We all know that certain areas of the country are football hotbeds. There are southern states like Florida and Texas, not to mention California, that all produce a massive amount of college football players that end up matriculating to the NFL. But it’s important not to forget that football is played nationwide and each state is capable of producing high-end talent. It’s just that some states produce more of it than others.
However, elite NFL players can be found in every corner of the country, and to prove it, allow us to show you the best NFL player to come out of all 50 states.
Alabama: Terrell Owens
With the rise of Alabama and Auburn in college football, there’s bound to be a lot of competition for this honor in the future. To be fair, there’s already a lot of competition in the state of Alabama, but it’s hard to deny Terrell Owens the distinction of the state’s best player.
It’s okay not to like his personality or some of his antics; I mean, we get it, you have abs and you like doing sit-ups, but this is a press conference. That being said, you have to respect his game. He was one of the most feared wide receivers of his time in the eyes of opposing cornerbacks. Owens could make a game all about him, and not just with his mouth. Amidst all of the background noise, he was just a sensational football player.
Runners Up: Bart Starr, Ozzie Newsome, DeMarcus Ware
Alaska: Mark Schlereth
Obviously, there aren’t enough people in Alaska too many NFL players, but the state has managed to put a few players in the NFL. Not surprisingly, most end up being linemen. It’s probably too cold and windy there, so the high schools that play football just spend their time in the weight room and then run the ball during games.
In any event, Mark Schlereth is the best the state has ever produced, although there’s a strong case for our two runners-up. Schlereth went to two Pro Bowls and was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams, becoming a particularly important part of the Broncos offensive line when they won back-to-back championships.
Runners Up: Travis Hall, Daryn Colledge
Arizona: Randall McDaniel
There have been a few outstanding players who grew up in the Arizona desert, but Randall McDaniel is one of the all-time best offensive guards. He was one of the strongest players to ever play in the NFL and could push around just about anybody he went up against, which is why he was a First-Team All-Pro for nine straight years.
McDaniel also had impressive longevity. In addition to starting 12 straight Pro Bowls, McDaniel started 202 consecutive games. For a player who’s hitting and getting hit on every play, that’s almost unreal. He was a true freak of nature and probably the most athletic freak ever born in the state of Arizona.
Runners Up: Curley Culp, Todd Heap, Darren Woodson
Arkansas: Willie Roaf
There have been a few greats to come out of Arkansas, but this is really a two-horse race between Willie Roaf and Cortez Kennedy. In the end, it has to be Roaf by virtue of being on two different NFL All-Decade teams. He was dominant for so long that Roaf was on the all-1990s team and the all-2000s team.
It’s crazy to think that only a few colleges recruited him and that he almost chose basketball over football. Roaf is one of the best and most consistent offensive linemen in NFL history, going to 11 Pro Bowls and being named an All-Pro nine times.
Runners Up: Cortez Kennedy, Darren McFadden, Don Hutson
California: Tom Brady
You probably won’t find many states with a better list of runners-up than California. We could have listed a lot more worthy players too. But with all of his Super Bowl rings and the countless awards and accolades he’s won, San Mateo native Tom Brady has to be considered the best NFL player to come out of California.
In the end, it comes down to Brady and Aaron Rodgers, a debate that’s likely to rage on far longer than either one’s playing career. However, Herm Edwards said it best when he yelled: “You play to win the game.” Well, Brady has won the most games of any quarterback and won six (and counting) Super Bowls, and that keeps him ahead of Rodgers.
Runners Up: Aaron Rodgers, Tony Gonzalez, Anthony Munoz
Colorado: Dutch Clark
The state of Colorado has produced a lot of good but not exceptional NFL players. Finding the best requires a little bit of a history lesson. Dutch Clark is a Hall of Famer and one of three quarterbacks on the NFL All-1930s Team. He’s the only player from Colorado to be on an all-decade team, and no one else is all that close.
