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NFL at 100: Top 100 Players of All-Time – 50-26

Posted on February 01, 2020 by Dean Hybl

There have been many great players in the 100 year history of the NFL, but who are the greatest of the great? As part of our celebration of the NFL at 100, we have been sharing our picks for the top 100 players in NFL history.

We are breaking the selections into four groups of 25. You can read our players 100-76 and 75-51 in previous articles. This article is looking at players 50-26. We will be posting our top 25 picks in a subsequent post.

Below is a look at our picks 50-26 (the team listed is the one they were most associated with during their career).

Willie Lanier

50. Willie Lanier – Kansas City Chiefs – 8 Pro Bowls; 3 time 1st Team All-Pro: Much like was the case on offense with the quarterback position, for many years there was a perception that African American players couldn’t handle the defensive equivalent leadership position of middle linebacker. That inaccuracy was crushed in the 1960s when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Willie Lanier from Morgan State. After playing outside linebacker as a rookie in 1967, Lanier became the starting middle linebacker during his second season and immediately earned first team All-Pro honors. In 1969 the Chiefs were number one in the AFL in rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense and reached Super Bowl IV. Lanier had an interception in the game as Kansas City held the Minnesota Vikings to only seven points in a 23-7 victory. Dominant against both the run and pass, Lanier completed his 11 year career with 27 pass interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries.

49. Emlen Tunnell – New York Giants – 9 Pro Bowls; 4 time 1st Team All-Pro: Though not drafted out of college, Tunnell made an immediate impact at defensive back for the New York Giants. He intercepted seven passes as a rookie and 10 during his second season. A key component of the dominant Giants’ defense of the 1950s, Tunnell intercepted at least six passes in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Giants win the NFL Championship in 1956 and then after moving to Green Bay in 1959, helped the Packers win the Championship in 1961.  Tunnell finished his career with 79 interceptions for 1,282 yards and four interceptions. At the time of his retirement, Tunnell was the NFL’s career leader in interceptions and still ranks second all-time. He was the first African American member of the New York Giants and first African American inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

48. Dutch Clark – Detroit Lions – 0 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: A member of the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dutch Clark was a six-time NFL All-Pro and a three-time NFL scoring champion. He rushed for 2,772 yards and passed for 1,501 yards during his career. He also served as a kicker and finished with 369 career points. He scored on a 40-yard touchdown run to help the Detroit Lions win the NFL Championship in 1935.

47. Junior Seau – San Diego Chargers – 12 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the dominant defenders of his era, Junior Seau played 20 years in the NFL and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. He recorded more than 1,800 career tackles, 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries. Seau helped the Chargers reach Super Bowl XXIX and was also a member of the New England Patriots team that was 16-0 in 2017 before losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

46. Roger Staubach – Dallas Cowboys – 6 Pro Bowls; 0 time 1st Team All-Pro: Known as “Captain America” during his decade as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to four Super Bowl appearances (won two) and six NFC Championship Games during his career. Famous for his late-game comebacks, Staubach had a career record of 96-35 (74%) as a starter. An elusive runner, he gained 2,264 yards with 20 rushing touchdowns during his career. At the time of his retirement, Staubach was the NFL’s career leader in passer rating.

45. Alan Page – Minnesota Vikings – 9 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the dominant defenders of his era, Alan Page was the lynch-pin of the Purple People Eaters front four. The NFL MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 1971, Page was a six-time first team All-Pro and helped the Vikings reach four Super Bowls.

44. Mel Hein – New York Giants – 4 Pro Bowls; 8 time 1st Team All-Pro: Mel Hein played 15 years on offense and defense for the New York Giants during the one-platoon era. He was an eight-time first team All-Pro and the winner of the Joe F. Carr Award as the NFL MVP in 1938. He played in seven NFL Championship Games with the Giants winning in 1934 and 1938.

Otto Graham

43. Otto Graham – Cleveland Browns – 5 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the greatest winners in Pro Football history, Otto Graham quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to championship game appearances in each of his 10 professional seasons and won seven championships. The Browns won the AAFC championship in each of their four seasons in the league from 1946-49. Graham led the Browns to the NFL Championship in their first season in the NFL in 1950. After losing three straight championship games from 1951-53, the Browns claimed back-to-back titles in 1954 and 1955. He led the league in passing yards five times, completion percentage four times and touchdown passes three times.

42. Bruce Smith – Buffalo Bills – 11 Pro Bowls; 8 time 1st Team All-Pro: No player has more sacks since they became an official NFL stat than Bruce Smith. An eight-time first team All-Pro and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Smith had 13 seasons with double-digit sacks and 200 sacks for his career. He helped the Bills reach four straight Super Bowls and had an additional 14.5 playoff sacks.

41. Jim Parker – Baltimore Colts – 8 Pro Bowls; 8 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, Jim Parker was a crucial component of the success of the Baltimore Colts during his 11 NFL seasons. The Colts won the NFL Championship in 1958 and 1959 and reached the title game in 1964. Parker was a four-time first team All-Pro at offensive tackle before moving to guard in 1962 and earning four additional first team All-Pro honors.

40. Forrest Gregg – Green Bay Packers – 9 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st Team All-Pro: Called by Vince Lombardi thee finest player he ever coached, Forrest Gregg was a key component of five NFL Championship teams for the Green Bay Packers, including the first two Super Bowls. He also won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys. A durable player, Gregg played in a then NFL record 188 consecutive games.

39. Joe Perry – San Francisco 49ers – 3 Pro Bowls; 2 time 1st Team All-Pro: A member of the San Francisco 49ers Million Dollar Backfield, Joe Perry was the NFL’s career rushing leader from 1958-62 before being passed by Jim Brown. Perry led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns three times during his career. He finished with 9,723 yards and an average of 5.0 yards per carry.

