25. Matt Rhule — Nebraska
Rhule’s run in the NFL did not go as expected. He signed on as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2020, hoping to bring the franchise some stability in the post-Cam Newton era. Rhule had a different Week 1 starter in each of his three seasons with the club, and failed to produce a single winning campaign. He was ousted midway through the ’22 season, and opted for a return to college football. Having gained notoriety for the turnaround at Baylor, Rhule hopes to resurrect a Nebraska program that has been relegated to a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten. Rhule has the credentials to get the job done, and he seems much more at home now that he’s returned to the college ranks.
24. Lane Kiffin — Ole Miss
Kiffin knows how to coach offense — and he knows how to recruit. The former USC head man seemingly has gotten humbled in recent years. That’ll happen when you go from head coach of the (then) Oakland Raiders to running the Florida Atlantic program. This perspective seemingly has done Kiffin a ton of good. He’s now a more likable, seemingly down-to-Earth figure. In the process, he took the Ole Miss job with the hopes of turning it into a threat in the loaded SEC West. He’s led Ole Miss to Bowl Games in each of his three seasons, and has finished in the top-30 in scoring every year. With former USC passer Jaxson Dart at the helm, Kiffin and the Rebels are looking to make a run for the top of the toughest division in the nation.
23. Mike Norvell — Florida State
Norvell went 38-15 at Memphis and capped off his tenure with an undefeated regular season before taking on the job at Florida State. The ‘Noles have been in a lull, but this is a program that has never struggled luring top recruits. And, in Year 4 with the team, it seems like Norvell is beginning to put the pieces in place. Last year, Florida State won six-straight to end the year including a win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl. As a result, the ‘Noles entered the year ranked in the top-10 for the first time since 2017. An early statement win over LSU to begin the ’23 season announced to the country that the Seminoles are ready to compete yet again at the national level.
22. Jonathan Smith — Oregon State
The Beavs could be having a moment, and that is thanks in large part to the job Jonathan Smith has done since taking over back in 2018. Smith won the 2000 Fiesta Bowl as a QB for the Beavers — throwing passes to two receivers you may have heard of, Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmanzadeh. Oregon State is not an easy job, and could become even more difficult with the Pac-12 set to dissolve. However, Smith has built a roster that can win double-digit games and potentially contend for the last conference title in Pac-12 history. Don’t be surprised if the hungry Beavs knock off the top teams out West.
21. Mark Stoops — Kentucky
Kentucky is no longer just known for basketball — and Mark Stoops is the primary reason why. Using his extensive recruiting ties in both Florida and Ohio, he’s built a very strong roster in Lexington. The Wildcats have seven bowl appearances with Stoops as the head coach — including two 10-win seasons. Considering the history of the program, and the fact they play in the SEC, this is essentially unheard of. Now, last year was a bit of a disappointment as the Wildcats were equipped with a top-tier QB in Will Levis and only managed to win seven games. But, the roster has been retooled and could very well be the second-best team in the SEC East.
20. Kirk Ferentz — Iowa
Ferentz is the longest tenured head coach in D1 history. He took over the Iowa job in 1999 (going 1-10). Since then, the Hawkeyes have become a football factory — winning games, developing talent, and getting players drafted (particularly offensive linemen). Iowa routinely plays above its collective talent level. Ferentz is one of those guys getting the most out of his players. The Hawkeyes have a whopping 19 bowl appearances under Ferentz. Based upon the recent level of success, along with an uptick in recruiting, No. 20 seems like a formality at this point. The Hawkeyes have put together 10-straight winning seasons, and will look for an 11th consecutive this year.
19. Sonny Dykes — TCU
TCU’s lousy title game performance should not be held over the job Sonny Dykes accomplished last year. In his first year with the team, Dykes led TCU to 12-0 regular season and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Horned Frogs knocked off Michigan in the semi-final, but were ultimately taken down in the title game by Georgia. Still, this is a program that hadn’t played in a national title game in over 80 years. Dykes was able to buck that trend in his first year on campus. There’s no telling how much he’ll be able to accomplish once his time in Fort Worth comes to a close.
18. Hugh Freeze — Auburn
One thing we know for certain: Hugh Freeze knows how to win. He’s won at every stop, and is now trying to prove for a second time that he can compete in the SEC. Both of his SEC gigs weren’t exactly the most coveted jobs in the conference. Ole Miss and Auburn have each had its moments in the sun, but the programs typically fall in line behind the other SEC powers (Alabama, Georgia, and LSU) when it comes to recruiting. With Freeze at the helm, however, it feels like Auburn will compete at the highest level sooner rather than later. In Year 1, Freeze already has the Tigers on the right track following a few down years for the program.
17. Mike Gundy — Oklahoma State
Gundy is an impressive example of consistency. The body of work crafted by the Oklahoma State head man has been nothing short of sensational. During his time in Stillwater, Gundy has led seven clubs that have won 10 or more games. They’ve qualified for a Bowl Game in each of the past 17 seasons. Gundy’s offense has always been particularly potent, consistently being among the top scoring outfits nationally. It’s pretty impressive for him to sustain this level of success considering the fact OSU is jockeying with the Sooners for supremacy of the state of Oklahoma.
16. Chris Klieman — Kansas State
Taking over for a legendary coach in Bill Snyder was never going to be easy. But, Chris Klieman has done a fine job since taking over at Kansas State five years ago. The Wildcats struggled with consistency over Snyder’s final tenure. That hasn’t been quite as prevalent of an issue under Klieman. Kansas State has been ranked each year during Klieman’s run, and got as high as No. 9 in the polls in 2022. It should be no surprise that Klieman’s brand of coaching brings a certain level of sustained success. After all, he sported a sterling 69-6 record and won four FCS National Championships with North Dakota State.
15. Mack Brown — North Carolina
Mack Brown’s resume ranks up there among the very best. He’s won at the highest level and has consistently produced talent that has gone on to play at the next level. We saw what he was capable of at a top-power with Texas, having led the program to nine-straight 10-win seasons at one point and the 2005 National Title. While he hasn’t been able to reproduce that kind of success at quite the same level at North Carolina, Brown has legitimized a Tar Heels football program that has always been in the shadow of its basketball team. He’s led the Tar Heels to four-straight Bowl Games and won nine games last year — the program’s second-best season since 1997 (Brown’s final year in his first tenure at UNC).
14. Josh Huepel — Tennessee
In just two-plus seasons, Huepel has already brought Tennessee back to national prominence. The Vols are in a spot that they haven’t resided in since the late ’90s/early ’00s. And, Huepel can be credited for that turnaround. He joined Tennessee in the 2021 season after three winning seasons at UCF. Huepel’s Vols won 11 games last year and boasted the nation’s top-scoring offense. Though some of his biggest playmakers left for the NFL this past year, it doesn’t seem like Tennessee’s attack will slow down any time soon as long as Huepel is at the helm.