He was voted the NFL’s best player on two occasions, named a First-Team All-Pro on six occasions, and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns three times. Obviously, it was a different kind of game back then, especially for quarterbacks, but Clark certainly deserves recognition for his accomplishments.
Runners Up: Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Smith, Vincent Jackson, Calais Campbell, Andre Carter
Connecticut: Floyd Little
For such a small state, Connecticut has given the NFL quite a few legendary figures. This was a tight call between Floyd Little and Dwight Freeney, players from different sides of the ball who both played their college football at Syracuse. But as usual, the edge goes to the offensive player.
Little only played nine NFL seasons, all with the Broncos, but he packed a Hall of Fame career into those nine seasons. He led the NFL in rushing one year and rushing touchdowns another year. He went to the Pro Bowl in five of those nine seasons and was called “The Franchise” by Broncos fans, which is high praise. That was all on top of his career at Syracuse that put him in the College Football Hall of Fame long before he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Runners Up: Dwight Freeney, Andy Robustelli
Delaware: Montell Owens
To be honest, pickings are pretty slim in Delaware, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. It’s not a big state and isn’t exactly known for being a football hotbed. The fact that the state has put more than one or two players in the NFL is actually surprising. Of course, the state’s biggest standout is a fullback in Montell Owens.
If you don’t remember Owens, you’re probably not the only one. His career wasn’t anything special, which is standard for fullbacks in this century. However, he did make two Pro Bowls, which is enough to get him to the top of the list in the Blue Hen State.
Runners Up: Luke Pettigout, Tim Wilson, Paul Worrilow
District of Columbia: Jonathan Ogden
If Shawne Merriman could have played a few more years, this would have been a much better debate. He probably would have earned bonus points for playing his college ball close to home at Maryland and not ending up in rival city Baltimore during his pro career. Alas, Jonathan Ogden is undoubtedly the best player to come out of our nation’s capital.
Ogden is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played 12 seasons, all with the Ravens, and made the Pro Bowl every season but his rookie year. At 6’9’’ and 345 pounds, it’s not surprising that Ogden was a dominant lineman who made the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
Runner Up: Shawne Merriman
Florida: Emmitt Smith
The Sunshine State may be the biggest Sophie’s Choice of any state. Even getting an honorable mention as one of the runners up is a big deal for a state that currently produces more NFL players than any other. There’s a great argument for several players, but Emmitt Smith gets the edge in the end.
Even if you forget everything he did for his home state Gators in college, Smith has Offensive Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and eight Pro Bowls on his resume. He’s also the NFL all-time leader in carries, yards, and rushing touchdowns. Wearing three Super Bowl rings doesn’t hurt his case either.
Runners Up: Deacon Jones, Deion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Andre Johnson
Georgia: Jim Brown
Georgia is another state with an epic list of runners up. However, there’s no way that Jim Brown can be denied. Even though he grew up on Long Island and first made his mark at Syracuse as one of the all-time great college football players, Brown was actually born in St. Simons, Georgia.
In the NFL, Brown went to the Pro Bowl in each of his nine seasons. He was also a First-Team All-Pro in eight of those nine seasons, winning three MVP awards, not to mention Rookie of the Year honors in 1957. Let’s face it, Brown is arguably the greatest player of all-time and one of the most impressive athletes in professional sports, period.
Runners Up: John Hannah, Calvin Johnson, Ray Guy, Mel Blount
Hawaii: Olin Kreutz
Marcus Mariota put Hawaii on the football map when he won the Heisman, but prior to that, the 50th state had produced several notable linemen. While there is some good competition, no Hawaii native excelled as much in the NFL as center Olin Kreutz.
