Of all the players that have graced the NFL over the past 100+years, it’s time we recognize some of the best NFL player names of all-time. Not necessarily for what they did on the field, but for the name they were born with. As I’m sure you know, some names sure do get pretty crazy.
We’ve all been there – you’re watching Monday Night Football when the players start to introduce themselves on the bottom of the screen. Out of nowhere a player says the wildest, most hysterical, mind-blowing name you’ve ever heard and it leaves you with a dropped jaw.
Either that, or you see a player’s name plate on the back of their jersey and you’re sitting there thinking, “There’s no way that’s the player’s actual name!” Low and behold, it is their name and it’s likely not the only wild name you’ll see in the NFL that week. The league is full of them!
What Are the Best NFL Player Names of All-Time
The best NFL player names are all unique in their own way. Some of them are catchy, some are hilarious, some are ironic or fitting, some are downright unbelievable, and some of them are just so hard to say or spell correctly. Either way, it’s a name that we’re going to remember forever.
For example, some of the names that didn’t quite make it on our list of the best NFL player names of all-time include Mac Speedie, Guy Whimper, Buzz Nutter, Jack Youngblood, Bacarri Rambo, Zoltan Mesko, Ali Haji-Sheikh, Star Lotulelei, and Prince Tega Wanogho.
Of course, we can all agree that there’s no shortage of crazy names in the NFL and we’ll continue to see more players enter the league with unbelievable names. That’s part of what makes Football Sunday so fun – you get to make fun of all the best NFL player names!
20. Coy Bacon
Years Active: 1968-1981 (14 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals
Career Stats: 180 games, 164 starts, 130.5 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries, 2 interceptions, 2 defensive touchdowns, 1 safety
Come on, don’t be coy! Born Lander McCoy Bacon, but known to many as ‘Coy,’ something about this name makes my mouth water everytime I see it – what about you? I mean, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like bacon? It’s extremely versatile, which is a good way to describe Coy.
During his 14-year career, Bacon had eight seasons with double-digit sacks and finished with 130.5 career sacks, which unofficially ranks 22nd all-time. He was named to three Pro Bowls and had a career-high 21.5 sacks in 1976. He was as fierce as they come on the defensive line.
19. Hercules Mata’afa
Years Active: 2019-present (2 seasons)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings
Career Stats: 19 games, 1 start, 25 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defensed
Hercules, Hercules, Hercules! I’ll never know what it’s like to have this cool of a name, but Hercules Mata’afa does. It’s not just the first name, either. He follows it up with an interesting, fun-to-say, Hawaiin last name. If only his football career turned out as good as his name.
Mata’afa played college ball at Washington State and went undrafted before signing with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent in 2020. He played in six games his rookie season and 13 games the following season, but was waived ahead of the 2021 season and hasn’t played since.
18. Barkevious Mingo
Years Active: 2013-2020 (8 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks
Career Stats: 126 games, 40 starts, 255 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 16 passes defensed
Barkevious Mingo was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the sixth overall pick in 2013. It was fitting for him to get drafted to the ‘Dawg Pound,’ especially considering his first name literally begins with the word ‘bark.’ Unfortunately, he didn’t last in Cleveland very long.
After three disappointing seasons with the Browns, Mingo played for five different teams over the next five seasons. Although he played in 126 games over his eight-year career, he only started 40 of those games – not what you expect from a former sixth overall draft pick.
17. Bronko Nagurski
Years Active: 1930-1943 (9 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Bears
Career Stats: 97 games, 633 rushes, 2,778 rushing yards, 25 rushing touchdowns, 4.4 yards per attempt, 11 receptions, 134 receiving yards
Bronko Nagurski is as catchy a name as I’ve ever heard, but it’s also very fitting for this Hall of Fame fullback. He ran through opposing defenses like a wild horse and was one of the most fierce runners in the history of the game. For those that don’t know, a wild horse is a bronco.
