Quarterback Tom Brady was retired through the 2022 NFL offseason for just 40 days before opting to return for a twenty third season that would (perhaps?) be his last, tight end Rob Gronkowski recently decided to hold them up and defensive tackle Aaron Donald inked an enormous contract extension this summer to make him the sport’s highest-paid non-QB after considering retirement himself. All of it got us eager about where these legends of the sport stack up all time at their respective positions.
We asked 50 experts, reporters and analysts to call the NFL’s best player of all time at every position. The goal was to narrow the sector to only one GOAT at quarterback, wide receiver, edge rusher, cornerback and even kicker. We’re starting here with seven offensive positions, and defense and special teams will likely be unveiled on Wednesday.
After we tallied the ballots and crowned each offensive position’s best player of all time, our voters weighed in and explained their decisions. Plus, Jeff Legwold broke down why each GOAT was chosen, and ESPN Stats & Information dove into the numbers to select key stats to know. Let’s start at quarterback, which shouldn’t surprise many.
Voting results: Brady earned 44 of fifty votes (88%)
Profession: Latest England (2000-2019); Tampa Bay (2020-present)
Pro Bowl selections: 15
Profession stats: 318 games, 84,520 passing yards, 624 passing TDs, 203 INTs
Why he’s the GOAT quarterback: Brady is a seven-time Super Bowl winner in 10 trips, a three-time NFL MVP and already the league’s career-record holder in passing attempts, completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. His teams have won fewer than 10 games in a season only once in his profession, and that was twenty years ago (2002). And in his playoff starts, his teams have a 35-12 record. — Jeff Legwold
Stat to know:Brady is the one NFL QB with greater than 200 profession wins. He has 243, more wins than 4 current NFL franchises (Ravens at 233, Panthers at 205, Jaguars at 180 and Texans at 139).
What our voters said
“The seven championships are at the highest of Brady’s resume. But let’s not forget he has mastered the traits of high-level quarterback play. That is the repetitive mechanics, the processing each pre- and post-snap, and the power to throw with accuracy and site. Brady is the model of greatness on the position, and he has done this for over 20 years on the sport’s biggest stages.” — Matt Bowen, NFL analyst
“If having an NFL-record seven Super Bowl titles wasn’t enough to think about Brady the GOAT, consider he has also thrown for probably the most touchdowns and yards in league history. He’s the one player chosen to fifteen Pro Bowls all time, and you would argue he has a Hall of Fame resume in two different a long time. Brady was named to the All-Decade Team in each the 2000s and 2010s.” — Evan Kaplan, Stats & Information
“The statistics speak for themselves. So does the longevity. For me, it’s how even on his worst day, even in probably the most antagonistic situations — a snowstorm, a cut throwing hand, being down 28-3 in Super Bowl LI — Brady has all the time found a approach to pull out one or two more plays than everyone else.” — Jenna Laine, Buccaneers reporter
“While football is the last word team sport, Brady has separated himself from the remainder by virtue of seven Super Bowl wins. That is borderline unfathomable. And while longevity doesn’t all the time equate to greatness, it’s Brady’s sustained longevity that’s beyond comprehension. There are elements of his game which have in some way seemingly gotten higher with each season that has passed. This was a simple alternative for me.” –Field Yates, NFL analyst
- Joe Montana (4 votes):Sal Paolantonio, host of NFL Matchup, says he voted for Montana over Brady because “he was 4-0 within the Super Bowl with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Tough to beat perfection on the championship level.” Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez also argues that Montana is the highest QB ever, pointing to “4 Lombardi trophies in nine years when rules benefitted the defense and the promise that no game was truly out of reach with Montana on the helm.”
- Peyton Manning (two votes):”Manning modified how we have a look at a QB’s ability to run an offense on the sector in real time,” says NFL analyst Louis Riddick. “He ran all the pieces at the road of scrimmage, and no QB within the history of football made defensive coordinators query themselves from a schematic/tactical standpoint the best way by which Manning did.” NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler also voted for Manning, saying, “He was the sport’s first five-time MVP winner, modified how NFL offenses are run and won 67.6% of his games over his profession. And throwing for 55 touchdowns in 2013 — two years faraway from late-career neck surgery — lives in league folklore.”
