Here Are The 5 Greatest Players In NFL History

Author: Jomathews


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The NFL dates back to the 1920s. Football has come with its ferocity to be seen on the gridiron by some of the greatest athletes of all time. Across several different eras, football has had different styles of play. A pass-first offense dominates the NFL today, but several years ago, championships went to teams that played defensively first. A wide variety of quarterbacks have been part of the game, including gunslingers and accurate passers, towering receivers with powerful arms, and tactile small slot receivers with agility. It is difficult to determine who the greatest player of all time is, especially given the vast array of positions in the game, the variety of skills, play styles, and athletic abilities.

There are different reasons why Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Joe Montana, and Tom Brady can be regarded as the best players. The NFL's greatest players are determined by taking into account stats, accolades, the era of the NFL at the time, and the strengths/weaknesses each player possessed. The most significant factor we'll consider is how the player impacted his team throughout his career, as well as their overall dominance.

 

1. Dick Butkus 

Between 1965 and 1973, Dick Butkus was a Chicago Bears middle linebacker. Butkus was one of the greatest defensive players during his time in the league. His opponents were scared of him, earning him the nickname "The Monster of the Midway." Besides growling and snarling at opponents, he also cursed them out and told them that he would destroy them. As an intimidator, Butkus went far beyond that. As one of the biggest turnover machines in the league, he was quick with the ball and had finesse and awareness. During his nine years of playing, Butkus forced 49 turnovers, 52 interceptions, and 27 fumbles, all of which he recovered.

During his eight consecutive seasons, Butkus was a Pro Bowler and named a five-time All-Pro selection. In 1970, despite the team only winning one game, Butkus was named the Pro Football Writers of America Defensive Player of the Year. When Butkus retired from professional football, he held the NFL record for forced fumbles. Dick Butkus Award continues to be known in different levels of football as the best linebacker.

"I wanna just let 'em know that they've been hit. And when they get up, they don't have to look to see who hit 'em. It shouldn't be any puzzle when they come through they gotta say 'Well it must have been Butkus who got me.' - Dick Butkus

 

2. Aaron Donald

You might be wondering how Aaron Donald could be a top player of all time just a decade into the game. Despite only playing in the league for eight years, Donald is already destined for a Hall of Fame nomination. A member of the All-Pro Academy every year except during his rookie season, he hasn't missed a Pro Bowl since he was drafted in 2014.

It may be said that Donald is among the NFL's greatest players in history. Although he is on the interior line and faces twice three and four double teams, he consistently finishes near the top of the sacks chart every season. From his defensive tackle position in 2018, Donald led the league in sacks. He bowls over offensive linemen, gets skinny to split defenders, and simply outworks his opponents through his technique, power, and finesse.

Donald has already tied three Defensive Player of the Year awards, putting him in an NFL record. He constantly puts up great numbers every year and is the most dominant defensive player. Currently, in the #9 position on the all-time list of career tackles for losses, Donald will become the leader by the end of the next four seasons if his averages remain the same.

The devastation Donald's football has built from such a disadvantageous position speaks volumes about his sheer dominance. 

"I know you ain't gonna win every one-on-one, but in my mind, I'm supposed to." - Aaron Donald

 

3. Lawrence Taylor 

With his single presence, Lawrence Taylor forever changed how teams work at multiple positions and offensive schemes. As a 6'3" 255-pound lineman, Taylor was still barely larger than the average NFL lineman in the 1970s. With pass-catching running backs and fewer running backs in general, the league began to adopt a quarterback-driven offense. 

During this period, Taylor entered the league and became a major player in it. He decimated offensive schemes because of his size and speed. Taylor soon demonstrated that he could overpower any backs put in his way. In response, teams started looking for larger and more athletic left tackles who could compete against Taylor alone on the field. For 30 years, the left tackle had been only the second-highest paid NFL position besides quarterback, making him one of the NFL's greatest players.

It was incredible how relentless Taylor was. As strong as they came, he could bowl over linemen, yet he was also fast enough to go around them. In an effort to counter Taylor's way of running down from behind the line, teams had to devise new running plays as a result. It was even common for Taylor to rush when he wasn't supposed to. It was planned that Taylor would drop into coverage on a play on December 13, 1981, according to coach Bill Parcells. 

