Sports Outside the Beltway

Top 25 NFL Players of Last 25 Years

The staff at USA Today is killing time before training camp by putting together a list of the best NFL players during the paper’s existence.

TOP 25 OF THE USA TODAY ERA (1982-2007)
To commemorate USA TODAY’s 25th anniversary, a panel of USA TODAY’s NFL reporters and editors has produced an anthology of the 25 best NFL players of the past 25 years. Working down from No. 25, we are unveiling one player each weekday until training camp season arrives:

They’re up to #18 so far:

Player Story
ultimate defender — Ray Lewis
brought double threat to new level
set new standard in backfield
wait, Young made lasting run into NFL history
blazed early path to NFL immortality

This will spark some interesting debates, as the one Tim McMahon has going on with Dallas fans over which other Cowboys players should join Aikman (I’d say Tony Dorsett, Larry Allen, and Emmitt Smith for sure; probably Randy White and Michael Irvin, too).

Nobody currently on the list is objectionable, although Tomlinson would presumably be higher on the list were he further into his career. One could argue whether Troy Aikman was really a better QB than Terry Bradshaw, for example.

That’s what these lists are for, though.

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I’ll object to Bradshaw on general principle. By the time USA Today came into being, Bradshaw’s playoff success was fading into the recesses of memory.

USA Today is 25 years old, that means the 1982 Terry Bradshaw was the first they covered. The ’82 Steelers were Bradshaw’s last playoff team. His career was over one game into the 1983 season. With ’82 being a nine game strike shortened season, that means that USA Today is basing Bradshaw’s 23rd ranking solely on ten games. Are they crazy?

I can some up with 23 quarterbacks whose entire career was in the USA Today era who were better than Bradshaw was.

Off the top of my head…
1 Tom Brady
2 Troy Aikman
3 Peyton Manning
4 Steve Young
5 John Elway
6 Brett Favre
7 Dan Marino
8 Kurt Warner
9 Jim Kelly
10 Donovan McNabb
11 Warren Moon
12 Boomer Esiason
13 Doug Williams
14 Drew Bledsoe
15 Randall Cunningham
16 Vinny Testaverde
17 Steve McNair
18 Bernie Kosar
19 Trent Green
20 Jeff George
21 Rich Gannon
22 Jim Everett
23 Chris Chandler
24 Mark Brunnell

This list doesn’t include obvious guys like Joe Montana and Phil Simms because their careers began prior to 1982. You can disagree with my list, but I don’t think that you can disagree that Terry Bradshaw doesn’t deserve to be listed among the top 25 quarterbacks of the last 25 years, let alone the top 25 NFL players of the last 25 years.

Posted by Ennuipundit | June 28, 2007 | 09:35 am | Permalink

If you’re only including games played since 1982 or those whose entire careers are post-1982, I’d agree. OTOH, USA Today can set the parameters as they wish for a discussion they launch and if they want to include the entire careers of players who were active in 1982, I don’t see why they can’t.

I think all those QBs you list are better athletes than Bradshaw, simply as a function of modern players being bigger, faster, stronger, and so forth. If we judge them within the context of their eras, though, I’d say Bradshaw is better than almost everyone on that list.

Sure, his QB rating was anemic. But he was an integral part — if not the lynchpin — of the dominant team of his era. Roger Staubach had a shorter career and lost two SBs to Bradshaw-led teams but even Bradshaw acknowledged he was better. Otherwise, I can’t think of a QB of that era who I’d rank ahead of Bradshaw.

Statistically, Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton were much better, although neither of them won championships. Ken Stabler? Bob Griese? I don’t see it.

Posted by James Joyner | June 28, 2007 | 10:56 am | Permalink

I guess I assumed that since they are talking about the best players of the last 25 years, that they are talkign about the best players to play within that time. I’m not disputing Bradshaw’s greatness. He was a remarkable quarterback. But the ten games that Bradshaw played in the time USA Today covered him just don’t warrant inclusion.

It’s their phrasing that gets me:

a panel of USA TODAY�s NFL reporters and editors has produced an anthology of the 25 best NFL players of the past 25 years

If we’re talking 35 years, then Bradshaw and Staubach in a heartbeat. But not for the last 25.

Posted by Ennuipundit | June 28, 2007 | 12:13 pm | Permalink

If we�re talking 35 years, then Bradshaw and Staubach in a heartbeat. But not for the last 25.

Well, certainly not Staubach, who retired in 1979. Man, I’m getting old!

Posted by James Joyner | June 28, 2007 | 12:54 pm | Permalink

You forgot Joe Montana!

Posted by Jonathan C. Mitchell | July 2, 2007 | 06:32 pm | Permalink

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