Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

Ranking the 50 Greatest NFL Players of All Time

best football players in history

Now that we’re a few years removed from the NFL’s 100th Anniversary and the retirement of the legendary Tom Brady, it’s time to update our rankings of the 50 Greatest NFL Players of All Time. This list represents the pinnacle of individual excellence in the history of American football. Let’s dive into the ranking and celebrate the remarkable careers of these football titans.

50. Terrell Owens

Position: WR
Years active: 1996-2010
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2018); 5x First-Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl

Hot takes only on this list. Despite the heavy controversy surrounding his career, Terrell Owens was the greatest wide receiver of his day outside of Randy Moss. He was unfortunately stuck on some heartbreakingly good teams, but his NFL stats and influence are both undeniable.

49. Steve Young

Position: QB
Years active: 1985-1999
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2005); 3x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x MVP; 1x OPoY; 3x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 7x Pro Bowl; 2x NFC OPoY; 2x Bert Bell Award

The heir to Joe Montana’s throne in San Francisco, Steve Young was a proper successor to the heritage of the Niners. One of the first great mobile quarterbacks, Young was extremely efficient and prolific, leaving a lasting impact on the game.

48. Forrest Gregg

Position: T
Years active: 1956-1971
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1977); 3x Super Bowl Champion; 5x NFL Champion; 7x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

The unheralded offensive anchor to the legendary Vince Lombardi’s Packers teams, Forrest Gregg was the wall and heart of eight total NFL championships. His durability and excellence solidified his place as one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history.

47. OJ Simpson

Position: RB
Years active: 1969-1979
Teams: Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1985); 1x MVP; 1x OPoY; 5x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Pro-Bowl; 1x AP Athlete of the Year; 1x Bert Bell Award; 1x AFL All-Star

We all know why OJ Simpson is ranked this low. However, his on-field performances cannot be overlooked. Simpson was a dominant running back and one of the most electrifying players of his era. His off-field controversies unfortunately overshadow his football achievements.

46. Chuck Bednarik

Position: C/LB
Years active: 1949-1962
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1967); 2x NFL Champion; 10x First-Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Chuck Bednarik, also known as “Concrete Charlie,” played full-time minutes on both offense and defense. He was the most-feared tackler of his era and one of the last true “60-minute men” in the NFL.

45. Roger Staubach

Position: QB
Years active: 1969-1979
Teams: Dallas Cowboys
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1985); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 1x MVP; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl; MoY; Bert Bell Award

The leader of the first great Cowboys dynasty, Roger Staubach led Dallas to five Super Bowl appearances, winning two. His legacy as a clutch performer and an exceptional leader makes him one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

44. Jim Thorpe

Position: RB
Years active: 1920-1928
Teams: Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Oorang Indians, Rock Island Independents, New York Giants, Chicago Cardinals
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1963); 1x First-Team All-Pro

Jim Thorpe is remembered more for his general cultural impact than his NFL influence. A Native American icon and an all-around athlete, Thorpe excelled in football, basketball, and baseball. He also served as the first president of the APFA (the precursor to the NFL).

43. Earl Campbell

Position: RB
Years active: 1978-1985
Teams: Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1991); 1x MVP; 1x PFWA MVP; 3x OPoY; 3x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Pro Bowl; ORoY; Bert Bell Award

The centerpiece and the symbol of one of the most successful eras in Houston Oilers history, Earl Campbell was a powerhouse running back. Known for his punishing running style, Campbell’s career was cut short, but his impact on the game cannot be denied.

42. Mike Singletary

Position: LB
Years active: 1981-1992
Teams: Chicago Bears
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1998); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 2x DPoY; 8x First-Team All-Pro; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl; 3x NFC PoY; MoY

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The heart and soul of the Chicago Bears’ defense in the 1980s, Mike Singletary was one of the most feared and respected defenders in the NFL. His intensity, leadership, and hard-hitting style made him a standout player and a symbol of the Bears’ dominant defense.

41. John Hannah

Position: G
Years active: 1973-1985
Teams: New England Patriots
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1991); 1x OPoY; 10x All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Easily one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, John Hannah was renowned for his toughness and dominance on the field. He was a key component of the Patriots’ offense and was recognized as the greatest offensive lineman of his time.

40. Ray Nitschke

Position: LB
Years active: 1958-1972
Teams: Green Bay Packers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1978); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 5x NFL Champion; 11x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Second-Team All-Pro; 1x Pro Bowl

Ray Nitschke was the commanding force behind Vince Lombardi’s defense on the Green Bay Packers. A career Packer, Nitschke led Green Bay to five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls in history.

39. Eric Dickerson

Position: RB
Years active: 1983-1993
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders, Atlanta Falcons
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1999); 1x OPoY; 5x First-Team All-Pro; 3x NFC OPoY; 6x Pro Bowl; ORoY

The reigning holder of the NFL’s single-season rushing record (2,105), Eric Dickerson amassed an impressive career as one of the greatest running backs in history. His speed and agility allowed him to dominate opposing defenses.