Voting results: Brown earned 23 of fifty votes (46%)
Profession: Cleveland (1957-1965)
Hall of Fame: 1971
Pro Bowl selections: 9
Profession stats: 118 games, 2,359 carries, 12,312 rushing yards, 106 rushing TDs, 20 receiving TDs
Why he’s the GOAT running back: Brown was 29 years old when his final season began in 1965 and stunned many when he retired after that season. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry over his profession, was the league MVP thrice and was chosen for the Pro Bowl every yr of his profession. Brown retired because the league’s all-time leading rusher and scored three touchdowns in his final game — the 1966 Pro Bowl.– Legwold
Stat to know:Brown led the NFL in rushing yards in eight of his nine seasons within the league. No other running back in NFL history has led the league in rushing greater than 4 times.
What our voters said
“In nine NFL seasons, Brown led the league in rushing eight times, scrimmage yards six times and total TDs five times, winning MVP in 33% of his profession seasons. In an era by which everyone ran the ball greater than they threw, defenses still couldn’t decelerate Brown.” — Michael Proia, Stats & Information
“No running back in NFL history did more in less time than Brown. He still owns the NFL record for rushing yards per game (104.3), and although he retired after only nine seasons, he never missed a game.” — Kevin Seifert, Vikings reporter
“Brown was a first-team All-Pro in eight seasons and three-time MVP winner. Such a decade of complete dominance stays untouched.” — Jake Trotter, Browns reporter
- Barry Sanders (14 votes):Lions reporter Eric Woodyard leaned toward Detroit’s famed running back, suggesting voters should “just type in Barry Sanders highlights on YouTube, sit back and revel in.” NFL author Seth Wickersham argued for Sanders, too, saying, “There has never been one other player who could possibly be 5 yards behind the road of scrimmage, retreating, surrounded by five defenders closing fast, blockers on the bottom and rendered useless, and never only be able to find an escape out of it and scoring a touchdown but doing it so often that fans got here to expect it.”
- Walter Payton (six votes):Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson went with Sweetness in what he called “the toughest vote for any position.” So why Payton? “He got my vote over Smith because his receiving skills made him a more compete back, and his longevity gave him the sting over Sanders and Brown,” he says.
- Emmitt Smith (three votes): “Durability. No player was as productive or as durable as Smith,” says NFL insider Dianna Russini. “Eleven straight 1,000-yard seasons.”
- Also receiving votes: Marshall Faulk (two),Eric Dickerson (one), LaDainian Tomlinson (one)
Voting results: Rice earned 45 of fifty votes (90%)
Profession: San Francisco (1985-2000); Oakland (2001-2004); Seattle (2004)
Hall of Fame: 2010
Pro Bowl selections: 13
Profession stats: 303 games, 1,549 receptions, 22,895 receiving yards, 197 receiving TDs, 10 rushing TDs
Why he’s the GOAT wide receiver: Rice led the league in receiving yards six times and receiving touchdowns six times. Even in these pass-happy times, with the entire numbers that receivers pile up annually, Rice continues to be the league’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and yards from scrimmage. But he was at his best in the largest moments. He played in 29 playoff games and had 22 TD receptions in those games, including eight in Super Bowls (three titles in 4 appearances). — Legwold
Stat to know: Rice is certainly one of two receivers to win the receiving triple crown (led NFL in catches, yards and TDs), Offensive Player of the 12 months and Super Bowl MVP in his profession (Cooper Kupp).
