Best NFL Players Of All Time: Top 5 Football Stars, According To Sports Experts

Football is a beloved sport that drives the professional sports industry and entertains the nation. Sports fandom is serious business across the United States, and football culture is all about the action on the field and the friends that gather to cheer on their favorite teams. Our list of the top five best NFL players of all time will likely stir up some strong opinions, but it’s all for the love of the game.

It’s no secret that Americans are devoted to some serious football fandom. A recent survey finds that the average NFL fan spends 46 hours a month thinking, talking, or reading about their favorite team. The survey, commissioned by Ticketmaster, sought to find out how passionate NFL fans are about their beloved team. Researchers polled 2,000 fans nationwide and found that 84 percent drop everything they’re doing to watch the game when their team takes the field. Half would even miss a significant event in their lives for tickets to see a game live.

Americans take football so seriously that half have ended a friendship over an on-field rivalry. Another survey of 2,000 U.S. football fans examined how respondents celebrate game day, finding that 52 percent have called it quits with a friend because they support their favorite team’s rival. When their team loses, it takes three days to get over the loss. Still, that hasn’t stopped fans from continuing to cheer for their favorite team from their favorite place. While 38 percent of respondents prefer watching a football game at a stadium, a third would rather watch from home (30%), followed by a bar (13%) or at a friend’s house (10%).

All the same, NFL stars have a way of becoming household names and celebrities on and off the field. That’s why we at StudyFinds put together this list of the best NFL players from expert sources. Let us know your favorite players in the comments below!

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

The List: Best NFL Players Of All Time, According to Fans

1. Tom Brady

There have been many football greats, but only a few have racked up as many successes as Tom Brady has. When fans and analysts examine Brady’s numbers, it is easy to see why he is ranked number one by so many of our sources. Clutch Points writes with the highest praise: “If you were wondering where Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. was on this list, wonder no longer. He was already named to the NFL 100 in 2019, but after smashing the massively favored Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV on his first try with a brand new team, he silenced all questions about his individual greatness. Belichick was great in New England as well and was vital to Brady’s growth, but all questions have been answered. Tom Brady can now rightfully claim his title as the GOAT as he rides into the sunset, ‘for good’ this time.’”

Tom Brady as quarterback of the New England Patriots
Tom Brady looks to throw a pass against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in 2012 (Photo by Debby Wong on Shutterstock)

“It’s hard to pinpoint when Brady ended the argument as the NFL’s greatest player. He firmly entered the conversation after leading the Patriots from behind against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. Brady entered ‘arguably the greatest’ territory after he and the Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history against Atlanta. His last two titles — especially his final one with the Buccaneers at age 43 — cemented his legacy as the greatest winner and player the sport has ever seen,” opines CBS NFL.

Of Brady’s remarkable career, Stadium Talk gushes, “He has started more Super Bowls than any quarterback in NFL history—10—and his seven Super Bowl wins are the most by any player in NFL history. In 2021, at 43 years old, Brady also became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl, and he did it in his first season with a new team after signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March 2020. There’s a great argument for Brady that you can actually divide his career into two halves, and both careers are worthy of the Hall of Fame.”

2. Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice was an explosive force on the field. USA Today lays out his statistical record of excellence: “Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2010); 3-time Super Bowl champ; Super Bowl MVP; NFL MVP; 13 Pro Bowls; Leads the NFL in all-purpose touchdowns (208); Leads the NFL in receiving yards (22,895); Only player in NFL history with more than 20,000 receiving yards; Leads the NFL in total receptions (1,549); Leads the NFL in all-purpose yards (23,546); Leads the NFL in TD receptions (197); leads the NFL in consecutive games with at least one reception (274); holds 36 total NFL records”

How They Play raves about Rice, “Jerry Rice is the single greatest wide receiver in NFL history… Rice holds every single major receiving record in NFL history, and the next person up isn’t even close. Rice leads the number two receiver in receiving categories by over 5,000 yards, over 100 receptions, and over 40 receiving touchdowns. And while some may argue that his records come because of his longevity in the league, being in the league for 20 seasons, it’s because he was a dominant player at the positive well into his old age. In fact, Rice had over 1,200 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns at the age of 40.”

