There’s one obvious choice as greatest player in New York Jets history. The question remains, did he come in as the best of them all?
Oh yes, the New York Jets. The franchise for which fans wear those green and white colors on their sleeve with pride, despite the sympathetic feeling dished out by rival fans.
“It builds character, to be a Jets fan,” some say. To go through so much pain, year after year without witnessing a Super Bowl appearance since 1968 has to build character.
47 long seasons and counting, and we’re reminded of it every time Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, or the New England Patriots are in the news.
On the other hand, and taking a more positive approach to the situation (something that is the complete opposite of the pessimistic norm of this fan-base), do Jets fans actually have it that bad?
While the Jets overall record is an undesirable 399-470-8, since Leon Hess brought the Big Tuna to town in 1997, things have been solid.
New York has only suffered through five losing seasons of its last 19. When compared to organizations like the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, rooting for the green and white feels a little more fulfilling.
And while the Jets have only reached the AFC Championship Game four times since Joe Namath guaranteed victory in Super Bowl III (1982, 1998, 2009, 2010), they have seen their fair share of great players come through Broadway.
Speaking of Joe Willie, he is known almost universally as the best Jets player in franchise history. Not only is he considered the best in team history, but also one of the more important figures in NFL history.
The all-important question is: Does Namath rank No. 1 on our list?
Here are our 25 greatest New York Jets players of all-time:
—Muhammad Wilkerson, DL #96
—Bill Mathis, FB #31
—Randy Rasmussen, G #66
—John Abraham, DE/OLB #94/56
—Bill Baird, S #46
—Kyle Clifton, MLB #59
—George Sauer, WR #83
—Chad Pennington, QB #10
—Bruce Harper, RB-KR #42
—Dave Herman, G #67
—Jim Sweeney, OL #53
—James Hasty, CB #40
—Marvin Jones, MLB #55
—Mark Sanchez, QB #6
—Pat Leahy, K #5
Sorry fellas, but you’ve just missed the cut. Included on this list is current Jet Muhammad Wilkerson (who might not be so “current” pretty soon).
It’s hard to ignore what Big Mo’s done as a Jet. The one-time Pro-Bowler has collected 36.5 sacks in four seasons, all while playing from an interior defensive lineman spot.
Randy Rasmussen, Bill Mathis, and Jets all-time tackle leade, Kyle Clifton, were the other tough cuts from the top 25.
Now let’s get onto the big show:
25. Ken O’Brien, QB #7
24. Greg Buttle, LB #51
23. Shaun Ellis, DL #92
22. Aaron Glenn, CB #31
21. Mickey Shuler, TE #82
20. Marty Lyons, DT #93
19. Emerson Boozer, RB #32
18. Marvin Powell, T #79
17. Mo Lewis, OLB #57
16. Kevin Mawae, C #68
15. Nick Mangold, C #74
14. Al Toon, WR #88
13. Matt Snell, FB #41
12. Winston Hill, T #75
11. Larry Grantham, LB #60
The only other quarterback who can even think about coming close to sniffing the legacy of Namath is Ken O’Brien.
Although he was taken before a guy named Dan Marino, O’Brien finished his Jets career as a two-time Pro Bowler and only trailing Joe Namath as the leading passer in franchise history. Some of those offenses with Al Toon and Wesley Walker were dynamite.
Before Greg Buttle was heard on the radio waving those pom-poms for Gang Green, he was a vicious middle linebacker for the squad.
Linebacker Larry Grantham, stalwart tackle Winston Hill, and fullback Matt Snell were the toughest snubs from the top 10.
10. Mark Gastineau, DE #99
- Ring of Honor, 3-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 5 Pro Bowls, 1st All-Time in Sacks
This guy was just a crazy man. There’s no better description than that.
The only thing more ridiculous than those obscene sack dances he tried to pull off, was how fast and powerful Mark Gastineau was en route to the quarterback.
Gastineau was the stat gobbler for the famed New York Sack Exchange during the early 1980’s. Not only did he lead the league in sacks twice, but in 1984 he set a single-season record with 22 (which was later broken by Michael Strahan with the help of Brett Favre).
