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Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

As everyone knows, the NFL Network is counting down the top 100 players in NFL history with a series of shows on Thursday nights. You can find the list of players here. If you want to debate whether players are in the right place on the list, it's a good idea to know which 20 players are left. And, since I was one of the voters in the "Blue Ribbon Panel," I happen to be in a good position to help out with that.

As I noted when I posted my ballot back in September, the voting process did not actually have us rank players 1-100. Instead, we were asked to rate all players on a 1-10 scale. There are 22 players left who I rated at "7" or above. One of them is Junior Seau, who I had to add as a "write-in" because he was left off the ballot in a colossal error. Of the remaining 21 players, the most obscure is 50s Chicago Bears linebacker Bill George. I'm going to guess that he's the other player missing from the top 100.

That would leave these players as the final Top 20:

Sammy Baugh
Jim Brown
Dick Butkus
Brett Favre
Otto Graham
Joe Greene
Don Hutson
Deacon Jones
Ray Lewis
Ronnie Lott
Peyton Manning
Joe Montana
Anthony Munoz
Bronko Nagurski
Walter Payton
Jerry Rice
Barry Sanders
Lawrence Taylor
Johnny Unitas
Reggie White

If you would like to complain about quarterbacks being rated too high, that makes eight quarterbacks in the top 23 (including Tom Brady at 21 and John Elway at 23).

Here are the players I think were the biggest mistaken absences from the list. These are all guys I rated "5" or higher who did not make the top 100:

Carl Eller
Bill George
Marvin Harrison
Andy Robustelli
Junior Seau
Willie Wood


189 comments, Last at 30 Oct 2010, 5:12pm

8 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

If you're complaining about DTs who've been overlooked then I'd start with Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly.

As for Sapp, I reckon he's very overrated. He had a lot of sacks but was not a very good run defender and as a pass rusher he didn't dominate consistently year after year. I always thought that Bryant Young was a better player on worse defenses but Sapp was more flashy and played in a scheme that suited his talents better. I'd say that John Randle and Henry Thomas deserve a long hard look as well.

25 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

There are plenty of people that can talk about Brady. To get, of all people, the face of the Yankees to do it made me laugh. This wasn't ARod talking about his childhood hero in Dan Marino. Brady and Jeter have nothing in common other than they lived in Michigan.

35 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

A fair point. All the other players were presented by either writers, contemporary peers/coaches/execs, or players/actors/others who grew up idolizing them. New England icon Tom Brady however gets presented by a Yankee who fits none of those categories. I found it funny, I guess I'm the only one.

108 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Come on, they're founding members of the post-season clutchness, starlet-bangin', multi-championship-winnin', articulate athlete, handsome guys club. Tiger Woods is another founding member. Joe Namath is on the board. Matt Leinart's application has been tabled for about five years now and looks like he will not be admitted. Reggie Bush, Vince Young, and Jamarcus Russell all submitted applications when they were drafted, and Bush is the only guy who's gotten past the initial screening.

The criteria are pretty stiff. Two-time SB champ Ben Roethlisberger hasn't got a prayer (unless your definition of a super model or movie star is a passed-out 19 year-old coed, and 40 lbs of surplus facial fat is suddenly the new sexy look).

Regarding Aaron's list, I think Favre is a compiler. There is nothing wrong with that and obviously a guy doesn't last 20 years by being shitty. If he had missed two games in Season 10, would he still have the mythic aura? Don't know. And if the compiled wins and TDs and yardage stats add to his luster, then the all-time leader in fumbles and INTs also has to be reckoned with. A HOF QB to be sure, but top 20 of all time regardless of position? I don't think so.

14 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Olsen, Lilly and Randle are all in the Top 100.

And I doubt Sapp is very overrated. Sapp in his prime was by far the best 3-technique in the league, and he was absolutely dominant. They'd have to double-team and chip block him to get anything done, and at his peak he was nearly unblockable. He had a 16.5-sack year as a Defensive Tackle and was a key component in a defense that was the best or one of the best in the NFL for years on end.
Also, don't underestimate the role he played in bringing the Bucs from the laughing stock of the NFL to the Super Bowl. He and Randle changed that undertackle position.

3 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

We know Sapp is not on the list because the NFL Network has said that Deion Sanders is the highest network employee. I would doubt very much that Carson makes it above the players listed in this top 20, let alone George, who was All-Pro eight times.

4 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Let me guess how many QBs are in the top 24, without even looking? Eight? 8 in the top 23--that kind of cherry-picking of category boundaries I thought was reserved for web sites that don't advertise "innovative statistics".

7 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Well that's a little harsh as FO wasn't soley responsible for this list. You're not the only one who dislikes the qb obsessed media drivel but don't hang it on Aaron (though I wouldn't have given Brady anything near a 10 but that is a different argument).

33 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Give them a pass there, because that's not even the most optimal cutoff.

7 of the top 21.
8 of the top 23.
9 of the top 25.
10 of the top 33.
11 of the top 46.
12 of the top 50.
13 of the top 51.

Regardless, it's pretty top heavy with QBs and the distribution of QBs on the list are closer to the top than to the bottom.

60 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Strahan greatest DE of his generation? Really?

I guess I instinctively didn't think that was the case-- my recollection was that he peaked late in his career and had a few very strong years but was not at an elite level for a long enough time.

