15 All-Time Greatest NFL Players

The NFL is one of America’s most popular sports because it is lucrative, thrilling, and worth the risk. It has the potential to make someone leap off of their sofa due to its blend of fun and peril.

But who are the greatest players in the history of this renowned sport? These highly trained sportsmen, like many others, have a passion for the game and the stamina to become the best.

And, with patience and confidence, a few players burst through the obstacles to become the greatest players in the game’s history.
These players possessed a lot of flexibility, strength, and a winning mentality in their locker room, which left many people stunned.

Without further ado, here are the All-Time Greatest NFL Players. Before we get into the specifics, here is a list of the players on today’s list.

15 All-Time Greatest NFL Players

Some preferred to set records, while others preferred to shatter them. Here is the list of players we will be looking at.

Players’ Names Teams they Represented
15. Dick Butkus Chicago Bears
14. Ray Lewis Baltimore Ravens
13. John Elway Denver Broncos
12. Ronnie Lott San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, New York Jets
11. Joe Green Pittsburgh Steelers
10. Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals
9. Peyton Manning Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
8. Johnny Unitas Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers
7. Reggie White Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers
6. Walter Payton Chicago Bulls
5. Joe Montana San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
4. Jim Brown Cleveland Browns
3. Lawrence Taylor New York Giants
2. Jerry Rice San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
1. Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots

15. Dick Butkus

  • Date of Birth: December 9, 1942, Age: 79 Position: Linebacker (LB)
  • Active years: 1965-1973
  • The Chicago Bears

The “Monster of Midway,” Richard Marvin Butkus, is a former American football player. He was also the backbone of the eight-time Pro Bowl-winning Chicago Bears during the 1960s and was often remembered by his opponents as one of the heaviest hitters in NFL history.

With an unwavering passion to not just perform, but to dominate and demoralize the field, a prominent prize known as “The Butkus Award” was named after him following his illustrious career.

He enjoys horror stories and has plenty to share. From being knocked out to leaving the field on a stretcher, he was solely concerned with grabbing the ball from his opponent by hook or crook.

14. Ray Lewis

  • Date of Birth: May 15, 1975, Age: 47, Position: Linebacker (LB)
  • Years of operation: 1996-2012
  • Team: Baltimore Ravens

“With Ray Lewis, you hear him,” a famous phrase recounted by a pundit, he was called the “Masters of Disasters.” Do you want to know how to stop a ball carrier? Ray Lewis is the ideal person to seek counsel from. Assume he had a favorite aspect of the game that was causing havoc. Ray Lewis would never be seen in a game without a brutal tackle.

His trophy cabinet is also brimming with honors, including two Super Bowl titles, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, and 13 Pro Bowl appearances; he has it all.

13. John Elway

  • Date of Birth: June 28, 1960, Age: 62 Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years of operation: 1983-1998
  • Team: Denver Broncos

John Albert Elway Jr. was a professional American football quarterback best known for leading the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl triumphs.

John was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a great 16-year career as a quarterback with the Denver Broncos from 1983 to 1998, which includes three Super Bowl appearances and two World Championships.

He also has the most victories by a starting quarterback. Elway was the NFL’s second most prolific passer statistically. His vision and aggressive approach with a winning mentality garnered him numerous awards, including NFL Most Valuable Player (1987), Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (1992), NFL passing yards leader (1993), and many more.

12 . Ronnie Lott

  • Date of Birth: May 8, 1959, Age: 63 Positions: Cornerback, free safety, and strong safety
  • Years in service: 1981-1994
  • San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, and New York Jets

Ronnie Lott is on the list of the 15 Greatest NFL Players. He believes that “a powerful hit shifts the momentum of the game.” Ronald Mandel Lott, the iconic number “42,” was the San Francisco 49ers’ first-round draft pick (eighth overall) in 1981. He’s been unstoppable since, with a standout 14-year NFL career.

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, he won four Super Bowls, six All-Pro selections, and 10 Pro Bowls. Some consider Lott to be the best cornerback ever, owing to his ability to carry out his duties and excel in a short period. Ronnie Lott remains an NFL icon, having had the career that every player aspired to have.