Nagurski played his entire nine-year career with the Chicago Bears. He was a four-time All-Pro player, three-time NFL champion, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963. He scored at least one touchdown in each of his nine seasons, including a career-high seven in 1934.
16. D’Brickashaw Ferguson
Years Active: 2006-2015 (10 seasons)
Teams: New York Jets
Career Stats: 160 games, 160 starts, 5 fumble recoveries
How many people out there can say they were named after a character in The Thorn Birds, a novel released in 1977? Well, I know one person and his name is D’Brickashaw Ferguson – the name was inspired by Father Ralph de Bricassart. It’s quite the name for quite the player.
After a successful college career at Virginia, Ferguson was drafted fourth overall by the New York Jets in 2006. He spent his entire 10-year career with the team and didn’t miss an entire game in that span – making 160 consecutive starts. He sure was reliable on that offensive line.
15. Ndamukong Suh
Years Active: 2010-present (12 seasons)
Teams: Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Stats: 188 games, 585 tackles, 130 tackles for loss, 70.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 9 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 3 defensive touchdowns, 1 safety
Ndamukong Suh has always been one of the most unique and best NFL player names ever since he entered the league. At first, most people didn’t know how to say it or spell it. We’ve heard it enough to know it by now and what used to be funny to hear is now funny to say.
Suh was drafted second overall in the 2010 draft by the Detroit Lions. He had an incredible rookie season, which ended with 10.0 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. In his final season with Detroit, he recorded a career-high 21 tackles for loss.
14. Tuanigamanuolepola “Tua” Tagovailoa
Years Active: 2020-present (2 seasons)
Teams: Miami Dolphins
Career Stats: 20 games, 11-7-0 record, 3,955 yards, 67.1% completion percentage, 25 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 6 rushing touchdowns
Most people know him as Tua Tagovailoa, which is a unique and fun name in its own right. Of course, that’s taken to the next level when you learn his full first name – Tuanigamanuolepola. It’s a long one, there’s a lot of vowels, and a majority of people won’t be able to say it correctly.
Tagovailoa was drafted fifth overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2020 and there’s a lot of hope that he can be their next franchise quarterback. He has shown glimpses of that ability, but has dealt with several injuries and needs to show he can command an offense much more consistently.
13. Greedy Williams
Years Active: 2019-present (2 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Career Stats: 25 games, 83 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions
Greedy Williams is the type of name you would expect to see from a capable and promising cornerback. After all, you want that player to be greedy when lining up against some of the best wide receivers in the league. The less yards they give up, the better off your defense will be.
Williams was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 2019 draft. He played and started in 12 games that season, finishing with 47 tackles and 2 passes defensed. AFter missing the 2020 campaign with a shoulder injury, he has two interceptions thus far in 2021.
12. Tedy Bruschi
Years Active: 1996-2008 (13 seasons)
Teams: New England Patriots
Career Stats: 189 games, 1,074 tackles, 45 tackles for loss, 30.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 57 passes defensed, 12 interceptions, 4 defensive touchdowns
How many times have you asked your friends, “Hey, wanna get a nice, cold brewski later?” Well, that’s what makes Tedy Bruschi one of the best NFL player names of all-time. Every single time I see it, I automatically hear a Boston accent – even though he grew up in CA.
With that said, the Boston accent is fitting because Bruschi was drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the 1996 draft and he spent his entire 13-year career with the team. He was named to three Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowls behind the likes of Tom Brady.
11. Rock Ya-Sin
Years Active: 2019-present (3 seasons)
Teams: Indianapolis Colts
Career Stats: 39 games, 133 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 interceptions, 18 passes defensed
In the same draft that saw Greedy Williams go in the second round, the Indianapolis Colts drafted another cornerback with one of the best NFL player names – Rock Ya-Sin. He was selected 12 spots ahead of Williams, but the two have had similar careers up to this point.