Looking at his stats, though, I see that that's not completely true. He had 6 seasons with double-digit sacks. Same as Jason Taylor. After this season, DeMarcus Ware will already have 5. So not automatically elite, but very good, especially when you consider one of those Strahan seasons was the NFL record number (if you count the infamous Favre sack) and one was an 18.5 season.

He played the run well for most of his career, so that helps him. He's not Simeon Rice.

The "generation" tag is a nebulous one, though-- who are you comparing him to? His career spanned 1993-2008. Are you comparing him to Reggie White (16 sacks as late as 1998)? Bruce Smith? Chris Doleman? Jason Taylor (who brought playmaking ability to the table in the pass defense game that Strahan did not)? Demarcus Ware?

I don't want us to assume Strahan is a top 100 all-time player just because he was the best at his position over a 6-7 year stretch where the league was without many elite DEs. If the question is, "Was Michael Strahan a superior player to Simeon Rice and Javon Kearse?," then sure, the answer's yes. But that's not enough to make him a shoo-in for the top 100, by my way of thinking.

40 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Really? I've rarely heard anyone suggest Bruce was better than Reggie. Also, Smith definitely gets hurt some by the fact that he clearly hung around for a couple years chasing records even when he had become a bit of a liability on the field. Not that Reggie had a dignified end to his career (anyone have his Panthers jersey?) but the talk at the time with Smith was for sure "He's embarrassing himself and crapping on his legacy for really transparent, stat-related reasons."

47 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I've heard it a bunch. I don't agree with it, but I lived in Redskins country for a while. Magically I started hearing it around 2000 and stopped hearing it around 2003. Go figure.

Smith was a great DE who hung on about 5 years past his prime because he wanted an individual goal.

130 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

When both were young, there was some talk that Bruce Smith was the best D-Lineman in the league. Reggie White's rep eclipsed his largely due to higher sack totals and his Super Bowl run with the Packers.

I don't think Smith helped his reputation by sticking with the Redskins long after he was an elite player. Also, White's premature death makes it difficult to have any sensible comparison of the two.

And Strahan is definitely overrated. Not that he was less than an elite DE, but any player who plays in the New York media market gets quickly overrated.

107 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Bruce Smith had 2 more sacks than Reggie White while playing 3 more seasons in the NFL; White's NFL career was shorter as he spent his first two seasons in the USFL. As such I didn't think anybody considered Smith's advantage in raw sacks to be indicative of a superior career. Moreover, White's peak career was unparalleled - in his first 8 seasons with the Eagles, he averaged just over 1 sack per game; including 21 sacks in a strike-shortened 12 game season.

As for inferior teammates, elite DEs will always be subject to double teams, particularly when they are clearly the best on their defensive line, therefore I doubt that the teammate factor is anywhere near as significant as, say, the quality of the offensive line play is upon the performance of any offensive skill position.

For what it's worth, PFR has Reggie White as the best player (regardless of position) in terms of Career AV, and Bruce Smith as the sixth best. (Granted, I'm from a biased area, but I had never heard anybody suggest that Bruce Smith was superior to Reggie White in any aspect of the game. Whereas NFL Network gave #1 Pass Rusher of all time to Deacon Jones.)

131 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

It's doubtful that you would have heard such a thing, but there was a lot of talk about how Smith was better. That was especially true when the Bills were at the top of the NFL and the Eagles were continually disappointing.

See Vic Carucci on this:


Carucci argues that White's higher sack totals are somewhat due to the fact that he played in a 4-3 defense, while Smith played in a 3-4. It is much harder to get sacks from a 3-4 line.

Certainly I would reject any analysis that just looked at sack totals.

151 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Of course, I would agree that raw sack totals aren't enough to determine the worth of an elite DE - my post was merely countering the points brought up by the previous poster (who brought up raw sack total + inferior teammates). I actually didn't remember that Bruce Smith had played in 3-4 for most of his career.

I'd suspect that Reggie White had more disruptive plays in run defense than Smith (at least on a per-game/per-season basis); although even assuming that this assertion is eventually proven correct one would still have to account for the differences between their systems. Perhaps I'll purchase FO premium when they have data going back to 1985, when a complete comparison between the two would be more feasible. ...regardless, I'll probably never be fully convinced in favor of Smith - unlike White, he didn't waste the first two years of his career on the wrong side of history.

166 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

As a Bears fan, I can definitely say Urlacher has no place on this list. Bill George does though and it's a sahem we have Micheal Strahan and Troy Friggin Aikman ahead over him (if there is one player that made it that doens't deserve to sniff it, it's him)

- Alvaro

12 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I want to know where Charlie Essman is, dagnabbit!

On a more serious note, while the position balance is...debatable, I think that a lot of the rankings inside position are pretty horrible.

Montana, Elway, Brady, Favre, Unitas, and Manning are not the best 6 QBs of the post-1960 era by any reasonable measure. Tom Brady is especially questionable. If you want the players with the highest level of play drop Brady, Elway and Favre for Staubach, Young, and Anderson. If you want the guys with the most career value, nix Brady and Montana for Tarkenton and Marino.

Barry Sanders belongs below a lot of guys not on there...did he ever have a better season by DYAR than TD when they were playing at the same time?

WR is fine, at least on this portion of the list.