38. Mel Blount

Position: DB
Years active: 1970-1983
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1989); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 2x First-Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 1x AFC DPoY; 5x Pro Bowl

Mel Blount was the primary perimeter lynchpin of the iconic Steel Curtain Steelers. Known for his physicality and excellent coverage skills, Blount was a dominant force in the secondary and a key contributor to the Steelers’ championship successes.

37. Rod Woodson

Position: DB
Years active: 1987-2003
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2009); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 1x AFC PoY; 6x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

Rod Woodson continued the legacy of the great Steelers defenses before becoming a key member of the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning team. His versatility, physicality, and ball-hawking skills made him one of the most complete defensive backs in NFL history.

36. Tony Gonzalez

Position: TE
Years active: 1997-2013
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2019); 6x First-Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 14x Pro Bowl

Although Tony Gonzalez retired without a Super Bowl win, he is widely regarded as the greatest tight end of all time. His remarkable career and consistency made him a dominant force in the passing game, setting numerous records for the position.

35. Gino Marchetti

Position: DE
Years active: 1952-1966
Teams: Dallas Texans; Baltimore Colts
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1972); 2x NFL Champion; 9x First-Team All-Pro; 1x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

Gino Marchetti was a defensive enforcer for Johnny Unitas’ pre-Super Bowl championships with the Baltimore Colts. As one of the first great defensive players in NFL history, Marchetti is revered as one of the greatest defensive ends of all time.

34. Aaron Rodgers

Position: QB
Years active: 2005-Present
Teams: Green Bay Packers, New York Jets
Notable accolades: 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 4x MVP; 4x First-Team All-Pro; Second-Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl, NFL 2010s All-Decade Team

Aaron Rodgers is arguably the most talented quarterback to ever play the game. With his arm talent and remarkable efficiency, he has set multiple records and achieved consistent success throughout his career.

33. Dick Lane

Position: CB
Years active: 1952-1965
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1974); 7x First-Team All-Pro; 7x Pro Bowl

Dick “Night Train” Lane was a ballhawk in the secondary, known for his exceptional ball skills and physicality. Lane’s 14 interceptions in his rookie year still stand as a record, and his impact on the game cannot be understated.

32. Bob Lilly

Position: DT
Years active: 1961-1974
Teams: Dallas Cowboys
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1980); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 7x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

Bob Lilly was a stalwart on the Cowboys’ legendary Doomsday Defense. His athleticism and relentless pursuit of quarterbacks made him one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history.

31. Sammy Baugh

Position: QB
Years active: 1937-1952
Teams: Washington Redskins
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1963); 2x NFL Champion; 2x NFL PoY; 4x First-Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl

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Sammy Baugh’s place on this list is lower than expected due to his career predating the Super Bowl era. However, his talent and numbers cannot be denied. Baugh was a prolific passer and a trailblazer in the early years of modern football.

30. Ed Reed

Position: S
Years active: 2002-2013
Teams: Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Houston Texans
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2019); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 5x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Ed Reed is widely regarded as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history. His playmaking ability and ball-hawking skills made him a key player in the Ravens’ championship run. Reed’s impact on the game cannot be overstated.

29. Drew Brees

Position: QB
Years active: 2001-2020
Teams: San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints
Notable accolades: 1x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x OPoY; 1 First-Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 13x Pro Bowl; MoY; CPoY

Drew Brees’ impact on the New Orleans Saints and the city itself is immeasurable. He led the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl victory and set numerous passing records along the way. Brees’ accuracy and dedication to the game make him one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation.

28. Don Hutson

Position: E
Years active: 1935-1945
Teams: Green Bay Packers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1963); 3x NFL Champion; 2x MVP; 8x First-Team All-Pro; 4x NFL All-Star

Don Hutson revolutionized the wide receiver position during his era. As the first true receiving “end,” Hutson’s impact on the game cannot be overstated. His records and statistics stood the test of time and marked him as one of the greatest players of his generation.

27. Bruce Smith

Position: DE
Years active: 1985-2003
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2009); 2x DPoY; 8x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl; 4x AFC DPoY

Bruce Smith is the all-time leader in career sacks, solidifying his place as one of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history. With his dominance, longevity, and numerous accolades, Smith left an indelible mark on the game.

26. Alan Page

Position: DT
Years active: 1967-1981
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1988); 1x NFL Champion; 1x MVP; 2x DPoY; 6x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl; 1x NFC PoY; 2x NFC DPoY

Alan Page was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line. His dominance and impact on the Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” defense earned him numerous accolades, including an MVP award.

25. Jack Lambert

Position: LB
Years active: 1974-1984
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1990); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 1x DPoY; 9x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl; DRoY

Jack Lambert was the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defenses in the 1970s. Known for his intensity and hard-hitting style, Lambert’s impact on the game cannot be overstated.