Separating Kreutz from the likes of Matt Blair and Max Unger was his longevity. He spent over a decade in the league, playing nearly 200 games. Kreutz also went to the Pro Bowl in six consecutive seasons and was a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
Runners Up: Matt Blair, Marcus Mariota, Max Unger
Idaho: Larry Wilson
There haven’t been too many elite football players coming out of Idaho, but Larry Wilson is definitely one who has come out of the Gem State. He was often overlooked and underrated as a safety because of his lack of size, but he turned into a heck of a player, going to eight Pro Bowls over his 13 seasons in the league. Wilson was also on the NFL’s All-Decade Team in both the 1960s and 1970s.
In addition to all of his accolades, Wilson helped to innovate the safety blitz in the NFL. He was also well regarded for his energy and toughness. During a game in 1967, Wilson actually intercepted a pass despite wearing casts on both hands because of two broken wrists, a story that tells you everything you need to know about Wilson.
Runners Up: Jake Plummer, Jordan Gross
Illinois: Dick Butkus
A surprising number of high-level players have come out of Illinois, but it’d be foolish to think that there’s anyone more prominent than Dick Butkus. He was one of the finest defensive players of his generation, twice winning NFL Defensive Players of the Year honors.
In fact, modern-day middle linebackers are still compared to Butkus, who was on the NFL All-Decade Team for both the 1960s and 1970s despite playing just nine seasons. He was a Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro every year but his final season, as Butkus made an immediate impact in the NFL and played at a high level for his entire career.
Runners Up: Ray Nitschke, Steve Atwater, Donovan McNabb, Otto Graham
Indiana: Rod Woodson
There was a surprising amount of competition in Indiana, but Rod Woodson has to be the choice. He was one of the finest cornerbacks the NFL has ever seen. Woodson also holds a pair of NFL records for both fumbles recovered and interceptions returned for a touchdown.
He played an astounding 17 seasons in the league, earning 11 Pro Bowl invitations. Woodson was also the NFL interceptions leader twice, the Defensive Player of the Year in 1993, and a member of both the 1990s All-Decade Team and the Steelers All-Time Team after spending the first decade of his career in Pittsburgh.
Runners Up: Bob Greise, Chris Doleman, Bob Kuechenberg
Iowa: Kurt Warner
Iowa has given the NFL a few productive players, but nobody who’s made the kind of impact as Kurt Warner. In a way, Warner was a shooting star, only carving out a prominent role in the NFL for a few seasons and soon disappearing, as he only made four Pro Bowl appearances, which is less than Marshal Yanda.
However, Warner’s brief stint in the spotlight can’t be ignored. He was a two-time MVP and a Super Bowl champion. Most importantly, Warner was the quarterback on one of the most explosive and memorable offenses in league history.
Runners Up: Darren Sproles, Marshal Yanda
Kansas: Barry Sanders
The state of Kansas deserves a medal for helping to produce Barry Sanders. One could argue whether or not he’s the best running back of all time, but there should no doubt that Sanders was the most exciting running back to watch in NFL history.
While undersized at 5’8’’, Sanders was a silky smooth runner who could stop on a dime. No one did better at turning a possible loss into a massive gain. It’s why he went to the Pro Bowl in all 10 of his NFL seasons, earned a spot on the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, and won the MVP in his penultimate season. Sanders is also a Heisman Trophy winner, excelling both in college and in the NFL.
Runners Up: Gale Sayers, Brian Moorman
Kentucky: Champ Bailey
The Bluegrass State has produced a few good kickers, but it’s a little surprising Kentucky doesn’t have a few more bonafide NFL stars. One of the few exceptions to that is Champ Bailey, who was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee and spend a majority of his time in the NFL as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
Bailey spent 15 seasons in the NFL, earning 12 Pro Bowl invitations and owning an NFL record with four interceptions in those 12 Pro Bowls. He could shut down elite wide receivers while also being a threat to pick off quarterbacks, making him one of the most well-rounded corners in NFL history.