13. Kalen Debeor — Washington
Following a quick rebuild at Fresno State, Kalen DeBoer was plucked by a Washington team in desperate need of a makeover. In his first year with the Huskies, DeBoer led the team to a 11-2 record and a win in the Alamo Bowl. Washington’s offense has been sensational ever since DeBoer came to town. Built around the arm of QB Michael Penix Jr. and WR’s Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, the Huskies finished seventh in scoring nationally last season. Now, defense isn’t exactly DeBoer’s calling card, but any team that wants to compete with the USC’s and Oregon’s of the country need to be able to score. And, DeBoer’s offense has no trouble putting up points in bunches.
12. Chip Kelly — UCLA
Every college football fan remembers Chip Kelly’s magical run at Oregon. The offensive savant was only in Eugene for four years (2009-12), but established a brand of football that completely took the nation by storm. His innovative tactics caught on across the country, and he eventually made the jump to the NFL after leading Oregon to a 46-7 record and wins in the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. Kelly’s NFL career didn’t go quite as well in stops in San Francisco and Philadelphia, but a return to the college football world seems to have reignited him. He has UCLA on the right path now as the Bruins are set to join the Big Ten.
11. Jimbo Fisher — Texas A&M
Since joining Texas A&M, Jimbo Fisher has done an outstanding job of recruiting. With the windfall of money from the NIL ruling, the Aggies went out and secured the nation’s top class. We’re talking about elite players from all over the country — whether it be South Florida, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Texas. The next step for A&M is putting it together on the field. Even top recruits don’t always guarantee results on the field. Fisher and his Aggies were humbled a bit by a veteran Miami team at Hard Rock. However, based on Fisher’s track record when it comes to building contenders, we are certain that his efforts on the recruiting trail will eventually pay great dividends.
10. Lincoln Riley — Southern California
After cementing himself as one of the top offensive gurus at Oklahoma, Lincoln Riley left for the beaches of Southern California. Taking over USC is no easy task. While recruiting on the West Coast becomes a bit easier, it comes with immense expectations and a giant target on one’s back. Having brought over the nation’s top QB certainly helped matters, as the Trojans were an explosive offense in Year 1 with Riley and Caleb Williams. Now, if Riley wants a true national contender, he’ll have to find a way to generate enough stops on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, all eyes will be on USC and Riley this year — as a potential jump to the NFL always looms for the gifted coach.
9. Ryan Day — Ohio State
Ohio State is humming right now. In terms of program health, you can make an argument that the Buckeyes are set up better than nearly any other program in the country. Coming from Chip Kelly’s tree, Day is an offensive wizard. When you pair that brilliance with the athletes Ohio State gets on defense, the Big Ten really has a hard time staying competitive. Since taking over, Day has nearly a 90-percent win-rate and has consistently put the Buckeyes in a spot to compete at the highest level. The next step for Day is to win a National Title before potentially heading to the professional ranks.
8. James Franklin — Penn State
The start of Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley was by all accounts very good. The Pennsylvania native had six-straight years with bowl appearances — including three 11-win seasons. The sense is that the program hadn’t gotten completely over the hump as a title contender. Some believed that Franklin’s seat ran a little hot after two lackluster seasons (11-11 over the ’20 and ’21 campaigns). However, the Nittany Lions responded well last year, finishing the season 11-2 with a Rose Bowl win over Utah. Now, expectations are back as Franklin tries to lead Penn State to its first ever College Football Playoff berth.
7. Brian Kelly — LSU
Brian Kelly’s decision to leave South Bend for the LSU job was a bit of a gamble. In his last five years at Notre Dame, Kelly won 54 games. He’s just over 10 years removed from having the Fighting Irish in the National Title game. Though, Kelly believed that making a move to an SEC power could be highly beneficial. In Year 1 with the Tigers, Kelly led LSU to a 10-4 record capped off with a dominating 63-7 Citrus Bowl victory over Purdue. The Tigers are still a step behind the elite teams in the conference, but Kelly’s impressive track record indicates that LSU could make that leap sooner rather than later.
6. Luke Fickell — Wisconsin
What Luke Fickell was able to accomplish at Cincinnati was nothing short of remarkable. The Bearcats are essentially a mid-major program, and Fickell was able to build the team from the ground up while reaching a College Football Playoff. Though, there was always some certainty that Fickell would move on to a bigger, brighter job when the opportunity arose. And, he did just that last year after being hired by Wisconsin. Fickell is now tasked with bringing the Badgers back out of the Big Ten depths. Wisconsin is a school rich with history, but have just one 10-win season in the last five years. That could change quickly with Fickell at the helm.
5. Kyle Whittingham — Utah
Kyle Whittingham simply knows how to build a football program. Utah teams are immensely tough. It shouldn’t be a surprise — as the team builds its identity around its head man. Whittingham is about discipline, energy, and organization. Rarely will you ever see Utah outplayed. It also maximizes the talent it has in the state, developing big, athletic Polynesian linemen into NFL players. With the Pac-12 fracturing, it’ll be interesting to see whether Whittingham follows the program during its move to the Big 12. We could also see a scenario in which he retires into the sunset.
4. Dabo Swinney — Clemson
After going toe-to-toe with Alabama for years, Clemson — as weird as this is to say — has fallen off a bit. It’s sort of ridiculous to say that considering Clemson won 11 games last year — and haven’t won less than 10 games since 2010. However, based on the previous standard set, it’s a bit of downturn right now for the Tigers. With Miami surging and the rest of college football changing, we’re eager to see what happens to Clemson in the long-term. One thing is for sure…Swinney has to start adapting to/welcoming the new NIL rules.
3. Jim Harbaugh — Michigan
Michigan is still a highly prominent program despite not winning a title under Harbaugh’s stewardship. For all of his quirks and somewhat odd behavior, the man knows how to coach the game of football. The Wolverines are one of the favorites to reach the CFP any given year. Getting over the hump won’t be easy. However, there’s more than enough talent/program support for Michigan to eventually break through and finally capture that elusive title.
2. Kirby Smart — Georgia
At only 47 years of age, Kirby Smart is sitting pretty. He will eventually take over as the de facto ruler of college football once Nick Saban hangs up his whistle. Smart is coaching a premium program in the heart of the most talent-rich region in the country. He’s winning recruiting battles versus Alabama, and can even stake the claim as the current best program within the SEC. Entering 2023, Smart and the Bulldogs have an opportunity to become the first team since Minnesota (’34-’36) to three-peat as National Champions. Georgia should find itself in the playoffs once again, and that’s thanks in large part to the job Smart has done building this program and establishing its identity as the current national juggernaut.
Image Source: Nell Redmond/Getty Images
1. Nick Saban — Alabama
Nick Saban is one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of athletics at any level. Sure, he’s gobbled up National Championships akin to a movie goer munching on bonbons at the theater. He deserves immense praise for that. However, we ultimately give Saban the top billing based upon his ability to sustain levels of success at the very highest level over a long period of time.
It’d be easy for him to rest on his laurels a bit — whether that be in coaching or in recruiting. However, Saban still hustles as if he’s a coach looking to break a 15-game winless streak. This sort of drive and perseverance is a part of what makes him the best college football coach to ever live.