Ya-Sin played in 15 games as a rookie and started 13 of those. He has slowly declined over the past two years and has only started in 14 games in that span. Although he hasn’t recorded an interception so far in the 2021 season, he’s on pace for a career-high in passes defensed.
10. CeeDee Lamb
Years Active: 2020-2021 (2 seasons)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys
Career Stats: 29 games, 144 receptions, 1,875 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns, 160 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
With the sudden rise of music streaming platforms over the past decade, compact discs – also known as a CD – are all but extinct. That’s okay, though, because there’s a new “CD” in town and his name is CeeDee Lamb. Between the first and last name, there aren’t many better.
Lamb was drafted 17th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2020 draft. He has only spent two years in the NFL, but has already emerged as one of Dak Prescott’s favorite targets. He has already set career-highs in yards, touchdowns, and is five receptions away from a career-high.
9. Jake Butt
Years Active: 2018-2020 (2 seasons)
Teams: Denver Broncos
Career Stats: 8 games, 10 receptions, 90 yards
You would expect a player with a name like Jake Butt to stink on the field – it would only make sense. Of course, that’s the exact opposite of what Butt did at the University of Michigan. He finished his college career with 138 receptions, 1,646 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Butt’s success ended there and he started to stink as a result of several torn ACLs – one in the final game of his college career that made him miss his rookie year and again the following year. He only played in eight games before deciding to retire due to his injuries.
8. C.J. Ah You
Years Active: 2009-2011 (3 seasons)
Teams: St. Louis Rams
Career Stats: 33 games, 41 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defensed
This NFL player’s name is very close to sounding like someone sneezing, which is why I always (by habit) say ‘bless you’ every single time I hear the name C.J. Ah You. It only makes sense, right? Of course, not everyone will get the joke and it will fly over some people’s heads.
Ah You was a seventh-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2007, but didn’t make his NFL debut until the 2009 season with the St. Louis Rams. He spent three years with the team and recorded six sacks over that span before deciding to pursue a college coaching career.
7. Champ Bailey
Years Active: 1999-2013 (15 seasons)
Teams: Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins
Career Stats: 215 games, 931 tackles, 42 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 52 interceptions, 203 passes defensed, 4 defensive touchdowns
With a name like Champ Bailey, expectations must’ve been high throughout his entire life. After all, his first name is Champ and that’s what you call a winner. As a defensive back in the NFL, that’s exactly what Champ Bailey did everytime he lined up across from a wide receiver.
Bailey was drafted by the Washington Redskins with the seventh overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. He recorded five interceptions in each of his first two seasons, but also had eight interceptions in 2005 and a league-leading 10 interceptions in 2006. He was a champ, for sure!
6. Juju Smith-Schuster
Years Active: 2017-present (5 seasons)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Career Stats: 63 games, 323 receptions, 3,855 receiving yards, 26 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown
The word ‘juju’ has been used a lot throughout history – largely by the people of West Africa. Juju is a popular type of music played by the Yoruba in Nigeria, but even today we say someone has ‘good juju’ if they’re in good spirits. That’s why Juju Smith-Schuster’s name is so unique.
Smith-Schuster was a second-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 and has spent the past five seasons with the team. He has emerged as their top option when on the field. He recorded a 97-yard touchdown reception in each of his first two seasons, which isn’t easy to do.
5. Key’vantanie “Keke” Coutee
Years Active: 2018-present (4 seasons)
Teams: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts
Career Stats: 24 games, 84 receptions, 946 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown
Keke, do you love me?! (No, that song by Drake wasn’t about Keke Coutee. While everyone in the football community knows him as Keke, which is a pretty solid name in its own right, his full first name – Key’vantanie – is even more unique and truly brings out the character in his name.
Coutee was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He wasn’t the top option for the Texans, but he did make valuable contributions to the team over the next three years. He’s in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts, but has only played one game.