Runners Up: Dermontti Dawson, Paul Hornung, David Akers
Louisiana: Peyton Manning
It’s a shame that so many great players from Louisiana have to be runners up here, but there is only one Peyton Manning. The guy went to 14 Pro Bowls and won league MVP honors five times. Manning was also able to walk off into the sunset after winning a Super Bowl with the Broncos.
But Manning is the ultimate example of a player you had to watch to appreciate. His numbers don’t do justice to the way that Manning could dictate what happened on a play because he was several steps ahead of everyone else mentally. Manning is arguably the smartest quarterback to play the game, and it’s why some of his best seasons actually came late in his career.
Runners Up: Terry Bradshaw, Marshall Faulk, Ed Reed, Eli Manning
Maine: John Bunting
They do play plenty of football up in Maine, although it’s rare that anybody with NFL quality emerges from The Pine Tree State. John Bunting was one of the few exceptions, being born in Maine before growing up in Maryland.
Prior to his coaching career, Bunting spent 11 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL. He’s a little short on accolades, having never earned a Pro Bowl invitation. But you don’t spend 11 seasons in the league unless you can play, and Bunting could definitely hold his own.
Runner Up: Will Montgomery
Maryland: Cameron Wake
“Crab cakes and football, that’s what Maryland does.” Nobody will argue the crab cakes part, but Maryland is a little bit of a disappointment when it comes to producing stars in the NFL. Of course, that’s no knock on DeMatha Catholic graduate Cameron Wake.
From going undrafted and spending a couple of seasons in the CFL, Wake has carved out an impressive career. He’s gone to the Pro Bowl five times and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2012. Wake could still add to that resume, signing a three-year deal with the Titans in 2019, so he is still going strong and remains one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Runners Up: Sean Landeta, Doug Flutie, NaVorro Cowman, Chris Warren
Massachusetts: Howie Long
Northeastern states like Massachusetts don’t produce NFL players in large quantities, but they’ve produced plenty of gems. Howie Long would certainly fit into that category. Big colleges couldn’t even find him tucked away in Massachusetts; he ended up playing at Villanova before becoming one of the most iconic defensive players in Raiders history.
Over his 13 seasons in silver and black, Long amassed 84 sacks and was named to eight Pro Bowl rosters. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team, and ultimately a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Runners Up: Tom Nalen, Nick Buoniconti, Stephen Cooper
Michigan: Antonio Gates
This one came down to a pair of Detroit’s finest in Jerome Bettis and Antonio Gates. In the end, there are a few more running backs that did what Bettis did and far fewer tight ends that made the kind of impact on the game that Gates did.
After playing basketball, not football, in college and going undrafted, Gates became one of the best tight ends of all-time. He played 16 seasons, all with the same team, and scored more receiving touchdowns than any other tight end in league history. Gates went to eight consecutive Pro Bowls and was part of the 2000s All-Decade Team, accolades that put him a little ahead of Bettis.
Runners Up: Jerome Bettis, Paul Krause, Jake Long
Minnesota: Larry Fitzgerald
The folks in Minnesota love their football, and there have been plenty of native Minnesotans who have made them proud in the NFL. But even greats like Dave Casper and Terrell Suggs can’t stack up when compared to Larry Fitzgerald.
Few players have lived up to being the 3rd overall pick in the draft with such grace and aplomb the way Fitzgerald has. He’s far from the fastest or flashiest wide receiver to ever play the game. But from start to finish, he’s been one of the most consistent and reliable receivers the game has ever known. He owns a wide array of NFL records, most of which are for either being the youngest or the oldest to accomplish something, which tells you everything you need to know about his career.
Runners Up: Dave Casper, Jim Langer, Terrell Suggs, Ernie Nevers
Mississippi: Jerry Rice
Players like Brett Favre and Walter Payton aren’t used to be runners up, but all Mississippi natives must bow down before Jerry Rice. From his humble beginnings in Crawford to his days at Mississippi Valley State, Rice may be the most accomplished person to ever come out of the Magnolia State.