What our voters said
“He’s the no-brainer of all no-brainers. Rice could’ve stopped playing after 11 years (he wound up playing 20), and his receiving yardage total still would’ve been ok for third on the all-time list (16,377). To paraphrase Bill Parcells, he went to Canton on roller skates.” — Wealthy Cimini, Jets reporter
“Rice has over 5,000 receiving yards greater than the following wide receiver on the all-time list, however it’s if you parse through those 22,895 profession yards that you simply find what makes him the GOAT. He has probably the most 1,000-yard receiving seasons with 14 (including 11 straight), notched 2,245 receiving yards within the playoffs (probably the most all time) and topped 1,200 receiving yards at age 40.” — Courtney Cronin, Bears reporter
“The 13,394 receiving yards that Rice recorded from age 30 to 41 would rank because the sixteenth most in NFL history by itself. And because it stands, his 22,895 profession receiving yards is a record that can likely never be broken. The length of his prime and his skill level at its peak make him the unquestioned GOAT receiver.” — Marcel Louis-Jacques, Dolphins reporter
“To be considered certainly one of the best of all time, a player at any position should offer elite production with enduring longevity — but no one at any position can touch Rice’s combination of the 2. Sure, Rice holds every significant receiving record in league history and repeatedly performed well on the Super Bowl stage, but consider that when other greats were long-since retired, he was still producing like among the finest wideouts in the sport.” — Nick Wagoner, 49ers reporter
- Randy Moss (4 votes):”Only the most effective of all time could have his last name was a verb,” says ESPN Stats & Information’s Evan Kaplan, referring to You bought Mossed. “No NFL player has ever had more receiving touchdowns of their first 4 seasons, and his 23 TD catches in 2007 are probably the most in a single season in league history.” NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid says Moss “completely transcended the position” and that “there wasn’t a player on the position who struck more fear in defenses than Moss.”
- Also receiving votes:Don Hutson (one)
Voting results:Gronkowski earned 23 of fifty votes (46%)
Profession: Latest England (2010-2018); Tampa Bay (2020-2021)
Pro Bowl selections: 5
Profession stats: 143 games, 621 receptions, 9,286 receiving yards, 92 receiving TDs
Why he’s the GOAT tight end: It is simple to forget now that Gronkowski entered the NFL with questions after back troubles in college, but he blossomed quickly in his time with Tom Brady within the Patriots’ offense. A tricky player along the road of scrimmage with elite footwork and hands within the passing game, he led the league in touchdown catches in 2011 with 17 and had 4 seasons by which he averaged no less than 15 yards per reception. Gronk also had no less than one touchdown catch in 15 of twenty-two playoff games over his profession. He retired for a second time this summer. — Legwold
Stat to know:Gronkowski had three seasons with no less than 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches, probably the most amongst tight ends all time.
What our voters said
“The GOAT tight end must be equally devastating as a blocker and pass-catcher, which helped eliminate portion of the candidates. But that defines Gronk well. And Patriots coach Bill Belichick often says the greats play their best in the largest moments; Gronkowski’s 1,163 receiving yards within the playoffs are easily probably the most by a good end in NFL history.” — Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter
“No tight end has combined physical blocking and touchdown production at the extent that Gronkowski did in his 11 seasons. His size and skill to regulate to the ball made him almost not possible to defend down the sector. At times he looked like a runaway freight train. Not only did Gronk stretch the sector vertically, but he also won battles against safeties and held up against defensive ends within the run game, something rarely seen by tight ends in 2022.” — Dianna Russini, NFL insider
“His impact goes beyond his profession stat line. Gronkowski established himself as probably the most dominant tight end in NFL history due to his ability to catch, consistently make plays within the clutch and be a feared blocker.” — Josh Weinfuss, Cardinals reporter
- Tony Gonzalez (21 votes):NFL reporter Dan Graziano says, “Gonzalez ranks third all time in receptions, sixth in receiving yards and eighth in receiving touchdowns amongst all players. If the fashionable tight end is a supercharged wide receiver, Gonzalez deserves credit because the guy who’s already inhabiting a large receiver neighborhood on these all-time lists.” What really makes him stand aside from the remainder? Bills reporter Alaina Getzenberg points to “the sustained success over his 17-year profession, surpassing 900 receiving yards in nine seasons.”