4. Ha’Sean Treshon “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix
Years Active: 2014-present (7 seasons)
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears
Career Stats: 98 games, 522 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 16 interceptions, 33 passes defensed, 1 defensive touchdown
Let’s talk about another player who has a hilarious – literally – moniker, but an even more unique full first name. Known to many as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, his real name is Ha’Sean Treshon – a name most people haven’t heard of before. If only receivers were laughing when he guards him.
Clinton-Dix was the 21st overall draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2014 and spent the next four and half seasons with the team – recording 14 interceptions over that span. Since then, he has played for three teams in three years and hasn’t been as dominant as he once was.
3. Troy Aumua Polamalu
Years Active: 2003-2014 (12 seasons)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Career Stats: 158 games, 783 tackles, 56 tackles for loss, 12.0 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 32 interceptions, 107 passes defensed, 5 defensive touchdowns
It’s only fitting that one of the best NFL player names belongs to one of the best safeties of all-time. He was a generational talent that has one of the coolest sounding names ever. His first name, Troy, is pretty basic, but his last name, Polamalu, rolls off the tongue perfectly every time.
Troy Polamalu was drafted 16th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003. He spent his entire 12-year career with the team, winning two Super Bowls in that span. He was also Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, appeared in 8 Pro Bowls, and was a four-time All-Pro player.
2. Dick Butkus
Years Active: 1965-1973 (9 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Bears
Career Stats: 119 games, 11.0 sacks, 27 fumble recoveries, 22 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown, 1 safety
Let’s be honest, this name has it all. Although his real name is Richard Marvin Butkus, everyone knew him as Dick Butkus and it became one of the best NFL player names of all-time. It’s fun to say, you can’t help but laugh when you hear someone say it, and he had quite the NFL career.
Butkus was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the third overall draft pick in 1965. He spent his entire nine-year career with the Bears and was as fierce a linebacker as they come. He had 27 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions in his career, eventually being named to the HOF.
1. TJ Houshmandzadeh
Years Active: 2001-2011 (11 seasons)
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
Career Stats: 146 games, 627 receptions, 7,237 receiving yards, 44 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown
Speaking of names that are fun to pronounce, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is easily one of the best NFL player names of all-time. In fact, there was once a commercial for NFL.com fantasy football where fantasy players were butchering his name – they said T.J. Who’s Your Mama.
Ever since then, he has been known as T.J. Who’s Your Mama and we’re 100% here for it. He was a seventh-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, but played like a second rounder. His best season came in 2007 when he had 112 receptions, 1,143 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
Some of the Best NFL Players Names Are Yet to Come
Throughout the 100+ year history of the NFL, there have been countless players with unique, interesting, funny, ironic, and outlandish names. Some of them are given as monikers and some are given at birth. Either way, the best NFL player names of all-time are sure to make you laugh.
With that said, some of the best NFL player names are likely yet to come. Every year, we see a new class of players enter the NFL and you’re bound to see at least some crazy names in that list. In fact, we could eventually see some active college players on this list in the near future.
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For example, some of the best names in college football today include Sellers Shy, Power Echols, Ajou Ajou, Demon Clowney, Charleston Rambo, Bumper Pool, Storm Duck, New Zealand Williams, Buck Coors, and Kavosiey Smoke. Keep an eye on these players!
The Best Football Numbers Based on These 20 NFL Stars
The best football numbers are worn by the best football players. They’re the numbers everyone imagines when thinking of a certain position. They’re the numbers on the back of everyone’s favorite jersey. They’re the numbers that are remembered forever — the ones we won’t forget.
From 00-99, we’ve seen players wear them all. Some wear it better than others and we all have different favorite players, but some numbers receive more attention than other numbers. In fact, some numbers are so legendary that teams will retire those numbers, never to be worn again.
That raises the question, what are the best football numbers of all-time and who were the players that caused those numbers to become so popular? I know there’s a few numbers that come to mind right away, but it’s a question that’s more difficult to answer than you’d think.
What Are the Best Football Numbers?