Equally important is the fact that Rice is the greatest wide receiver in NFL history and arguably the greatest player ever. His list of accolades is almost endless, and the same can be said of the NFL records he owns, including most receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Runners Up: Brett Favre, Walter Payton, Aldon Smith
Missouri: Roger Wehrli
This was not an easy call, but Roger Wehrli squeaks past Kellen Winslow for honors in the Show Me State. Legend has it that quarterback Roger Staubach first coined the term “shutdown corner” and that he was talking about Wehrli.
He was a Pro Bowler in half of his 14 seasons, all of which were spent with the St. Louis Cardinals. Wehrli was also a First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and was named to the 1970s All-Decade Team. The icing on the cake is that he also helped out his team as the holder on kicks.
Runners Up: Kellen Winslow, Justin Smith
Montana: Jerry Kramer
This one wasn’t even close. Jerry Kramer is by far the best player to ever come out of the state of Montana. Not surprisingly, that state’s best player is a standout offensive lineman. Kramer had five All-Pro seasons and was a part of five NFL championships with the Packers, including the first two Super Bowls.
In addition to being a great lineman who helped the Packers bring the sweep play into NFL playbooks everywhere, Kramer is one of the toughest individuals to ever play the game. He battled not only injuries from the game but serious health issues that had nothing to do with football as well. In short, Kramer was the personification of toughness.
Runners Up: John Friesz, Dwan Edwards, Pat Donovan
Nebraska: Mick Tingelhoff
Considering the history of the Nebraska Cornhuskers program, it’s shocking that there aren’t more noteworthy players from that state. Outside of Mick Tingelhoff and runner up Ahman Green, there haven’t been too many players born in Nebraska worth making a fuss about.
Of course, Tingelhoff is one of the few. While it took him over three decades to finally get his place in the Hall of Fame, Tingelhoff is considered the best center of his era. He started all 240 games he played for the Vikings over his 17 seasons in the league, earning an invitation to six Pro Bowls along the way.
Runner Up: Ahman Green
Nevada: Steven Jackson
There are a lot of football-related activities in Nevada, but not too many notable players. It mostly boils down to a pair of running backs in Steven Jackson and DeMarco Murray, with Jackson getting a slight edge.
Jackson made just three Pro Bowls over his 12 years in the league. But during that time, he was Mr. Consistency, setting NFL records for going 11 straight seasons with at least four rushing touchdowns and at least one 40-yard run. He also ended his career with an unofficial record of 870 straight touches without a fumble, which is a trait that can’t be overlooked in a running back.
Runner Up: DeMarco Murray
New Hampshire: Greg Landry
We’re a little lucky that we managed to find both a winner and a viable runner up for New Hampshire. It’s by no means a state that’s known for its football, but quarterback Greg Landry did just enough during his career to stand out.
Landry hung around the NFL for well over a decade, earning one Pro Bowl invite in 1971 and winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 1976. However, that’s about it for the quarterback from New Hampshire.
Runner Up: Don Macek
New Jersey: Franco Harris
New Jersey is one of the most overlooked states when it comes to football talent. Just look at the prestigious list of runners up from the Garden State, many of whom are Hall of Famers. It was actually a difficult decision to pick just one, but in the end, Franco Harris won out over the rest.
Franco made the Pro Bowl in nine consecutive seasons and had eight different seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing. That kind of consistency would put most modern running backs to shame. Franco was also part of four Steelers teams that won the Super Bowl, including Super Bowl IX when he became the first African American to win Super Bowl MVP.
Runners Up: Elvin Bethea, Dave Robinson, Victor Cruz, Joe Theisman, Jim Ringo
New Mexico: Ronnie Lott
Even if there weren’t so few options, Ronnie Lott would be the obvious choice for the best player to come out of New Mexico. Without question, he’s one of the best safeties in NFL history. He won four Super Bowls, made 10 Pro Bowls, was named to both the 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Team and is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lott was a star from the first time he set foot on an NFL field, first as a cornerback and eventually a safety. In addition to his skill, his toughness stood out. Rarely was there an injury that could keep Lott off the field. He even had his pinky amputated in the middle of his career and continued to play without a second thought.
