15 Greatest NFL Players of all Time

This article was last updated by on

NFL is one of America’s most loved sports for its lucrative, exciting, and worth the risk features. A mixed bag of both entertainment and treacherousness, it certainly has the power to make someone jump out of their couch. 

But who are the great players to have ever played this renowned sport?

Like many other athletes, these highly trained have a heart for the game and endurance to become one of the best.

NGL Game
NFL game

And indeed, with patience and confidence, a few players broke the barriers to becoming the greatest players to have ever played the game. Flexibility, strength, and an eye for victory, these players had a whole lot of it in their locker room, which left many speechless. 

Without wasting a moment, here are The Greatest NFL Players of All Time. Before we dip into the details, here is the list of players included in today’s list.

15 Greatest NFL Players of all Time

Some preferred to create records and some to break them. Here is the list of players that we will be going through.

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: 9 December 1942, Age: 81 Years Old
  • Position: Linebacker (LB)
  • Years Active: 1965-1973
  • Team(s): Chicago Bears

Richard Marvin Butkus, the “Monster of Midway,” is a former American football player. Also, often recalled by his opponents as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL history, he served as the backbone of the eight-time Pro Bowl winners, Chicago Bears, during the 1960s.

With an unrelenting obsession, not only to excel but to dominate and demoralize the field, a prestigious award called “The Butkus Award” was honored to his name after his glorious career.

Fan of horror stories, he has got a lot to share. From being left unconscious to leaving the field in a stretcher, he cared only about getting the ball from the opponent by hook or crook. 

14. Ray Lewis

  • Date of Birth: 15 May 1975, Age: 48 Years Old
  • Position: Linebacker (LB)
  • Years active: 1996-2012
  • Team(s): Baltimore Ravens

“Often you hear leaders, but with Ray Lewis, you hear him,” a famous line quoted by a commentator, he was dubbed the “Masters of Disasters.” 

Ray Lewis during a game .
Ray Lewis during a game (Source: Wikimedia)

Want to know how to take down a ball carrier? Ray Lewis is the best man to seek advice. Suppose there was one thing that he loved about the game that was causing mayhem. You would never see a game without a vicious tackle with Ray Lewis in it. 

Also, his trophy cabinet is filled with glories, such as the two-time Super Bowl Champion, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and, 13 times, Pro Bowl winners; he has won it all. 

13. John Elway 

  • Date of Birth: 28 June 1960, Age: 63 Years Old
  • Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years active:  1983-1998
  • Team(s): Denver Broncos

Most notably known for leading the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl victories, John Albert Elway Jr. was a professional American Football quarterback.

Inducted into the professional football Hall of Fame following a magnificent 16-year career as a quarterback with the Broncos from 1983-98 that included 3 Super Bowl appearances and two World Championships, John had the most victories by a starting quarterback. Elway was statistically the second most prolific passer in NFL history. 

His vision and aggressive approach with a winning mentality earned him galore of trophies such as the NFL Most Valuable Player (1987), Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (1992), NFL passing yards leader (1993), and many more notable achievements.

12. Ronnie Lott

  • Date of Birth: 8 May 1959, Age: 65 Years Old
  • Position: Cornerback, free safety, and strong safety
  • Years active: 1981-1994
  • Team(s): San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, New York Jets

Among the list of 15 Greatest NFL players, Ronnie Lott is one of them.  He has got a mentality of ” A big hit changes the momentum of the game”.

The iconic number “42” Ronald Mandel Lott was the San Francisco user’s first-round draft pick (eighth overall) of the 1981 NFL draft. Since then, he was undroppable with a standout 14-year career in the NFL. 

Inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, four Super Bowl Championships, six All-Pro selections, and ten Pro Bowl selections

With carrying his duty as a cornerback and excelling within a short period, some say Lott is the top player to have ever played on that role. With a career that every player desired to have, Ronnie Lott remains an icon in the eyes of the NFL. 

Who are the 20 Richest NFL Players in the World? Click here to know!!

11. Joe Greene

  • Date of Birth: 24 September 1946, Age: 77 Years Old
  • Position: Defensive tackle (DT)
  • Years active: 1969-1981
  • Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers

“Mean” Charles Edward Greene (Joe Greene) was one of the most feared defenders in NFL history. Greene was a four-time World Champion, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a ten-time Pro Bowler.

He became an NFL icon and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Greene was part of arguably football’s greatest dynasty. 

One of football’s most storied franchises has produced a long list of All-time great players throughout the decades. Yet to this day, there is one Steeler that stands above all others: Joe Green. 

