The National Football League (NFL) has been around since 1920. We've seen some of the finest players of all time display the fury of football on the field throughout the years. There have been several styles of play that have spanned multiple ages. Although the passing game now dominates the NFL, championships were once won mostly by defensive and run-first offenses. Gunslingers and precise quarterbacks, shifty and strong rushers, towering receivers and shifty little slot receivers, and more have all graced the field. With so many different skills, play styles, and levels of athleticism, skill, and coaching, determining who is the best player of all time is difficult, especially given the wide range of positions in the game.
The game has witnessed several upsets over the years, just like every other game. These were upsets steered by individual brilliance. The NHL, for example, documents the biggest upsets of all time, and the assassins behind it. (Browse more here to read more about the top NHL upsets.) To establish who actually the best was, we must consider numbers, awards, age of the NFL at the time, and the strengths and shortcomings of each player. Most significantly, we shall consider the player's personal supremacy of the game and how they influenced their team throughout their career. This article will discuss the NFL's top 5 players ever.
#5. Barry Sanders - Detroit Lions 1989-1998)
When a great player stays with one squad, it's usually a good thing. Unless, of course, it's the Lions. Despite his talent, fame, and riches, Sanders was a modest, nice, and humble guy who carried for 15,279 yards, which ranks third all-time. He's appeared in 10 Pro Bowls. He was named to the All-Pro first team six times. He's also the only running back in NFL history to collect 1,000 rushing yards in his first ten seasons. Unfortunately, the Lions lost five of their six postseason games while Sanders was wasting his potential with them. Sanders was old-school in an age of controversial personalities, throwing the ball to the ref or gently dropping it after each score.
#4. Lawrence Taylor - New York Giants (1981 -1993)
Because defensive players aren't bound by stats, judging them is more difficult. Lawrence Taylor should be the finest defensive player in NFL history, if we're being objective. Teams built offenses around Taylor to prevent him from wreaking havoc on the opposition offense on his own. He was strong enough to stop hurting running backs while still being quick enough to sack quarterbacks on the fly. He invented the downward chop, which is still used by current players to force fumbles. Taylor cemented his reputation as the best linebacker in history in 1986, with 20.5 sacks (the most by a linebacker in NFL history), earning first-team All-Pro honors, leading the Giants to their first Super Bowl triumph, and becoming only the second defensive player in history to win NFL MVP.
#3. Jim Brown - Cleveland Browns (1957-1965)
Brown is the greatest running back in history, at a period when rushing was the key method of moving the ball in the NFL. He was named to the first team All-Pro eight times in nine years. He's the only running back in the league who averages more than 100 yards each game (104.3). He led the NFL in yards per game in eight of his nine seasons, overall running yards in eight of his nine seasons, rushing touchdowns in five of his nine seasons, and touches and scrimmage yards in six of his nine seasons. To give you a sense of how dominant Jim Brown was, he topped the league in runs, yards, touchdowns, touches, and yards from scrimmage in his last NFL season (1965).
#2. Tom Brady - Tampa Bay Buccaneers / / New England Patriots (2000 - present)
Brady left New England at the age of 43 to lead the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win in just one season. He accomplished this without the use of OTAs, summer camp, or preseason games. In other words, he had no opportunity to train with his new teammates and develop the type of shorthand that a quarterback needs to routinely win games. To understand what a near-impossible feat it is, you may need to either play, cover, or fervently follow football. Unless Brady does it again next year, it's safe to assume it won't happen again. He's won seven Super Bowls already.
#1. Jerry Rice - San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Seattle Seahawks (1985 - 2005)
You just cannot think of a more dominant athlete in any sport than Jerry Rice at wide receiver. Several players might have easily slipped into the top spot. Rice, on the other hand, has a Secretariat-like advantage over his peers. Rice has no advantage over his peers, as seen by the margin between them. Rice has a total of 22,285 yards receiving (no one else has 20,000). With 208 total touchdowns, Rice boasts the most. With 1,549 catches, he is the world's best. With 23,546, he is the all-time leader in all-purpose yards, and he has 274 straight games with at least one reception. In a league and sports climate where records fall like autumn leaves, Jerry Rice still owns 36 NFL records 16 years after retirement.