50. Drew Bledsoe
Unfortunately for Drew Bledsoe, his career may be remembered most for losing his job to a man named Tom Brady. Before an injury allowed Brady to secure the job from Bledsoe, the talented quarterback started 123 games for the Patriots between 1993-2001.
Bledsoe was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Pats — twice leading the league in completions (’94, ’97). The Washington native would go on to earn a fourth Pro Bowl bid while with the Buffalo Bills before ultimately finishing his playing career with the Cowboys.
49. Doug Williams
After spending the first five seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Doug Williams joined the Washington Redskins and promptly made NFL history. In 1987, Williams made two regular season starts — and lost both. Despite the losses, Williams was given the offensive reigns when the Redskins entered the playoffs.
Williams rewarded coach Joe Gibbs’ faith and led Washington to a 42-10 victory over John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Williams finished the contest 18-of-29 for 340 yards and four scores — making history as the first African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
48. Dave Krieg
Before Russell Wilson arrived on the scene, Dave Krieg was arguably the franchise’s premier quarterback. From 1980-91, Krieg went 70-49 in 119 starts and earned three Pro Bowl nods. At the conclusion of a long 19-year career, Krieg had a record of 98-77 and tossed 261 touchdown passes versus 199 interceptions.
He may never have been the best quarterback in the league, but Krieg did enough to warrant the franchise adding him to its Ring of Honor.
47. Bert Jones
Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck…Bert Jones? When the then-Baltimore Colts selected Jones with the No. 2 overall pick in 1973, the team believed they had found their next great quarterback to follow in Unitas’ footsteps. While that was never going to go as planned, Jones did have a great three-year stretch in the mid-70’s.
From 1975-77, Jones went 31-11 as a starter, completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 8,273 yards and 59 touchdowns. He was deemed the NFL MVP in 1976 and was selected to the Second-Team All-Pro squad the following year.
46. Bob Griese
Two-time Super Bowl champ, two-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler — how could Bob Griese not make this list? Despite making two Pro Bowl’s through his first three seasons, Griese’s Dolphins struggled to a 10-20-2 record in his first 32 starts.
However, over the next five years, Griese flipped the switch. The quarterback led Miami to a 46-11-1 mark, was elected to four more Pro Bowl’s and won two Super Bowls. While his overall numbers weren’t great, there is no denying a quarterback who won 92-of-151 career starts.
45. Ken Stabler
Let’s get this out of the way first — Ken Stabler had an electric mustache and a glorious mop of hair. The lefty from Alabama also had a rather nice career. Famous for his time with the Raiders, Stabler led Oakland to the playoffs six times. In 1976, Stabler led his squad to a Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
In addition to the win, Stabler led the NFL in passing touchdowns and passer rating in ’76 — two years removed from winning the MVP and leading the league in passing TDs for the first time. Stabler’s accomplishments led to his Hall of Fame induction in 2016.
44. Joe Theismann
Joe Theismann enjoyed a very nice career before a devastating tackle by Lawrence Taylor permanently sent him to the sidelines. A Super Bowl champion in 1982 and MVP in ’83, Theismann suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in his right leg on that fateful play. Before the injury, Theismann had done it all.
After leading Washington to glory in ’82, he quarterbacked the ‘Skins to a 14-2 record the following year. For his career, Theismann went 77-47 and threw for over 25,000 yards.
43. Roman Gabriel
Let’s take a moment to soak in the image above. Look how beautiful — and simple — Roman Gabriel’s uniform is (unlike the hideous logo the Rams are trotting out in 2020). Now that that is out of the way, let’s get into Gabriel the player. Spending most of his career with the Rams, Gabriel was elected to four Pro Bowl’s, led the league in passing touchdowns on two occasions (1969, ’73), passing yards in ’73, and took home the ’69 MVP.
During his MVP campaign, Gabriel threw for 2,549 yards and tossed 24 TDs and just seven interceptions. From 1967-69, the Ram great led the franchise to a 32-7-3 mark.
42. Phil Simms
A majority of the younger football audience may recognize Phil Simms as ‘that guy on TV’. But long before Simms became a mainstay on network television, the Kentucky native led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 1986. In three games that postseason Simms completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 494 yards and eight touchdowns.
The two-time champ started eight games between 1991-92, but then had a triumphant comeback in ’93 — at 38 years old, Simms led the Giants to an 11-5 record and a Wild Card victory over the Vikings.
41. Mark Brunell
Originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1993, Mark Brunell would later become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ inaugural quarterback when the team entered the NFL in 1995. Brunell would lead Jacksonville to the postseason four times — reaching the Conference Championship twice. To this day, Brunell is Jacksonville’s all-time leading passer with 25,698 yards and 144 touchdowns.
40. Tony Romo
Before his blossoming career in broadcasting began, Tony Romo was a highly-efficient quarterback for nearly a decade. Drafted in 2004, Romo spent two years on Dallas’ bench before taking over as the starting QB. Romo started 10 games in ’06 and earned his first Pro Bowl nod. From ’07-14, Romo threw 223 TD passes to just 97 INT’s.
As a 34-year-old, No. 9 led the NFL in completion percentage (69.9), yards per attempt (8.5), passer rating (113.2) and QBR (79.7). Romo wasn’t able to win the biggest games, but there is no denying his talent.
39. Rich Gannon
A fourth-round pick out of Delaware, Rich Gannon exceeded all expectations in the NFL. The first 11 years of Gannon’s career were mediocre. Splitting time between Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City, Gannon made 58 starts and threw 66 touchdown passes. However, upon joining the Raiders in 1999, Gannon turned into a stud.
Gannon went on a four-year tear in Oakland — accumulating 15,787 yards and 105 TD’s. Gannon was named MVP in ’02, thanks to 4,689 passing yards and an 11-5 record. Gannon would go on to lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl in what turned out to be his last healthy season as a pro.
38. Cam Newton
Cam Newton is one of the most intimidating quarterbacks of all-time, hands down. Although Newton’s prowess through the air has been questioned at times throughout his career, you can’t argue with the results. Newton’s imposing 6-foot-5, 245 lb frame has tormented defenses since his debut in 2011. In ’15, Newton led the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl appearance.
That season, ‘Superman’ tossed 35 TD passes and netted 3,837 yards in the air — in addition to rushing for 636 yards and 10 scores. Through the ’22 season, Newton has rushed for 5,628 yards and 75 touchdowns, but enters this year as an unsigned free agent. Newton has changed the perception of what a quarterback can be.
37. Randall Cunningham
It is truly remarkable Randall Cunningham lasted 16 years in the NFL. Drafted by the Eagles in 1985, Cunningham served as a punching bag for the first six years of his career. In his second year, the four-time Pro Bowler was sacked 72 times — despite making only five starts.
Over the next four years, Cunningham would lead Philadelphia to a 38-22 record. In lieu of being sacked 51 times per season, Cunningham connected on 98 TD passes and rushed for 18 more. One of the first true dual-threat QB’s, Cunningham rushed for nearly 2,700 yards between ’87-90.
