Who is New Jersey’s all-time greatest NFL player?
Since the inception of professional football, thousands of men have taken the field for teams around the country but less than 600 of them were born here in the Garden State.
With the 2015 National Football League season set to kick off tonight, we’re asking the question— who is the all-time greatest NFL player from New Jersey?
To answer the question, we’ve combed through statistics dating back to 1921 and have come up with a handful of potential bests. In addition to game stats, we evaluated these players based on their longevity in the league, team accomplishments, personal accolades and their overall influence on the sport.
Keep in mind this list contains only players who were actually born in New Jersey.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer began his career at Trenton Central High School. Bethea would go on to North Carolina A&T before being drafted by the Houston Oilers. The defensive end was named to eight Pro Bowls and eventually had his #65 jersey retired by the Oilers.
A Garfield native, Chrebet worked himself into the New York Jets history books during his 11 seasons as a wide receiver with the team. He is currently second in franchise history with 580 career receptions and fifth in franchise history with 7,365 career receiving yards.
A second round draft pick out of Syracuse in 1981, Jim Collins got his start at West Morris Mendham High School before playing seven seasons for the Rams. He was named to one Pro Bowl and was twice an All Pro selection before finishing his career with the Chargers in 1989.
The youngest player on our list is the salsa-dancing Giants playmaker originally from Paterson. Cruz was part of the team that beat New England in the 2012 Super Bowl and was also a Pro Bowl selection that year. He has be earning accolades since entering the league undrafted in 2010 and is tied for the NFL’s longest touchdown reception record at 99 yards.
A standout at the University of Delaware, the Audubon native has been the face of the Baltimore Ravens franchise since leading the team to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII and earning that game’s MVP award. Flacco possesses the majority of the Ravens player records and was named Pepsi Rookie of the Year in 2008. The $120 million contract he signed after his Super Bowl season was the most money ever given to a quarterback at the time.
This former Pennsauken High School and University of Michigan man played a year with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts before arriving at the San Francisco 49ers in 1979. The safety was part of a dynamic Niners defense and one two Super Bowl championships, was named to four Pro Bowls and was twice an All Pro selection before leaving the team in 1985 and playing a final professional season with the Colts in 1986.
Matawan High School defensive end Jim Jeffcoat won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys during a stint with the team that lasted from 1983 to 1994. He played for the Bills from 1995 to 1997 before retiring. Jeffcoat is one of only 31 players in professional football history to record over 100 career sacks.
Known as much for his on-field play as he was for his off-field exploits with teammate Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick was born in Lincoln Park and played for Boonton High School and the University of Wyoming before winning two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins and being part of the franchise’s fabled 1972 undefeated team. Kiick also made two Pro Bowls during a career that saw him score 33 touchdowns.
After starting out at Long Branch High School and later Montclair State, Sam Mills went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. Mills was named to four Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams before his retirement. After his playing career, Mills took a coaching job at Carolina and was later diagnosed with intestinal cancer. His determination throughout his cancer treatment became a rallying point for the team during their 2004 Super Bowl run. His number 51 jersey was retired by both the Saints and Panthers and a statue of Mills stands outside Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
Best known for enduring a traumatic and career-ending leg injury on Monday Night Football, Theismann quarterbacked South River High School and Notre Dame before a storied 12-season career with the Washington Redskins. He led Washington to consecutive Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl championship in addition to numerous other honors including two Pro Bowl selections and a Pro Bowl MVP nod.
After playing at both Asbury Park and Ocean Township high schools, Villapiano played 13 seasons in the NFL that included a conference Defensive Rookie of the Year award, two All-Pro seasons and four Pro Bowl appearances. Known for his quickness, Villapiano made a very important tackle for the Oakland Raiders en route to their Super Bowl XI victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Drafted by the Miami Dolphins with the seventh overall pick in 1992, Vincent made five Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams as a cornerback with the Dolphins, Eagles, Bills and Redskins. After a 15-year playing career Vincent is now the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.
In 1987, Woods became the first New Jersey native ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft when he was selected with the 18th overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks. Woods would go on to record 679 tackles as a linebacker and defensive end in a career that included stops with the Rams and Redskins before leaving the NFL in 1996.