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Ever wondered who reigns supreme on the gridiron?

From unbreakable records to mind-blowing touchdowns, these 15 icons turned the football field into their own hall of fame.

Ready to meet the G.O.A.T.s of the pigskin? We’re diving into the legends that set the bar.

Best American Football Players:

  1. Jim Brown
  2. Jerry Rice
  3. Lawrence Taylor
  4. Tom Brady
  5. Walter Payton
  6. Joe Montana
  7. Barry Sanders
  8. Reggie White
  9. Peyton Manning
  10. Dick Butkus
  11. Emmitt Smith
  12. Deion Sanders
  13. Anthony Munoz
  14. Ronnie Lott
  15. Brett Favre

#1 Jim Brown

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: February 17, 1936
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Fullback
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: NFL champion (1964), 3× NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), 9× Pro Bowl selection, 8× NFL rushing yards leader, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1971)

Nicknamed “First Down Brown,” Jim Brown dominated as a fullback for the Cleveland Browns. Known for his brute strength and superior athleticism, Brown could bulldoze through defenses, making him one of the most feared runners in the game. His assertive running style set a high bar for future generations of running backs.

Brown is not only celebrated for his athletic prowess but also for his acting career and activism. His commitment to civil rights and economic empowerment has had a profound impact on society. Off the field, Brown’s commendable efforts in community work, particularly with regards to youth development programs, enrich his storied legacy.

#2 Jerry Rice

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: October 13, 1962
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Wide receiver
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 3× Super Bowl champion (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX), Super Bowl MVP (XXIII), 2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 13× Pro Bowl selection, NFL records for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns

“The G.O.A.T” Jerry Rice is often hailed as the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. His meticulous route running, reliable hands, and remarkable football IQ allowed him to shatter every significant receiving record. Rice’s longevity and productivity set standards that receivers still strive to reach.

Off the field, Rice’s grace extended into philanthropy and entertainment, where he participated in numerous charitable events and reality television shows. His commitment to fitness and excellence left an indelible mark on both the sport and health communities, while his affable personality made him a fan favorite beyond the gridiron.

#3 Lawrence Taylor

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: February 4, 1959
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Outside linebacker
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 2× Super Bowl champion (XXI, XXV), NFL Most Valuable Player (1986), 10× Pro Bowl selection, 8× First-Team All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1981, 1982, 1986)

Lawrence “LT” Taylor was a game-changing linebacker for the New York Giants, revolutionizing the role with his explosive speed and relentless pursuit of the quarterback. His aggressive and intelligent play disrupted countless offenses and cemented his status as one of the defensive greats.

Taylor’s legacy, however, is complex, shadowed by personal controversies, including substance abuse and legal issues, which he has worked to move past. His influence on the sport is unquestionable, with many linebackers modeling their game after his hard-hitting style. Taylor has been forthright about his struggles, providing a cautionary tale and seeking ways to mentor others.

#4 Tom Brady

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: August 3, 1977
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Quarterback
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 7× Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII, LV), 5× Super Bowl MVP, 3× NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), 15× Pro Bowl selection

Tom Brady, known as the “G.O.A.T” of quarterbacks, is renowned for his clinical passing, leadership under pressure, and unmatched seven Super Bowl victories. His story of being a sixth-round draft pick to becoming one of the greatest in the sport is a testament to his work ethic and determination.

Beyond football, Brady has created a health and wellness brand, authored a book, and engaged in philanthropic endeavors. His strict diet and training regimen, dubbed the TB12 Method, has influenced sports nutrition and athlete longevity. Despite being in the spotlight, he maintains a focus on family and charitable work.

#5 Walter Payton

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: July 25, 1954
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Running back
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: Super Bowl champion (XX), NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) (1977), 9× Pro Bowl selection, 2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1993)

Walter “Sweetness” Payton was not just a graceful runner but also a symbol of durability and versatility on the field. His uncanny ability to avoid tackles and his sheer will to gain extra yards made him one of the most complete running backs in history. Payton’s excellence was matched by his consistency and resilience.

His humanitarian work lives on through the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which honors players for their volunteer and charity work, as well as excellence on the field. Walter Payton’s untimely death due to a rare liver disease deeply affected the football community, but his legacy endures through his charitable impact and legendary performances.