36. Carson Palmer
After winning the Heisman Trophy following his senior year at USC, Carson Palmer was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 NFL Draft. Almost immediately upon his arrival in Cincinnati, Palmer appeared destined for a great career. In Year 2, Palmer led the NFL with 32 TD’s and a 67.8 completion percentage.
Unfortunately for Palmer and the Bengals, Palmer suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Cincy’s playoff game against the Steelers. It took Palmer a few years to regain his form, but boy did he ever. In 2015, at the age of 36, Palmer threw for 4,671 yards and 35 TD’s for the 13-3 Arizona Cardinals. In total, Palmer threw for over 46,000 yards and 294 touchdowns.
35. Philip Rivers
Upon joining the then-San Diego Chargers, Philip Rivers spent two years on the bench watching some guy named Drew Brees. Then, in ’06, Rivers was named the starting QB and promptly led the Bolts to a 14-2 regular season. Rivers spent the first 16 years of his career with the Chargers…
…but at the age of 39 joined the Indianapolis Colts for one final season. Rivers hung up his cleats with 63,440 passing yards, 421 touchdown passes, and eight Pro Bowl nods to his name. The only thing missing from Rivers’ resume is a Super Bowl win.
34. Boomer Esiason
Drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984, Boomer Esiason quickly showcased his NFL potential. By the mid-80s, Esiason was lighting up defenses with his unique left-handed delivery. In 1988, his performance hit a pinnacle: Boomer led the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, a testament to his prowess.
While the Bengals narrowly missed out on Super Bowl glory against the 49ers, Esiason’s impact on the game was undeniable. After stints with the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals, he returned to Cincinnati to cap off his career. Throughout his time in the league, Esiason amassed an impressive 37,920 passing yards and 247 touchdowns.
Known for his deep ball accuracy and ability to rally his team, Esiason remains one of the NFL’s iconic quarterbacks. Whether in Cincinnati or elsewhere, Boomer’s play consistently echoed his apt moniker: explosive and unforgettable.
33. Matt Ryan
Emerging from Boston College as a hot prospect, Matt Ryan was snatched up by the Atlanta Falcons with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Right out of the gate, “Matty Ice” lived up to his nickname, bringing a cool, clutch presence to the Falcons’ offense. In his rookie year, he led Atlanta to the playoffs, signaling the dawn of a new era for the franchise.
Ryan’s apex came in 2016 when he not only spearheaded the Falcons to Super Bowl LI but also earned the NFL MVP award, thanks to a season where he threw for a whopping 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns. If he and the Falcons were able to hold on to their 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, Ryan’s legacy would be a lot stronger.
Over the course of his career, Matt Ryan has thrown for well over 55,000 yards, placing him among the league’s elite passers. While his lone season in Indianapolis can best be described as a disaster, in the heart of Atlanta, Ryan’s legacy as a consistent and commanding QB is firmly etched in NFL history.
32. Steve McNair
Steve McNair parlayed a historic collegiate career at Alcorn State into becoming the No. 3 overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. With the Titans, McNair quickly established himself as one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game. In 1997, his first year as the starting QB, McNair rushed for 674 yards and eight touchdowns.
McNair would lead the Titans to four playoff appearances — including a run to the Super Bowl in 1999, in which the Titans came a yard short of forcing overtime. In ’03, McNair and Peyton Manning were named co-MVPs. McNair’s achievement was amplified by the fact that he became the youngest player in NFL history to pass for 20,000 yards (22,637) and rush for 3,000 (3,172).
31. Y.A. Tittle
Tittle’s Hall of Fame career began with the Baltimore Colts of the soon-to-be defunct All-America Football Conference. After three seasons with Baltimore, Tittle was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1951. Tittle spent 10 years in San Francisco, earning Pro Bowl honors four times and at one time sharing a backfield with three future Hall of Famers.
Despite playing with one of the most decorated backfield of all-time, Tittle became a legend with his next team, the New York Giants. In 1961, the Giants acquired Tittle from the 49ers in exchange for a second-year guard. In his first three seasons in New York, Tittle led the Giants to the NFL Championship. After being demolished 37-0 by the Green Bay Packers in 1961, Tittle threw 33 touchdowns in 1962 en route to another meeting with the Packers. New year, same result. The Packers won 16-7.
Tittle’s penultimate season of his career, 1963, was his best. He threw for a single-season record of 36 touchdowns while earning league MVP honors. However, Tittle produced his worst performance of the year in the Championship, throwing five interceptions on a bum knee, resulting in a 14-10 loss to the Chicago Bears. While Tittle was never able to capture a championship victory, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.
30. Sid Luckman
He may have played his last game in 1950, but Sid Luckman was a true beast. Spending the entirety of his career with the Bears, Luckman helped bring four NFL titles to Chicago. In totality, Luckman appeared in five championship games. In 1943, Luckman tossed 28 TD passes and averaged an astounding 11 yards per attempt, and 20 yards per completion.
That same year, Luckman found the end zone on an NFL-record 13.9 percent of his pass attempts. Five-time All-Pro, four-time NFL champion, Hall of Fame. Luckman may be the best quarterback you’ve never heard of.
29. Ken Anderson
Seven years before Boomer Esiason won MVP honors and led the Bengals to a Super Bowl showdown against the 49ers, Ken Anderson accomplished the exact feat. A third-round pick in 1971, Anderson became Cincinnati’s starting QB in just his second year. Shortly after, Anderson found himself leading the league in passing yards (’74, ’75) and completion percentage (’74).
Anderson’s game peaked in ’81 when he led the Bengals to a 12-4 record and a narrow defeat in Super Bowl XVI. Still, Anderson’s 3,754 passing yards and 29 TD’s that year led to his lone MVP.
28. Len Dawson
Perhaps the best quarterback to play in the AFL, Len Dawson was an absolute star. After throwing a total of 45 passes through his first five years in football, Dawson exploded in 1962 with the Dallas Texans. In addition to leading the AFL in completion percentage (61.0) and TD’s (29), Dawson led the Texans to the AFL title — his first of three.
From ’62-69, Dawson led the league in completion percentage seven times and TD’s four times. Dawson then capped his career with a Super Bowl MVP effort in Super Bowl IV.
27. Donovan McNabb
Had a few games gone differently during McNabb’s career, there is a good chance he’d be pushing the top-20 of this list. In his first year as Philadelphia’s starting quarterback, McNabb finished second in MVP voting, leading the Eagles to the playoffs before being sent home by the Giants. The following year, McNabb led the Eagles to their first NFC Championship game since 1980.
From ’01-04, the McNabb-led Eagles reached the NFC Championship Game four consecutive years, ultimately falling short in their first three attempts. ’04 finally resulted in the breakthrough the Eagles were waiting for, as McNabb torched the competition on the way to Super Bowl XXXIX.
McNabb threw for 31 TD’s and had only eight INT’s during the regular season, becoming the first NFL quarterback to throw for more than 30 TD’s with less than 10 INT’s in a season. His talented Eagles squad didn’t win a championship, but advancing to four consecutive NFC Championships is no small feat. At the end of the day, McNabb should find himself in the Hall of Fame.
