The Most Dominant Player in Every NFL Team's History

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2013

The Most Dominant Player in Every NFL Team's History

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    Every team has its great players—legends. Some have more than others, whether because of a longer history or relative ineptitude over the years. 

    We can generally identify the best player in each team's history. But what about the most dominant? 

    The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but there is a difference in terms. The most dominant player might have had a short career or might not have led his team to championship glory like others. 

    What defines dominant? Perhaps, the player was simply unblockable during his time, or defenses couldn't cover him. Maybe he was simply on another level during his era, or he was the most electrifying player in the league.

    Sometimes, the most dominant player played in the trenches, less glamorous positions that tend to get ignored in these conversations.

    So which player is the most dominant in each team's history? Click through to find out.

    Statistics courtesy of

Arizona Cardinals—Larry Fitzgerald, WR

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    This one is difficult to see because he hasn't put up the otherworldly numbers of some of his peers, but Larry Fitzgerald has been quietly dominant in his own right. The big receiver is almost as difficult to cover as Calvin Johnson.

    It's not his fault the Arizona Cardinals have put him in quarterback purgatory during his prime.

Atlanta Falcons—Deion Sanders, CB

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    Before his championship years with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, Deion Sanders brought his "Prime Time" moniker to fame with the Atlanta Falcons.

    Sanders was electrifying, particularly on kick returns. At one point, Sanders was the best kick and punt returner in the league, leading the NFL in yardage in touchdowns in 1992.

    He was a pretty good cornerback to boot.

    Nobody in Falcons history can match his combination of skill and flair. He created a cult of personality he carried over to San Francisco, Dallas and beyond.

Baltimore Ravens—Ray Lewis, LB

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    In truth, the most dominant player in Baltimore Ravens history is Jim Brown. However, since Cleveland has regained a professional football team since Art Modell's midnight escape, Brown gets his place with the Browns.

    Hence, unquestionably, Ray Lewis is the most dominant player in Baltimore history. His singular ferocious mentality and style set the tone for a dominant defense throughout his tenure with the Ravens. 

    Without Lewis, the Ravens would not have won their first championship. He is arguably the best middle linebacker in NFL history.

Buffalo Bills—Bruce Smith, DE

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    If you followed the NFL in the late '80s and '90s, two pass-rushers really stood above the rest—Reggie White and Bruce Smith.

    The Buffalo Bills had one of the most fearsome pass-rushers in NFL history on their squad back then, amassing exactly 200 sacks throughout his career.

    The Bills were known for their high-octane offense led by Jim Kelly during that infamous Super Bowl run, but Smith anchored that defense for 15 years.

Carolina Panthers—Cam Newton, QB

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    The Carolina Panthers have not been around for very long as a franchise, so the list is short when it comes to looking for their most dominant player.

    There aren't many players in their history who could be considered dominant, even if they have had success in the past. Julius Peppers is an excellent candidate, but there is one who might be more dominant based on his talents at the quarterback position—Cam Newton.

    He has only been in the league for two years, and he has not led the team to victory very often during that time, but Newton is a new archetype at the position. Part fullback, running back, receiver, quarterback and raging bull, Newton has flashed spectacular ability during his short tenure in the league.

Chicago Bears—Dick Butkus, LB

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    In contrast with the Carolina Panthers, the Chicago Bears are a storied franchise with a rich history. The pool from which to cull the most dominant player is thick with great ones.

    Who should we choose? Sid Luckman was an another level in the '40s. Walter Peyton was one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Richard Dent was a dominant sack machine in the '80s—an underrated member of that ferocious Bears defense.

    But the most dominant of them all is one of the more preeminent linebacker of his era—Dick Butkus.

    The video above says it all.

Cincinnati Bengals—Anthony Muñoz, OT

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    Perhaps, Ickey Woods and his "Ickey Shuffle" are deserving of this nomination, but there can be no Cincinnati Bengal here other than Anthony Muñoz.