That covers the positions I know well. I figure the others are just as bad, and I just don't know enough to find the errors. Maybe others will...

Bill George could very easily be argued to be the GOAT at MLB. There's something very wrong with him not being on the list at all.

18 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Sanders and Davis overlapped for only 3 seasons, 96-98. Sanders led in 96, Davis in 97 and 98. Unfortunately my FO almanac with the Top 100 RB seasons is in storage, but I'm sure someone else will check and note that Sanders has a ton of them, more than anyone other than possibly Jim Brown I believe.

21 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Sanders had 3 in the top 10 and no one else had more than one. He also had 6 in the top 100 which was tied with Brown for the most. And when you consider that Davis played behind a much better O-line I think it's fair to say Sanders was the better player.

28 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Over 1995-1998, the Lions had 4 linemen named to the pro bowl and one to the all-pro team (per pfr). Denver had 6 and 1, hardly "much better" by that measure. I realize that is a crummy metric, but I don't have a better readily available; if you do, go for it.

You also need to consider Davis' 8 playoff games - they amount to another 1271 yard half-season against (obviously) playoff caliber defenses.

As for Sanders, let's be charitable and not talk about his playoff appearances.

I think that it isn't unreasonable at all to argue that Davis was the better back.

58 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Longevity counts too. It's not like TD's peak was higher than Sanders peak in terms of rushing ability or rushing production. Including playoffs is disingenuous because Sanders was on a much worse team than TD was.

TD played for effectively five seasons before he was forced out of the league due to injuries. Barry Sanders played for ten and quit because he couldn't take the losing anymore. You could argue that Davis' peak was higher, which I don't agree with, but a higher peak does not make a better back overall.

62 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Agree 100% on the longevity issue-- that's why to me it's a little nuts that Sayers is so high on the list. Would you have rather had Emmitt Smith for his career or Gale Sayers for his career? I was raised by Bears fans, love Gale, and frequent his bar here in Chicago, and he was obviously a singular runner, but this isn't a ranking based on pure talent, right? I assume it's weighted towards production?

64 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Sayers played in the 60s, careers weren't as long then. He also had an insanely high peak, and people discount his special teams contributions.

He produced 9397 all purpose yards in 66 games, Jim Brown produced 10954 in 82.

For the record Terrell Davis produced 8887 in 78 games, during an era were offensive yards are easier to get and medical technology keeps careers going longer.

69 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Yep, fair points, but I would argue that "all-purpose yardage" is not a valuable metric, because a higher percentage of Sayers' yardage was kick and punt return yardage, while a higher percentage of Brown's was rushing yardage, which is harder to come by. Kick return yardage can be piled up more easily and should not be counted as equally valuable-- certainly Sayers gained more of it than an average player would, but it needs to be discounted in some way versus rushing yardage.

180 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

but Pro Bowl balloting can be affected by rushing yards ... people may assume the Lions' line was better simply because Barry ran behind it. (I can assure you that was not the case.)

Yes, Sanders was unable to carry his team during those 6 playoff games in his career, mostly because opposing teams chose to plan for Sanders rather than whoever was standing in as QB Lions. (This was true even in their lone playoff win: IIRC, Jack Del Rio, a Cowboy at the time, was quoted roughly as saying that they took Sanders away and dared Kramer to beat them, and "by golly, he did it.")

By contrast, Davis had John Freaking Elway at QB. Taking the running game out of the picture and leaving it up to the QB was simply not an option. TD was an excellent back, yes, but he had one hell of a supporting cast. Sanders had Herman Moore and some guys.

If you think Barry Sanders belongs below a lot of players on that list, I can only assume that you never saw him play.

24 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

They also overlapped in '95 - Davis 233, Sanders 159. Davis had nearly 100 fewer runs.

As another comparison, Emmitt also takes 4 of 6 of the years we have DYAR for both him and Sanders, most of them not close (either way). I'd guess that in DYAR Smith will take both other years (91 and 92) they were both starters, as the stat lines for both backs those two years were very similar to the 93-95 window Emmitt dominates. Sanders didn't come in ahead until the Switzer collapse began.

I suspect that Sanders is a guy that is going to look meaningfully worse in "real" DVOA rather the approximation used in previous "Top 100 Seasons" articles, because I think the play by play will see and penalize his boom-and-bust style more than applying a formula to conventional numbers does.

34 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Even then, DVOA/DYAR can't say much more than Smith/Davis, running behind their lines, in their respective offenses, were more effective than Sanders behind his line and in his offense, without being able to dissociate context from the individual.

Using subjective measures and our own observations, we can suggest that Smith and Davis were both running behind better lines and had the benefit of a better QB and offense.

53 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Tom Brady is especially questionable.


If you want the players with the highest level of play drop Brady, Elway and Favre for Staubach, Young, and Anderson.

What did Roger Staubach, for example, do that makes him a much better player than Tom Brady? I understand that you can't compare numbers because the game is different, but what makes Staubach a superior player in your eyes? I apologize if this is an old topic, but if so, I've missed it, and I'm curious.

72 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I agree. To follow up on the Jeter comparison...

Brady may have been overrated because he won early in his career, and while an integral part of those championships, he got a lot more credit than perhaps he was due.