26. Eli Manning
The lesser of the Manning brothers, Eli has still put himself in position to one day enter the Hall of Fame. There is a case to be made that without the two Super Bowl victories, Eli would be seen as a slightly above-average quarterback, but you can’t knock his durability and knack for clutch plays.
In Manning’s two Super Bowl appearances, he led last-minute game-winning drives against the New England Patriots. The drives will ultimately be remembered by the two miraculous catches, but Manning was able to keep plays alive and make all the necessary throws to win.
25. Kurt Warner
One day, Kurt Warner’s story will likely be shared on the big screen. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, Warner was working at a grocery store before the St. Louis Rams came calling. A 28-year-old, Warner left the store behind and led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in 1999 — where he also earned Super Bowl MVP honors.
In the process, Warner won the MVP while leading the NFL in completion percentage (65.1) and TDs (41). In 2001, Warner won his second MVP and came within seconds of a second championship. At 37, Warner led the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl — a narrow loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of the greatest postseason performers of all-time, Warner also has the 13th highest career passer rating and fifth-highest career completion percentage in NFL history. Quite the career, Kurt.
24. Russell Wilson
Hailing from NC State and later Wisconsin, Russell Wilson entered the NFL as the Seattle Seahawks’ third-round pick in 2012. Despite doubts surrounding his height, Wilson quickly silenced critics, showcasing a dynamic playstyle that blended pocket presence with nimble footwork. By his second season, Wilson had led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, cementing himself as one of the league’s premier talents.
Wilson’s ability to extend plays and conjure moments of magic, often when it mattered most, became his trademark. In 2019, he threw for a career-high 4,110 yards, consistently ranking among the top QBs in touchdown passes year after year. With a deep ball that’s second to none and leadership qualities that rally the 12th Man, Russell was the heart and soul of the Seahawks for nearly a decade.
However, his arrival in Denver has been far less successful. Now facing a make-or-break season after struggling mightily last year, Wilson’s top 20 legacy hangs in the balance. At the very least, with over 33,000 passing yards, 260+ touchdowns, and countless last-minute heroics for Seattle, he’s already cemented himself as a future Hall of Famer.
23. Joe Namath
“Broadway Joe” is easily one of the most recognizable players in the history of football. Known for his charisma, bold proclamations and his victory guarantee in Super Bowl III, Namath’s numbers don’t tell the whole story about his greatness.
Following a great collegiate career at Alabama, Namath led the Jets to an AFL Championship in 1968. The next year, shortly before the AFL/NFL merger, Namath made his famous guarantee. In 1969, Namath and the Jets, from the AFL, defeated Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts, from the NFL, in Super Bowl III.
While injuries played a big part in limiting the numbers Namath was able to achieve, there is no debating his legacy as one of the most gifted quarterbacks the sport has seen. The Jets’ Super Bowl III victory remains the franchise’s only Super Bowl title.
22. Dan Fouts
Before settling into the broadcast booth, Fouts was one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. Fouts became just the third player ever to pass for more than 40,000 yards in a career — leading the league in passing each year from ’79-82, which included a then single-season passing record with 4,802 yards during the ’81 season.
Although the Chargers never reached the Super Bowl with Fouts under center, he did lead them to two AFC Championship Games. Fouts had his #14 retired by the Chargers in 1988, and was enshrined in Canton as a part of the Class of 1993.
21. Ben Roethlisberger
In one of the most confusing career arcs in NFL history, Ben Roethlisberger went from phenomenal to terrible and then back to phenomenal over the course of his 18 seasons. With two Super Bowl titles under his belt, Roethlisberger leaves the game a true Pittsburgh legend.
One of the best quarterbacks at extending plays and improvising in NFL history, Roethlisberger’s deceptive agility and incredible arm strength ensure a spot in Canton.
20. Otto Graham
Dominating during an era that is often forgotten in the confines of NFL history, Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns couldn’t be stopped from 1946-55. Reaching the league championship every year in that span, Graham was the biggest reason why.
He holds the record for highest win percentage of any starting quarterback in NFL history (0.814), with Cleveland finishing 114-20-4 in games started by Graham. As an efficient passer and the ultimate winner, Graham would have gained even more notoriety had he played during the Super Bowl era.
19. Sammy Baugh
Sammy Baugh’s passing numbers certainly won’t blow anyone away, but it was his unmatched versatility that makes him worthy of this ranking. In addition to playing quarterback, Baugh also played defensive back and punted for the Washington Redskins. In 1943, Baugh led the league in passing, punting and interceptions (as a defensive back) – a feat that will never be repeated.
18. Bart Starr
The winning quarterback of the first two Super Bowls in NFL history, Bart Starr was named the Most Valuable Player of both games. He owns the highest playoff passer rating (104.8) of all-time and finished his career 9-1 in the postseason.
Playing in the run-first era certainly deflated Starr’s stats, but there’s no denying his place as one of the best and winningest quarterbacks in NFL history.
17. Fran Tarkenton
Fran Tarkenton played 18 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, finishing as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history. When he retired in 1978, he was the all-time leader in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards by a quarterback and wins by a starting quarterback.
Although Tarkenton was never able to bring a Super Bowl title to either franchise he played for, his individual excellence made him a no-brainer to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
16. Terry Bradshaw
Contrary to the next player on this list, Terry Bradshaw cracks the top-15 for his ability to win on the NFL’s biggest stage. Bradshaw was far from a prolific passer during the days of Pittsburgh’s smash-mouth brand of football (only threw for more than 3,000 yards in a season twice), but he finished a perfect 4-0 in games with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.
Despite the uninspiring touchdown-to-interception ratio (212:210) and a 51.9 percent completion percentage, Bradshaw’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 1989 is well deserved.
15. Jim Kelly
While Jim Kelly will (unfairly) best be remembered for his 0-4 record in Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, Kelly was one of the premier quarterbacks during his 11-year career. Kelly teamed with Andre Reed to form one of the most potent quarterback-wide receiver duos in NFL history and finished with a 101-59 record in the regular season. In 2002, his first year of eligibility, Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
14. Roger Staubach
After winning the Heisman Trophy following his junior season at Navy, Staubach’s NFL career was delayed while he served his four-year military commitment. First starting a game at 29, Staubach went on to lead the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories in five appearances from 1970-78.
‘Captain America’ captured the ’71 MVP and Super Bowl VI MVP, and is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
13. Warren Moon
The first undrafted quarterback to make the Hall of Fame, Moon had an illustrious career in both the NFL and CFL. After winning five Grey Cups in the CFL, Moon started a Hall of Fame career in the NFL with the Houston Oilers. Following nine Pro Bowl appearances, Moon retired finishing in the top-five in passing yards, TD’s, attempts, and completions.
If Moon’s statistics from the CFL and NFL were combined, his numbers would be almost unmatched in the history of football. In 2006, Moon became the first African American quarterback to be enshrined in Canton.