Although we now know performance-enhancing drugs might have fueled his on-field performance, Gastineau still holds the franchise record for sacks with 74.
9. Wesley Walker, WR #85
- Ring of Honor, 1-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 2 Pro Bowls, 2nd All-Time in Receiving
Wesley Walker, the man they called “Cyclops,” amazingly had sight in just one eye.
That didn’t stop him from turning into one of the greatest Jets in franchise history.
Walker finished his Jets career second in franchise history in receiving yards with 8,306 and receiving touchdowns with 71.
Upon his arrival in 1977, Walker quickly established himself as one of the top receiving threats in the league. He led the NFL with a 21.1 yards per catch during his rookie year and backed it up in 1978 by leading the NFL in receiving yards (1,169) and yards per catch (24.4).
Walker will forever be remembered as one of the best Jets threats, and deep threats of all-time.
8. Freeman McNeil, RB #24
- Ring of Honor, 2nd All-Time in Rushing, 3-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 3 Pro Bowls
Until a certain fish was caught from New England by the Big Tuna, Freeman McNeil was the greatest running back in New York Jets history.
It’s not hard to see why.
The guy was durable, reliable, and consistent every step of the way. Ranking second in team history with 8,074 rushing yards, McNeil did it in far fewer carries than No. 28 (1,728 to 2,560).
Putting that number more into perspective, McNeil’s 4.5 yards per carry simply trumps Curtis Martin’s mark of 4.0.
7. Gerry Philbin, DE #81
- Super Bowl III Champion, Ring of Honor, 2-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 2 Pro Bowls
Of all the big names who took part in Super Bowl III, one guy seems to always get the short end of the stick.
His name is Gerry Philbin, and he was the guy who led the top unit on that fateful day for the AFL and NFL.
Philbin’s defense shutdown the high powered Baltimore Colts offfense all game long. A late Baltimore touchdown was the only blemish.
In 1968, playing a 14-game schedule, Philbin led the Jets with an unofficial 14.5 sacks. If it hadn’t been the NFL way of not understand the stat of the sack back then, Philbin would most likely be the organization’s all-time leader.
Philbin was also the ring-leader behind the scenes as it dealt with encouraging a young Namath to cut out the nonsense and assume a much-welcomed leadership role of the squad.
6. Darrelle Revis, CB #24
- 2007-2012; 2015-Active
- 4-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 7 Pro Bowls, 1st All-Time in Pass Deflections
Forget Jets history, aside from one Deion Sanders this man is the single best cover corner the NFL has ever laid eyes on.
Sure, Darrelle Revis didn’t play his entire career in New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an all-time Jet. It was Woody Johnson’s foolishness that saw him play two seasons away from the green and white.
Drafted 14th overall in 2007 by Mike Tannenbaum, Revis is arguably the most talented player to ever play for the team.
He’s first by a wide margin in team history with an absurd 106 pass deflections.
Even possibly as a safety in years to come, Revis will only creep further up this list.
5. Curtis Martin, RB #28
- Hall of Famer, Number Retired, Ring of Honor, 1st All-Time in Rushing, 1-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 5 Pro Bowls
Another guy who actually spent time with that hated organization from the north is Curtis Martin.
Much like Revis, Martin will also forever be remembered as a Jet.
He’s the all-time franchise leader with 10,302 rushing yards who was acquired by Bill Parcells for a king’s ransom of a first and third round draft pick.
He turned out to be worth every penny.
The consummate pro, Martin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
4. Wayne Chrebet, WR #80
- Ring of Honor, 2nd All-Time in Receptions
Admittedly, Wayne Chrebet never possessed the skill or talent to be this far up a list of greatness.
However, and honestly, have you ever witnessed a guy play with such a lack of fear?
Standing 5-10, 188 lbs. (and much smaller than that), Chrebet’s lion-hearted nature wouldn’t allow him to do anything but go all-out on every play. If this meant getting his head bashed in by a physical specimen playing middle-linebacker, he’d travel down that courageous path.