    The big offensive lineman is considered one of the best in NFL history, a stout blocker throughout the '80s and early '90s in Cincinnati.

Cleveland Browns—Jim Brown, FB

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    There is, perhaps, no more dominant player during his time in the NFL than Jim Brown.

    The Cleveland Browns had themselves a wrecking ball at fullback with Brown, who was a devastating force out of the backfield. He was the NFL rushing leader in all but one of his seasons in the league. He retired early, and that's the only reason he does not own many rushing records.

    Indeed, Brown is considered one of the best players in NFL history. He was truly a man among boys when he was on the field.

Dallas Cowboys—Larry Allen, OL

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    Emmitt Smith. Troy Aikman. Deion Sanders. Roger Staubach.

    These are all the names likely elicited when discussing the best Cowboys of all time. But the most dominant?

    Smith fits that mold, having been one of the best running backs in NFL history. He owns the record for most rushing yards and touchdowns, and he was a huge reason why the Cowboys won three titles in the '90s.

    He was a great running back indeed, but his offensive line had something to do with it. One of the road graders in front of him might have been the best guard in NFL history, and he dominated the opponents.

    Larry Allen was simply a monster in the middle of that offensive line, dominating the competition en route to 11 Pro Bowl and seven All-Pro selections.

Denver Broncos—Steve Atwater, S

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    One of the most ferocious players in NFL history used to roam the secondary for the Denver Broncos.

    At one point, Steve Atwater was regarded as one of the most feared tacklers in NFL history. This is the safety who turned Christian Okoye—the 255-pound fullback—into dust.

    The hard-hitting safety would have had to tone his game down in today's NFL, but he was quite dominant back then in that defensive backfield for Denver.

Detroit Lions—Calvin Johnson, WR

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    The Detroit Lions might not have a winning tradition—at least not in memory if you are under the age of 60—but they have two of the more dominant players in NFL history. The trouble is choosing a winner.

    Barry Sanders was, perhaps, the most electrifying player in NFL history. His style might have netted him many negative runs, but he juked and jived his way to plenty of huge runs, too. 

    Calvin Johnson, however, is simply a freak of nature. The 6'5", 235-pound receiver is just about unstoppable, garnering incredible attention from opposing defenses. He is the most dominating receiver in a passing league, so he ekes out the victory here over Sanders.

Green Bay Packers—Reggie White, DE

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    The Green Bay Packers were good before Reggie White got there, but he helped take that defense to championship levels.

    White wasn't quite as good as he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was still the best defensive end of the '90s. He joined Green Bay at 32 and still had 74 sacks left to make.

    Aaron Rodgers is great. Brett Favre is sturdy. Bart Starr was a champion. But the "Minister of Defense" was the most dominant of them all.

Houston Texans—J.J. Watt, DE

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    Like the Panthers, the Houston Texans have not been around for very long. They replaced the Oilers in Houston, who had moved to Tennessee several years earlier.

    There have been a few dominant players in their short history, however, not the least of which is Andre Johnson. The big receiver has been one of the best in the league since he was drafted by Houston.

    Arian Foster has also been dominant in his own right, tearing into the league for three years running after going undrafted.

    But the man who has quickly become the most dominant player in Texans history plays defense—J.J. Watt.

    He should have won the MVP award last season, but the award is heavily slanted toward offensive players. Watt was simply a monster, accounting for a record 56 "defeats"—turnovers, tackles for loss or prevented first-down conversions on third or fourth down, as defined by Football Outsiders—last season.

Indianapolis Colts—Johnny Unitas, QB

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    This was a tough one.

    On the one hand, Peyton Manning is the greatest statistical quarterback in NFL history. (Apologies to Brett Favre, but longevity was his best trait.)

    But can we consider Manning dominant when he might not be the best quarterback of his generation? He is locked in a battle with Tom Brady, and perhaps, late-comer Drew Brees for that title.

