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Names to know associated with the National Football League. (Individuals in folders are listed alphabetically, by last name.)


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     Jim Thorpe 
  • No list of great football players can be complete without Jim Thorpe, or Wa-Tho-Huk in his native Sac and Fox language. The first true star player of American Football, he was an athlete who defies categorization, and as such requires his own category. He was known, in his lifetime, as "the greatest athlete in the world", a title given to him by the King of Sweden for his landslide victories in the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon (doing so even after having his shoes stolen, and having to compete in mismatched shoes that were found in the trash; he also narrowly missed an additional bronze medal by placing fourth in the high jump). He lived up to the name, and might just be the most versatile athlete in history. Despite his success and fame in track and field, his participation in the sport was limited; most of his time was devoted to the many other sports which he played. In his life, he competed in professional football, major league baseball, professional basketball and even won an intercollegiate ballroom dancing competition. However, football was always his greatest love. He simultaneously coached (at a time when teams were coached by fellow players), played both offensive and defensive back (this was both before Quarterback and Running Back were separate entities, and before players were separated into offensive and defensive units) kicker/punter (sealing a championship game by kicking a wind-assisted 95-yard punt), and acted as the first president of what would eventually become the NFL (then known as the American Professional Football Association). He most famously played with the Canton Bulldogs for six years, leading them to three championships, and is part of the reason that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio. His participation helped the sport's popularity immensely, and this was largely the reason that he was named the president of the fledgling league. Almost as famous as his remarkable accomplishments in life (he even served as commissioner for the league) is the undignified treatment of his body after he died.

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     Coaches 

  • Bill Belichick is the current coach of the New England Patriots. During his tenure, they have appeared in nine Super Bowls, winning a total of six (making them tied for first amongst all franchises), though their most famous appearance was when they became the first team to enter the Super Bowl with a perfect record of 18-0 (which they lost, the ultimate Downer Ending for Patriots fans). This in two decades (the dawn of the 21st century) where only nine other teams so much as made the Super Bowl more than once (and of them, the next three teams in line are tied with only three appearances since 2000). Known for being even more secretive with the media than most coaches, for giving giving some of the most direct yet completely uninformative answers during interviewsnote , and for always wearing a customized Patriots hooded sweatshirt (sleeveless; bears his initials) on the sidelines.
  • Paul Brown was coach of the Cleveland Browns and later owner-coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1940s-70. He developed several offensive plays that are still in use to this day. Won 8 professional championships with the Browns, all before the Super Bowl era. He mentored Bill Walsh and Don Shula. The Browns were named in his honor, something he wasn't enthusiastic aboutnote . The Bengals' current stadium, which opened in 2000 (nine years after Brown's passing), is named Paul Brown Stadium in his honor as well.
  • Pete Carroll is the current head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Previously a head coach for the New York Jets and New England Patriots in a pair of short and extremely forgettable terms, Carroll is paradoxically one of the oldest coaches in the NFL and the most energetic. Extremely hands on and motivated, almost Keet-like, he took over the Seahawks after an extremely successful tenure as head coach of the USC Trojans and took on the job of dealing with a franchise in shambles. Known league-wide as a defensive mastermind, he helped put together the so-called "Legion of Boom" secondary. Given great power and leeway in drafting and personnel decisions, within three years he transformed the Seahawks from one of the worst teams in the league to a team that won its first Super Bowl.
  • Tom Coughlin was the head coach of the New York Giants from 2004 until stepping down at the end of the 2015 season. He was also the first head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (who later admitted it was a mistake to fire him). He won two Super Bowls with the Giants, both against the Belichick-led New England Patriots. At the beginning of his tenure with the Giants, he was known as a bit of a Drill Sergeant Nasty, and while he still retains his knack for discipline, he has reportedly warmed up considerably and become A Father to His Men. Prior to his head coaching career, he served on Bill Parcells coaching staff along with Belichick. He was frequently scrutinized by the New York media if the Giants failed to produce playoff results, but was able to remain cool under pressure. During his final season with the Giants, he was 69 years old and the oldest head coach in the NFL. He retired from coaching after, but it didn't last long as he returned to the Jaguars in the role of Executive Vice President of Football Operation in 2016. He was fired from this position just prior to the end of the 2019 season after three years of declining results.
  • Bill Cowher was the Hall of Fame head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 90s and first half of the 2000s. Known for establishing tough defenses and favoring an offense led by a power run game, he made two Super Bowls and won one, XL, in his second-to-last season. He, along with his predecessor Chuck Noll and successor Mike Tomlin, is one of only three head coaches the Steelers have employed dating back to 1969, by far the fewest of any team in that stretch. He currently serves as an analyst on the CBS pre-game show.
  • Mike Ditka was the coach of the Chicago Bears from 1982 to 1992. His 1985 Super Bowl winning team is sometimes considered the best football team of all time. His subsequent tenure in New Orleans was not nearly as successful, due to the Ricky Williams trade detailed below. Practically a god in Chicago; "Bill Swerski's Superfans" is only a slight exaggeration ("Da Bearss!"). Since leaving coaching, he's been a prominent sports commentator and has fought to bring attention to the plight of retired players suffering from chronic game-related injuries. He also appeared in several early commercials for the erectile dysfunction medication Levitra, to the amusement of many. Also an interesting bit of What Could Have Been: He briefly considered joining the 2004 Illinois Senate race, where his stature would have dwarfed then-local state politician Barack Obama, changing the latter's career.
    • Ditka is so well-known for his career as a coach and commentator that most modern fans don't know that he's also a Hall of Fame tight end. He played 12 seasons with the Bears, Eagles, and Cowboys, winning a pre-merger NFL title with the Bears (1963) and a Super Bowl with the Cowboys (VI, 1971 season), making All-Pro five times, and being named to the NFL's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. Ditka also has a second Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys, having been an assistant in the 1977 season that ended with victory in Super Bowl XII. He's one of a small number of players to have won NFL titles as a player and coach, one of only four in the modern era to have won championships for the same team as player and head coach, and one of only two individuals (Tom Flores being the other) to have won titles as a player, assistant, and head coach.
  • Tony Dungy most famously coached the Indianapolis Colts. He got his start in Tampa Bay, where he was well-known as a defensive guru. He went to Indy where things were... slightly different (the Colts were more of an offense-based team). He was also well-known - alongside with Peyton Manning - for being fantastic in the regular season but capitulating to their opponent during the playoffs. This until 2007, when they overcame the stigma to win it all—incidentally making him the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl.note  He retired after the next year, and now he works as part of NBC's pregame show. He's also an outspoken Christian.
  • Herm Edwards was a coach for the Jets and Chiefs, and before that, a player with the Eagles. He had a solid career as a head coach, but is most famous for delivering the popular "You play. To win. The game!" speech which has been replayed countless times since. The speech was in response to a reporter's question about the team's lack of success following a mid-season loss. Edwards' Jets would rebound, finishing the season on a hot streak and winning the division. After several years as an analyst for ESPN, he's now the head coach at Arizona State.
  • Jeff Fisher Coached the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1994 to 2011, and owner of a Badass Mustache second only to Ditka's. His 1999 Titans squad fell literally one yard short of taking the Super Bowl to overtime (or possibly winning, if they'd gone for two). From 2012-2016 head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, ironically, the same team that beat his Titans in that Super Bowl when the Rams played in St. Louis. For a long time he had Ultimate Job Security. Missed the playoffs in 17 of his 23 seasons as a Head Coach, and yet was inexplicably still on the sidelines, and even got an extension in 2015. He tied the record for most career losses by a Head Coach (165) near the end of the 2016 season, having done so in one year less then fellow number 1, Dan Reeves; the Rams blocked his attempt to break it by firing him the next day.
  • Jason Garrett was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys from 2010-2019. He was previously a quarterback in the NFL, starting as a undrafted free agent for the New Orleans Saints in 1989 and later made his way to the Cowboys in 1992, becoming a backup to Troy Aikman. In the 1994 Thanksgiving Day game, as Aikman was sidelined with injuries, Garrett stepped in and led the team to a memorable 42-31 win against the Green Bay Packers. He would end his career as a backup QB for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After retiring from playing, he became a QB coach for the Miami Dolphins, and returned to the Cowboys in 2007 as an offensive coordinator. During the 2010 season, he was appointed interim head coach after Wade Phillips was fired mid-season, then was officially appointed head coach in 2011. He's the team's first head coach to have been born following the team's establishment in 1960 and the first former player to serve that role. The Cowboys chose not to renew his expiring contract following a disappointing 2019 season which included missing the playoffs.
  • Joe Gibbs was the head coach for the Washington Redskins from 1981 to 1992, winning three Super Bowls (with three different quarterbacks, the only head coach to do so) in that span. Primarily an offense line coach prior to becoming a head coach, his teams famously employed a run-heavy offensive attack behind an elite offensive line group nicknamed "the Hogs". He is also credited with inventing the single-back, two TE set (initially as a counter to Giants' Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor) as well as the "trips" WR formation, with three receivers bunched up to one side in order to create and exploit mismatches. He returned for a second, less successful stint as Washington head coach from 2004-2007. He is also a major figure in NASCAR as the owner of Joe Gibbs Racing.
  • Bud Grant was the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 1967 to 1983 and again in 1985. In his tenure, the Vikings had 4 Super Bowl appearances, 1 NFL championship, 3 NFC championships, and 11 division titles. But, even outside of that, Grant is unique in American sports by being the only person to concurrently play in both the NBA and NFL, playing for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1949 to 1951 and the Philadelphia Eagles from 1951-1952.
  • Jon Gruden is once again head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders; he has also served in the same role with the Tampa Bay Bucs, with whom he won a Super Bowl in 2002. He earned the nickname "Chucky" for his reddish hair, fiery temperament, and for the psychotic scowl he frequently had while on the sidelines. Also known as something of a quarterback guru, as he frequently revitalized the career of older veterans (Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson) or got better-than-expected performances out late round draft picks at the position. From 2009 through 2017, he served as the color commentator for ESPN's Monday Night Football. He is also famous for his popular pre-Draft show Jon Gruden's QB Camp where he interviews the top-rated draft prospects at QB in addition to reviewing film with them and working them out on the practice field. Until he was brought back by the Raiders, rumors circulated every offseason that some team (usually in the NFL, but sometimes college programs as well) would hire Gruden to be their head coach. This inevitably led to comparisons between Gruden and John Madden. (Both won Super Bowls as head coaches before entering careers in broadcasting at relatively young ages.)
  • The Harbaugh Brothers: John and Jim, who faced each other in Super Bowl XLVII, becoming the first set of brothers to do so. (John's Ravens beat Jim's 49ers 34-31.) Their father, Jack Harbaugh, had a 52-year playing and coaching career in football, mostly at the high school and college levels. Both brothers will still call their father for coaching advice.
    • John Harbaugh: The current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens (since 2009). After serving as the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia under Andy Reid for nearly a decade, he became one of the rare instances of a special teams coach being promoted to head coach. (Usually it's an offensive or defensive coordinator, or college head coach.) He immediately turned the Ravens around after a season that saw them lose 9 of their final 10 games, taking them to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, culminating in the aforementioned Super Bowl win in his 5th season.
    • Jim Harbaugh: The head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014. Had a long and moderately successful career as a quarterback during the 1990s (and was actually the last starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts before Peyton Manning arrived), but after successes coaching college football, then for three seasons for the 49ers, may now better remembered as a coach. The 49ers, a 6-10 team who had missed the playoffs for seven straight years before Harbaugh's arrival, made the NFC Championship three years in a row, and Harbaugh's...demonstrative, confrontational leadership had a great deal to do with it. Before the 49ers, Harbaugh was head coach at Stanford University and a bitter rival of Pete Carroll's USC, a rivalry that carried over into the NFL where Seattle & San Francisco share a division. However, despite his huge success in his first few years of coaching pro football, disagreements with San Francisco's ownership (and perhaps with some of their marquee players) led him to leave San Francisco for the college ranks again at his alma mater of Michigan.
  • Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers for seven years and of the Seattle Seahawks for nine. He is best known for leading the Packers from division doormat to constant playoff success with the emergence of Brett Favre. His relationship to Favre was delightful to watch, as Favre's "gunslinger" style would often cause him to go off-script from the more conservative plays that Holmgren would call, and instead either throw high-risk long bombs or just take off running. He was also the Seahawks' first head coach after the purchase of the team by Microsoft executive Paul Allen. His hiring, making him the highest-paid NFL coach to date at the time, lent instant credibility to Seattle's on-field product and dedication to winning. Along with being head coach, he also served as the team's GM and vice president, letting him shape almost every aspect of the team and turning Seattle into a perennial playoff contender, including a very controversial loss in Super Bowl XL. Had he won, he would've been the first head coach to ever win two Super Bowls with two different teams. He left the Seahawks after the 2008 season, taking a one-year sabbatical before accepting a position with the Cleveland Browns (which was...not as successful as his stint with the Seahawks; he was let go after the team changed owners). He is also a disciple of the Bill Walsh coaching tree and has had over a dozen of his former assistants become future NFL head coaches including (just from those listed here alone) Andy Reid and Jon Gruden, as well as John Harbaugh via Reid in Philly and Mike Tomlin via Gruden in Tampa. He even had two of his former quarterbacks serve as head coaches: Doug Pederson (who is the current head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles) and Mike McCoy (who was the last head coach for the San Diego Chargers; he was fired shortly before they announced their move to Los Angeles), both of whom were backups to Brett Favre in Green Bay.
  • Jimmy Johnson is a Hall of Fame coach most famous for his time with the Dallas Cowboys from 1989-1993, jump-starting the team's second dynasty following the collapse of the first throughout the 1980s. He was Jerry Jones' first head coach after he bought the team, bringing Johnson from the University of Miami where he won a National Championship. (The two were famously teammates at the University of Arkansas in the 1960s, winning a national title of their own in 1964.) He orchestrated the famous Herschel Walker trade, the largest trade in the NFL history in terms of draft picks exchanged, which netted the Cowboys many of the picks they would use to build their 1990s dynasty. After winning back-to-back Super Bowls in the 92-93 seasons, friction with Jones led the two to part ways. The Cowboys team he constructed would win another Super Bowl following the 1995 season (under his successor, Barry Switzer) while Johnson would go on to a far less-stellar tenure with the Miami Dolphins (where he infamously clashed with star QB Dan Marino). He currently serves as an analyst on the Fox pre-game show.
  • Curly Lambeau founded the Green Bay Packers in 1919. He was the team's head coach for thirty years (and was also a player for the first ten), and is tied with his rival George Halas for winning the most NFL championships as a coach (six in total). He was a pioneer of the passing game, both as a player and a coach, and under his stewardship Don Hutson and John "Blood" McNally would both dominate the receiving stats every year. The namesake of the Packers' home stadium, "Lambeau Field".
  • Tom Landry was the first, and for nearly 30 years only, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. His 'Boys put up an amazing streak of winning seasons that lasted 20 years from 1966 through 1985 - during this streak, his team only missed the playoffs twice. He is credited with inventing the 4-3 defense while an assistant with the Giants, then building an offense to beat it once he went to Dallas. Peyton's Colts finally statistically broke the record for consecutive playoff appearances in 2010, but Cowboy fans are quick to point out that Landry's teams played in an era where fewer teams made the playoffs, cue the ceaseless debating over which streak is better. One of Jerry Jones' first moves was to give him the boot. Some might recognize him more as Hank Hill's role model.
  • Marv Levy was the coach of the 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills and the creator of the "K-Gun" no-huddle offense. His team dominated the AFC in the early '90s.
  • Vince Lombardi was the face of the NFL during the 1960s, as he led his team to five NFL Championship victories - three of them came before the Super Bowl Era, but he won the first two Super Bowls as well. He coached the Green Bay Packers for nine years and the Washington Redskins for one, and holds the distinction of not only being the only coach to win three consecutive postseasonsnote  during the modern playoff era note , but of leading two of the greatest single-season turnarounds in professional league history note . As a result of his legacy, often considered to be the greatest in the sport's history, the trophy given to the winner of the Super Bowl is called the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
  • John Madden, while probably better known as a broadcaster, was once a coach (and even less famously, a player). His overall winning percentage ranks first in league history; also, his Raiders never posted a losing season under him. Later became a famous broadcaster, which in turn led to him being the face of the Madden NFL video game series.
  • Mike McCarthy is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, previously serving as head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2006 to 2018. One of the more quiet and subdued coaches in the league, he is often forgotten by the media, since he does not grab headlines the way that a Jim Harbaugh or a Rex Ryan does, but his record speaks for itself, and is known as one of the best offensive minds in football. Best known as the coach who developed Aaron Rodgers, but also deserves credit for reviving Brett Favre's career.note  After Favre's departure, Green Bay missed the postseason in '08 as Aaron Rodgers played his first action as a starter. The Pack then made the playoffs every season until 2017 (a run that includes winning Super Bowl XLV), when (not coincidentally) Rodgers missed most of the season with a broken collarbone. He was fired midway through the 2018 season as the Packers disappointed again and missed the playoffs. As a side note, McCarthy was the offensive coordinator for San Francisco in 2005 when they passed on Rodgers in the draft. When he came to Green Bay the next year, his first words to Rodgers were, "Yeah, I didn't pick you. Deal with it." The two got along famously.
  • Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991. He has earned four Super Bowl rings as a head coach, putting him second behind only Bill Belichick. Architect of the feared "Steel Curtain" defense; ever since his tenure Pittsburgh has had a reputation as an excellent defensive team. His longevity has also contributed to the Steelers having more stability at head coach than almost any team in professional sports; the current head coach, Mike Tomlin, is only the third head coach (all of whom have won Super Bowls) since 1969.
  • Bill Parcells is a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, most famously coaching the New York Giants (both Super Bowl rings are with them). He also coached the Patriots, the Jets, and most recently, the Dallas Cowboys. Best known for his emphasis on defense, and, while leading Dallas, his preference for signing/trading for players whom had previously played for him. He's retired from coaching three times. Fun fact: he was the first recipient of the Gatorade shower after winning the Super Bowl. For a while, signing him was akin to the franchise Growing the Beard; he turned Dallas around after three 5-11 seasons, then later did the same in Miami (taking them from 1-15 to 11-5 in one year) in a front-office position.
  • Sean Payton is the current head coach of the New Orleans Saints. He became the team's HC in 2006, while both the team and the city of New Orleans were still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and helped shed the team's reputation as "The 'Aints" by leading them to their first conference championship appearance during the 2006-07 playoffs, and later winning their first Super Bowl title at Super Bowl XLIV. He was temporarily suspended from his head coaching position in 2012 when the "Bountygate" scandal revealed that the team ran a "bounty" program during their 2009 through 2011 seasons.
  • Doug Pederson is the current head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. A former journeyman quarterback who spent time with the Dolphins under Don Shula and the Packers under Mike Holmgren, he is most notably a long-time protege of Andy Reid as both player and coach, and even started for the Eagles in the 1999 season before Donovan McNabb took over. Like Reid and those from the Paul Brown/Bill Walsh coaching tree, Pederson runs some form of the West Coast offense. After a three-year stint the Chiefs' offensive coordinator under Reid, the Eagles hired him to be their head coach after their disastrous 2015 season under Chip Kelly. Initially, Pederson seemed to be a very underwhelming hire, and his humble, "golly-gee-shucks" personality was taken by the sports media and many cynical fans to mean he was in over his head. But within just two seasons from his hiring, Pederson proceeded to completely reverse the Eagles' fortunes, culminating in a hard-fought victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, their first league championship win since 1960. As a result, Pederson's tenure could now already be considered an Even Better Sequel to the sans-Super Bowl Andy Reid era.
  • Andy Reid is the current head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and previously held the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012). While he is the winningest coach in Eagles history and indeed helped turn them around from mediocrity, fans had a love-hate relationship with him because he was unsuccessful in delivering the Super Bowl title the city so very much wanted during his time there. Despite his successes, he tends to be accused of costing the team quite a few winnable games due to poor clock management and a run/pass ratio skewed detrimentally toward the pass. On a more positive note, Reid is the coach under whom several current head coaches, including John Harbaugh and Doug Pederson, once assisted. Reid himself is part of the expansive Mike Holmgren coaching tree. On an even more positive note, he finally shed his title of "winningest coach to never have won a Super Bowl" by leading the Chiefs to victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
  • Ron Rivera is the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and previously served in that role for the Carolina Panthers from 2011 to 2019. He started out as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984 to 1992, becoming the first player of Puerto Rican descent to be part of a Super Bowl-winning team when the Bears won Super Bowl XX. After retiring from playing, Rivera worked as a defensive coach for the Bears, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the San Diego Chargers before being hired as head coach of the Panthers. During his tenure, Rivera ran extremely aggressive play-calling strategies, e.g. an increased tendency to "go for it" on fourth downs, earning him the nickname "Riverboat Ron", helping the Panthers became the first NFC South team to win back-to-back titles since the division was formed in 2002, winning in the 2013 through 2015 seasons. In 2015, he led the Panthers to finish 15-1 and make their way to Super Bowl 50, before losing to the Denver Broncos. He was fired by Carolina midway through a disappointing 2019 season but was quickly hired by Washington at the start of the following offseason.
  • The Ryan Family: Consists of Buddy Ryan and his twin sons, Rex and Rob Ryan.
    • Buddy Ryan: Two-time Super Bowl winner as a defensive coordinator — one for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III & one for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX, as well as a former head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. He created the famed 46 defense, which is a blitz-heavy eight-men-in-the-box strategy designed to apply maximum pressure to opposing passing games and was made famous by his legendary 1985 Bears squad. Buddy was known to have clashed with other coaches on his team; Buddy and head coach Mike Ditka were involved in a physical fight during halftime at the 1985 Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins (in which the Bears suffered their only loss that season). Later, during a Sunday Night Football game against the Jets in 1994, Buddy, now a defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers, punched Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, and openly criticized Gilbride's "Run and Shoot" offense, which he referred to as the "chuck and duck" offense. Buddy died on June 28, 2016.
    • Rex Ryan: Most recently, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills (from 2015-2016). Rex started as an assistant coach for the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2008 (2004-2008 as a defensive coordinator), including their 2000 Super Bowl-winning season, and later became the head coach for the New York Jets from 2009-2014. Currently known for being one of the most outspoken coaches in the NFL, Rex gained notoriety in 2009 when he openly challenged Bill Belichick in a radio interview ("I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's, you know, [Super Bowl] rings. I came here to win. So we’ll see what happens. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."). He also antagonized the Giants, with whom the Jets share a stadium, when the two teams met to play each other, but only ended up hitting the Giants' Berserk Button. While his success as an assistant is unquestionable, his tenure as a head coach is controversial among Jets fans. Ultimately, his greatest strength (his talent for coaching the defensive side of the ball) may have also been his downfall; his inability to field a consistently productive offense - particularly his failures at finding a quarterback - resulted in a long run of mediocrity that cost him his job. He coached the Buffalo Bills from 2015-2016, until he was fired with one week remaining in the season, having finished 7-8. Rex then joined ESPN as an NFL analyst.
    • Rob Ryan: The former defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints (2013-2015), and former assistant head coach of the Buffalo Bills (2016). He also had stints with the Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and the Dallas Cowboys. Probably the less successful of the two brothers overall, he is best known for his flowing mane of silver hair. Rob joined the Buffalo Bills in 2016 as the assistant head coach, reuniting with his twin brother, Rex, but was fired alongside his brother.
  • Mike Shanahan was a three-time NFL head coach, most famous for his 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008 with whom he won two Super Bowls following the 97-98 seasons. During the 96-98 seasons, his Denver teams set the record for most wins over a three season span (46), as well as setting the record for most consecutive home wins (going undefeated and untied at home in all three years). This tenure was sandwiched between an unsuccessful stint with the Raiders and, later, four mostly disappointing years with the Redskins. He is also known for popularizing the "zone-blocking" system featuring smaller, more-athletic offensive linemen, which paved the way for Terrell Davis' Hall of Fame career as well as a string of other lesser-known backs who had 1000+ rushing yard seasons in Shanahan's system. More infamously, he also popularized the tactic of "icing" the opposing kicker by calling a timeout right before the kick (a tactic that usually does more to annoy the spectators than to rattle the kicker), and as a result, the tactic is colloquially known as "Shanahanigans". Toward the end of his coaching career, the term instead became applied to Shanahan's tendency to feature different running backs in different games, to the chagrin of fantasy football players. His son Kyle, who served as offensive coordinator under Mike while in Washington, is currently the head coach and playcaller for the 49ers.
  • Don Shula is the winningest coach in NFL history (347 games), having been a head coach for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. He was the coach of the Colts during the famous 1968 AFL/NFL Championship Game (aka Super Bowl III) where Joe Namath guaranteed that his underdog AFL champion Jets would beat Shula's heavily favored NFL champion Colts. He would then win two Super Bowls with Dolphins, including Super Bowl VII in 1972 which completed the only undefeated NFL season (regular and postseason) to date since the merger. He won the NFL Coach of the Year award a record six times, including three straight from 1970-72. Was a player before his coaching career, having played notably for Paul Brown in Cleveland.
  • Mike Tomlin is the current head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom he has taken to two Super Bowls (winning one and becoming the youngest head coach to ever do so in the process, as well as only the second African-American head coach to do so). Tomlin was considered a long shot to land the Steelers head coaching job, having never been a head coach before at any level of the sport and having only been a defensive coordinator for one season. Additionally, he had to beat out two highly qualified incumbents: assistant head coach Russ Grimm and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Still, Tomlin got the job and the rest is history. Was the subject of a controversial play during a game against the rival Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. Tomlin stepped onto the field after Ravens return man Jacoby Jones had broken away during a kickoff return. Jones was forced to sidestep Tomlin and was quickly tackled. The Ravens argued that they should be awarded with a touchdown based on the palpably unfair act rule, but the TD was not awarded. The NFL later fined Tomlin $100,000 for the act, the second highest fine ever levied against an NFL head coach.
  • Mike Vrabel is the current head coach of the Tennessee Titans, following a playing career as a defensive end/linebacker that saw him win three Super Bowls with the Patriots. He gained acclaim during his second season as Titans coach, when he led his team as the #6 seed to road victories over the defending champion Patriots and #1 seed Ravens (with league MVP QB Lamar Jackson), but ultimately fell short of the Super Bowl with a loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship. Also gained some notoriety that same season with a technically legal though rather underhanded tactic that became known as "Vrabeling"note , though the tactic had been used before (including by Bill Belichick, one of Vrabel's mentors).
  • Bill Walsh is famous for creating the "West Coast" offense (using short horizontal passes to set up long passes and runs), which heavily influenced the modern NFL passing game. Won 3 championships with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. He is also famous for having one of the most expansive "coaching trees" in the sport, with Sam Wyche, George Seifert, Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, and Ray Rhodes all serving under him as assistants before branching out to become head coaches themselves. Walsh himself is part of the expansive Paul Brown coaching tree.