But because winning those Super Bowls forms the central theme of any argument about Brady, his other merits get overlooked, like the fact that he has consistently been a great QB for most of the last decade by any statistical individual measure as well, with only Manning to match or exceed those accomplishments.

87 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

It is the numbers, actually. If you adjust for era, Staubach and Young come off as Peytonesque, although with shorter careers.

Go here and take value/att : http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=3378
Or here, and again value vs. career length: http://armchairgm.wikia.com/index.php?title=The_100_Greatest_Quarterbacks_of_the_Modern_Era

Or just observe that (per PFR) only three quarterbacks have led the league in pass eff (in terms of ANYA) more than twice, and all three rang that bell four or more times. The three guys? Roger Staubach, Peyton Manning, and Steve Young.

103 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Both metrics are incredibly flawed and are weighted for QBs with completed longer careers. Further, you totally missed this note in the Pro-football reference write up:

"It’s important to remember that this is just a measure of each team’s passing game, assigned to the quarterback on the field for those plays. Obviously the quality of the offensive line, the ability of the receivers, the versatility of the tight ends and running backs, the philosophy of the coaches, the strength of the schedule, and good old randomness have a significant impact on the above numbers. The reason for these posts is to accurately measure quarterback statistics, and nothing else."

The author of those statistics even recognizes that it isn't a total measure of the greatest quarterbacks but rather just another data point.

Frankly, a list of greatest QBs without including Montana, Brady and Elway is just crazy.

105 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Which is why I told you to keep an eye on the value to career length ratio, rather than the list of names. Brady's career is already longer than Staubach's or Young's anyway.

I never said any of the above weren't great QBs. I simply stated that Elway was not one of the six most efficient post-1960 quarterbacks, Montana was not one of the six with the best career value, and Brady was not top 6 by either measure.

I also asserted that Staubach, Young and Ken Anderson were more efficient than Elway or Brady.

Which part of that do you think is erroneous?

132 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Having watched all of these QBs, I have to conclude that efficiency alone is not of that much value. Of the group you list, it's clear in my mind that Elway accomplished the most. Steve Young had some of the greatest seasons in NFL history, but his career as a whole is hampered by the years he sat on the bench, or in Tampa Bay. I would rate Staubach and Brady as roughly equal.
Ken Anderson profits from the fact that he played in the first West Coast offense. If you inflate his valiue by comparing him to his peers, and thereby say that he was superior to subsequent West Coast QBs, you are mis-using the tool of historical comparison.

Of course, the entire exercise that NFL networks is engaged in is rather silly. It makes no sense whatsoever to try to rate the "Top 100 players" and claim that the order you produce has any real meaning, other than popularity. Why is Ray Lewis a "better player" than Tom Brady? There's no real answer to that question. But at least they played in the same era. How do you compare Joe Montana and Dick Butkus?

77 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

And again, DYAR is a poor way to measure the individual value of a RB, especially one like Sanders. DYAR devalues long plays severely. When you use the stat it makes it seem like any scrub could rush for 1500+ yards for the Lions - it is curious that no one has come close since Barry left. DYAR also implied that it was somewhat difficult to run for the Broncos - and every fantasy football player knows that wasn't the case. Gary, Anderson, Droughns, Portis all did very well for those Broncos.

Even PFR doesn't use DYAR when evaluating Sanders. They ranked Jim Brown ahead of Sanders (which I don't agree with) and rank Payton as his equal. Every other back is below him - including Smith who is a DYAR monster.

It is possible for the top 10 list to look like:

1) Brown
2) Payton
3) Nagurski
4) Sanders
5) Sayers
6) Smith
7) Thorpe
8) Simpson
9) Grange
10) Dickerson

I didn't realize that they polled every dead sportswriter in the country to make this list - must have been tallied in Chicago.

19 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I don't mind the QB position being a bit numerically overrepresented because of the relative importance of the position, but the fact that 68 of the players were offense is really dumb. Bill George and Seau got hosed.

20 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I watched a few of the early ones. Sam Huff's inclusion seems dubious. Especially at the exclusion of Bill George.

The highlight reel for Huff was pathetic, it looked like he was just standing there letting running backs run into him.

43 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Yeah, Huff = Urlacher 10 years from now. He's one of those guys that everyone talks about being great as though it is a given... but he was never one of the truly dominate, amazing players of his generation. And then the highlights are weirdly unimpressive for what everyone is saying about him...

50 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

That's a terrible comparison because Urlacher has been probably the most athletic player at his position ever. He was able to do things no other linebacker could. Like covering receivers 1 on 1.

You can think Urlacher is overrated if you want to but it would be because he makes amazingly athletic plays that cloud people's minds. He's like the anti-Huff.

99 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

To bad with all that athleticism he never learned how to play with leverage, take on blocks, or to not over run so many plays.

If we are going to point out how "athletic" he was/is then lets equally point out how average/below average he has been in the run game and playing near the LOS.

83 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I really didn't mean their style of play, I just meant that everyone always works from the foregone conclusion that they are "one of the greats" and I can't for the life of me see why. In the case of Urlacher, it probably is the athleticism, but for Huff it was more that he played a big part in a bunch of important games for one of the signature teams for the league. (And, to a certain extent, he epitomized the broke-nosed Tough Guy-ness that is so important to the NFL's image...)

26 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

John Hannah > Dan Marino?!??!?!

