The regular season has yet to start, and all 32 teams are tied at 0-0. And while not all teams are created equal, and not every team will go to the Super Bowl, each team has experienced greatness in one form or another. Here’s a list of the best player in the history of each franchise.
The Best Player in the History of Each Franchise: NFC Edition
Green Bay Packers- Aaron Rodgers
This one is controversial because of how great the history of the Green Bay Packers is. There’s an argument to be made that Aaron Rodgers isn’t even the second best quarterback in Packers history. Bart Starr and Brett Favre both have claims to fame, and Don Hutson was way ahead of his time. However, Aaron Rodgers is going to get the nod here.
In the modern era, franchise quarterbacks are more valuable than anything, and while Tom Brady is king, Rodgers has a stranglehold on the second spot. When Starr played, the quarterback position was a completely different beast, and Rodgers has been far better, more consistently than Favre was. At this pace, Rodgers will obliterate all of Favre’s Packer passing records in six seasons.
Chicago Bears- Brian Urlacher
Of all the legendary linebackers to suit up for Chicago, Brian Urlacher gets the least respect. Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary are remembered far more fondly than Urlacher, but Urlacher played with far less help in an era where playing defense is the hardest it’s ever been. Butkus and Singletary could do just about anything they wanted to offensive linemen and ball-carriers, but Urlacher dominated in the quarterback-friendly age.
Urlacher is the team’s all-time leading tackler, and is top 11 in forced fumbles, interceptions, defensive touchdowns, and sacks. He helped lead the Bears to a Super Bowl, and he didn’t have Walter Payton on offense, he had Rex Grossman. This one is a bit iffy, but Urlacher never gets the respect he deserves.
Minnesota Vikings- Adrian Peterson
This was another tough one. There have been many great Minnesota Vikings over the years, from Fran Tarkenton to John Randle to Randy Moss, the team has no shortage of legends. But I decided to go with a modern player in Adrian Peterson.
Adrian Peterson left the team in free agency this year, but there’s no question he balled out for the Minnesota Vikings. He holds all of their rushing records by a substantial margin, having nearly 5,000 more yards than Robert Smith and 45 more rushing touchdowns than Chuck Foreman. In 2012, coming off an injury, he rushed for 2,097 yards, almost singlehandedly carrying the team to the post-season.
Detroit Lions- Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders might be the greatest football player of all time. He did in real life what Bo Jackson did in Tecmo Bowl. Barry Sanders never rushed for fewer than 1,115 yards in a season, and he did that in 11 games. He averaged 99.8 yards per game, and five yards per carry. But what made Barry so great was that he dominated on bad teams. He currently holds the NFL records for runs for a loss and runs for over 20 yards.
New Orleans Saints- Drew Brees
This one is easy, right? Drew Brees means so much to the Saints and the city of New Orleans. He came in following the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina, and turned the Saints from punchline into contender almost overnight. Since then, he’s had at least 4,000 yards every year and at least 5,000 yards an unprecedented five times. He’s a Saint in more ways than one, and he helped give a city hope when he needed it the most.
Atlanta Falcons- Deion Sanders
Julio Jones has thrown up a “reserved” sign on this spot, but for the time being, Deion Sanders has it locked down, just like all of the receivers he shut down in the 90’s. Sanders played for many, many teams in his illustrious NFL career, but as he’ll remind you, PrimeTime was born in Atlanta.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Derrick Brooks
In all honesty, the greatest Tampa Bay Buccaneer was always going to be a part of that 2002 defense. So it came down to Warren Sapp, John Lynch, and Derrick Brooks. Sapp’s inconsistency in Oakland eliminated him, and while Lynch did exactly what they asked him to do, he wasn’t the ace of the defense like Brooks was.
Just look at what he accomplished between 1997 and 2002. He had four seasons with multiple interceptions, including five in 2002. Brooks also had four seasons with at least 100 tackles and three seasons with multiple forced fumbles. Without Brooks, the Buccaneers would still have an empty trophy case.