Although the NFL has been extremely strict on what numbers each player is allowed to wear based on their position, those restrictions have gotten a little more relaxed in recent years. For example, the NFL recently made major changes to those restrictions in 2021 and beyond.
Here’s a look at what the NFL allows now:
- Quarterbacks: 1-19
- Running Backs: 1-49, 80-89
- Wide Receivers: 1-49, 80-89
- Tight Ends: 1-49, 80-89
- Offensive Linemen: 50-79
- Defensive Linemen: 50-79, 90-99
- Linebackers: 1-59, 90-99
- Defensive Backs: 1-49
- Kickers: 1-19
- Punters: 1-19
With new rules, we’re going to see a lot more single-digit numbers on the field, including running backs, receivers, tight ends, and linebackers. Of course, it won’t change the fact that some numbers are more popular than others based on the stars that have worn them in the past.
Let’s take a look at some of those numbers and who wore them best!
20. RB Emmitt Smith – No. 22
Seasons: 1990-2004 (15 seasons)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals
Stats: 226 games, 4,409 rushes, 18,355 rushing yards, 164 rushing touchdowns, 515 receptions, 3,224 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: 2010
Other Players to Sport No. 22: Frank Gatski, Bob Hayes, Mike Haynes, Paul Krause, Bobby Layne, Roger Wehrli, Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Matt Forte, Mark Ingram, Nate Clements
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Emmitt Smith with the 17th overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. To this date, no running back has rushed for more yards in their career than Smith — he holds the record by more than 1,600 yards. He also holds the record for most career rushing touchdowns.
19. QB John Elway – No. 7
Seasons: 1983-1998 (16 seasons)
Teams: Denver Broncos
Stats: 234 games, 148-82-1 record, 4,123 completions, 56.9% completion percentage, 51,475 passing yards, 300 passing touchdowns, 226 interceptions
Hall of Fame Induction: 2004
Other Players to Sport No. 7: Morten Andersen, Earl Clark, George Halas, Mel Hein, Clarence Parker, Bob Waterfield, Michael Vick, Boomer Esiason, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Theismann, Doug Flutie
John Elway was drafted by the Denver Broncos first overall in the 1983 NFL Draft. As a starting QB, he only had two losing seasons in his career and won 10 or more games in eight seasons. He has the 11th-most career passing yards and 12th-most career passing touchdowns.
18. OL Jonathan Ogden – No. 75
Seasons: 1996-2007 (12 seasons)
Teams: Baltimore Ravens
Stats: 177 games played, 176 games started, 6 All-Pro selections, 11 Pro Bowl selections
Hall of Fame Induction: 2013
Other Players to Sport No. 75: Joe Greene, Deacon Jones, Lomas Brown, Howie Long, Forrest Gregg, Vince Wilfork, Jerry Mays, Winston Hill
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft — the team’s inaugural season. He was an instant starter and became the main threat on their offensive line for the next 12 years. He helped pave the way for Jamal Lewis’ incredible career.
17. RB Barry Sanders – No. 20
Seasons: 1989-1998 (10 seasons)
Teams: Detroit Lions
Stats: 153 games, 3,062 rushes, 15,269 rushing yards, 99 rushing touchdowns, 5.0 yards per attempt, 353 receptions, 2,921 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: 2004
Other Players to Sport No. 20: Ed Reed, Ronde Barber, Brian Dawkins, Mel Renfro, Lem Barney, Louis Wright, Jalen Ramsey, Cliff Battles
Barry Sanders didn’t have as long of a career as most running backs, but his legacy will be remembered forever. He was drafted third overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1989 NFL Draft and recorded more than 1,000 yards in each of the next 10 seasons — including 2,053 in 1997.
16. QB Drew Brees – No. 9
Seasons: 2001-2020 (20 seasons)
Teams: San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints
Stats: 287 games, 172-114-0 record, 7,142 completions, 67.7% completion percentage, 80,358 passing yards, 571 passing touchdowns, 243 interceptions
Hall of Fame Induction: Not yet, but soon
Other Players to Sport No. 9: Sonny Jurgensen, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, Steve McNair, Jim McMahon, Justin Tucker
No. 9 is one of the best football numbers ever and Drew Brees is the main reason why. Drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, Brees currently holds the records for most career passing yards and completions. He’s also 2nd in passing touchdowns.