You can't even use the stupid "he never won a ring" argument for that one.

54 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Just a question taking advantage of your post. Lets take the best guard on NFL's history. Ahead of what QB (Top 5, top 10, 20?) do you put him? How about tackles and center? and the rest of the "trenches" positions (defense)?

85 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

While anybody would agree that they'd rather have the #10 QB of all time than the #1 guard, that's not what this list is looking at. It's not "Who would you want most on your team," but rather "who was the greatest?"

I don't think its hard to believe at all that the best guard of all time could be a "greater" player than the #10 QB.

29 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Aaron - as a Vikings fan I'm really curious as to how you would rank Eller among the DE's of all time?

I was just a child when he played - but watching some old film recently (Dallas vs Minn - Hail Mary game, old Super Bowls). He looked quite a dominant player to me.

37 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Honestly, this seems like a pretty good top 20. I'd say the weakest three are Favre, Lott, and Nagurski. And even then, the only players, in my mind, who should clearly be above any of those three are Marino and Elway ahead of Favre.

The more I think about it, Favre being ahead of Marino and Elway is ridiculous. Brady should probably rate ahead of Favre, as well.

My biggest problem with this list is the placement of quarterbacks. Terry Bradshaw at #50? In my world, he'd be off the list entirely. Ditto Troy Aikman. And yet both are placed ahead of Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton (who is inexplicably ranked #91, behind Kurt Warner)!

49 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

We can see exactly how he would have been treated. John Elway through 1996 was Fran Tarkenton.

If John retires at that point, he isn't on the list at all. Two Super Bowls later (though I'm not sure the second one affected things), he's able to make the top 25.

Note: I'm not going to discuss where Elway actually belongs, because I will freely admit that I'm not rational about John Elway.

56 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

The funny thing is that Warner will prolly get shortchanged historically too.

Do you really believe that all the Elway talk is just about the 2 rings? I really believe pre 97 Elway makes the list. Sure not 25, but the rings have to count for something right? (While I know rings are a measure of team success, and this list is personal excellency, I really think being a champion matter in how history evaluates players. And rightly so.)

73 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

As a Broncos fan, yes, I do think it's about the rings. I heard "The Buck-toothed Boy's gotta go" on a daily basis from about 1990 through 1996. They even drafted a replacement for him in 1992, when he was about to turn 32. He was much less highly thought of before 1997.

82 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Yeah, it's hard to remember, but in the early 90's, Elway was lumped in with Jim Kelley as being over-rated and he was frequently just sorta disregarded. It's like Dan Marino took the slot for "QB who never won a Superbowl, but still deserves our respect" and anyone else without a ring was a choker or a failure or whatever.

The Tarkenton comparison is perfect in that way. Also, those guys didn't always have exactly what you would call "great teams" around them...

84 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Tarkenton was flat out horrible in the playoffs.

Out of 11 postseason games

He had only 1 game with a great than 60% completion percentage and 6 below 50%
He had only 2 games with more TDs than picks but 6 with more picks than TDs
He had no game over 250 yards passing but 5 with under 150 yards passing

I don't particularly like QB rating as a stat but he only had a 58.6 rating in the playoffs but a 80.4 rating in the regular season.

134 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

In the middle of his career, when he should have been in his prime, Kurt Warner was benched in favor of Eli Manning.

I'm in favor of recognizing Warner's incredible achievements - the two best Super Bowls in history, a decade apart, for different teams. But no other elite QB disappeared in the middle of his career in the same way Warner did. Was it 3 years ago that people were seriously talking about whether he should be Matt Leinart's backup? I don't remember the timing exactly, but could you imagine anybody ever talking that way about Elway or Marino?

150 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Warner was benched because Eli was supposed to be the Giants QB of the future. It had absolutely nothing to do with talent. The Giants felt that the top pick in the draft should play - not ride the bench. Same with Leinart. Warner was great when he was healthy and on the field.

175 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

That's an apologist's excuse. The Giants could never have had Warner on their roster if he hadn't already been released by the Rams for poor play. I suppose if you wanted then you could argue that the Rams just wanted to develop Marc Bulger, but three makes a trend. At what point do you start to lay this trend at the feet of Kurt Warner? Do you think a Hall of Fame quarterback has to sign on as a back-up in the prime of his career? Would the Patriots or Colts or Saints ever dream of sitting Brady or Manning or Brees right now in favor of a highly-touted rookie?

163 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

In addition to the points made in the last couple of posts, Warner was clearly better than Eli that year. If the Giants were trying to win the most games, they would have kept Warner as the starter. Instead, they decided to try and develop their rookie.

45 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Also, it will be clearer after Favre retires and all the commentary starts focusing on his BEST years, that the man was unreal in his prime. Brady probably has 1 season that rivals Favre's best 5 in terms of sheer quarterbacking brilliance and "holy shit, did he just do that?!" moments.

92 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Agreed. I can't stand the guy now, but winning 3 straight MVPs (first two perfectly legit, the third probably should not have been shared with Sanders but was still a very good season), with the huge number of 30 TD seasons, and owning every major cumulative passing record by a country mile says a lot.

Manning has clearly surpassed Favre in terms of sustained excellence (as opposed to very goodness) over a long time, but guys like Warner and Brady have not had more than about half as many very good seasons as Favre has put together.