Carolina Panthers- Steve Smith Sr.
In a few years, it might be Luke Kuechly that takes this spot, but for now, the future hall of fame wide receiver gets the nod. Steve Smith Sr. easily holds all the receiving records for the team, and he did so with some really mediocre quarterbacks. It’s easy to talk about Cam Newton, but Smith also managed to find success with the likes of Chris Weinke, Rodney Peete, Randy Fasani, Jake Delhomme, and Jimmy Clausen. B
Dallas Cowboys- Michael Irvin
This is a controversial one for sure, because the Dallas Cowboys have had a rich history. Emmitt Smith is the all-time leading rusher, and they have two hall of fame quarterbacks in Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. So why Michael Irvin?
Because there’s no argument against his greatness. Aikman’s numbers leave a lot to be desired, and Smith had one of the greatest offensive lines of all time. But Irvin? Irvin caught 40 percent of Aikman’s touchdown passes by himself. He dominated in a time where very few receivers did, and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
New York Giants- Lawrence Taylor
Duh? Lawrence Taylor completely changed the game. Lawrence Taylor made the left tackle position one of the most important positions on the team, and he transformed the way offensive coordinators schemed against pass rushers. Any time there’s an elite pass rushing linebacker, like Von Miller or Khalil Mack, they’re compared to the man they called L.T.
Washington Redskins- John Riggins
This is a tough one. In all honesty, the Hogs, the legendary group of offensive linemen that paved the way for Joe Gibbs‘ Super Bowl teams. But that would’ve been cheating, and if you have to pick the best Redskin of all time, I don’t know if anyone tops John Riggins.
Just look at what he was able to do in his 30’s as a member of the Redskins. In 1983, at 34 years old, he had 1,347 rushing yards, and 24 rushing touchdowns. Imagine anyone rushing for 24 touchdowns at 34 years old. That’s insane.
Philadelphia Eagles- Reggie White
While some may think of Reggie White as the face of free agency, the man that helped make Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers legitimate Super Bowl contenders, he’s still an iconic Eagle. 124 of his 198 career sacks came as a member of the Eagles, and he was a first team All-Pro in all but one of his years with the team.
Seattle Seahawks- Steve Largent
At this point, all the Seahawks fans say, “Who?” Relax, that’s just a joke. But if you were a defensive back, there was nothing funny about lining up against Steve Largent. in all seriousness, there were a few other players, like Walter Jones or even Earl Thomas, that came to mind, but Steve Largent was the obvious choice. If only he’d played with better quarterbacks, in a different era, he might’ve bee the best ever.
San Francisco 49ers- Jerry Rice
It was either Joe Montana or Jerry Rice, right? The quarterback, or the man catching his passes? It’s a tough dilemma. Then you you look at all of the receiving records, realize that Rice didn’t even play in the flag-happy, pass-friendly era, yet he still holds just about every record, and you realize there’s no debate.
Los Angeles Rams- Deacon Jones
Deacon Jones basically invented the sack. Think about how insane that is. Pass rushers like Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt, and Von Miller makes millions of millions of dollars bringing the quarterbacks down, and Deacon Jones was one of the very first to make an art out of it. Other defenders tackled quarterbacks before then, but nobody gave offensive linemen or quarterback nightmares like Jones and that viscous head-slap.
Arizona Cardinals- Larry Fitzgerald
Why not? In all seriousness, has any player in Cardinals history dominated the way that Larry Fitzgerald has? Whether the team was contending for a top pick or a Super Bowl, the star wide-out has always brought 100% for the red birds.
Fitzgerald’s 1,125 receptions, 14,389 yards, and 104 touchdowns are the most in Cardinals history by a wide margin, and he’s always been a phenomenal team player. He’s caught passes from a number of quarterbacks, and while some have been good like Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, others, like John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, have not.
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