The Greatest Players in NFL History at Each Position
The NFL is, and always has been, composed of some of the best athletes in the world. Everyone who has played at the highest level is an amazing football player, even those who can only make the practice squad. Some players, however, make others look like they don't belong in the league. Those players are called superstars.
This is a list of players that make the superstars look like they don't belong. Some of these players are bigger, stronger, faster, smarter and just flat out want it more then others, and some of these players have all of those traits wrapped up into one.
So here it is, the greatest players in NFL history at each position.
Quarterback: Joe Montana
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Montana made the Pro Bowl eight times and was first team All-Pro three times in his 15-year career. He was a two-time NFL MVP, winning it back to back in 1989 and 1990. He was a great regular season quarterback who finished his career with 40,551 passing yards and 273 touchdowns. He only threw 139 interceptions, which is a phenomenal TD/INT ratio.
He was great in the regular season, but Joe played the best when it counted most. Joe has a number of playoff records for quarterbacks, including wins (16), completions (460), passing yards (5,772) and touchdowns (45). He also has five comeback wins and five game winning drives in the postseason.
Montana has four Super Bowl rings and played great in those games, winning the Super Bowl MVP on three occasions. His 127.8 QB rating in the big game is the highest ever, his completion percentage was 68 percent and he threw for 1,142 yards and 11 touchdowns. One of his most important and amazing stats is that he never threw an interception in his four Super Bowl wins.
Runner Up: Otto Graham
Fullback: Jim Brown
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Jim Brown was a beast among men. He was a 6'2", 230-pound wrecking ball that made linebackers look like corners and corners look like kickers.
He played nine seasons in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl all nine years. He led the league in rushing eight times, and touchdowns five times. Brown didn't just lead the league in rushing, he dominated the ground game. In his eight seasons leading the NFL, he averaged 416 rushing yards more then the next best player.
When Brown retired, he was the all-time career leader in rushing yards (12,312) and touchdowns (106), and still holds the record for yards per carry (5.2).
Runner Up: Marion Motley
Running Back: Barry Sanders
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Sanders was one of the most talented runners in NFL history. His elusiveness was unmatched and he broke more ankles then A.I.
Sanders played ten seasons, and made the Pro Bowl in all ten. He was also voted to the All-Pro team in all ten seasons, six being first team All-Pro. He finished his career with 15,269 yards and 109 total touchdowns.
His average of 1,527 rushing yards per season is an NFL record, and his 99.8 rushing yards per game is a Super Bowl era record, along with his 5.0 yards per carry. He is the only running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in every season of his career. Sanders was voted offensive player of the year in 1994 and 1997, and also league MVP in 1997.
Runner Up: Walter Payton
Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice
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He wasn't the biggest, he wasn't the strongest, he wasn't the fastest, but Rice could flat out play. He was an excellent route runner and could catch the ball like no other.
Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowler, 12 times in San Francisco, including 11 in a row from 1986-1996, and one time in Oakland in 2002 at the age of 40. Rice was the offensive player of the year in 1987 and 1993. He is the career leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197), and it’s not even close.
Rice was a key component in three of San Francisco's Super Bowl titles. He holds almost every playoff receiving record, including most career playoff games (28), most career playoff receptions (151), most career playoff receiving yards (2,245) and most career playoff receiving touchdowns (22). He also holds the Super Bowl records for most receptions (33), yards (589) and touchdowns (8), and was named Super Bowl XXIII MVP.
Runner Up: Randy Moss
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez
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Tony Gonzalez is the Jerry Rice of tight ends.
He holds almost every major tight end record, including most receptions (1,069), most receiving yards (12,463), most touchdown receptions (88), most seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards (4), most receptions in a single season (102), and has been invited to the Pro Bowl on 11 occasions.
That's all that needs to be said.
Runner Up: Kellen Winslow (Sr).
Offensive Tackle: Anthony Munoz
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Munoz is considered by most to be the greatest lineman in NFL history.
He was a 6'6", 278-pound force on the Bengals' line for 13 years. He made his first of 11 straight Pro Bowls in his second season, and nine of those years he was named a first team All-Pro lineman. Munoz was the Offensive Lineman of the Year on three occasions; winning it in 1981, 1987 and 1988.
He helped lead the Bengals to their only two Super Bowl berths, both narrow losses to the 49ers. In 2010, he was ranked No. 12 on the NFL Network Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players, which was the highest ranking for an offensive lineman
Runner Up: Forrest Gregg
Offensive Guard: John Hannah
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Hannah was a first ballot Hall of Fame guard for the New England Patriots. He is often regarded as the best guard ever to play the game. In 1981, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the words, "The Best Offensive Lineman of All Time."
