Best Nfl Players Of All Time – While there have been many great football players who have passed through the NFL in the last century, the guys whose legacy is closely tied to a single franchise are always special. They are players who have spent most – if not all – of their careers with one team, and they are more rooted in the cities than most politicians think.
We looked back at the history of all 32 franchises and found the players who best define greatness in their suits. Although many of the players on our list are no longer playing — and some are not even alive — their names will likely resonate with their teams’ fans for decades to come as new stars try to live up to their legacy.
Best Nfl Players Of All Time
This was always a matchup between two elite players with the same name, and while Larry Fitzgerald is one of the all-time greats, Larry Wilson is the Cardinals all-time great. Wilson played his entire Hall-of-Fame career with the franchise from 1960-1972, while still in St. Louis. Louis, he previously had a career as a coach and general manager with the team in St. Louis and Arizona continued in the early 1990s. The late defensive tackle was a five-time first-team All-Pro, tied for the most in Cardinals history, and made eight Pro Bowls to do so .
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In their history since 1966, only one Atlanta Falcons player has been named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and that was Matt Ryan. His legacy is closely tied to that of Julio Jones, who also makes a strong case as the best player in Falcons history. In 13 seasons so far, all in Atlanta, Ryan has thrown just three shutouts, tying a franchise record and leading the team to the only two Super Bowl appearances in its history. His 2nd uniform will definitely hang on the line with this franchise when he is out of the game.
As Lamar Jackson tries to carve out a spot on the Mount Rushmore of the Ravens franchise, he will have a tough time surpassing legends like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Jonathan Ogden. We finally caught up with Lewis for his role in both franchises winning two Super Bowls – including an MVP performance in the first – and his excellence at his position. Lewis is probably the only player to win a season in a decade, making seven first-team All-Pro selections and 13 Pro Bowls from 1997-2011, both Ravens records.
We went with a defensive legend as we selected the best player in Bills history, too. In 15 seasons with Buffalo, the Hall-of-Fame defensive end was selected to eight first-team All-Pros and 11 Pro Bowls, both for the franchise. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was instrumental in helping the Bills reach four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s and became one of the most feared franchises of that decade.
Although not as popular with Buffalo fans as his teammates Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, Smith is arguably the best player to ever grace Western New York.
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Former MVP Cam Newton and first-time Hall of Famer Luke Kuechly can’t be overlooked when discussing the best Panthers ever, but our vote goes to Steve Smith. The franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards and a star wide receiver with the team for 13 seasons, Smith defined Carolina football for many viewers during the 2000s. While coaches, offensive linemen and quarterbacks came and went during Smith’s time with the Panthers, he. he was still there, playing in at least 14 games in all but one of his home seasons and making five Pro Bowls in the process.
When comparing the best Tigers in history, it’s pretty common to go back and forth. In the 100-year history of the franchise, it has had many players define the position, including Mike Singletary, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Brian Urlacher. But Walter Payton is one of the most immortal names in the league for a reason. “Sweetness” spent all 13 seasons in the NFL in Chicago and retired as the best football player ever, helping the team win its only Super Bowl after the 1985 season.
It also helps that Payton’s legacy as a great man shines today, as the league’s most prestigious honor is named after him.
In the 53-year history of the NBA, Anthony Munoz is the only player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame primarily for his work with the franchise. He was a big deal in California his entire career until he was drafted by Cincinnati in 1980, and has been a fixture in the city ever since. But he comes on this list mainly because of his contributions on the field, which was almost unbeatable for his position. In 13 seasons, all with the Nationals, Munoz was named to the All-Pro first team nine times and was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times, both franchise marks.
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The Browns franchise isn’t named after Hall of Famer Jim Brown, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. This fledgling legend was a one-man team that tied the all-time record for the shortest rushing touchdown in nine seasons in the NFL, all with Cleveland, and is still the team’s all-time leading rusher. Browns icons like Otto Graham, Lou Groza and Gene Hickerson all deserve a place in the discussion of Lake Erie’s greatest, but the three-time MVP legend still lives on 55 years after his retirement.
While there are Cowboys with more Super Bowl rings and there are more famous Cowboys outside of Dallas, Bob Lilly is still the hottest star. “Mr. Cowboy” was the first player drafted by the franchise in 1961 and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career that included a key defensive role during the team’s first Super Bowl victory. Lilly was a native Texan, beloved by the team’s fans, and spent all 14 seasons in the NFL with the Cowboys. During that time, he was named to 11 Pro Bowls and seven first-team All-Pro selections as a defensive player, which are still franchise records.
When you think of Broncos football, it’s impossible not to think of John Elway shooting a rocket down the field or a helicopter heading for the end zone. The Hall-of-Fame quarterback spent 16 seasons with Denver, his entire NFL career, and retired after back-to-back Super Bowl victories in the late 1990s. No player in Broncos history has been named to multiple Pro Bowls. It’s hard to imagine another passer scoring more franchise points in the coming decades. For many fans, Elway is easy
The Detroit Lions’ best star pick in 1930s history was a tough one, but it ultimately came down to Hall of Famers Barry Sanders and Joe Schmidt. While Schmidt, a cornerback in the 1950s and 60s, had the opportunity to win a first-team All-Pro selection and a championship, Sanders’ dominance at his position was hard to ignore. Sanders spent all 10 NFL seasons in Detroit and was arguably the best punter in league history, going to the Pro Bowl every year and never recording fewer than 1,100 rushing yards in a campaign.
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When most football fans think of Lions football, Sanders making defenders look silly dancing around the field in his 20th jersey is probably the first thing that comes to mind.
While the Packers had three legendary quarterbacks who could each come first, none defined their position like Don Hutson. The coach spent his entire career in Green Bay, from 1935 to 1945, before spending a few seasons as an assistant coach with the franchise. During his time on the field, Hutson transformed the role of receiver, leading the NFL in touchdown catches with nine and totaling eight catches. He was the first player to have his number retired by a franchise and was a founding member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Texans haven’t retired any jersey numbers yet, of course, since the franchise has only been around since 2002, but Andre Johnson’s No. 80 might be the first. The star receiver spent 12 seasons with Houston and made seven Pro Bowls, which is now a team record. During that time, he surpassed 900 yards receiving nine times and surpassed 1,500 yards three times. Current Texans icon J.J. Watt may surpass Johnson’s legacy when he retires, but he will still be a mystery to many fans.
Peyton Manning wore No. 18 for the Colts as he threw the no-hitter