Runners Up: Norm Evans, Tommy McDonald
New York: John Mackey
Rob Gronkowski may be the best tight end of all-time, but it only seems appropriate to honor his fellow New Yorker John Mackey as the best player to come out of the Empire State. After playing his college ball at Syracuse, Mackey revolutionized the tight end position in the NFL. He blended both size and speed and turned the position into a part of the passing game.
Mackey played 10 seasons in the NFL, going to five Pro Bowls and missing just one game due to injury. He was named to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team and was also the first president of the NFL Players Association, making a lasting impact both on and off the field.
Runners Up: Rob Gronkowski, Art Monk, Kevin Greene
North Carolina: Bruce Matthews
The Tar Heel State has produced several outstanding players, but Bruce Matthews is a level above all of them, even the great Julius Peppers. He played 19 seasons in the NFL, playing in nearly 300 games, and going to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 14 seasons.
Matthews was equal parts talented and versatile. He could handle all five positions on the offensive line, starting at least 17 games at each spot. Matthews even handled snapper duties and never missed a game in 19 seasons due to injury, at one point, starting 229 games in a row, making him the Cal Ripken Jr. of linemen.
Runners Up: Julius Peppers, Carl Eller, Torry Holt, Bobby Bell
North Dakota: Pete Retzlaff
The list of players from North Dakota is small but distinguished. Topping the list is Pete Retzlaff, who played 11 seasons with the Eagles, going to five Pro Bowls and twice being a First-Team All-Pro performer.
Oddly enough, Retzlaff didn’t make it in the NFL after first being drafted in 1953. He spent two years in the army and got another chance with the Eagles. Retzlaff played wide receiver, tight end, and running back during his time with the Eagles. In 1958, he led the NFL in receptions and ended up winning Player of the Year honors in his penultimate season in 1965.
Runners Up: Phil Hansen, Gary Larsen,
Ohio: Charles Woodson
Picking a player from Ohio was about as close as it got. Any of the runners up could have easily earned the distinction. However, we ended up going with Charles Woodson, a two-way player in college who won the Heisman Trophy and met all expectations during his NFL career.
Woodson showed incredible longevity by playing in the NFL for 18 seasons, going to the Pro Bowl in nine of them. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season and Defensive Player of the Year more than a decade later. Woodson made the 2000s All-Decade Team and is a lock to be in the Hall of Fame one day.
Runners Up: Jack Lambert, Roger Staubach, Alan Page
Oklahoma: Steve Largent
Oklahoma has no shortage of great players, but Largent gets the nod for being one of the top receivers in the NFL for more than a decade. After all, not just anybody has an award named after him or gets the nickname Yoda for catching anything thrown in his vicinity, both of which are true of Largent.
After being cut by the Oilers his rookie year, Largent caught on with the Seahawks and ended up playing 14 seasons, going to the Pro Bowl in seven of them. He twice led the NFL in receiving yards and was named to the 1980s All-Decade Team. Largent even had his no. 80 retired by the Seahawks, although it was briefly brought back so Jerry Rice could wear it.
Runners Up: Wes Welker, Dan Hampton, Lee Roy Selmon
Oregon: Dave Wilcox
Unfortunately for Oregon, not too many prominent football players have been born within its borders. But there are a couple who most people will know, with Dave Wilcox taking the top spot over Ndamukong Suh by the slightest of margins.
Wilcox was an outside linebacker who earned the nickname “The Intimidator” because he never let tight ends come off the line of scrimmage without putting up a fight. In addition to being one of the toughest players of his era, he was also one of the smartest, helping him earn seven Pro Bowl invites in his 11 seasons.