Hannah was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a seven-time first team All-Pro guard. He was selected to the 1970's and 1980's all-decade teams and the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.
He was part of the 1978 Patriots team that set an NFL record of 3,165 rushing yards.
Runner Up: Bruce Matthews
Center: Jim Otto
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Otto was one of the most durable lineman ever to play, as he played and started all 210 games of his career. He was 6'2" and 255 pounds, and was one of the hardest working players ever to put on an NFL uniform.
He made 12 Pro Bowls in his career from 1961-1972, and was a first team All-Pro center on 10 occasions, which is an NFL record.
Runner Up: Mike Webster
Defensive End: Reggie White
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White played 15 seasons in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl in every season but his first and last. White was a first team All-Pro defensive end eight times, six consecutive times from 1986-1991 with the Eagles, and two more times with the Packers.
He finished his career with 198 sacks, which was the NFL record at the time. Each of his first nine seasons he had double digit sack totals, which is an NFL record. In 1987, he recorded 21 sacks (In 12 games) which is the third highest single season total ever. This helped him to win the first of his two Defensive Player of the Year awards. His second D-POY award came with the Green Bay Packers when he was 37 years old.
Reggie averaged 13.2 sacks per season in his career, which is the NFL record since sacks have been recorded.
Runner Up: Deacon Jones
Defensive Tackle: Bob Lilly
Otherwise known as "Mr. Cowboy," Lilly was the first ever draft pick of the Cowboys, the first to go to the NFL Hall of Fame and remains one of the greatest players in franchise history. He had the moves and speed of an end and the size of a D-tackle.
He played his first three seasons at defensive end, and made the Pro Bowl once. Landry moved him to defensive tackle during the 1963 season. In 1964, his first full season as a defensive tackle, he made his first of 10 straight Pro Bowls, and was a first team All-Pro tackle.
Lilly was the uncontainable and unstoppable force of the Cowboys original “Doomsday Defense.” He led the Cowboys’ defense to Super Bowl IV, where they shut down the Dolphins offense and won the game 24-3. The Dolphins still remain the only team not to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl.
Runner Up: "Mean" Joe Greene
Outside Linebacker: Lawrence Taylor
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L.T. made the Pro Bowl in every one of his first 10 seasons, and was a first team All-Pro nine times in his first nine seasons. He was Defensive Player of the Year three times, his rookie season in 1981 (only rookie ever to win award), 1982 and 1986. He is one of two defensive players to win the NFL MVP Award (1986).
Taylor finished his career with 132.5 sacks which, at the time, was good for the second highest total ever. In his 1986 MVP season he started all 16 games for the 14-2 Giants, recorded 20.5 sacks and lead the Giants to a Super Bowl title. His dominance on defense led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles, despite having average offenses.
L.T. is one of the most intimidating defensive players of all-time, and he revolutionized the linebacker position.
Runner Up: Jack Ham
Middle Linebacker: Ray Lewis
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Ray Lewis is one of the most accomplished defensive players in NFL history.
He has been to 12 Pro Bowls, selected as a first team All-Pro linebacker on seven occasions, is a two time recipient of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award (2000 and 2003) and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, while leading his team to a dominant victory over the Giants.
He is an absolute beast, and gives it his all on every play. If there's a player out there with more heart and passion for the game then Lewis, I've yet to see him. So far, his career totals are 1,951 tackles, 18 forced fumbles, 31 interceptions and 40.5 sacks. Last season, he became the second member of the 30-30 club (30 sacks and 30 picks), joining Rodney Harrison. Now that is one hell of a resume.
Runner Up: Dick Butkus
Safety: Ronnie Lott
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Lott finished his career with 63 interceptions and 1,113 tackles.
He made the Pro Bowl ten times, and was first team All-Pro six times. He was voted to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000, his first year of eligibility. He is also a member of the NFL's 1980’s and 1990’s All-Decade teams, as well as the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. And, he was also a major part of of four 49ers' Super Bowl titles during the 80's.
Lott is considered one of the toughest and hardest hitting players ever to step onto an NFL field. In a 1985 game against the Cowboys, Lott’s pinky finger was crushed and mangled in a collision with running back Timmy Newsome. He left the game to get it taped up but, once it was, he endured the pain and went back into the game. At the end of the season he had the choice between amputating his finger or getting surgery that would repair the finger but would cost him playing time. Lott chose to get the top of his finger amputated because he didn’t want to miss any games.
