The NFL season kicked off recently in an astounding way. Opening night was awesome, with the Broncos triumphing over the Panthers, in a game that was far more exciting than their Super Bowl matchup.With fantasy football also in full swing, fans are excited and captivated, not just by their own teams' successes, but by the entire league.
This list seeks to recognize the best of the NFL. The guys on this list are studs. They have navigated through the NFL in ways most players are incapable. Their skill and determination define the NFL. What qualities define a great player? Some would argue its someone who is a contributing teammate, skillful athlete and one who embraces the fans.
Above all, the best players will harbor a passion for the game.
The NFL is full of legendary players, and this list is recognizing some of them. This article will outline best players whose jersey numbers lie in between 00-25. When you think of a number as a sports fan, a player immediately comes to mind. When you think of no.23, you think of Michael Jordan. When you think of no.12 you think of Tom Brady. When you think of no.99, you think of Wayne Gretzky. It goes on and on. Players define a number and today we're taking you through players who defined a number in the NFL.
26 Jim Otto - 00
You don't see too many players rocking the 00 jersey today, so finding the player to take this spot took some digging into the past. Jim Otto is the only lineman you'll find on this list, as linemen tend to have numbers in the 60s and 70s. For his part, Otto just so happened to be one of the greatest centers to ever play the game. He made 12 Pro Bowls and made 10 All-Pro teams. He spent his entire career with the Oakland Raiders, with only his final five seasons coming in the NFL, as the Raiders were initially part of the AFL.
Otto would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. With the NFL now mandating certain position players to wear certain numbers, it's unlikely we'll see a 00 again, much less a great one.
25 Warren Moon - 1
Cam Newton will very likely occupy this spot one day, but for now, it's impossible to unseat Warren Moon in this no.1 spot. Moon was a trail blazer for NFL quarterbacks. He refused to change positions, feeling that he was only asked to do so because of pre-existing notions about black players. He went to the CFL, winning five Grey Cups before he got a shot as a QB in the NFL, quarterbacking the Houston Oilers.
Moon would go on to have a HOF career in the NFL, throwing for 49,325 yards, 291 touchdowns and a career passer rating of 80.9. Although Moon didn't win a Super Bowl in his career, he brought the Houston Oilers back to relevance and certainly made a lasting impression on the game as a Hall of Famer.
24 David Akers - 2
Wow, a kicker? Well, what did you expect? We're not putting JaMarcus Russell here. When looking through some of the best players to wear the no.2, we're mostly down to kickers and quarterbacks and there was no quarterback worth taking over David Akers. Akers was a very reliable kicker in Philadelphia for many seasons and also enjoyed some success in San Francisco. Akers is a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro. Akers finished his career with a FG % of 80.9, but his numbers dipped mostly in his twilight years.
Akers had a powerful leg and at one point was tied for the longest field goal in NFL history at 63 yards before that record was broken by Matt Prater.
Akers eventually ended his career in Detroit in 2013.
23 Bronko Nagurski - 3
We had to go back in time to find our pick for the no.3 and we're going with the Chicago Bears' great Bronko Nagurski. Nagurski was part of the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team and he was a force to be reckoned with in his playing days. Nagurski not only was a great football player but he also had success as an amateur and professional wrestler.
In his career, Nagurski won three NFL championships and helped put the Bears on the map. His number 3 was retired by the Bears and he remains one of the early pioneers of the game of football. While playing as a fullback in the 30s, in a 1980s interview with Sports Illustrated, Nagurski said he'd play a different position in today's NFL: "I would probably be a linebacker today. I wouldn't be carrying the ball 20 or 25 times a game."
22 Brett Favre - 4
Here was an easy choice, as Brett Favre was not only one of the most exciting players of his generation, but he also happened to be one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Favre enjoyed most of his success with the Packers, but as we know he famously retired only to come back in 2008 to play for the New York Jets. After a subpar season in New York, Favre would gain a career resurgence with the Minnesota Vikings, where he would break several NFL records, including Dan Marino's previous touchdown record and all-time passing yards. (Both records have since been surpassed by a later entry on this list.)
No matter how you personally felt about Favre, there's no doubt that he made a lasting impression on the game and you can't think of anyone other than Favre when thinking of no.4.
21 Donovan McNabb - 5
Being from Philadelphia, I watched Donovan in his prime. McNabb was one of the first African American quarterbacks to thrive as a passer. He revolutionized the QB position with his speed, agility, and throwing power. He had some great wide receivers for him including Terrell Owens. The quarterback had his best days in Philadelphia, but unfortunately, his tenures in Washington and Minnesota were duds. He was a six-time pro bowler, and an NFC Offensive Player of the Year. His ratio from touchdowns to interceptions in his career was 234-117.
