The history of the National Football League is filled with stories of all-time great players who have reputations that will live on for as long as American Football is beloved by millions and millions of fans. Names such as Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice and so many others all helped build the foundation for what many see as the best professional sports league in North America if not in all of the world, one that is watched by somewhere around 30 million people in the United States alone 17 weeks out of the year. The NFL is the king of the sports world in the western hemisphere, and that is going to be the case for the foreseeable future.
As with any league that draws such massive attention, the NFL also has a long list of players who have been overrated by fans and analysts alike. That list includes a quarterback who famously won a Super Bowl and who is in the Hall of Fame, a man more so remembered because of his lifestyle and for his reputation than he is known for his great play. He remains an all-time favorite among fans of the team that he featured for during the bulk of his pro playing days because he won a championship, but those who would rank him as one of the greatest to ever play the QB position are mistaken.
20 Joe Montana
19 Tony Romo
The argument could be made that Tony Romo does not deserve to be mentioned in this piece because he is no longer being overrated as it pertains to his NFL career. Romo has done well to pile up the stats over the years, but he has also become synonymous with giving big games away via regrettable and also avoidable miscues. Go on social media websites such as Twitter during an NFL Sunday, and there are good odds of you likely seeing the phrase “Romoception” at least once in your timeline. Romo has never been even a top-ten quarterback in the NFL during his career.
18 Ray Lewis
17 Emmitt Smith
I am well aware of the numbers that Emmitt Smith accumulated during his career, but it is a stretch to consider him as even one of the five best running backs in NFL history. Smith had the luxury of playing behind what were legendary offensive line units during his time with the Dallas Cowboys, and those teams also happened to have Troy Aikman at quarterback and numerous other weapons including Michael Irvin. Smith was consistent, no doubt about it, but to put him in the same tier occupied by Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and so many others would be ridiculous.
16 Troy Polamalu
The flowing hair combined with those memorable leaps that he made over offensive lines and also his willingness to chase down ball-carriers from anywhere on the field has made Troy Polamalu a legend among fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those things have also made Polamalu an overrated player in the eyes of some spectators who watched him throughout his career. Good quarterbacks and also good wide receivers routinely exposed Polamalu even during his physical prime, and the safety got caught cheating by dynamic play-makers more often than some would lead you to believe.
15 Joe Thomas
The career of the Cleveland Browns offensive tackle has served as a reminder that offensive linemen who are voted to Pro Bowl squads early into their careers often receive that honor on multiple occasions simply because of the reputations that they generated in prior seasons. Joe Thomas has been a fine player in the NFL. He is going into the Hall of Fame not long after he retires from the league. Fans of the Browns saw what it looks like when Thomas does not play with an All-Pro center when Alex Mack went down with a broken leg in 2014. It was not a pretty sight.
14 Keyshawn Johnson
Keyshawn Johnson was acquired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2000 to bolster what was a lousy passing attack, but he never truly earned his massive paydays nor did he play well enough for coaches to want to tolerate his diva personality. Johnson never came all that close to being nearly as good as he thought that he was, and his antics on and off of the field are more memorable than his play. Guys such as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss also loved to talk to talk. Both and many others also walked the walk more so than Johnson ever did during his career.
13 Joe Theismann
Joe Theismann deserves all of the praise that he has received for that stellar run that ended with the Washington Redskins quarterback hoisting a Most Valuable Player trophy. His presence during football television broadcasts have made him a known figure for fans who did not watch him play, and thus some of those individuals do not realize that Theismann was largely an OK passer for the bulk of his career. Those who would disagree with Theismann making the list must realize that there are plenty of good reasons to explain why he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
12 Michael Vick
You would not be wrong in saying that Michael Vick was one of the most entertaining quarterbacks to ever play the position. Hype, video games and commercials all helped overshadow the fact that Vick was maybe the most overrated QB of his time even before he exchanged an Atlanta Falcons jersey for a prison outfit. Vick has been a praiseworthy comeback story who has seemingly reformed his life, and history will hopefully remember him for his more positive moments. That said, Vick was never nearly as good as he was made out to be during the 2000s.
11 Hines Ward
There will, when those in the football world will have had decades to review the matter, come a time when Hines Ward will not be overrated because he will not be seen as one of the best wide receivers of his time. Ward, said by fans and by football commentators to be one of the all-time great blockers for a wide receiver, was known by his peers for being a cheap-shot artist who not all that liked around the league. While head coaches would love to have a player with such tenacity and grit on the field, Ward's overall greatness has been overrated since he retired.
