Picking The Best Is Difficult Or Impossible

By Joe Booker
Updated: September 11, 2005

HOUSTON, TX.—Some media have chosen Jerry Rice as the best football in the history of the NFL. Others have chosen Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor. It is difficult or even impossible to choose the best. More than anything this is usually a matter of an opinion by those who choose the best.

Boy Hayes changed the way defenses was played

How good a player is can often be determined by how he changed the game. I don’t know of any player that changed the game like the late Dallas Cowboys wide receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes. Hayes’ blinding speed caused teams to change from using a man-to-man defense to go to a zone, where they could get help covering Hayes. You can credit the zone defense to Bob Hayes. How many other great players have had the game changed as Hayes has?

This is why it is difficult to call one player the greatest football player. Some players are surrounded by outstanding teammates and a great system. Some players with as much talent or better have not been able to put up big numbers because of the system or surroundings. One example is former Kansas City Chiefs WR Otis Taylor. There was not a receiver in the NFL that was better than Taylor. Taylor could catch, block, had great hands, speed and size, but he did not play for a team that threw the ball a lot or have a quarterback that could throw deep.

Using statistics along can be misleading

You could get few arguments that Rice is the best wide receiver to ever play in the NFL if his statistics are used as the measuring stick. Statistics can sometimes be misleading.

Emmitt Smith is the all-time leading rusher in the NFL, but was he better than Jim Brown? He had better statistics. Was he better than Walter Payton or Barry Sanders?

Was he better than O.J. Simpson or Gayle Sayers? Sometimes the system that a player plays in can lead to high statistics. Some defenses will feature a player more.

What players did teams spent most of their time preparing to stop?

Almost every team in the NFL planned their defense to stop Jim Brown. The same can be said about teams when he came to putting together an offense to avoid Lawrence Taylor. Teams knew if they could stop Jim Brown they could stop the Cleveland Browns and teams knew if they avoided Lawrence Taylor they had a better chance of beating the Giants. Some teams had so many weapons which prevented teams from placing all of their plans on one particular player.

I am not taking anything away from Rice. Rice was surrounded with so many talented players that if you stopped Rice, the 49ers could beat you with Roger Craig or John Taylor. Rice’s greatest asset other than his talent was longevity. He was able to play for a long period of time that enabled him to set records that may never be broken. The Cleveland Browns offense was Jim Brown. The New York Giants defense was Lawrence Taylor.

As I stated, teams had to change their defense for Bob Hayes. A wide receiver does not tough the ball as much as a running back or make as many plays as s linebacker like Taylor.

Players rated best by the position they play

I think you have a better chance of rating players by position rather than in general. It is easier to rate the best running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks, etc. If you said Rice was the greatest receiver you would have few oppositions.