By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on July 21, 2014
The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players was a 10-part television series presented by the NFL Network in 2010. But a lot has happened since 2010, especially with current players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady making their own mark on the history books. Here now are my updated rankings of the 100 greatest NFL players of all time, concluding with the top 50.
2010 Ranking: No. 45
A 14-time Pro Bowl selection, Tony González currently holds the NFL records for most touchdown receptions (111) and total reception yards (15,127) by a tight end. González was also a durable player, missing just two games in his 17-year career. In 2004, he caught a then-NFL record (for a tight end) 102 passes for 1,258 yards and seven touchdowns. González won his only playoff game in 2012 with Atlanta.
2010 Ranking: --
Originally from San Diego, Calif., Junior Seau was the Chargers' first-round pick in 1990 and became one of the team's greatest players. For 13 seasons, Seau was the Chargers' defensive leader, leading San Diego to their only Super Bowl appearance to date (Super Bowl XXIX). He made the Pro Bowl in all but one year. With New England in 2007, Seau was a key to helping the Patriots finish a perfect 16-0 in the regular season.
2010 Ranking: No. 43
A member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Alan Page was the key to Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters" defense in the 1960s and 1970s. Page won a starting job in the fourth game of his rookie season and remained there for the rest of his career. In 1971, Page became just the second defensive player in NFL history to win the NFL MVP award. With Page, the Vikings made four Super Bowl appearances.
2010 Ranking: No. 50
A four-time Super Bowl champion who spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, Terry Bradshaw played 14 seasons with the Steelers, won four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period (1975, 1976, 1979 and 1980), and became the first quarterback to win three and four Super Bowl titles. In those four Super Bowls, Bradshaw threw for 932 yards and nine touchdowns and was the MVP in Super Bowls XIII and XIV.
2010 Ranking: No. 49
An elite cover corner and an outstanding punt returner, Mike Haynes starred for both the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders, helping the Raiders win Super Bowl XVIII. As a rookie in 1976, Haynes led the AFC in interceptions with eight and scored the first two punt return touchdowns in franchise history. In 1983, his first season as a Raider, Haynes recorded an interception in their Super Bowl XVIII win.
2010 Ranking: No. 41
One of the most versatile defensive backs in NFL history, Rod Woodson led three different teams to the Super Bowl at two different positions. In his 17 NFL seasons, Woodson recorded 71 interceptions, had 1,483 interception return yards and 17 return touchdowns. His 71 interceptions ranks third all-time. Woodson guided Pittsburgh and Oakland to Super Bowl appearances and won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in the 2000 season.
2010 Ranking: No. 47
A middle linebacker for his entire 15-year career, Ray Nitschke was the leader of Vince Lombardi's championship defenses in the 1960s. He earned either first or second-team All-NFL honors seven times in eight years from 1962 to 1969 and was excellent in pass coverage with 25 career interceptions. In Super Bowl I, Nitschke had six tackles and a sack, and in Super Bowl II, Nitschke led the team with nine tackles.
2010 Ranking: No. 46
One of the most famous Heisman Trophy winners to ever play in the NFL, Roger Staubach was drafted by the Cowboys in 1964 but didn't join the team until 1969 because of a tour of duty in Vietnam. When Staubach earned the starting job in the 1971 season, "America's Team" was born. Staubach guided the Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances in the 1970s, winning Super Bowls VI (where he was named Super Bowl MVP) and XII.
2010 Ranking: No. 44
The most intimidating cornerback to ever play the game, Pittsburgh's Mel Blount dominated receivers at the line of scrimmage and even had a rule named after him. With most of the attention surrounding Pittsburgh's front seven, Blount patrolled the secondary, recording 57 career interceptions, including two in four Super Bowls. Because of his physicality against opposing receivers, the Mel Blount rule was created.
2010 Ranking: No. 42
The first president of the NFLPA, John Mackey was also one of, if not, the best tight end in NFL history. Mackey added another dimension to the position as his breakaway speed made him a legitimate threat as a pass receiver. He was also a durable performer, missing just one game in his 10 years. Mackey played in two of the first five Super Bowls and had a 75-yard touchdown catch in their Super Bowl V win over Dallas.
2010 Ranking: No. 32
A first-round pick by the Baltimore Colts in 1957, offensive lineman Jim Parker became an elite lineman at two different positions for the Colts. Parker was the blindside protector for Hall of Fame QB Johnny Unitas and helped the Colts win both the 1958 and 1959 NFL Championship games. When injuries decimated the Colts in the 1960s, Parker made the switch to guard and was named to three of his eight career Pro Bowls.
2010 Ranking: No. 33
The first modern T-formation quarterback in NFL history, Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to four NFL Championship titles in the 1940s. He was named NFL MVP in 1943 after throwing for 2,1994 yards and 28 touchdowns. In that same season, he also set a record by throwing for seven touchdowns in a game against the New York Giants. That mark has been tied twice but has not yet been broken in over 60 years.