    Johnny Unitas, meanwhile, was unquestionably the best quarterback of his day. Bart Starr had more titles, but Unitas far outpaced him statistically. He set a record for most consecutive games throwing a touchdown—47—that stood for decades before meeting its maker at the hands of Drew Bees.

Jacksonville Jaguars—Tony Boselli, OT

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars are franchise twins with the Panthers—both were born in 1995—and they have similar issues locating a truly dominant player.

    Unlike the Panthers, there is no 6'5", 250-pound quarterback romping through the NFL right now. Maurice Jones-Drew has been great at running back in recent years, but perhaps, the most dominant player in franchise history played on the offensive line.

    Tony Boselli was one of the best offensive tackles in the league at one point in his career. He only played seven years, but it was a dominant tenure.

Kansas City Chiefs—Derrick Thomas, LB

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    When Derrick Thomas burst onto the NFL scene, it seemed like he was Lawrence Taylor 2.0.

    He continued the wave Taylor started at outside linebacker, amassing 30 sacks during his first two seasons. He owns the single-game sack record after recording seven against the Seattle Seahawks in his sophomore year.

    Thomas was a terror for opposing quarterbacks for 11 years before his career and life were cut short by a horrific car accident.

Miami Dolphins—Dan Marino, QB

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    Maybe Larry Csonka or Jason Taylor could have a go as the most dominant player in Miami Dolphins history, but nobody else could hold a candle to Dan Marino.

    The talented quarterback never got over the championship hump, but he remains one of the best quarterbacks in league history. He broke quarterback records well before the league shifted rules in favor of quarterbacks.

Minnesota Vikings—Adrian Peterson, RB

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    Apologies to John Randle, who might be the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in NFL history, but it is difficult to pick anyone but Adrian Peters for the Minnesota Vikings here.

    Had he not returned from a devastating knee injury just nine months later to blow away the competition—nearly breaking Eric Dickerson's rushing record en route to winning a rare league MVP at the running back position—Randle would have been the man here.

    But Peterson was the man last season, ascending to godlike status in the process.

New Orleans Saints—Drew Brees, QB

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    Before Drew Brees came to town, the New Orleans Saints were just the "Aints." Decades of irrelevance were wiped out, thanks to the golden arm of New Orleans' golden boy.

    Brees has simply been on fire since joining the Saints, breaking all sorts of records from Johnny Unitas' touchdown streak to Dan Marino's season-yardage record.

New England Patriots—John Hannah, OG

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    There are certainly some great players in New England Patriots history, including the one who currently wears No. 12. Randy Moss was balefire for a brief time. Rob Gronkowski has quickly become one of the most dominant players in the league at his position.

    But the most dominant of all time in New England?

    John Hannah owns that title. At one point considered the best offensive lineman of all time, Hannah anchored an offensive line that produced some of the best running attacks in the NFL during his tenure.

New York Giants—Lawrence Taylor, OLB

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    Who better to represent the New York Giants here than the most feared pass-rusher in NFL history?

    Lawrence Taylor revolutionized the outside linebacker position with the Giants, rampaging through the NFL through the '80s and early '90s. He anchored a great defense that would wind up winning a title with him on the bench.

    One of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, Taylor was an easy call here.

New York Jets—Mark Gastineau, DE

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    Many people know Michael Strahan broke the season sack record back in 2001 when Brett Favre infamously sat down to get him over the top. What they may not know is he took the record from Mark Gastineau.

    The former New York Jet was a frightful site for opposing offenses as a big part of the "New York Sack Exchange." Gastineau led the league in sacks for two years running in the mid-'80s—including the 22-sack year—before falling off a bit and retiring after bizarre off-field events.

Oakland Raiders—Bo Jackson, RB

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    Bo knows dominance.

