Buffalo Bills: Ranking the 10 Greatest Players in Franchise History

Robert Quinn@@RQuinn619Correspondent IFebruary 2, 2013

Buffalo Bills: Ranking the 10 Greatest Players in Franchise History

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    The Buffalo Bills have a storied history, ever since owner Ralph Wilson Jr. founded the team as an original member of the now-defunct American Football League in 1960. The Bills franchise has enjoyed many high moments and suffered through quite a few low ones. 

    The team remains the only franchise to ever make four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, despite failing to earn a victory in any of them.

    Throughout the years, nine members of the Buffalo Bills organization have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they were the greatest players on the team. 

    With as many great players as the team has fielded, it was tough finalizing just a top 10.

    This slideshow features the top-10 greatest players in the franchise's 53-year history. 

Honorable Mentions

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    WR Elbert Dubenion (1960-1968)

    Wide receiver Elbert Dubenion was one of the original members of the Buffalo Bills franchise. He played nine seasons with the Bills when they were members of the AFL.

    In his career, he caught 294 passes for 5,294 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was a three-time second team All-Pro, and he made his lone Pro Bowl appearance in 1964—a year in which he caught 42 passes for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

    G Billy Shaw (1961-1969)

    Billy Shaw was drafted in 1961 by both the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills, but he decided to sign a contract with the Bills.

    He was the prototypical "pulling guard," as his lean frame allowed him to get down field, blocking linebackers and defensive backs.

    He played nine seasons with the Bills, making 119 career starts. Shaw was named to the All-AFL roster eight times and played in eight All-Star games. He remains the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to never play a game in the National Football League. 

    LB Darryl Talley (1983-1994)

    Darryl Talley was a key member of the Buffalo Bills' Super Bowl teams from 1990-1993. Drafted in the second round of the 1983 NFL draft out of West Virginia as an All-American, Talley went on to play 12 seasons with the Bills. He recorded 1,252 tackles, 38.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, and 17 forced fumbles.

    Talley was also a two-time All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler. 

10. RB Cookie Gilchrist (1962-1964)

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    While Cookie Gilchrist only spent three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, he made a huge impact on the team.

    He spent time in the CFL before joining the Bills in 1962 and was named a CFL All-Star from 1956-1959.

    In Gilchrist's three years in Buffalo, he rushed for 3,056 yards on 676 carries, scoring 31 touchdowns. His 4.5 yards-per-carry average is second only to O.J. Simpson in franchise history. He even served time as a kicker, connecting on eight field goals in the 1962 season.

    He was a bit of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield as well, catching 78 passes for 875 yards and four touchdowns. 

    Gilchrist was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection with the Bills, and he played in four Pro Bowls. 

9. LB Cornelius Bennett (1987-1995)

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    Cornelius "Biscuit" Bennett was a prolific linebacker for the Buffalo Bills for nine seasons. He was drafted with the second pick of the 1987 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts, but was unable to come to terms to a contract with the team. Bennett was then traded to the Buffalo Bills in what was called "the trade of the decade" by the New York Times

    Bennett started 128 games as the left outside linebacker, recording 793 tackles, 52.5 sacks and intercepting six passes. He forced 22 fumbles and recovered 19.

    Bennett was also named to five Pro Bowls, was a three time All-Pro and was twice the AP Defensive Player of the Year. 

    He finished the 1995 season as a 30-year old strong-side inside linebacker and left the Bills to join the Atlanta Falcons

8. QB Jack Kemp (1962-1969)

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    While Jack Kemp may be more well-known for his contributions as an American politician, he was also quite the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills in the 1960s. A 17th-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 1957, Kemp went on to be a co-founder of the AFL Players Association. 

    Kemp was the only quarterback listed as a starter for the entire 10-year existence of the AFL, and the 1965 Most Valuable Player led the Bills to a 43-31-3 record in his seven years with the team. 

    In those seven seasons, Kemp completed just 46.4 percent of his passes for 15,134 yards, throwing 77 touchdowns to 132 interceptions.That tells you just how greatly the game has changed since the early years. 

    Kemp was a seven-time All-Star and was twice an AFL champion as well.

7. RB Thurman Thomas (1988-1999)

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    Thurman Thomas infamously fell to the second round of the 1988 NFL draft after dealing with a knee injury and was finally selected with the No. 40 overall pick by the Buffalo Bills. Thomas went on to lead the AFC in rushing in the 1990, 1991 and 1993 seasons. 

    Thomas spent 12 years with the Bills, gaining 11,938 yards and scoring 80 touchdowns. He also averaged 4.2 yards per carry. And he added another 4,341 yards on 456 receptions and 22 touchdowns through the air.

    Thomas is one of six running backs in NFL history to score 60 rushing touchdowns and 20 receiving touchdowns. Additionally, he is the only player to lead the National Football League in yards from scrimmage in four consecutive seasons.

    Named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, Thomas was a five-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and was the 1991 MVP. 