The Syracuse product had a great career, with moments that fans will never forget. Sure he blew some games, and the fans went crazy, but he always meant well for the crazy Philly fans. McNabb may be a Hall of Fame prospect. All in all, Philly fans should be thankful that McNabb brought them back to prominence after a couple of rough decades.
20 Jay Cutler - 6
I know, I know, Jay Cutler doesn't really belong on any 'greatest' list but he's kind of here by default. I mean, after all, who else do you want, Mark Sanchez? Surprisingly nobody has really made their mark wearing the no.6 and for all his downfalls, Cutler still has built himself a decent career wearing this number. We won't know what Cutler's career will go down as when all is said and done. Perhaps he can find an extra switch as his career reaches its latter stages.
For now, it's up to someone else to unseat Cutler from this position. In Cutler's defense, he'll probably finish his career in the top 20 as far as career passing yardage goes. He entered this season with over 31,000, so he'll likely join the 35,000 club this season.
19 John Elway - 7
This one was a pretty easy choice and John Elway does indeed belong on a greatest list. The 2000s was all about the electrifying no.7 down in Atlanta named Michael Vick, but going by all time players, John Elway is undoubtedly the man you think of when thinking of no.7.
Elway was chosen first overall in the most legendary NFL draft class of all time back in 1983. He helped build the Broncos into a Super Bowl contender and while he had plenty of playoff failures early in his career, it wasn't his fault. The Broncos were simply a good team falling victim to great teams in the NFC come Super Bowl time. At least Elway got to win a couple of Super Bowls at the end of his career, when Denver had finally built a team worthy of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
18 Steve Young - 8
The quarterback filled in for Joe Montana, then became great. Young was able to play in 15 NFL seasons. Steve was best on the 49ers. He has won three Super Bowls (one as a starter), and was a Super Bowl MVP. Steve made the Pro Bowl seven times, and has many more accolades. The 49ers actually retired his number as well. Overall, his touchdown to interception ratio in his career was an impressive 232-107. He even had 42 rushing touchdowns, and was mobile in the pocket. The BYU alum will always be remembered as the best number 8 ever. Steve was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and College Football Hall of Fame. Amazingly, he won six NFL passing rater awards. Steve also racked up over 30,000 passing yards in his astounding NFL career.
17 Drew Brees - 9
Drew Brees is known as one of the best players ever, as his skill and attentiveness to the game of football will never be forgotten. "The Brees" as we call him, is a great fantasy football player. He has had good receivers alongside of him, such as Joe Horn, Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, Willie Snead, Jimmy Graham and others. He has won a Super Bowl before, and was recognized with MVP honors. Drew Brees has changed the game of football with his accuracy and deep throw abilities. Hell, he threw a 99 yard touchdown pass this season.
He has been connecting with the young Brandin Cooks on passes the last couple of years, proving that he really can adjust to new situations. Brees is not done yet, as he continues to tear up teams he plays with his deep throwing abilities and passing finesse.
16 Fran Tarkenton - 10
Fran Tarkenton was really the first quarterback to begin using his mobility to gain yardage. As the forward pass became more prominent in the game of football, Tarkenton decided that on top of his arm, he could also beat teams with his legs. Tarkenton was electrifying the NFL in the 60s and 70s and his play eventually got him inducted into the Hall of Fame class of 1986.
The only thing missing from Tarkenton's career is a Super Bowl trophy, as Tarkenton's Vikings managed to make the Super Bowl four times, but would always come up short in the big game. It wasn't on Tarkenton though, as opposing defenses merely zeroed in on him and the Vikes didn't have the depth to match other teams. Tarkenton remains the greatest no.10 in NFL history.
15 Larry Fitzgerald - 11
Larry Fitzgerald is a beast, and continues to tear up the NFL. He kills it for my fantasy football team, and I'm sure he does for many others as well. His career is full of memorable highlights. He was very close to winning the Super Bowl, but fell to the Steelers in 2008 against a brutal defense (and a Santonio Holmes catch). Fitzgerald is a fan favorite, and he will be long remembered after his retirement.
The Cardinals have relied on him, and he has delivered for a very long time. With Carson Palmer at quarterback this season per usual, Larry is primed for another workhorse year. He had some more help with John Brown and Michael Floyd, but is still the best target for Palmer. This seems to be the year where the Cards can finally win their first Super Bowl.