12. Troy Aikman
The No. 1 pick out of UCLA in 1989, Aikman quarterbacked the great Dallas dynasty of the early 90s. Aikman led the Cowboys to a 32-17 trouncing of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, completing 22-of-30 passes for 273 yards and four TDs. Aikman then led the Cowboys to two more Super Bowls in the next three years, capped off by a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
Aikman amassed over 32,000 yards and 165 TDs in 12 seasons, ending his career with a 3-0 record in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Aikman, his Hall of Fame career was cut short in 2001 following his tenth concussion.
11. Steve Young
Known as one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history, Steve Young had the nearly impossible task of replacing Joe Montana in San Francisco. However, the BYU alum filled the void admirably, winning two MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP during his eight years as the franchise’s leader.
In addition to his prowess as a passer, Young sits third all-time among quarterbacks with 4,239 career rushing yards, but still falls just short of cracking the top-10 on this list.
10. Johnny Unitas
Once the gold standard for NFL quarterbacks, ‘The Golden Arm’ was a 3-time MVP, 3-time NFL champion, and the winning quarterback of Super Bowl V. Unitas set the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (47) between 1956-60 — a mark that stood until Drew Brees surpassed the record in 2012.
Unitas still ranks 10th all-time with 290 touchdown passes. His performance in the two-minute drill garnered him the nickname ‘Mr. Clutch,’ and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.
9. Drew Brees
Playing in the same era alongside Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Brees went underappreciated throughout his brilliant career. Brees is one of only five quarterbacks to throw for at least 5,000 passing yards in a season, and he has accomplished the feat five times (no other quarterback has done it more than twice).
Despite being short for the position, Brees’ combination of impeccable footwork and precision makes him a surefire Hall of Famer. In addition to 13 Pro Bowl nods and a Super Bowl ring, Brees currently stands as the second all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
8. Patrick Mahomes
Having just turned 27 and having just completed his fifth year as a full-time starter, it is hard to determine Mahomes’ place in history. Still, even after just 80 regular season starts, it is reasonable to deduce that Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks to play in the NFL.
As a first-year starter in 2018, Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns — resulting in an MVP award. While Mahomes’ second season was a bit more reserved, the Kansas City gunslinger still put up incredible numbers and led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory. In 2023, the Chiefs reached the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, resulting in Mahomes’ second Lombardi Trophy. As the current top threat to Tom Brady’s seven titles, it’s hard to picture Mahomes not cracking the top 3 by the time his career is over.
7. Brett Favre
The ultimate gunslinger, Favre holds NFL records for most pass completions, attempts, interceptions, starts, and wins. The only quarterback to win three consecutive MVPs, Favre is one of only two quarterbacks to win a playoff game over the age of 40.
A Super Bowl champion, Favre ranks fourth all-time with 508 TD passes. For all of the personal accolades, Favre’s most impressive achievement might be his durability, as seen during his NFL-record 321 consecutive starts.
6. Dan Marino
The greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl, Marino held the record for most touchdown passes (420) and most career completions (4,967) when he retired. In Marino’s 1984 MVP season, the Dolphins made their only Super Bowl appearance under Marino, losing to the Joe Montana-led 49ers 38-16.
During his MVP season, the nine-time Pro Bowler became the first quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season, as well as the first to surpass 40 touchdown passes in a season. To go along with his rocket arm, Marino arguably possessed the quickest release the league has ever seen.
5. Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers’ nimbleness in the pocket, unbelievable precision, and rocket arm might make him the most talented quarterback the NFL has ever seen. In 15 seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback, Rodgers amassed over 55,000 passing yards and 475 passing touchdowns (with only 105 interceptions).
However, that production hasn’t necessarily translated into postseason success. With only one Lombardi Trophy over his 15 seasons, it led to plenty of friction with the Green Bay front office, and ultimately, a trade to the New York Jets. Though Rodgers was being touted as the Jets’ savior, he tore his Achilles in Week 1 versus the Buffalo Bills — thus ending his 2023 season abruptly.
4. Peyton Manning
Arguably the greatest regular season quarterback ever, Manning cemented his place among the game’s elite by capturing his second Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl 50. Manning retired a five-time MVP, holding the NFL records for most touchdowns (539) and passing yards (71,940) — which have since been eclipsed. Manning came off serious neck surgery to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2012 with the Denver Broncos.
A 14-time Pro Bowl selection, Manning’s one knock has always been his play in the postseason. And although his performance in Super Bowl 50 was rather underwhelming, the second ring will go a long way in helping elevate his legacy.
3. John Elway
The storybook ending to a Hall of Fame career, Elway capped his legacy by winning back-to-back Super Bowls — defeating the Packers and Falcons. The ultimate dual-threat, Elway rushed for four touchdowns in his Super Bowl appearances. Tom Brady is the only quarterback to best Elway’s five Super Bowl appearances, and he ranks among the top five in the four major passing categories (completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns).
His 14 playoff wins stand amongst the best in the game, and his all-time winning percentage of .641 shows his greatness. Elway has followed his Hall of Fame career by leading the Broncos to four division titles, two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl title as Executive VP/GM of the Broncos.
2. Joe Montana
Four Super Bowl appearances, four victories, three MVPs and 11 touchdown passes — Montana’s performances in the Super Bowl are nothing short of spectacular. And with these victories coming against Dan Marino and John Elway, the Super Bowls look even better.
The master of the West Coast offense is arguably the most clutch player in NFL history. Montana holds Super Bowl records for most passes without an interception (122 in four games) and a quarterback rating of 127.8.
Montana led his teams to 31 come-from-behind victories in his career, including all-time moments such as “The Catch” and his touchdown pass in the closing moments of Super Bowl XXIII. And while he safely held the title of G.O.A.T for two decades, the next player’s excellence leaves Montana at No. 2.
1. Tom Brady
Two miraculous plays away from being 9-1 in Super Bowls, Tom Brady’s case as the greatest quarterback of all-time is strong. With more Super Bowl appearances (10) and playoff victories than any quarterback in NFL history, Brady’s ability to win without dominant supporting casts is nothing short of incredible.
Finishing his career as a seven-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time NFL MVP, it’s hard to picture any quarterback surpassing him. With legendary performances in countless high-pressured games — none better than his masterful comeback performance against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI — Brady has safely asserted himself as the greatest quarterback of all-time.
The 40 Greatest Running Backs In NFL History, Ranked
T-40. Lenny Moore
Selected No. 9 overall out of Penn State in the 1956 NFL Draft, Lenny Moore is one of the more accomplished players from back in the day. Moore earning Rookie of the Year honors was just a sign of things to come. The Nittany Lion would proceed to make five First-Team All-Pro teams and seven Pro Bowls. A two-time champion with the Baltimore Colts, Moore led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 1964 with 20 scores. A recent inductee to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Moore’s legacy will live on for years to come.
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T-40. Ricky Watters
A second-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 1991, Ricky Watters was an instant sensation in the NFL. Fresh off a successful career at Notre Dame, Watters was selected to the Pro Bowl five years in a row to start his professional career. A threat both rushing and catching passes out of the backfield, Watters tallied over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. The Pennsylvania native eclipsed 1,000 yards seven times — including six-straight years from 1995-2000.