Sporty Tell adds that, “Definitely the greatest of all time, Jerry Rice topped every category you’d expect a wide receiver, which was his playing position to lead. It’s no surprise that the official sporting news bulletin named him on the top list of the 100 football greatest. He played in 13 Pro Bowls, earned 10 First-Team All-Pros, won three Super Bowls, and was named Super Bowl MVP on one of those occasions. In 2005, he hung up the boots on his playing career, and a few years later, he celebrated his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.”

3. Jim Brown

After the conclusion of his storied NFL career, Jim Brown would go on to be an important Black cultural icon and civil rights activist, but his time om the field was impressive in itself. “At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Jim Brown was a man amongst boys. Brown was bigger, faster, and stronger than the competition. He was too fast to be tackled by linemen and linebackers and too strong to be taken down by defensive backs. During his nine seasons in the NFL (1957–1965), Brown claimed eight rushing titles and walked away from the league as the owner of every significant record,” according to SportsDrop.

TSL The Sports Lite writes, “Jim Brown, the legend, is considered by many as the best running back of all time. Even though he left his football career early to pursue a career in movies, he has many rushing statistics under his belt. He has over 100 yards per game career average. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, he is the first NFL player to rush over 10,000 yards. In an era where rush heavy football was the majority, Jim Brown was still unpredictable and, to a great extent, unstoppable, which makes these numbers even more impressive.”

Lines adds, “Jim Brown played in an era where offenses were still finding themselves in the NFL, and he certainly was all that the Cleveland Browns needed to play well on offense. Brown is one of nine all-time players to eclipse 100 rushing touchdowns for his career, as he also rushed for over 12,000 yards in total.” Despite playing in an era where offenses were still developing in the NFL, Jim Brown proved to be a dominant force for the Cleveland Browns. His exceptional performance on offense made him invaluable to the team.

4. Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor was affectionately known as “LT.” In a game where offense often steals the spotlight, LT was a powerhouse of defense. Fubo News exclaims, “LT is arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history. His combination of speed and power revolutionized the way linebacker was played. Taylor recorded 142 sacks during his career, including 20.5 of them in 1986. He forced 56 fumbles and picked off nine passes. His career was cut short by a ruptured Achilles in 1992—he returned to play in 1993 but wasn’t the same player, recording six sacks, the fewest he had in a full season.”

“Naturally, as only one of two defensive players to earn MVP honors and the only one to do so unanimously, Lawrence Taylor is popularly regarded as the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL. As the saying goes, ‘defense wins championships’, so Taylor naturally can slide no lower than 3rd on this list. He continues the trend of definitive GOATs at their position and only slides down to 3rd because of the insane longevity of the two players ahead of him [Rice and Brady]. A 12-year NFL career as the hardest hitter in football is no joke, though, and he has accolades to back up that claim,” details Clutch Points.

“Lawrence Taylor isn’t just the greatest linebacker of all time; he’s also the greatest defensive player of all time. The No. 2 overall pick in 1981 out of North Carolina led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins and was a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1986—the last defensive player to win that award. Taylor’s dominance changed the way football is played on every level, from how offensive lines block to the way teams on every level teach players how to rush the quarterback,” explains Stadium Talk.

5. Walter Payton

Walter Payton is a Chicago legend that is still well-loved today by many fans and Chicagoans. Payton was part of the 1985 Bears Super Bowl lineup and appears on every one of the best NFL lists. CBS NFL expands on his career: “How good was ‘Sweetness?’ So good that there is a legitimate argument to be made regarding whether or not he is the greatest running back in NFL history. Quite possibly the most fearless player of all time, Payton routinely took on eight-man fronts for mediocre Bears teams. When the Bears finally became competitive later in his career, Payton led them to a championship after gaining over 2,000 all-purpose yards for the Super Bowl XX champions.”

“In 1975, exactly 10 years after selecting Gale Sayers with the 4th overall pick in the draft, the Chicago Bears selected another all-time great running back with the 4th pick. For those NFL fans who never had the pleasure of watching Walter Payton, his famous nickname ‘Sweetness’ described his personality off the field—Payton was anything but sweet on the gridiron,” states SportsDrop.

“The late Walter Payton, rest his soul, has a legitimate argument to be placed multiple spots higher on this list. It seems almost criminal, therefore, to list him this low, but quarterbacks are generally more historically remembered, and the ‘greatest’ running back in NFL history is more iconic and is statistically comparable (even better in some cases) on a per-game basis,” praises Clutch Points.

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