14 Tom Brady - 12
Though Peyton was great and all, I think Tom Brady is better. Brady plays with such high intensity, and what he does looks effortless. He throws perfect spiraled passes, and rarely throws interceptions. Tom has won four Super Bowls, and has been to 11 Pro Bowls. I think he is so calm on the field that he just executes constantly. Brady's all-time favorite receivers must be Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Gronk, and I'm sure Julian Edelman. He has been a Patriot since being drafted from Michigan in 2000.
He was drafted very late, and every team passed on him. NFL teams were just not aware of how amazing this guy would be. To me, he might be the best QB ever, but there are certainly two guys who may be better.
13 Dan Marino - 13
Dan Marino. What is there not to say? The nine-time pro bowler was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 2005. He currently has the record for most passing yards ever by a QB. His passing yards total of 61,361 is truly remarkable, and was just surpassed by Drew Brees at third. Dan may not have won a Super Bowl, but his presence on the field was unforgettable. From running through a hole, to tossing the ball up the field for a deep touchdown, Marino will always be in the hearts of Miami football fans, who loved his amazing style of play.
The Dolphins retired his number, and so did Pittsburgh, his alma mater. Marino continues to be a television personality today, but his greatest job was quarterbacking for the Miami Dolphins.
12 Dan Fouts - 14
Dan Fouts is the greatest #14 to ever play football. He certainly is the best Chargers QB of all time. Fouts never did win a Super Bowl, but few good QBs get the chance. He made it to six Pro Bowls, and was the MVP in 1982. Though his passing rating wasn't as good as Steve Young's, Fouts is known for his long passes. He played his whole career in San Diego, and is beloved by the fans in California.
Dan was actually a third round pick in 1973; whoever passed on him was kidding themselves. The Oregon alum QB was tall at 6 feet 5, and he towered over some defenders. He is a California native who got the chance to play in his home state. He shattered expectations from day one.
For a franchise that endured so much losing, Fouts definitely was the franchise savior San Diego needed.
11 Bart Starr - 15
Bart Starr was the best #15 EVER, just ask Packer fans. He is a two-time Super Bowl champ, a two-time MVP, and four-time Pro bowl selection. He won five NFL titles before the Super Bowl was a real thing. Number 15 will forever be retired in Wisconsin, as he was a savior in the city. He had nearly 30,000 passing yards in his career, an integer unheard of in his time, other than Johnny Unitas's numbers. Starr is in the NFL Hall of Fame, as well as the Packers Hall of Fame.
He was the QB coach in Green Bay upon retirement, and the head coach as well. He had a lasting legacy on Wisconsin football, and football everywhere.
His most famous play though, will forever remain the QB sneak in the dying seconds of the Ice Bowl.
10 Joe Montana- 16
Joe Montana is probably the best quarterback who ever lived. His four Super Bowl rings, and three Super Bowl MVPs speak for themselves. Joe was immaculate for the 49ers, and the Chiefs for a couple of years. The Pennsylvania native was the most clutch QB ever. He was picked in the third round of the 1979 draft, which is really crazy. Every team passed on him once, which is a fact likely still engraved in the minds of the coaches and GMs of teams in the year of 1979. Why did they pass on this guy? Who knows! Joe wore number 16. He is the greatest #16 ever, and potentially the best QB ever.
He is 4-0 in Super Bowls and in those four appearances, Montana was absolutely flawless, never throwing an interception.
9 Philip Rivers - 17
Dan Fouts still has the title of the greatest Charger QB ever, but Philip Rivers sure has built a strong case for himself. Well into his 30s now and having had to endure some lackluster talent around him, Rivers seems rejuvenated. Year after year, he wills the Chargers and is able to overcome shaky offensive lines and thin receiver corps.
He had Vincent Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates in his prime several years ago, but he is now down to a seasoned Gates, no LT and his top receiver in Keenan Allen always getting injured.
There's no doubt the no.17 belongs to Rivers. He's already in the 35,000 passing yards club and it looks like he still has several seasons of great football left in him. It's very likely he'll also reach the 50,000 yard mark before his career is over.
8 Peyton Manning - 18
Peyton won two Super Bowls. Everyone loves him, and his nickname of "The Sheriff" is classic. Peyton did things on the field that were spectacular, racking up major yardage every game. He threw the ball to some great wide receivers during his run, such as Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, and Eric Decker.
Peyton's brother Eli has won the same amount of Super Bowls, but isn't quite as good as Peyton, nor will he ever be, though time will tell. "The Sheriff" is truly considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. He was the first pick in the draft in 1998, and set the bar high for future QBs. His absence is surely noticeable.
