Top 10 Cleveland Browns Players of All Time

Jesse Unk

Photo
Jim Brown's statue at FirstEnergy Stadium. He's the Brown's all time leading rusher.Erik Drost [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Who Are the 10 Greatest Browns of All Time?

Since the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, the team has had 16 players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and dozens of impactful players who won championships and led teams to the American Football Conference Championships.

Selection Criteria

When deciding who, out of all of those years of talent, are the best 10 players of all time, there are various factors to address. In order to determine this list, I looked at the players' stats, their impact on the games as a player, their impact on the franchise through influence, their years as a Brown, and their accolades, such as pro bowls, all-pro selections, most valuable player awards and Hall of Fame inductions.

Despite the lack of generational talent between the Browns' return in 1999 and 2019, the Browns have some of the best historical talents in NFL history.

10. Hanford Dixon (19811989)

Hanford Dixon was a cornerback who dominated as a core piece in the Browns' staunch defense of the '80s. He was part of five top-10 defenses during his career and ranks in the top-10 of all-time for Browns' interceptions. However, Dixon makes this list for more than just his talent on the field; he also created the modern-day "Dawg Pound."

The reason the Browns made a dog their mascot is because of Dixon. During games, he would bark to his teammates to hype them up on big plays, and at the fans in celebration. Soon the fans did the same, leading to the creation of the Dawg Pound section of the stadium, a place notorious for die-hard fans. Today the Browns run SJ the Bullmastiff out before every game, and the bulldog logo is seen in the stadium and on merchandise. Without Dixon, none of the barking on Sundays would be heard.

Accolades

  • Three-time Pro Bowler: 1986–1988
  • Two-time All-Pro selection: 1986–1987
  • Top-10 in Browns career interceptions: 26
  • Two AFC Championship appearances

9. Clay Matthews Jr. (19781993)

Clay Matthews Jr. was a dominant linebacker in his 16 seasons with the Browns. He was dangerous in all areas, whether tackling, pass-rushing or in coverage. During his time with the Browns, he had over 100 tackles in a season eight times. He currently leads the Browns franchise in career tackles with 1,430. He also added 14 interceptions, 24 forced fumbles and 62 sacks with Cleveland. In 1989, Matthews intercepted a pass from Jim Kelly, sealing a victory to send the Browns to the AFC Championship. He's the father of Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews, who both played in the NFL as well.

Accolades

  • Four-time Pro Bowler: 1985, 1987–1989
  • Second-team All-Pro selection: 1984

Browns' Franchise Records

  • All-time career leader in tackles: 1,430
  • All-time career sacks leader: 62

8. Lou Groza (19461959, 19611967)

Lou "The Toe" Groza was an offensive lineman and placekicker for the Browns for 21 seasons. While Groza is quoted as saying, "Kicking was something I did because I had the talent. I always considered myself a tackle," he was known as one of the best kickers of his era. For a time, he was the NFL's all-time leading scorer, and he remains in the top 20 of that list today with 1,608 points. He was one of the first kickers that coaches could trust to make a field goal.

Groza won eight championships during his career, four in the All-American Football Conference and four in the NFL. He also played in nine Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro selection four times. He is a part of the 1950s All-Decade Team and was selected for the 75th NFL Anniversary All-Time Team. He joined the Hall of Fame in 1974.

Accolades

  • Nine-time Pro Bowler: 1950–1955, 1957–1959
  • First-Team All-Pro Selection: 1952–1955
  • Four-time AAFC Champion: 1946–1949
  • Four-time NFL Champion: 1950, 1954, 1955, 1964
  • Selected to the 1950s All-Decade Team
  • Selected to the 75th Anniversary NFL All-Time Team
  • Hall of Famer: 1974

Browns' Franchise Records

  • All-time leading scorer: 1,608 points

7. Leroy Kelly (19641973)

Leroy Kelly was a running back who had to sit behind the greatest running back of all time for two years. When he finally got his chance to start, Cleveland fans wondered how he could possibly fill the shoes of Jim Brown. He wasn't far off. Kelly would go on to finish second in franchise history for both rushing yards and touchdowns. He led the league in rushing yards twice and rushing touchdowns three times. He was also a weapon on kick returns, leading the league in kick return touchdowns in 1965. Kelly won the Bert Bell Award in 1968, which was for the player of the year. He was also selected to the 1960s All-Decade Team. In 1994, he was welcomed into the Hall of Fame.