11. Joe Greene

  •  Date of Birth: September 24, 1946,
  • Age: 75 Position: Defensive tackle (DT)
  • Years of operation: 1969-1981
  • Teams(s): Pittsburgh Steelers

“Mean” Charles Edward Greene (Joe Greene) was a fearsome defender in NFL history. Greene won four World Championships, was named Defensive Player of the Year twice and was a ten-time Pro Bowler.

He went on to become an NFL legend and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Greene was a member of what was probably football’s greatest dynasty.

Throughout the decades, one of football’s most historic clubs has produced a long list of All-Time Great players.
Even so, there is one Steeler who sticks out above the rest: Joe Green.

10. Emmitt Smith

  • Date of Birth: May 15, 1969, Age: 53 Position: Running back (RB)
  • Years of operation: 1990-2004
  • Team(s): Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals

Emmitt Smith is ranked tenth on the list of the greatest NFL players. He, like all the greats, enjoyed winning games by leaving his imprint.

Emmitt James Smith III is a retired football player who was the all-time top rusher in the National Football League. Smith holds the record for most career rushing touchdowns with 164.

He was picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round (17th overall) of the 1990 NFL draft. He was born in Pensacola, Florida. Since then, he has won one NFL Most Valuable Player award, three Super Bowl victories, four Pro Selections, the 1993 Bert Bell Award (Player of the Year), and eight Pro Bowl selections.

In addition, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. He was dubbed “Mr. Consistent” because he never dropped forms and always led his team to victory.

9. Peyton Manning

  • Date of Birth: March 24, 1976, Age: 46, Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years of service: 1955-1973
  • Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos

When discussing the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, one name will come up: Peyton Manning, Archie Manning’s son. This guy was born to play football; a true leader, a Viking on the field, and a genuine motivator, he was everything the team needed.

Two Super Bowl victors, Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, five-time NFL MVP (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013), two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and many more career highlights and achievements.

He was given the nickname “The Sheriff” because of his commanding and audible voice.

8. Johnny Unitas

  • Date of Birth: May 7, 1933, Age: 89 Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years of service: 1955-1973
  • Teams(s): Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts, and San Diego Chargers

If there was ever a man who was obsessed with death, it was John Constantine Unitas. He was known as “The Golden Hand” because he was the first NFL quarterback to pass for 40,000 yards.

Johnny Unitas is one of the best NFL players of all time. Nobody will ever match Johnny’s 47-game touchdown streak from 1956 to 1960 when the game’s rules valued defense over the attack.

He called his winning plays, with no offensive coordinators or coaches in booths using wireless radios. His numerous awards include four-time Most Valuable Player, ten-time Pro Bowler, and numerous others, all of which earned him induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.

His most significant accomplishment, though, was leading the Colts to the 1958 NFL title.

7. Reggie White

  • Date of Birth: December 19, 1961, Age: 60, Position: Defensive End (DE)
  • Years of operation: 1985-2000
  • Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers are the teams involved.

On the field, he was regarded as one of the NFL’s most feared and electrifying pass rushers. Reginald Howard White was an offensive coordinator’s nightmare, without a doubt. He was one of the fieriest and dominant pass rushers of his generation.

Reggie White, a flawless passer recognized for reading his teammates’ runs, provided his team with an abundance of assists. With titles like one Super Bowl winner, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time First-Team All-Pro (1986-1991, 1995, 1998), five-time Second-Team All-Pro (1992-1994,1996,1997), and many more, he has established himself as a significant figure in the game and considered one of the finest.

6. Walter Payton

  • Date of Birth: July 25, 1954, Age: 68 Position: Running back (RB)
  • Years of operation: 1975-1987
  • The Chicago Bears

Walter Jerry Payton was hailed as a “legend, warrior, and sweetheart” in three words. He was regarded as one of the best running backs of all time.

When he carried the Chicago Bears in 1977, he was a “one-man-band” and had possibly the finest single-season a running back has ever had.

In his third season, Payton set an NFL record for carries, yards from scrimmage, yards per carrying, and touchdowns. Not to mention the NFL Most Valuable Player title he received in 1977.

From the first game, he was the heart and soul of his team, and he was considered one of the best players in NFL history.