#6 Joe Montana

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: June 11, 1956
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Quarterback
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 4× Super Bowl champion (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV), 3× Super Bowl MVP, 2× NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), 8× Pro Bowl selection, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team

Joe “Joe Cool” Montana is celebrated for his composure under pressure and his ability to lead game-winning drives. Montana’s precision passing and poise in clutch moments were instrumental in the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty during the 1980s.

Montana has kept a relatively low profile post-retirement, focusing on family and select business ventures. His approach to the game has become a blueprint for future quarterbacks, emphasizing control, accuracy, and situational awareness over sheer power. His philanthropy and work with children’s hospitals have shown his commitment to giving back, further solidifying his stature as a role model.

#7 Barry Sanders

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: July 16, 1968
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Running back
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) (1997), 10× Pro Bowl selection, 6× First-Team All-Pro, 2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team

Barry Sanders, known for his elusive running style, was a human highlight reel with the Detroit Lions. His incredible agility and breakaway speed allowed him to escape defenders with remarkable moves that seemed to defy physics.

Retiring in his prime surprisingly, Sanders left the sport with fans yearning for more but respecting his decision to preserve his health. He remains involved in charity work and promoting youth sports. Barry’s style of play has inspired countless running backs to be dynamic and creative in their approach to the game.

#8 Reggie White

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: December 19, 1961
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Defensive end
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: Super Bowl champion (XXXI), 2× NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 13× Pro Bowl selection, 8× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006)

“The Minister of Defense,” Reggie White, was a fearsome defensive end whose combination of strength, size, and speed terrorized quarterbacks. His impressive technique and relentless motor made him one of the most dominant defensive players of his time.

White was an ordained minister who spoke passionately about faith and community service. Despite an untimely death at age 43, White’s legacy endures through the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation, highlighting his impact on and off the field. His leadership and philanthropy have left a lasting impression on the sport and community.

#9 Peyton Manning

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: March 24, 1976
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Quarterback
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 2× Super Bowl champion (XLI, 50), 5× NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), 14× Pro Bowl, 7× First-Team All-Pro, 2013 NFL Comeback Player of the Year

Known as “The Sheriff” for his exceptional game-management skills, Peyton Manning is widely regarded for his intelligence on the field and his extraordinary ability to read the defense before the snap. His precise timing and accuracy set him apart as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Manning faced a significant challenge in 2011 when he underwent neck surgery, which put his career in jeopardy. His triumphant return to the field and subsequent Super Bowl victory with the Denver Broncos underscored his resilience. Off the field, he is celebrated for his philanthropy, especially the establishment of the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis. His affable personality also made him a favorite in commercials and television hosting, extending his influence beyond the gridiron.

#10 Dick Butkus

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: December 9, 1942
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Linebacker
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 8× Pro Bowl, 5× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1960s and 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame

Dick Butkus is synonymous with tenacity and fearlessness on the football field. Known for his fierce tackling and intimidating presence, Butkus redefined the middle linebacker position, becoming the standard against which future linebackers are measured.

While his no-nonsense style of play earned him a reputation as one of the most feared defenders in NFL history, Butkus also faced the challenge of playing through a series of knee injuries that eventually shortened his career. Despite this, his impact was indelible, with his legacy living on through the prestigious collegiate linebacker award named in his honor, the Butkus Award. Off the field, Butkus has been involved in numerous charitable endeavors, particularly focusing on sportsmanship and health.

#11 Emmitt Smith

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: May 15, 1969
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Running back
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 3× Super Bowl champion (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX), Super Bowl MVP (XXVIII), NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) (1993), 8× Pro Bowl, 4× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team

Emmitt Smith is often celebrated as one of the most durable and reliable running backs in NFL history. His remarkable vision and ability to find seams in the defense helped him become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, a record that speaks to his consistency and longevity.

Smith’s career was highlighted by significant team success with the Dallas Cowboys during the 1990s, where he was a cornerstone of their dynasty. His post-football life has seen ventures into real estate and a victory on “Dancing with the Stars,” showcasing his versatility and charisma. Smith is also known for his philanthropy through the Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities, working to provide educational and enrichment opportunities to underserved youth.