Accolades

  • Rushing yards leader: 1967–1968
  • Rushing touchdowns leader: 1966–1968
  • Second all-time in rushing yards and touchdowns for the Browns franchise
  • Six-time Pro Bowler: 1966–1971
  • Three-time First-Team All-Pro selection: 1966–1968
  • One-time NFL Champion: 1964
  • Bert Bell Award recipient: 1968
  • Selected to the 1960s All-Decade Team
  • Hall of Fame: 1994

6. Dante Lavelli (19461956)

Dante "Gluefingers" Lavelli played right end and wide receiver for the Browns when they played their first season in 1946. Lavelli was the number one receiver for Otto Graham and helped to create the dominant passing force that Coach Paul Brown wanted to create. Lavelli led the AAFC in receptions and receiving yards his rookie year and went on to win seven total championships as part of the Browns' early dynasty. Today, Lavelli ranks second all-time in Browns' franchise receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions. He was selected to the 1940s All-Decade Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Accolades

  • Three-time Pro Bowler: 1951, 1953, 1954
  • Receptions leader: 1946
  • Receiving yards leader: 1946
  • Four-time AAFC Champion: 1946–1949
  • Three-time NFL Champion: 1950, 1954, 1955
  • Selected to the 1940s All-Decade Team
  • Hall of Fame: 1975

5. Paul Warfield (19641969, 19761977)

Paul Warfield is arguably the greatest wide receiver to ever wear a Brown's uniform. While he played running back in college, he excelled at WR in the NFL. Warfield immediately stepped in and impacted the team, leading them in all receiving categories with 52 catches, 920 yards and nine touchdowns. He is currently ranked sixth in yardage and third in receiving touchdowns on the Browns' franchise list, but would probably lead all their categories had he not left for Miami for five seasons.

Unfortunately, Miami was able to get some of the best years of Warfield's career, but he was still one of the best players on the field when he was in Cleveland. He was named to the 1970s All-Decade Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

Accolades

  • Three-time Pro-Bowler (With Cleveland): 1964, 1968–1969
  • NFL receiving touchdowns leader: 1968
  • NFL Champion: 1964
  • Selected to the 1970s All-Decade Team
  • Hall of Fame: 1983

Photo
Joe Thomas at the new uniform unveiling ceremony.Erik Drost [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Joe Thomas (20072017)

Joe Thomas is the greatest Browns lineman in franchise history, and arguably one of the best left tackles to ever play in the NFL. During his career, he never missed a single snap, amassing 10,363 snaps in a row before an injury ended his career in 2017. He is believed to be the only player in NFL history ever to have over 10,000 consecutive snaps. Even more impressive than his resilience to injury is that in that stretch, he only committed 61 penalties while playing tackle. Thomas also only allowed 30 sacks during his 10-year career, an astounding four-thousandths of a percent of his total 6,680 pass-blocking plays. He is one of five players ever to start their career with 10 straight Pro Bowl appearances, and only Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald made the Pro Bowl as many times as Thomas from 2007–17.

Thomas was also a shining bright spot in the Browns otherwise abysmal team of the 2000s. He was the most dominant player at his position in the league for years, and while the team failed to be competitive for years, he was something the fans could latch onto when all other hope was lost. To this day, if you go to a Browns game, you will find just as many #73 Thomas jerseys as you will of any skill position. Thomas always played at a high level regardless of the fact that he protected 20 quarterbacks, played for six coaches, and never had a team around him that allowed him to play in the playoffs. He could have left for a better team anytime he wanted, but Thomas was loyal, played hard and was an example of what Clevelanders are—blue-collar workers.

Accolades

  • 10-time Pro Bowler: 2007–2016
  • Six-time First-Team All-Pro selection: 2009–2011, 2013–2015
  • One of five players to begin their career with 10 straight Pro Bowl appearances. (The other four are all in the Hall of Fame.)