His response was to rush instead of passing, resulting in a sack of the opposing quarterback. A positive outcome from the play led to Taylor deviating from it. Parcells scolded Taylor for doing so. A second time in the game, Taylor rushed, but this time, he recovered a sack-fumble for a touchdown. The make-up should be added to the playbook after Taylor told Parcells to write it down.

As a linebacker, Taylor is often regarded as the greatest defensive player of all time and is commonly known as the greatest linebacker. In our all-time rankings, he earns a top-five spot in the NFL's greatest players after winning the MVP award as one of only two defensive players ever in the game.

“You try to stay within the rules for the sake of the game, but you can always turn up the intensity.” - Lawrence Taylor

 

4. Barry Sanders

There will never be an end to the debate over whether Barry Sanders was the greatest running back in history. Sanders, 30, retired early from football. In most of his first ten seasons, he ran 1,500 yards consecutively. Aside from running at least 1,500 yards in four consecutive seasons, Sanders is the only player ever to have done so.

Despite Sanders' unique skill set, he was rarely a part of a winning team. Sanders' accomplishments were even more impressive given the absence of talent on the Detroit Lions during his career. Even though defenses knew Sanders could only be a threat to them, Sanders managed to dominate nonetheless. Among his many qualities, he was strong, agile, fast, and balanced. In one-on-one situations, defenders were nearly unable to bring him down because of his speed and ability to stay low.

Sanders averaged 99.8 yards per game as a rushing player throughout his career. He scored over 2,000 yards two times and never ran less than 1,300 yards. If Sanders had not retired early, he probably would have owned every rushing record. However, we will never be able to know that. Even with Sanders having left the game early and having the team around him, Sanders is undoubtedly one of the NFL’s greatest players in history, and even now, he inspires the players on a personal level in a way that few can.

"I never valued it (the career rushing yardage record) so much that I thought it was worth my dignity or Walter’s dignity to pursue it amid so much media and marketing attention.” - Barry Sanders

 

5. Jim Brown

Jim Brown is one of the greatest runners of all time. Many believe that Barry Sanders is better and didn't surpass Brown because he left the game early, but they also fail to realize that Brown left the game even earlier and at a much higher level. After playing football for nine seasons, Jim Brown retired at 29. When Brown disagreed with owner Art Modell, he gave up football in favor of a movie career. Over 50 years after his retirement, he still owns many major rushing titles.

When football was first introduced, only 12-14 games were played yearly. Although Brown has averaged over 100 yards per game and 5 yards per carrying in his career, he is undoubtedly one of the NFL's greatest players. Aside from leading the NFL in rushing eight times, Brown led the league in touchdowns five times during his 9-year career. As a First-Team All-Pro in eight of his nine seasons, he made the Pro Bowl every year. When he played in the NFL, there was no player like him. As a result of his early retirement from the game, he would never have had the opportunity to beat his records, leaving the game after an MVP season with 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns, one of his best years statistically.

It was Jim's incredible durability that made him even more impressive. He never missed a single game, even in a run-first league. While leading the league in touches six times, he never missed a game due to injury. A remarkable aspect of his performance is that he rushed the ball more than his major competitors, such as Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, and Emmitt Smith, did. Even though Brown knew the ball was going his way, nobody was able to stop him when he was playing in the NFL. He rushed the ball 54.8% of all offensive play calls throughout his career.

“I went for the extra yard. I took the chances. That has a lot to do with who I am, and I’m not going to respect anything less. They say it’s smart to run out of bounds. I don’t care; I’m not going to respect it. When you accept this game, you accept a certain amount of violence. The nature of the game is hitting. If you can only do it for two years, then do it for two years and get out. Otherwise, you’re taking away from the game.” - Jim Brown.

 

Conclusion

These are some of the best athletes in the NFL, and it has always been that way. No matter what level of playing you play at, even those who are only able to make the practice squad have the potential to excel. Those who compete in this field are large, stronger, faster, smarter, and just want it more than anyone else, and some players possess all of those attributes at the same time. As the NFL's greatest players, their hits, passes, runs, tackles, and kicks have helped them get into history through their incredible athletic abilities. There is no better place to experience American football than the NFL.


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