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Buffalo Bills Logo (Photo by CryptoFX on Shutterstock)

The Buffalo Bills are one of the oldest teams in the National Football League (NFL). The Bills are also in one of the smallest markets in all of professional sports. But, don’t let that fool you, the Bills have some of the most passionate fans in the world, and the team has had some truly legendary players come through the organization over the years. To honor the Bills and their fans, we’re breaking down the best Bills players of all time. 

Speaking of honoring fans and players, let’s take a moment to look at the lengths sports fans are willing to go to cheer on their favorite team. In fact, a recent study found that the average sports fan is willing to travel and spend big bucks just to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets just to see their favorite team play live. Sounds like a great way to spend a vacation in upstate New York and watch the Bills play at the same time. 

Traveling to professional sporting events is nothing new for Americans. We love our sports and we’re loyal to our teams. However, another recent study suggests that simply getting out to watch a live sports event – whether it’s professional or amateur sports – is beneficial for your mental health. Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University say that attending live sporting events actually helps increase overall mental well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness. A survey of 7,000 adults found that those respondents who attended live sporting events scored better in terms of life satisfaction than those who had not recently attended events. That’s definitely another great reason to get out and watch the Bills play a game this season. 

So, which Bills players are considered the greatest in team history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and football-related sites in an effort to bring you a consensus best Bills players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed athletes from across these sites. Think your favorite Bills player was snubbed? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below! 

aerial photography of NFL logo printed on field
NFL logo (Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash)

The List: Best Bills Players, According to Sports Experts

1. Bruce Smith

Easily topping the list of the best players in Bills franchise history is none other than legendary defensive end, Bruce Smith. He is the franchise’s all-time sacks leader, and he’s one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. 

“Bruce Smith is one of the best defensive players not only for the Buffalo Bills franchise, but in the history of the National Football League. Drafted with the first pick of the 1985 NFL draft, Smith went on to record more sacks than any player in the history of the league. In 15 years with the Bills, Smith recorded 941 tackles, 171 sacks, and 35 forced fumbles. He recorded at least 10 sacks in 12 of the 15 years he spent with the team,” explains Bleacher Report

Smith played defensive end in the Buffalo Bills’ 3-4 defensive scheme. The 3-4 scheme refers to three down linemen and four linebackers. The ends in a 3-4 are typically lined up closer to the inside of the defensive line, and their primary job is to eat up blockers and free up linebackers to make plays. Smith dominated from this position and amassed a rare number of sacks. 

“Bruce Smith isn’t just the best player to ever play for the Bills, he is one of the best defensive players in NFL history. Smith played from 1985-1999 with the Bills, racking up 941 tackles, 171 sacks, and 35 forced fumbles. Smith did most of his work from a 3-4, which makes it even more impressive considering usually the linebackers make most of the plays. Smith was named to 14 Pro Bowls and 11 All-Pro teams. The Bills retired the No. 78 to honor him. He was also elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame for his play at Virginia Tech,” furthers Clutch Points

Smith was a true game wrecker, meaning he could single-handedly destroy an opposing offense’s game plan. Smith wreaked havoc on opposing offenses and his efforts helped lead Buffalo to a whopping four straight Super Bowl appearances during the early ‘90s.  

“Any offense who faced Buffalo in the ’90s still has nightmares when they hear his name, and that is why all-time sack leader Bruce Smith makes it as not only the lone defensive player on this list but also claims the number one spot. After all, it is extremely difficult to win games when the other team has an edge defender barreling down on your QB at all times,” adds Defiant Takes Football

2. Jim Kelly

The second spot on the list of the best players in Buffalo Bills history belongs to quarterback Jim Kelly. He is the best quarterback to ever play for the Bills, and he led the team to a staggering four straight Super Bowl appearances during the early ‘90s. 

“Jim Kelly was a part of the 1983 draft class, one of the best ever for quarterbacks. But before joining the Bills, he played two years in the USFL with the Houston Gamblers. In 1986, he signed with the Bills, and the rest was history. With the Bills, he led the team to 101-59 record and multiple Super Bowl appearances. Although he never could win one of the big games, that shouldn’t take away from the legacy he left with the Bills,” explains Clutch Points

The 1983 NFL Draft featured some of the best quarterbacks in the history of the league. Dan Marino, John Elway, and Jim Kelly were all drafted in the first round of the ‘83 draft. Although Elway had success later in his career, Kelly and his Bills counterparts formed one of the best offenses the league had ever seen. 

“Kelly led the Bills to a 101-59 regular-season record, taking the team to the Super Bowl four years. He completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 35,467 yards while throwing 237 touchdowns. Kelly also led 22 fourth-quarter comebacks in his spectacular career,” furthers The Grueling Truth

Kelly was a really great quarterback for a really long time in Buffalo. Of course, he had a great supporting cast, but Kelly knew how to win football games and that’s exactly what he did. To this day, Kelly is one of the most beloved and revered people in the great city of Buffalo. 

“Kelly would enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and was the first man to have his number retired by the team.  It is not a stretch to say that he is the most revered man in Buffalo Bills history, and twenty years from now we will probably say the same thing.  The Bills might not have won the Super Bowl, but his work in winning four AFC Championships will never be forgotten.  This was ensured when the team retired his number 12 in 2001,” adds Not in Hall of Fame

3. O.J. Simpson

Running into the third spot on the list of the best players in Bills franchise history is none other than Orenthal J. Simpson, also known as O.J. Yes, that O.J. Years before he was embroiled in controversy, O.J. Simpson carried the rock for the Buffalo Bills and, as the experts explain, he’s one of the best to ever do it. 