3. Ozzie Newsome (19781990)

Ozzie "The Wizard of Oz" Newsome is one of the greatest tight ends to ever step on a football field. When Newsome entered the league he was told that he could be a good wide receiver or a great tight end. Newsome would go on to revolutionize the game, becoming one of the best pass-catchers in the league and being completely unguardable. Newsome was too fast for linebackers to keep up with, and too big for cornerbacks to be physical with. This matchup nightmare led to him becoming the Browns franchise leader in receptions and receiving yards. During his time in the NFL, Newsome also had more receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns than Kellen Winslow. He was named to the 1980s All-Decade Team and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

But Newsome did much more than just play the game; he was also a great executive. He was a Browns executive from 1991 to 1995. During that time he helped to scout players and worked with team operations. Unfortunately, when Art Modell relocated the Browns to Baltimore, Newsome left with the franchise, where he went on to be one of the greatest general managers in the league. The "Wizard of Oz" is honored to this day in the Browns' Ring of Honor.

Accolades

  • Three-time Pro-Bowler: 1981, 1984–1985
  • First-Team All-Pro selection: 1984
  • Selected to the 1980s All-Decade Team
  • Hall of Famer: 1999

Browns' Franchise Records

  • Franchise receiving yards record: 7,980
  • Franchise receptions record: 662

Photo
Otto Graham was the first official quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.Bowman Gum, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Otto Graham (19461955)

Otto Graham was the greatest quarterback to step on a field in football's early years. He dominated in the All-American Football Conference and the NFL, making it to 10 total championship games in his 10-year career, winning seven total. Graham led a passing game that was innovative for the time, when most teams still ran the ball more often than not. Graham was a three-time Most Valuable Player Award recipient and led the league in passing yards five times and passing touchdowns three times. He was an unstoppable force who was unrivaled in dominance in the late 1940s and early '50s. The dynasty of the Cleveland Browns, and the majority of their history of success is directly connected to Graham's quarterback play. He was named to the 1950s All-Decade team and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965.

Accolades

  • Five-time Pro Bowler: 1950–1954
  • Seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection: 1947–1949, 1951, 1953–1955
  • Three-time Most Valuable Player: 1951, 1953, 1955
  • Five-time passing yards leader: 1947–1949, 1952–1953
  • Three-time passing touchdowns leader: 1946–1947, 1952
  • Four-time AAFC Champion: 1946–1949
  • Three-time NFL Champion: 1950, 1954–1955
  • Selected to the 1950s All-Decade Team
  • Hall of Fame: 1965

Photo
Jim Brown is the greatest running back of all time, and the greatest Browns player ever.Malcolm W. Emmons, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Jim Brown (19571965)

Jim Brown is the greatest running back to ever step onto a football field. When Brown entered the league, he took over, leading the league in rushing yards and touchdowns. In his nine-year career, he would lead the league in rushing eight times and lead in rushing touchdowns five times. Since then, many running backs have surpassed his numbers, but Brown retired during his prime after only nine seasons.

To this day, he's the only NFL running back to average over 100 yards per game. He ended his career averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He never missed a Pro Bowl, and was a First-Team All-Pro selection in all but one of his seasons. He was awarded the MVP award three times and won an NFL Championship in 1964. He was selected to the 1960s All-Decade Team and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1971. To this day, he's the greatest Cleveland Brown ever to play and is immortalized in both their Ring of Honor and in the form of a statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium.

Accolades

  • Nine-time Pro Bowler: 1957–1965
  • Eight-time First-Team All-Pro selection: 1957–1961, 1963–1965
  • Eight-time rushing yards leader: 1957–1961, 1963–1965
  • Five-time rushing touchdown leader: 1957–1959, 1963, 1965
  • Three-time Most Valuable Player: 1957, 1958, 1965

Browns' Franchise Records

  • Career rushing yardage leader: 12,312
  • Career rushing touchdowns leader: 106

NFL Records

  • Most touchdowns in a game: Five (Tied with four others)
  • Career rushing yards per game: 104.3

Honorable Mentions

There is plenty of talent throughout Cleveland's history that isn't quite top-10 material, but still impacted the game and deserves to be honored. Below are some honorable mentions that won't be forgotten in Cleveland, but may be left out of their Ring of Honor or the Hall of Fame.

Josh Cribbs (2005–2012)

Josh Cribbs was an undrafted free agent out of Kent State University. He was part of the Browns franchise from 2005 to 2012. Cribbs gave the Browns a weapon that could swing a game at any time, typically in electrifying fashion. He was part of a roster in 2007 that many believed would be a turning point for the franchise when the team went 10-6, barely missing the playoffs. He holds many special teams records for the team, and three other records for the NFL. Cribbs was nominated for the Hall of Fame induction class of 2020.