     Quarterbacks 
  • Troy Aikman was the first overall draft pick of 1989 and the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from then until 2000, a run that included three Super Bowl wins. A deadly efficient QB regarded as one of the most mechanically perfect and most accurate passers ever, as well as one of the greatest playoff performers in NFL history. His career was cut short by repeated concussions. Famously, he has no memory of Super Bowl XXVIII (which he won) due to a concussion he suffered in the NFC Championship Game the week before. He now calls games for FOX.
  • George Blanda was a highly successful quarterback and placekicker for the Bears, Colts, Oilers and Raiders. He was the third highest-scoring player in NFL history (and would be in first place by a huge margin if touchdown passes counted as points for the quarterback instead of the receiver; the unofficial stat of "points accounted for" was created by fans specifically to recognize Blanda's achievement) and still holds the record for the most career PAT kicks made and most touchdown passes in a game (shared with a bunch of others, including Peyton Manning). He's probably best known for his incredible longevity. He played for a record 26 seasons in the NFL (from 1949 to 1975), and at the age of 48 in his final game, was the oldest man ever to play professional football, earning him the nickname "The Grand Old Man". Blanda's longevity was famously lampshaded by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt after a 1970 game in which his last-second field goal salvaged a tie for the Raiders. Hunt quipped, "Why, this George Blanda is as good as his father, who used to play for Houston." He went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, when it's stressed that Jan Stenerud (see below) was the first (and for a long while only) pure specialist inducted into the Hall of Fame, Blanda (along with Lou Groza below) is the reason why.
  • Drew Bledsoe was one of the more prolific passers in the NFL in the late 1990s, even taking his New England Patriots team to a Super Bowl (losing to Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers). But what makes him particularly notable is his status as one of the most prominent Pete Bests in NFL history. Early in the 2001 season, he took a hard hit from NY Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, knocking Bledsoe out of action with internal bleeding. A little-known 2nd year player by the name of Tom Brady took Bledsoe's place after that, and the rest is history. Bledsoe himself went on to have a few more productive years with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys, but never got close to the level of success as his successor in New England. (Notably enough, he was similarly replaced in Dallas by an undrafted QB named Tony Romo.)
  • Terry Bradshaw was the quarterback of the legendary four-time Super Bowl champion "Steel Curtain" era Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite being selected #1 overall, he struggled to adjust to the NFL and was unable to lock down the Steelers starting QB job for several seasons. He faced ridicule by the media, fans, and opponents for his perceived lack of intelligence, which was not helped by his Deep South accent with him being in a northern state. One opponent famously stated that Bradshaw "couldn't spell 'cat' if you spotted him the 'c' and the 't'..." Despite this, Bradshaw's passing prowess completed a trifecta with a strong running game and great defense to lead the Steelers to a record setting (at the time) four Super Bowl victories. (Joe Montana would later tie Bradshaw, and Tom Brady would then surpass them both by winning six.) In his final game, Bradshaw managed to throw two touchdown passes despite otherwise struggling that season, allowing him to retire with more TD passes than interceptions (212 to 210, which is still the second-worst ratio of any QB in the Hall of Fame; Namath has the worst, in case you were wondering). He has worked as a color commentator and/or pregame analyst ever since, currently working the FOX pregame show. In a case of What Could Have Been, the Steelers only had the #1 pick the year they drafted Bradshaw because they won a coin flip against the Chicago Bears, with each team having had the same record to end the previous season. Bradshaw, the consensus #1 prospect, would have almost certainly been drafted by the Bears had they won the coin flip, significantly changing NFL history as we know it.
  • Tom Brady is the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, following 20 years with the New England Patriots. He is widely considered the "Greatest of All-Time" after playing in a record nine Super Bowls and winning a record six of them. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft (#199 overall) after a relatively undistinguished college career at the University of Michigan and spent his rookie season as the team's fourth-string quarterback. He earned the backup job in 2001 and took over as starter after Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding as the result of a nasty hit. Brady started the rest of the season, culminating with a Super Bowl victory over the heavily favored "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams. He won two more Super Bowls following the 2003 and 2004 seasons, as well as league MVP in the 2007 season during which the Patriots became the only team to go 16-0 in the regular season, and also became the highest scoring team of all time (since surpassed by the 2013 Broncos). That same season is when he developed a reputation as something of a Jerk Jock, sometimes storming off the field without shaking hands after a game and infamously laughing at then-Giants WR Plaxico Burress' prediction of a 23-17 Giants victory (the Patriots only scored 14 points) in Super Bowl XLII. Was seriously injured (ACL tear) during the 2008 season on a hit from then-current Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollardnote , but quickly returned to form, playing in five more Super Bowls (winning three) and winning League MVP twice more (2010, 2017note ). Holds the record for highest completion percentage in a playoff game (92.9%), and most pass attempts in Super Bowl history (392 in his career, second placed Peyton Manning has fewer than half of that). Became the fastest QB to record 100 wins (not counting playoffs), doing so in his 131st game (the previous record was 139 and held by Montana). Known for outstanding post-season play, leading 4th quarter comebacks, and being a handsome ladies' man (he dated actress Bridget Moynahan, and he's now married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen). Subject to a meme known as "Bradying": after throwing an interception in Super Bowl XLVI, he suffered a Heroic BSoD on the field, leading to many people using his slouched over posture sitting on the field as their Facebook picture, much like Tebowing and planking before it. He, along with Drew Brees, have entered into the top two of most notable career passing categories. During the 2020 offseason, he opted not to return to the Patriots, instead signing with the Buccaneers as a free agent.
  • Drew Brees is a quarterback who is the current face of the New Orleans Saints. He got his start with the San Diego Chargers, who drafted him with the first pick of the 2nd round in the 2001 NFL Draft. His first several seasons were not great, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and culminating with the team "earning" the #1 overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft. The team selected Eli Manning, then traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers and some other draft picks. Brees would win the starting job and go on to have his best season, leading the Chargers to the playoffs, but would badly injure his throwing shoulder the following season, just before entering free agency. Several teams were interested, but a few, including the Miami Dolphins, refused to give him medical clearance. He ultimately joined the moribund Saints following a season in which they were unable to play in their home stadium due to Hurricane Katrina, leading them to their best season in decades and their first NFC Championship game appearance while raising the morale of The Big Easy as a whole. He then led the team to their first Super Bowl appearance of all time following the 2009 season, defeating Peyton Manning's Colts. Brees has also been perhaps the most statistically dominant quarterback of this century, becoming one of only a select few players to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season and the only one to do so more than once (doing so five times, in fact). He became the most accurate passer in NFL history in 2009, completing 70.5% of his attempts, and has since broken his own record three more times. He also holds the record for consecutive games with a TD pass, surpassing Johnny Unitas and setting the record at 54. Brees is now the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, having surpassed both Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in 2018. In 2019, he passed Peyton Manning to become first overall in career TD passes as well.
  • Greg Cook and Virgil Carter aren't particularly well-known names and, in fact, even many hardcore fans probably haven't heard of them. However, their interplay had an immense impact on the NFL as we know it. Cook was drafted #5 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969, notable for his large size relative to the era (6'4 ~220) and his powerful arm. He set numerous rookie passing records, including a few which still stand to this day (including records for yards per attempt and yards per completion). However, he tore his rotator cuff and further damaged it by playing through the injury. A botched surgery then ended his career, forcing the Bengals to turn to Carter, a middling career backup. Carter was much smaller (6'1, ~190) and lacked Cook's arm strength, but was more mobile and an accurate passer. In order to compensate for Carter's differing skillset, the Bengals offensive coordinator devised a scheme based around a short, lateral passing attack allowing receivers to pick up yards-after-catch and using Carter's mobility to roll out of the pocket for deeper pass attempts. That coordinator's name? Bill Walsh. The scheme he devised? The West Coast Offense. Indeed, if not for Cook's injury, there would be much less need to develop a short passing game and NFL history as we know it may have been quite different.
  • Jay Cutler was a quarterback most famous for his time with the Chicago Bears, who also played for the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. Along with Donovan McNabb, Cutler is one of the more notable examples of a No Respect Guy in NFL history. In terms of starts, wins, and statistics, Cutler was arguably the best overall quarterback the Bears have had since Sid Luckman in the 1940s, but you wouldn't have guessed it by listening to the fans and media. The Bears had one of the worst offensive lines in the league while Cutler was with the team, leading to him being amongst the most sacked (and injured) quarterbacks in the league in a given year in that span. Most infamously, he was injured in the 2010 NFC Championship game and did not return in the 2nd half. The resulting backlash from other players and the media questioning his toughness is something he may never live down. (Never mind the fact that he had a legitimate MCL sprain and was benched on the orders of his coaches.) It also doesn't help that his record against hated rivals the Green Bay Packers was 2-11. After the Bears released him following the 2016 season, Cutler retired and took a broadcasting job. This turned out to be a 10-Minute Retirement when the Miami Dolphins lost starting QB Ryan Tannehill for the season after suffering a training camp knee injury. Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, Cutler's former offensive coordinator in Chicago, convinced Cutler to come out of retirement and sign with Miami for the 2017 season. While his mopey demeanor doesn't endear him to fans (or teammates in some cases), he is by most accounts a real Nice Guy off the field. Married to Kristen Cavallari (of The Hills fame).
  • John Elway is a quarterback who spent his entire career with the Denver Broncosnote , who had a reputation as being a great "comeback artist," retiring with the most 4th quarter comebacks (46) in NFL history.note  At the time of his retirement, his 148 wins were an NFL record. After losing 3 Super Bowls (by embarrassing margins of 39-20, 42-10, and 55-10) in the late 1980s, Elway staged a late-career renaissance and led Denver to Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998 before retiring. In 2011 he returned to the Broncos as executive VP of football operations, which is basically general manager with a few extra responsibilities and a fancier job title. He is widely credited for luring Peyton Manning (see below) to Denver, who led the Broncos to two Super Bowls (winning one).
  • Brett Favre (pronounced "farv") retired as the all-time leading passer by both yards and touchdowns (he's since been passed in both categories by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady) and was the literal grandpa of the NFL.note  He spent the majority of his 20-year career with the Green Bay Packers, during which he was mostly seen as an All-American Face, although some late-career shenanigans temporarily damaged his image (a string of un-retirements with different teams, including the Packers’ division rival, and allegations of sexual harassment during is stint with the Jets). He is perhaps the greatest example of a Determinator in the history of the NFL, known for fourth-quarter comebacks, shrugging off injury and playing with more grit and toughness than anyone else in the league. The best example of this was in his 2003 season (most of which he played with a broken thumb on his throwing hand) when he elected to play a week-16 Monday Night game against Oakland despite his father dying of a heart attack the night before, scoring a miraculous 4 touchdowns (with a still-broken thumb, mind you) in the first half of a 41-7 victory and breaking down in tears on the sidelines. Many football fans hold that game in higher esteem than his Super Bowl victory. He holds the record for consecutive starts (321, including playoffs, stretching from his first start as a Packer in ’92 into his last season as a Viking in 2010), and as the rules for keeping injured players off the field grow more stringent, the record is considered virtually unbreakable. Most of his backup QBs spent years of their careers on the sidelines (several of them going on to respectable careers of their ownnote ), and in his last few seasons, several of his wide receivers were young enough to still be in diapers when Brett first started playing pro. This longevity and his high-risk, high reward "gunslinger" passing style is why he holds (or held) so many records, both good (career wins, attempts, completions, touchdowns, and yards) and bad (career interceptions). After contemplating retirement for several years, he officially announced his retirement in January of 2008, only to change his mind late in the offseason. When the Packers refused to give him a starting position (causing outrage among fans; see Aaron Rodgers below), he was traded to the Jets, and played a lukewarm season, plagued by injuries to his right shoulder, after which he announced his retirement again, and was released from the team. He came out of retirement once again, however, this time being picked up by the Packers’ division rival, the Vikings, where he played one of the best seasons of his career, soundly defeating his former team twice and becoming the first player to beat all 32 teams in the NFL (a feat that Peyton Manning would duplicate five years later). After a late-game interception against the Saints (for whom he was the primary target of the infamous "Bountygate" scandal, and was briefly knocked out of the game after a series of vicious hits) cost his team the NFC Championship and a chance at the Super Bowl (a throw that was virtually identical to his last pass as a Packer, throwing an interception in overtime to the Giants in the NFCCG), he suffered a disastrous 2010 season (finishing 6-10 while the Packers, coincidentally, went on to win the Super Bowl under Favre's former backup), and announced his retirement for a third time. It appears to have stuck this time, after turning down an offer from the Rams in 2013, preferring to spend time with his grandchildren, acting as offensive coordinator for their football team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, his first year of eligibility.
  • Joe Flacco, currently a free agent, had been the face of the Baltimore Ravens (as well as the AFC's response to Eli Manning) before being dealt to Denver in the 2018–19 offseason. Known for taking the Ravens to the playoffs and winning at least one playoff game all of his first five years, all NFL records, including 3 AFC Championships and becoming Super Bowl MVP in his fifth year. Currently has 9 playoff wins (comparable to Peyton Manning), including the record for the most road playoff wins by a quarterback at 6. He is most known for his historic 2012 playoff run with the Baltimore Ravens, where he outplayed and won against Luck's Colts, Peyton Manning's Broncos (coming off an 11 win streak), Brady's Patriots, and the 49ers in the historic "Harbowl" between the Harbaugh brothers all while tying Joe Montana's playoff record making 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, not too long after a gutsy move by the Ravens to cut their previous offensive coordinator of almost 5 years. In 2018, Flacco suffered a hip injury in midseason, and his backup Lamar Jackson (who had won the Heisman in 2016 at Louisville) went 6–1 while Flacco was out, and remained the starter even after Flacco was cleared to return. Jackson's performance down the stretch led the Ravens to keep him and deal Flacco to the Broncos. He did poorly in the first half of 2019, though it wasn't all his fault, as he got sacked 26 times; he then missed the rest of the season to a herniated disk in his neck, and the Broncos released him in the 2020 offseason with a "failed physical" designation.
  • Doug Flutie had a modestly successful NFL career, primarily known for his time with the Bills and the Chargers, but was most known for his small stature (5'9", 180 lbs) and unique playing style. As opposed to the mechanical "drop back and throw from the pocket" style popular in the NFL at the timenote , Flutie would scramble and improvise, often throwing deep passes once the coverage broke down. (Not all that dissimilar to Russell Wilson's style nowadays.) After initially debuting in the NFL in 1986 (and in the USFL before that,) Flutie went to Canada to play in the CFL after the NFL Players Union went on strike in 1987. After dominating the CFL for nearly a decade, Flutie returned to the NFL and, according to his fans in the north, became one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL to play a Canadian-style game. He also performed the first (and to date, the only) drop kick in a NFL season (regular or playoffs) game since the 1941 NFL Championship game. While "face on a Wheaties box" is common for athletes, Flutie has his own cereal: Flutie Flakes. Proceeds from sales benefit the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.
  • Matt Flynn is a backup quarterback who merits a spot on this list for his interesting story as much as he does for his solid play. Flynn was a backup to Aaron Rodgers (see below) in Green Bay, where he proved a capable backup, rallying when Aaron was injured. Then came a Week 17 game against the Lions in 2011: the Packers had already secured the #1 seed in the playoffs, and rested a number of their starters, while the Lions were still playing for the #5 seed. In a meaningless game, Flynn threw a team-record six touchdown passes, surpassing both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers' numbers note . After that season, he got big-money offers from all over the league as a starter, eventually signing with the Seahawks, before losing the starting job to Russell Wilson (see below). In the next two years, he would be traded or cut by the Seahawks, Raiders and Bills, before landing right back in Green Bay (whose season was in a death-spiral after Aaron Rodgers was injured), where he went back to playing admirably (in one case, he led a comeback victory against Cowboys, overcoming a 23-point deficit) and keeping the team afloat until Rodgers was healed. Debate continues over whether or not he would be a suitable starting QB somewhere, but Packers fans are just as happy to never find out, and to his credit, Flynn has handled the whole experience with humility and is an all-around class act.
  • Nick Foles is the quarterback of the Chicago Bears. He was drafted in the third round of the 2012 Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles as the backup to then starter Michael Vick until a five-game losing streak after starting the season 3-1 prompted then head coach Andy Reid to bench Vick and promote Foles to starter, until he broke his hand in the final game of the season. In the 2013 season, Foles was able to beat out Vick and Matt Barkley during training camp to be named the permanent starter by new head coach Chip Kelly. In his first season as starter, Foles had a season worthy of a new star QB, scoring 27 touchdown passes with only 2 interceptions, surpassing Tom Brady's TD-INT ratio of 36/4 in 2010 and was named to the 2013 Pro Bowl as the Eagles rebounded from their disastrous 2012 campaign and won the NFC East title. Unfortunately the good times didn't last for Foles or Philadelphia as the Eagles collapsed in the final weeks of the 2014 season despite starting 9-3 and missed the playoffs, while Foles would struggle to repeat his 2013 success and was placed on IR after breaking his collarbone in Week 8, leading fans and analysts to label him a one-year wonder. Foles was traded to the St. Louis Rams the following season and languished there before being traded again to the Kansas City Chiefs once again relegated to backup QB. Frustrated with how his career had gone, Foles considered retiring until he decided to re-sign with Philadelphia for the 2017 season, this time as the backup and mentor to the Eagles new franchise QB Carson Wentz who would lead the Eagles under new head coach Doug Pederson to a 10-2 start. However in Week 14, Wentz would tear his ACL in a game against the now Los Angeles Rams and Foles was promoted once again to starter, leading many analysts who until then had labelled the Eagles Super Bowl contenders to call their season over to the point the Eagles were betting underdogs in the playoffs despite being the NFC's #1 seed. Instead, Foles would lead the Eagles to victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round before winning the NFC Championship by beating the Minnesota Vikings who had the league's #1 defense, setting up a showdown with the heavily favored New England Patriots who were seeking their sixth Super Bowl victory and had bested Philadelphia previously in Super Bowl XXXIX. In Super Bowl LII, Foles would pass for 373 yards and three TDs as well as catch one during a trick play called on fourth down, becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to throw and catch a touchdown, as the Eagles held off Brady and the Patriots to 41-33 to win. Foles would be named Super Bowl MVP as the Eagles at long last hoisted their first Lombardi Trophy. Echoing late Eagles great Reggie White (below in "Defensive Players"), who was an ordained minister during his career, Foles is on his way to becoming a Badass Preacher; he's currently studying for the ministry. After the 2018 season, he exercised a buyout option in his contract and became a free agent, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unfortunately, he lost much of the 2019 season after breaking a collarbone in the Jags' season opener, and was ineffective after returning, eventually losing his starting job to Gardner Minshew. During the 2020 offseason, he was traded to the Chicago Bears for a 4th round pick.
  • Rich Gannon bounced around the league through the late 80s and 90s as a middling starter and quality backup. Then he joined the Oakland Raiders in 1999 where Jon Gruden (see under "Coaches" above) was the head coach. Gannon excelled in Gruden's sytem, making four straight Pro Bowls and winning league MVP in 2002 as he guided the Raiders to a Super Bowl appearance (losing to the Buccaneers who were coached by Gruden and led by another journeyman-turned-starter in Brad Johnson). Whenever a previously unheralded QB suddenly finds success, expect comparisons to be made to Gannon. He now serves as a commentator for CBS.
  • Lamar Jackson is the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, who drafted him with the 32nd overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft (trading up from the 2nd round to do so). Despite a Heisman Trophy winning career at the University of Louisville, Jackson was not considered a great pro QB prospect and several teams asked him to participate in wide receiver drills at the combine (he did not). Infamously, Hall of Fame General Manager turned media analyst Bill Polian was one of Jackson's harshest critics, even referring to him as a "running back" in the lead up to the draft. Still, the Ravens selected him as a QB and were prepared to have him learn under long-time incumbent Joe Flacco. An injury to Flacco midway through Jackson's rookie season derailed that plan and forced Jackson into the starting lineup where he acquitted himself well, guiding the team to a division title. Jackson's second season saw him put up an MVP campaign with the greatest combined passing/rushing season by a QB in NFL history (becoming the first to throw for 3000+ yards and rush for 1000+) while leading the Ravens to a 14-2 record.
  • Jim Kelly was one of the last real "field general" quarterbacks in the NFL who actually called his own plays as opposed to executing plays called in from coaches on the sidelines (the closest thing in recent years is Peyton Manning, who generally had permission to modify plays on the fly). Was the quarterback of the 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills during their reign over the AFC. It's a common misconception that the "K-Gun" no-huddle offense was named after him, but it was actually named after the second tight end Keith McKellar who was used in the formation.
  • Bernie Kosar was a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns during their brief period of dominance in the mid-80s. He led the Browns to three AFC Championship games - and lost to John Elway's Broncos in all three games. At least those games were some of the most exciting games in NFL history. He was benched by Bill Belichick in favor of Vinny Testaverde in the early 90s. Would be considered among the greatest quarterbacks not to win a Super Bowl - except he actually did win one, with the Dallas Cowboys in 1993. When Troy Aikman suffered an injury during the regular season, the Cowboys signed Kosar, who kept them competitive during the regular season while Aikman was out, and again in the NFC Championship when Aikman got knocked out of the game before halftime.
  • Andrew Luck was the #1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts elected to move on from legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, who had missed the entire season due to a neck injury which many feared would be career-ending. Luck was able to step in and play at a high level immediately, setting numerous rookie passing recordsnote  He took the Colts to the postseason in each of his first three seasons in the league, getting closer to the Super Bowl each time. Despite an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder which held him to only seven starts in his fourth year, he was signed to the largest (at the time) deal in NFL history: $139 million with $87 million guaranteed. Though his critics insisted that Luck took too many chances (both with the ball and with his body), the Colts seemed pleased with their investment in Luck as they worked toward the levels of success they enjoyed under Manning. However, that 2015 shoulder injury began his slide toward Glass Cannon status, as he missed part of the 2016 season to rib and kidney injuries... and then hurt his throwing shoulder again in 2017. Luck had risky surgery to repair that shoulder, and it looked to have worked, as he came back to have a near-MVP caliber season in 2018. Unfortunately, he got hurt again during the 2019 offseason, this time a calf injury. It kept him out of the team's offseason activities, and he still had difficulty moving in the pocket during training camp. Luck then stunned everyone by retiring shortly before the start of the 2019 season (and also shortly before turning 30), saying that his injuries had taken away his love for the game.
  • Patrick Mahomesnote  is currently the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2018, he threw for 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns: a feat only performed once before by Peyton Manning. His regular season heroics earned him NFL MVP honors for the season. He led the Chiefs to a 12-4 record, best in the AFC, and engineered an AFC Championship Game comeback for the ages against New England (though he ultimately fell short in overtime). Did we mention that he did all of this in his first season as a starter? While his second season didn't see him winning the league MVP (which went to Ravens QB Lamar Jackson) or putting up such insane numbers, he did end up taking the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory against San Francisco and winning the Super Bowl MVP, cementing him as one of the league's top quarterbacks.
  • The Manning Family: Consist of Peyton, Eli, and their dad Archie.
    • Archie Manning was a good quarterback on a horrible team (the New Orleans Saints, who at the time were nicknamed "The Ain'ts") for a number of years. Since this was before free agency, he didn't have the option to leave for a better team. Perhaps better known for his College Hall of Fame career at Ole Miss; he's considered the best player in Ole Miss history and either the best or second-best the Saints have had (alongside Drew Brees).
    • Peyton Manning broke nearly every single statistical record held by either Marino, Favre, or Elway and is known for his intelligence (he is notable for last-second changes to plays at the line), folksy personality, ubiquity in commercials, and until the Colts won Super Bowl XLI, choking in the playoffs. He had an incredible career, and has five MVP awards (four solo, one shared). It was almost a given that whatever two schlubs the Colts started at wideout would have big days thanks to his arm. Probably the only thing that could stop him from breaking those records is the injury that put him out for the 2011 season. The Colts 2-14 record that year gave substance to Peyton's implied Load-Bearing Boss status. Following this, Peyton was released by the Indianapolis Colts and their draft pick note  has taken Peyton's reins now. After a recruitment tour that was breathlessly covered by the sports media, Peyton chose the Denver Broncos - home of fan favorite Tim Tebow, who subsequently moved to the New York Jets. Holds a large amount of records, including single-season and career records for passing touchdowns (55 and 539) and passing yardage (5,477 and 71,940, though Drew Brees is set to break the career record in 2018), and tied with Favre for the most wins as a starting QB (186). In the 2013–14 season, Peyton Manning won a 5th regular season MVP award for his stellar performance, which began with him throwing 7 touchdowns in the opening game of the season. By the end of the season, many sports experts claimed Manning had the best year of any quarterback in the history of the sport. However, he ended up losing Super Bowl XLVIII, as he failed to established a solid offense during the whole game, only scoring 8 points. As a result, this was the second time Peyton Manning won the regular season MVP only to lose in the Super Bowl he was expected to win. He wound up with one last chance for a second Super Bowl ring in the 2015–16 season, this time with a dominant defense backing him up; the Broncos took down Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots in the AFC title game before upsetting the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Manning would announce his retirement a month later.
    • Eli Manning, the younger brother, doesn't quite have the flashy numbers that his older brother has, but that's to be expected as the quarterback for the more defense- and run-oriented New York Giants. Was considered a bit of a Fake Ultimate Hero for a while, trading on the Manning name rather than his skills. That all changed after Super Bowl XLII, when he led the wild card Giants to victory against the 18-0 Patriots in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history, and after the team defeated the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI, he's generally considered to be at the same level as his brother. Now considered to be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, and a constant source of contention for Giants fans (as well as for the teams they beat), as at some moments he seems utterly incompetent, while at others (particularly those two super bowl playoff runs), he seems to play as though he were Neo. Generally is The Stoic on the field, which can be demoralizing for either his own team (he doesn't get them pumped up) or for the opponents (when he performs a No-Sell on defenses that rely on punishing hits to scare the quarterback into making mistakes). On January 22, 2020, Eli announced his retirement from the NFL, having spent the majority of the 2019 season benched for rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Eli's last game as the Giants' starting QB was a 36-20 win against the Miami Dolphins, ending a 9-game losing streak for the team. His retirement makes the 2020 season the first since 1997 without any Mannings playing in the NFL.
    • There is a third Manning, Cooper, but he stopped playing football after high school due to injury and became an investment banker. However, reports suggest that had he not been injured he would have been better than Peyton (although Cooper was a wide receiver, not a quarterback, and can't be directly compared to either of his brothers... however, an offense pairing Cooper with either Peyton or Eli would have been spectacular!)
