Published: Feb. 9, 2017 at 01:34 p.m.
Updated: Feb. 9, 2017 at 02:29 p.m.

Is Tom Brady the greatest NFL player of all time -- regardless of position?

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While many considered Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all time before Super Bowl LI, his epic comeback this past Sunday appeared to win over most of the remaining skeptics. So, yes, there's now a widespread feeling that Brady -- with his QB-record five Super Bowl rings -- is indeed the GOAT at the game's most important position.

Now that that's (largely) settled, a different question arises: Is Tom Brady the greatest football player of all time, regardless of position?

Tom Brady has separated from a pack that includes icons like Joe Montana and Bart Starr
I have to say Tom Brady is the best. There are always tricky questions with this exercise ... If you put another top QB with Bill Belichick in New England, would the Pats have won these Super Bowls? If you put Tom Brady on a bad team, could he have lifted it to five Lombardi Trophies? Probably not. So all I can do is compare him to other QBs who have won three-plus titles. (Yes, I'm only considering quarterbacks for this question -- it's clearly the most important position on the field.)

The QBs I chose were Otto Graham, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and Joe Montana. All of them played with three to four Hall of Famers flanking them on offense. Meanwhile, Brady played with one, Randy Moss, and only for a short period of time. (Yes, Rob Gronkowski could make his way to Canton, as well, but we'll have to wait and see a bit more on that one.) Brady also won his latest title at a much later age (39) than those other guys. Bradshaw was 31, Starr and Montana were 33 and Graham was 34. Lastly, Brady just came off a spectacular season. This was not just a three-game run. He finished second in the MVP race. And in Super Bowl LI, Brady clearly put the team on his back to erase a 25-point deficit and snag his fifth ring.
Jerry Rice is far and away the greatest overall player in league history
Jerry Rice is the greatest player of all time. Look at his numbers and the impact he had on his teams. He completely revolutionized the wide receiver position, while setting mind-bending records -- that still comfortably stand -- in touchdowns scored (208), receptions (1,549) and receiving yards (22,895). To do that and sustain a level of dominance for as long as Rice did, I think it's hard for anyone to argue they've seen a better overall player.

With respect to Tom Brady and some of the others who've stamped their name on the sport in an iconic way, I just don't think you can say they are at the standard in their respective positions that Jerry Rice is at receiver.
With apologies to Rice ... Yes, Brady just proved why he's the best ever
Even before Tom Brady won his fifth Super Bowl, he was the greatest quarterback of all time. That said, the greatest QB of all time just had his greatest performance of all time. So, yes, it's time to think bigger ...

While earning his record-setting fourth Super Bowl MVP, Brady passed for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards. But obviously, the story is the epic comeback Brady authored. Atlanta took a 28-3 lead with 8:31 remaining in the third quarter. Here is what Brady did from that point on:

26 of 33 for 284 yards and two touchdowns (against zero picks) -- good for a 122.7 quarterback rating. Oh, and for good measure, he converted a key third-and-8 with a 15-yard scramble.

Yep, that's how you spark the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Never hate. Always appreciate watching the best to ever do it -- and I'm not just talking about quarterbacking here. Yep, Tom Brady is the best football player to ever play the game. Nobody has enjoyed a more decorated career. Sorry, Jerry Rice.
It's tempting to go with the five-time champ, but Jim Brown, Reggie White and others can't be dismissed
Tom Brady has a good argument, given that he's the greatest to have played the game's most important position, and I don't think we'll ever see another quarterback win five Super Bowls. However, we've had so many outstanding players in this league over the years -- from Don Hutson, who played both ways, to Jim Brown, Reggie White and others -- that it's not possible for me to say Brady is the best ever. People don't realize what Brown did, gaining all that ground in an era when teams weren't spreading it out or motioning and when the rules were different.
Brady's weaknesses don't hinder him from doing the one thing that matters: winning
Sure, there are more athletic players -- Brady's not the most physical guy on the field. But when it comes to leadership, mental toughness and the ability to win, I don't know where else you're going to look. So, yes, Brady is the best player in NFL history.
Don Hutson was decades ahead of his time -- and a force on both sides of the ball
No. That title belongs to former Packers split end Don Hutson, who led the league in receiving touchdowns in nine of his 11 seasons. Back in 1942, with the passing game still in its infancy, Hutson put up 74 catches for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged more than 110 yards per game in that season of absolute dominance. In Hutson's time with Green Bay, the Packers won three championships, and he also played defense and was their primary kicker. Hutson had 30 career interceptions, including eight in 1943 -- the same year he posted double-digit touchdowns for the third time.

The eight-time first-team All-Pro was also an important mind in the development of modern NFL routes and passing concepts -- many of which Brady relies on to succeed today.
Brady's greatness lifts surrounding talent and thwarts league attempts at parity
I really wanted to launch into a huge missive about Walter Payton, and how he carried the Chicago Bears for years with little-to-no credible NFL talent around him. (I mean, honestly, can you name one quarterback who played for the Bears prior to Jim McMahon?) But then I thought about the Patriots' receiving corps in Super Bowl LI ( Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell), and thought, Dooks, Brady has done the same damn thing. You talk about Walter doing it with a near-anonymous cast, look at Brady. Outside of Randy Moss, you won't find a Hall of Fame wide receiver in the bunch. And when he did play with Moss, he threw 50 touchdown passes. And went 16-0.

So here's my deal: Nobody has done it better. For more than 15 years, Brady has played with hundreds of different players -- and seemingly made every single one of them better. Much better. And now he stands with five NFL championships, tied for the most by a QB in NFL history. (I'll give you credit, Bart Starr.) But he's done it in an era that strives to wipe out dynasties -- and he's defied parity every step of the way.
Jim Brown did things only other running backs can dream of
This is a difficult question, as you are not only comparing different positions but crossing over eras. During this time in the evolution of the NFL, quarterback is valued more than ever before. However, I would say Jim Brown is the greatest football player ever, given his compete domination. He only played nine years, which gives Brady or Jerry Rice the advantage. Yet, it's what he accomplished in those nine years that makes him so special. Brown led the NFL in rushing eight times. Granted, there were far fewer teams, but he averaged -- averaged -- 104.3 rushing yards per game and over a touchdown per game. No running back has averaged that figure per game over a career, and even Rice, the all-time leader in touchdowns, didn't score one per game.

The Browns were 5-7 the year before Brown showed up. The next year they went 9-2-1 and played in the NFL Championship Game. Brown was MVP of the league as a rookie running back. And the next year, too. He won it a third time in his final season. How many running backs have won the MVP three times? None. How many have won it more than once? Try none. Brown also won a title with Cleveland in 1964. The man has it all, and walked away from the game as the best player in the game. It still holds true today.
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