15. TE Tony Gonzalez – No. 88
Seasons: 1997-2013 (17 seasons)
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons
Stats: 270 games, 1,325 receptions, 15,127 receiving yards, 111 receiving touchdowns, 11.4 yards per reception
Hall of Fame Induction: 2019
Other Players to Sport No. 88: Alan Page, Marvin Harrison, Michael Irvin, Drew Pearson, Lynn Swann, John Mackey, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Greg Olsen, Torry Holt
Tony Gonzalez is the greatest tight end to ever play and is a large reason why No. 88 is one of the best football numbers of all-time.
14. LB Ray Lewis – No. 52
Seasons: 1996-2012 (17 seasons)
Teams: Baltimore Ravens
Stats: 228 games, 2,059 tackles, 99 tackles for loss, 41.5 sacks, 31 interceptions, 3 defensive touchdowns, 96 passes defensed, 19 forced fumbles, 20 fumble recoveries, 1 safety
Hall of Fame Induction: 2018
Other Players to Sport No. 52: Mike Webster, Patrick Willis, Clay Matthews, Dave Edwards, Robert Brazile, Khalil Mack
There’s no question Ray Lewis is one of the greatest linebackers of all-time, making No. 52 one of the best football numbers ever.
13. QB Peyton Manning – No. 18
Seasons: 1998-2015 (17 seasons)
Teams: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
Stats: 266 games, 186-79-0 record, 6,125 completions, 65.3% completion percentage, 71,940 passing yards, 539 passing touchdowns, 251 interceptions
Hall of Fame Induction: Not yet, but soon
Other Players to Sport No. 18: Charlie Joiner, Roman Gabriel, Emmitt Thomas, A.J. Green, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Kenny Britt, Sidney Rice
When you think of No. 18, Peyton Manning is the first player that comes to mind. He was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and has the third-most career passing yards, third-most career passing touchdowns, and fourth-most career passing completions.
12. QB Joe Montana – No. 16
Seasons: 1979-1994 (15 seasons)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
Stats: 192 games, 117-47-0 record, 3,409 completions, 63.2% completion percentage, 40,551 passing yards, 273 passing touchdowns, 139 interceptions
Hall of Fame Induction: 2000
Other Players to Sport No. 16: Len Dawson, George Blanda, Norm Snead, Jim Plunkett, Jake Plummer, Jared Goff, Frank Gifford, George Musso, Ed Healey
No player has worn No. 16 better than Joe Montana, though many have tried. He was a third-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, leading them to four Super Bowl victories (including two-straight) and winning three Most Valuable Player awards in the process.
11. RB Walter Payton – No. 34
Seasons: 1975-1987 (13 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Bears
Stats: 190 games, 3,838 rushes, 16,726 rushing yards, 110 rushing touchdowns, 4.4 yards per attempt, 492 receptions, 4,538 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: 1993
Other Players to Sport No. 34: Thurman Thomas, Cornell Green, Andy Russell, Herschel Walker, Ricky Williams, DeAngelo Williams, Earl Campbell, Joe Perry
The Chicago Bears selected Walter Payton with the fourth overall selection in 1975. He would go on to record the second-most career rushing yards and fifth-most career rushing touchdowns over his 13-year career. He rushed for over 1,200 yards in 10 different seasons.