10 William Perry
I had as much fun watching William Perry bowl over would-be tacklers en route to scoring touchdowns as did any fan, but his NFL career has become far more myth than reality over the last couple of decades. “The Refrigerator” was a large man with an even bigger personality, but he also played on one of the greatest defensive units in the history of the NFL. Perry was responsible for some memorable plays in his day, of course, but he was never the best player on his team. History and time have helped make Perry one of the most overrated defensive players of all time.
9 Tim Brown
I was one of many who publicly voiced outrage over the fact that Tim Brown had to wait until 2015 get his Hall of Fame honor. It was not until I went back and truly reviewed his career that I realized how good but not legendary Brown was over the years. Brown was consistent and he played for a long time, but there was never a time when he was even a nominee for being named the best wide receiver in the NFL. Nobody would even dare of mentioning Brown along with names such as Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or even Terrell Owens. That is why Brown is so overrated.
8 Brett Favre
Has any quarterback in history ever been given as many free passes as were awarded to Brett Favre by commentators during his Hall-of-Fame career? Fans and analysts called him “The Gunslinger” because of his willingness to throw passes into double- and triple-coverages. He was seen to be a risk-taker who had the arm to be able to make such questionable throws. It conveniently gets forgotten by many that Favre threw two of the most costly interceptions to ever be tossed during conference championship games. Guys such as Peyton Manning and Phil Simms would have been verbally crucified for making the mistakes consistently made by Favre.
7 Deion Sanders
Think back, really think back, on your memories of Deion Sanders as a player. You remember the “Prime Time” nickname that was chanted during ESPN broadcasts. You remember Sanders strutting as he made his way into the end zone. You remember the dancing, the outfits and maybe even the attempted music career. Is there any knowledgeable football mind out there who honestly believes that Sanders is even in the top-five of the best cornerbacks to ever play the position? He was a lot of fun to watch, yes, but Sanders remains an overrated player.
6 Peyton Manning
This is coming from somebody who has admittedly been a massive fan of Peyton Manning since his days in college. Nobody, not even Manning's biggest admirers, can pretend that the all-time great who will deservedly be inducted into the Hall of Fame has not been outdone by contemporary Tom Brady when it has mattered most. Manning is going to possess a ton of records when he does step away from the playing field, and he very well may be the best regular season quarterback of all time. In a one-and-done playoff game, however, you'd be wise to take a different option.
5 Warren Moon
Perhaps the best description of Warren Moon that I have ever encountered is that he was “all hat and no cattle.” Moon is one of several quarterbacks featured in this list who accumulated a boatload of stats without ever winning anything of merit as a professional in the United States, and that he was respected for being a good teammate and a great person during his career has boosted his reputation. The “Run and Shoot” offense did not catch on, Moon never won a Super Bowl, and his numbers tell a story of a better quarterback than who actually played under center for all of those years.
4 Bernie Kosar
You may have to live in northeast Ohio or be a fan of the Cleveland Browns to understand why Bernie Kosar comes in so high on this list. Seen as royalty among many within the Cleveland faithful, Kosar is not even the greatest quarterback in the history of the Browns let alone an all-time great who will ever sniff being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Kosar never played in a Super Bowl while with the Browns, and he was outplayed in multiple conference championship games. Retain the memories all you want, Cleveland fans, but do not deny that Kosar is grossly overrated.
3 Herschel Walker
2 Bo Jackson
There are cases of the myth and the legend of a player not always matching the actual history of that athlete, and that is the case with Bo Jackson. Yes, Jackson was an incredible once-in-a-generation athlete who could have done special things in multiple sports; the focus of that statement being on the words “could have.” A hip injury ended Jackson's NFL career after just four seasons, and his legacy was more so built on his Tecmo Bowl video game character and those famous “Bo Knows!” commercials than it was forged on the field during games.
1 Joe Namath
He's a hero. He's a pro. He's Mister Something Else, he's Broadway Joe. Fans of the New York Jets will likely be horrified that the man who famously called his shot and then delivered at Super Bowl III is sitting atop such a list. What has to be remembered about Joe Namath is that he was damaged goods coming out of college due to having a bum knee, and that problem prevented him from becoming as great as he could have been in the NFL. Namath deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, sure, but one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time he is not.