    • Both Peyton and Eli were subjects of the "Manning Face" meme, coined by then-ESPN columnist Bill Simmonsnote .
    • Peyton and Eli are also the stars of "Football on Your Phone", a DIRECTV commercial that went viral. Archie also appears in the spot.
  • Dan Marino was the Hall of Fame Dolphins QB who threw for a then-record 61,361 yards, and retired as the holder of virtually every significant career passing record. (Since passed by Favre, and then Peyton.) Marino had the unfortunate luck to be one of the all-time greats at quarterback at a time when several other "greatest of all time" candidates (Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre) were playing. Thus he managed the paradoxical feat of setting all kinds of records while his team was just good enough to make it into the playoffs and then lose badly in the first round. He is often called the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. He appeared As Himself in the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In an interesting bit of What Could Have Been, Marino received an offer from the Minnesota Vikings to be their starting quarterback at the end of his Dolphins career. The Vikings were coming off of a playoff season and were not yet ready to give the starting job to the untested Daunte Culpepper after losing former starter Jeff George in free agency. The Vikings at the time had elite receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss, along with Pro-Bowl running back Robert Smith which would give Marino some excellent weapons to work. Marino seriously considered the offer, but turned it down citing injuries to his legs and decided to retire.
  • Baker Mayfield is the current quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Winner of the 2017 Heisman Trophy with Oklahoma, he was the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, signing on to the Browns after their disastrous 0-16 season in 2017. He had his regular season debut during their week 3 game against the New York Jets, stepping in after Tyrod Taylor was injured during the second quarter, and rallied the Browns to a 21-17 win, their first win since Christmas 2016. Cleveland was so proud that some fans began referring to FirstEnergy Stadium as "The Bakery" rather than "The Factory of Sadness". By the end of his rookie season, he'd thrown 27 touchdown passes in his 13 starts, breaking the previous record for TD passes by a rookie QB held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson. However, he noticeably regressed in his second year of 2019—though it wasn't all his fault, since the Browns' O-line was, to put it charitably, porous.
  • Donovan McNabb is considered the best quarterback in Eagles history and holds most of their records, but he's more notable because he might be the best real-life example of No Respect Guy there is, playing most of his career for a team whose fans arguably hated him and didn't mind letting him know it. Drafted in the same year as Ricky Williams, the Philly fans booed the team management when they took him instead. This would not be the last time they booed him. Every year since, without fail, his name came up when people were talking about trades. As a player, he was known for a number of years as a great QB who lacked a great supporting cast. When the Eagles brass finally gave him a reliable target in Terrell Owens (see below), he led the team all the way to the Super Bowl. The TO deal later came back to hurt Philly and he developed a bit of a reputation for being a Glass Cannon, which finally resulted in his trade to the rival Washington Redskins. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings the following year, but was ineffective. After being out of the league in 2012 (as an analyst), he signed a ceremonial contract with the Eagles and retired before the 2013 season.
  • Steve McNair became the second great quarterback for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. Known for having nerves of steel in the pocket, even willing to take a hit, as long as the ball went to the right receiver. He also could scramble well when needed to. Eventually surpassed Warren Moon's franchise passing yardage record and his franchise total wins record. Famous for coming a yard short of taking Super Bowl XXXIV into its first overtime game - in one of the greatest Super Bowl games of all time, according to many fans and experts. (The Super Bowl wouldn't see an overtime until LI in 2017.) Outside the game of football, McNair was also known for being quite the ladies' man. Unfortunately, that would lead to his untimely death, as he was killed by one of his girlfriends who then committed suicide.
  • Joe Montana was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers during their 1980s dominance. He was one half of the famous play in the 1981 NFC Championship game known in NFL lore as "The Catch", along with Dwight Clark; he also led the 49ers on a 92-yard touchdown drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. Montana played in and won 4 Super Bowls and never had an interception in any of them. Two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP. Considered by some to be the greatest player in history, as well as probably its most famous. Also known for having quite possibly the coolest name in sports. In 1993, the small town of Ismay, Montana was renamed Joe in his honor.
  • Warren Moon played most of his career with the Houston Oilers, before they became the Tennessee Titans, after starting his professional career in the CFL. For a period in the 90s, he very well may have been the best QB in the game, and certainly the most prolific in terms of stats. He became only the third QB to post back-to-back 4000+ passing yard seasons (following Marino and Dan Fouts) and led the NFL in passing attempts and completions until eventually surpassed by Brett Favre. Unfortunately for him, he's also remembered for his team blowing a 35-point lead to the Buffalo Bills during the first round of the playoffs in '92, the largest margin in playoff history. He was later traded to the Minnesota Vikings where he continued to produce great numbers in terms of passing yardage and completions, but once again would fail to take his team to the Super Bowl. Moon is considered right up there with Marino as one of the best quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl, and perhaps the best to never even play in one (Marino did at least get to a Super Bowl, which he lost to Joe Montana and the 49ers at the height of their dynasty). Moon is still widely considered the greatest quarterback in CFL history, though his career passing yardage record would eventually fall. (And if you count his combined passing yardage from both leagues, he has easily thrown for the most yards in professional football history.)
  • Joe Namath most famously played for the New York Jets. A member of the Hall of Fame, his numbers don't exactly leap off the page like other quarterbacks (he threw 47 more interceptions than touchdowns and has a losing record as a starting QB). However, Namath was very much the first "modern" quarterback and is largely responsible for the revolution of football offenses emphasizing passing over running. He was the first QB to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season, regularly performed well-above his peers during the late 60s and early 70s, and was among the all-time leaders in several passing stats at the time of his retirement before the game further evolved which makes his stats look pedestrian by comparison. Namath is also well-known for guaranteeing an upset victory in a Super Bowl III and backing it up with a win. This started the trend of players "guaranteeing" victory before key games, with varying degrees of success. This also was seen as having validated the plans to merge the NFL and AFL; the first two Super Bowls had been blowout wins for the NFL's Green Bay Packers, but by leading the AFL champion Jets to victory Namath proved that the Super Bowl actually mattered rather than being being a ceremonial beatdown delivered by the NFL to the AFL. Namath was also a huge celebrity in the 1970s, and one of the most famous athletes in any sport at the time, and he relayed that fame into countless guest appearances on sitcoms and game shows. He was even the star of his own sitcom, The Waverly Wonders, which premiered in 1978 but had poor ratings and reviews and only lasted nine episodes. Today, he's likely better known for drunkenly hitting on sideline reporter Suzy Kolber in 2003, an incident which deeply embarrassed both Namath and Kolber and which he credits as the motivation for him getting treatment and quitting alcohol.
  • Cam Newton is currently a free agent quarterback. The Carolina Panthers drafted him #1 overall in 2011 after winning the Heisman Trophy and BCS National Championship in college at Auburn the previous season. He was initially considered a project dual-threat quarterback with significant raw talent and upside but lacking in experience (he was only the starter for one season in college) and was coming out of an offense in college which did not translate well to the pro game. Despite all of this, as well as the 2011 Lockout reducing his time to prepare with the Panthers during the offseason, Newton found individual success quickly and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. It took a couple of seasons and a change at General Manager for the Panthers to catch up in terms of team success, but Newton was finally able to lead the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013 along with the NFC South Division title. Newton, despite injuries, led the Panthers to the division title once again in 2014 (becoming the first team in the NFC South to win the division title two straight years since the 2002 realignment), and once again in 2015, also winning league MVP honors and taking his team to the Super Bowl (where they lost to the Denver Broncos). Newton has set numerous records for combined passing and rushing stats, and has quickly become one of the most popular players in the league, particularly with young fans, which has led to Newton starring in the Nickelodeon TV show All In with Cam Newton. After injury plagued 2018-2019 seasons, Newton was released by the Panthers in the 2020 offseason.
  • Aaron Rodgers was drafted in 2005 by the Packers and spent his first three years on the bench behind long-time quarterback Brett Favre, who left the team holding every major NFL passing record. Rodgers was in the unenviable position of replacing Favre in '08, and his situation was worsened when Favre came out of retirement in the offseason and was denied the starting position by Packers management (see Brett’s entry further up), cuing fans calling for blood. Rodgers responded by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, then led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, bringing Green Bay its first NFL title in 14 years. He was the MVP in Super Bowl XLV and followed it up with a regular season MVP the following year, won another MVP in 2014, and is generally considered to be on equal footing with Tom Brady as best QB in the league (the question of "Which QB is better?" is a source of constant debate). In terms of statistics, he will likely never beat any records for cumulative statistics (wins, touchdowns, yards etc) due to spending his first three years on the bench, but as far as average statistics are concerned, there are several crucial stats where Rodgers stands on a completely different level from any other player, past or present: he has the highest career passer rating in history note , and lowest interception percentage note . That last number is what marks him as a Spiritual Antithesis to Brett Favre, as Favre retired with the most interceptions in history (three times), whereas Rodgers has a knack for pinpoint accuracy and putting the ball where only his receivers can make a play on it. In the entire 2014 season, for example, he only threw interceptions in 3 of his 16 games: 5 interceptions total, 4 of which first bounced off of his receivers' hands, with none being thrown at home. His athleticism is also a key weapon: while he is a superb pocket passer, he is lethal outside the pocket, and can throw with deadly accuracy on the run (or even in midair). He is also known for his "title belt" celebration where after a big play (usually when he makes a rushing touchdown), he makes a motion with his hands as if he's putting on an invisible championship belt, which lead to the iconic image of Clay Matthews giving him an actual championship belt at their Super Bowl victory.
    • His NFL career began with perhaps the most embarrassing draft slide in history. He and Alex Smith were considered the top two quarterbacks in the '05 draft class. It was unclear which would be taken #1 overall by San Francisco, but the prevailing notion was that Rodgers, as a bay-area native, had the edge. The 49ers instead drafted Alex Smith, and Rodgers sat for three hours on live television as 22 additional teams passed on him until the Packers took him at number 24. While there have been other great quarterbacks taken lower (most notably Tom Brady, who wasn't taken until the sixth round), for a potential number-one QB prospect to fall so far was almost unheard of, particularly in the age where potential draftees were invited to attend the televised ceremony.
    • He also got a decent amount of off-field publicity in 2016 when his younger brother Jordan got the girl on Season 12 of The Bachelorette. It should be noted that Aaron has been estranged from his family for the last few years; in fact, Jordan's fiancée admitted not long after the series finale that she had never met Aaron.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has been since 2004. He won Rookie of the Year honors when he first played, becoming the first QB to do so since 1970 - first years usually aren't particularly kind to quarterbacks, as most teams that draft them are lacking other weapons and the QB position has a steeper learning curve than any other when transitioning from college to the pros. (That said, since then, six quarterbacks have won ORoY honors reflecting the overall emphasis on offense in the NFL in that time.) His career began with him winning his first 13 starts (the previous all-time record was six). He has two Super Bowl rings, including the win in Super Bowl XL, where he became the youngest QB to start and win a Super Bowl, though this often shows up in "worst performance by winning QB" lists - however, he acquitted himself rather nicely when they played the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Despite all this, he's probably best known for his various run-ins with the law and media. First he crashed his motorcycle, which he was riding without a helmet or license, and then came a scandal about his involvement with a 20-year-old college student in a Georgia bar (which may have been non-consensual) that earned him a brief suspension. It was ominously the second such accusation that had been brought against him, the first one being a woman in Tahoe who claimed he had sexually assaulted her in his hotel room, though lack of physical evidence or corroborating witnesses meant no charges were filed in either case.
  • Tony Romo was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and is the holder of many of the franchise's career passing records, including passing yards and passing touchdowns. Undrafted out of the relatively obscure Eastern Illinois University, he was signed by the Cowboys where a fellow Eastern Illinois alum, Sean Payton, served as offensive coordinator and heavily recruited Romo. After spending several seasons as a backup and holder for placekicks, Romo got an opportunity to play when the struggling starting QB, Drew Bledsoe, was pulled. Romo played well enough to earn the starting job headed forward and guided the Cowboys to the playoffs. However, his first playoff game resulted in one of his most infamous "Fizzle Out" moments - Romo, still serving as the holder for placekicks, botched the hold on the game-winning field goal attempt and was tackled short of the end zone when he tried to run with the ball. Despite his regular season success over the next decade, Romo would struggle each time the Cowboys made the playoffs. A series of injury-plagued seasons ultimately ended his career, after which he immediately went into broadcasting. Despite having no prior experience, Romo was hired by CBS to be the color commentator for their #1 broadcast team. Romo drew significant praise from fans and the media for his fresh perspective and unique style. (So much so that other networks are attempting to overhaul their broadcast teams with recently retired players like Romo.) In an interesting bit of What Could Have Been, Sean Payton, upon becoming the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, attempted to trade for Romo. The Cowboys demanded greater compensation than what the Saints were offering, so the Saints backed out. Had they traded for Romo, it's possible that they never would have signed Drew Brees.
  • Mark Sanchez is a quarterback most famous for his time with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the first round in 2009. Although he was able to take the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Jets were a team very much led by their dominant defense while Sanchez was merely asked to limit mistakes. Sanchez then had a mediocre year in 2011, a horrible year in 2012, and he became known for the Butt Fumble - an infamous play in 2012 against the arch-rival Patriots where Sanchez's head collided with the rear end of an offensive lineman, causing him to drop the football. The ball was recovered by the Patriots and returned for a touchdown. After 40 straight weeks of the Butt Fumble as their #1 "Not Top 10" play, ESPN retired it so that other embarrassing plays could have a chance of winning the "top" spot. As with Brady, Sanchez appeared on covers for GQ Magazine, and he briefly dated actress Eva Longoria. A shoulder injury cost him the 2013 season and the Jets officially released him in March 2014. Sanchez later signed with the Eagles as a backup quarterback. When starter Nick Foles was injured, Sanchez briefly returned to his 2010 form and even got a bit of redemption for the Butt Fumble in leading the Eagles to a 33-10 win over the Cowboys on the Butt Fumble's anniversary. Then he regressed and started throwing interceptions again. In 2016, Sanchez was traded to the Denver Broncos, following the retirement of Peyton Manning and the departure of backup Brock Osweiler to the Houston Texans, but was released after struggling in the preseason (signing with the Cowboys as a backup in August 2016). Sanchez signed with the Bears in 2017, again as a backup. In 2018, he signed with the Redskins after Alex Smith was injured in week 12. He retired shortly before the start of training camp in 2019, becoming an ESPN college football analyst.
  • Matthew Stafford is the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, who drafted him with the #1 overall pick in 2009, following their 0-16 season in 2008. He holds the NFL record for most comeback wins and is the fastest player in NFL history to pass for 40,000 yards (in 147 games). Interestingly, he went to the same high school as legendary Lions QB Bobby Layne (where Stafford was also classmates with L.A. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw), and even lived on the same street that Layne did.
  • Bart Starr was the quarterback of the 1960s champion Green Bay Packers. Won two league MVP awards. Known for clutch performances in big games, including the "Ice Bowl", an NFL Championship Game won by the Packers over the Cowboys in subzero temperatures. Led the Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls, as well as three other pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships; these 5 championships stood as the NFL record for most titles by a quarterback for more than 50 years, until Tom Brady surpassed it with the Patriots' victory in Super Bowl LIII.
  • Roger Staubach was the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys during the heyday of "America's Team" during the '70s. He was famous for his ability to scramble and to rally his team from behind in the final seconds, most famously in the "Hail Mary" game against the Vikings in the '75 playoffs. He won two Super Bowls ('71 and '77) and appeared in two others ('75 and '78). While he was statistically the most dominant quarterback of his era, his four-year Navy commitment between his college and professional years kept his career totals well below those of players like Unitas, Favre, and Montana. He's the Cowboys quarterback in the adaptation of Black Sunday.
  • Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings during their heyday in the 1970s. Nicknamed "Scramblin' Fran", he was notorious for his mobility within the pocket and his style of running around to avoid being sacked. Disagreements with his coach about quarterback mobility resulted in Tarkenton spending four years with the New York Giants. After returning to Minnesota, he led the Vikings to three Super Bowls. Unfortunately, they lost all three of them. Worse, he's often remembered as the first quarterback to lose four Super Bowls - fans sometimes forget that the Vikings' first loss was while Joe Kapp was quarterback. Tarkenton retired as the holder of many records, most of which were broken by Dan Marino, and to this day he's considered one of the best quarterbacks, along with Marino, Warren Moon and Jim Kelly, to never win a Super Bowl.
  • Tim Tebow is a quarterback who last played with the New York Jets in the 2012 season. After being cut by the New England Patriots just before the start of the 2013 season, and not drawing any interest from other NFL teams during that season, he signed a multiyear deal with ESPN as an analyst for the SEC Network (devoted to the conference that his alma mater Florida belongs to). He wound up spending a year and change in the studio before giving the NFL another try with the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2015 offseason, and came back to the SEC Network after being one of the team's final preseason cuts. While his accomplishments were not even close to the remainder of those on the list here, he has been one of the most polarizing and meme-generating players in the modern NFL. After an extraordinary college career that left some asking if he was the greatest player ever at that level, serious doubts were raised about his ability to succeed in the NFL. His career began when he was drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos; pundits almost universally panned the move, seeing him as a 4th or 5th round choice with good potential as a backup, rather than an immediate franchise player role he was forced into. What both his critics and fans can agree upon is that his throwing motion is horribly inconsistentnote , generating some good film for the highlight reels but making it impossible to gameplan around his talents, to the point where his own coaches publicly bashed it during a winning streak. His critics saw him as a terrible player who succeeded by the efforts of his teammates, but got all the credit due to Wolverine Publicity. His fans saw him as a natural leader and the walking embodiment of Crazy Enough to Work. His fans pointed to multiple 4th-quarter comebacks during his brief career as a starter, while critics said if he'd played better in the first three quarters of those games there would've been no need for a comeback. A running meme has "Tebowing" (dropping to one knee with a fist on your forehead to pray) replacing "planking" as the go-to Twitter/Facebook pic. In 2012, despite a winning record as a starter and a home playoff victory over the defending AFC Champs, he was replaced by Peyton Manning and was traded to the New York Jets. The fact that he spent the next season mostly on the bench was probably a blessing in disguise, given how bad a year the Jets had. He was released by the Jets in 2013 and picked up by the Pats (leading to brief speculation that Belichick would use him as a tight end or a fullback), but couldn't make the roster. Tebow's signing by the Eagles led to debate whether coach Chip Kelly was crazy, or crazy smart; most observers thought Tebow was at best competing for the third-string slot. He was cut despite having shown signs of improvement, and the Eagles trading away his competition for said slot. After Tebow's release, Kelly made comments that, if one reads between the lines, were a call for the NFL to establish a true developmental league—because of Tebow's NFL experience, he was ineligible for the practice squad, yet clearly needed more in-game time to work on his weaknesses. Now trying his hand at a pro baseball career, despite not having played the game since high school.
    • Much of Tebow's polarizing effect comes not from his on-the-field football skills, which are typical of a backup quarterback, but from his off-the-field religious views which color almost anything he does in public. An outspoken evangelical Christian, he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial before being drafted in a highly controversial anti-abortion segment, marking the first time a political issue ad has seen airtime during the big game. Because of this and other stances, he remains in the public spotlight and is the talk of sports pundits almost daily, despite having been a relatively obscure player on the field.
  • Johnny Unitas was the quarterback for the Baltimore Colts from 1956 to 1972. He led them to victory in the "greatest game ever played", a 1958 playoff against the New York Giants that featured the first "sudden death" overtime. He also played in Super Bowl III (Earl Morrall started and played most of the game for the Colts) against Joe Namath's Jets and won Super Bowl V against the Cowboys; ironically the latter was considered one of the worst-played championship games, with 11 turnovers and 14 penalties between the teams. After retiring, Unitas settled down in the Baltimore area; when the Colts surreptitiously relocated to Indianapolis in 1984, Unitas cut almost all ties with the franchise and "adopted" the Ravens when they came to Baltimore in 1996. He is known for his black high-top cleats and flat-top haircut, symbolizing the prototype "old school" QB. Unitas held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a record that has stood for five decades but which Drew Brees broke in 2012 and Tom Brady then pushed him into third place all-time.
  • Kurt Warner was a quarterback who led the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams to a Super Bowl win in 1999 and a close-fought loss in 2001, won two season MVP awards for himself, later led the Arizona Cardinals to their first (losing) Super Bowl appearance, and is statistically among the elite quarterbacks of all time, making it to the Hall of Fame in 2017. However, he's still probably better known for his unusual route to the NFL and eventually Canton; after an undistinguished career at the obscure University of Northern Iowa and a few unsuccessful NFL tryouts in the mid 1990s, Warner bagged groceries at a supermarket for a little while, married his hard-luck college sweetheart, then began to bounce around the Arena League (where he led his team, the Iowa Barnstormers, to two Arena Bowls, which they lost) and NFL Europe before finally settling with the Rams. Also known for being a hardcore charismatic Christian.
  • Carson Wentz is the current starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles who, following a series of trades, ended up with the #2 overall pick with which they selected Wentz. Coming out of FCS North Dakota State, many draftniks were concerned that Wentz may have been a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond in college and wasn't worth everything the Eagles gave up to get him.note  It looked like Wentz would start his rookie year as the Eagles' third-string quarterback, but the team traded former starter Sam Bradford to the Vikings in a late-offseason trade then named Wentz the starter. This paid immediate dividends, as Wentz became the first rookie QB in NFL history to win each of this first three starts without committing a turnover. In his second season, he set the Eagles team record for TD passes in a season and was a near-lock to win league MVP, but tore his ACL late in the season, winding up on IR. (The Eagles still went on to win the Super Bowl behind backup QB Nick Foles.)
  • Doug Williams began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it's his legendary performance with the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII that he's most famous for. During the 1987 season leading up, Williams was the backup quarterback to starter Jay Schroeder. Schroeder, however, missed several games with injury and Williams played well in his place. This led head coach Joe Gibbs to name Williams as his starter for the playoffs, and the gamble paid off as Williams led Washington to the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos, making Williams the first black QB to ever start a Super Bowl. The Broncos, however, were huge favorites to win the Super Bowl with superstar John Elway at quarterback. Many experts also believed that the Broncos would look to redeem themselves for the bad Super Bowl loss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI the year prior. At first, it seemed like this would prove true, as the Broncos jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead. However, from the second quarter onward, it was the Doug Williams show. He set a Super Bowl a record scoring four touchdowns in a single half. And during the second half, scored again, while the Redskins defense dominated the rest of the game resulting in a 41-10 Washington victory. Williams efforts resulted in him being named Super Bowl MVP. The rest of Williams' career was fairly middling, ending with a career QB rating of 69.4, but his place in the history books as the first black QB to start, then win, a Super Bowl was secure. (It would be 27 years in Super Bowl XLVII until another black QB, Russell Wilson, matched his feat.)
  • Russell Wilson was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks 75th overall in the 2012 draft, with the expectation that he would be a quality backup. Unlike fellow 2012 draftees in wunderkinds Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin, Wilson had to fight his way into the starting lineup in the preseason, winning the starting role over former Green Bay star backup (if that's not a contradiction in terms) Matt Flynn, who himself had previously set a Packers record with 6 touchdown passes in one game (something none of Bart Starr, Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers had ever done before). A scrambling quarterback who was quite undersized for the position (5'11"), his ability to run and throw the ball took Seattle into an 11-5 record, and he has earned league-wide praise for his excellent decision making, precision, and coolness under pressure. Between himself, Luck, and RG3, Wilson was the only rookie quarterback to win a playoff game in the 2012 Playoffs, and he was a finalist for the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award (losing to Griffin). He tied an NFL record set by Peyton Manning for most season TD passes by a rookie with 26 (later broken by Baker Mayfield); all the more impressive as Seattle had a run-first offense during that season, with Wilson having barely half as many pass attempts as Manning did in his own record-breaking year. In the 2013-2014 season, Russell Wilson won his first Super Bowl over the seemly unstoppable Denver Broncos (led by Peyton Manning) and their high-powered offense - which is mentioned by some sports experts as one of the greatest offenses in NFL history. He became the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl (after Doug Williams 27 years prior) and the first to do so as a full-season starter. (Williams was primarily a backup until the playoffs.) Wilson is also only the fourth quarterback in Super Bowl history to win the big game in his second year. He is also the shortest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. He gained off-field attention in 2016 for his high-profile relationship with and eventual marriage to R&B singer Ciara. Now also one of an increasing number of athletes who own shares in Major League Soccer teams; he and Ciara hold a small stake in Seattle Sounders FC.
  • Steve Young was a quarterback best known for his time with the San Francisco 49ers, where he won two league MVP awards and Super Bowl XXIX. He is also known as the epitome of a true dual-threat NFL quarterback, being a "franchise QB" caliber passer while also being able to gash defenses with his running ability. (Most quarterbacks with Young's athleticism struggle to reach that level as passers.) Young began his pro career in the USFL, but when that league folded after two seasons, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who acquired his rights by making him the #1 overall pick of the USFL and CFL Supplemental Draft two years earlier. After two utterly miserable years with the moribund Bucs that saw Young go 3-19 as a starter with nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, he was traded to the 49ers where he served as a backup to Joe Montana. Finally, after playing well in limited action as a backup for four years, Young claimed the starting job when Montana was lost for the season with an elbow injury. Young played well enough over the next two seasons that, when Montana returned from injury, there was a quarterback controversy which divided the locker room, as well as ownership and coaching. Montana requested to be traded to resolve the situation, with the 49ers sending him to the Kansas City Chiefs. Young had the best season of his career that year, setting multiple franchise passing records. The following year, after an MVP season, Young led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory. He would continue to play at a high level, becoming one of the best quarterbacks of the 1990s, but would see his career derailed at the end by injuries. He retired with the top quarterback rating in NFL history, though has since been surpassed by several others (including Rodgers, Brady, and Brees). He currently serves as an analyst on ESPN's various pre-game shows.

