The NFL has been around for a really long time, since 1920. Throughout all those years, we’ve seen some incredible athletes show their skills and toughness in football games. Different eras had different styles of playing. Nowadays, throwing the ball is the big thing, but in the past, it was more about defense and running the ball to win championships.
TOP 10 NFL PLAYERS LIST
To figure out who is the best player, we need to look at their stats, awards, and also consider what the NFL was like when they played. We should also look at what each player was really good at and where they might not have been as strong. But the most important thing is to see how much they made a difference for their team. In this article, I’ll share my best top 10 nfl players 2023 who, in my opinion, are the greatest in NFL history.
1. Tom Brady
Forget football, Tom Brady’s story is the most incredible in sports history. He began as an unimpressive athlete at the combine. A not-so-athletic, chubby, and pale quarterback from Michigan who nobody expected much from. But he surprised everyone when he was picked in the sixth round, 199th overall, by the New England Patriots. It’s a story so amazing that even the best writer couldn’t come up with a better one. Brady played for over 20 seasons, setting numerous records and winning more Super Bowls than any other team in NFL history, not just any other player.
2. Jerry Rice
Rice spent most of his career with the San Francisco 49ers, catching passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young. While he had great quarterbacks, Rice’s success wasn’t just because of them. He was possibly the best receiver in open field and after catching the ball in the history of football. He was known for turning short passes into long touchdowns, and he was part of the West Coast Offense that changed the NFL with its short passing game. Rice’s skills contributed to the 49ers winning three Super Bowls, and he even earned the Super Bowl MVP once.
3. Jim Brown
In my opinion, Jim Brown is the greatest running back ever. Some might argue for Barry Sanders, but they forget that Brown left the game even earlier in his career when he was at the peak. Brown retired at 29 after playing for 9 seasons. He had some differences with owner Art Modell and chose to leave football for a career in movies. When he retired, he held almost every major rushing record, and many of those records still stand today, even after 50 years.
4. Barry Sanders
Many argue whether Barry Sanders is the greatest running back ever. He retired early at the age of 30 after almost reaching the all-time rushing record. His decision shocked the sports world because he was very close to breaking the record. He retired as the only player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons. Sanders is also the only player to rush for at least 1,500 yards in 4 consecutive seasons.
5. Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor changed the game of football all by himself. In the 1970s, NFL linemen were smaller than Taylor, averaging 6’3″ and 255 pounds. The league was becoming more focused on quarterbacks, pass-catching running backs, and less on rushing.
Taylor arrived during this transformation and took over. His size and speed overwhelmed offensive schemes. Teams used to let running backs block outside linebackers, but Taylor proved he could overpower anyone they put against him. This forced teams to look for larger, more athletic left tackles to handle Taylor. Fast forward 30 years, and left tackles are one of the highest-paid positions in the NFL, second only to quarterbacks.
6. Aaron Donald
Donald could be the greatest defensive player in football history. He consistently ranks near the top in sacks despite playing on the interior line and facing double and sometimes triple teams. In 2018, he even led the league in sacks with 20.5, a rare feat for a defensive tackle. His skills, strength, and finesse allow him to dominate offensive linemen and outwork his opponents.
7. Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus (The Monster of the Midway) played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1965–1973. During his time in the NFL, Butkus was one of the most ferocious and hard-hitting defensive players in the league! He earned the nickname “The Monster of the Midway” and struck fear into his opponents. It’s said that he would growl and snarl at opposing players to intimidate them, all while cursing them out and telling them he was going to destroy them.
But Butkus was more than just an intimidator. He was quick to the ball and had the finesse and awareness to be one of the greatest turnover machines on defense that the league has ever seen. In only 9 years of play, Butkus forced 49 turnovers, 22 interceptions, and 27 fumble recoveries.
8. Walter Payton
Walter Payton was drafted fourth overall in the 1975 NFL Draft and played his whole career with the Chicago Bears from 1975–1987. There are two stories about why Payton was called “Sweetness.” Some say it was because of his graceful running style, while others think it was his higher-pitched voice and friendly personality. Regardless, he was anything but sweet on the field. Payton was not only elusive but also incredibly powerful. He never ran out of bounds to avoid a hit, earning him praise as a “warrior” from Jim Brown. Despite his power, Payton was durable, playing in 186 consecutive games after an injury in his rookie year.
9. Reggie White
White was one of the most dominant linemen to ever play football. In his 15-year career, he recorded double-digit sack seasons 13 times, leading the league twice. He earned the Defensive Player of the Year award twice and played a key role in winning Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots, where he recorded 3 sacks, a Super Bowl record held only by him at the time.
10. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning might be the smartest player in NFL history. During his 18-year career, Manning was known for his audibles and deep understanding of the offenses he ran. Manning’s arm made many players’ careers and earned them millions. He was the most crucial player on every team he played for, winning five Most Valuable Player awards, the most in NFL history.
He only had two losing seasons in his career, one as a rookie and another in 2001 when he had the #2 ranked offense in both yards and scoring but the worst defense in the NFL. When he suffered a near-career-ending injury in 2010, the Colts went from a 10-win team to getting the first overall pick in the next draft. After Manning retired in 2015, the Denver Broncos went from winning the Super Bowl to five years of failing to win double digits, with four losing seasons.
We’ve seen all kinds of players, like great throwers, fast runners, big receivers, and small, agile ones. With all these different skills and playing styles, it’s tough to say who the absolute best player ever is. Some say it’s Tom Brady, others say Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, or Jerry Rice. They’re all great, but who’s the greatest?