Anybody who now dons the no.18 from here on out has quite the legacy to match.
7 Johnny Unitas - 19
Johnny Unitas is known for the greatest game ever played. Unitas played for the Baltimore Colts for the majority of his career. He was the MVP in 1957, and made it to 10 Pro Bowls. Johnny won three NFL Championships and managed to win Super Bowl V while in the twilight of his career. He wasn't selected until the 9th round back in 1955, which is absurd. He has a long list of accolades, and is known as the first amazing QB. He had nearly 40,000 passing yards in his career, a number that was very high upon his retirement.
It really took a bit for his career to take off, as he was released from teams multiple times for being "too skinny." Well, he proved the haters wrong astoundingly. Johnny will forever be known as a legend in the NFL/AFL.
6 Barry Sanders - 20
Sanders is known to be the greatest running back there ever was. Sanders is also known as the best player to never win a Super Bowl. He went to 10 Pro Bowls, was nominated for six All Pros, and won the Heisman in college. Sanders didn't get a lot of offers out of high school for football, but in the end it all worked out. Lions' fans got a lot out of him. He was very speedy, and broke free out of holes on nearly every play. He had 99 rushing touchdowns in his career. He racked up over 15,000 yards rushing, and retired in 1999 a champ.
Barry, Walter Payton, and Emmitt Smith have the most yards ever in the NFL. The three are probably the greatest RBs ever, though honorable mention must be given to Gale Sayers, Jim Brown, and Adrian Peterson.
5 Deion Sanders - Number 21
Deion "Primetime" Sanders had a legendary NFL career. He tore up offenses one by one weekly. He is one of the best defensive backs the game has ever seen. His speed was clearly superior to other defensive players. Sanders is known for his days in Atlanta being legendary for the Falcons. He was adept at getting interceptions, and once had an 82 yard run back interception.
He played kick returner for many years in the league, and was good at getting through holes in the defense as well. Deion won two Super Bowls, and participated in eight Pro Bowls. The fifth pick in the draft once was a Jim Thorpe award winner. Sanders is known as one of the best players to ever grace the field, and his skill and speed will never be forgotten.
4 Emmitt Smith - Number 22
Emmitt Smith was very big and possibly the best running back ever, other then Barry Sanders, perhaps. He took home three Super Bowls with the Cowboys, and went to eight Pro Bowls. With Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman at receiver, this Cowboys team was tough to stop. This trio was known as the "triplets," and truly were amazing. Emmitt had 515 receptions in his NFL career and was a two dimensional running back. Emmitt wasn't the fastest, but he was so strong that he just bumped by defenders, and was like a bus.
Similar to the great Franco Harris, Emmitt bodied defenders. Smith is an NFL legend, a Cowboys legend, and more importantly, a legend of the game of football. His attributes left a mark on the game, and he left shoes that needed to be filled.
3 Devin Hester - 23
The no.23 in football isn't quite as legendary as the number in basketball. However when looking at past players to wear the number, giving it to the most prolific returner in the history of the game is the right choice. Devin Hester took the league by storm right away, as he enjoyed perhaps one of the greatest rookie seasons in all of sports. He ran back three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns that season and quickly gained notice throughout the NFL.
While Hester never really developed into an elite WR, the fact that he has 20 career touchdowns on special teams is enough to warrant his spot on this list. He was one of the most exciting players of his era and he sure has our vote for a Hall of Fame spot.
2 Champ Bailey - Number 24
Champ Bailey was a Broncos Legend. He played his career there from 2004-2014. Champ made 12 Pro Bowls, which is the most ever by a cornerback. Champ was a fan favorite for the Mile High. He was known for shutting down the best receivers in the game, including Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, and Reggie Wayne. He played in Super Bowl XLVIII, and with the loss to the Seahawks, he was released. He was old at this point in his career, and retired shortly after that. His career was impeccable, one that cannot be replicated by another player. He once had an 100 yard interception returned for a touchdown on Tom Brady. Case closed. His impressive record surely justifies his placement at number eight on this list.
1 Fred Biletnikoff - 25
Fred Biletnikoff enjoyed an amazing career with the Oakland Raiders, meaning his career was split between the AFL and the NFL post-merger. By the time Super Bowl XI came around, his best days seemed to be behind him, but Biletnikoff was not going to pass up likely his last chance at a championship. He became the MVP of the Super Bowl in what was a dominant victory by the Raiders over the Vikings.
Biletnikoff was a six-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All Pro and he was one of the main faces of the bad boy Raiders teams of the early NFL days. For his career, Biletnikoff managed to snag in 589 passes and scored 76 times. He would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.