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39. Christian McCaffrey
Six years into his promising career, Christian McCaffrey has already blossomed into one of the most dangerous players the NFL has ever seen. In Year 2, the Stanford great rushed for 1,098 yards and hauled in 107 passes for 867 additional yards. In 2019, McCaffrey exploded for 1,387 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, and hauled in 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four scores. Only 26, McCaffrey has plenty of time to improve his legacy. The only thing that will hold CMC back from moving up this list is bad luck.
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38. Eddie George
The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner, Eddie George parlayed a Hall of Fame collegiate career into a very successful life in the NFL. From his rookie year in 1996 through 2000, George rushed for at least 1,294 yards. An All-Pro in 2000, George rushed for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns in helping Tennessee to a 13-3 regular season.
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37. Tiki Barber
Tiki Barber’s career made little to no sense. In his first five seasons, Barber’s best single-season rushing mark was 1,006 yards. During that time, Barber had 15 rushing touchdowns and 26 fumbles. Then, Barber turned into a sensation the last five years of his career. The Giant rushed for over 1,200 yards each year — peaking at 1,860 in 2005 — and scored 40 rushing TD’s.
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36. Fred Taylor
Arguably the best player in Jacksonville franchise history, Taylor is often overlooked when compared to his peers. Making just 12 starts as a rookie, Taylor averaged 4.6 yards per carry — finishing the season with 1,223 yards and 14 scores. In 2000, Taylor made 13 starts and tallied 1,399 yards on the ground. His 107.6 yards per game led the NFL. Taylor would go on to rush for 1,100 yards a total of seven times.
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35. LeSean McCoy
Has there been a more consistent RB than McCoy over the past decade? The former Pitt Panther took a bit of a tumble over the final few years of his career, but was considered (at worst) a top-10 back for roughly eight seasons. Peak McCoy was a true dual-threat equipped to eviscerate NFL defenses through the air or on the ground. His agility and quickness out of breaks was virtually unparalleled as he made defenders look silly on a weekly basis. A six-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and a member of the 15,000-yard-from-scrimmage club, McCoy has cemented himself as an all-time great back.
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34. Ottis Anderson
Anderson isn’t nearly as heralded as some of his peers, but the two-time Super Bowl winner likely doesn’t have an issue with that. His career numbers matchup with all of the all-time greats – 10,273 rushing yards (13,335 from scrimmage), 81 touchdowns, and an All-Pro nod — and his longevity was certainly impressive (34 of his rushing touchdowns came after Anderson turned 30 years old).
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33. Ricky Williams
Coming out of Texas, expectations were sky-high for Williams who was selected fifth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Saints. Williams was a solid producer during his time in New Orleans, but didn’t truly breakout until he was traded to the Dolphins. In his first year in Miami, Williams rushed for a league-high 1,853 yards (plus 363 yards receiving) and scored 17 touchdowns. His career was cut short due to a short-lived retirement and a year-long suspension, but Williams was undoubtedly one of the most feared backs of his era.
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32. Herschel Walker
To modern fans, Walker is simply known as the player who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for an absurd amount of draft picks which were used to essentially kick-start the Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty of the 90s. However, we cannot fault Minnesota for this decision as Walker was a truly dominant player during his time in Dallas. Walker rushed for a career-high 1,514 yards during his last full season with the Cowboys, earning All-Pro second-team honors in the process. Minnesota’s front office overvaluing the former Heisman Trophy winner shouldn’t cover for the fact that Walker was a beast during his prime.
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31. Bo Jackson
Though his career only spanned 38 professional games, there’s no denying the impact Jackson had on the sport of football. To this day, Jackson is arguably the greatest athlete to ever play the game. An inhuman blend of size, speed, and strength allowed Jackson to dominate at every level. While juggling two sports, Jackson managed to become the only player to be named an NFL Pro Bowler and an MLB All-Star in the same year. He also holds the record for most runs of 90-plus yards (tied with Chris Johnson) with two. Had it not been for several lower-body injuries, there’s no doubt Jackson would have cracked the top-10 of this list.
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30. Ollie Matson
Ollie Matson was a ridiculous athlete. How ridiculous, you may ask? Aside from being a six-time Pro Bowler and a seven-time first-team All-Pro running back, Matson also represented the United States as an Olympian in the 400-meter sprint and the 4×100 relay (he won two medals). One can make the argument that Matson is one of the most athletic players in league history.
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29. Jim Taylor
The Louisiana native is one of the best fullbacks in NFL history. Taylor was an absolute masher when it came to run blocking and pass protection. However, he was ahead of his time as physical yet nimble rusher. Taylor accumulated five-straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing — including a career-high 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in 1962. Taylor was a four-time NFL champion, and a five-time Pro Bowler.
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28. Larry Csonka
Csonka is often synonymous with the Miami Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season. It’s for good reason, as the Ohio native was a vital cog in the Miami machine. The fullback made five-straight Pro Bowls for the Dolphins during the 1970’s. A winner of two Super Bowls, Csonka was also a three-time first-team All-Pro. Without question, Csonka is a pure winner with a competitive streak few have matched.
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27. Marion Motley
Motley was one of the most impressive running backs of his time for the Cleveland Browns. At nearly 240 pounds, the Ohio native routinely chugged forward for positive yardage. Though he enjoyed only one Pro Bowl year, Motley was a two-time first-team All-Pro. Aside from rushing for an outstanding career average of 5.7 yards-per-carry, Motley also won the NFL rushing title in 1950.
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26. John Henry Johnson
Before Jim Brown, there was John Henry Johnson. The gigantic running back (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) was bigger than many of the linemen he played with. A physically imposing player, the Northern California native made four Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro squads. To this say, Johnson holds the record for being the oldest rusher (34) to accumulate a 1,000-yard season.
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25. Frank Gore
At 38 years of age, Gore still produced as an NFL back. This fact alone is highly impressive. Gore currently ranks No. 3 all-time in most rushing yards for a single career (16,000 — as of August 2022). The Florida native paired short, choppy steps with above-average agility. He consistently demonstrated an immense patience in seeking out running lanes. In 2019, Gore passed Barry Sanders to become No. 3 on the all-time rushing list.
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24. Marshawn Lynch
Putting his proclivity for Skittles aside, Lynch was simply a fantastic football player. His stop-and-start style of running makes the knees of defenders buckle. Another aspect of Lynch’s well-rounded game is the power with which he ran. There’s an anger seeping through in virtually every carry he gets.
Lynch led the league twice in rushing touchdowns. He also can be categorized as a five-time Pro Bowler, a First-Team All-Pro selection, and a Super Bowl Champion.
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23. Shaun Alexander
The former Alabama star is one of only eight NFL players to have accumulated at least 100 rushing touchdowns. During his MVP season in 2005, Alexander accrued 1,880 rushing yards. He also rushed for an eye-popping 27 touchdowns — which totals the second-highest mark for a single season in NFL history (with the record being 28). Alexander’s brutish running style led to a career in which he rushed for 9,453 yards and 100 touchdowns.