    Those who played Tecmo Bowl back in the halcyon days of the NES know, too. Bo Jackson was quite the dominant player during his shortened tenure in the NFL. He was a two-sport star, playing with the Kansas City Royals during the summer and joining the Oakland Raiders after the season was over.

    He was so strong that he reportedly put his hip back in its socket after he dislocated it on the injury that ended his football career.

    Jackson couldn't play football with an artificial hip, but he managed to make it back to baseball for a few years, an amazing feat in itself.

Philadelphia Eagles—Reggie White, DE

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    What does it say about Reggie White that he makes this list twice?

    As dominant as he was with the Packers, he was on another planet while with the Philadelphia Eagles. White was a ferocious pass-rusher, amassing double-digit sacks in every season with the Eagles, leading the league twice.

    He had 21 sacks in 12 games in 1987, one short of the record at the time. He was simply a beast.

Pittsburgh Steelers—Jack Lambert, LB

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are a blue-collar team through and through. There haven't been many flashy players in their history.

    Perhaps, it is fitting that the most dominant player in team history is a hard-nosed linebacker from the glory days in the '70s.

    Jack Lambert epitomized the "Steel Curtain," leading his defense through a decade of dominance.

San Diego Chargers—LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

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    There was a time when LaDanian Tomlinson lorded over the rest of the NFL.

    Tomlinson wreaked havoc during "the Aughts," scoring double-digit touchdowns every year of the new millennium until we hit 2010. He holds the record for most rushing touchdowns in one season with 28 back in 2006, and he sits fifth all time in rushing yardage.

    Fantasy football players might say Tomlinson was the most dominant fantasy football player in history. He is, at the very least, the most dominant in San Diego Chargers history.

San Francisco 49ers—Jerry Rice, WR

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    He might not have possessed the combination of size and speed of Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, but Jerry Rice was dominant in his own right.

    Work ethic and fierce competitiveness set Rice apart from the rest. It helped him become the best receiver in NFL history, propelling him to attain every major career receiving record in the books.

Seattle Seahawks—Steve Largent, WR

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    Who is the most dominant player in Seahawks history? That is the $64,000 question in Seattle.

    Walter Jones was an excellent choice. One of the best offensive linemen of his era, Jones helped bring the Seahawks back to relevance.

    But he comes in a close second to Seattle legend Steve Largent, who might have been the best receiver of the '80s were it not for a certain San Francisco 49er.

St. Louis Rams—Deacon Jones

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    Who else could we nominate here but the man who coined the term "sack?"

    We don't have sack totals for Deacon Jones because the statistic was not official, but unofficial estimates put him at roughly 32,516 sacks.

    Alright, maybe that's a bit high, but Jones got to the quarterback like no other during his era. He might hold the all-time and season sack record if they kept such statistics during his hey day.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Warren Sapp, DT

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    Warren Sapp might be known for his words nowadays, but there was a time when opposing quarterbacks worried about his actions.

    The big lineman was arguably the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in NFL history, a dominant player on the interior of a good Tampa Bay defense.

Tennessee Titans—Warren Moon, QB

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    It took five sizzling seasons in the CFL for Warren Moon to get enough interest from the NFL to get a shot. The Houston Oilers were glad they did.

    Moon took the "run and shoot" to great heights with the Oilers, piling up massive statistics while propelling the Oilers to seven straight playoff appearances through the late '80s and early '90s.

    Unfortunately for them, the offense wasn't built to withstand the treacherous defensive waters in the playoffs. But Moon was darn fun to watch.

Washington Redskins—John Riggins, RB

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    Give Robert Griffin III another year or two of dazzling play and he might make some serious noise on a list like this, a la Cam Newton.

    For now, however, the most dominant player in Washington history is John Riggins. He is so dominant, he had a son on Friday Night Lights (not really). 

    The bruising running back retired, then returned a year later to help lead the Redskins on a quest to the Super Bowl. He led the league in touchdowns at age 34 and 35. Rumors said he wrestled bears one-handed covered in raw meat during the offseason.