10. Emmitt Smith 

  • Date of Birth: 15 May 1969, Age: 54 Years Old
  • Position: Running back (RB)
  • Years active: 1990-2004
  • Team(s): Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals

Counting at no 10 on the list of greatest NFL players is Emmitt Smith. Like all the great ones, he also loved winning games by leaving a mark of his own. 

An all-time leading rusher in the National Football League, Emmitt James Smith III is a retired football player. Smith has a record for the most rushing touchdowns in a career, with 164.

Emmitt Smith during action
Emmitt Smith during action (Source: Public domain pictures)

Born in Pensacola, Florida, he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round (17th overall) of the 1990 NFL draft.

Since then, glories have come to him in abundance as he has won one NFL Most Valuable Player award, three Super Bowl championships, four Pro Selections, 1993 Bert Bell Award (Player of the Year), eight Pro Bowl selections.

Further, he was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

With no dropping of forms and always leading his team to glories, he was dubbed “Mr. Consistent.” 

9. Peyton Manning

  • Date of Birth: 24 March 1976, Age: 48 Years Old
  • Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years active: 1955-1973
  • Team(s): Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos

When the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history are discussed, one name will feature Peyton Manning, the son of Archie Manning

This guy was born to play football; a true leader, a Viking on the field, and an authentic influencer, all that the team needed. 

With career highlights and awards including two Super Bowl champions, Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, five-times NFL Most Valuable Player (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013), two-times NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and many more.

Due to his commanding and audible voice, he was given the nickname “The Sheriff.” 

8. Johnny Unitas

  • Date of Birth: 7 May 1933, Age: 91 Years Old
  • Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years active: 1955-1973
  • Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers

If there ever was a guy so obsessed with passing, it was John Constantine Unitas. He was the first NFL quarterback to pass for forty thousand yards and was named “The Golden Hand.”

Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest NFL players. (Source: Flickr)

In an era of 12 and 14 game seasons when the game’s rules favored defense over offense, no one will ever pass Johnny’s 47 game TD streak from 1956 to 1960. He called his won plays- no offensive coordinators, no wireless radio from coaches in booths. 

His trophy galore includes four-time Most Valuable Player, ten-times Pro Bowlers winners, and many more, which inducted him in the NFL Hall of Fame. But his most notable achievement was leading the Colts to victory in the 1958 NFL championship. 

7. Reggie White

  • Date of Birth: 19 December 1961, Age: 62 Years Old
  • Position: Defensive End (DE)
  • Years active: 1985-2000
  • Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers

On the field, he was considered one of the most feared and electrifying pass rushers in NFL history. An offensive coordinator’s nightmare unquestionably, Reginald Howard White was one of the most fierce and dominant pass rushers of his generation. 

A perfect passer and known for reading his teammate’s run, Reggie White served his team with an ample amount of assists. 

With silverwares such as one Super Bowl champion, two-times NFL Defensive Player of the Year, eight-times First-Team All-Pro (1986-1991, 1995, 1998), five-times Second-Team All-Pro (1992-1994,1996,1997), and many more has made him a key figure in the game and regarded as one of the best. 

6. Walter Payton

  • Date of Birth: 25 July 1954, Age: 69 Years Old
  • Position: Running back (RB)
  • Years active: 1975-1987
  • Team(s): Chicago Bears

If you ever ask who the iconic athletes from Chicago are, you will get two answers. Michael Jordan and Walter Payton

“Legend, Warrior, and Sweetness” these three words described Walter Jerry Payton. He was arguably one of the most excellent running backs of all time. 

Walter Payton (Source: Wikimedia)

He was a “one-man-band” when he carried the Chicago Bears in 1977 and perhaps the greatest single-season a running back has ever had.

Payton had an NFL high in carries, yards from scrimmage, yards per carrying, and touchdowns in his third season. Without forgetting the NFL Most Valuable Player award, he took home in 1977. 

He was the heart and soul of his team from the first game and was regarded as one of the best players in NFL history. 

5. Joe Montana

  • Date of Birth: 11 June 1956, Age: 67 Years Old
  • Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years active: 1979-1994
  • Team(s): San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs

Joseph Clifford Montana Jr. went by the nicknames “Joe Cool” or “The comeback kid” for handling pressure with ease, eventually leading them to victory, regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. 

By the mid-80s, Joe Montana was a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP. An intimidating presence to a rookie receiver in 1985.

Montana was football’s ultimate winner, though; there were quarterbacks with more muscular arms, a quicker release, and a more chiseled physique during his era.

Montana played in four Super Bowls and won them all. In those four victories, he threw eleven touchdowns and no interceptions. He is the only three-time Super Bowl MVP.