     Running Backs 
  • One of the first star running backs was Byron "Whizzer" White. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he was taken on by the Pittsburgh Football Pirates (they weren't the Steelers yet). During his rookie season at Pittsburgh in 1938, he was the most highly-paid player in the NFL... and he dropped football to take up a Rhodes Scholarship. After coming back from Oxford, White played two years (1940-41) in Detroit, where he had a contract for the then-obscene sum of $15,000 (about a quarter of a million in today's dollars). In 1941, the US joined World War II and White joined the Navy. He never played pro football again; after the war he went to Yale Law School, became Deputy Attorney General in 1961, and was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1962. Nevertheless, he kept up his relationship with football (for instance, when interviewing a prospective law clerk, the conversation inevitably revolved around football and not legal issues, as it usually did with other Justices), and the annual NFL community service/humanitarian award is named after him. (Fun fact: one recipient of the award, Michael McCrary was the plaintiff in a major Supreme Court casenote  about whether it was acceptable for private secondary schools to deny black students admission based on race. The Court found for McCrary, but funnily enough White dissented—not because he agreed with the schools' racial politics, but because he was afraid that the contrary ruling would be bad for private groups and institutions intended to advance the interests of Blacks and other minorities.)

  • Jim Brown was the first running back to amass over 10,000 career yards and the only one to average more than 100 yards per game. Brown led the league in rushing yards 8 times (more than any other running back) and won one championship in 9 years with the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s-60s before retiring at the top of his game to pursue a film career. Considered the prototypical power back. Because of his size and appearance (he was as large as most linemen during his career), has more often played a linebacker or defensive coach in film roles than a running back.
  • Earl Campbell was a Hall of Fame running back for the Houston Oilers, and considered to be one of the best power backs in NFL history. Nicknamed "The Tyler Rose",note  Campbell won the Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP in just his rookie season, a feat that had only been done by Jim Brown. Campbell was known (and feared) for his punishing running style: defenders would often get run over, knocked down or knocked out trying to tackle him. Campbell was also famous for his large, almost tree trunk-like legs that were the source of his speed (an often overlooked facet of his game) and power — even now, short running backs that use powerful legs to their advantage are compared to him. He's also known for coining the namesake of the "Luv Ya Blue" era that the Oilers were famous for, after a 35-30 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football in 1978.
  • Terrell Davis was a running back for the Denver Broncos, and one of Mike Shanahan's aforementioned stud runners. The quality portion of Davis' career only lasted for four years before a devastating knee injury. However, during those years, he was widely regarded as unstoppable. He was one of the focal points of their '90s Super Bowl years. In the Broncos' first of two consecutive Super Bowl wins, he was Super Bowl XXXII [1997] MVP in spite of (or perhaps because of) a migraine he was suffering during the game, lining up in order to give the illusion that Denver wasn't solely relying on Elway's passing attack. His lack of longevity left him out of Hall of Fame consideration for over a decade before finally getting in as part of the Hall of Fame class of 2017, potentially opening the door to other players who had similar careers.
  • Eric Dickerson was a Hall of Fame running back best known for his time with the Rams and Colts. He exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 1983, setting the record for most rushing yards by a rookie (1808) which still stands to this day. In his second season, he set the record for most rushing yards in a single season (2105), another record which still stands. Following a contract dispute with the Rams, Dickerson was traded to the Colts during the strike-shortened 1987 season in what is, to this day, one of the largest trades in NFL history in terms of assets moved. (It involved three teams - the Rams, Colts, and Bills - trading four players and five 1st or 2nd round draft choices.) Dickerson would rush for over 1000 yards in just 8 games with the Colts during the strike-shortened season, before having several more productive years with the Colts. He currently serves as an analyst for FS1.
  • Marshall Faulk was a Hall of Fame running back best known for his time as one of the key members of the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams around the turn of the millennium. Originally drafted #2 overall by the Indianapolis Colts, Faulk was traded to the Rams after his fifth season when he began to demand a new contract. Faulk, a well-rounded back capable of carrying the ball, catching passes, and pass blocking, was an incredible fit in the Rams' wide-open passing attack offense. In the Rams' Super Bowl winning season of 1999, Faulk became only the 2nd player in NFL history to have a 1000/1000 rushing yards/receiving yards season. (The other being the 49ers' Roger Craig in 1985.) He tied Earl Campbell's record by winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons, as well as winning League MVP in 2000.
  • Frank Gore is a running back for the Buffalo Bills, with previous stops in San Francisco, Miami, and Indianapolis. His NFL career was almost over before it even started, as Gore tore the ACL in both knees while in college. After the second tear, he considered quitting football, but was talked out of it by his position coach. Despite his talent and production when healthy, Gore dropped to the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL draft. After splitting time as a rookie, Gore took over as starter in his second season and would rattle off four straight 1000+ rushing yard seasons, as well as going over 1000 yards in eight of his first ten seasons. Despite coming off of one of those 1000 yard seasons, the 49ers allowed him to leave in free agency, believing that he was on the downside of his career at 31 years old. He signed with Indianapolis, rushed for at least 900 yards in each season there, then with Miami where he rushed for over 700 yards. He signed with Buffalo for the 2019 season, where he became just the fourth player in NFL history to rush for more than 15,000 yards and became the oldest RB to rush for over 100 yards in a game at age 36 (breaking the record previous held by John Riggins). Midway through the 2019 season, Gore passed Barry Sanders to move into third place on the league's all-time rushing list.
  • Harold "Red" Grange, aka "The Galloping Ghost", was a halfback and defensive back for the Chicago Bears in the 1920s. He was one of the first true "superstars" in the neophyte NFL, helping to legitimize the league at a time when the American sports scene was still heavily dominated by baseball. (In fact, he was one of the first athletes to appear on the cover of Time magazine.) Grange would be elected into both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame as a charter member of both.
  • Franco Harris was the Hall of Fame running back for the four-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. He is perhaps best known as the "receiver" who caught the deflected pass during the play now referred to as the "Immaculate Reception".
  • Derrick Henry is a running back for the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him in the 2nd round after a Heisman-winning career at the University of Alabama. Listed at 6'3", 245, Henry is larger than many linebackers and has a bruising, battering ram rushing style which makes him extremely difficult to tackle. He is one of two players in NFL history to pull of a 99-yard run (the other being Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett), doing so in a Thursday night game against the Jaguars in 2018. He led the league in rushing for the 2019 season, finishing the season with a monster stretch of games which continued into the first two rounds of the playoffs (204 yards against the Patriots and 195 against the Ravens).
  • Paul Hornung was a Hall of Fame halfback (as well as kicker, punter, fullback, safety, and sometimes quarterback) of the Green Bay Packers during their 1960s dynasty. He won the Heisman Trophy in college, becoming the only player to ever win it from a losing team (his Notre Dame team when 2-8 that year), and was then selected by Green Bay #1 overall in 1957. The "Golden Boy" would win NFL MVP in 1961 and would win five championships, including Super Bowl I. In a more negative light, Hornung was suspended for the 1963 season when it was discovered that he was illegally betting on NFL games. He was reinstated for 1964 after intense lobbying from head coach Vince Lombardi. The annual college football award for the "most versatile" player is named after him.
  • Bo Jackson was one of the most highly anticipated and marketed athletes ever. He played running back for the then-Los Angeles Raiders. He also played in Major League Baseball for the Kansas City Royals, so he chose to be a part-time player throughout his career. Still, he is arguably the best American two-sport athlete in history (one could make a case for Jim Thorpe or Babe Zaharias), and the only American male athlete to become a legitimate star in both sports (Zaharias was a superstar in track and golf; in the latter, she's also known as a founding member of the LPGA). Until, unfortunately, he was tackled hard and suffered a major injury to his hip in a playoff game against the Bengals, which ended his football career. He eventually had a hip replacement and played Major League Baseball again, though without much of the speed that made him such an asset. And, after all of this, he's still probably best remembered for being absolutely unstoppable in Tecmo Super Bowl.
    • Interestingly, despite his all-star status, Jackson shows up fairly often on lists of all-time NFL draft busts. In his final year of college play, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the #1 overall pick, even though Jackson still wanted to play a final season of college baseball and flat out told the Bucs that he had no interest in playing football at that time. Regardless, the Bucs flew him out for a meeting on their dime, telling him that it would not break any NCAA regulations to do so. The aftermath cost Jackson any further amateur eligibility, with the obvious hope being that Jackson would sign with the Bucs because now he had no other choice. Instead, he declined to sign any contract whatsoever, choosing instead to sign for far less money to play pro baseball, meaning the Bucs spent the most valuable pick in the draft and got nothing in return. The next year, Jackson was drafted again after his rights reverted and he was fully prepared to sit out again, but Raiders owner Al Davis offered him "full-time" pay for a "part-time" deal where he would be allowed to play only in games following the end of the baseball season. He then became a league-leading rusher despite missing a full quarter of games every year.
  • John Kuhn is a fullback for the Green Bay Packers. In an era where the fullback position is facing extinction, the undrafted Kuhn has become a folk hero in Green Bay and a true Ensemble Dark Horse for the Packers. As a blocker and special teams player, he has been directly responsible for countless highlight-reel moments of other players. He was instrumental in the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl season, particularly as a runner, where he emerged as a near-unstoppable short-yardage specialist (leading to fans cheering “KUUUUUUHN” in 3rd and short situations). All that, combined with his reliability as a receiver, merited him a spot in the NFL Top 100 in 2012.
  • Marshawn Lynch is a halfback who made his name with the Seattle Seahawks. He's considered an integral part of the offense that led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. After an inauspicious start to his career after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2007, he was traded to Seattle where he suddenly vaulted to top-3 status at his position. He is a quintessential Lightning Bruiser at his position, able to run by defenders, but also known for powering through tackles and gaining additional yardage. His running style has earned him the nickname "The Beast" (and when he does this, it's known throughout the league as "going into Beast Mode.") He also has a notorious Sweet Tooth, to the point where his love for Skittlesnote  has reached Memetic Mutation status (at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks' home stadium, the "Beast Mode Burger" is always sold with a bag of Skittles on the side). Easily his biggest career highlight came during a January, 2011 playoff game against the defending champion New Orleans Saints. He broke 6 tackles on a nearly 70 yard TD run. The reaction of the fans at the stadium actually set off a local seismograph, registering as a small earthquake. Also known (to the chagrin of some) as The Quiet One as far as media interaction goes. He's an obvious introvert who genuinely doesn't seem to like fame or spotlight, making him somewhat an anomaly as far as pro athletes go. Announced his retirement after the 2015 in typical Lynch fashion, with a cryptic tweet showing a picture of his cleats hanging on a wire, a play on the phrase "hanging up the cleats." It proved to be a 10-Minute Retirement, as he decided to come back after sitting out the 2016 season. His hometown team, the Raiders, made a trade with the Seahawks to sign him out of retirement. Lynch did reasonably well in The Town, but lost the last half of the 2018 season to a groin injury. He was then out of football until the last week of the 2019 regular season, when the Seahawks, assured of a playoff berth but down to one healthy tailback due to a rash of injuries and facing a key matchup with the Niners for the NFC West title, signed him for that game and their playoff run.
  • Walter Payton was a running back who played for Chicago in the '70s and '80s. When he retired, his 16,726 rushing yards were the most ever gained by a running back. Nicknamed "Sweetness". Known for refusing to deliberately run out of bounds, and brought back the practice of stiff-arming would-be tacklers, and also for his ability to leap up and over the offensive and defensive linesmen piled together and land on his back, defeating many goal-line stands. Infamously never scored a touchdown in his sole Super Bowl appearance; his prowess ensured he was double and triple teamed every play. Died in 1999 due to a rare liver disease, becoming a spokesman for organ donation in his final months (his disease had progressed too far for a transplant by then).
  • John Riggins was a power running back most famous for his time with the Washington Redskins in the 70s and 80s. Originally drafted by the NY Jets, Riggins would make the move to the Redskins where he would win a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP. Also known for his incredible longevity, he became the oldest player to ever rush for more than 1200 yards, carry the ball 300+ times, and have 10+ touchdowns, doing so at the age of 35. In his final year at age 36, he became the (then) oldest player to ever have 100+ rushing yards in a game (since surpassed by Frank Gore). He would also have a modest acting career following his playing career.
  • Barry Sanders currently sits fourth on the all-time rushing list. Unquestionably one of the greatest players in Detroit Lions history, if not the greatest (especially in recent memory). In a game that often focuses on size, strength, and durability, Sanders relied on speed, elusiveness, and incredible athleticism. Thus, despite frequently being the smallest man on the field, he often produced mind blowing plays that made him seem impossible to stop or tackle. When he was active, it was an oft-repeated cliche that fans could watch Sanders run for a loss and come away convinced that he was the greatest running back of all time. Notable because he retired suddenly in 1999 when he was in striking distance of the all-time rushing yardage record.note  He didn't retire because of old age or health issues - he was just tired of playing for such a perennially losing organization. A short feature.
  • Gale Sayers was a legendary halfback and return specialist for the Chicago Bears in the late 60s and early 70s. A decorated track athlete, Sayers played with incredible speed and was a dominant ball carrier despite having a longer and lankier frame more like that of a wide receiver. Drafted by both the Bears (4th overall) of the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs (5th overall) of the AFL, Sayers chose to play for Chicago. He set the NFL rookie single season TD record with 22 total touchdowns, a record which still stands today. (He also tied the single game record during that year, with 6 touchdowns in one game.) After several dominant seasons, Sayers badly injured his right knee. He returned to lead the league in rushing, but would then badly injure his left knee the following season. As reconstructive knee surgery was much more primitive during his era, Sayers was never able to return to form despite several comeback attempts. He retired at 28 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at age 34, the youngest person ever to be so honored. note 
  • Emmitt Smith is the all time leading rusher in NFL history (18,355 yards) spending most of his career with the Dallas Cowboys before ending it with the Arizona Cardinals. His rushing record seems safe for the time being, considering the active leading rusher (Frank Gore) is over 2500 yards away and nearing the end of his career. He wasn't known for being particularly big, strong, or fast, instead relying on his phenomenal vision to predict where the holes in the defense would be.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson is a retired running back, one of the greater ones of the first decade of the 21st century. He played with the San Diego Chargers from 2001-2009 and the New York Jets from 2010-2011. San Diego made out better on this deal. He was one of the early 21st century running backs who revived the trend of also reliable pass catchers. Early in his career, it was believed that he might have a chance to break Emmitt Smith's rushing record, but injuries and a couple of bad years put an end to that. Retired after signing a ceremonial contract to return to the Chargers in 2012, and entered the Hall of Fame in 2017.
  • Ricky Williams was one of the most heavily-hyped players in the year he was drafted. In an especially notable case, Mike Ditka, then coach of the New Orleans Saints, traded away all of his team's draft picks to ensure that he could draft him. Adding to the notability, the Eagles fans booed the team management for taking Donovan McNabb over him. As a player, he was mediocre until he went to the Miami Dolphins, where he was a dynamic, unstoppable force - until he suddenly retired in 2004, when it was revealed he had tested positive for marijuana. After he retired he spent a year Walking the Earth to "find himself" which included living in a tent in the Australian outback and then working for a holistic medicine college in California. He unretired in 2005, played solidly for a season, then tested positive for marijuana a third time, jumped to the Canadian Football League for the 2006 season, missing most of the 2007 season, then played in one game before a hard stomp to the chest ended his season. Played for the Dolphins through 2010, one year for the Ravens in 2011, then retired.

     Wide Receivers and Tight Ends 
  • Don Hutson was the Trope Maker for wide receivers. He played for the Green Bay Packers from 1935 to 1945 (leading them to three championships) before the term "wide receiver" even existed (he was called a "split end"), and is credited with inventing the concept of a dedicated receiver, as well as the fundamentals of the position (such as running pre-planned routes, most of which are still used today). He was decades ahead of his time; playing in an era where teams relied primarily on running backs and passes were usually only thrown out of desperation. As such, the man was essentially a human cheat code, and it cannot be overstated how unprepared the league was for him: initially thought too scrawny to play at the NFL level, he silenced all critics on the first play of his first game, in which he caught an 83-yard touchdown pass. He set single-season and career records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that stood for nearly fifty years, and might still stand if not for the league lengthening the regular season (he played in 10- and 12-game seasons). His era also had "single-platoon" teams (before players were assigned to offense, defense or special teams) and played as a defensive end (intercepting 23 passes in his final four seasons) and placekicker (where he scored 193 points over his career). His record of scoring 29 points in a single quarter (four touchdowns, five extra-point kicks) might never be broken. His most unbreakable records, however, are his meta-season records (most seasons leading the league in catches/receiving yards/receiving touchdowns/points scored, and most consecutive seasons leading the league in the same categories note ) which are all considered virtually unbreakable due to there being too much parity among modern wide receivers to lead the league more than a season or two (Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski currently ties Hutson's record of five seasons leading the league in scoring and may yet beat it, but his were non-consecutive).note 

  • Odell Beckham Jr. (no relation to that other famous Beckham who used to play a different kind of "football") is a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns who made his name with the New York Giants, exploding onto the NFL scene as a rookie in 2014. During a Sunday Night Football game against the division rival Dallas Cowboys, Beckham made what is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest catches of all time - diving backwards with a full extension of his right hand using only three fingers while being interfered with by a Cowboys defender. Over his first three seasons, Beckham broke a number of NFL records including being the fastest player to reach 250 receptions and 4000 receiving yards. Unlike many of his contemporary great wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, AJ Green, etc.), Beckham has a classic "over-the-top" personality of past WR greats like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson. While he is an overall very effective receiver as the numbers indicate, his main claim to fame (to the point of his detractors saying it's the only reason he's famous seem to be highlight reel-type catches.note  Also known for his distinctive hair, which features bleached platinum blond curls up top and for being extremely emotional on the field - perhaps too much so. His fans see this as Beckham being "passionate", while his detractors see more of a "spoiled child". Beckham has been known to complain openly to the media about team issues, and, in his second contract, wanted to be paid "QB money" (in the range of about $10 million more per season than the highest paid WRs make). He would become the highest paid WR of all time in his second contract, but would still settle for far less than QB money. (Just under $20 million per season, while the top QBs were making over $30 million per.) The Giants dealt him to Cleveland after the 2018 season, where he became one of Baker Mayfield's prime targets.
  • Larry Fitzgerald plays for the Arizona Cardinals and is generally considered one of the top wide receivers of the 21st century. He is known for being quiet and soft-spoken compared to most other receivers. He would probably be the biggest threat to Jerry Rice's records if not for several seasons stuck with horrendous quarterback play in Arizona hurting his statistics (though he has still reached #2 in both receptions and receiving yards, and has cracked the top 10 in receiving TDs). Will almost certainly be a first ballot Hall of Famer five years after he retires.
  • Antonio Gates, a tight end who spent his entire career with the Chargers, is one of history's most dominant players at the position. Was finally released by the Chargers in 2018, as the Chargers had drafted his presumptive successor. He wasn't picked up by another team and appeared to be prepared to slip quietly into retirement to wait for his inevitable Hall of Fame nomination. Then said successor - and said successor's backup - suffered season-ending injuries in training camp. This prompted the Chargers to call the 38-year-old Gates back up for One Last Job. He didn't catch on with another team in 2019, and after that season made his retirement official, signing a ceremonial contract to retire as a Charger. Gates made the Pro Bowl eight times and was named All-Pro five times. He and Tony Gonzalez (see below) were the tight ends on the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s, and Gates broke Gonzalez' record for the most career touchdown catches by a tight end. Also notable as one of the few NFL players who never played college football; he was an undersized power forward for a Kent State basketball team that made an NCAA regional final in 2002.
  • Tony Gonzalez is the current holder of all the tight end receiving records except for career TDs (Gates), as well as the first tight end to amass over 1,000 receptions. He spent most of his career with the Chiefs, and ended his career in Atlanta, retiring at the end of the 2013 season. Like Gates, Gonzalez played college basketball (at California), but unlike Gates also played football for the Golden Bears. Has worked mainly as an analyst for several major TV networks since his retirement.
  • Jimmy Graham is a hyper-athletic tight end for the Chicago Bears who initially made his name with the New Orleans Saints, and also played for the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. He led the NFL in most major receiving categories early in the 2013 season, earning him an NFL Offensive Player of the Month award, the first tight end in the history of that award (dating back to 1986) to win it. Yet another former college basketball player—Graham played four years of basketball at the University of Miami before playing football for one year.note  He was the center of a controversy during the 2014 offseason after the Saints applied the "franchise tag"note  to him as a Tight End. Graham, whose athleticism allows him to play split out wide as a wide receiver quite often, argued that he should get the Wide Receiver franchise tag instead. (A difference of about $5 million.) This is despite Graham being drafted as a tight end, listed on the roster as a tight end, having accepted a Pro Bowl invitation as a tight end, and having tight end in his Twitter handle. The case went to court where the judge ruled in favor of the NFL, listing Graham as a tight end. (The Saints struck a long term deal with Graham later in offseason anyway, making it a moot point other than for precedent.)
  • Rob Gronkowski, also known as "Gronk", was the tight end for the New England Patriots before his retirement prior to the 2019 season, and was one-half of the "Boston TE Party" before Aaron Hernandez (see "Notorious figures" below) was released. He is the second-youngest of the five Gronkowski brothers (Gordie Jr., Dan, Chris, and Glenn). On the field, Gronkowski is known for his unusual size - at 6'6" and around 250 lbsnote  he can go up for passes that other players can't get their hands on, block elite defensive ends, and shrug off tackles. It's often joked that Gronk is Brady's Lancer. Off-field, Gronk was known for his hard-partying ways, although he's done less of that over the years.
  • Marvin Harrison is #2 in most career receiving categories behind only Jerry Rice. Spent most of his career as Peyton Manning's go-to guy in Indianapolis. His career was derailed by injuries towards the end and he retired following a shooting incident outside a Philadelphia business which he owned that resulted in the death of a man. The controversy surrounding this incident may have contributed to his initial exclusion from the Hall of Fame (as the body of work over his career should have made his case immediately), but in 2016, his third year of eligibility, he was finally inducted.
  • Michael Irvin was one of "The Triplets" with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, both of whom are listed above. "The Playmaker" was arguably the game's best wide receiver from 1991-1996, putting up huge numbers with the run heavy Cowboys. His career ended on a horrific neck injury in Philadelphia in 1999, where in a remarkable act of poor sportsmanship the fans booed as he was carted off the field.
  • Calvin Johnson was considered the top wide receiver of his time in the NFL, with a freakish combination of size and speed that made him almost impossible to cover. He was 6'5"/1.96m and 238lb./108kg, which is nearly as large as many NFL tight ends, but also boasted a 4.35-second 40-yard dash time note . This, combined with his jumping ability and massive hands made him a walking Unblockable Attack at times, able to routinely come down with receptions over two and sometimes even three defenders. Nicknamed "Megatron", in 2012 Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards with one game left to go, leading to speculation that he could become the first to ever record 2,000 receiving yards in a season, as he had recorded at least 100 yards in each of the last eight games (also an NFL record) and needed only 108 to reach 2,000; however, he was held to just 72 in his final game and fell short of that mark. Critics were quick to note that while Rice set those records playing for a perennial playoff contender, Johnson plays for the woeful Detroit Lions and therefore gets more opportunities for receptions (since teams tend to pass more when they're trying to come from behind and run the ball more when they've got a lead), but regardless of circumstances, his talent was undeniable. Retired after the 2015 season, despite only being 30 years old, ostensibly due to the immense punishment that his body absorbed throughout his career. During the 2017 offseason, he admitted what some had theorized—similarly to Barry Sanders, he was tired of suffering through said punishment for a Lions team that wasn't contending for the playoffs.
  • Quintorris Lopez Jones, better known as Julio Jones, is a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. Seeking a spark to their passing game, the Falcons traded a massive haul of draft picks (including two 1st round picks) to the Cleveland Browns in order to select Jones #6 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. In 2015, Jones amassed 1871 yards, the second highest total in NFL history (behind only the aforementioned Calvin Johnson).
  • Steve Largent was a wide receiver for the 1976 Seattle Seahawks expansion team and became the first true superstar of the franchise. He played for thirteen years and retired with almost every career receiving record on the books; it was his bad luck that Jerry Rice came along only a few years behind to break almost every single one. Largent was fairly small and not particularly fast, but had incredibly sure hands and could read pass defenses like a book. After football, he went on to serve four terms as a US Representative from Oklahoma.
  • Randy Moss was a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers. He had the distinction of being the top target for the two then-highest scoring teams of all time (the 1998 Vikings and the 2007 Patriots, although the Patriots record was broken by the 2013 Denver Broncos), and currently holds the record for touchdown receptions by a rookie (17, 1998) and most TD receptions in a season overall (23, 2007). He is 3rd in most of the all-time stats behind the also retired Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. Known as a loose cannon prior to joining New England; in Minnesota he openly admitted to coasting during games and smoking weed, hit a traffic cop with his car, and fake mooned the fans in Green Bay after scoring a touchdown. note  During the 2010 season, he was part of a bizarre rollercoaster of trades/releases/signings that saw him traded back to Minnesota... for all of one month, after which he was waived and picked up by Tennessee. He then retired before the next season began, only to unretire a little over a year later. He played one final season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, and was voted into the Hall of Fame at his first chance in 2018, joining Largent and Rice as the only modern-era WRs to be inducted in their first year of eligibility. Now works as an analyst for ESPN.
  • Ozzie Newsome was a tight end for the Cleveland Browns, and after his playing career served as general manager of the Baltimore Ravens until retiring from that role after the 2018 season.
  • Marcus Pollard was a tight end best known for his time with the Indianapolis Colts where he served as one of early-career Peyton Manning's favorite targets. While the aforementioned Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Jimmy Graham are more famous for it, Pollard is the Trope Maker for converted basketball players making the jump to become NFL tight ends. Pollard played power forward for the tiny Bradley University in Illinois, a school which last played football in the 1970 season—more than a year before he was born (February 1972).
  • Terrell Owens is a wide receiver who, alongside Randy Moss, sits just behind Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison in most of the all-time receiving stats. He's well known for his outspoken egotistical behavior. He's played for the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cincinnati Bengals, and each time his personal behavior has overshadowed his immense talent. Off the field, he's best known for alienating just about every quarterback that played with him - in San Francisco, he questioned Jeff Garcia's sexuality; in Philly, he feuded with Donovan McNabb. In Dallas, he ultimately accused Tony Romo of conspiring to keep him out of the offense... and Romo was the first QB who actually tolerated T.O.'s antics. He didn't do too much damage in Buffalo, but that's mostly because he was gone after one year. He did have a pretty good year in Cincy (top 5 in most receiving stats). He was passed over for Canton in his first two years on the ballot, but got in alongside Moss in 2018 following significant fan and media outcry.
  • Jerry Rice is the current all-time leader in receiving yards, all-purpose yardsnote , catches and touchdowns, most famously playing for the San Francisco 49ers during their dominant years. He also played for Oakland and Seattle. He was going to try to play for Denver, but he would not have been guaranteed a spot among the top three wide receivers, so he retired instead. Played for 20 years, won 3 Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP award and an AFC championship, as well as being the first receiver in NFL history with more than 1000 catches. If there's a record that is held by a wide receiver, chances are he holds it. NFL.com placed him at #1 on their list of 100 greatest NFL players.
  • Shannon Sharpe is considered one of the greatest receiving tight ends of all time. He spent most of his career with the Denver Broncos and was one of the featured weapons during their two Super Bowl years. He then joined the Ravens for a two-year stint, during which he won another Super Bowl ring. He was also very well-known for his trash talking. Following his retirement, he joined CBS Sports as an analyst for nearly a decade. As of 2016, he joined Skip Bayless on the Fox Sports 1 "hot take" show, Undisputed.
    • When Shannon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he stated that his big brother Sterling Sharpe was the better player. Sterling's career as a wide receiver was shortened by a neck injury in 1994.
  • Steve Smith Sr. is a former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens receiver who played from 2001-2016. While his numbers themselves were quietly impressive (he currently ranks 7th all-time in receiving yards and all-purpose yardage), he is perhaps best known for these impressive numbers despite standing only 5'9" in an era where many top receivers are 6' to 6'4" and sometimes even taller. He was nonetheless extremely strong and physical for his size, often taking on larger defenders in collisions and winning - not to mention very fast. A well-known trash talker, he was in his younger days infamous for having a Hair-Trigger Temper and often got into trouble for fighting with his own teammates in practices. He mellowed out in his 30s... a bit, and after his release in 2014 by the Panthers, who were undergoing a youth movement, went on to play three more years for the Baltimore Ravens. note  His retirement letter sent to the commissioner read thus: "Dear Commissioner Goodell: This is to notify you that as of today, I, Steve Smith Sr., will no longer be antagonizing defensive backs."
    • Speaking of his trash talk, perhaps an even more famous instance came when he was playing college ball at Utah. After the Utes scored a fourth-quarter TD in their rivalry game at BYU (which they went on to win), a (male) cheerleader ran along the BYU sideline waving a large "U" flag. A BYU fan ran onto the field and tackled the cheerleader, who turned and beat him up until security came. Smith then taunted BYU fans by yelling "Even our cheerleaders are kicking your ass!"
  • Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Terry Bradshaw era. Being on the same team interfered with their individual stats to an extent, and they never put up the same kind of numbers that some other dominant receivers of the era did, but they were an integral part of the Steelers dynasty. Swann played one of the best games of his career during Super Bowl X, becoming the first wide receiver to win the MVP award in a Super Bowl. Stallworth may be best known for his performance in Super Bowl XIV. Both made the Hall of Fame, Stallworth one year after Swann.
  • Jason Witten is a tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys for whom he is the franchise's all-time leading receiver and trails only Tony Gonzalez in career receptions and receiving yards by a TE in NFL history. He initially retired following the 2017 season and was thrust immediately into the Monday Night Football booth by ESPN, who were looking to replicate the success CBS was having with Witten's former Cowboys teammate, Tony Romo. After drawing near-unanimous negative reviews as a commentator (with most criticism calling him dull and humdrum), Witten left ESPN and returned to the Cowboys for the 2019 season, then the Raiders in 2020.

     Offensive Linemen 
  • William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was an All-American guard at Yale in the late 1800s and is considered the first ever professional football player. In the 1960s, a page from an 1892 accounting ledger for the Allegheny Athletic Association was found and showed a payment of $500 to Heffelfinger to play for the team. (About $13,000 in today's money.) He played only two games before going on to become a college head coach.

