by Aaron Schatz
Tonight, the NFL Network is showing the first episode in a ten-part series on the Top 100 Players in NFL History. Much like the network did with the America's Game series a few years ago, the list was chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of including both current and former NFL coaches, players and front office personnel, as well as noted NFL media members, Hall of Fame voters and league historians.
I'm very proud to say that I was included as part of the blue ribbon panel this time around. It was quite an honor and recognition of how far FO has come since we launched in 2003. With the show starting tonight, I want to share my Top 100 ballot with all the readers.
The vote did not involve actually picking 100 players in order. We each got a ballot that listed all Hall of Famers along with a list of about 40 current and recently retired players. For each player, we voted between 1 and 10, giving the top players 10 and players who shouldn't be on the list 1.
With a list of so many good players, it was really impossible to narrow it down to just 100. I finally decided to limit myself to 120 players. I gave those players a rating between 2 and 10, and every other player got a 1. Even with that limit, I had to made some really hard choices. The last two players I cut from my list were Walter Jones and Ozzie Newsome, and if you believe I should have had them higher, well, I'm not going to argue with you.
Part of my problem came from "write-ins." The ballot left space for us to add players who were not on the list otherwise, and I thought there were some rather egregious omissions. The most important missing name was Junior Seau, who made 12 Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro six times. I have no idea how he was left off the list. I ended up adding four other write-ins along with Seau: Champ Bailey, Drew Brees, Antonio Gates, and Willie Roaf. I also considered Nnamdi Asomugha, Rodney Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and Richard Seymour, but in the end they didn't make the cut. If any of these players don't make the NFL Network's Top 100, you can blame whoever forgot to add them to the official ballot, although I'm sure guys like Seau and Brees garnered at least a few other write-ins.
One problem with a list like this is that all our advanced play-by-play data isn't going to help much with players before 1993. In the end, there are only two players who I really put on the list solely due to DVOA. Tight ends have been more important in the last 20 years than ever before, and Antonio Gates has four of the top ten seasons in that span, so it would be hard to leave him out. The other player was Michael Irvin. Considering that Irvin had more DYAR than Jerry Rice in two of Rice's best years, I figured I at least had to make sure he was one of my 120 players, even if he wasn't that high.
Without DVOA to use for players from before 1993, I ended up making a table with four different stats: Pro Bowls, First Team All-Pros, P-F-R's career Approximate Value, and number of years as a starter.
I also considered the rankings from when Sporting News did a Top 100 NFL Players of All-Time list a couple years ago. You'll find that here. I used that primarily to help with earlier, pre-merger players. (I'll fully admit to having very little knowledge about guys who played before 1950.)
Finally, I took my final list and ran it past both Mike Tanier and Bill Barnwell for their opinions.
Here is the result, my ballot for the NFL Network's Top 100 Greatest Players series. Players from the single-platoon era are listed with their offensive positions.
10: Sammy Baugh, Tom Brady, Otto Graham, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana
9: John Elway, Dan Marino
8: Sid Luckman, Johnny Unitas
7: Brett Favre
6: Steve Young
4: Drew Brees
3: Bobby Layne, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach
2: Dan Fouts, Fran Tarkenton
By the way, Terry Bradshaw was 44th on that Sporting News list mentioned earlier, and he was the only player from the Top 50 of that list who I left off my list of 120 players.
10: Jim Brown
9: Walter Payton, Barry Sanders
8: Marshall Faulk, Marion Motley
7: Eric Dickerson, Bronko Nagurski, Emmitt Smith
6: Earl Campbell, O.J. Simpson, Steve Van Buren
5: LaDainian Tomlinson
4: Red Grange, Jim Thorpe
3: Lenny Moore, Gale Sayers
2: Marcus Allen, Thurman Thomas
Tony Dorsett was the hardest player to leave off here.
10: Don Hutson, Jerry Rice
7: Raymond Berry
6: Randy Moss
5: Marvin Harrison
4: Terrell Owens
3: Elroy Hirsch
2: Lance Alworth, Michael Irvin, Steve Largent
6: Tony Gonzalez
4: Antonio Gates
3: John Mackey
2: Kellen Winslow
A very modern group, but it was really hard to stick guys like Mike Ditka and Charlie Sanders ahead of all the great linemen and defensive players.
10: Anthony Munoz
7: Forrest Gregg, Jim Parker
4: Orlando Pace, Jon Ogden, Art Shell, Ron Yary
3: Lou Creekmur, Willie Roaf
2: Ron Mix
As I said above, I probably should have added Walter Jones. I guess I could have gone with 121 players.
Interior Offensive Line
7: John Hannah
6: Mel Hein, Jim Otto
5: Larry Allen
4: Gene Upshaw
3: Danny Fortmann, Bruce Matthews, Jim Ringo, Mike Webster
2: Dermontti Dawson, Randall McDaniel
Hmmm. I don't think I noticed that I had one offensive lineman three points ahead of any other offensive linemen. Oh well.
10: Alan Page
9: Joe Greene, Bob Lilly
8: Merlin Olsen
6: Randy White
4: Leo Nomellini, Warren Sapp
3: Buck Buchanan, Henry Jordan
Merlin Olsen started for 15 NFL seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 14 of them, which is pretty remarkable.
10: Reggie White
9: Gino Marchetti
8: Deacon Jones
7: Bruce Smith
5: Carl Eller, Andy Robustelli, Michael Strahan
4: Willie Davis
3: Jack Youngblood
10: Lawrence Taylor
9: Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis
8: Jack Lambert, Joe Schmidt, Mike Singletary, Junior Seau
7: Chuck Bednarik, Bill George, Jack Ham
6: Derrick Brooks
5: Willie Lanier, Ray Nitschke
3: Bobby Bell, Sam Huff
2: Ted Hendricks
Surprise: Derrick Brooks made more Pro Bowls than any of the five linebackers I have listed below him, and more All-Pro First Teams than any of them except Bell.
9: Deion Sanders
8: Night Train Lane
7: Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson
6: Herb Adderley, Mel Blount
5: Emlen Tunnell, Willie Wood
4: Willie Brown, Ed Reed
3: Champ Bailey, Jack Christiansen
2: Darrell Green, Ken Houston, Larry Wilson
I think that kickers and punters have a place in the Hall of Fame, but no kicking specialists are worthy of being on a list of the 100 players in NFL history.