The 25 Greatest Players in Kansas City Chiefs History
For the past 50 years, the Kansas City Chiefs have sandwiched years of mediocrity with a stretch of six seasons during which the team won the franchise's lone Super Bowl, and another eight-year run in the 1990's that saw them make the playoffs seven times but fall short of their ultimate goal.
The rest of Chiefs' history has been filled with hit and miss success, and two generations of disappointment since the team's last championship.
While many of the team's best-ever players were part of the franchise's most successful teams, some were part of squads who only enjoyed mediocre success. Either way, this list is made up of the players who contributed the most to the Chiefs success during every era, providing Kansas City's fans with hope and memories of when the team has been at its best.
25. Christian Okoye
A native of Nigeria, Christian Okoye was a track and field star for Azusa Pacific University, excelling in the shot put, discus and hammer throw.
When he wasn't selected as an Olympic team member of his native Nigeria, Okoye who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds, tried out for and became a star running back for the Azusa Pacific football team.
Despite his relative inexperience, his size (6'1" and 260 lbs) paired with his elite speed prompted the Chiefs to use a second-round pick on him in 1987.
During Okoye's six seasons as a Chief, he took home an NFL rushing title in 1989 and became known across the NFL as the "Nigerian Nightmare" because of his punishing running style and ability to break tackles.
In his 79 games as a Chief, Okoye racked up 4,897 yards and 40 touchdowns. He also made two Pro Bowl appearances.
24. Donnie Edwards
A fourth-round selection in the 1996 NFL draft by the Chiefs, the former UCLA Bruin led the Chiefs defense in tackles in four of his first six seasons in the league before leaving for San Diego in free agency in 2002.
One of the most versatile linebackers in the league during his time in Kansas City, the two-time Pro Bowler posted 11 of his career 28 interceptions in a Chiefs' uniform.
23. Joe Delaney
A 1981 second-round selection out of Northwestern State, Joe Delaney enjoyed one of the best rookie seasons in Chiefs' history, earning AFC Rookie of the Year honors.
Of the 1,121 yards he rushed for that season, the club-record 193 yards he posted against the Houston Oilers on November 15, 1981 put Delaney's talents fully on display for the rest of the league to see.
As documented in the Chiefs Kingdom special on Delaney, former Oiler Elvin Bethea later compared Delaney to running backs like Walter Payton and OJ Simpson, saying that Delaney was every bit as good and "Great with a capital G."
Tragically, Delaney's career and life were cut short in June of 1983 when he drowned attempting to save three children swimming in a watering hole in Monroe, Louisiana.
22. Kevin Ross
Paired with fellow cornerback Albert Lewis, Kevin Ross was part of one of the best cornerback tandems the NFL has ever seen.
At just 5'9" and 185 lbs, "The Rock" played an extremely physical style of play that made him one of the league's best bump and run corners, and extremely effective in defending the run.
In 156 games as a Chief, Ross racked up 30 interceptions, earning him back to back visits to the Pro Bowl in '89-90 and a place in the Chiefs' Hall of Fame in 2011.
21. Chris Burford
Perhaps the best clutch receiver in Chiefs history, Chris Burford was a star receiver for the Chiefs and Dallas Texans in the franchise's early history.
One of the best receivers in the AFL, Burford led the team in receptions in four of five seasons from 1961-65.
A 1975 inductee into the Chiefs Hall of Fame, when Burford's playing days with the Chiefs were over, he left as the franchise's leader in receptions with 391 for 5,505 yards and 55 touchdowns.
20. Derrick Johnson
A former first-round pick out of the University of Texas, Derrick Johnson has transformed himself into the team's defensive catalyst, leading the team in tackles in each of the past three seasons.
An outstanding all-around player, Johnson's athleticism not only makes him an outstanding inside linebacker in defending the run, but his ability to defend the pass is almost safety-like.
To go with Johnson's 763 tackles, he has also defended 54 passes with nine interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
19. Dante Hall
In the seven seasons he spent in Kansas City, kick and punt returner Dante Hall became the team's most prolific return man in team history.
During his 97 games with the Chiefs, he thrilled fans with a franchise-best 12,356 all-purpose yards and 11 return touchdowns.
Hall's best return of his career came against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on October 5, 2003. Late in the fourth quarter, trailing the Broncos 23-17, Hall returned a Micah Knorr punt 93 yards for perhaps the most exciting game-winning touchdown in Chiefs' history.
18. Nick Lowery
In the history of the Kansas City Chiefs, no other player played in more games (212) or scored more points (1,466) than kicker Nick Lowery.
Originally cut by the New England Patriots after two games in the 1978 season, Lowery caught on with the Chiefs in 1980 and spent 14 seasons as one of the NFL's most accurate kickers (80.2%).