  • Larry Allen was a massive guard best known for his time with the Dallas Cowboys. A fantastic run blocker, Allen paved the way for some of Emmitt Smith's greatest seasons and helped the Cowboys secure their third Super Bowl win in the 1990s. Allen made 11 Pro Bowls and is one of the few players to be named to multiple NFL "All-Decade" teams, appearing on both the 1990s team and the 2000s team. After finishing his career with the San Francisco 49ers, Allen would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
  • Walter Jones is widely regarded as one of the best left tackles to ever play the game. A Hall of Famer, he played for the Seattle Seahawks for 11 years. He was selected for the Pro Bowl nine times and was a major contributor to the dominant offensive line performance that led Shaun Alexander to dominance as a running back.
  • Jason Kelce is the starting center for the Philadelphia Eagles, selected in the sixth round (191st overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft, but couldn't actually sign or practice with them until the year's lockout was resolved in July. He has been starting center ever since, despite lacking "true NFL size", making him the pro football equivalent of a Pint-Size Powerhouse at roughly 6'2½"/190cm. He has been instrumental in solidifying the Eagles' offensive line during several playoff runs, and is a three-time Pro Bowler, as well as three-time first-team All-Pro. In the locker room, he's particularly known for his penchant for fiery, impassioned (sometimes impromptu) speeches to motivate all members of the organization. But what the rest of the team, city, and even the league, remember him for is during the Eagles' Super Bowl parade, where he spent the length of the parade gallivanting up and down the parade route singing and dancing, culminating in a blistering, profanity laden speech at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, all the while dressed up in bright and colorful mummer regalia. Even a local brewery took notice, crafting an IPA using his name and parade likeness, with his blessing.note 
  • Bruce Matthews was an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans. He is widely regarded as one of the best in history, as his 14 consecutive Pro Bowls (an NFL record) will attest. He was incredibly durable and versatile, getting named an all-pro at tackle, guard and center. He is part of the Matthews dynasty; uncle to Clay Matthews III (found below under "Defensive Players"), and father to Kevin and Jake Matthews (Kevin a center for the Carolina Panthers and Jake a tackle for the Atlanta Falcons).
  • Anthony Muñoz was ranked #12 on NFL Network's top 100 greatest players list, the highest of all offensive linemen. He played almost his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals (he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of his career but was released before the season started) who selected him #3 overall in the 1980 NFL Draft. An 11-time Pro Bowler, you will often hear his name mentioned in any debate of "who is the greatest offensive lineman". Due to an injury from his playing days, his pinky finger now bends outward at a 90-degree angle.
  • Jonathan Ogden was the first ever draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens, who selected him #4 overall in 1996. Standing at over 6'9", he is the tallest player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but was something of a Gentle Giant on the field, frequently seen smiling and joking with other players. An 11-time Pro Bowler, Ogden is definitely in consideration as one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time. Interesting footnote - Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome had to convince Ravens owner Art Modell to allow him to select Ogden as Modell preferred Nebraska RB Lawrence Phillips. (See "Notorious Players" below.)
  • Michael Oher was an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, and Carolina Panthers. He had a solid if unspectacular NFL career (though he did win a Super Bowl with the Ravens), but is best known as the main subject of the 2006 Michael Lewis book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which was adapted into the 2009 film The Blind Side.
  • Orlando Pace is another name mentioned amongst the greatest offensive linemen of all time. A member of both the college and pro football Halls of Fame, he was the #1 overall pick of the 1997 NFL draft (after not allowing a sack in his final two college seasons and finishing 4th in Heisman voting, unheard of for an offensive lineman in the modern era). He was as big a part of the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" success as anyone else, keeping Kurt Warner upright and opening running lanes for Marshall Faulk.
  • Art Shell was the Hall of Fame tackle for the Oakland (later Los Angeles) Raiders from the late 1960s into the early 1980s, winning two Super Bowls and being named to eight Pro Bowls. Shell is perhaps even more famous for becoming the first black head coach in the modern era of NFL history (and only the second overall). Shell led the team to a winning record in five of his six years during his initial run as head coach, including winning the AP Coach of the Year award in 1990. Owner Al Davis infamously fired Shell after a 9-7 season, which Davis later admitted was a mistake. Shell would get a second stint as Raiders head coach in 2006, but would be fired after one abysmal season.
  • Joe Thomas is an offensive tackle who spent his entire career with the Cleveland Browns. Drafted #3 overall in 2007, Thomas played every single offensive snap from his first game in 2007 until suffering a season-ending torn triceps in Week 7 of the 2017 season. He then surprised everybody by deciding to retire during the 2018 offseason. Thomas leaves behind an immense legacy, most notably as one of only 5 players in NFL history to be named to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls. Unfortunately, despite his immense talent and individual successes, the Browns were the worst team in the league over the span of his career. Thomas nonetheless embraced Cleveland, making the area his full-time home, and he got his often-expressed wish of playing his entire career as a Brown and doing his part in turning the team into a contender (even if the team's management couldn't help him out).
  • Alejandro Villanueva is an offensive tackle with the Steelers who emerged in 2017 as one of the most unlikely NFL stars of recent decades. How unlikely? For starters, he's a Spanish military brat, born in Mississippi while his naval officer father was assigned with NATO. His father's military career then took him to Rhode Island, back to Spain, and then to NATO headquarters in Belgium, where he attended a US-run high school for NATO brats and was first exposed to American football. From there, he went to West Point, where he played three different positions (defensive end, offensive tackle, and finally wide receiver) and grew to 6'9" (2.06 m for metric folks). Villanueva then took a commission in the U.S. Army and joined the Army Rangers, serving three tours of duty in Afghanistan and earning a Bronze Star. He attended an NFL regional combine during a 2014 leave period and was signed by the Eagles, with the Army giving him its blessing to put his military career on hold. The Eagles signed him as an defensive end, but cut him in training camp. The Steelers signed him little more than a week later, switching him to the O-line; he remained on the practice squad that season and made the main roster in 2015. He was mediocre at best in his first season, but got far better in his second, becoming the anchor of their line. His improvement continued in 2017 as he earned a starting Pro Bowl berth (admittedly aided by the injury to Joe Thomas, seeing that the two played in the same division). Villanueva made his biggest headlines, however, during the 2017 national anthem protests. Before their game that season at the Chicago Bears, the Steelers decided not to take the field during the anthem in an attempt to avoid controversy; however, due to a misunderstanding, he went out to the middle of the tunnel instead of being with his teammates in the locker room. While he got a small bit of criticism, his action led to his uniform briefly becoming the league's biggest seller.
  • Mike Webster was the center for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their heyday years of the "Steel Curtain" in the 1970s. After his retirement, Webster began suffering from amnesia, dementia, depression, and such intense pain that he would at times use a taser to get himself to sleep. Eventually, he filed a disability claim with the NFL, claiming his time in the league led to his disabilities. After being evaluated by Webster's and the NFL's own doctors, the claim was upheld, and he began to receive disability payments until his death in 2002. It was the first time the NFL admitted that league play could result in disability, although that would not be made public until over a decade later. After Webster's death, an examination of his brain found that he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that until that time had only been previously linked to boxers and jockeys. Further studies of other NFL players (many, like Webster, suffered from cognitive disability, but others had mental problems so severe they led them to commit suicide) led even more discoveries of CTE, and in the public outcry that followed, led the NFL to re-evaluate its policies regarding head trauma. The NFL is still trying to save face as more facts continue to come to light showing how long and how diligently the league tried to deflect the problem (in some government hearings, the league was compared to the cigarette industry, and the tactics it used). The film Concussion is in part a dramatization of Webster's story, from the point of view from the doctor who discovered his CTE. note 
  • Marshall Yanda was a Guard who has played for the Baltimore Ravens since joining the NFL since 2007. Despite such accolades as making 6 consecutive Pro Bowls from 2011-2016 (he suffered a broken ankle and missed most of 2017, breaking the streak) placing well in various lists and rankings, and being widely considered the best active player at his position, he didn't get much attention until the 2019 season. The Ravens, behind quarterback Lamar Jackson had a breakout year with a record setting running attack. Yanda, as the centerpiece of the offensive line that supported said running attack, has finally gotten some time in the spotlight. He opted to retire early in the 2020 offseason.
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     Defensive Players 
  • Chuck Bednarik was a starter at both offensive center and linebacker, drafted 1st overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1949, for whom he played for his entire career, choosing to do so during a time when the one-platoon system had long been phased out of football at all organized levels. As a result, he would later become known as the last of the "60-Minute Men", as, not only was he on the field for all 60 minutes of every game, but #60 proceeded to earn numerous Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors for his dominant play at both positionsnote  throughout his career. He won two NFL Championships with the Eagles, one in 1949 during his rookie season, and again in 1960 against the rising force of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers; in fact, his tackle of Jim Taylor as time ran out was what sealed the game for the Birds, handing Lombardi his only-ever playoff loss as a head coach. After his retirement following the 1962 season, he went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and was named to both the NFL 1950s All-Decade team and the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Two-Way team. His numbers note  might not pop out at you compared to other Hall-of-Fame caliber players, but his impact on the gridiron was very much felt in more ways than one. A blue-collar Pennsylvanian to the bone, his nickname was "Concrete Charlie", which came from his business of selling concrete during the offseason, and not actually from his reputation of being one of the most devastating tacklers of all time, although Bednarik was certainly, as sportswriter Hugh Brown famously remarked, "as hard as the concrete he sells."
  • Mel Blount played for the dominant Steelers teams of the 1970s. He is considered one of the best defensive backs of all time and his style of play was so ruthlessly effective that he inspired the "Mel Blount Rule", which limited how a defender could play on a receiver, making passing much easier and heralding the beginning of the pass-oriented era of the NFL it remains to this day.
  • Dick Butkus was the Hall of Fame middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was by far the greatest linebacker of the era, and is in the running for the best ever - he once made a Sports Illustrated cover as "The Most Feared Man in the Game". He had incredible speed, strength, and instinct. Bet you aren't making fun of his name now, right?
  • Aaron Donald is a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams. Significantly undersized for the position (listed "officially" at 6'1", 282 lb), Donald received little NFL attention despite a dominant college career at Pitt. That all changed when he put up one of the greatest Senior Bowl performances (both in practices and the game) of all time, destroying opposing offensive linemen from every level of the sport. He followed it up with a monster combine performance that propelled him into high 1st round consideration. Drafted by the Rams #13 overall, he rewarded them by winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and then, three years later, back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards.
  • Joe Greene was a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and the cornerstone of the "Steel Curtain" defense. The fact that he was called "Mean" Joe Greene tells you all you need to know about his on-the-field ruthlessness. He's probably best known for this Coca-Cola commercial. Cool fact: According to some sources, his alma mater, North Texas, changed its athletic nickname to "Mean Green" specifically to honor him.
  • Charles Haley was a linebacker/defensive end who played for the 49ers and Cowboys in the late 80s/early 90s. He became the first player in league history with five Super Bowl ringsnote  (a feat later matched, then surpassed, by Tom Brady), and holds the Super Bowl record for sacks. Known as a disruptive player in both senses of the word: he wreaked havoc against opponents on the field, and would go on destructive tirades against his own team in the locker room (he was later diagnosed, unsurprisingly, with bipolar disorder).
  • James Harrison is a hard-hitting linebacker who made his name during a long career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and finished his career with the New England Patriots. An unheralded draft pick out of Kent State, he worked his way up to become one of the most dominating defenders in the league. He won the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award over Ware. He once held the record for the longest play in Super Bowl history- during Super Bowl XLIII, he picked off a pass from Kurt Warner on his own goal line and ran it back 100 yards to score a touchdown. (Jacoby Jones broke this record in SB XLVII by running the second half kickoff from eight yards deep in his own end zone to the other end of the field.) He's probably currently better known for his frequent instances of "Foot-In-Mouth Disease" than anything. Among other things, he's called out Ben Roethlisberger over the Super Bowl XLV loss and he called league commissioner Roger Goodell a homophobic slur in response to getting fined for hits on other players that are against new NFL rules against helmet-to-helmet contact to limit injury. (He also threatened retirement over the same rules.) Spent most of his career playing for the Steelers, with whom he won two Super Bowls, before signing with division rival the Bengals in 2013.note  Was released after that season, and then retired just before the start of the 2014 season—but came back to the Steelers after one of their linebackers was lost for the season to injury. His continued high level of play since then, in a position known for high wear and tear, has earned him the nickname "The Ageless One". Shortly before the end of the 2017 season, the Steelers released him again, with the Pats picking him up for their postseason run four days later. Harrison then retired again, apparently for good, during the 2018 offseason.
  • Rodney Harrison was an incredibly hard-hitting safety for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots (with whom he won two Super Bowl rings). He is the first player in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. Fun fact: he was the guy who injured Trent Green, the quarterback whom Kurt Warner was backing up. Second fun fact: He was the guy holding David Tyree's right arm, forcing him to catch the ball against his helmet in the New York Giants entry noted below.
  • Ed "Too Tall" Jones was a defensive end selected #1 overall by the Dallas Cowboys and would be a franchise cornerstone during their 1970s dynasty. Jones received his nickname because, at 6'9", he was considered to be "too tall" to play football and started college on a basketball scholarship before focusing on football full time.
  • Deacon Jones was a defensive end who most famously played for the Los Angeles Rams in the '60s and '70s. Considered one of the greatest pass rushers ever, he coined the term 'sack' in its current usage, and is believed by many NFL historians to unofficially have the most sacks by any player (career or an individual season both); however, these sacks are unofficial, as they all occurred before the NFL started going over its records to make it an official stat in 1982. Jones' signature move, the "Head Slap", involved whacking the opposing lineman in the head with his forearm and running around him while he was dazed; it was so effective that the NFL eventually outlawed it. Died on June 3, 2013. Later that same month, the NFL finally announced the creation of an official yearly award for the league lead in sacks - named, of course, after Deacon Jones.
  • Cortez Kennedy was a defensive tackle who played for the Seattle Seahawks over eleven years throughout the '90s. He is best known for having been selected as the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in a season where Seattle went 2-14, by far the worst performance by any team whose player has been so honored. It makes for a sharp contrast in an era where Heisman Trophies are given to the QB or RB of the national champion almost by default to see such a dominating personal performance being recognized despite struggling aspects on other parts of the team.
  • Ray Lewis was a dominating linebacker and the face of the Baltimore Ravens from the late 90s through the 2012 season. Widely considered one of the best defensive players of all time, he's especially known as a complete defender. He's also become a bit of a meme due to his Shatner-esque style of answering interview questions. He retired in 2013 after winning his second Super Bowl with the Ravens, and entered Canton at his first chance in 2018. More infamously, Lewis was at the center of a murder trial in 2000 after a fight broke out between a group of Lewis' friends and another group of people at a Super Bowl party. Two people from the other group were stabbed to death. Lewis was arrested and indicted on murder and aggravated-assault charges. Lewis gave a misleading statement to police on the morning after the killings (initially telling them that he was not at the scene). Additionally, pieces of evidence, including the allegedly blood-stained suit that Lewis was wearing the night of the murders, went missing. Lewis' attorneys would eventually negotiate a plea agreement with the District Attorney where the murder charges against Lewis were dismissed in exchange for his testimony against his friends. Lewis was ultimately charged only with obstruction of justice and sentenced to 12 months probation. (His associates would later be acquitted of the murder charge. No other suspects have ever been arrested for the incident.)
  • Bob Lilly, aka "Mr. Cowboy", the first NFL draft pick and first Hall of Famer for the Dallas Cowboys. A cornerstone of the "Doomsday Defense", he missed only one game over the course of his career. Famous for throwing his helmet half the length of the field when Dallas lost Super Bowl V on the last play, although they finally won Super Bowl VI the next year. Selected 1st team All-Pro seven times, sharing the title for most for selections as a defensive tackle with:
  • Ronnie Lott is perhaps the greatest all-around defensive back ever. He won four Super Bowl rings with the 49ers, played every position in the defensive backfield and was a Pro Bowler at all three. Famous for amputating part of his left pinkie rather than opt for surgery that would sideline him.
  • John Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl safety with Tampa Bay and later Denver. Lynch played both baseball and football while in college at Stanford and was drafted by Major League Baseball's Florida Marlins in their inaugural season (actually throwing the first pitch in the organization's history). When legendary head coach Bill Walsh (see above) took over as head coach at Stanford, he called Lynch and convinced him to return to football. Lynch struggled initially after being drafted by Tampa, relegated to mostly backup and special teams roles. However, when Tony Dungy took over as coach, Lynch made for a perfect fit in the "Tampa 2" defense and quickly became a star. Lynch went into broadcasting after his playing career and, surprisingly, was hired as the General Manager of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 despite having no front office experience.
  • Khalil Mack is a pass rushing linebacker for the Chicago Bears. After primarily playing quarterback in high school, as well as being a basketball player, Mack tore his patellar tendon. He switched to linebacker for his senior year and dominated, but his lack of experience at the position led to him getting only one FBS scholarship - the State University of New York at Buffalo, not exactly a powerhouse school. After a college career setting virtually every school record for a defensive player (and a few NCAA records, including career tackles for loss and forced fumbles), Mack was selected with the #5 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders. He quickly became one of the league's best defenders, winning Defensive Player of the Year in his third season, and started every game in each of his first four seasons. However, during the final year of his rookie contract, Mack staged a lengthy offseason holdout seeking to become one of the highest paid defensive players in football. The Raiders were unwilling to offer him such a contract (and according to some sources, could not, as the team was cash-strapped after giving $100 million + deals to QB Derek Carr and head coach Jon Gruden). Reluctantly, the team listened to trade offers and the Bears offered the most (two 1st round draft picks and an exchange of lower round picks). Chicago immediately gave Mack the contract he was seeking, making him the highest paid defensive player in league history.
  • Clay Matthews III, also known as "The Predator", "The Claymaker", and "Thor" is a linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams who made his name with the Green Bay Packers. Matthers established himself as one of the most dominating defenders in the NFL after just two years in the league. He was named for several rookie accolades, including NFC Defensive Rookie Of The Year in 2009 and finished a narrow second in the voting for Defensive Player Of The Year in 2010. After 10 seasons in Green Bay, he became a free agent and signed with the Rams after the 2018 season. He, along with his brother and cousins, are third-generation NFL players and part of a vast football family that has included his grandfather Clay Sr. (linebacker, 49ers), his father Clay Jr. (linebacker, Browns and Falcons) and his uncle (and Kevin's father) Bruce (Hall of Fame offensive lineman, Oilers and Titans). His younger brother Casey is a linebacker for the Eagles. His cousins Kevin and Jake are lineman: Kevin for the Titans (where his father was the offensive line coach) and more recently the Panthers, and Jake for the Falcons, where he was drafted 6th overall in 2014 (Clay and Jake played a thrilling Monday Night Game against each other that year). One more cousin, Mike Matthews, is a lineman for Texas A&M University. Clay is perhaps best known for his performance in Super Bowl XLV, where he forced a game-changing fumble at the start of the fourth quarter in what is often called the best play of the game.
  • Ray Nitschke was a hard-hitting Hall of Fame linebacker who spent his entire 15-year career with the Packers. While arriving in Green Bay in 1958, he didn't become a full-time starter until 1962. Once he secured a starting spot, he became the centerpiece of a Packers defense that won four NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls (the team also won an NFL title when he was still a spot starter). While he played in only one Pro Bowl, he made All-Pro teams seven times in all, and made both the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1960s and the league's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994. Nitschke also dabbled in acting, appearing in Head during his career and the original version of The Longest Yard after his retirement.
  • Merlin Olsen was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who played his entire 15-year career with the Rams. Olsen made an immediate impact upon his arrival in L.A. from Utah State in 1962, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. The next season, he became, along with Deacon Jones, part of the Rams' original "Fearsome Foursome". Olsen went on to make eight All-Pro teams and 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, only missing out on the Pro Bowl in his final season of 1976. Like Jones, he made the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team, and also made the league's All-Decade Teams for both the 1960s and 1970s. After his retirement, he became a successful NFL broadcaster, serving as NBC's lead NFL color commentator through the late 1980s. He also enjoyed noticeable success as an actor, playing a major supporting role in Little House on the Prairie for four seasons and the lead in Father Murphy, and also spent many years as the commercial spokesman for FTD Flowers.
  • Alan Page was an eleven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and first-ballot Hall of Famer who was the first Defensive Player to win a MVP award and, as a lineman, blocked an impressive 15 field goal attempts. After football, he became a prominent attorney and sat on the Minnesota Supreme Court for more than 20 years (1993–2015), leaving only because he had reached the state's mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges.
  • Troy Polamalu was a hard-hitting safety who spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers until retiring after the 2014 season. He was well-known as a game-changer - the seasons he missed due to injury were often ones where the Steelers stayed home during the postseason. He's also well-known for his very long hair (out of respect for his Samoan ancestry), which has gotten him in trouble with league officials every once in a while.note  In one infamous hair-related incident, Larry Johnson, then of the Chiefs, pulled him down by his hair during an interception return. He's also well-liked among Orthodox Christians for being one of very few Eastern Orthodox public figures to display and discuss his faith publicly. If you paid close attention, you would notice he makes the Sign of the Cross up-down-right-left before plays, as opposed to the western style of up-down-left-right. Polamalu was later the head of player relations for the Alliance of American Football, a spring league that started play in February 2019 but folded that April.
  • Ed Reed was a free safety who played primarily with the Baltimore Ravens. Best known for his ability to read most quarterbacks like a book (a common saying associated with him was that "70 percent of the earth is covered by water, the other 30 is covered by Ed Reed), and for making a NFL record 107 yard interception for a touchdown versus the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2008 season. This is especially notable since the previous record, 106 yards, was also held by Ed Reed. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame at his first chance in 2019.
  • Darrelle Revis was a cornerback who played 11 years in the league. During his first tenure with the Jets (2007-2012), Revis was known as "Revis Island" because of his ability to singlehandedly cover even the best wide receivers. Revis missed the 2012 season due to injuries, and after the Jets' season ended, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before signing with the New England Patriots as a free agent before the 2014 season. He won Super Bowl XLIX with the Patriots, then signed with the Jets in 2015 after New England chose not to pick up his option. Revis was released from the Jets in March 2017 due to his declining play as a result of his injuries and age. He retired in 2018 after signing a ceremonial contract with the Jets.
  • Deion Sanders was a very skilled cornerback, most famously playing for San Francisco and Dallas. Nicknamed "Prime Time". He was so fast that he could usually make up for getting burned by catching up to receivers during the time the ball took to get there, and he was widely recognized as "shutting down" his side of the field - that is, he was so skilled that opposing teams wouldn't even throw to the guy he was covering. Also known for craving the spotlight, being a dangerous punt returner, and having poor tackling skills. He occasionally played wide receiver for the Cowboys, mostly due to Michael Irvin's drug habits, and over his career scored touchdowns in six different ways (kickoff return, punt return, interception return, fumble recovery, receiving and rushing), making him one of only two men to score in all six ways (along with Bill Dudley who played in the 40's and 50's). Like Bo Jackson, he played in the NFL and MLB, and had a perfectly decent, albeit unspectacular, career as a journeyman outfielder. So far, he is the first and only man to play in both the Super Bowl and World Series (winning the Super Bowl twice — once for the 49ers and once for the Cowboys — and playing for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series).
  • Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were two top-drafted players by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who helped turn the team into a Super Bowl champ. Sapp worked as one of the most disruptive - and noisiest - defensive linemen of the 90s, while Brooks was the best tackling and pass-defending linebacker of the day. Both are first-ballot Hall of Fame inductees.
  • Richard Sherman is a cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers who originally made his name with the Seattle Seahawks, as part of their Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" secondary (considered one of the greatest secondary groups in NFL history). Known for his brash and outspoken attitude, Sherman gained attention in October 2012 when, after the Seahawks defeated the Patriots, he tweeted a picture of himself yelling at Tom Brady, with the caption, "U MAD BRO?" over Sherman's head. After the Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013-14 NFC Championship Game thanks to an interception in the end zone made possible by Sherman tipping the ball, his fiery postgame interview in which he dissed Niners wide receiver Michael Crabtree (the intended target of the aforementioned intercepted pass) gained him even more attention. Due to a combination of injuries and declining play, Sherman was let go by Seattle and signed with former hated rival San Francisco. Sherman made it clear that his animosity toward the 49ers wasn't toward the actual organization, but to then-head coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached Sherman in college at Stanford. Harbaugh told Sherman that he "quit on the team" when he opted to have season ending surgery for an injury, then reduced Sherman's playing time the following season which Sherman blames for his slide to the 5th round on draft day. Sherman recovered from the injuries and returned to Pro Bowl form during his stint with the 49ers.
  • Mike Singletary was the Hall of Fame middle linebacker for the Bears during the 1980s, including the leader of the vaunted 1985 Super Bowl winning defense (which is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest defenses of all time). Known for his intensity, Singletary was named Defensive Player of the Year twice, voted to 10 pro bowls, and was elected to the 1980s All-Decade team. He went on to become the extremely intense, though less successful, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Bruce Smith is officially the all-time leading sack specialist of the NFL - he holds the career sack record with 200 quarterback sacks. He played for the Buffalo Bills during their reign as 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-ups.
  • Michael Strahan is a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the New York Giants. His last season was the one where they upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He currently owns the single season sack record with 22.5. He also has a huge, enormous gap in his teeth. After his retirement in 2007, he joined the analyst team for Fox NFL Sunday, remaining with that show through 2017. When Fox gained the rights to the Thursday night package in 2018, he was switched to the Fox NFL Thursday team, in part to accommodate his growing list of non-football live TV shows. First, he co-hosted the morning television talk show Live! alongside Kelly Ripa, replacing long-time co-host Regis Philbin,note  from 2012 to 2016, when he left (amid rumors of friction on the set) to become co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America. Also in 2016, he became host of the current version of the Pyramid game show. Most recently, in 2018 he became co-host of a daytime GMA spinoff, now known as Strahan, Sara and Keke, while still cohosting GMA.
  • Jack Tatum was a hard-hitting safety for the 1970s Oakland Raiders nicknamed "The Assassin". He's (in)famous for paralyzing Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during the 1978 preseason (Stingley died years later from complications of the injury). He often said his best hits "bordered on felonious assault." He was the Raiders defender involved in Pittsburgh's famous "Immaculate Reception".
  • Lawrence Taylor was at one time the most dominating defender in the NFL. The two-tight end offensive set was invented just because of this guy. He's also the player who laid out a gigantic hit on Redskins QB Joe Theismann which broke his leg and ended his pro career. To his credit, it was a legal hit (and still would be even under today's much more stringent rules) and Taylor immediately called for help after he realized what had happened, but expect the highlight reels to omit that (even worse, many fans and even some players mistook his frantic "get over here" gestures to the trainers as a mocking celebration of the hit). He also received the MVP award for his performance in the 1986 season, becoming only the second (and most recent) defensive player (after Alan Page) to do so.
  • Sean Taylor was a safety for the Washington Redskins, known primarily for his freakish athleticism and for being one of the most vicious tacklers in the league, frequently separating footballs and helmets from offensive players by way of sheer force. His early career, as is the case for a lot of players of his makeup, was fraught with personal foul penalties and peppered with a legal issue here and there. By 2007, however, it seemed that he had finally gotten his head on straight. Known as a soft-spoken family man off the field and an intimidating enforcer on it, he was on his way to an all-pro performance, when an injury cut his season short. After returning home to Miami to recover from his injury, he was the victim of an attempted burglary, shot in the leg while trying to protect his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter. He would later die from his injuries, aged 24, without having achieved the peak of his potential, becoming perhaps one of the greatest and saddest examples of What Could Have Been in NFL history. note  To this day, many defensive backs will try to wear #21 (or #26/#36, his collegiate and NFL rookie numbers, respectively) out of respect for Taylor.
  • Brian Urlacher was the Bald of Awesome middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears during the first decade of the 21st century. He was selected in the first round of the draft by the Bears after a stellar collegiate career at the University of New Mexico where he starred on both offense and defense, including both linebacker and safety on defense, as well as a kick returner. He found immediate NFL success, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, then won Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, and then led his Bears team to the Super Bowl in 2006 (which they lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts.) Urlacher was named to the Pro Bowl 8 times and was named to the 2000s All-Decade team. He continued the strong tradition in Chicago of successful middle linebackers, following in the footsteps of Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus before him. Also like Singletary and Butkus, Urlacher went into the Hall of Fame on his first try (Butkus 1979, Singletary 1998, Urlacher 2018).
  • DeMarcus Ware was a pass rushing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos. The Cowboys drafted him in the 1st round (#11 overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft out of the relatively obscure Troy University (becoming the school's first ever 1st round pick). He led the league in sacks twice, and is one of only a few players to notch a 20-sack season. (He somewhat controversially did not win Defensive Player of the Year that season, finishing a close second to the aforementioned James Harrison.) After setting the Cowboys' career sack record, he moved on to Denver as a free agent where he finally won a Super Bowl.
  • J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans is one of the most feared defensive linemen in the game today, winning Defensive Player of the Year three times in four years (2012, 2014, 2015). He posses a rare dual threat at his position, the ability to sack the quarterback, AND the ability to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage, thus earning him the nickname, "J.J. Swat". In 2012, he notched a 15 sack/15 passes defended season, an astonishing feat for a defensive lineman. In 2014, he started lining up on offense and caught three touchdown passes;note  As of Week 14 of that season, he had more than five teams had wins.note  However, he's now become something of a Glass Cannon—he missed all but three games in 2016 after offseason back surgery, and then in 2017 he suffered a season-ending broken leg in Week 5. Watt nonetheless stayed busy in the 2017 season—following the Hurricane Harvey disaster in Houston, Watt started a relief drive with $100,000 of his own money. By the time it ended, it had raised $37 million. Those charitable efforts earned him the league's Walter Payton Man of the Year award, as well as a share of Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year honors alongside Houston Astros superstar José Altuve. His charitable involvement didn't stop there. He and his wife, pro soccer player Kealia Ohai, donated $350,000 to a Houston food bank in March 2020 in response to issues stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; the donation is expected to provide over 1 million meals for needy individuals.
  • Randy White, aka "The Manster", was part of the Cowboys legendary 1975 draft and probably the best player on the "Doomsday II" defense that won Super Bowl XII (where White was co-MVP) and carried the Cowboys for years afterward. He was NFC defensive player of the year in 1978.
  • Reggie White, the feared "Minister of Defense" played as Defensive End for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers from the late '80s through the early 2000s. He briefly held the career sack record with 198 sacks, but Bruce Smith passed him 2 years after his retirement. He was a key member of the 1997 Green Bay Packers Super Bowl winning team. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players to ever play the game. Died unexpectedly only four years after retiring in 2000. Was an actual Bad Ass Preacher.
  • Charles Woodson was a cornerback (and eventual safety) with a penchant for returning interceptions for touchdowns. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year award. After being named an All-Pro in his first three seasons, he would suffer a series of injuries that led to the Raiders choosing not to re-sign him following the 2005 season. He signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 for what was supposed to be the twilight of his career. Instead, he became one of the NFL's most dominating corners, having intercepted 28 passes in his first four seasons as a Packer (he had 17 in eight years as a Raider), 8 of which he returned for touchdowns. After 2012, he signed back with the Raiders for what would actually be the twilight of his career, where he would still be a dominant safety for the next three years. He won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 when he intercepted 9 passes, returning for 3 touchdowns (both career highs). He is also (as of 2016) the only person to ever win the Heisman Trophy as a defensive player note , winning the honor over Peyton Manning. Also notable was that he was Tom Brady's teammate during his Michigan Wolverines days, and he was involved in the so-called Tuck Rule Game (the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs between Brady's Patriots and Woodson's Raiders), in which Woodson's strip-sack of Brady was overturned by the then-unknown "tuck rule"note , which was introduced in 1999 and abolished in 2013. Woodson announced his retirement after the 2015 season, his legacy and place in Canton all but secured.