The only thing Rich Kotite did well as Jets head coach was find this guy. In 1995, Chrebet walked onto the Jets practice field at Hofstra (his own school), and into the hearts of every Jets fan from then on.
He’s Jets Ring of Honor member and ranks second in franchise history with 580 receptions. He also ranks third in yards (7,365) and touchdowns (410).
Next time you head to MetLife Stadium, take a look around. You’ll still see too many No. 80 jerseys than you can count.
And no, Keyshawn Johnson is nowhere to be found on this list.
3. Joe Klecko, DL #73
- Number Retired, Ring of Honor, 2-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 4 Pro Bowls
Think quick: Who’s the one guy who’s been snubbed worst than anybody as it relates to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Joe Klecko, that’s who.
Not only was Klecko the heart and soul of the Jets famed “Sack Exchange” of the early 1980s, but he was as versatile as they come. The man played inside, outside, and wherever else the Jets needed him.
Evidence of this very feat is that he earned three different Pro-Bowl invitations at three different positions (defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle).
If it hadn’t been for A.J. Duhe and a suspiciously drenched field in Miami in 1982, Klecko’s Jets would’ve squared off against Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
2. Don Maynard, WR #13
- Super Bowl III Champion, Hall of Famer, Number Retired, Ring of Honor, 1st All-Time in Receiving, 1-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 4 Pro Bowls
If there’s one position the New York Jets are loaded at in terms of franchise greatness, it’s the wide receiver spot.
Despite the likes of Wesley Walker, George Sauer, Al Toon, and Wayne Chrebet, Don Maynard is the clear-cut best Jets weapon ever.
A Pro Football Hall of Famer, Maynard is the Jets career leader in receiving yards (11,732), touchdowns (88), and receptions (627).
As funny as it sounds, Maynard was actually undervalued and under-appreciated on the 1968 Jets. He was that good.
1. Joe Namath, QB #12
- Super Bowl III MVP, Hall of Famer, Number Retired, Ring of Honor, 2-Time AFL Player of the Year, 1st All-Time in Passing, 1-Time 1st Team All-Pro, 5 Pro Bowls
Of course the greatest player in New York Jets history is Joe “Willie” Namath. How could it not be?
Is he a tad overrated in terms of all-time NFL greatness? Yes, he is. But don’t discount the importance he had on not only the overall health of a league – and the birth of America’s Game – but the revolution he took part in in terms of a “superstar living in society.”
He was the first bonafide celebrity athlete.
“Broadway Joe” isn’t just a part of Jets history, he is Jets history.
Namath, of course, ranks first in team history in almost every passing statistic. He was also the first in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a single-season (14-game schedule).
Guaranteeing a Super Bowl III victory not only put the Jets on the map, but an entire league.
Sometimes the aura surrounding the guy means so much more than just the stats.
Jets All-Time 53 Man Depth Chart:
- Joe Namath
- Ken O’Brien
- Chad Pennington
- Curtis Martin
- Freeman McNeil
- Emerson Boozer
- Matt Snell
- Bill Mathis
- Don Maynard
- Wayne Chrebet
- Wesley Walker
- Al Toon
- George Sauer
- Laveranues Coles
- Mickey Shuler
- Rich Caster
- Jerome Barkum
- Winston Hill
- Marvin Powell
- D’Brickashaw Ferguson
- Randy Rasmussen
- Dave Herman
- Jim Sweeney
- Nick Mangold
- Kevin Mawae
- Joe Klecko
- Marty Lyons
- Shaun Ellis
- Abdul Salaam
- Gerry Philbin
- Mark Gastineau
- John Abraham
- Dennis Byrd
- Larry Grantham
- Mo Lewis
- Greg Buttle
- Kyle Clifton
- Marvin Jones
- Al Atkinson
- Darrelle Revis
- Aaron Glenn
- James Hasty
- Johnny Sample
- Bobby Jackson
- Bill Baird
- Victor Green
- Erik McMillan
- Dainard Paulson
- Randy Beverly
- Pat Leahy
- Jim Turner
- Curley Johnson
- Bruce Harper
- Weeb Ewbank
- Bill Parcels
- Rex Ryan