- Kellen Winslow (two votes):”Winslow helped transform the tight end position,” saysNFL analyst Mike Tannenbaum. “His traits transcend any era, and he would have been an awesome player in any generation.”
- Also receiving votes: Mike Ditka (one), Antonio Gates (one), Ozzie Newsome (one),Shannon Sharpe (one)
Voting results:Munoz earned 27 of fifty votes (54%)
Profession: Cincinnati (1980-1992)
Hall of Fame: 1998
Pro Bowl selections: 11
Profession stats: 185 games, 184 starts
Why he’s the GOAT offensive tackle:Munoz was named to the NFL’s a hundredth anniversary team, the seventy fifth anniversary team and the Nineteen Eighties All-Decade team, all after having three surgeries on his knees in his college profession. He was an All-Pro in 11 consecutive seasons.Munoz had incredible traits and almost unfailing consistency at an elite level. — Legwold
Stat to know:From 1981 to ’90, the Bengals’ offense ranked in the highest 10 in scoring seven times and in the highest 10 in yards nine times, thanks partly to Munoz’s protection at left tackle.
What our voters said
“Munoz has long been considered among the finest offensive linemen to play the sport. In 2000, he was voted to the NFL All-Time Team by the Hall of Fame selection committee, and former Bengals tight end Bob Trumpy told NFL Network that Munoz ‘absolutely devastated defensive ends on this league.'” — Ben Baby, Bengals reporter
“It’s pretty easy for me: He was as dominant a player at his position as there was within the NFL. A mauler with the feet of a dancer, he could overpower guys or beat them along with his mobility. Munoz is the usual against which all offensive tackles are measured.” — Michael DiRocco, Jaguars reporter
“He dominated his era with a staggering nine first-team All-Pro selections. And he’s arguably probably the most identifiable icon from the Bengals’ 1981 and 1989 Super Bowl teams, which is rare air for an offensive lineman. He just set the bar too high for all the opposite elite candidates who followed.” — Mike Triplett, Saints reporter
- Jonathan Ogden (10 votes):”Imagine you step to the road of scrimmage and the person across from you is 6-foot-9, 345 kilos and smiling. That is what Ogden’s opponents bore witness to for 12 seasons,” says Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques. Rams reporter Sarah Barshop also picked Ogden here, saying, “Ogden was certainly one of the linemen who showed just how vital it’s to guard a quarterback’s blind side. And he was consistent, making the Pro Bowl every yr of his profession apart from his rookie season.”
- Orlando Pace (4 votes):The 6-foot-7 blindside protector for the Biggest Show on Turf “boasted a rare combination of mobility and ending strength,” according toNFL draft analyst Todd McShay. “Twenty-five years ago when he entered the NFL, no one at his size could move like Pace.”
- Walter Jones (three votes):Giants reporter Jordan Raanan acknowledges that Jones perhaps flew under the radar but had a terrific “combination of run- and pass-blocking dominance that was unmatched.”
- Also receiving votes: Jackie Slater (two), Forrest Gregg (one), Willie Roaf (one), Joe Thomas (one), Gary Zimmerman (one)
Voting results: Allen earned 21 of fifty votes (42%)
Profession: Dallas (1994-2005); San Francisco (2006-2007)
Hall of Fame: 2013
Pro Bowl selections: 11
Profession stats: 203 games, 197 starts
Why he’s the GOAT offensive guard: Allen once said his mission on the sector was “to make the opposite guy quit.” Mission completed, as his combination of power and mobility launched a lot of Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith’s best runs. Over his profession, Allen began 121 games at left guard, 45 at right guard, 20 at left tackle and 11 at right tackle. And there are lots of who worked for the Cowboys who say they were there when Allen’s legendary 705-pound bench press happened. — Legwold
Stat to know:Allen was a part of a Cowboys offensive line that helped Smith rush for a then-Cowboys single-season record 1,773 rushing yards in 1995 (since has been topped by DeMarco Murray’s 1,845 yards in 2014).