2010 Ranking: No. 39
As a 6-foot-4, 244-pound defensive end in the 1950s, Baltimore's Gino Marchetti intimated opposing offensive linemen. Marchetti played 13 seasons with the Colts and helped them win NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. In the 1958 NFL Championship game, dubbed "The Greatest Game Ever Played," Marchetti broke his ankle but stayed on the sideline to watch his team defeat the Giants instead of leaving for the locker room.
2010 Ranking: --
Perhaps the most underrated player in NFL history, Seattle WR Steve Largent's accomplishments aren't talked about much outside of the Pacific Northwest, but he was one of the best receivers ever. Without having any elite QBs throwing to him in his career, Largent helped turn the Seahawks into contenders and retired as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions (819), receiving yards (13,089) and receiving touchdowns (100).
2010 Ranking: No. 36
Johnny Unitas' favorite receiver in Baltimore, Raymond Berry went from being a 20th-round draft pick in 1954 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Through hark and an incredible work ethic, Berry spent endless hours practicing with Unitas, which paid off when it mattered most. In the 1958 NFL Championship Game, also known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played," Berry caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against New York.
2010 Ranking: No. 38
One of the greatest players in AFL history, Lance Alworth helped make the passing game more glamorous in a new and exciting league. Alworth caught at least one pass in every AFL game he played and had at least one in 105 straight games. He helped San Diego make three AFL Championship game appearances from 1963-65, winning one in 1963. Alworth then went to Dallas in 1971 and caught a touchdown in Dallas' Super Bowl VI win.
2010 Ranking: No. 40
Before O. J. Simpson became a national pariah, he was a star running back for the Buffalo Bills and one of the greatest running backs of all time. With virtually no offensive support around him, Simpson carried the Bills throughout the 1970s. In 1973, Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards in a 14-game season and the Bills' quarterbacks threw for 1,236 yards. In 1976, Simpson rushed for a then-record 273 yards against Detroit.
2010 Ranking: No. 34
The greatest shutdown cornerback in NFL history, Deion Sanders was so good that teams rarely threw to his side of the field. Sanders was also an excellent returner, both on special teams and on interceptions. He won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1994 and 1995 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. He scored 22 career touchdowns, three on offense, 10 on defense and nine on special teams.
2010 Ranking: No. 35
The greatest two-way player in NFL history, Chuck Bednarik became an All-Pro at two of the toughest positions to play, center and linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. As a rookie in 1949, Bednarik helped the Eagles win their second NFL Championship in a row, and in the 1960 NFL Championship game, he made the game-saving tackle against Jim Taylor of the Packers to give the Eagles their most recent championship.
2010 Ranking: No. 20
The toughest quarterback to ever play the game, Brett Favre started a record 321 consecutive games (including playoffs) from 1992-2010. He was also one of the more accomplished passers in NFL history, throwing for the most yards (71,838) and touchdowns (508) for any quarterback. Favre turned Green Bay into a Super Bowl champion and almost guided the Vikings to Super Bowl XLIV in his first season with the team in 2009.
2010 Ranking: No. 30
In 1952, Dick (Night Train) Lane asked for a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams. Not only did he make the team, but he went on to become one of the best defensive backs in NFL history. As a rookie. he intercepted a record 14 passes in just a 12-game season. Lane was also known as a devastating tackler, especially when delivering his specialty, the Night Train necktie. His 68 career interceptions ranks fourth in NFL history.
2010 Ranking: No. 31
The NFL's all-time sack leader, Bruce Smith dominated opposing offensive linemen with most of his production coming as a 3-4 defensive end. Smith was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996 and made the Pro Bowl 11 times. Smith was the catalyst on defense for a team that made four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1990-93.
2010 Ranking: No. 29
A second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1974 draft, Jack Lambert was the heartbeat of the Steelers defense. As a rookie in 1974, Lambert was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and helped the Steelers win their first of four Super Bowls in the decade. A defensive captain for eight years, Lambert played in six AFC championship games and four Super Bowls, clinching Super Bowl XIV with an interception.
2010 Ranking: No. 19
One of the toughest players in the early years of the NFL, Bronko Nagurski was a bruising fullback for the Chicago Bears. He was also an effective blocker as well as a solid tackler. After a five-year absence from the NFL, Nagurski returned to Chicago in 1943 and scored the game-winning touchdown against Washington in the NFL Championship game. He was a first- or second-team All-NFL player in seven of his nine seasons.
2010 Ranking: No. 28
The NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith was the soul of Dallas' three Super Bowl teams in the 1990s. The Cowboys, with their star runner leading the way, won three Super Bowls in four seasons from 1992-1995. Smith was named first-team All-Pro in each of those years. In 1993, Smith was named NFL MVP and Super Bowl XXVIII MVP. On Oct. 27, 2002, Smith broke Walter Payton's 16-year all-time rushing record.