Runner Up: Ndamukong Suh,
Pennsylvania: Joe Montana
There was a time when it seemed like all of the great quarterbacks came from Pennsylvania, and of all the greats, Joe Montana was the best, although perhaps not by much. Montana was on the 1980s All-Decade Team and led some of the greatest teams of that decade.
In addition to his eight Pro Bowl appearances, Montana won four Super Bowls with the 49ers, being named Super Bowl MVP for three of them. There are still many who regard Montana as the best quarterback of all time. When it comes to all that he accomplished, especially his performances in big games, it’s hard to argue against it.
Runners Up: Dan Marino, Mike Ditka, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath
Rhode Island: Bill Osmanski
For such a small state, Rhode Island has done well for itself when it comes to sending players to the NFL. They haven’t done too much lately, but fullback Bill Osmanski definitely deserves to be recognized among the all-time greats.
Don’t let the position fool you; Osmanski played in an era when fullbacks were an important part of the offense. He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie and went to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. Osmanski was also named to the 1940s All-Decade Team, so he definitely left his mark on the league.
Runners Up: Al Del Greco, Will Blackmon, Gerry Philbin, Steve Furness
South Carolina: Art Shell
To be honest, the volume of great players from South Carolina is a little disappointing. On the other hand, there are some good ones. Ultimately, offensive tackle Art Shell barely edged out a couple of guys from the defensive line to earn the top spot in South Carolina.
Shell is known mostly as a coach, but he also spent 15 seasons patrolling the trenches for the Raiders. During that time, he went to eight Pro Bowls and was part of two Super Bowl teams. Shell went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame before he became a coach and is regarded as one of the top players at his position all-time.
Runners Up: Harry Carson, Richard Seymour
South Dakota: Norm Van Brocklin
The great state of South Dakota has produced some quality tight ends and one of the best kickers of all-time, but those guys don’t compare to quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. Despite throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, van Brocklin put up some impressive passing numbers, especially considering the era he played and the fact that he had to split quarterback duties early in his career.
Along with Bob Waterfield, Van Brocklin helped orchestrate one of the highest-scoring teams in NFL history in the 1950 Rams. Van Brocklin eventually took the reins by himself, earning nine Pro Bowl invitations and Most Valuable Player honors in 1960, the same year the Rams won the NFL championship.
Runners Up: Adam Vinatieri, Dallas Clark, Jay Novacek
Tennessee: Reggie White
It’s a little easy to overlook the Volunteer State as an NFL hotbed, but there’s no overlooking Reggie White, the Minister of Defense. He spent 16 seasons as one of the most ferocious pass rushers the NFL has ever seen, earning spots on both the 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams.
White actually began his career by playing two seasons in the USL. When the league collapsed, he joined the Eagles and later settled in with the Packers. When all was said and done, White went to the Pro Bowl 13 times and was NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice. He also ranks second all-time in sacks and surely would be first if not for his two seasons in the USL.
Runners Up: Jason Witten, Patrick Willis, Doug Atkins
Texas: Joe Greene
Picking just one player from the state of Texas is nothing short of unfair. The Lone Star State is almost on the same level as Florida in terms of the volume of NFL players, and it perhaps tops the Sunshine State when it comes to legends of the game. That being said, the nod here goes to the one and only “Mean” Joe Greene.
Greene was easily the most dominant defensive player in the NFL throughout the 1970s. He could overpower opposing players as if he was a man playing among boys. During his 13 seasons, Greene went to the Pro Bowl 10 times, won Defensive Players of the Year twice, and helped the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins.
Runners Up: Eric Dickerson, Earl Campell, Mike Singletary, LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson
Utah: Steve Young
It’s difficult to list a player like Merlin Olsen as second best; after all, he went to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls and was a dominant defensive player for over a decade. However, there is only one Steve Young, and he’s the best player to ever come out of Utah.
