Which NFL Division has the best all-time First Team?
And if we answer that question, does that mean we’ve also identified the best division in NFL history?
As a Packers-centric site, we are obviously privy to the success of the NFC North and their all-time star players. But all we can promise to do is our absolute best to remain objective at all times.
If you poke around on the internet, you’ll see people debating which franchise has the best all-time team in every corner. But there’s not much talk about which divisions have the best all-time teams.
Divisions, in terms of all the teams coming together, are an interesting thing to think about. The rivalries are intense, but usually there’s a certain level of respect between the players and fans. They’re the teams you know the best and have the most history with.
Hatred and bitterness are important ingredients to historic divisional rivalries, but there’s also a certain pride to be taken in the talent of your rivals. It’s kind of like the thought that “no one can pick on my brother but me” mentality.
So, which NFL division, as currently comprised, has the best collection of talent all-time?
That’s the question we sought to answer.
To answer it with the most legitimacy as possible, we wanted to create “First Teams” as to not get bogged-down with a litany of good players, instead focusing on every division’s greatest players.
Our intent was clear, so we scoured the record books, evaluated stats (relative to peers, of course), watched some tape, used AP First Team All-Pro selections as guides, and used the common sense test to create an all-time First Team for every division.
The results were shocking, we have to say. But our job wasn’t done when the teams were assembled. Instead, that’s when the fun began.
We, Daniel and David, had to then rank the divisions by overall talent. In order to do that, we decided to separately (and blindly) rank each position group for each division. Here’s a look at how we ranked each position group.
There were a total of 100 points available for every division to amass with their all-time First Team. There were 50 points available for Daniel to give out and 50 points available for David to give out for each division.
Here is how the points were given out by both of us for every position group for every division:
QB: 1 to 5 Points Available
RB: 1 to 5 Points Available
WR: 1 to 5 Points Available
TE: 1 to 5 Points Available
OL: 1 to 5 Points Available
DL: 1 to 5 Points Available
LB: 1 to 5 Points Available
DB: 1 to 5 Points Available
Special Teams: 1 to 5 Points Available
Head Coaches: 1 to 5 Points Available
Thus, every position group for every division would be scored anywhere from a possible 2 out of 10 (very bad), to a perfect 10 out of 10 score.
This is, obviously, dependent on the scores based on our evaluation of that position group’s First Team all-time talent. Again, we tried to keep things as fair as possible throughout this process.
A perfect division would score 100/100 (50 out of 50 from each of us). Spoiler: despite the amount of top-end talent in the NFL over the last 100 years, no division got a perfect score.
To be transparent, 36 times we came up with the exact score on a position group (out of 80 grades given out). That equals out to 45% of the time. Meaning slightly over half of the time we had different opinions on position groups. The results of that agreement and disagreement were the final scores and ranking you’ll see today.
You’ll notice, as you check out this list, that three divisions have hit the 80 point plateau with their all-time teams. What’s nice to see is that the NFC and the AFC are split fairly evenly all-time in legendary players, as proven by this ranking.
Note: For the purposes of these teams, or lists, some offensive linemen and linebackers may not technically be in their natural positions in an attempt to simply get the best players “out on the field.” Minimum of three truly impactful years in the division to be eligible for this all-time list, most players are well above five years.
We did look to the “honorable mentions” list to finalize our point totals for each position group. This is because depth of success at a position deserves recognition. But still, we did value the players on the First Team more highly.
Throughout NFL history, there has been ample realignment in and across conferences to divisions. As previously stated, we looked at the history of each division based on where franchises currently reside within the NFL’s eight current divisions.
For this piece, we included all players from when franchises were in the NFL (dating back to its inception in 1920) and from the AFL (dating back to 1960).
Obviously there are some current NFL players that are right on the edge of making their division’s all-time First Teams, some were mentioned, but others may find their way onto these teams in the coming years.
With all of that information accounted for, here are all eight NFL divisions ranked by their historical all-time First Teams.
These will forever be the all-time First Teams, specifically for the first 100 years of NFL history, for all eight divisions. However there is an obvious slant toward the Super Bowl Era when looking at the players on these these teams. That’s just the way NFL history, in regards to talent evaluation, shakes out.
On the next seven pages you’ll see how this mindfully-subjective ranking played out.
And remember, we aren’t saying these divisions are ranked in order of success (such as Super Bowl wins, or playoff wins). We’re simply ranking each division by the talent of their all-time First Teams.
Starting with your bottom of the barrel division in NFL history:
8th – NFC South All-Time First Team:
Saints, Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers
QB: Drew Brees (NO)
QB: Matt Ryan (ATL)
RB: Warrick Dunn (TB & ATL)
RB: Michael Turner (ATL)
RB: Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
WR: Steve Smith (CAR)
WR: Julio Jones (ATL)
WR: Michael Thomas (NO)
TE: Jimmy Graham (NO)
LT: Willie Roaf (NO)
LG: Jahri Evans (NO)
C: Alex Mack (ATL)
RG: Bill Fralic (ATL)
RT: Jordan Gross (CAR)
DE: Lee Roy Selmon (TB)
DT: Warren Sapp (TB)
DT: Claude Humphrey (ATL)
DE: Julius Peppers (CAR)
OLB: Pat Swilling (NO)
ILB: Derrick Thomas (TB)
ILB: Luke Kuechly (CAR)
OLB: Rickey Jackson (NO)
CB: Deion Sanders (ATL) – Also on NFC East Team
S: John Lynch (TB)
S: Roman Harper (NO)
CB: Ronde Barber (TB)
K: Morten Andersen (NO & ATL)
P: Thomas Morstead (NO)
KR/PR: Deion Sanders (ATL)
Coaches: Sean Payton (NO); Jon Gruden (TB)
Honorable Mentions: QB Cam Newton (CAR), RB DeAngelo Williams (CAR), TE Greg Olsen (CAR), C Ryan Kalil (CAR), RB Jonathan Stewart (CAR), DT Kris Jenkins (CAR), TE Tony Gonzalez (ATL), RB Jamal Anderson (ATL), WR Andre Rison (ATL), LB Tommy Nobis (ATL), RB Mark Ingram (NO), RB Deuce McAllister (NO), DE Simeon Rice (TB), DT Gerald McCoy (TB), FB Mike Alstott (TB), RB James Wilder (TB), WR Keyshawn Jonshon (TB), LB Hardy Nickerson (TB), DE Simeon Rice (TB), WR Mike Evans (TB).
Drew Brees and then a massive chasm between him and the next guy (Matt Ryan). But Brees is an all-time great, so he does a lot of heavy lifting here.
Honestly, a terrible collection of all-time running backs for a division. Sheesh. McCaffrey is trying to single-handidly elevate this group. Another couple years and he just might.
Over the next couple years this score could go up with Michael Thomas and Julio Jones still in their primes. They hold the key to a better score, but we can’t see the future.
Had Gonzalez spent his entire career in Atlanta and Jimmy Graham spent his entire career in New Orleans this score could have been a 10/10. But still, both were insanely productive in their years in the NFC South.
Not exactly the prettiest collection of talent for a position group in NFL history for an entire division to come up with.
Actually a very, very strong group of defensive linemen. Much stronger than we would have guessed.
Nothing overly exciting about this position group, but not terrible.
Not enough elite talent throughout the group. Quite a disappointing collection to be honest.
One of the best punt/kick returners in NFL history and one of the best kickers of all-time? Yeah, that’ll help your score.
Eh, this division is just not on the same level as some other divisions.
Nothing about their players not on the First Team stand out enough to be talked about at length here.