2010 Ranking: No. 25
The sixth quarterback taken in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft, Dan Marino went on to become one of the greatest passers in NFL history. Marino became a starter as a rookie and never relinquished it. Marino became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards when he threw for 5,084 and 48 touchdowns in 1984. When he retired, Marino was the all-time leader in passing yards (61,361) and passing touchdowns (420).
2010 Ranking: No. 22
Gale Sayers played in just 68 career games with the Chicago Bears, but there was no one who could match his big-play ability. As a rookie in 1965, Sayers scored 22 total touchdowns, including six in one game against San Francisco. A devastating knee injury cost Sayers a majority of his career, but he still finished with over 9,000 all-purpose yards and 56 career touchdowns.
2010 Ranking: No. 24
The greatest interior offensive lineman of all time, John Hannah was the best offensive guard in NFL history. Throughout his career, the Patriots were a great power-running team, as witnessed in 1978 when Hannah blocked for a ground game that gained a then-record 3,165 yards. Hannah made nine Pro Bowls in his career and retired from the NFL after the Patriots' Super Bowl XX loss to Chicago.
2010 Ranking: No. 18
One of the best leaders in NFL history, Ray Lewis was the Ravens' second draft pick in franchise history and led the team to two Super Bowl titles. Lewis was selected to 13 Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro 10 times. He was also named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003. In 2000, Lewis won the Super Bowl XXV MVP award, and in his final NFL game, Lewis won Super Bowl XLVII.
2010 Ranking: No. 23
A first-round draft choice by Baltimore in 1983, John Elway was immediately traded to the Broncos after refusing to play for the Colts. It turned out to be the right decision. Elway was the greatest player in franchise history, helping the Broncos reach five Super Bowls, winning two in 1997 and 1998. Elway’s 47 fourth quarter and overtime game-winning or game-tying drives are the most in NFL history.
2010 Ranking: No. 27
A defensive tackle who played in every game of his 15-year career, Merlin Olsen became one of the leading members of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defense. As a rookie, Olsen was voted to the Pro Bowl, marking the first of 14 such appearances. During his career, the Rams made the playoffs six times and reached the NFL/NFC Championship games three times.
2010 Ranking: No. 26
The Cowboys' first-ever draft pick in 1961, Bob Lilly went from being on an expansion team to becoming a Super Bowl champion. Known as "Mr. Cowboy," Lilly played defensive end before transitioning to defensive tackle. Lilly played in two of the first six Super Bowls, winning his only title in Super Bowl VI against Miami. He was the first player who spent his entire career with the Cowboys to become a Hall of Famer.
2010 Ranking: No. 16
One of the winningest players in NFL history, Otto Graham guided the Cleveland Browns to 10 AAFC/NFL championship games in his 10 professional seasons. With Graham at the helm, the Browns won four straight AAFC titles and amassed a 52-4-3 record. When Graham and the Browns moved to the NFL in 1950, they won the NFL championship in their first season. Graham won seven of those 10 championship games as the quarterback.
2010 Ranking: No. 17
The most elusive running back in NFL history, Barry Sanders drove defenses crazy in each of his 10 NFL seasons, all with Detroit. Sanders rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his 10 seasons despite no quarterback help around him. A first- or second-team All-Pro in each season, Sanders became the first NFL running back to record five 1,500-yard rushing seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl each season.
2010 Ranking: No. 15
One of the finest pass rushers in NFL history, David (Deacon) Jones was a dominant rusher on "The Fearsome Foursome." Using his trademark head slap, Jones easily terrorized quarterbacks in the 1960s. He won unanimous all-league honors in six straight years from 1965-70, played in seven straight Pro Bowls from 1965-71 and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1967 and 1968.
2010 Ranking: No. 14
As one of the first elite quarterbacks in NFL history, Sammy Baugh became a do-it all player for the Washington Redskins. In addition to being a good passer, Baugh was a star defensive back and an excellent punter. Baugh led the Redskins to NFL Championships in 1937 and 1942, but Baugh's best season came in 1943 when he led the NFL in passing, pass interceptions and punting.
2010 Ranking: No. 12
The greatest offensive tackle in NFL history, Anthony Muñoz became the greatest Cincinnati Bengals player in team history. An all-around athlete, Muñoz even caught seven passes and scored four touchdowns on tackle eligible plays. His stalwart play was the key to the success that propelled Cincinnati to three AFC Central Division titles and two AFC championships (1981 and 1988).
2010 Ranking: No. 13
The most important member of Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" defense in the 1970s, Joe Greene turned the Steelers from a laughingstock to the greatest dynasty in NFL history. "Mean Joe" Greene won the 1969 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and went to the first of his 10 Pro Bowls. In both 1972 and 1974, Greene was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Greene had an interception and a fumble recovery in Super Bowl IX.