10. DE Bruce Smith – No. 78
Seasons: 1985-2003 (19 seasons)
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins
Stats: 279 games, 1,224 tackles, 200 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed, 43 forced fumbles, 15 fumble recoveries, 1 defensive touchdown, 41 tackles for loss, 2 safeties
Hall of Fame Induction: 2009
Other Players to Sport No. 78: Anthony Munoz, Mike Kenn, Bobby Bell, Jackie Slater, Richmond Webb, Art Shell, Bruce Armstrong, Walt Sweeney, Tarik Glenn, Carl Hairston, Curley Culp, Stan Jones
No other player has recorded more sacks in their career than Bruce Smith, which is why his No. 78 is one of the best football numbers ever.
He was drafted first overall by the Buffalo Bills in 1985 and also has the eighth-most career forced fumbles. He recorded more than 10 sacks in 13 different seasons — including 19 in 1990.
9. WR Terrell Owens – No. 81
Seasons: 1996-2010 (15 seasons)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: 219 games, 1,078 receptions, 15,934 receiving yards, 153 receiving touchdowns, 14.8 yards per reception
Hall of Fame Induction: 2018
Other Players to Sport No. 81: Carl Eller, Tim Brown, Art Monk, Anquan Boldin, Jackie Smith, Calvin Johnson, Doug Atkins, George Connor, Dick Lane, Andy Robustelli, Torry Holt, Amani Toomer, Nate Burleson, Peerless Price
Terrell Owens was one of the biggest personalities the NFL has ever seen. He was drafted in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He has the eighth-most career receptions, third-most career receiving yards, and third-most career receiving TDs.
8. QB Brett Favre – No. 4
Seasons: 1991-2010 (20 seasons)
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 302 games, 186-112-0 record, 6,300 completions, 62.0% completion percentage, 71,838 passing yards, 508 passing touchdowns, 336 interceptions
Hall of Fame Induction: 2016
Other Players to Sport No. 4: Jim Harbaugh, Jason Hansen, Adam Vinatieri, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Phil Dawson, Alphonse Neemans
The No. 4 is easily one of the best football numbers ever and it’s solely because of Brett Favre. In fact, only three Hall of Famers have ever worn the number. He has the third-most career completions, fourth-most career passing yards, and fourth-most career passing touchdowns.
7. DE Reggie White – No. 92
Seasons: 1985-2000 (15 seasons)
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers
Stats: 232 games, 1,111 tackles, 198 sacks, 33 forced fumbles, 20 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions, 2 defensive touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: 2006
Other Players to Sport No. 92: Michael Strahan, Haloti Ngata, James Harrison, Ted Washington, Shawn Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Dontari Poe, Leonard Williams
Next to Bruce Smith, there has never been a defensive end as dominant as Reggie White. Drafted fourth overall in the 1984 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, White has the second-most career sacks. He had more than 10 sacks in 12 seasons — including 21.0 sacks in 1987.
6. LB Lawrence Taylor – No. 56
Seasons: 1981-1993 (13 seasons)
Teams: New York Giants
Stats: 184 games, 142 sacks, 9 interceptions, 2 defensive touchdowns, 11 fumble recoveries
Hall of Fame Induction: 1999
Other Players to Sport No. 56: Chris Doleman, Pat Swilling, Len Hauss, Andre Tippett, Derrick Johnson, Bill Hewitt, Joe Schmidt, Darryl Talley, Brian Cushing, Shawne Merriman
The New York Giants selected Lawrence Taylor with the second overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft and he would spend his entire 13-year career with the team. With 20.5 sacks in the 1986 season, he was named the league’s MVP and went on to have the sixth-most career sacks.
5. WR Randy Moss – No. 84
Seasons: 1998-2012 (14 seasons)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers
Stats: 218 games, 982 receptions, 15,292 receiving yards, 156 receiving touchdowns, 15.6 yards per reception
Hall of Fame Induction: 2018
Other Players to Sport No. 84: Shannon Sharpe, Roddy White, Gary Clark, Antonio Brown, Joey Galloway, Sterling Sharpe, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cardarelle Patterson
Randy Moss will go down as arguably the second best receiver to ever play. Despite having just the 15th-most career receptions, he has the fourth-most career receiving yards and second-most career receiving touchdowns. He also wore No. 81 and No. 18 in his career.