Accolades

  • Three-time Pro Bowler: 2007, 2009, 2012
  • One-time All-Pro selection: 2009

NFL Records

  • Most career kickoff return TDs: Eight (Tied with Leon Washington)
  • Most kickoff return TDs of 100 yards in a game: Two (Tied with Tedd Ginn Jr.)
  • Most kickoff return TDs in a game: Two (Tied with nine other players)

Browns' Franchise Records

  • Most combined kickoff and punt return TDs: 11
  • Most career kickoff return yards: 10,015
  • Most career combined Kickoff and Punt return yards: 12,169
  • Most career All-purpose yards: 14,065
  • Most All-purpose yards in a single season: 2,510 (2009)
  • Most kickoff return touchdowns in a single season: Three (2009)
  • Most kickoff return yards in a single season: 1,809 (2007)

Bernie Kosar (1985–1993)

To have Bernie on just the honorable mentions may seem like sacrilege to many in Cleveland, but the beloved quarterback just doesn't stack up to the other QB on this list. Bernie is loved in Cleveland as a hometown kid who led the team to three AFC Championship games. Though he never won a Super Bowl, Bernie is still one of the most beloved players in Browns history. His stats didn't jump off the charts, but his intelligence on the field and knowledge of the game made him one of the best QBs in Browns history.

Accolades

  • One-time Pro Bowler: 1987
  • Three AFC Championship appearances

Career Statistics With the Browns

  • 53-51-1 record
  • 21,904 passing yards
  • 116 touchdowns, 81 interceptions

Phil Dawson (1999–2012)

Phil Dawson was a shining light of talent when the Browns returned in 1999. While the team struggled during his 14 years with the team, Dawson was as consistent and reliable as anyone. He even has an NFL rule named after him. The "Phil Dawson Rule" allows for reviews of field goals or extra point attempts that hit the goalposts or crossbar. This changed after a game-tying field goal hit the left post, knocked into the crossbar and bounced backward, back into the field of play. The kick was called no good until it was reviewed and changed. Dawson announced he would retire as a member of the Browns in 2019.

Accolades

  • One-time Pro Bowler: 2012
  • Scored the first points for the Browns after their return in 1999

Browns' Franchise Records

  • Most accurate kicker with over 50 attempts within one year of being a starter: 84%
  • Most field goals made: 305
  • Second all-time scorer: 1,271 points
  • Most consecutive field goals: 29
  • Most field goals in a game: Six

Best Cleveland Browns Players of All Time

The Cleveland Browns have surprisingly had some of the best talents in football's history. They have one of the most dominant quarterbacks of all time in Otto Graham, one of the most dominant tight ends of all time in Ozzie Newsome and the greatest running back of all time in Jim Brown. They have had plenty of players who excelled at their positions and worked their way into the Hall of Fame. They were inspiring to fans who desperately needed inspiration and helped create logos and team ideology that continues to this day. The Browns had some of the greatest players ever to put on a set of pads, and these players' accolades prove it.

How Many Hall of Famers Do the Browns Have?

Year Inducted
Name
Years With Team
Position

1965

Otto Graham

1946–1955

QB

1967

Paul Brown

1946–1962

Head Coach

1968

Marion Motley

1946–1953

FB

1971

Jim Brown

1957–1965

FB

1974

Lou Groza

1946–1959, 1961–1967

OT, K

1975

Dante Lavelli

1946–1956

WR

1976

Len Ford

1950–1957

DE

1977

Bill Willis

1946–1953

T, OG

1983

Bobby Mitchell

1958–1961

WR, RB

1983

Paul Warfield

1964–1969, 1976–1977

WR

1984

Mike McCormack

1954–1962

OT

1985

Frank Gatski

1946–1956

C

1994

Leroy Kelly

1964–1973

RB

1999

Ozzie Newsome

1978–1990

TE

2003

Joe DeLamielleure

1980–1984

OG

2007

Gene Hickerson

1958–1960, 1962–1973

OG

Comments (3)
brianlokker
brianlokker

Interesting list, Jesse. Good article!

No. 1-3
billso
billso

This is amazing.

Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy

#1 was going to be as easy as any franchise... heck, any sport, in the US... after that, it gets interesting. Some great players have come through Cleveland.


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