As if the NFL doesn’t have enough exciting and relevant numbers to choose from, we’ve decided to bring you the 101 greatest NFL players by number. We’ll be focusing on numbers within the Top 50, and then, of course, the Top 100. Using our selection criteria, we’ve whittled those numbers down to a manageable number that can be shared with all of you; 101.
Fifty-nine was the year of the rookie, including a handful of players who went on to have Hall of Fame careers, including Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, and Jerry Rice, but not only rookies made their mark in the NFL in 1989. Below are the 101 greatest NFL players by uniform number.
50-59 is a tricky range to rank. At the top end, you have a few Hall of Famers, but many of the 50s and 60s are stars who are no longer in the league. At the other end of the spectrum, you have guys like Levens, who was an adequate NFL player in his day but has grown into a punchline.. Read more about nfl players with number 59 and let us know what you think.
The sixth episode of Sportscasting’s 10-part series “The 101 Greatest NFL Players by Uniform Number” is now available.
For those who haven’t read the first half of the series, we’re doing exactly what it says on the tin. There have been 101 NFL seasons played to this date, and 101 different numbers (00, 0, 1-99) have been utilized throughout that period. As a result, we’re just identifying the top player for each position. From now until the start of the 2021 NFL season on September 9, we’ll post the most recent section of the list every Thursday.
Here’s a short refresher on the players who best wore Nos. 00-49 for those who may have missed the first five episodes or for those who are back and simply want a fast reminder:
Naturally, the greatest to wear Nos. 50-59 continue today, and we hope you’re ready for some linebackers.
Mike Singletary, No. 50
A two-time agreement Mike Singletary was a two-time All-American at Baylor and the last defensive player to win the Davey O’Brien Award before it became a quarterback-only award. He was drafted in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears and spent his entire 12-year career in the Windy City, missing only two games.
Singletary was a 10-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro pick, and a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who led Buddy Ryan’s legendary “46” team to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl victory in 1985.
Dick Butkus (no. 51)
The great Dick Butkus, another iconic Chicago Bears linebacker, is the obvious pick at No. 51.
Butkus was a two-time consensus All-American at Illinois, and the Bears selected him with the third overall selection in the 1965 NFL draft, one place ahead of Gale Sayers. And, like Sayers, Butkus didn’t have the longest career, but he made the most of what he had. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro pick, and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year during his nine seasons in Chicago.
Ray Lewis (no. 52)
Ray Lewis was drafted with the 26th overall selection in the 1996 NFL draft and spent his entire 17-year NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens, where he was essentially the face of the club the whole time.
He amassed 2,059 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, and 31 interceptions during his Hall of Fame career. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, three-time tackle leader, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl winner, and just the second linebacker to be voted Super Bowl MVP.
Harry Carson, No. 53
Harry Carson, our No. 53 pick, was a terrific linebacker for the New York Giants despite playing second fiddle to Lawrence Taylor for the bulk of his career.
Carson was a fourth-round choice out of South Carolina State in the 1976 NFL draft and spent his entire 13-year career with the Giants, where he was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro selection, and helped the team win the Super Bowl in 1986, the same year he popularized the Gatorade bath.
Randy White (no. 54)
We considered a number of strong contenders for the No. 54 spot, including Brian Urlacher, another Bears linebacker. However, we ultimately decided on Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White, who played 14 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys from 1975 to 1988.
White was a two-time All-American and Lombardi Award winner at the University of Maryland before being selected second overall in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He was voted co-MVP of Super Bowl 12 and was a nine-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro pick.
Junior Seau, No. 55
Junior Seau, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1989, was drafted fifth overall in the 1990 NFL Draft and spent his first 13 years with the San Diego Chargers. He subsequently spent three seasons with the Miami Dolphins before finishing his career with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Over the course of his 20-year career, Seau amassed 1,847 tackles, including 56.5 sacks, and was a 12-time Pro Bowler, nine-time All-Pro pick, and was voted Defensive Player of the Year.
Lawrence Taylor (no. 56)
Lawrence Taylor, a legendary NFL linebacker, around 1986 | George Gojkovich/Getty Images
Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants, widely regarded as the best defensive player in NFL history, was an obvious choice at No. 56. Taylor, who was selected with the second overall selection in the 1981 NFL draft, is the first player in history to earn Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie. He won it a second time in his second season to show it wasn’t a fluke. In 1986, LT earned DPOY for the third time, while also leading the Giants to a Super Bowl victory and becoming just the second defensive player to win NFL MVP.
Taylor was a 10-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro pick during his 13-year NFL career. With 142 sacks, he ranks eighth all-time in sacks.
Dwight Stephenson, No. 57
We considered veteran New Orleans Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson for No. 57, and it was perhaps the most difficult decision we had to make on this section of the list. But Dwight Stephenson, perhaps the best center of his age, who spent his entire eight-year career with the Miami Dolphins, is barely edging him out.
Stephenson, who was drafted in the second round of the 1980 NFL draft out of Alabama, was the heart and soul of an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league for six straight seasons. In Dan Marino’s early years, the guy who handed him the ball was a five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro pick.
Jack Lambert (no. 58)
Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert, a key part of the storied defense that helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls in six seasons, is our No. 58 selection.
Lambert, a second-round choice out of Kent State in the 1974 NFL draft, spent his entire 11-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a nine-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro selection, and was voted Defensive Player of the Year.
Jack Ham (No. 59)
Jack Ham is the first player in NFL history to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame while wearing the number 59. And he most definitely deserved it. Ham, a second-round selection out of Penn State in the 1971 NFL draft, spent his entire 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he and Lambert were an unstoppable duo. Ham, like Lambert, was a four-time Super Bowl champion, as well as an eight-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time All-Pro pick.
We’ll see you for Nos. 60-69 next week.
Pro Football Reference provided the statistics.
Quick note to readers – you can find the list of the previous 101 greatest NFL players here . This list below contains the next 101.. Read more about nfl players with number 51 and let us know what you think.
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