118 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

It's hard to say. In a market like Green Bay in which staying competitive is a huge achievement in respect to the viability of the franchise, Favre is a better quarterback than Brady, considering the sheer length of his career as an elite QB. In the shorter term, in a more "normal" situation, I find it hard to envision a scenario in which I would pick Favre over Brady on a year to year basis. Sure, Favre will always give you a punchers chance, if you will. But if it came down to it, with the SB on the line and down a score? I'm going to go with Brady. If I'm the owner of the Packers and I have to choose between Favre and Brady, knowing the scope of their careers, I'll pick Favre for the long term. But if I want to win this year? I'll take Brady 10x out of 10.

135 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Favre hasn't been significantly better than Brady for several years.

Favre back in the 90s played for several years at roughly the same level that Brady has played since 2007. But the down side of Favre is particularly egregious. He has ended his team's playoff run with an absurdly back pick how many times? Twice in the last three years. Brady has never killed his team in the same way. (Yes, there was the Champ Bailey pick, but that was it.)

Brady's playoff success is, in my opinion, underrated by people who favor Favre or Peyton Manning. Interceptions are very bad to throw in vital situations and young Peyton and old Favre have both been notorious for throwing them. Brady has managed to avoid having that kind of period in his career.

Clearly, right now Brady is the better QB. And he talks like he wants to achieve the kind of longevity Favre has had. Thanks to Bernard Pollard's illegal hit, he'll never threaten any kind of consecutive game streak, but I've always thought that kind of streak counted more for luck than anything else. (In Cal Ripken's case, I thought his career suffered due to his insistence on playing through injury.)

141 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

"the same level that Brady has played since 2007"

That's only two actual seasons, plus the first five games of this year, all with Randy Moss on the field. Brady had his worst DYAR of the season in his first game without Moss and the team's offensive DOVA dropped from 42 to 35. I do give them credit for gutting out the win, however. We'll see how this turns out. Brady was never a dominant player before Moss. He was a very good QB from 2004-2006 but not one of the best in the league. (For comparison, an elderly Randall Cunningham, Jeff George and Daunte Culpepper (twice) have all had top 5 DVOA seasons passing to Moss. Brady's obviously better than them, but it shows what kind of an effect a motivated Randy Moss has on an offense.)

"He has ended his team's playoff run with an absurdly back pick how many times? Twice in the last three years. Brady has never killed his team in the same way. (Yes, there was the Champ Bailey pick, but that was it.)"

It happened against the Colts in 2006. It should've happened against the Chargers, but the knucklehead failed to take a knee and Troy Brown stripped him. Brady also famously was stripped on the last drive against the Raiders in 2001. And he threw 3 picks with a fumble against Baltimore last year. Seriously, if the tuck rule call goes the other way and the Chargers DB falls to the ground, how different does Brady's career look? I'm not trying to trash the guy. Even great or just very good QBs throw interceptions or have bad games, even in the playoffs. Brady was just fortunate to have his happen after his reputation as Clutchy McClutchster was already established. In my opinion he's a very, very good player who has also benefitted from an inordinate amount of good fortune in his career. If he puts up a couple more truly great seasons without Moss, I'll be happy to revise my opinion.

39 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

It's not an awful top 20 by any means, but neither John Elway nor Alan Page makes it?

I know they still made it fairly high (Elway #23 and Page #43), but they would make my top 3, let alone 20.

67 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Look long and hard at Elway's offensive teammates: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/TEZXM
You know it's a murderer's row when Ken Lanier is number two in approximate value. Just for the sake of comparison, here are some other QBs in the same manner:
Bradshaw: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/z1qyd
Young: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/xiKvh
Aikman: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/DwxvW
Marino: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/Y1m9s
Peyton Manning: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/UQviY
Fouts: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/KhPsi
Ken Anderson: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/CyJ73

And I'm not rational about Elway anyway, as I admit freely.

88 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Approximate value for receivers is derived from receiving stats. So part of the reason that Elways' receivers' stats were relatively poor is that Elway's stats were relatively poor compared to people like, say, Manning.

Is there any doubt that Peyton will get another 4500 yards and 33 TDs, despite the fact that he's losing two receivers to injury per week?

90 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Still, his wideouts were considerably weaker than most other great QBs until late in his career.

I think the strongest argument in favor of Elway being better than his statistics is that not only was that the opinion of observers his whole career, but when he did finally get help comparable to that of some of the others at the end of his career he did put up numbers to match what what anyone short of Staubach and Young had done in the 36-38 age bracket.

169 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

John Elway and Alan Page are that ridiculous, that Josh Reed belongs in the same sentence?

I realize that, especially on a stats-oriented website, Elway is put in the same category as Bradshaw and Aikman and so not highly thought of, but Alan Page was absolutely without question a truly dominant player.

59 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

QB's who should not be in the top 100 if this is about the "best players":

1. Terry Bradshaw
2. Troy Aikman

QB's massively overrated by their ranking:

1. Favre (assuming he's in the top 20)
2. Elway

It's hard to argue with Brady after 2007, although he Troy Aikman for the first half of his career.

RB's off the list:
Gale Sayers
Earl Campbell

Overrated RB's:
Emitt Smith
Tony Dorsett (can't quite convince myself to leave him out!)