#12 Deion Sanders

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: August 9, 1967
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Cornerback / Return Specialist
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 2× Super Bowl champion (XXIX, XXX), 8× Pro Bowl, 6× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame

Deion “Prime Time” Sanders is lauded for his unparalleled athleticism and showmanship. Recognized as one of the most electrifying cornerbacks ever to play the game, his lockdown coverage and dynamic return abilities made him a game-changing player on both defense and special teams.

Overcoming the challenges of nurturing a dual-sport career, including a stint in Major League Baseball, Sanders’ flamboyant personality and talent on the field cemented his legacy as an entertainment powerhouse in sports. Today, he is a revered mentor and head football coach at Jackson State University, where he uses his experience to shape the next generation of athletes. His charity work and the Deion Sanders Prime Time Association highlight his ongoing commitment to community upliftment.

#13 Anthony Munoz

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: August 19, 1958
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Offensive tackle
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 11× Pro Bowl, 9× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame

Anthony Munoz is esteemed as one of the premier offensive linemen in NFL history. His combination of size, strength, and agility allowed him to dominate at the tackle position, protecting his quarterback and clearing paths for his running backs with exceptional skill.

Beyond the field, Munoz has had a significant impact through the Anthony Munoz Foundation, which supports underprivileged youth through scholarships and leadership programs. His commitment to community service and his advocacy for Hispanic Americans have received national recognition, enhancing Munoz’s stature as a leader both in and out of sports.

#14 Ronnie Lott

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: May 8, 1959
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Cornerback / Safety
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: 4× Super Bowl champion (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV), 10× Pro Bowl, 6× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame

Ronnie Lott, known for his aggressive and punishing style of play, is widely considered one of the best defensive backs in NFL history. His readiness to deliver hard hits and his exceptional ball skills made him a fearsome opponent in the secondary.

Lott’s commitment to excellence extended beyond personal performance to cultivating a culture of winning with the San Francisco 49ers dynasty. Famous for choosing to amputate part of his finger to continue playing, Lott’s toughness became legendary. Off the gridiron, Lott has applied the same passion to philanthropy and community involvement, particularly in efforts supporting children’s education and well-being.

#15 Brett Favre

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • 🎂 Date of Birth: October 10, 1969
  • 🏈 Position/Role: Quarterback
  • 🏆 Career Highlights: Super Bowl champion (XXXI), 3× NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), 11× Pro Bowl, 6× First-Team All-Pro, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team

Brett Favre, affectionally known as the “Gunslinger,” is celebrated for his risk-taking playstyle and longevity in the NFL. His strong arm and instinctual play extended plays and often turned the tide of games, thrilling fans with his unpredictable and exciting performances.

Favre’s iron-man streak of 297 consecutive regular-season starts showcased his durability and commitment to the game. Despite facing personal challenges, including addiction and family health issues, Favre’s legacy is one of resilience and exceptional skill. Currently involved in charity work, Favre also shares his knowledge through coaching and mentoring roles, contributing to the sport’s future. His presence in pop culture, with guest appearances on television and film, reflects his lasting appeal.

Discover more about the game’s strategic depth by reading about American football positions and roles.

FAQ

Who is the best American Football player of all time?

Jerry Rice is considered the best American Football player of all time. Here’s a link to our article on why we think Jerry Rice is the best American Football player of all time. His exceptional career, marked by record-breaking performances, has set the standard for future generations.

Who are the top 10 greatest American Football players of all time?

Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Tom Brady, Walter Payton, Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, Reggie White, Peyton Manning, and Dick Butkus are the top 10 greatest American Football players of all time. Each has redefined excellence within their positions and left an indelible mark on the game.

Who is the most famous female American Football player?

Jen Welter is the most famous female American Football player. She made history by becoming the first female coach in the NFL, inspiring women and girls with her trailblazing achievement in a male-dominated sport.

Meet Rev, one of our dedicated team members who embodies the essence of sports passion. When he’s not immersed in the world of sports content creation, Rev is busy honing his skills in esports and exploring the great outdoors through activities like hiking and basketball.

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