38. Joe Greene – Pittsburgh Steelers – 10 Pro Bowls; 4 time 1st Team All-Pro: The first player selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Chuck Noll era, Joe Greene was a critical member of four Super Bowl Championship teams. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969 and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 and 1974. An anchor at defensive tackle, Greene helped the Steelers finish in the top 5 in scoring and total defense six different times during his career.

37. Joe Schmidt – Detroit Lions – 10 Pro Bowls; 8 time 1st Team All-Pro: A dominant middle linebacker during his 13 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Joe Schmidt was an eight time first team All-Pro. He helped the Lions win NFL Championships in 1953 and 1957 and reach the Championship Game in 1954. He was the NFL Lineman of the Year in 1957. Schmidt had 24 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries during his career.

Bob Lilly

36. Bob Lilly – Dallas Cowboys – 11 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st Team All-Pro: Known as “Mr. Cowboy”, Bob Lilly was the first player ever drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and a dominant defensive tackle during his 14 years in the league. Lilly was a key reason the Cowboys finished in the top five in scoring defense six times and yards allowed eight times between 1964-74.

35. Jim Otto – Oakland Raiders – 12 Pro Bowls; 10 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the top player in AFL history, Jim Otto was a first team All-AFL selection nine times in the 10 years of the AFL. He helped the Raiders win the AFL Championship in 1967 and reach Super Bowl II. Otto did not miss a game during his career, playing in 210 consecutive games.

34. John Elway – Denver Broncos – 9 Pro Bowls; 0 time 1st Team All-Pro: The first pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, John Elway posted a 148-82-1 record as a starter and reached five Super Bowls during his 16 year NFL season. He tossed 300 career touchdown passes, including six seasons of more than 20 touchdowns. He also rushed for 3,407 yards and 33 touchdowns during his career. Elway helped the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowl titles during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

33. Ron Mix – San Diego Chargers – 8 Pro Bowls; 9 time 1st Team All-Pro: A powerful right tackle, Ron Mix was a key part of a San Diego Chargers squad that reached the AFL title game five times in the first six years of the league, winning the title in 1963. Mix was named first-team All-AFL for each of the first nine years of the league.

32. Mike Singletary – Chicago Bears – 10 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st team All-Pro: Known for his intensity on the field, Mike Singletary was a key component of the famous Chicago Bears 46 defense. Between 1984-88 the Bears finished first in the NFL in scoring defense and total defense three times and were among the top four in both categories in the league each season. They were number one in both scoring and total defense in both 1985 and 1986. The 1985 Bears went 18-1 and won Super Bowl XX. Singletary was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1988.

31. Ronnie Lott – San Francisco 49ers – 10 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: Known as a hard-hitting defender, Ronnie Lott was a critical player on four Super Bowl Championship teams with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. Originally a cornerback, Lott made an immediate impact as a rookie in 1981 with seven interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, as the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. He was a Pro Bowl cornerback each season through 1984 before moving to safety in 1985. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1986 and finished his career with 63 picks and 17 fumble recoveries.

Gino Marchetti

30. Gino Marchetti – Baltimore Colts – 11 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st Team All-Pro: A machine gunner at the Battle of the Budge during World War II, Gino Marchetti later became one of the toughest defensive players in the NFL during his 14 year career. One of the top defensive ends of his era, Marchetti helped the Colts win back-to-back NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. During the famous 1958 Championship Game, Marchetti made a critical tackle to stop Frank Gifford short of a first down. He broke his ankle on the play, but refused to leave the sidelines during the remainder of the game and the first overtime in NFL history.

29. Dick “Night Train” Lane – Detroit Lions – 7 Pro Bowls; 3 time 1st Team All-Pro: After playing one year of junior college football and then spending four years in the military, Dick “Night Train” Lane walked into the offices of the Los Angeles Rams looking for a tryout as a receiver. Eventually moved to defensive back, Lane registered 14 interceptions as a rookie, a single season record that still stands nearly 70 years later. After two years with the Rams, he moved to the Chicago Cardinals for six years before finishing his career with six seasons in Detroit. Known for his vicious close-line hits, which led to a rule against the practice, Lane was known for his ball-hawking style. He registered 68 career interceptions for 1,207 return yards and five touchdowns.

28. Deacon Jones – Los Angeles Rams – 8 Pro Bowls; 5 time 1st Team All-Pro:  One of the greatest pass rushers of all-time, Deacon Jones forced a number of rules changes and is credited for coining the term “sacking the quarterback.” He teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen to lead the famous “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1960s. Though sack were not an official statistic until 1982, Jones had an unofficial total of 173 ½ during his career. He twice had 22 sacks in a season.

27. Gene Upshaw – Oakland Raiders – 7 Pro Bowls; 5 time 1st Team All-Pro: Teaming with Art Shell on the left side of the Oakland Raiders offensive line, Gene Upshaw helped the Raiders reach the playoffs 11 times in his 15 year career. The Raiders reached three Super Bowls in his career, winning Super Bowls XI and XV. Upshaw was a five-time first team All-Pro.

26. Lance Alworth – San Diego Chargers – 7 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: Nicknamed Bambi for his youthful look and graceful strides, Lance Alworth was the top receiver in the AFL during the 1960s. Alworth eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in seven straight seasons and led the AFL in receiving yards three times. In 1965 he caught 69 passes for 1,602 yards (23.2 per catch) and 14 touchdowns. He helped the Chargers win the 1963 AFL Championship and caught a touchdown pass for the Dallas Cowboys to help them win Super Bowl VI.

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