WR's off the list:
Michael Irvin

OL that should be on the list:
Willie Roaf, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, certainly at least 3-4 others from the pre-1990 era (but I'm no expert on that).

Bruce Smith being out of the top 20 is absurd. And if you have that many quarterbacks, where in the name of sweet baby Jesus is Dan Fouts? KEN ANDERSON is not on the list.

Is Randy Moss really the second best WR in NFL history?

I actually think we're already getting to the point that we can say Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in NFL history (not necessarily the best player - I think Jerry Rice is pretty convincing on that point, and if he wasn't, there's Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White, both of whom revolutionized their positions - but there is just nobody who has been as consistently great at his job for so long.

And for nonstatistical people who like "winning", he has a super bowl ring, and his team has a record of 35-10 in games decided by 8 points or less while he is playing quarterback. For comparison, Tom Brady is 20-11... and represents a statistical outlier even so.

75 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

A few things:

-No, the list is not arguing that Randy Moss is the 2nd best WR of all time. Alworth, Hutson, and Rice are all ahead of him, for starters, and there may be more, I did not do a close examination.

-Not sure if you have an anti-Cowboys bias, but you ding Emmitt, Aikman, Irvin, and Dorsett in your post. So that's a bit suspicious. That said, Aikman probably doesn't belong on the list. I'm okay with that. Irvin, however, unquestionably does.

Check out this post from Pro Football Reference:

Irvin compares very favorably to Jerry Rice in both of their primes and is clearly one of the all-time greats at the position.

-Emmitt Smith belongs where he is. I personally think he should be higher, but saying that he should be LOWER is nuts. Longevity and durability count. If you're a team owner or GM, would you rather have Emmitt Smith's career or Gale Sayers'? Emmitt's or Earl Campbell's? To me the answer is Emmitt every time (although I like Sayers and understand that he was a singular player). Emmitt was the best combination of blocking, running, and receiving of his generation (better than Sanders if measuring across all 3 categories, although Sanders was obviously a uniquely superb runner), and Emmitt's career numbers (not just the yards total, but his DVOA numbers and his staggering 1990-2000 "prime") make him unquestionably a top 30 all time NFL player.

80 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Upon reflection:

1. You're absolutely right about Emmitt Smith. In my mind, my rationale for disparaging Aikman was that he was on the great Cowboys teams that ran so well, and didn't really produce much (a prototype of the Trent Dilfer Super Bowl). So I can't knock Emmitt too, and a second look at Emmitt's numbers is convincing. I had underrated how good he was at his peak. Mea Culpa.

2. I'm not sold on Irvin, but I'm not prepared to defend it on grounds other than "He's not Jerry Rice," and of course no one is.

3. My Randy Moss point was more along the lines of "Is Randy Moss even the best WR of his generation?" I could see arguments for Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, and maybe even Isaac Bruce.

123 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I'm of the opinion that people don't give Aikman nearly enough credit. He did what was asked of him and it resulted in wins and rings. Comparing him to an anomaly like Dilfer is an insult.

Aikman and Bradshaw.... stats are fun and all but at the end of the day there's something to the fact that rings are rings. We can make fun of Herm for saying it's why you play the game but it doesn't make it untrue. Look at what happens every week at halftime... momentum may not fit into our neat mathematical constructs but anyone who's watched a lof of football will tell you it's a real thing. You know when you have it and when you don't. I'll take 22 guys who have gotten there and delivered any day.

68 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Take a look at this list before you judge Aikman and Bradshaw so harshly.


Neither were great regular season quarterbacks, but they excelled in the post season. It's not that small of a sample either. To be fair to Bradshaw, he was elite late in his career in the regular season, beyond terrible early.

101 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

When the number of playoff attempts is dropped to 200, your boy Bledsoe appears on the list:


He's easy to find, since he is second from the bottom. So, yeah, they were every bit as good as Bledsoe, and then far more, at least in the playoffs.

78 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Aaron, why do you think they chose to leave off marvin harrison from the list all together? Its not like his accomplishments were hard to realize...ie-he played a position in which statistics are often used to define his position-and his statistics are fairly monumental across the board. A bit surprised he was left of.

109 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Yeah, what he said.

It is a little puzzling, especially since Harrison did it the old-fashioned way--good speed, meticulous routes, great hands and body control, and a ton of work with his QB. It looks like Manning is getting all the credit for 88's career and that's really unfair.

When he broke an all-time record, it wasn't by one TD (like Manning, Brady, Holmes, Tomlinson, Alexander?) and it wasn't a freakish out of character season like Brady's 2007--Harrison 143 receptions in a season when he was sometimes triple-covered blew away the previous record by 14%, but he had a handful of seasons over the century mark. How many OTHER seasons did the other record breakers above rush for 18+ TDs or pass for 40 or even 30?

Until his big knee injury in his 12th (?) season, he was compiling stats at a rate that was very close to Rice, the undisputed GOAT. You do that for three seasons, meh. You do that for 8-9, people notice. 12 years? That shold merit inclusion. 15 years? Top-25 inclusion.

If he was a 6-5 freak who ran sloppy routes and pulled down a lot of poorly thrown jump balls but compiled similar stats, I could see people dismissing him. But Harrison was a top-3 WR for close to a decade. Plus all those compiled stats, wich work in Favre's favor....

Maybe he's getting the Eddie Murray "unfriendly to the media" payback treatment.