Lowery is the Chiefs all-time leader in field goals made (329) and PATs (479).
17. Abner Haynes
In his 70 games as a member of the Texans and Chiefs, running back Abner Haynes rushed for 3,814 yards and did so with the second-best yards per carry average (4.8) in team history.
Haynes was also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, amassing 2,739 yards on 199 catches.
A member of the Texans in the AFL's inaugural season in 1960, Haynes was the first player to win the league's Player of the Year award as well as becoming its first Rookie of the Year.
16. Jamaal Charles
Perhaps the best offensive weapon in franchise history, the world class speed of running back Jamaal Charles has made him the offensive player around which the Chiefs offense has revolved in three of the past four seasons.
In the 65 games Charles has played as a Chief, he has averaged a franchise-best 5.8 yards per carry bolstered by 35 runs of 20+ yards and 13 runs of 40+ yards.
Much like Abner Haynes was to the franchise in its early years, Charles has also been a centerpiece in the Chiefs passing game. With the exception of a 2011 season lost to an ACL injury, Charles has ranked no lower than fourth in receptions since his rookie season in 2008.
15. Deron Cherry
An undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, Deron Cherry signed with the Chiefs in 1981 as a punter. After being released in the team's final cut, the Chiefs decided to bring Cherry back as a safety.
The rest as they say is history.
In his 11 seasons as a Chief, Cherry became one of the best free safeties in the history of the NFL. Selected to six straight Pro Bowls from 1983-88, Cherry intercepted 50 passes and was the team's defensive leader.
14. Larry Johnson
When former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson selected Penn State running back Larry Johnson with the team's first-round pick, most fans in Kansas City thought it was a wasted pick.
Selected to backup Priest Holmes, one of the best running backs of the early 2000s, even Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil appeared to agree that Peterson would've been better off addressing other needs for the Chiefs.
Johnson, who spent much of his first two seasons in Vermeil's doghouse, got an opportunity to shine in 2005 when Holmes went down with a neck injury. That season, in just nine starts, Johnson used the chip on his shoulder to motivate him to post a then franchise-record of 1,750 yards rushing and 21 total touchdowns.
In 2006, Johnson would pick up where he left off and break his own rushing record with 1,789 yards on an NFL record 416 carries.
Off the field issues and a slow decline in Johnson's play would ultimately be his undoing in Kansas City, as the team released him midway through the 2009 season just 55 yards shy of the team rushing record.
13. Willie Lanier
The year after losing to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I, coach Hank Stram used a second-round pick on a future Hall-of-Fame middle linebacker named Willie Lanier.
A motivational leader of the Chiefs defense, Lanier was a two-time AFL All Star and six-time Pro Bowl selection.
Lanier was excellent in pass coverage, intercepting 27 passes in his 11 year career, but was best against the run. His physical style of play, often leading with his head on tackles, made him a force in the middle of the Chiefs defense.
12. Dwayne Bowe
Following his first-round selection out of LSU, Dwayne Bowe brought the "D-Bowe Show" to Kansas City back in 2007.
Despite a revolving door of quarterbacks and offensive schemes during his six NFL seasons, Bowe has remained a constant in the Chiefs' passing game averaging 69 catches per season and becoming the team's career leader in average yards per game with 65.1.
Bowe's best season came in 2010 as he made the Pro Bowl with 1,162 yards on 72 catches with a single-season Chiefs' record 15 touchdowns. Bowe has posted three 1,000 yard campaigns, and has caught 70 or more passes in four of his six seasons. With two more receptions, he will take over second place on the team's career receptions list.
11. Johnny Robinson
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of the AFL All-Time team, safety Johnny Robinson was one of the best defensive players in Chiefs' history.
Robinson's first two seasons saw him play flanker for the Dallas Texans, and then he made the move to the defensive side of the ball in his third season.
In the 10 seasons that Robinson played defense, he intercepted 57 passes, good for second in team history, and also led the league with 10 interceptions twice (1966, 70).
10. Trent Green
As the Chiefs starting quarterback for six years (2001-06), Trent Green led some of the team's most prolific offenses.
The team's record under Green (48-40) was far more indicative of the team's porous defenses than the quarterback's ability to generate production on offense. Green's 21,459 yards are second-most in team history and his 61.9 completion percentage is best among the team's full-time starters.
The best season of Green's career was also one of the best-ever for any of the franchise's quarterbacks as he set the high-water mark for yards in a season (4,591) and completions (369).
9. Buck Buchanan
The first overall pick of the 1963 AFL draft, Grambling's Buck Buchanan would go on to become a star defensive tackle for the Chiefs.
A six-time All-AFL selection and two-time Pro Bowler, Buchanan was part of an outstanding Chiefs defensive line that dominated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs only Super Bowl championship.