24. Randy Moss

Position: WR
Years active: 1998-2012
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2018); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 3x MVP; 1x OPoY; 4x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 6x Pro Bowl

Randy Moss was the heir to Jerry Rice’s throne as the best pass catcher in the NFL. His talent and impact on the game were undeniable, and he holds numerous records and accolades that solidify his place as one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history.

23. Brett Favre

Position: QB
Years active: 1991-2010
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2016); 1x Super Bowl Champion; 3x MVP; 1x OPoY; 3x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl

Brett Favre’s legendary career, mostly remembered for his time on the Green Bay Packers, made him one of the most iconic quarterbacks of his generation. His gunslinger mentality and remarkable durability solidify his place among the all-time greats.

22. Gale Sayers

Position: RB
Years active: 1965-1971
Teams: Chicago Bears
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1977); 5x First-Team All-Pro; 4x Pro Bowl

Gale Sayers’ career was tragically cut short by injuries, but his impact on the game cannot be ignored. At his peak, Sayers was one of the most electrifying running backs in NFL history, and his legacy lives on as one of the greatest players to ever step onto the field.

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21. Otto Graham

Position: QB
Years active: 1946-1955
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1965); 3x NFL Champion; 4x AAFC Champion; 3x MVP; 2x AAFC MVP 4x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro 5x Pro Bowl; 3x First-Team All-AAFC

Otto Graham is one of the forgotten greats of the game. He was the first great quarterback, period. Graham’s remarkable winning percentage and passing accomplishments make him one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history.

20. Deacon Jones

Position: DE
Years active: 1961-1974
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1980); 2x DPoY; 5x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Deacon Jones is considered the prototypical modern defensive end. He is credited with being the first pass rushing specialist and coining the term “sack.” His impact on the game and his dominance on the field make him one of the greatest defensive players of all time.

19. Anthony Munoz

Position: LT
Years active: 1980-1992
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1998); 9x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 11x Pro Bowl; MoY

Anthony Munoz is widely regarded as one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history. His excellence and dominance on the field made him a key contributor to the success of the Cincinnati Bengals. Munoz’s impact on the game cannot be overlooked.

18. Dan Marino

Position: QB
Years active: 1983-1999
Teams: Miami Dolphins
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2005); 3x Super Bowl Champion; MVP; RoY; MoY; 3x First-Team All-Pro; 5x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

Dan Marino’s impact on the Miami Dolphins and the game of football cannot be overstated. His prolific passing and records set during his career cement his place among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Marino was a true icon of the game.

17. Deion Sanders

Position: CB
Years active: 1989-2000, 2004-2005
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2011); 2x Super Bowl Champion; DPoY; 6x First-Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Deion Sanders is a legendary figure in both football and baseball. He is the only athlete to ever compete in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. Sanders’ versatility, athleticism, and impact on defense make him one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time.

16. Barry Sanders

Position: RB
Years active: 1989-1998
Teams: Detroit Lions
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2004); 1x MVP; 2x OPoY; ORoY; 6x First-Team All-Pro; 4x Second-Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl

Barry Sanders is considered by many to be the greatest running back of all time. His elusive running style and incredible agility made him impossible to tackle. Sanders’ records and accomplishments solidify his place among the all-time greats.

15. Ray Lewis

Position: LB
Years active: 1996-2012
Teams: Baltimore Ravens
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2018); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x DPoY; 7x First-Team All-Pro; 3x Second-Team All-Pro; 13x Pro Bowl

Ray Lewis is widely regarded as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. He was the heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens’ dominant defense. Lewis’ leadership, intensity, and impact on the game elevate him to the upper echelons of football greatness.

14. Dick Butkus

Position: LB
Years active: 1965-1973
Teams: Chicago Bears
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (1979 Class); 2x DPoY; 6x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 8x Pro Bowl

Dick Butkus is one of the hardest hitters in NFL history. His intensity and hard-nosed style of play made him one of the most feared defenders of his era. Butkus’ impact on the game cannot be overstated, and he is regarded as one of the greatest linebackers of all time.

13. John Elway

Position: QB
Years active: 1983-1998
Teams: Denver Broncos
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2004 Class); 2x Super Bowl Champion; 1x MVP; 1x Super Bowl MVP; 2x AFC OPoY; 1x First-Team All-Pro; 2x Second-Team All-Pro; 9x Pro Bowl

John Elway’s impact on the Denver Broncos and the game of football is immeasurable. He led the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances, winning twice. Elway’s heroic performances and clutch plays cement his place among the all-time great quarterbacks.

12. Ronnie Lott

Position: S
Years active: 1981-1994
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, New York Jets
Notable accolades: Hall of Fame (2000 Class); 4x Super Bowl Champion; 8x First-Team All-Pro; 10x Pro Bowl

Ronnie Lott is widely regarded as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history. Known for his hard-hitting style and versatility, Lott was an integral part of the dominant