4. RB Jim Brown – No. 32
Seasons: 1957-1965 (9 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Stats: 118 games, 2,359 rushes, 12,312 rushing yards, 106 rushing touchdowns, 5.2 yards per attempt, 262 receptions, 2,499 receiving yards, 20 receiving touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: 1971
Other Players to Sport No. 32: O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James, Franco Harris, Ricky Watters, Eric Weddle, Maurice Jones-Drew, Devin McCourty, Tyrann Matthieu, Jamal Anderson, Cedric Benson
What Jim Brown was able to accomplish in just nine NFL seasons is nothing short of incredible. The Cleveland Browns selected him sixth overall in the 1957 draft He has the 11th-most career rushing yards and sixth-most career rushing touchdowns, despite just the 30th-most rushes.
3. DB Deion Sanders – No. 21
Seasons: 1989-2005 (14 seasons)
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens
Stats: 188 games, 512 tackles, 53 interceptions, 10 defensive touchdowns, 10 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries
Hall of Fame Induction: 2011
Other Players to Sport No. 21: LaDainian Tomlinson, John Hadl, Eric Allen, Tiki Barber, Patrick Peterson, Eddie Meador, Cliff Branch, Frank Gore, James Brooks, Charles Woodson, Ezekiel Elliott, Aqib Talib, Dan Fortmann
You aren’t nicknamed ‘Prime Time’ without valid reason, which is the case with Deion Sanders. He did a little of everything, recording 22 interceptions in his 14 seasons— 9 from interceptions, one from a fumble, 6 from punt returns, 3 from kick returns, and 3 receiving touchdowns.
2. WR Jerry Rice – No. 80
Seasons: 1985-2004 (20 seasons)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 303 games, 1,549 receptions, 22,895 receiving yards, 197 receiving touchdowns, 14.8 yards per reception, 87 rushes, 645 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: 2011
Other Players to Sport No. 80: Steve Largent, James Lofton, Cris Carter, Rod Smith, Isaac Bruce, Andre Johnson, Donald Driver, Eric Moulds, Kellen Winslow, Jack Butler, Tom Fears, Len Ford
The greatest wide receiver to ever suit up in the NFL, it’s no surprise Jerry Rice’s No. 80 is on our list of the best football numbers of all-time. Over his 20-year career, he has the most career receptions, career receiving yards, and career receiving touchdowns among receivers.
1. QB Tom Brady – No. 12
Seasons: 2000-present (22 seasons)
Teams: New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats: 304 games, 232-70-0 record, 6,875 completions, 64.0% completion percentage, 80,291 passing yards, 591 passing touchdowns, 193 interceptions, 26 rushing touchdowns
Hall of Fame Induction: If he ever retires
Other Players to Sport No. 12: Aaron Rodgers, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Jim Kelly, John Brodie, Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, Joe Ferguson, Ken Stabler, Randall Cunningham, Marques Colston, Rich Gannon, Andrew Luck, Gus Frerotte, Vinny Testeverde
One thing all the players above have in common is that they’ve retired from the NFL, yet Tom Brady is one that’s still playing. His seven Super Bowl wins isn’t just the most among NFL players, it’s more than any NFL franchise — a stat that proves just how dominant he is.
Who Will Sport the Best Football Numbers Next?
With so many players changing numbers at the start of the 2021-22 season and so many new numbers by different positions, it’s refreshing to take a look back at some of the greatest players to wear some of the best football numbers of all-time. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
It’s safe to say these numbers listed above aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The real question is whether any future or existing players will wear the number better than those we listed above. With the careers they had, it’s going to take an incredible career to dethrone them.
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What we can do is remember these players for what they were — revolutionary to the sport we all love and enjoy today. If you truly want to ‘tip the hat’ to the players listed above, do what the rest of us are doing and wear the best football numbers ever by sporting their iconic jerseys on Football Sunday.
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