     Special Teams 
  • Morten Andersen was a placekicker for five teams during his career, but is best known for his tenures with the New Orleans Saints (where he played his first 13 seasons) and Atlanta Falcons (two stints for eight seasons in all); more than a decade after his last game in 2007 (he officially retired in 2008), he's still the all-time scoring leader for both teams. He also played in Super Bowl XXXIII (33) with the Falcons. The Dane first came to the US as an exchange student in Indianapolis; after one year in Indy, he got a scholarship to Michigan State, and the rest was history. Andersen, who played until age 47, is the NFL's all-time leader in points (2,544), field goals made (565), and games played (382). Became the second full-time placekicker to make it to Canton in 2017.
  • Darren Bennett is the Trope Codifier for the increasing number of Australian punters in American football, several of whom have made it all the way to the NFL. Although he wasn't the first Aussie, or even the first Aussie punter, to play in the league, he was the first to have an extended NFL career. Bennett started out playing Australian Rules Football, making it to the sport's top tier, the Australian Football League, before trying out with the San Diego Chargers while on his honeymoon in 1993. The Chargers signed him to their practice squad and kept him there for a year before sending him to NFL Europe for the summer of 1995. Upon his return, he became the Chargers' regular punter, and earned the first of his two All-Pro selections. Bennett was named as the punter on the league's All-Decade team for the 1990s, and remained one of the league's top punters until retiring in 2005 (ending his career with the Vikings). Most notable for introducing the so-called "drop punt" to American football. Also notable for being considerably larger than most specialist kickers (6-5, 235, or 1.96 m, 107 kg), and not shying away from contact on special teams (not surprising when you consider his Aussie rules background)—during his rookie season, he knocked an opposing punt returner cold.
    • Bennett's success inspired Nathan Chapman to attempt to convert from Aussie rules to the NFL near the end of Bennett's career. Chapman couldn't crack the league, but ended up founding Prokick Australia, an academy to convert Aussie rules players to gridiron punters. Four Prokick alumni were NFL punters in 2018, and another was picked in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. On top of that, about a fourth of NCAA Division I schools (both FBS and FCS) had Prokick alums on their rosters in the 2018 season. Not to mention that as of the 2019 season, six of the last seven Ray Guy Awards for the top college punter have gone to Aussies (including the incumbent, Kentucky's Max Duffy, himself a former AFL player).
  • Pete Gogolak, aside from being the first kicker to adapt and popularize soccer-style placekicking, isn't particularly known for his career. However, he's accidentally one of the most important people in NFL history. When the NFL's New York Giants lured him away from the AFL's Buffalo Bills, they broke an unwritten rule that neither league would steal the other league's players. The Gogolak trade triggered a bidding war between NFL and AFL teams, as each rushed to grab players they previously thought were unattainable. Both leagues soon realized the fight would be costly and counterproductive for both leagues, so they instead began discussing a merger.
  • Robbie Gould is a placekicker for the San Francisco 49ers who currently ranks as the 2nd most accurate kickernote  in NFL history. He played collegiately for Penn State, where he started his career as a walk-on (not offered a scholarship out of high school), and then went undrafted in 2005. He initially signed with the New England Patriots, who already had future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri (see below) at the position. He was released during the preseason, signed by the Vikings, then released less than a month later. He worked for a construction company back home in Pennsylvania before being signed by the Bears in October 2005. He made 26 field goals in a row during the 2006 season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, and would later be made the highest-paid kicker in the NFL. After 11 seasons with the Bears, which saw him become the team's all time leading scorer, he was controversially released just prior to the start of the 2016 regular season. He caught on mid-season with the Giants (who were coming out of the Josh Brown debacle, see below under "notorious players") and made every field goal he attempted. He would then sign with the 49ers during the 2017 offseason, and would go on to have the most accurate two-season run of any kicker in league history, making 72 of 75 field goals attempted during the 2017-2018 seasons. (If you count his 10 games in 2016 with the Giants, it becomes the most accurate three-season run of any kicker in history.) The Bears, meanwhile, cycled through numerous kickers and had the least accurate FG percentage of any team in the league in that span. His last name rhymes with "gold", leading to the phrase "Good as Gould" being used by some broadcasters.
  • Lou Groza was a kicker and offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns during their run of dominance in the 1950s and 60s. He left Ohio State to serve in the US Army in World War II and was offered a contract while still enlisted by legendary Browns coach Paul Brown. He played both positions at a high level throughout the 1950s, winning "NFL Player of the Year" (a precursor award to league MVP) in 1954, a unique achievement for either a offensive tackle or a kicker. After a 10-Minute Retirement in 1960 due to back problems, he was begged to return as a pure kicker by new Browns owner Art Modell in 1961. Groza played seven more seasons, won another NFL Championship (bringing his career total to four), and retired at the ripe (even by modern standards) old age of 44. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame and, when it's stressed that Jan Stenerud (see below) was the first (and for a long while only) pure specialist inducted into the Hall of Fame, Groza (along with George Blanda above) is the reason why. The NCAA annual award for the nation's best kicker bears his name.
  • Ray Guy is considered the best punter in the history of the NFL. His punts were so good that rumors got started that the balls were full of heliumnote . Part of the reason he was such a good punter was his control over the ball - he could make it hang in the air to ensure the opposing team couldn't return it, or cause it to land near the sidelines where it was hard for the other team to retrieve. His skill as a punter didn't actually translate into great statistics, however, and for literal decades he was denied entry into the Hall of Fame. He finally got elected to it in 2014. The annual award for the best punter in college football is named for him.
  • Devin Hester is the most decorated return specialist of all time - he holds the all-time record for touchdown returns, passing Deion Sanders in 2014 note . He began his career with the Chicago Bears, signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014 (with whom he broke the record), and later played for the Ravens and Seahawks. He's also famous for being in Madden NFL 08, where he was the sole recipient of a 100 rating (on a usual 1-99 scale) for his blazing speed. He is also the only player to return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown, doing so in Super Bowl XLI.
  • Nate Kaeding is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. He has spent 8 years of his career playing for the San Diego Chargers (2004-2012), and known for having an unfortunate habit of missing important kicks in the playoffs (whether he's solely to blame for the Chargers' playoff woes is up for debate.)
  • Chris Kluwe, a punter who played for the Minnesota Vikings (incidentally succeeding the aforementioned Darren Bennett in that role), is known as much for his off field actions as he is his on field performance. Known as One of Us, Chris was a long time fan of World of Warcraft (even going by the Twitter handle ChrisWarcaft), as well as being a fan of tabletop games and various comics. Chris gained some notoriety in 2012 when he authored an open letter to a Maryland politician that had urged the Baltimore Ravens owner to silence then Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, an outspoken supporter of the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. Kluwe's letter, laced with profanity spoke in support of Brendon, while at the same time pointed out to the politician that the legalization of gay marriage would not turn him into a "lustful cockmonster" (the full letter is here). His outspoken activism on what the league considered political issues is likely what ended his NFL career: he was a good punter, but not so good that teams were likely to accept all the baggage that he brought with him. He was cut by the Vikings in the 2013 offseason, as well as the Oakland Raiders shortly before the regular season that same year. Since then, he has become a prominent speaker on many issues, including gay marriage and legalization of marijuana, and previously wrote a humor column for the sports website Deadspin. In 2016 he issued a scathing response to Donald Trump's "locker room" commentsnote , saying "I was in an NFL locker room for eight years, [...]but we never had anyone say anything as foul and demeaning as you did on that tape, and, hell, I played a couple years with a guy who later turned out to be a serial rapist.note  Even he never talked like that."
  • Shane Lechler is a punter who has been a member of two teams: the Oakland Raiders (2000-2012) and the Houston Texans (2013-present). He is considered the modern era's answer to Ray Guy.
  • If Pete Gogolak is the Ur-Example of soccer-style placekicking, Jan Stenerud may be its Trope Maker, and is certainly its Trope Codifier. The Norwegian, who came to the U.S. on a ski jumping scholarship to Montana State, first played football as a junior, and made an immediate impact, being named a small-college All-American as a senior. Going to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would play for the first 13 of his 19 pro seasons, he demonstrated once and for all the effectiveness of soccer-style kicking, connecting on 70% of his field goals in his first three seasons (also the AFL's final three seasons), in an era when average FG accuracy was just a little north of 50%. A three-time All-AFL performer and seven-time All-Pro after the merger, he became the first pure placekicker to enter the Hall of Fame in 1991.
  • Steve Tasker essentially defined the modern position of "gunner" (see the "Special Teams" folder of the main American football page for a description of the position). While he began his career with the then-Houston Oilers, he played his final 12 seasons with the Bills. Tasker's skills in that role led to a change in NFL rules—the rule that requires the punting team's gunners to stay in bounds or incur a 15-yard penaltynote  was created because of him. At times, punt return teams put three blockers on him to try to slow him down (normally, one or two blockers are used in that role). He made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player seven times, blocked a punt in a Super Bowl, and was named the Pro Bowl MVP in 1993; in that game, he made four special teams tackles, recovered a fumble, and blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
  • Justin Tucker is the placekicker for the Baltimore Ravens and currently ranks as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He went undrafted out of the University of Texas in 2012 but joined the Ravens and won the kicking job out of training camp. The Ravens would win the Super Bowl that year and Tucker has since become an "offensive weapon" for the defensive-focused Ravens in a way that few other kickers are. He can reliably make field goals out to 60 yards and his kickoffs frequently end in touchbacks, preventing return opportunities.
  • Mike Vanderjagt is another kicker famous for his accuracy, having once held the record for most accurate placekicker in NFL history (he's since been surpassed). Played with the Indianapolis Colts for most of his NFL career; Peyton Manning once referred to him as "our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off." He ended his career with a rather dismal season in Dallas after Adam Vinatieri replaced him in Indianapolis.
  • Adam Vinatieri is known as one of the better kickers in the league. He played for New England (1996-2005) during their first three Super Bowl wins and Indianapolis (2006-present) during their one Super Bowl win. He helped the Patriots win two of their three Super Bowls with field goals at the end of the games, and all three of the Patriots' Super Bowl wins were won by three points. During the 2015 season, Vinatieri became the first player ever to score 1000 points with two different teams.

     Broadcasters 
  • Howard Cosell was a commentator on ABC's Monday Night Football from 1970-84. He was well known for his colorful personality, inimitable delivery, and awful toupee. Got fired after a Never Live It Down incident when he referred to a speedy black player (Alvin Garrett) as "that little monkey".note 
  • Keith Jackson was an announcer during the AFL days and was notably replaced by Al Michaels after the first season of ABC's Monday Night Football. Outside of his experience in the NFL, he distinguished himself over a career of 50 years as the most famous college football announcer ever, with his very soothing voice and his peppering of homespun sayings in his commentary. Whoa, Nellie! note 
  • John Madden, as mentioned above, is the definitive pro football broadcaster. Madden has spent time on all four of the major networks. He also has his name on the Madden NFL series of video games. Had a charming, if somewhat... unique, commentary style and a fondness for the telestrator. He's known for a crippling fear of flying, which has been marketed to create one of his signature awards, the Madden Bus with his players-of-the-week posted on the sides. Retired from broadcasting in 2009. BOOM!!
  • Al Michaels is the current voice of NBC's Sunday Night Football, and was previously the play-by-play announcer for ABC's Monday Night Football for 20 years (the longest tenure of any broadcaster on that program). When MNF shifted to ESPN in 2006, NBC-Universal traded the legal rights of the character "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" (a character created by Walt Disney himself in the 1920s but whose rights were purchased by Universal) as well as the rights to one night of the PGA Tour Ryder Cup event and increased Olympic highlight usage to Disney (which owns ABC and ESPN) in exchange for letting Michaels out of his contract so that he could join NBC for Sunday Night Football. Yes, really. (Michaels himself was bemused by the events and compared it to a team trading a coach for draft picks.) His most famous call, however, was in another sport... "Do you believe in miracles... YES!!"
  • Pat Summerall was John Madden's regular broadcasting partner at FOX in the 1990s and 2000s. Originally a placekicker for the New York Giants in the late 1950s and early 60s, Summerall became a sportscaster in 1961 and continued to call football games up until 2002 (although he continued to occasionally work, especially in golf and tennis, up through his death in 2013). He was known for his matter-of-fact, understated style of broadcasting, which contrasted with Madden's more animated style.

     Commissioners 
  • Bert Bell was the NFL Commissioner from 1945 to 1959. Bell introduced the idea of parity in the NFL, saying that "on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team". He also introduced the NFL Draft (as well as the rules behind it), allowing struggling teams to have the first choice of the best available players coming out of college ever since.
  • Roger Goodell is the current commissioner. When he got the job, he stated that he wanted to clean up the league, since some teams have been well-known for their... somewhat illegal behavior. The other hot-button issues under his tenure have been the work stoppage and the ever-growing threat of concussions. While detractors accuse him of being too slow to address the concussion issue, his actions have been a dramatic reversal from his predecessor Tagliabue's policy of ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away. More recently, he's come under fire for his handling of the Ray Rice situation (see "Notorious Players and Coaches" below). In the spring of 2014, a grand jury indicted Rice for assaulting his fiancée (now wife), with a key piece of evidence being a hotel surveillance video showing Rice dragging her unconscious out of the elevator and dropping her on the floor. Goodell essentially took the situation at face value, suspending him for two games. Then, that September, a second video surfaced, showing that Rice had knocked her cold, and Rice was indefinitely suspended (a punishment that an arbitrator later overturned). By the end of the week, two more teams had ended up deactivating players who had also been arrested, and charged with domestic abuse cases (Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, and the Panthers' Greg Hardy). Since then, Goodell has come increasingly under fire for seemingly trying to ignore or sweep such major problems away, and then when the league is finally forced to confront them, coming up with seemingly random lengths of time for the suspension. After shutting down NFL Europe (see below) he replaced the "international outreach" aspect of it, but not the "develop players" aspect note  by starting the "International Series" which started out as a single "home" game in Wembley Stadium but has grown to three games a season and is planned to include other countries such as Mexico, Germany, or possibly China in coming years. Reactions to the International series vary. Many European fans love the chance to get a game (relatively) close to home, whereas many American fans hate losing a home game of their team and fans on the West Coast have often complained about the rather early kickoff times (as early as 6:30 AM California time).
  • Pete Rozelle was active from 1960-1989, when he led the NFL through the war with the AFL and came out as the winner. He then proceeded to build the merged league into the strongest sports entity in the country. Hunter S. Thompson knew him and had a strong dislike for him.
  • Paul Tagliabue was the commissioner between Rozelle and Goodell (1989-2006). His legacy mainly consisted of expanding on Rozelle's successes, especially through many troubles including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, making the NFL the dominant pro sports league in America. He took great pains to make sure Cleveland (specifically the Cleveland Browns) would return after Art Modell's movement of the team to Baltimore, while at the same time lost Los Angeles as an NFL market when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders moved back to Oakland (though there were many overtures, the NFL didn't return to LA until 2016 when the Rams moved back). During his tenure the NFL made the first serious attempts to expand beyond the US with the World League of American Football, later renamed to NFL Europe when it lost its North American teams. This league lost money in all its iterations and seasons but proved an amount of Football enthusiasm in Europe that was previously unthought of. Ultimately all but one team were based in Germany and Roger Goodell shut the league down almost immediately after taking office.

