Recently, Nfl.com NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt authored a series of articles ranking the greatest players of all time at their respective positions. If you don’t know anything about Mr. Brandt he’s been around the NFL for the better part of six decades, so one can agree or disagree with his assessments but certainly they are coming from an enormous amount of time watching NFL (and college) Football.
As such, we’re going to take a look at where various Browns’ players graded out at their respective position groups in his rankings. Part one will cover the skill positions (QB, RB, WR, TE) and tomorrow we’ll review the offensive line. There are Browns’ players in every list, and some of the names you see might surprise you (they did me).
While I can’t say that I necessarily agree (especially at the top) with all of his rankings, again I definitely grant him a fair amount of deference, and our disagreements are minor anyway. On balance, I agree with most (but not all) of his assessments, but of course you can give your own rankings in the comments’ section below.
Tight End - Ozzie Newsome (#7)
This was Brandt’s shortest of all the lists, and it’s worth pointing that there does not seem to be any consistency with respect to how many of each position he decided to grade. This list is fourteen players long, and right in the middle of it at number six is Ozzie Newsome. Drafted in the 1st round in 1978 out of the university of Alabama, Newsome played his entire career in Cleveland.
Over his thirteen NFL seasons Newsome re-wrote the Browns’ receiving-record book. He finished his career with 662 receptions for 7,980 yards (both team records) and 47 touchdowns. He was voted to the pro bowl three times, and named first-team All-pro once (1984). That season, he recorded 89 receptions for 1,001 yards, and 5 touchdowns. It was the 2nd time in his career he eclipsed the one-thousand yard mark, as well as the 2nd time he’d catch 89 passes in a single year.
He was named to the 1980s All Decade Team. After his retirement following the 1990 season, he was inducted into the pro football hall of fame in 1999.
Wide Receivers - Paul Warfield (#11) & Mac Speedie (#27)
I pretty much expected to see Paul Warfield somewhere here, and he did end up very respectably at #11 - just in between Raymond Berry and Lance Alworth. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to see Mac Speedie at #27 - between two guys that I find to be surprisingly low on the list: Steve Largent & Art Monk.
Then again, this might be the hardest position in the game of football to properly do an all-time listing like this for. There’s little doubt about who’s at number one, but you can pretty much argue until the end of time about 2-100. As such, I can’t really say that I disagree with this assessment, find it hilarious that Speedie is ranked ahead both Steelers’ greats Lynn Swann & John Stallworth, and do wonder why his teammate (and Hall of famer) Dante Lavelli didn’t make the list - considering Speedie himself was inducted into the hall.
Nevertheless, Speedie’s name appears pretty quickly in any real study of early Browns’ history. So quickly in fact, that he scored the very first touchown in Browns history (a 19 yard pass). He was part of those really great early teams, playing for Cleveland from 1946 to 1952.
During that time he played for five (5) Championship teams, four from the All American Football Conference (which the Browns dominated) and one in the NFL (1950). He finished with 349 receptions, which is still good for third-best in team history (behind only Newsome and Lavelli), for 5,602 yards and 33 TD’s. Those may not seem like impressive numbers, but this was during a much, much different era of football. Clearly Mr. Brandt wasn’t concerned about stats when making these evaluations.
The Browns selected Paul Warfield with the 11th pick of the 1964 draft. That year, his rookie season, would be the year the Browns won their last championship. He was a big contributor as well, garnering 52 receptions for 920 yards and 9 TD’s and making the pro-bowl.
After six seasons in Cleveland, the Browns traded Warfield to the Miami Dolphins for their first pick in the 1970 draft. There he would be a major force behind the Dolphins turning into a football powerhouse. Over five seasons, the man made the Pro Bowl every year, was first-team All-pro twice, and averaged a staggering 21.5 yards per reception. One of those seasons was 1972, when he helped the Dolphins secure the first, and to this day only perfect season in NFL history.
In 1976 he returned to the Browns, and played his final two seasons in Cleveland. Altogether, he’s ranked 6th on team for career receptions (271), yardage (5,210) and TD’s (52). For finished with a combined total of 427 catches for 8,565 yards and 85 TD’s. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Running Backs - Jim Brown (#1) & Marion Motley (#24)
It seems that for anyone that has watched the league for a long, long time, there is not much dispute that Jim Brown was the greatest of all time, period. However, Marion Motley was a very significant player for the Browns as well. It starts with his being brought to Cleveland in 1946 by Paul Brown, to be the roommate of Bill Willis, hall-of-fame defensive tackle. Those two players, along with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, broke the pro-football color-barrier that season. So yeah that’s a rather significant way to begin his career as a Brown I’d say.
However, he was a punishing runner that really was an integral part of the Browns having been such a powerhouse in the early years. He was huge by the day’s standards, and used that advantage to dominate:
He finished his career with a 5.7 rushing average, was a 1st-team All-Pro twice, and led the league in rushing in 1950. That was the Browns’ first season in the NFL, and they won the title by beating the (formerly Cleveland) Rams.
He was easily the greatest back in Browns history until they spent the sixth pick of the 1957 draft on a very athletic Fullback from Syracuse. Jim Brown was pretty much the best running back in the league from the moment he stepped onto the field. To this day he owns every significant team rushing record, and it’s not close.
Brown was elected to the Pro Bowl every one of the nine seasons he played, and first-team All-Pro eight out of those nine years. In 1964 he ran for 1,446 yards, and led the Browns to their last championship. The next year, he ran for over fifteen hundred yards and seventeen touchdowns, and then retired - at the peak of his game.
In his nine spectacular years, he amassed 12,312 yards, and scored a combined 126 TD’s (rushing and receiving). Those records would stand for decades, as Brown accomplished all of this when the league only played twelve (1957 to 1960) and fourteen (1961 on) games per season. In over twenty-three hundred attempts, he finished with a 5.2 career rushing average. He was a three-time League-MVP. He was enshrined in the Pro Football hall of fame the absolute moment he was eligible.
Quarterback - Otto Graham (#4)
I would swap #’s two and three, but otherwise I love this list. I love that the first available that is not one of those top three, is the truly great Otto Graham. While Jim Brown is regularly considered such, Graham gets my vote as the greatest Brown ever (after Paul Brown, of course). The excellence that was the hallmark of those early Cleveland juggernauts was personified in Graham more than any other player.
Part of what made the early Browns uniquely successful was their advanced-capability to pass the football in an age when the running game was the order of the day. That was because of Graham, and the genius concepts developed by his legendary head coach. Graham was the Browns’ QB right from the beginning and would lead Cleveland to the championship game every year of his career (winning 7 out of 10).
Graham was a three-time league-MVP, was voted to the Pro Bowl all five seasons he played in the NFL and was 1st-team All-Pro four of those five years. He was a dual purpose-threat scoring forty-four career rushing TD’s to go along with 174 passing - the latter still the team record to this day. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
That’s all for the skill-positions; tomorrow we’ll take a look at his lists for the Offensive line.