86 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I've generally liked the NFL top 100 Series.... up until last night. You really mean to tell me that Dan Marino is sandwiched between Bob Lily and john Hannah?!?! Is that a joke? Dan Marino at # 25 is really a gross injustice to the legacy he left, especially being "bested" by Elway and Brady. The NFL Network should know that football is the ultimate team sport, in which for 17 years Marino was basically a one man show with ZERO RUNNING GAME. In 17 years, his only year with a 1,000 yard rusher was the immortal Karim Abdul Jabbar. While it's interesting that A-Rod was a Marino fan, I would have preferred a peer of his doing the presentation, like a Bruce Smith type of guy (he once compared Marino to the Joe Dimaggio of pro football). Marino is a top 10 player in history.

93 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

You don't need a running game to win - but for most of the SB era (until very recently) you needed a top 10 scoring. Marino, for most of his prime, didn't have that. I think many are underestimating Brady though. His 1st two SBs he won with negligible offensive talent.

98 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Marino was incredible, but he's got a really interesting and maybe not-so-flattering career shape. He has one season that is, in my mind, by far the greatest season ever played by any football player.

Beyond that? Well, he remained the league's best player for about two more years. And then, by about the time he was 27, he wound down towards "above-average" level and pretty much stayed there the rest of his career. He made the pro bowl in only 9 of 17 seasons. Peyton Manning, who was often compared to him, especially before Manning won a Superbowl, has made the pro bowl in 10 of 12 seasons. Manning has the MVP-level early-career play, but he kept going. Marino tapered off.

I can imagine it's disheartening for a QB to throw for 4700 yards and 44 TDs and go 8-8 (seriously, WTF Dolphins?) but Marino probably could have picked up multiple Superbowls if he had stayed that good. Instead, he kind of tapered off quietly over the course of a decade and a half.

Essentially, he did a reverse-Elway. The really impressive seasons are at the beginning of his career instead of the end.

96 Marino-shula theory

How come shula had no problem coahcing run game beforoe Marino? Guy even took d. woodley to super bwol as starting quaretrback. then team drafts marino a nd shula cant find a run game anymore. Maybe Marino have somehting to do with it? Maybe marino so goofd at p[assing that make Shula overlook RBs or not devote enough time to finsing better ones. Maybe Shula didnt; think he needed gerat ones anymore. Remember used to coach T. Matte, Csonak, Morris, Kiick, Willaims, Nottingham, malone, Franklin and some others all before Marino. Then Mairno get there and Miami runnign game medicore or crap moist years after that

so it make you ask--- Did D,. Shula get dumb after tema draft Marino or did pay less attention to RBs after gett Marino becuausse thought could get by without top nothch RB corpse from that poiint?

102 Re: Marino-shula theory

Every good team needs a top notch RB corpse stuffed in somebody's locker. Reminds everyone what they're playing for: immortality and premature brain death.

111 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

Ogden over Walter Jones? I'm not sure I agree with that. It's tough for me to distinguish Ogden, Jones, or Orlando Pace but I believe Walter Jones should be well within the top-100.

126 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

I agree with your second two sentences, though I find it odd that you disagree with Odgen over Jones and then follow that with a statement about you have a hard time evaluating their relative values.

I know it "shouldn't" really count in evaluations like these, but I've always given Jones extra kudos because of the simple fact that he played for 12 years in such a violent league without once taking serious painkillers. It's a little unbelievable that somebody unable to take anything more than Tylenol could play more than a few games in today's NFL ... and to do it for a dozen years at nearly the highest level possible? That's simply remarkable.

152 Re: Looking at the NFL Network's Top 20

No, I don't, but I would be astonished if they didn't. And yes, Jones' inability to take painkillers is anecdotal, but it's not like he's likely to have been slipping in pills or shots away from the cameras. It's because of a kidney condition, not a personal preference. And I'm being quite literal when I say he can only take Tylenol; he can't even take anti-inflammatories.

I agree that there's no way to know for sure how unique it is to play in the NFL and not take any sort of serious pain or anti-inflammatory medication. But I think it's probably highly unusual to stay in the league for a dozen years without doing it once; the following comes from a 1996 SI article about Brett Favre's addiction to painkillers (I bet you can guess who wrote it!):

"Like many pro football players Favre would -- almost without thinking -- take a numbing injection or a painkilling pill to get through a game. It's tough to determine just how widespread this practice is, because painkillers aren't detected in annual NFL drug screenings. But in the wake of Favre's revelation, Robert Huizenga, a former team doctor for the Oakland Raiders and a past president of the NFL Physicians Society, said, 'This is not an isolated incident. We want people to play hurt, and when someone doesn't play hurt, he's no longer our hero. We need a system where a physician, without fear of losing his job, can say to an athlete, 'The injury is not healed. You cannot play.''

"As he walked out of the Chicago Bears' training complex last Thursday carrying a small box of club-prescribed anti-inflammatory pills for a bulging disk in his back, linebacker Bryan Cox said that he thought half of the players in the NFL needed painkillers or anti-inflammatories to make it through a season. Phil Simms, who quarterbacked the New York Giants for 14 seasons before retiring in 1993, estimated that each NFL team would need a roster of 250 players to make it through a season if games were played with only healthy, nonmedicated players."