What our voters said
“He could dominate the inside line of defense while also attending to the second level to get linebackers and defensive backs. Perhaps most impressive was his tracking down of Saints 250-pound linebacker Darion Conner to stop a Troy Aikman interception-return touchdown.” — Todd Archer, Cowboys reporter
“No offensive lineman higher encapsulates the Nineteen Nineties than Allen, and no offensive guard higher highlights what elite play on the position means than the 11-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro. Allen was the proper combination of brute strength, agility, poise and violence at the purpose of attack. He’s the prototype by which I evaluate offensive guard play.” — Matt Miller, NFL draft analyst
“Allen was so physically dominant that it was no secret that he punished opposing defenders to tears through the course of a game. Tears. Enough said.” — Chris Mortensen, NFL insider
- John Hannah (nine votes):Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz picked Hannah here because he “was named All-Pro for 10 consecutive years and anchored the 1978 Patriots’ offensive line that set an NFL record for total rushing yards (since broken by the 2019 Ravens).” Analytics author Seth Walder checked out those All-Pro nods compared to Allen. “Hannah was an All-Pro in 10 of 13 seasons, while Allen was in seven of 14.”
- Gene Upshaw (eight votes):”It is hard to categorise offensive linemen of various eras due to differences in size and speed of each the player and their opponents, but Upshaw transcended those differences,” says Falcons reporter Michael Rothstein.
- Also receiving votes: Bruce Matthews (three), Alan Faneca (two), Steve Hutchinson (two), Randall McDaniel (two), Jim Parker (two), Jerry Kramer (one)
Voting results: Webster earned 15 of fifty votes (30%)
Profession: Pittsburgh (1974-1988); Kansas City (1989-1990)
Hall of Fame: 1997
Pro Bowl selections: 9
Profession stats: 245 games, 217 starts
Why he’s the GOAT center:In his first two NFL seasons, Webster split time at center with Ray Mansfield, but he began the ultimate game of the 1975 season and didn’t miss a start after that until 1986, when he suffered an elbow injury. A team captain within the Steelers’ dynasty that won 4 Super Bowls, Webster died in 2002 at age 50. — Legwold
Stat to know:Webster was a first-team All-Pro five times over six seasons from 1978 to ’83.
What our voters said
“I gave the sting to Webster because of an ideal mix of championship titles, individual achievement and longevity. He’s the one offensive lineman in NFL history with 4 Super Bowl rings and no less than 4 first-team All-Pro selections. Iron Mike made 150 consecutive starts and had probably the most games played in Steelers history (220) until Ben Roethlisberger passed him.” — Doug Clawson, Stats & Information
“It’s hard to search out a more complete resume than that of Webster, who became synonymous with Pittsburgh’s excellence through the Steel Curtain era. His consistency was impressive, and Webster was the entire package.” — Jeremy Fowler, NFL reporter
“An offense’s success and continuity depend greatly on the middle position, which is often ignored. But Webster excelled at run- and pass-blocking and was the linchpin of the Steelers’ offensive line attributable to his excellent play strength and quickness.” — Eric Moody, fantasy author
- Jim Otto (13 votes):”Otto was certainly one of three players to play in every certainly one of his team’s 140 games through the AFL’s 10-year run (1960-69),” says ESPN Stats & Information’s John Parolin. “And the one AFL/NFL players with more consecutive Pro Bowls than Otto’s 12 straight are Bruce Matthews (14), Merlin Olsen (14) and Reggie White (13).”
- Chuck Bednarik (11 votes):”Perhaps I let Bednarik’s full body of labor consider too heavily after I voted for him because the GOAT center,” admits Steelers reporter Brooke Pryor. “A two-way player, Bednarik was an All-Pro selection at each center and linebacker.”
- Also receiving votes: Dermontti Dawson (five), Dwight Stephenson (five), Mel Hein (one)
Check back for our GOAT at every defensive and special teams position on Wednesday.