Every team has a GOAT. You know, the “greatest of all-time.” The best player to ever don the uniform. The first pick on every fan’s Mount Rushmore.
Whether a franchise has been around since the early years of the National Football League or was the most-recent addition via expansion, someone is atop their all-time roster. If they’ve played a game, one player has emerged as the best ever.
But that does mean that all GOATs are created equally. Far from it. Some are perennial Pro Bowl selections. Some are Hall of Fame inductees. And others are in the rarest of stratospheres, going down as one of the league’s iconic figures.
With that notion in mind, the editors at cover32 rated every team’s greatest all-time player, from No. 1 to 32, to determine which franchise has the best of the best. There’s two parts to the equation: First, selecting each team’s GOAT. Second, ranking those players.
Here’s how it shaped up:
1. Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers) – Rice is not only the greatest 49er of all-time, which is saying something considering the fact that Joe Montana is in that conversation, but he’s the greatest player to ever wear an NFL uniform.
2. Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns) – An argument can certainly be made that Brown was the best player in league history, given that he won eight rushing titles in nine seasons, was a nine-time Pro Bowler and earned eight first-team All-Pro honors.
3. Walter Payton (Chicago Bears) – Despite playing on some bad teams, when he was the only offensive weapon, “Sweetness” was able to amass enough yards to be the league’s all-time leading rusher at the time of his retirement.
4. Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys) – Smith broke Payton’s record, to be the current holder of the all-time rushing mark. Plus, he was the driving force behind the Cowboys dynasty of the early 1990s, helping Dallas win three Super Bowls.
5. Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers) – If there’s a passing record in the NFL’s annals, it probably has Favre’s name next to it. Plus, he was a walking highlight reel, doing something on the field every week that made fans ooh and aah.
6. Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants) – LT revolutionized the outside linebacker position, turning it into a spot on the field that was reserved for elite pass rushers. Few defensive players have dominated games like Taylor did in the 1980s.
7. Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions) – Had he not walked away from the game after just 10 seasons, he’d likely hold every league rushing record. As it is, fans are simply left with memories of some of the most-electrifying runs in NFL history.
8. Jack Lambert (Pittsburgh Steelers) – The Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s on the back of their famed “Steel Curtain” defense. Lambert was the heart and soul of that unit, as the linebacker personified Pittsburgh’s toughness.
9. John Elway (Denver Broncos) – Elway retired as the winningest quarterback in NFL history, a stat that embodies his career. It wasn’t always pretty, but No. 7 got the job done, including leading Denver to five Super Bowls and two titles.
10. Johnny Unitas (Indianapolis Colts) – Johnny U. ushered in the modern passing game, plus he was the quarterback during the 1958 NFL Championship Game, which has been dubbed “the greatest game ever played.”
11. Deacon Jones (St. Louis Rams) – Before Jones came along, there wasn’t a way to measure how much havoc a defensive lineman could wreak on an offense. But because he was always harassing quarterbacks, the sack became a term and stat.
12. Tom Brady (New England Patriots) – Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls and three championships, helping New England become the signature franchise of the 21st century. And he’s not done yet.
13. Steve Largent (Seattle Seahawks) – When he retired, Largent held the NFL’s all-time records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Plus, he had caught a pass in a then-record 177 consecutive games.
14. Anthony Munoz (Cincinnati Bengals) – Munoz is perhaps the greatest left tackle to ever play the game, a designation worthy of praise. But it says a lot about the Bengals that the best player in franchise history was an offensive lineman.
15. Howie Long (Oakland Raiders) – There are perhaps players that better personify the Raiders mystique (Jack Tatum, Ted Hendricks), but none of them were a better player than Long, one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history.
16. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins) – People like to knock Marino because he didn’t win a Super Bowl, which clearly is a giant omission on his résumé, but few quarterbacks in the history of the league could chuck it like No. 13.