     Owners/Management 
  • Paul Allen owned the Seattle Seahawks from 1997 until his death in 2018, buying the team when then-owner Ken Behring made an unsuccessful gambit to move the team to California and had his public reputation plummet as a result. The sale notably took place with perhaps the shortest turnaround time of any sport team sale in history, with remarkably little due diligence to buy a franchise on the verge of bankruptcy; a Seattle native, Allen bought the team as a risky investment strictly to keep it in the northwest area. Though he could afford it. As a co-founder of Microsoft, he was by far the wealthiest team owner in the NFL (or any sport, for that matter), with a higher net worth than all other owners combined. Despite this, he had an almost invisible public persona, preferring to run team matters as he did in business: by hiring the best people to do the job and then staying out of their way. His first move was to entice star Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren to Seattle, with a free hand to reshape the team roster and operations as he saw fit. A decade later, after multiple division titles and a Super Bowl appearance, Holmgren retired and the team he built floundered in subsequent seasons. Allen hired a new general manager and superstar college coach Pete Carroll, again with a blank check. His methods were rewarded with a revitalized franchise and the team's first Super Bowl victory. Fans learned that if Paul Allen made any public statement regarding his team, no matter how calm or even-handed, it meant something had gotten ridiculously out of hand.
    • Allen also owned the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and was part of the ownership group of Seattle Sounders FC in MLS.
  • Al Davis was the one-time coach and most recent owner of the Oakland Raiders, and challenged Jerry Jones for "most hated figure in the league" until his passing in 2011; ownership of the Raiders was passed down to his widow Carol and their son Mark. Despite being a member of the Hall of Fame and once serving as commissioner of the pre-merger AFL, he was frequently caricatured by the sports media as an out-of-touch Disco Dan who made bizarre coaching/player decisions on a model of football that worked during the last period of Raiders dominance in the league (1970-1983) but has since been rendered obsolete that turned a storied franchise into a perpetual last-place finisher. Davis' stubborn refusal to adapt to the "West Coast Offense" may have been a Take That! to the San Francisco 49ers as a result of the bad blood rivalry between them. He also sued the league several times claiming anti-trust law violations.
  • The Green Bay Packers are unique in the league in that they do not have a "traditional" ownership; instead they are collectively owned by 121,012 shareholdersnote  mostly based in Green Bay and the surrounding communities. They have an Executive Committee that makes most of the traditional owner decisions, and it is the president of this committee that generally gets sent to owner meetings. The purpose behind this was twofold: when the team was strapped for cash in the pre-revenue sharing days, it allowed the team to survive without being bought or moving. Secondly, due to restrictions in the stock, they will effectively never move from Green Baynote . Much to the lament of many other teams' fans (especially the Cowboys and Raiders), this ownership setup is actually banned under current league rules (no more than 24 people can be co-owners of a team, and there has to be one person with at least a 30% share); it is allowed to continue due a Grandfather Clause.
  • George Halas, known affectionately to Bears fans as "Papa Bear", owned the Bears from 1920 until his death in 1983. In the Bears' early seasons, Halas was not only the owner, but head coach and player - appearing on both offense and defense, earning him the nickname "Mr. Everything". After retiring from playing following the 1929 season, Halas also hired a new head coach, though he would return to the sidelines for three more stints. Halas was one of the influential figures in guiding the NFL from a loose association of ever-changing teams into a stable, coherent league. He also became the first owner to be permanently memorialized on his team's uniform, with his initials "GSH" gracing the left sleeve stripes of the Bears' uniforms since 1984. The NFC Championship Trophy is named the George Halas Trophy in his honor.
  • Lamar Hunt was the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founder of the American Football League. He founded the AFL because the NFL refused to give him an expansion team in his native Dallas after their previous foray into the city crashed and burned (the original Dallas Texans lasted less than a full season in 1952, playing their final "home" game in Knoxville). So Hunt gathered like minded men who were willing to take the risk of starting a second major football league, and the AFL was born, with Hunt owning the Dallas Texans in the AFL. The NFL responded by awarding a Dallas NFL franchise to another group of owners (the instant popularity of the Cowboys led Hunt to move his team to KC, leaving the AFL without a team in the city it was created to cover, ironically). His league was known for many innovations in the game such as more open passing offenses (as opposed to the NFL's reliance on power running games) and was so improbably successful that the AFL and NFL were in an unsustainable competition for the best rookies. The rise of his league created the Super Bowl, which he named (initially the AFL-NFL World Championship Game), and forced the NFL to agree to a merger with the AFL. Today many fans believe that the NFL is much more like the AFL used to be than how the NFL used to be. Since his passing, the Chiefs have worn a special AFL commemorative patch bearing his initials in his honor. The AFC Championship Trophy is named the Lamar Hunt Trophy in his honor.
    • Hunt is also considered a very important figure in American soccer, as he was one of the founding figures in the creation of Major League Soccer. His contributions to the sport were so important that the US Open Cup (equivalent to the FA Cup) is named after him.
  • Jerry Jones is the current owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He might be the most hated figure in the league, even (or rather, especially) among fans of his own team. For example, despite bringing three championships to Dallas many older Cowboys fans have never forgiven him for firing Tom Landry and then running his popular successor, Jimmy Johnson, out of town. He's best known for being very, very active in running his team, refusing to appoint a general manager and giving that role to himself instead. He is sometimes considered a real-life expy of J.R. Ewing which was lampshaded in a series of advertisements in the '90s, and he even showed up alongside J.R. in the revival of Dallas. His reputation has led to the extravagant new stadium he had built for his team in 2009 being referred to by such nicknames as "Jerryworld", "the Boss Hogg Bowl", and "Six Flags Over Jerry". Nonetheless, he made it to the Hall of Fame in 2017.
  • Robert Kraft is the current owner of the New England Patriots. Before his ownership, the Patriots were something of a laughingstock in the NFL akin to the modern day Cleveland Browns. The franchise was so dysfunctional, that the previous owner, James Orthwein, attempted to move it to his native St. Louis. However, Kraft had acquired their stadium a few years back after the previous owners, the Sullivans, took a financial bath on a mid-80s Jackson Five tour they financed that bombed (mainly because rightly during the height of his career, Michael Jackson was annoyed with the whole thing and refused to participate more than he needed to) and took a small stake in the team. He then refused to allow Orthwein to ditch the stadium lease, then agreed to buy the team from Orthwein so the latter could wash his hands of the curse. Upon purchase, Kraft completely revamped the team: new uniforms, built a new stadium (almost completely funded out of his own pocket), and hired top-notch coaches (Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, and eventually Bill Belichick). These measures led to the Patriots becoming the first Super Bowl dynasty of the 21st century and one of the most valuable franchises in the NFL. Kraft is also the owner of the New England Revolution, one of the founding franchises of Major League Soccer. Kraft is also one of only a few NFL owners paying more than lip service developing the game abroad as he sponsors both the Israeli American Football league and the national team there.
  • George Preston Marshall was founder and longtime owner of the Washington Redskins. Marshall was known for using many innovations to build his fan base (e.g. gala halftime shows and cheerleaders), but was also the NFL's leading bigot for 40 years, not only naming his team the Redskins but also refusing to sign black players until the government forced him to (they owned the stadium he was leasing).
  • Matt Millen had previously been a linebacker for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and San Francisco 49ers in the 80s (playing for 4 Super Bowl-winning teams), and a commentator on ESPN before infamously becoming general manager and CEO for the Detroit Lions from 2001 to 2008. During his tenure, they had the worst 8-year record in NFL history (31-84), leading to protests by fans to have him fired. He finally got the boot in week 4 of the 2008 season, but the damage was done. Already 0-4 by that point in the season, the Detroit Lions would end the season going 0-16, the first winless season under the 16-game schedule.
  • Art Modell was the owner of the Cleveland Browns who earned many detractors for himself by moving the team to Baltimore and renaming them the Ravens. (The current Cleveland Browns are a replacement expansion team that, through a set of complicated legal actions, was able to take up the old name, colors and franchise history.) He owned the Ravens until 2004, and passed away in 2012. His son David worked as a consultant for the Ravens, until his death in 2017.
  • Bill Polian was the general manager for Indianapolis Colts until his firing in 2012, after they went 2-14 without Peyton Manning. Before that, Polian served as the GM of the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1993 (during their three consecutive Super Bowl trips; he was fired after Super Bowl XXVII) and was the first GM of the Carolina Panthers. Polian became the Colts GM in 1998, when he would draft Peyton Manning, and together, they would have several winning seasons, and made two Super Bowl trips, winning one. Polian was at the forefront of turning the current NFL into a "passing league", when, as a member of the Competition Committee, lobbied the NFL to strictly enforce the holding and illegal contact rules, after the Colts lost to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. Polian was also known for his tendency to bench starters after locking up a playoff seed to allow them to rest up for the playoffs; his most infamous case being in Week 16 of the 2009 season, when the 14-0 Colts, having already clinched the AFC's top seed, pulled their starters against the Jets, and lost to them, ending their bid for a perfect season. Fans naturally hated this, and analysts are divided as to whether it's actually an effective strategy or just something that just makes your starters rusty in their first playoff game. Currently an NFL analyst for ESPN, Polian entered the Hall of Fame in 2015. He was also a co-founder of the short-lived Alliance of American Football.
  • Daniel Snyder is the current owner of the Washington Redskins. While he has managed to make Washington the second most valuable NFL franchise, he's best known for being in an odd flux of Aesop Amnesia - one year, he'll snap up loads of (often past-their-prime) expensive free agents, then pledge to cut back in the next offseason. Which he does, but he usually goes back to his old tricks in the next offseason after that. Also a key figure in the controversy over his team's name; "Redskin" is a racial slur for Native Americans (now almost never used except to refer to the team, but at the time of its naming almost as common as using the N-word to slur blacks), and several tribes have been putting increasing pressure on the League to force a name-change since Snyder refuses to do so himself.
  • Several teams, especially very old ones, have had owners over multiple generations. These include the Chicago Bears' Halas/McCaskey family, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rooney family, the New York Giants' Mara family note , and the Arizona/Phoenix/St. Louis/Chicago Cardinals' Bidwill family. One particularly interesting case: the Detroit Lions have been owned by the Ford family—yes, Ford, as in Henry—since 1963.
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     Notorious Players and Coaches 
  • Kevin Allen was an offensive tackle from Indiana taken 9th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1985 draft. Very soon, he proved to be an abysmal talent; in his first start, he contributed to allowing 8 sacks from the New York Giants, then by midseason was relegated to special teams, and during the offseason moved to center. Buddy Ryan thought so little of Allen as a talent that he once said that he looked like a USFL reject, and was only useful if you wanted him to stand around killing grass. But as terrible as he was on the field, he also proved to be no better off of it. He showed up to training camp in the 1986 offseason testing positive for cocaine, then a week after being cut in October, was charged and convicted of rape, and spent 33 months in prison. He would never play again in the NFL, and bounced around smaller leagues in the early 90s. A 2011 Deadspin article ranked him as the 4th-worst NFL player of all time, citing his horrible blocking technique and rape conviction, and opining that "never had the Eagles had a combination of bad person-bad player that could match this guy." Making matters even worse for Eagles fans in hindsight was that Allen was picked ahead of some much superior talents taken with the next several picks, including 3-time All-Pro offensive tackle Jim Lachey, and a Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.
  • Antonio Brown was a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had been one of the most dominant receivers of The New '10s. Despite a productive college career where he averaged over 100 receptions per season, Brown fell to the 6th round in the 2010 NFL Draft, where the Steelers selected him, due to concerns over his size (5'10, 180 lbs) and the fact that he was coming from a smaller program (Central Michigan). Despite initially being buried on the Steelers' WR depth chart, Brown made an immediate impact as a return specialist as a rookie and then captured a starting job during his second season. From 2013 to 2017, Brown set an NFL record becoming the first player to ever have five straight seasons with at least 100 receptions, then extended his record to six straight in 2018. However, Brown's relationship with the Steelers in general, and QB Ben Roethlisberger in particular, went deeply south that season, and he asked for a trade. He was dealt to the Raiders for surprisingly little (third- and fifth-round draft picks) in March 2019. What followed was an offseason of bizarre injuries (getting frostbite on his feet from a cryo-therapy chamber), an odd holdout that wasn't about money (the NFL would not approve his favored helmet model), then finally resulted in his release after getting into an altercation with GM Mike Mayock and secretly (illegally) recording a phone call with head coach Jon Gruden. Not even a full day after his release, he was signed by the Patriots. Shortly thereafter, a civil suit was filed by a former personal trainer accusing Brown of raping her. Several other similar incidents quickly became public as well. Brown played in week 2 of the 2019 season for the Patriots, but was then released after it came out that he was sending threatening texts to the woman who accused him of rape. After that, Brown's behavior continued to plumet downward, with reports that police in Florida have been called to his home numerous times for domestic incidents, including an arrest warrant put out for alleged assault and burglary of a truck driver of a moving business in January of 2020note 
  • Josh Brown was a kicker for several teams, but most notably the New York Giants. He was a solid-if-unspectacular kicker throughout his 14-year career, but will now be better remembered along with Ray Rice as poster boys for the NFL's continued poor handling of domestic abuse cases. After being arrested for domestic abuse in May of 2015, the NFL initially took no action. It wasn't until over a year later, August 2016, that the NFL handed him a one game suspension (inexplicably reduced from what is supposed to be the minimum of six games for a first time domestic abuse offender). The NFL and the Giants initially stood behind Brown until additional evidence came out that he had a much longer record of domestic abuse incidents dating much back many years. The resulting outcry among fans and media finally resulted in Brown's release from the Giants, and the NFL reopening their investigation even though his playing career is almost certainly over anyway.
  • Vontaze Burfict is a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders after spending the bulk of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals. While in college at Arizona State, he was considered a sure-fire 1st round pick and drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. However, Burfict's overly aggressive playing style made him a magnet for penalties. Following a miserable NFL Combine performance, Burfict went undrafted and signed with the Bengals. He won a backup job out of training camp and quickly moved into the starting lineup after injuries to the linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart. Unfortunately, Burfict's penchant for penalties followed him to the NFL, where has frequently been penalized for hits to the head of opposing players as well as cheap shots on defenseless receivers (both things the NFL is actively trying to discourage). Perhaps the most glaring was a hit on then-Steelers WR Antonio Brown (see above) in the 2015 AFC playoffs, which drew a penalty on the final drive of the game and kept the Steelers alive for a 18-16 win. Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the next season for his actions. During the 2017 preseason, he was again suspended for three games as a result of an illegal blindside block. Burfict was suspended again during the 2018 season, this time four games for performance enhancing drugs. He was released by the Bengals and signed with Oakland in the offseason, where he quickly won a starting job. During week 4 of the 2019 season, Burfict delivered yet another dangerous, illegal hit to Colts TE Jack Doyle. Burfict was ejected, then suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season (12 games - the longest suspension of a player in NFL history for an on-field act).
  • Plaxico Burress was a wide receiver who most famously played for the New York Giants, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets. His infamy comes from an incident where he brought a loaded gun to a nightclub (where he accidentally shot himself in the thigh). Apparently he thought an expired carry license from another state would be acceptable in New York City, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws on America. And thought that sticking a loaded gun with the safety off in his pocket was a good idea; he should consider himself lucky he didn't accidentally shoot himself somewhere else. He served a two-year prison sentence as a result of the crime, and coined the term, Plaxidental shooting.
  • Rae Carruth was a former wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, who during his playing career was considered a rather nondescript, average player. During his third professional season in 1999, his pregnant girlfriend was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Charlotte, North Carolina, but survived just long enough to accuse Carruth of arranging the hit. (Her son was delivered and saved by Caesarean section, but his prenatal trauma led to cerebral palsy.) Arrested for murder, he was acquitted on that charge but convicted of conspiracy to murder, receiving a 19-year prison term.
  • Greg Hardy is a defensive end who was a dominant pass rusher for the Carolina Panthers until a highly publicized domestic violence incident in 2014, where his ex-girlfriend testified that he had strangled her and thrown her into furniture. A judge found him guilty, but after he filed an appeal, the victim failed to appear in court, forcing the charges to be dropped. He was one of three high-profile athletes in 2014 (along with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson) who caused a PR nightmare for the NFL, and led to commissioner Goodell revising the league's domestic violence policy. He was deactivated for the majority of the 2014 season, and initially suspended 10 games for 2015 (though arbitration brought this down to 4) after signing with the Dallas Cowboys. He did not do much to repair his image while in Dallas, at one point making lewd comments about Tom Brady's wife in press conferences. Despite his solid performance in 2015, the Cowboys did not re-sign him, and he's since moved on to MMA, making his UFC debut in 2019.
  • Aaron Hernandez was a former tight end for the New England Patriots, and was the other half of the "Boston TE Party" alongside Rob Gronkowski. In June 2013, Hernandez was charged with the first-degree murder of a local semi-pro football star. He was immediately released from the Patriots following his arrest. Hernandez was later charged with two counts of murder in relation with a 2012 double homicide in Boston, and then was convicted of the June 2013 murder, which had him automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2017, less than a week after being acquitted of the 2012 double murder, he committed suicide in his prison cell.
  • Richie Incognito is a guard who plays for the Raiders, who also played for the Rams, Bills and Dolphins. During much of his career, he was a mid-tier offensive linesman with a long history of trouble on and off the field and a violent temperament that earned him a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league. In 2013 during his tenure with the Dolphins, fellow lineman Jonathan Martin, a decent if unspectacular player, abruptly left the team halfway through the season, citing emotional distress. Martin then released a statement naming Incognito as ringleader in a harassment campaign against him, as well as a voicemail that Incognito had left on Martin's phone, which included racial slurs and death threats. Incognito would later be permanently suspended from the team and eventually released, while Martin was traded to the 49ers, where he was reunited with his former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. The sordid details were investigated at the behest of the NFL, culminating in the 144-page Ted Wells Report, which chronicles the complex and unusual friendship that existed between the two (complete with text messages such as the ones cited below). The amount of press his situation received has created a great deal of debate about workplace bullying and harassment, mental illness, and the evolving definition of masculinity and "toughness".
    Incognito: [...] All that’s important is that you feel better and know we miss u dude
    Martin: Yeah I'm good man. It's insane bro but just know I don't blame you guys at all it's just the culture around football and the locker room got to me a little. Btw...Never check yourself into a mental hospital note 
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones is a cornerback who retired during the 2019 offseason, best known for his off-field controversies from when he played for the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys. He got into several fights at strip clubs, and served a year's suspension. Was part of an angle on TNA Wrestling, including winning their Tag Team Championships, despite having a stipulation in his contract that he could not wrestle. By 2009, his case looked completely hopeless, as he managed to talk his way out of a Canadian Football League contract by referring to the league as the United Football League. However, after signing with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he would play for eight seasons with far less off-field trouble, Jones managed to turn his on-field career around, and even won first-team All-Pro status in 2014, followed by a Pro Bowl spot the next year. While that hasn't completely erased the memory of his turbulent early years, Jones at least managed to save himself from the canon of all-time draft busts and put together a respectable NFL career.
  • Colin Kaepernick gained a lot of notoriety in 2016 for his controversial decision during the preseason to sit during the pregame national anthem in protest of police violence against minorities. While some people felt it was justified as he was standing up for innocent lives that were taken away, others felt it was completely disrespectful and unpatriotic to the American flagnote . He was drafted in the 2nd Round by the San Francisco 49ers and initially started his career as a backup to former #1 overall pick Alex Smith. During his second season, Smith suffered a concussion, opening the door for Kaepernick. Kaepernick played extremely well in relief, leading to a QB controversy when Smith was cleared to return. Head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to stick with the more athletic/higher ceiling Kaepernick. Any controversy quickly died out as Kaepernick led the 49ers to the playoffs, setting the record for most rushing yards by a QB in a game with 181 in his first postseason start. He led the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl, becoming one of the youngest and least experienced quarterbacks to accomplish that feat, though his 49ers would lose to the Baltimore Ravens. He took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game in his third season, his first as a full-time starter, but they fell to the Seahawks. Kaepernick's play would deteriorate after that, leading to him being benched two seasons later. In 2018, he became the face of Nike's 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign, as a portrait of him was captioned with "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.". Despite his recent struggles, he is still considered one of the better running quarterbacks of the current generation, along the lines of Russell Wilson and RG3. In 2019, Kaepernick and the NFL made a confidential settlement, and he has expressed interest in playing again.
  • Mo Lewis was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Jets and one of the better linebackers in team history. His notoriety, however, comes from a single play - a monster hit in the early 2001 season against then Patriots starting QB Drew Bledsoe. The hit caused Bledsoe internal bleeding, forcing the Patriots to turn to Bledsoe's backup, an untested second-year player they had drafted in the 6th round. His name: Tom Brady.
  • Rusty Lisch was a backup quarterback for the Rams and Bears in early 80s. His infamy comes from the 1984 season, during a stretch which is widely considered the worst by any QB in modern NFL history. While serving as a 3rd string QB for the Bears, he was pressed into duty after injuries to the starter and backup. In 85 pass attempts, he managed to throw six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), zero touchdowns, and also fumbled five times. He was so bad that Bears head coach Mike Ditka benched him...not for another QB, but for running back Walter Payton. (Payton actually threw a pair of TD passes in relief.) A 2011 Deadspin article named Lisch as the "worst QB in NFL history", stating:
    "Sure, [Ryan] Leaf and [JaMarcus] Russell were bigger busts. Lisch, after all, was a fourth-round pick who had backed up Joe Montana at Notre Dame. But if you have one game you need to lose, and you require a quarterback to take you there, Lisch is — hands down — the man you want."
  • John "J.K." McKay Jr. was a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaners during the first few years of the teams existence in the late 70s and is notorious as one of the prime examples of Nepotism in professional football. He played for his father, John McKay Sr., at USC and then followed him to the NFL, signing with the Bucs after his dad landed the head coaching job. In his three seasons with the team, J.K. played in 41 games, starting 30 of them, and managed just 43 total catches in that time. J.K. was one of the starters for the Bucs during their record-setting 26-straight-game losing streak. Other players, including QB Steve Spurrier, came to resent the senior McKay due to the perception that his son was continuing to get playing time while better players rode the bench behind him. (Spurrier allegedly intentionally threw high passes over the middle of the field when throwing to J.K. in attempt to get him injured so other, better players could see the field.) J.K. was forced into retirement after three seasons in the NFL due to complications from a broken hand. He later served as a general manager in the first iteration of the XFL and then as Head of Football Operations of the AAF, two pro leagues which infamously folded after just one season each.
  • Scott Norwood is infamously known among the general public for missing a 47-yard field goal that sailed wide right in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXV, giving the Bills the first of its four Super Bowl losses. Had the kick made it, the team would have won the game. However, at the time, only half of the field goals at long distances (40-plus yards) on grass were successfully made, and Norwood, a turf kicker, wasn't good at kicking them (he was one for five throughout his career). Despite this, Norwood surpassed O.J. Simpson as the Bills' all-time leading scorer, which has since been surpassed by Norwood's successor, Steve Christie. Norwood did play with the Bills for one more season, before his release. Norwood was the subject of an episode of ESPN's "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame..." series, which showed the other reasons why he can't be blamed for the loss. Finally, he was the basis for the character "Scott Wood" in the 1998 film, Buffalo 66.
  • Adrian Peterson is a running back best known for his long tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, and is now with that team in the nation's capital. He set a slew of records during his rookie season including most yards rushed in a single game, (296) most yards rushing in the first eight games of a season, (1,036) and most 200-yard rushing games for a rookie.(2) In Peterson's first 30 games he had a total 3,101 yards, which marks the 3rd best start to a career for running backs. Peterson and Marshall Faulk are currently the only NFL players to win both the NFL Pro Bowl MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same year. Peterson also holds the Pro Bowl record in career rushing touchdowns. He's now best known for falling eight yards short of tying the single-season record for rushing yards, after tearing his ACL the year before (an injury that typically takes at least a year to recover from). After this season, which some considered one of the most impressive seasons for a running back and gained the Vikings their first trip to the playoffs since 2009, he was chosen MVP, the first running back to win the award since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. It is thus, a completely sudden and unexpected Shocking Swerve when it turned out that he had been indicted for child abuse after disciplining his son with a tree branch to cause injury. The Vikings deactivated him within days, while the NFL was dealing with heavy criticism of its handling of domestic abuse cases (such as with Ray Rice mentioned below). Although he did eventually accept a plea deal that kept him out of jail in exchange for probation and community service, and midway through the 2014–15 season, the NFL, already dealing with a series of domestic abuse cases, decided to move him from the Commissioner's Permission list, to suspended for the remainder of the season, citing that it was in their opinion that Peterson had failed to show proper remorse for his actions. He was reinstated for the 2015 season and put up some good stats for that year. Peterson was released from the Vikings in March 2017 and signed with the Saints, and was traded to the Cardinals during the 2017 season and let go after that season. Washington picked him up shortly before the start of the 2018 season, and he had a fairly good season.
  • Lawrence Phillips was a running back drafted by the (then) St. Louis Rams who also spent time with Miami and San Francisco. While highly productive on the field in college at Nebraska, Phillips had numerous character concerns including several assault charges and NCAA investigations. Phillips lasted only two years in St. Louis before he was released due to off-field misconduct. He would attempt to catch on elsewhere in the NFL, then NFL Europe, and finally the Arena and Canadian leagues, but would flame out in each. Following his playing career, Phillips would be arrested for assault and would be sentenced to 25 years in prison. While serving that sentence, he was also convicted of domestic abuse against a former girlfriend, adding 31 years to his sentence (later reduced to 7). Later, he was charged with the first-degree murder of cell mate, who Phillips allegedly choked to death. The day after a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to take Phillips to trial for murder and with prosecutors seeking the death penalty, Phillips committed suicide by hanging.
  • Ray Rice was a running back for the Baltimore Ravens from 2008 to 2014, and was a key factor in their ground game, by using his smaller than the NFL average size, and speed to duck past incoming tackles. However, he became infamous during the 2014 offseason, when he was caught on security cameras at an Atlantic City, New Jersey casino dragging his unconscious then-fiancée (now wife) from an elevator, in a suspected case of domestic abuse. The Ravens and the League decided to take this matter seriously by..... voicing their support of Rice, and giving him a mild 2-game suspension without pay. The reasoning being that in somewhat bizarre press conference he, and his fiancée claimed it was a mutual fight, and that they were both to blame, as well as that Rice was going into an intervention program to change. This led to widespread outrage amongst the public who pointed out a double standard in punishment, when the league was suspending players for substance abuse and performance enhancing drug use with 4 or 5 game suspensions. In response, the league decided to make the official policy for domestic violence a 6 game suspension (with ability to change depending on severity) for the first case, and indefinite suspension in the second incident for all future cases. Then, seven months latter, on September 8, 2014, celebrity news website TMZ released the previously unseen security camera footage from inside the elevator, which showed the physical fight was all Rice's doing. Within hours of the video's release, the Ravens ended their contract with Rice and the NFL put him on indefinite suspension; however, in late November 2014, the suspension was reversed on appeal based on the argument that the original 2-game punishment had already been applied (i.e., he shouldn't be subject to double jeopardy). No team was willing to take him and his several tons of bad publicity on board, and he said in 2018 that he was now out of football for good. Rice is now attempting to establish himself as The Atoner; for example, he has given many speeches at NFL rookie camps, essentially telling the young players "don't do what I did".
  • Art Schlichter was an Ohio State QB drafted 4th overall by Baltimore Colts in 1982. During his first training camp, he failed to win the starting job from 4th rounder Mike Pagel. Their combined bad performance led to Colts having #1 pick next year, which led to the John Elway debacle, which contributed to the Colts leaving for Indianapolis. Schlichter went 0-6 as a starter. After the Colts, he signed with the Buffalo Bills for short time (soon after his signing, the USFL folded which gave the Bills Jim Kelly), and had some success in the Arena League. He is more notable however for the extent of his gambling addiction. He was losing thousands of dollars back in college, and got even worse when he got into the NFL (which got him multiple league suspensions). After his career was over he had numerous run-ins with the law (fake ticket scams, bad checks and robberies) to feed his addiction. After spending a better part of the 90s and 00s in jail, he appeared to turn his life around, even starting a charity for fellow addicts, but he was soon arrested again for scamming the widow of a former Wendy's executive for millions of dollars in another ticket scam. Schlichter has spent most of the past 25 years in prison; including a 10-year sentence for the Wendy's scam since 2012. Adding some fuel to the fire was the player drafted right after Schlichter (fellow QB Jim McMahon), who won a Super Bowl with the Bears.
  • O.J. Simpson was a dominant running back. As an athlete, he had the first 2,000-yard rushing season with the Buffalo Bills in the (14-game) 1973 season, and is one of only a few people to earn Most Valuable Player on a non-playoff team and after he retired from football he became the celebrity spokesman for Hertz car rental and a moderately popular movie actor, appearing in The Naked Gun trilogy. Then in 1994 he allegedly killed his wife and her friend. After the "Trial of the Century", he was controversially acquitted (though later found liable in civil court). This created a great deal of arguing, and the trial pretty much obliterated his long-held "nice guy" persona he had cultivated for decades (especially after he published a book about how he would have murdered his wife, 'if he had done so'). More recently, he was found guilty of robbing, assaulting and kidnapping (he had ordered them not to leave the room, which technically qualified as kidnapping) two sports memorabilia collectors (justifying his actions because he believed this memorabilia was somehow "his" because it had his autograph on itnote ), and was sentenced to 33 years in prison, ultimately receiving parole after nine and being released in October 2017. An ESPN documentary series on his life won an Oscar.
  • Darren Sharper was a safety who played for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. He was one of the best safeties in the league, retiring with the 6th-most interceptions in league history, and played in two Super Bowls: XXXIII, a loss for the Packers, and XLIV, a win for the Saints. He was beginning a career in broadcasting when it came out that he had drugged and raped at least nine women between 2011 and 2014, four of which were assaulted within two days of each other in two different states. He pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2016. A month later he was the spark of a controversy regarding the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was nominated in 2016 for induction in spite of his crimes, as voters are prohibited from taking off-field issues into account. In spite of this stipulation, it is considered unlikely that he will be inducted, as inducting a convicted serial rapist would be a major blow to the reputation of the league.
  • Donte Stallworth played wide receiver for several teams. He pled guilty in 2009 to vehicular manslaughter after driving drunk and killing a jaywalking pedestrian in Miami, Florida and received the lightest sentence of any NFL player convicted of killing another person, 24 days in jail and five years' probation. He was suspended for the entire 2009 season, was subsequently released by the Browns and almost immediately got picked up by the Ravens. Since his playing career ended in 2013,note  Stallworth has become active in political journalism, serving a six-month fellowship for the Huffington Post in 2014-15.
  • Michael Vick was a quarterback who most famously played for the Atlanta Falcons, as well as the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers. While there were athletic quarterbacks before him, Vick was at a level all on his own, becoming the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1000 yards in a season. Throw in a massively strong arm (though hampered by questionable accuracy and decision making), he more or less redefined the quarterback position. However, that all came to an end when it was discovered he ran an illegal dogfighting operation and was sent to prison for 2 years and pretty much became Persona Non Grata with football fans. After being released from prison, he signed a one-year contract with a team option for a second year with the Philadelphia Eagles on August 13, 2009 and partway through the 2010-2011 season became the team's starting quarterback. After a whirlwind Redemption Quest, he was shown to still be an excellent quarterback, leading the Eagles into the 2010 Playoffs, winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, scoring a new endorsement deal with Nike and even lobbying in support of a bill that would persecute those who attend illegal animal fights or bring children to them. He almost returned to his pre-dogfighting level of popularity, but the general public has still not forgiven him. Additionally, in terms of actual on-field play, is also known for being something of a Fountain of Expies. While there were fast runners at the QB position that predated Vick (Randall Cunningham comes to mind), Vick seemed to start a wave of quarterbacks that are every bit as gifted with their legs (and sometimes more so) than they are with their arms - and usually, as young players, they tend to be compared to Vick rather than anyone else.
  • Kellen Winslow II was a tight end drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns and is the son of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow Sr. The junior Winslow had a moderately successful nine-year career playing for four different teams, but would find infamy after his retirement. He was arrested in 2018 and charged with three counts of rape, as well as kidnapping, felony burglary, battery of an elder, and a plethora of other charges. He was later convicted of rape, a lewd act in public conduct, and indecent exposure on June 10, 2019 and will face a minimum sentence of eight years in prison, with more potentially to be added.
  • Gregg Williams is currently the defensive coordinator for the NY Jets. He was previous the interim head coach/defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns as well as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2014; he would have had the position in 2012, but that was put to a halt when it was revealed he spearheaded the massive "Bountygate" program as the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (essentially, a pool where bonuses were paid to defensive players who injured key opposing offensive players). It's also been revealed that he had similar pools with the other teams he coached. Reinstated by the league after a year (which may or may not count as a case of Easily Forgiven, depending on your point of view), he signed a contract to become a member of the Tennessee Titans' coaching staff within the day. He spent one year in Tennessee before joining the Rams.

     Notable Draft Busts 
Note: Some players have gained notoriety, not for any misdeeds or criminal activity, but simply for failing to perform up to expectations. While this happens all the time in every draft class, some are more notable than others. As declaring a player to be a draft bust includes some manner of subjectivity, please be cautious when adding examples. A good rule to follow is that if the player is released or traded for minimal compensation before the expiration of his rookie contract, he likely qualifies.

  • The post-revival Cleveland Browns (1999+) have made an industry out of producing notorious draft busts:
    • 1999 - Tim Couch was a quarterback drafted by the Browns #1 overall when they re-entered the league in 1999 out of Kentucky. Couch was the Browns' starting quarterback on-and-off for five seasons, hampered by inconsistent play and plagued by injuries. He eventually lost his starting job to journeyman backup Kelly Holcomb and, after a brief pre-season stint with the Packers, was out of the league in just six years. Couch was taken ahead of two future Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper. He was the first of four failed Cleveland first round picks at quarterback since they re-entered the league (see the others below).
    • 2000 - Courtney Brown was a defensive end drafted #1 overall out of Penn State. A freakish physical specimen at over 6'5 280lbs with 4.50 speed, Brown had dominant college career where he racked up awards and finished with a then-record 33 sacks, most in NCAA history. However, he was plagued by injuries as a pro, only playing in 26 out of a possible 80 games while with the Browns. He would catch on for one more year with the Broncos but was then out of football as a major disappointment.
    • 2001 - Gerard Warren was a defensive tackled drafted #3 overall out of Florida. A hulking physical specimen at at over 330lbs, Warren managed to avoid the injury issues of his post-revival 1st round pick predecessors, but produced inconsistently over four years with the Browns and was ultimately traded to the Broncos for a meager 4th round pick.
    • 2002 - William Green was a running back drafted #16 overall out of Boston College. Green's best year with Cleveland was his very first, rushing for over 800 yards as a rookie. However, his production would decline over the next three seasons and he also had serious issues with fumbling the football. Off the field, he was arrested for DUI and marijuana possession leading to a four-game suspension, was stabbed by his fiancee during a domestic dispute while suspended, and was then ejected from a game for fighting when he returned to the field. He was released after four turmoil-plagued seasons with the team.
    • 2003 - Jeff Faine was a center drafted #21 overall out of Notre Dame and was quickly installed as a starter. However, after three middling seasons with the team, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints for an exchange of 2nd round draft picks (moving the Browns from the #43 pick to the #34 pick). He would then bounce around the league for several more years as a middling starter.
    • 2004 - Kellen Winslow II - Despite one Pro Bowl season, see his entry under "Notorious Figures" above. Enough said.
    • 2005 - Braylon Edwards was a wide receiver drafted #3 overall out of Michigan, where he was one of the school's all-time leading receivers. A contract dispute caused him to hold-out through training camp, then he suffered a staph infection which caused him to miss some of his rookie season. He returned, briefly entered the starting lineup, then suffered a season ending knee injury. He recovered and surpassed 1000 yards receiving in his third season, but would follow it up with a miserable performance in his fourth season, including a league-high 23 dropped passes. The Browns would then trade him to the Jets for a couple of no-name players and two mid-round draft picks.
    • 2006 - Kamerion Wimbley was an edge rusher drafted #13 overall out of Florida State. The Browns originally had the #12 overall pick, but traded down with division rival Baltimore who wanted Oregon nose tackle Haloti Ngata (who the Browns would later admit to having a higher grade on than Wimbley) and who would go on to be a multi-time Pro Bowler. Wimbley would tally 11 sacks as a rookie, but failed to follow up on that success in subsequent seasons. He would be traded to the Raiders for a 3rd round pick and would be out of the league after just two more season.
    • 2007-2010 were some of the Browns very few exceptions. They used their first 2007 1st round pick on future Hall of Fame OT Joe Thomas out of Wisconsin while 2009 saw them draft multi-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and 2010 saw them draft Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden. They didn't have a 1st round pick in 2008 because they traded it a year prior for...
    • 2007 - Brady Quinn was a quarterback for the Browns who drafted him in the first round of the 2007 Draft. After a stellar career at Notre Dame where he set 36 school passing records, Quinn was projected to go in the top 10 picks of the draft. Surprisingly, he fall all the way to #22 overall where the Browns (who already passed on him earlier with the #3 pick used on Joe Thomas) scooped him up. Quinn sat for his first season and a half, playing only sparingly behind veteran journeyman Derek Anderson. Finally, in 2008, Quinn replaced the struggling Anderson. After only two starts, Quinn would suffer a finger injury which would require season-ending surgery. Quinn was again named starter for the 2009 season, but was benched in favor of Anderson during halftime of the season's third game. Quinn would regain the job for a few weeks later in the season, but would again suffer a season-ending injury. In 2010, the Browns traded Quinn to the Broncos for a backup running back and a conditional late-round draft pick. There, Quinn would lose a competition for the starting job to Kyle Orton, and would later be jumped on the depth chart by Tim Tebow. He didn't end up playing in a single game in two seasons in Denver. His final start would come in 2012 with the Chiefs, who signed him that offseason as a backup. He would bounce around several other teams, but would never again start a game.
    • 2011 - Phil Taylor was a hulking defensive tackle drafted #21 overall out of Baylor after a large trade-down with Atlanta (who selected stud WR Julio Jones with the Browns' pick). Like many others on this list, Taylor's best season came his rookie year after which injuries and ineffectiveness caused him to lose playing time. He was released after four seasons with the team. Had the Browns stayed put at #6, they could have selected Jones, OT Tyron Smith, or DL JJ Watt. Even with the #21 pick, they could have selected Pro Bowl defensive linemen Cam Jordan and Cam Heyward.
    • 2012:
      • Trent Richardson was a standout college running back for the Alabama Crimson Tide who was drafted by the Browns third overall (behind Andrew Luck and RG3) and underperformed horribly. The Browns franchise took the blame rather than Richardson, and the Browns traded him to the Colts in exchange for a first round draft pick, and again Richardson underperformed horribly. He was released from the Colts, hired by the Raiders in 2015, and released before the preseason was over. Richardson later played in the short-lived AAF, but his yards per carry was still very poor. He also tried to catch on with the XFL but wasn't even drafted. He's currently considered the biggest draft bust of The New '10s (though Johnny Manziel, listed below, is now challenging for that dubious crown).
      • Brandon Weeden was a quarterback who the Browns drafted with the #22 pick out of Oklahoma State where he set numerous school passing records. Weeden was an interesting prospect in that he already played several years of professional minor league baseball before returning to school to play football, making him the oldest player ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft at 28 years old. Weeden was one of five rookie quarterbacks to be named a starter for the 2012 season, the most ever, but was easily the least successful of the bunch. In his first game against the Eagles, Weeden threw four interceptions and posted a passer rating of 5.6, one of the worst ever for a player who attempted more than 15 passes in a game. Weeden would improve throughout his rookie year, setting a team record for passing yards by a rookie. Weeden was again named starter during his second season, but would suffer a broken thumb in his second game of the season. Replacement QB Brian Hoyer played well enough in Weeden's absence to keep the starting job even after Weeden returned. Weeden only regained the staring job when Hoyer suffered an injury of his own, but would struggle, leading to him losing the job again (to backup Jason Campbell) for the rest of the season. Weeden was released by the Browns after the season and would also play with the Cowboys and Texans as a backup. Perhaps most gut-wrenching to Browns fans (beyond Weeden being the third first-round quarterback bust for the Browns since they returned to the league) is that Weeden was taken in the draft ahead of several other quarterbacks (Brock Osweiler, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins) who've all gone on to greater NFL success (and in the case of Wilson, MUCH greater success).
    • 2013 - Barkevious Mingo was an edge rusher/linebacker selected by the Browns with the #6 overall pick out of LSU. Extremely athletic with a long frame, Mingo was however 20-30 lbs lighter than most teams prefer their edge rushers to be. He suffered a bruised lung during his rookie preseason which required hospitalization, and returned to account for only two sacks during his rookie year. He lost his starting job during his second season, and after his third season where he played sparingly, was traded to the Patriots for a mere 5th round draft pick. (That resulted in a happy ending for Mingo at least, as he won a Super Bowl with the Pats as a backup/special teamer.) He has since bounced around the league to the Colts and Seahawks, but has never played up to his lofty draft status.
    • 2014
      • Justin Gilbert was a cornerback drafted by the Browns with the #8 pick (after trading down from the #4 pick). An extremely athletic corner with good size for the position, Gilbert however struggled as a tackler and had known substance abuse issues. A heel injury and an illness combined to cost Gilbert nearly his entire rookie season, and he was demoted to a reserve/special teamer for his second season. Just before the start of his third season, he was traded to the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers for a measly 6th round pick. He played almost exclusively special teams for the Steelers (only 11 defensive snaps in 12 games) and was released after the season. Gilbert's career hit another pot hole as, shortly after he was released, it was announced that he was suspended by the league for one year due to substance abuse violations. Had the Browns stayed at the #4 pick, they could have drafted elite pass rusher Khalil Mack instead. Even at #8, stud WR Odell Beckham Jr. (who the Browns would later trade their 2019 1st round pick for) and DT Aaron Donald were available.
      • Johnny Manzielnote  was a quarterback who was drafted #22 overall. (Noticing a trend with quarterbacks taken by the Browns with that pick?) "Johnny Football" came in with an extraordinary amount of hype, having won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M. However, he was at the same time one of the most polarizing prospects of recent years, with scouts calling him everything from a "rare competitor" to "undraftable". A major issue was his off-field behavior, including a misdemeanor arrest in 2012 and several incidents in 2013. The Browns initially passed on Manziel with their #8 pick before choosing him at #22. After two seasons marked by excessive partying, attitude problems, injuries, and pathetic play, capped off by a domestic violence arrest, the Browns cut ties with him in the 2016 offseason. After a year out of football, during which he discovered he has bipolar disorder (which may help to explain but not excuse some of the behavior that has so far scuttled his career), he got sober, and eventually signed with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats shortly before the 2018 season and was then traded to the Montreal Alouettes. He started out poorly, did get a little better, but after the season was released by the Als and basically blackballed from the league. He later landed in the Alliance of American Football, joining the Memphis Express midway through that league's first season in 2019, only to see the league fold before its regular season even ended. Much like the other Browns draft bust quarterbacks on this list, the Manziel selection comes as salt-in-the-wound for Cleveland fans because he was drafted ahead of several other quarterbacks who went on to greater NFL success (most notably Teddy Bridgewater, before a Game-Breaking Injury in the 2016 preseason, and Derek Carr).
    • 2015:
      • Danny Shelton was a massive defensive tackle selected with the #12 pick out of Washington. Despite starting all but three games in three seasons with the Browns, Shelton recorded only 1.5 sacks while failing to improve their run defense. He was then traded to the Patriots along with a 5th round pick in exchange for a 3rd round pick.
      • Cameron Erving was an offensive tackle selected with teh #19 pick out of Florida State. The Browns moved Erving to guard, and later to center after losing the aforementioned Alex Mack to free agency. Erving struggled in every position they tried him in, causing the Browns to trade him to the Chiefs for a meager 5th round pick after just two seasons.
    • 2016 - Corey Coleman was a wide receiver drafted #15 overall out of Baylor following multipe trade-downs from their original #2 overall pick. Coleman struggled with injuries, barely playing half his games in two season with the Browns. He would then be traded to the Bills for a 7th round draft pick, released by the Bills, and has bounced around the league ever since. Had they stayed at #2 pick, the Browns could have selected QB Carson Wentz, RB Ezekiel Elliott, CB Jalen Ramsey, or DE Joey Bosa (all pro-bowlers).