“Hall of Fame inductee 1985. …  Six-time Pro Bowl selection. … At retirement ranked second only to Jim Brown in career rushing yards (11,236). … Three-time NFL player of the year (1972, 1973, 1975). … Became the first man to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season (1973),” lists Democrat and Chronicle

Simpson featured an amazing combination of speed and power, making him a true threat to score a touchdown every time he touched the football. Simpson was also a great college football player for the University of Southern California where he won a Heisman Trophy. 

“Simpson was a four-time rushing champion and was named to six Pro Bowls. In addition, he was a five-time All-Pro, was the 1973 Most Valuable Player, and was the AP Athlete of the Year in 1973. In his nine seasons with the Bills, Simpson averaged 4.8 yards per carry, gaining 10,183 yards, scoring 57 touchdowns, and averaging 90.9 rush yards per game. Simpson was the first player to rush for over 2,000 in a season, gaining 2,003 in 1973. He remains the only player ever to accomplish the feat in a 14-game season. O.J. Simpson was one of the greatest pure runners in NFL history, no matter what his off-field problems were, he is still one of the greatest running backs in NFL history,” explains The Grueling Truth

Before he was the center of the media’s attention (for negative reasons) in the early and mid-’90s, Simpson was one of the most beloved athletes on the planet. Simpson even went on to star in big-time Hollywood movies such as the comedy hitThe Naked Gun.” Although Buffalo eventually traded Simpson to the 49ers, his legacy with the Bills could never be forgotten. 

“O.J. Simpson was taken with the first pick of the 1969 NFL draft and went on to become one of the best running backs in NFL history. While he has his share of controversy off the field, there’s no questioning his talent and presence in society during the 1970s… The Bills traded Simpson to the San Francisco 49ers in 1978, and he was later named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team,” furthers Bleacher Report

4. Thurman Thomas

The next player on the list of the best Bills players in franchise history is one of the most beloved players in Buffalo – running back, Thurman Thomas. He was the running back for the Bills dynasty of the early ‘90s and he’s a big reason for the team’s success during that stretch. 


“One of the most dynamic offensive players in Football, Thurman Thomas was a superstar who incredibly led the National Football League in Yards from Scrimmage four years in a row, a feat almost as incredible his team making the Super Bowl four years in a row,” writes Not in Hall of Fame

While he was in college at Oklahoma State University, Thomas shared the backfield with another all-time great running back that you’ve probably heard of – Barry Sanders. Together, the two running backs were deadly. However, Thomas was the featured running back in Buffalo, and his backup rarely saw the field. 

“Despite being a running back, he was one of the best receivers on the team. Coupled with his ability to run with the ball, he was a key player in the Bills’ offensive strategy. By 1991, Thomas was the 11th player to amass more than 2,000 all-purpose yards, and he reached 2,000 yards in the following season as well, marking a record fourth straight season of leading the NFL in yards,” explains Rookie Road

Thomas was just as lethal in the passing game as he was in the running game, making him a true dual threat back. Thomas’s ability to run and catch the ball redefined what teams were looking for in a solid running back, and he’s one of the first examples of what a complete, all-around running back looked like in the NFL. 

“A bruising, physical runner, Thurman Thomas used his toughness to put up eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for Buffalo. His record of four straight seasons leading the NFL in Yards from Scrimmage still stands today as his dominant peak and impressive longevity make him one of the best Bills ever,” furthers Pro Sports Outlook

5. Andre Reed

Rounding out the list of the best players in Bills franchise history is none other than legendary receiver Andre Reed. Reed was Jim Kelly’s primary receiving target, and he helped form one of the best offensive units in the history of pro football

“Andre Reed was quarterback Jim Kelly’s favorite receiving target for his 15 years with the Buffalo Bills. He was the starting wide receiver for the Bills during the Super Bowl, catching 941 passes for 13,095 yards and 86 scores in his 217 starts with the team. His 27 receptions for 353 yards in Super Bowls place him among the best in the history of the NFL,” writes The Grueling Truth

Reed played in all four Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, and next to Jerry Rice, he’s one of the leading receivers in the history of the Super Bowl. He is easily the best receiver in Bills history and most experts will tell you that he’s one of the greatest pass catchers in NFL history. 

“Andre Reed is the best wide receiver in Bills history. He was drafted by the Bills in the fourth round of the 1985 season. As a rookie, Reed caught 48 passes for 637 yards and four touchdowns. He was Jim Kelly’s favorite target and a big reason why the Bills made four straight Super Bowls. Reed’s best season came in 1989 when he caught 88 passes for 1,312 yards and nine touchdowns. Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler and twice was named to the All-Pro Team. Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014,” furthers Clutch Points

It’s crazy to think that Reed slipped all the way to the fourth round of the NFL Draft, but Buffalo took full advantage of his draft position. Reed played a key role in many of Buffalo’s biggest moments including a huge comeback win over the Houston Oilers in the 1993 Wild Card game where the Bills overcame a deficit of more than four touchdowns. 

“If for no other reason to be on this list, Reed’s spot was solidified by his outstanding performance in ‘The Comeback,’ a game that became the greatest comeback game in NFL history until it was broken by the Minnesota Vikings in 2022. For those who may be unfamiliar, ‘The Comeback’ was a 1993 playoff game in which the Bills trailed the Houston Oilers 35-3 in the third quarter. Reed secured eight receptions for 136 yards and added three touchdowns. His performance was a crucial part of erasing the deficit and winning the game,” adds Defiant Takes Football

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About Matthew Sherdan

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