The southpaw out of BYU didn’t exactly hit the ground running in the NFL. He also had the burden of replacing Joe Montana in San Francisco. But Young was able to forge his own path and become one of the all-time greats. He ended up going to seven Pro Bowls, winning two MVP awards, and leading the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins.
Runner Up: Merlin Olsen
Vermont: Steve Wisniewski
Listing a runner up for Vermont is little more than a courtesy. There’s really only one player from the Green Mountain State worth talking about, and that’s Steve Wisniewski. The “Wiz” played 13 seasons, starting 206 games and missing only two because of injury, showing incredible health and longevity for a lineman.
Of course, you don’t play 13 years as a lineman in the NFL if you aren’t good. Wisniewski sent himself to eight Pro Bowls in those 13 seasons and was named to the 1990s All-Decade Team. Not bad for a kid from a small town in Vermont.
Runner Up: Bob Yates
Virginia: Bruce Smith
Is it fair to deduct points from Lawrence Taylor for all of his off-field issues? It’s a good thing we didn’t do that because Bruce Smith earned the spot as the best player from Virginia fair and square.
If you didn’t know, Smith is the all-time sacks leader in NFL history. He spent so much time terrorizing quarterbacks for the Bills that the NFL put him on the All-Decade Team for both the 1980s and 1990s. Smith won NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times and ended 11 of his 19 seasons at the Pro Bowl. He’s truly one of the all-time greats.
Runners Up: Lawrence Taylor, Fran Tarkenton
Washington: John Elway
The fact that John Elway was born in Washington state is probably a surprise to many. It’s also a crushing blow to Brian Urlacher, who otherwise would have been an obvious choice for The Evergreen State. Alas, Elway can’t be denied the distinction.
Few quarterbacks played the game Elway did and few had his skillset. Not only did he have a cannon of an arm, but he was also a mobile quarterback before mobile quarterbacks were fashionable. In his 16 seasons, Elway went to nine Pro Bowls, and after coming painfully short on multiple occasions, he was able to end his career with back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
Runners Up: Karl Mecklenburg, Brian Urlacher
West Virginia: Randy Moss
When it comes to the state of West Virginia, Randy Moss is the only name you need to know. He is easily the best athlete to ever come out of the state. Moss was even nice enough to stay in-state for college, playing at Marshall University and helping the Thundering Herd win a 1-AA national championship.
Of course, there’s no one like him in NFL history and only a few wide receivers you can even argue are better than him in the history of the game. His six Pro Bowls seems a bit modest, but when you watched him play, you knew few could match his talent. Moss also holds NFL records for the most receiving touchdowns by a rookie and the most receiving touchdowns in a single season.
Runners Up: Sam Huff, Gino Marchetti
Wisconsin: Joe Thomas
The battle for Wisconsin is a simple case of offensive lineman Joe Thomas against defensive lineman J.J. Watt. With Watt’s career still incomplete, the edge has to go to Thomas, who’s probably one of the few linemen in recent memory who could keep Watt contained over 60 minutes.
It’s easy to forget about Thomas because he spent all 11 seasons of his career with the lowly Browns. But he was strong as an ox, which ironically can’t be found in Wisconsin. Despite playing in obscurity in Cleveland, Thomas went to 10 straight Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro seven times in his 11 seasons and will surely be in the Hall of Fame one day.
Runners Up: J.J. Watt, Mike Webster
Wyoming: Boyd Dowler
In fairness, Wyoming is a little better at producing cowboys than football players. But even on an admittedly limited list, Boyd Dowler is a player worth mentioning. After all, he won Rookie of the Year honors in 1959 and went on to play for more than a decade.
Dowler spent most of his career with the Packers and was an important part of Green Bay winning the first two Super Bowls, catching a 62-year touchdown pass in Super Bowl II to put the Packers up 13-0. Despite only making two Pro Bowl appearances, Dowler made the 1960s All-Decade Team and is a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.
Runner Up: Chris Cooley