There may have been passers more imposing physically and more impressive statistically, but no big game quarterback was as inspiring as him. 

4. Jim Brown

  • Date of Birth: 17 February 1936, Age: 88 Years Old
  • Position: Running back (RB)
  • Years active: 1957-1965
  • Team(s): Cleveland Browns

Next on our list of greatest NFL players is Jim Brown. Nine seasons, that’s all it took for James Nathaniel Brown to rewrite the NFL record books and completely revise our concept of what a football player can be. 

Talking about trophies, he has won everything. From eight titles out of nine seasons, lavished with MVP awards and yard covering, which helped his team on many occasions, he had earned trust and respect from all his teammates. 

But most notably known for his speed, dribbling past opponents, and athletism, he was dubbed “First Down Brown.” 

In 1984, Brown carried Cleveland to what reminded the cities last major sports championship, with him being the key figure in the iconic team. 

3. Lawrence Taylor

  • Date of Birth: 4 February 1959, Age: 65 Years Old
  • Position: Linebacker (LB)
  • Years active: 1981-1993
  • Team(s): New York Giants

Moving onwards the list of greatest NFL players, Lawrence Taylor ranks at the 3rd position. One word to describe Lawrence Julius Taylor, “instinct,” which was wired for destruction at any cost. 

A threat for anything that came face-to-face with him, he left no man prisoner. His team was a high driving force and equally defensive; only a few dared to pass through him, but many were left to eat the dust. 

One of the only two defensive players to earn MVP honors, two Super Bowl champions, eight First-Team All-Pro, two Second-Team All-Pro, and a twelve-year NFL career as one the hardest hitter, he was very much a blockade for his opponents.

2. Jerry Rice

  • Date of Birth: 13 October 1962, Age: 61 Years Old
  • Position: Wide Reciever (WR)
  • Years active: 1985 – 2004
  • Team(s): San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks

If there is one wide receiver that every footballer would want to impersonate, that is Jerry Lee Rice Sr., regarded as one of the greatest players to have played in his position; only a few players have reached his heights.

In Super Bowl twenty-four, Jerry finished seven catches for one hundred and forty-eight yards and three touchdowns as the 49ners won their second straight championship, where he was the critical element for their success. 

With a passion for the game that he carried out throughout his career, he was one of the finest wide receivers that the NFL had ever seen.

He holds a set of records, including career touchdowns (208), reception (1595), and reception yardage (22,895), and was given the nickname “The Iron Man” as he wasn’t the usual light wide receiver in NFL. 

With hard work comes success; his successes came in abundance with notable accolades such as three Super Bowl champions, one Super Bowl MVP, ten-times First-Team All-Pro, thirteen-times Pro Bowl, and many more.

1. Tom Brady

  • Date of Birth: 3 August 1977, Age: 46 Years Old
  • Position: Quarterback (QB)
  • Years active: 2000 – Present
  • Team(s): New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If there ever were a real “Captain America,” it would be Tom Brady. With every conversation about the NFL, he indeed becomes the focal point during the talk.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady, the best NFL player of all time.

He led his team to earn seven Super Bowl victories (2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021) and was named the game’s MVP five times, earning him the number one spot, which is more of a no-brainer decision.

With unavoidable depletion in his form, fans called him “finished” and said that he would never be able to play the intense sport again. But he took every criticism as a pinch of salt and proved everyone wrong. 

Since being drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round (119th overall) of the 2000 NFL, his career has been filled with highs and lows, but he always kept his head high with determination to be the best. 

Needless to say, why Brady tops the list of the greatest NFL players.

Want to know who are the strongest NFL players in the world? Click here>>

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:

A different career path doesn’t judge your capabilities. These athletes made sacrifices for their dreams with many downfalls during their careers, but they kept their heads held high. 

Obstacles will be a part of your career, but it’s up to us how ready we are to take it face to face. 

  • Check other Articles on
  • NFL
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah is an engineer and content writer passionate about sports and athletics. With a background in engineering and a love for all things active, Sanjib brings a unique perspective to the world of sports writing. Whether he is covering the latest trends in sports technology or sharing tips on improving your game, Sanjib's words are always rooted in a deep appreciation for players' hard work and dedication everywhere. In his free time, you can find him hitting the courts or hitting the trails, always looking for new ways to challenge himself and improve his skills.

Related articles


  1. This is a great list! The only addition I could think of is Barry Sanders. That’s a tough call because his team, the Detroit Lions, were terrible. But he was an amazing running back. But your 15 are definitely on top!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share article

Latest News