Blessed with outstanding speed and durability for a man his size (6'7" and 270 lbs), Buchanan played in 166 straight games at one point, creating havoc for opposing offenses.
Buchanan was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, and passed away less than two years later.
8. Otis Taylor
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated players in Chiefs history, wide receiver Otis Taylor was not just a solid receiving threat but an excellent downfield blocker as well.
Taylor registered just two 1,000 yard seasons, but he did account for 60 total touchdowns during his career and provided opposing defenses matchup nightmares.
In 130 games, Taylor caught 410 passes for a franchise record 7,306 yards and 57 touchdowns.
7. Emmitt Thomas
An undrafted free agent from small Bishop College in Dallas, cornerback Emmitt Thomas is the best defensive back in Chiefs' history.
A five-time Pro Bowler, Thomas played 13 seasons in Kansas City, and retired as the team's career leader in interceptions (58). His 12 interceptions in 1974 were a league-best, as were his two interception returns for touchdowns.
Thomas was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008, and has spent the past three seasons as the Chiefs' defensive backs coach.
6. Bobby Bell
In his 12 seasons as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker Bobby Bell was an AFL All-Star for six straight seasons followed by three seasons in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Bell was one of the most athletic players to ever don a Chiefs uniform.
As an outside linebacker with elite speed, Bell was an excellent pass rusher and pure tackler. His athleticism also made him one of the best coverage linebackers in football, resulting in 26 interceptions, six of which he returned for touchdowns.
Inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, Bell transcended the linebacker position and will always be remembered as one of the greatest Chiefs.
5. Will Shields
Despite an excellent collegiate career at the University of Nebraska, few probably expected a third-round draft choice named Will Shields to become the best offensive lineman in Chiefs history.
In 14 seasons, Shields never missed a game, establishing the team mark for games played (224). In each of his final 12 seasons, Shields was elected to represent the AFC in the Pro Bowl, tying former Minnesota defensive lineman Randall McDaniel for the record for most Pro Bowls.
His Will to Succeed Foundation was established during his rookie season and earned Shields the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2003.
4. Priest Holmes
No other free agent in Chiefs history had as positive an effect as running back Priest Holmes.
When Holmes, who spent four mediocre seasons in Baltimore, came to Kansas City in 2001 no one could've guessed how good he would end up becoming in the Chiefs offense.
During his first three seasons in Kansas City, Holmes accounted for 6,566 yards from scrimmage and 61 touchdowns. In the history of the NFL, only Marshall Faulk has ever generated that type of production over three consecutive seasons.
In six seasons in Kansas City, Holmes became the franchise's leader in rushing yards (6,070) and touchdowns (83).
3. Len Dawson
Perhaps no other former player represents the Kansas City Chiefs better than Super Bowl winning quarterback Len Dawson.
A first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957, Dawson spent the first five seasons of his career in Pittsburgh and Cleveland before finding his way to Kansas City where he'd become a Hall of Famer.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Dawson set a franchise records for career passing yardage (28,507) and passing touchdowns (237), and also owns the single-season mark for passing touchdowns (30).
2. Derrick Thomas
After more than a decade of mediocrity, former general manager Carl Peterson hired coach Marty Schottenheimer to come to town and reshape the Chiefs into a defensive powerhouse in the AFC
With the selection of Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas with the fourth overall pick in the 1989 draft, the Chiefs acquired a player that would become one of the biggest game-changers in NFL history.
Thomas was quite simply one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history. He had the uncanny ability to use a "tomahawk chop" type move to strip ball carriers of the ball. Thomas was the single player on the Chiefs defense that every opposing offensive coordinator would game-plan against in an often futile effort to lessen his impact on the game.
Elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2009, Thomas was a nine-time Pro Bowler who owns several records including the NFL record for most sacks in one game (seven) against the Seattle Seahawks in 1990. Thomas came close to his own record in a 1998 game against Oakland when he had six sacks in that game.
Thomas also owns multiple Chiefs records including:
- 41 forced fumbles
- 126.5 sacks
- 19 recovered fumbles
- 20 sacks in a single season
- 3 career safeties
1. Tony Gonzalez
No other player in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs transformed the way the game was played like tight end Tony Gonzalez.
While there have been receiving tight ends like Shannon Sharpe, Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome who have played large roles in their teams' offenses, no tight end in NFL history has been as productive for their respective team as Gonzalez was for the Chiefs.
Drafted in the first-round of the 1997 draft, Gonzalez spent 12 seasons in Kansas City, and made 10 Pro Bowl appearances.
In his 12 seasons in Kansas City, Gonzalez absolutely shattered the Chiefs team records for receptions (916), yards (10,940), and touchdowns (76). Gonzalez's ability to out-jump defenders and run solid routes have always been key to his success as a receiver.