5. Joe Montana

  • Date of Birth: June 11, 1956, Age: 66 Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years of operation: 1979-1994
  • San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Joseph Clifford Montana Jr. was known as “Joe Cool” or “The Comeback Kid” for his ability to handle pressure and eventually lead them to victory, which is recognized as one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

Joe Montana was a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP by the mid-1980s. In 1985, he was a scary presence for a rookie receiver.

Although Montana was the ultimate winner in football, there were quarterbacks with more muscular arms, a faster release, and a more sculpted physique throughout his period.

Montana appeared in four Super Bowls and won all four. He threw eleven touchdowns and no interceptions in his four wins. He is the only player to have won three Super Bowls.

There may have been more physically intimidating and statistically impressive quarterbacks, but no big game quarterback was as motivating as him.

4. Jim Brown

  • Date of Birth: February 17, 1936, Age: 86 Position: Running back (RB)
  • Years of service: 1957-1965
  • Team(s): Cleveland Browns

Jim Brown is the next player on our list of the greatest NFL players. It only took James Nathaniel Brown nine seasons to rewrite the NFL record books and entirely change our perception of what a football player can be.

When it comes to trophies, he has won them all. With eight titles in nine seasons, MVP accolades, and yard covering that aided his team numerous times, he had earned the faith and admiration of all his teammates.

He was dubbed “First Down Brown” because of his quickness, dribbling past opponents, and athleticism. Brown led Cleveland to the city’s last major sports championship in 1984, and he was a crucial component of the historic squad.

3. Lawrence Taylor

  • Date of Birth: February 4, 1959, Age: 63 Position: Linebacker (LB)
  • Years in service: 1981-1993
  • Team(s): New York Giants

Moving on to the list of the greatest NFL players, Lawrence Taylor is ranked third. Lawrence Julius Taylor was described as having an “instinct” for destruction at all costs.

He left no one prisoner as a menace to anything that came into contact with him. His crew was a powerful driving force as well as a defensive force; only a few dared to pass through him, but many were left in the dust.

He was a roadblock for his opponents, as one of only two defensive players to receive MVP accolades, two Super Bowl champions, eight First-Team All-Pro, two Second-Team All-Pro, and a twelve-year NFL career as one of the heaviest hitters.

2. Jerry Rice

Date of Birth: October 13, 1962, Age: 59 Position: Wide Receiver (WR)

Years in operation: 1985 – 2004

Team(s): San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Seattle Seahawks

If there is one wide receiver that every football player aspires to be like, it is Jerry Lee Rice Sr., who is recognized as one of the greatest players to have ever played at his position; just a few players have surpassed him.

Jerry finished Super Bowl twenty-four with seven catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns as the 49ers won their second consecutive championship, where he was a key component to their victory.

He was one of the best wide receivers the NFL had ever seen, with a passion for the game that he carried throughout his career. He holds several records, including career touchdowns (208), receptions (1595), and reception yardage (22,895), and was dubbed “The Iron Man” since he was not the typical light wide receiver in the NFL.

With hard work comes success, and his triumphs were numerous, including three Super Bowl championships, one Super Bowl MVP, ten First-Team All-Pro selections, thirteen Pro Bowl selections, and many more.

1. Tom Brady

  • Date of Birth: August 3, 1977, Age: 45, Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years in operation: 2000 Present
  • Team(s): New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If there was ever a true “Captain America,” Tom Brady would be it. In every discourse about the NFL, he becomes the main point. Tom Brady is the greatest football player of all time.

He led his club to seven Super Bowl triumphs (2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021), and he was voted the game’s MVP five times, earning him number one place.

With inescapable depletion in his shape, fans dubbed him “finished,” claiming that he would never be able to compete in the demanding sport again. He, on the other hand, treated every critique with a grain of salt and proved everyone wrong.

Since being picked by the Patriots in the sixth round (119th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft, his career has been full of highs and lows, but he has always kept his head held high and his ambition to be the best. Brady is the best NFL player of all time.

Honorable Mentions

Many upcoming or rising stars have certainly earned a name for themselves. The following are some of the honorable mentions on our list:

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