2010 Ranking: No. 21
The 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft and the sixth quarterback selected, Tom Brady went from late-round project to three-time Super Bowl champion. Replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady guided the Patriots to the first of three Super Bowl titles in four seasons. Brady's 2007 season was one of the best ever as he threw for 50 touchdown passes, helping the Patriots earn the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history.
2010 Ranking: No. 11
A first-round pick by the 49ers in 1981, Ronnie Lott immediately changed the culture in San Francisco, turning the 49ers into a dynasty. As a rookie, Lott returned three interceptions for touchdowns and helped the 49ers win Super Bowl XVI. Lott later moved to safety and made the Pro Bowl at three different positions. A two-way safety, Lott made over 1,000 tackles and intercepted 63 passes in his career.
2010 Ranking: No. 10
The greatest linebacker in NFL history, Dick Butkus was the most feared tackler in NFL history. Despite playing on mostly losing teams during his time as a Chicago Bear, Butkus exceled, even earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors on a team that went 1-13. Butkus finished his career with 22 interceptions, 27 forced fumbles and was named to eight Pro Bowls.
2010 Ranking: No. 7
"The Minister of Defense," Reggie White was a saint off the field, but he was a monster on it. His ability to rush the passer helped the Philadelphia Eagles gain playoff success after years of losing. As an Eagle, White recorded 124 sacks. As a Green Bay Packer, White became the biggest free agent signing in NFL history, helping Green Bay win Super Bowl XXXI, their first since 1967. His 198 sacks ranks second all-time.
2010 Ranking: No. 9
The second greatest wide receiver in NFL history, Don Hutson became the first dominant player at the position. When Hutson retired in 1945 after 11 seasons, he held 18 NFL records, including career receptions (488) and touchdowns (99). Hutson led the league in touchdowns eight times, receiving eight times and was named NFL MVP in both the 1941 and 1942 seasons.
2010 Ranking: No. 8
Perhaps the smartest quarterback to ever play the game, Peyton Manning has taken two franchises to the Super Bowl. With Indianapolis, Manning led the Colts to eight division championships, a victory in Super Bowl XLI and another appearance in Super Bowl XLIV. After a neck injury threatened to end his career, Manning has starred for the Broncos, helping Denver reach Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 after throwing for 55 touchdowns.
2010 Ranking: No. 6
A ninth-round draft pick by the Steelers in 1955, Johnny Unitas was cut by the team without throwing even a single pass. Unitas then went on to become one of the best QBs ever with the Baltimore Colts. In the 1958 NFL title game, Unitas led the Colts to game-tying and game-winning drives against the New York Giants. His record of 47 straight games, ending in 1960, lasted more than 50 years until Drew Brees broke it in 2012.
2010 Ranking: No. 4
The greatest quarterback in NFL history, Joe Montana turned San Francisco into a dynasty and made Kansas City a contender. A master of the comeback, Montana had 31 fourth quarter come-from-behind wins, including the game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII. In four Super Bowl appearances, Montana was named MVP three times and didn't throw an interception. Montana also guided the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game in 1993.
2010 Ranking: No. 3
The greatest defensive player in NFL history, Lawrence Taylor changed the way offenses protected the quarterback. As a rookie in 1981, Taylor had a career-high 133 tackles, forced two fumbles and had 9.5 sacks. In 1986, Taylor was named NFL MVP after recording 20.5 sacks and helped the Giants win Super Bowl XXI. Taylor finished his career with 132.5 career sacks and won his second Super Bowl in 1990.
2010 Ranking: No. 2
For nine seasons, Jim Brown was the finest running back in the NFL, but he walked away at the age of 30. During that time, Brown became one of the NFL's first superstars, earning four NFL MVP awards and rushing for a then-record 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns. In 1964, Brown helped lead the Browns to their most recent NFL Championship and the city's most recent title among their three major sports teams.
2010 Ranking: No. 5
The No. 4 overall pick in 1975, Walter Payton was the most accomplished running back in NFL history when he retired. Payton was named NFL MVP in 1977 and 1985 and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1977 and 1985. An amazing runner, Walter rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 10 of his 13 seasons. Payton surpassed Brown's rushing record in 1984 and helped the Bears win Super Bowl XX against New England.
2010 Ranking: No. 1
The San Francisco 49ers traded up in the 1985 NFL Draft to select Jerry Rice and ended up drafting the greatest player in NFL history. Rice had 14 1,000-yard receiving seasons and recorded double-digit receiving touchdown nine times. Rice won three Super Bowl as a 49er, earning MVP in Super Bowl XXIII. He owns virtually every significant receiving mark, including total receptions (1,549) and total touchdowns (208).
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