6. WR/ST Steve Tasker (1986-1997)

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    Steve Tasker is touted as one of the best special teams player to ever step foot on a football field. He changed the game and put an emphasis on special teams play. 

    As a receiver, he caught just 51 passes for 779 yards in his career, but his impact went far beyond the stat sheet. 

    Tasker was drafted in the ninth round of the 1985 NFL draft by the Houston Oilers. After playing just nine games with the Oilers, he was signed by the Bills off waivers in November of 1986.

    Tasker went on to earn seven Pro Bowl appearances and was the only special teams player to ever win the MVP of the Pro Bowl—a feat he accomplished in 1993. 

    Tasker was a five-time All-Pro and redefined the "gunner" position. He was the No. 9 player on the NFL Network special Top Ten Players Not In The Hall Of Fame

5. G Joe DeLamielleure (1973-1979)

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    Joe DeLamielleure was drafted in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft after being an All-American selection during his tenure at Michigan State. In "Joe D's" first year with the team, running back O.J. Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards, becoming the only player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a 14-game season. The team rushed for over 3,000 yards as a whole that year.

    DeLamielleure was a focal point of the "Electric Company"—a nickname given to the Bills' offensive line in the early 1970s.

    He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2003 after starting 105 games for the Bills over seven seasons.

    DeLamielleure was named to six Pro Bowls, was a six-time first-team All-Pro and a two-time second-team All-Pro. He was named to the 1970s All-Decade team and was credited as the Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1973, 1975 and 1977. 

4. WR Andre Reed (1985-1999)

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    Andre Reed was quarterback Jim Kelly's favorite receiving target for his 15 years with the Buffalo Bills.

    He was the starting wide receiver for the Bills during the Super Bowl years, catching 941 passes for 13,095 yards and 86 scores in his 217 starts with the team.

    Reed has been nominated as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on multiple occasions, but has yet to earn the honor. He was twice named to All-Pro teams and was a seven-time Pro Bowler.

    Reed currently ranks 12th all time in career receiving yards. 

    His 27 receptions for 353 yards in Super Bowls place him among the best in the history of the NFL.

3. RB O.J. Simpson (1969-1977)

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    O.J. Simpson was taken with the first pick of the 1969 NFL draft and went on to become one of the best running backs in NFL history. While he has his share of controversy off the field, there's no questioning his talent and presence in society during the 1970s. 

    Simpson was a four-time rushing champion and was named to six Pro Bowls. He was a five-time All-Pro, was the 1973 Most Valuable Player and was the AP Athlete of the Year in 1973. 

    In his nine seasons with the Bills, Simpson averaged 4.8 yards per carry, gaining 10,183 yards, scoring 57 touchdowns and averaging 90.9 rush yards per game. 

    Simpson was the first player to rush for over 2,000 in a season, gaining 2,003 in 1973. He remains the only player to ever accomplish the feat in a 14-game season. 

    The Bills traded Simpson to the San Francisco 49ers in 1978, and he was later named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time team

2. QB Jim Kelly (1986-1996)

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    Jim Kelly was the third quarterback taken in the 1983 NFL draft. The '83 quarterback class has gone on to be known as the best in the history of the NFL draft. 

    Kelly didn't want to play in Buffalo after originally being selected by the Bills, and he opted to play two seasons with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. He was incredible with Houston, throwing for 9,892 yards and 83 touchdowns before joining the Bills in 1986.

    Kelly went on to lead the Bills to a 101-59 regular season record, taking the team to the Super Bowl four years in a row. He completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 35,467 yards while throwing 237 touchdowns. Kelly also led 22 fourth-quarter comebacks in his spectacular career. 

    Kelly operated out of the famous "K-Gun" offense that the Bills utilized in the early '90s. It featured a quick tempo, no-huddle, hurry-up offense designed to wear out the defense. After every play, Kelly would rush the team to the line of scrimmage, where he would call the plays. It made it nearly impossible for the defenses to substitute personnel, making it easy for the offense to know what to do.

    Kelly was a five-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro three times. 

1. DE Bruce Smith (1985-1999)

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    Bruce Smith is one of the best defensive players not only for the Buffalo Bills franchise, but in the history of the National Football League. Drafted with the first pick of the 1985 NFL draft, Smith went on to record more sacks than any player in the history of the league. 

    In 15 years with the Bills, Smith recorded 941 tackles, 171 sacks, and 35 forced fumbles. He recorded at least 10 sacks in 12 of the 15 years he spent with the team. 

    What's even more impressive is that he made this impact mostly from the defensive end position in a three-man front. Defensive linemen in the 3-4 are generally required to only eat up blockers, allowing linebackers to make the plays. 

    Smith was ranked as NFL.com's 31st-best player ever, was named to 14 Pro Bowls and he was an 11-time All-Pro. He was twice voted as the Defensive Player of the Year, and he finished his career with 200 sacks. 

    That wraps up my top-10 Buffalo Bills of all time list! Feel anybody is too high? Too low? Any players that should be on the list? Feel free to express your opinions in the comment section!

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