In fact, Jim Plunkett's coach on the L.A. Raiders was Tom Flores, whom was the first Hispanic coach in NFL history.
However, he is also known for being the first Hispanic quarterback in NFL history when he played for the Oakland Raiders in the AFL.
He would eventually become the 5th leading passer in AFL history!
Thus, what makes him unique is he is the first Hispanic and only one of two people (the other is Mike Ditka) to win the Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach, and as a head coach.
Tom Dempsey was one of the best long-range field goal kickers in NFL history. In fact, he is tied for the longest NFL field goal of 63 yards with Jason Elam.
However, the most unique part of this is that Tom Dempsey was born without a right hand and a right foot that was half the size of his left foot.
As seen in the photo, he had a specially designed shoe for his right foot, which happened to be his kicking foot.
Even more remarkable is that he did with a "straight kick" rather than the common "soccer-style kick" seen in the NFL today.
**Photo courtesy of Realsportsheroes.com
**Addition courtesy to Price Zimmer