I don't know if Lott has more heart then Ray Lewis, but he certainly has just as much (because honestly I think Ray would have made the same decision).
Runner Up: Ed Reed
Cornerback: Night Train Lane
"Night Train" Lane isn't a name the average fan may know, but they should. Not only is he one of the greatest cornerbacks the game has ever seen, or one of the greatest defensive players ever, Lane is one of the greatest football players ever, regardless of position.
As a child, Lane was literally found by a woman in a dumpster. She took him in and raised him. After high school, he went to junior college for a year, but dropped out to join the military. In 1962, at the age of 24, Lane showed up at the Rams' training camp looking for a job. He tried out as a receiver, but was switched to cornerback and made the team.
In his first season he snagged 14 interceptions, which was, and still is, an NFL record. He did that in a twelve-game season. He played one more season with the Rams before being traded to the Cardinals and later the Lions.
In 14 seasons, "Night Train" had 68 picks and 1,207 interception return yards. He made seven Pro Bowls and was selected a first team All-Pro three times. Though he was snubbed from both honors several times in his career (most likely because he was a black player in the 50's and 60's).
Not only was Lane a great cover man and ball hawk, he was one of the most vicious hitters the game has ever seen. He loved derailing opponents at the head and neck, which was a legal play at the time. This became known as the "Night Train Necktie."
Runner Up: Deion Sanders
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
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Many people don't consider kickers athletes, and they may be right. Even though they're not "athletes" per se, they are without a doubt a vital part of every NFL team.
Adam Vinatieri may not have the biggest foot of any kicker, and if you need a 55-yard field goal in the second quarter, he may not be your guy. But, if it's the fourth quarter, the game is on the line and all you need is a field goal to win or tie, he's definitely your guy.
There has never been a better big-game, clutch-situation kicker than Vinatieri. He had one of the most famous field goals in NFL history in the "Tuck Rule" game against the Raiders in the 2001 AFC Championship. He hit a 45-yarder in blizzard conditions to send the game to overtime. In overtime, he hit another field goal to win the game. In the Super Bowl, he hit a 48-yarder on the final play of the game to secure the upset and the Pats' first Super Bowl Title. Two years later, in the Super Bowl against the Panthers, Vinatieri hit a 41-yard field goal with four seconds left to once again win the game for the Patriots.
When he left the Patriots after the 2005 season, he had kicked a total of 18 game-winning field goals with less then a minute left.
Vinatieri holds the postseason records for most field goals (42), for consecutive games with 3+ field goals (four), for most career points (187), for most field goals in single postseason (14), for most field goals in the Super Bowl (seven), for most total points in a single postseason (49) and most field goals in a single postseason game (five).
Runner Up: Morten Andersen
Punter: Shane Lechler
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Lechler has the highest career punting average in NFL history at 47.5 yards per punt.
He has led the league in punting average five times in his career, and he has only averaged under 45 yards per punt once in his 11-year career. Lechler's career average is higher then Ray Guy's highest single season total.
He is a six-time Pro Bowler and has also been selected a first team All-Pro punter six times.
Runner Up: Ray Guy
Kick Returner: Gale Sayers
Sayers is most known for his flashy play at running back, but he was also an explosive kick returner.
Sayers had six career kick returns for a touchdown, and he recorded all six in the first three years of his five-year career. It only took him 56 returns to get those six touchdowns, which is an NFL record. He also held the record for career kick returns for 30 years but, recently, Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington have surpassed him (eight and seven). Sayers has only returned 91 career kicks, which is the lowest total for any player with at least six touchdowns. He is the only player in league history to average over 30 yards per kick return for a career (30.6).
Runner Up: Josh Cribbs
Punt Returner: Devin Hester
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He is the second Bear return man on this team and, just like Sayers, he was dominant right from the beginning.
Hester returned a punt for a touchdown in his first career game, and he added two more to that total his rookie season. The next year, he returned four punts for touchdowns. Last season he added three more and he has already taken one back this season to take his total to 11. Hester holds the NFL record for the most career punt return touchdowns, and he's only 28.
Hester holds the Super Bowl Era record for career yards per punt return (12.7). Last season he averaged 17.1 yards per return, which is the highest single season average since 1974, and is third all time in the SB Era.
He is a three-time Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro return man.
Runner Up: Desmond Howard