  • Jay Berwanger was the first ever NFL Draft pick, selected #1 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1936 after winning the first ever Heisman Trophy (then called the "Downtown Athletic Club Trophy") for the University of Chicago as a halfback. He was also technically the first ever draft bust, since he never actually played for the Eagles. (They were unable to meet his salary demands of $1000 a game, which is roughly $17,000 in today's money.) He was traded to the Chicago Bears, who also did not meet his salary demands. He would never actually play a single down of professional football. (Notably, this was more common in the early years of the NFL Draft, as playing professional football wasn't the lucrative career that it is nowadays. Additionally, many of the best collegiate football players were multi-sport stars, and would go on to play professional baseball which was more prestigious and better paying at the time.)
  • Brian Bosworth, aka The Boz, was a linebacker selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the 1987 Supplemental Draft (which meant they would give up their first round pick in the 1988 NFL Draft) after an epic college career at the University of Oklahoma where he was as well known for his wild hairstyles and antics as he was for his stellar play. After testing positive for anabolic steroids, he was suspended for the 1987 Orange Bowl. His ranting against the NCAA and antics on the sideline during the game got him dismissed from the team. Rather than enter the standard NFL Draft (and risk being selected by one of the bad teams who held the early picks), Bosworth opted to enter the Supplemental Draft. Prior to the Supplemental Draft, he sent a letter to most NFL teams stating that he would not play for them if drafted, with his stated goal to be drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders. Regardless, the Seahawks drafted him and convinced him to play for them by giving Bosworth the richest deal in the history of the league for a rookie player at the time. Bosworth played well initially during his rookie season, helping the Seahawks to the playoffs. During his second season, his most infamous play occurred: Prior to a matchup with the Raiders, Bosworth bragged that his defense would contain their star running back, Bo Jackson. During a goal-line play, Jackson took the handoff and flattened Bosworth on his way to scoring a touchdown. (Jackson would go on to rush for 221 yards in the game.) Bosworth's play would continue to go downhill over the next two seasons, until he was forced into early retirement due to a shoulder injury after just three seasons in the league.
  • Ahmad Carroll a corner drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. A track athlete who improved his draft stock by running a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the combine, Carroll quickly earned the nickname "Highway 28" for all the big plays he gave up. ("Highway" because the receiver he was supposed to be covering had an easy path to the end zone and 28 was his jersey number.) He also badly struggled with penalties, particularly the "illegal contact" penalty which was heavily emphasized in 2005, his second year in the league. He was cut during the 2006 season after a week in which he gave up two long touchdowns and was penalized three times. He bounced around with the Jags and Jets, then spent some time in the Arena and Canadian leagues. Even more frustrating to Packers fans is that he was selected just ahead of Pro Bowlers in DE Jason Babin, OL Chris Snee, and even ahead of future Defensive Player of the Year, S Bob Sanders.
  • Ki-Jana Carter was a running back drafted #1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1995 after a dominant college career at Penn State. However, he tore his ACL on his 3rd carry in the first preseason game of his rookie year. He would miss that entire season and would never again play at the level he demonstrated in college. He made several comeback attempts but would suffer a season-ending injury three more times. When discussing "what could have been..." situations with major draft busts, expect his name to come up.
  • Steve Emtman was a defensive lineman selected #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1992 out of Washingoton after a dominant college career, which included winning a national championship in 1991 and later entry into the College Football Hall of Fame. Emtman showed initial promise, recording three sacks and picking off Dan Marino for a game-sealing 90-yard interception return for a TD. However, he tore his left ACL just nine games into his rookie year and then tore his right patellar tendor after only five games the following year. He recuperated only to suffer a season-ending neck injury four games into his third season. He was released by the Colts having played in only 18 of a possible 48 games in three seasons. He would catch on with the Dolphins and Redskins, having better luck with his health, but his production never recovered as he only recorded three sacks in the final three seasons of his career. Along with Ki-Jana Carter above, Emtman is a major "what could have been..." discussion among fans.
  • Jamar Fletcher was a corner selected by the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft, despite already having two All-Pro corners on the roster (Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain). Fletcher only saw limited duty in nickel/dime packages and on special teams. After three seasons with the Dolphins in which he only started six games, he was traded for minimal compensation to the San Diego Chargers. Making the selection of Fletcher all the more painful for Miami fans is the fact that the Dolphins had been linked to a certain undersized Purdue QB prospect that year, who would be selected five picks later. That QB? None other than the NFL's all-time leading passer and Super Bowl XLIV champion Drew Brees. Miami, meanwhile, has struggled to find a long-term answer at the QB position in the two decades since.note 
  • Robert Gallery was an offensive lineman drafted #2 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2004 out of Iowa. Considered a "can't miss" prospect, Gallery received some of the highest grades ever given to a prospect leading up to the 2004 NFL Draft. Additionally, offensive linemen have generally been considered one of the "safer" positions to select with a high draft pick. Gallery started his Raiders career at right tackle, where his play was mediocre. Despite this, the Raiders moved him to left tackle for the 2006 season. In his very first game at his new position, he surrendered 3 sacks. In 13 starts that season, Gallery surrendered 10.5 sacks, 4th most in the league. In 2007, he was moved inside to the left guard position, where his performance would improve. He played that position for several more seasons in Oakland before signing with Seattle as a free agent on a 3-year deal. Seattle would release Gallery after only one season, and he would retire later that offseason. While he managed to salvage his career by playing guard well enough to keep him from becoming one of the biggest draft busts of all time, Gallery was still an extreme disappointment based on his pre-draft potential. Not helping the situation is that Gallery was drafted ahead of several likely future Hall of Famers in Larry Fitzgerald (pick #3), Philip Rivers (pick #4), and Ben Roethlisberger (pick #11).
  • Vernon Gholston was a pass rusher drafted #6 overall by the New York Jets in 2008 out of Ohio State. After tying the Ohio State single season sack record during his final year at the school, Gholston was considered by many to be the best pure pass rusher available in the draft. The Jets tabbed Gholston to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, however, he struggled with the transition from his college position of defensive end and played only sparingly as a rookie. When defensive guru Rex Ryan was hired as the Jets head coach in 2009, Gholston was moved back to defensive end where many believed he would finally excel. Unfortunately, this would not be the case. After two more seasons of abysmal play, Gholston was released by the Jets having not recorded a single sack in three seasons with the team. (For comparison, in those three seasons, over 600 other players recorded at least one sack.) He would attempt to catch on with the Bears and the Redskins, but would be cut by each before playing a regular season game.
  • Ted Gregory was a defensive tackle seleceted by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Listed at 6'1, when then-Broncos head coach Dan Reeves (who is actually 6'1) met Gregory for the first time, he noted that Gregory must be at least four inches shorter than that. Gregory injured his knee during training camp of his rookie season and never actually played for Denver. He was traded to the Saints for another first round draft bust DT, Shawn Knight, the following offseason and was out of football after playing in just four games. He is considered one of the biggest draft busts in Broncos history, and was even taken ahead of future Hall of Famers in RB Thurman Thomas and C Dermontti Dawson.
  • Robert Griffin III was drafted #2 overall in the 2012 Draft by the Washington Redskins. Initially cast as a particularly Expy-ish Expy of Michael Vick, Griffin quickly proved more capable as a passer than Vick ever was. He won the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award while taking the Redskins to the playoffs. Unfortunately, that is also where his turn toward Glass Cannon status began as he sustained a significant knee injury in his first playoff game. Between the lingering effects of the knee injury (he tried to emulate Adrian Peterson by returning at the start of the following regular season), suffering a concussion, and NFL defenses catching on to the "read-option" style of offense Griffin excelled in as a rookie, he struggled mightily in his second season. Another injury, this time a dislocated ankle, scrapped much of his third season as well. Finally, after suffering a concussion in the 2015 preseason, Griffin was made inactive for the entire 2015 regular season. He was released afterwards by the Redskins and then signed with the Cleveland Brownsnote  in an attempt to resurrect his career. In the Browns' 2016 opener, he got hurt again, this time a shoulder injury that kept him out for much of the season, and wasn't in football in 2017. In 2018, Griffin signed with the Ravens as a backup. This ESPN story from January 2020 suggests that the Ravens may also be keeping him on the roster to keep other teams from using him to help them prepare for the Ravens' current #1 QB, Lamar Jackson. "RG3" stands as a prime example of a one-season wonder.
  • Ryan Leaf was a quarterback most famously employed by the San Diego Chargers, where he was drafted #2 overall out of Washington State in 1998. In his rookie season, he posted a passer rating of 39.0, which is statistically lower than if he had thrown every single pass into the ground. Injuries, a standoffish nature with the media and poor work ethic (he often played golf while the team's other quarterbacks studied film) drove him out of San Diego after three years, and out of the NFL entirely after one more (he played as a backup to the Cowboys for four games in 2002). He is generally considered to be the biggest draft bust of all time (#1 pick Peyton Manning - at the time often compared to Leaf note  - was drafted in the same year and went on to immeasurable success). He eventually resurfaced as a quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M, a position he lost after it was revealed he was illegally obtaining pain pills. Paroled in December 2014 after serving two-plus years of a seven-year sentence in Montana State Prison for felony drug possession and burglary charges, he has apparently gotten clean once and for all, and was hired by ESPN in 2019 as a college football analyst. While things appear to be looking up for him at last in his personal life, he's still regrettably become the standard by which all other "bust" players are measured.
  • Dick Leftridge was a running back selected with the #3 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1966 NFL Draft out of West Virginia. Unfortunately, when he showed up to training camp as a rookie, he was grossly out of shape. Already known for his weight issues in college, the Steelers included a clause in his contract which allowed them to fine him $50 for every pound he weighed in over 230. News reports from the time suggested that he weighed in closer to 300 pounds (though Leftridge would later call this an exaggeration). He lasted only a single year in the NFL, with four carries to his name, and is considered the biggest draft bust in Steelers history.
  • Matt Leinart was a quarterback selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the #10 overall pick in 2006 out of USC. He had a legendary college career, which included winning the 2004 Heisman Trophy and BCS National Championship. According to most draft prognosticators, Leinart likely would have been the #1 overall pick in 2005 had he chosen to enter the draft (Alex Smith ended up being the #1 pick that year). Instead, he returned to college to attempt to win another championship, but fell short, losing to Vince Young's Texas Longhorns in the championship game in what is considered one of the greatest college football games ever played. Hopes were high for Leinart, but his rookie year was initially derailed by a lengthy contract dispute which caused him to be the final draft pick to sign with his team. Leinart initially lost the starting job to Kurt Warner, but would get it back after Warner struggled in the fourth week of the season. After a mediocre rookie year performance (with a 4-7 record as starter,) Leinart won the starting job in his second year, but played poorly (posting a 61.9 QB rating) and was lost for the season when he broke his collarbone. Warner took the starting job back and would not relinquish it until he retired two years later (during which time he took the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl.) Leinart was the presumptive starter following Warner's retirement, but lost the preseason QB competition to journeyman Derek Anderson and was released before the start of the regular season. Leinart would bounce around as a backup for several other teams, but would start just one more game in that time. His career is considered one of the more disappointing ones out of recent NFL draft busts.
  • Mike Mamula was a combination Defensive End/Linebacker drafted #7 overall in 1995 by the Philadelphia Eagles out of Boston College. He was one of the first players ever to specifically train for the NFL Combine drills and put up an incredible performance as a result. He performed more bench presses than the top offensive lineman, ran a faster 40-yard dash than anyone else at his position, jumped a higher vertical leap than even some defensive backs, and scored a 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test (the second highest score ever). Because of this, he is considered to be one of the greatest "Workout Warriors" in NFL Draft history. His stock shot through the roof and, during the draft, the Eagles traded up to get him. However, Mamula's workout athleticism would never translate successfully to the field. His career was plagued by injury until he was forced to retire after only 5 mediocre years. Making matters worse for the Eagles, the 12th overall pick they used to trade up for Mamula would be used by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle Warren Sapp. Later in the round, the Bucs would also select Hall of Fame Linebacker Derrick Brooks, meaning that the Eagles essentially passed on two Hall of Fame players for Mamula.
  • Tony Mandarich was an offensive lineman drafted by the Green Bay Packers #2 overall in 1989 out of Michigan State. He was considered one of the greatest offensive line prospects ever and was thought to be a "can't miss" draft prospect. However, his career began with a lengthy contractual dispute that resulted in Mandarich holding out into the regular season. When he finally did begin to play, he was middling-at-best, abysmal at worst, and certainly nowhere close to the player he was in college. He was cut after three seasons and soon after, entered treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Following that treatment, he played a few more years for the Colts before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury. In 2008, he finally admitted to using steroids after years of suspicion, even going as far as to fake urine tests in order to avoid being caught. Infamously, he is the only member of the 1989 NFL Draft selected in the top 5 to not be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders were the other players selected.)
  • Todd Marinovich was a quarterback for the Los Angeles Raiders who drafted him the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft out of USC. Marinovich had a claim to fame even before starting his college career as the "ROBO QB" of California. Todd's father served as the first strength and conditioning coach in the NFL for the Raiders (then in Oakland) where he adapted Eastern Bloc training methods for football. Even before he was born, Todd was being conditioned to be the ultimate athlete (his mother was not allowed to even eat sugar or salt while pregnant with him). Todd was raised on a very strict diet, was forbidden to indulge in normal childhood activities (such as watching cartoons), and was tutored in every aspect of playing football. After a record setting high school career, Marinovich attended USC where he got his first taste of freedom away from his father. Marinovich was forced into action as a redshirt freshman after an injury to the starting QB, but played extremely well, leading USC to the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl victory. Believed to be a Heisman favorite his next year, Marinovich struggled instead. He was skipping classes and started dabbling in drugs, which led to a one-game suspension. His play also began to decline and his college career ended when he was seen on national television arguing with his coaches on the sideline. Despite these issues, he declared for the NFL Draft and was selected by the Raiders in the first round. Unfortunately, his drug issues only worsened as a pro. After just eight starts in two seasons, he was suspended for a season by the NFL for multiple failed drug tests. The Raiders released him and no other NFL teams would sign him. He had stints in the CFL and Arena Football League before retiring and becoming an artist. Interesting historical footnote: Marinovich was selected eight picks ahead of another QB who would start over 300 games in his lengthy career. That QB? Brett Favre.
  • Aaron Maybin was an edge rusher drafted #11 overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2009 out of Penn State. Known for his freakish athleticism, Maybin put up an elite combine performance which boosted his draft stock. There were concerns about his ability to maintain his playing weight, however. Listed at 245, there were reports that it dropped as low as 225 during the season (smaller than most linebackers and even some safeties). These concerns proved valid as he badly struggled in the NFL, getting physically outmatched by pro offensive linemen. By his second season, he was a healthy scratch for most games and was released the following offseason, having failed to record a single sack with the Bills. He caught on the with the division rival Jets and played two more years there, registering six sacks as a situational pass rusher, but never lived up to his draft billing. Making matters worse, fellow edge rusher and four-time pro-bowler Brian Orakpo was selected just two picks later.
  • Dan McGwire was a quarterback drafted #16 overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 1991 after an outstanding career in San Diego State's high-volume passing attack. Standing at over 6'8", he is the tallest quarterback ever drafted and one of the tallest players overall, beaten out by only a few linemen (including Jonathan Ogden and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, mentioned above). Beyond his size, McGwire is notable for his immense arm strength, with it claimed that he once (likely apocryphally) threw the ball out of his college stadium from the field during a practice. Unfortunately, this physical talent would not translate to the NFL game. After sitting behind long-time Seahawks standout Dave Krieg as a rookie, it was expected that he would take over the starting job for his second season. However, the Seahawks made a coaching change before the season and McGwire struggled to adjust to the new offensive system, performing poorly during training camp and the preseason. He would wind up as the third string quarterback that year and Seattle would go on to draft Rick Mirer with the #2 overall pick the following offseason. McGwire would ultimately only start three games as a Seahawk while Mirer was out with an injury, completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing six interceptions. He would attempt to catch on elsewhere in the league, but would never again start a game. Like Todd Marinovich above, McGwire's bust status is made even more painful for Seahawk fans as he was drafted ahead of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He's also a case of Overshadowed by Awesome in his personal life; he's the younger brother of former Major League Baseball superstar Mark McGwire.
  • Booker Reese was a defensive end drafted in 1982 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Considered a "boom or bust" prospect with off-the-charts athleticism but needing polish, the Bucs planned to take him with their first round pick. However, a communications snafu caused the Bucs to accidentally send in the name of the #2 player on their board, offensive lineman Sean Farrell, instead. (Farrell would, ironically, have a solid 11 year career in the NFL.) Desperate to get Reese, the Bucs offered the Bears their 1983 first round pick in order to trade up. Reese immediately had issues with alcohol and cocaine abuse, lasting just two seasons in Tampa and recording just two sacks. Adding insult to injury, the Bears would then use the Bucs' pick in 1983 on wide receiver/olympic-qualified sprinter Willie Gault, who would have a productive NFL career and would be the leading receiver on Chicago's 1985 Super Bowl winning team.
  • Charles Rogers was a wide receiver drafted #2 overall by the Detroit Lions in 2003 after a stellar career at Michigan State. After drawing pre-draft comparisons to Randy Moss, much was expected of Rogers in the NFL. However, just five games into his rookie year, Rogers broke his collarbone in a collision with a teammate during practice. He would again break his collarbone on just the third play from scrimmage during his second season. His third season began with a four-game substance abuse policy suspension and when he returned, only played sparingly. He was cut after playing in just 15 games for the Lions. To pour salt in the wound for Detroit fans, Rogers was drafted one pick ahead of fellow wide receiver Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler who retired in the top 10 for all time NFL receptions and receiving yards.
  • Jamarcus Russell was the first player drafted in the 2007 NFL Draft, spending his short three-year career as the quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. The final straw was the 2009 season, where he posted a 50.0 passer rating (which was not only dead last among qualified players for the year, but the lowest qualified passer rating since Ryan Leaf in 1998 note )Combined with his poor work ethic (he frequently showed up overweight) and drug addictions, it was more than enough to end his career. He once offered to play a season for free, but no NFL team wanted to sign him. He could seriously rival Ryan Leaf as the biggest first-round bust of all time, if only because the Raiders spent more money to sign him than the Chargers did for Leaf. Also not helping Russell's case is that he was drafted ahead of three likely future Hall of Famers: Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, and Adrian Peterson.
  • Akili Smith was a quarterback selected #3 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999 NFL Draft. He was previously drafted by Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates in the 7th round and spent three years in the minor leagues before returning to football at the University of Oregon. Despite only making 11 starts in college, the Bengals were very high on Smith. The Saints, who were looking to trade up for Ricky Williams, offered all of their 1999 draft picks as well as two from the 2000 draft but the Bengals refused because they wanted to make sure they landed Smith. (The Saints would eventually trade eight draft picks to Washington for the #5 overall pick.) Smith would miss nearly all of his rookie training camp due to a contract dispute, and when he did arrive, was not diligent in film study and failed to grasp the team's playbook. In four years with the team, Smith would only start 17 games and would finish with an abysmal 5/13 TD/INT ratio. He would attempt to catch on in NFL Europe (becoming the highest drafted player to ever play in the league) as well as the CFL, but would flame out in both. In addition to passing on the massive haul of draft picks offered by the Saints, the Bengals also missed on a number of other excellent players, as seven of the eight players drafted immediately after Smith would go on to make at least one Pro Bowl (including Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey, and fellow QB Daunte Culpepper).
  • The Tedford Five are five quarterbacks drafted in the first round from the late 90s into the early 2000s who were coached by Jeff Tedford in college and who failed to live up to expectations once in the NFL. Tedford served as an offensive coordinator at Fresno State where he coached future first rounders Trent Dilfer (1994 #6 overall pick to Tampa) and David Carr (2002 #1 overall pick to Houston), then at Oregon where he coached Akili Smith (1999 #3 overall pick who has his own entry above) and Joey Harrington (2002 #3 overall pick to Detroit), and as head coach at the University of Cal-Berkley where he coached Kyle Boller (2003 #19 overall pick to Baltimore). All had outstanding college careers in Tedford's system, but all failed to live up to the expectations of being first round draft choices in the NFL. Their collective record as NFL starters is just 98-127 (43.6%), they combined for a completion percentage of 54.6%, threw more interceptions (230) than touchdown passes (202), and posted an anemic combined QB rating 68.6. Dilfer did start and win Super Bowl XXXV with the Ravens, but is widely considered the worst starting QB to ever win a Super Bowl, mostly being in the right place at the right time. (He was a game manager of an extremely limited, run-heavy offense that basically just had to avoid mistakes thanks to having one of the NFL's most dominating defensive units of all time.) The NFL's backlash toward the failures of Tedford's quarterbacks likely greased the rails for Aaron Rodgers' (who played at Cal under Tedford) draft day slide to 24th overall. Rodgers would ultimately buck the trend, but would ironically be the last first round pick quarterback produced by Tedford (who would later be fired from Cal, serve as an NFL offensive coordinator for a time, then return to Fresno State as head coach).
  • Andre Ware was a quarterback selected #7 overall by the Detroit Lions in 1990 after winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Houston. During his Heisman winning campaign, Ware set 26 NCAA passing records while playing in Houston's passing-heavy "Run & Shoot" offense. Many were curious to see how Ware transitioned to the NFL's more conservative, run-heavy offensive style. Unfortunately, that transition went poorly and Ware struggled to even win the backup job in Detroit, much less start. Ware ended up only starting six games for the Lions in four seasons, then failed to catch on anywhere else in the league. (He would eventually have a little more success in the Canadian Football League and then in NFL Europe, but would never again play in the NFL.)
  • Troy Williamson was a wide receiver drafted #7 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, using the very same draft pick the Vikings acquired by trading disgruntled future Hall of Famer receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders. Williamson was a track athlete with blazing speed (running a 4.32 40-time at the combine) but had limited experience in other aspects of being a WR, having been just a one-year starter in college at South Carolina. Williamson badly struggled with drops and route running in three years with the Vikings, then was traded to Jacksonville for a 6th round pick. He eeked out two unproductive years with the Jags and was then out of football. Adding insult to injury, seven of the next eight players selected after Williamson all went to at least one Pro Bowl during their careers.
  • Vince Young is one of the more intriguing examples of a draft bust in NFL history. Even before his legendary college career at the University of Texas, he was hailed as the "LeBron James of Texas" for how much attention he got even as a high school player in the state. Come the 2006 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans wanted a quarterback and had three options. Head Coach Jeff Fisher was rumored to prefer Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler, while offensive coordinator Norm Chow wanted Matt Leinart (who Chow coached in college at USC.) Ownership and management, however, wanted Young for his sky high potential and massive star power. So, with the #3 overall pick, the Titans selected Young. Young found initial success in the NFL, winning the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year award and going 8-5 as a starter. Many predicted that Young would go on to become what Cam Newton later achieved as a true dual-threat quarterback, capable of being a franchise QB type of passer in addition to being a skilled runner. However, trouble soon found Young, later stating that he contemplated retirement after his rookie year due to family problems and playing football no longer being "fun." He was pulled from a start during the preseason of his second year for breaking team rules and would struggle mightily during the regular season, throwing just 9 TD passes but 17 interceptions. Young injured his knee in the first game of his third season and would return as a backup to veteran Kerry Collins, who led the Titans to a 13-3 record. Collins kept the job into the next season, with Young only regaining it at the urging of Titans owner Bud Adams after the team's abysmal 0-6 start. Young played well enough to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement and nearly won Comeback Player of the Year. Young went back to struggling the following season and, after storming out of the locker room following an altercation with coach Fisher, would never again start for the Titans. He was released the following offseason where he signed as a backup with Philadelphia Eagles. After a splurge of free agent signings, Young declared the Eagles to be a "Dream Team" and, indeed, many offseason predictions has the Eagles as favorites in the NFC. Young won his first start for the Eagles, but struggled mightily in his next two starts, culminating with a 1 TD to 4 INT performance against the Seahawks. That would prove to be the final start of Young's career as he was released the following offseason. He was signed by a few other teams in the coming years, but would never again make a regular season roster. For all of the hype and promise, Young would finish his career with more interceptions than touchdowns.


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