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22. Joe Perry
As part of the iconic ‘Million Dollar Backfield’, Perry relished in being the San Francisco 49ers’ primary offensive threat. Perry was a one-cut and go type of runner. Once he hit the hole and got to the second level, it was virtually impossible to stop him in the open field.
He was known for becoming the first NFL player to rush for at least 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Duly, he retired as the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher (though that mark has since been broken). The three-time First-Team All-Pro was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
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21. Edgerrin James
“The U” has churned out countless All-Pro NFL running backs. James is among the best to have every played at Miami… and that’s saying something. Over the course of his career, James rushed for 12,246 yards and 72 touchdowns. He also caught 433 passes for 3,364 yards and 11 scores.
The 4-time Pro Bowler led the league in rushing twice, and was named as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. James appears to be a lock for an induction into Canton one day.
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20. Derrick Henry
29 years old, Henry is approaching the age where running backs tend to fall off the proverbial cliff. Let’s be real about one thing: The Florida native is a physical freak. He’s essentially a fridge on wheels out there when defenders bounce off of him. The Titan star led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns in both 2019 (1,540 yards, 16 TD) and 2020 (2,027 yards, 17 TD) — and was leading the league once again in 2021 before an injury ended his regular season after eight games.
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19. Terrell Davis
Davis has a laundry list of personal achievements. His MVP season came in 1998 — where he accumulated career highs in rushing yards (2,008) and touchdowns (21). The three-time Pro Bowler shined most during the playoffs. In both of Denver’s Super Bowl years, Davis combined for 11 touchdowns and 1,049 yards on the ground during postseason play. He was truly instrumental in helping the franchise win at the pinnacle of the sport.
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18. Jerome Bettis
Bettis was a freakish athlete in the best sense of the term. He looked more suited to play along the defensive line than he did as a running back. It’s what made Bettis such a revered and likable figure. Generously listed at 252 pounds during his career, Bettis was an exceptional runner of the football. The six-time Pro Bowler racked up numerous accolades en route to a 2015 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He currently sits at No. 7 All-Time in career rushing yards (13,662).
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17. John Riggins
Spanning over the course of his 14-year career, Riggins is only one of seven running back to have rushed for at least 10,000 yards (11,352) and 100 touchdowns (104). The Kansas native led the Redskins to a victory in Super Bowl XVII over the Miami Dolphins. Riggins garnered MVP honors with a 38-carry, 166-yard performance (which included one touchdown).
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16. Franco Harris
To this day, Harris is the All-Time career rushing leader in Pittsburgh Steelers franchise history (11,950). The nine-time Pro Bowler’s career can also be marked by a ridiculously fantastic postseason mark. Harris helped Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls. He was the MVP of Super Bowl IX — as he rushed for 158 yards and one touchdown on 38 carries. Few can compare to Harris in terms of winning at the highest level.
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15. Thurman Thomas
Thomas was the bell-cow back for the franchise that infamously lost four-straight Super Bowls. Though the Bills failed to bring a Super Bowl title home to Buffalo, it was not due to Thomas’ play on the field. Thomas made the Pro Bowl five-straight times during this overlapping period. He also had an eight-year stretch in which he rushed for at least 1,000 yards every season.
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14. Curtis Martin
Martin made Pro Bowl appearances in three of his first four years in the league. After a relatively solid three-year stretch, Martin came out of nowhere to garner two First-Team All-Pro denotations (2001, 2004). At 31 years of age, Martin impressively led the league in rushing yards (1,697). Consistency-wise, Martin’s quickness and vision enabled him to rush for at least 1,000 yards in 10-straight seasons.
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13. Marcus Allen
The stormy relationship with Al Davis led to Allen being jettisoned on the Oakland bench for years during his prime. At 33 years of age, Allen finally left for rival Kansas City — where he led the AFC in rushing touchdowns (12). He then led the Chiefs in rushing for four-straight seasons.
For his career, Allen notched 12,243 yards and 123 touchdowns. He ranks No. 14 All-Time in career rushing yards — right behind James and narrowly in front of Harris.
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12. Tony Dorsett
To this day, Dorsett still holds the NFL record for the longest rush in history (99 yards). The faithful in Dallas will always have a soft spot for Dorsett — as he rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight of 11 seasons with the franchise.
His time with the Cowboys included four Pro Bowl appearances, an Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, and three separate occasions in which he was an all-league player. Dorsett currently ranks No. 10 All-Time in career rushing yards (12,739).
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11. Adrian Peterson
The seven-time Pro Bowler set an NFL record (as a rookie) for the most rushing yards in a single game (296). On seven different occasions, Peterson’s garnered All-League honors — including an MVP Award in 2012.
Despite having a taller frame, Peterson is excellent at ‘making himself small’ when bursting through the line of scrimmage. His acceleration is simply mind-boggling — as is his penchant for warding off defenders with stiff-arms and quick cuts. Peterson is currently the No. 5 rusher all-time with 14,918 yards (as of August 2022).
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10. Earl Campbell
For his career, Campbell made five Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro teams, and was the 1979 MVP. He led the league in rushing three times, and rushed to an impressive 4.3 yards-per-carry clip. Campbell’s style of running limited his career to eight years. However, he clearly established himself as an all-time great. Campbell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
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9. Eric Dickerson
Dickerson still holds a record which has yet to be broken. In 1984, he rushed for 2,105 yards. This equates to an unbelievable 131.6 yards-per-game average. Dickerson garnered a place within the Hall of Fame in 1999.
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8. Gale Sayers
Sayers starred for the Chicago Bears as both a running back and as a returner. Sayers impressively averaged 30.6 yards per kick return. If we toss away the final two injury-riddled years of his career, Sayers averaged 5.18 yards per carry. This would place Sayers fourth All-Time in this capacity for a running back. His rookie season was fantastic — as Sayers accumulated 22 total touchdowns and 2,272 all-purpose yards.
Sayers became the youngest inductee (34) into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For the four-time Pro Bowler, it’s simply a situation of ‘what if’ when it came to Sayers’ injury history.
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7. Marshall Faulk
Faulk won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award in back-to-back-to-back seasons. He also took home the 2000 MVP Award after accumulating 26 touchdowns and 2,189 yards of total offense. Though he was an every-down player, Faulk’s ability to act as a dual-threat rusher/pass-catcher opened the door for other players to carve out niches as third-down backs (such as Darren Sproles and Kevin Faulk).
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6. O.J. Simpson
Though he will be largely known for his involvement in the famed 1994 criminal murder trial, one cannot forget Simpson’s brilliance as a football player. He led the league in rushing on four separate occasions, and was an first team all-pro on multiple occasions. Simpson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
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5. LaDainian Tomlinson
LT reached double-digit touchdown totals in each of his first 10 seasons in the league. The five-time Pro Bowler won the 2006 MVP Award based upon a season in which he rushed for 1,815 yards and an NFL record 28 touchdowns. In fact, Tomlinson had a stretch in which he scored at least one touchdown in 18-straight contests.
The TCU product is second All-Time in career rushing touchdowns (145). He also ranks seventh in career rushing yards (13,684) and third in receptions for a running back (624).
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4. Emmitt Smith