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The 50 Best College Football Players Ever By Position, According to ESPN

College football has transformed quite a bit since the very first game took place in 1869 between Rutgers University and College of New Jersey (Princeton University). Behind the evolution of the game we all love and watch religiously are the players that changed and shaped the game into what we now see every Saturday.

A full 150 years after that first game, ESPN released its All-Time All-America Teams in 2019 to celebrate the greatest athletes at every position in college football history on its 150th anniversary. A total of 25 players represent nearly 90 years of college football, 19 schools, nine conferences and both the FBS and FCS subdivisions of Division I football.

Which players did they miss?

ESPN's 50 Best CFB Players By Position

The list is absolutely littered with members of the College Football Hall of Fame. The University of Pittsburgh leads the way with four selections, including future NFL Hall-of-Famer and Walter Camp Award winner Larry Fitzgerald and tight end Mike Ditka.

Florida State followed behind with three picks, including two-time All-American Deion "Prime Time" Sanders and kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Southern Mississippi Punter Ray Guy, the lone punter in the NFL Hall of Fame and a former first-round NFL Draft pick, was featured as well.

Herschel Walker, who won the 1982 Heisman Trophy at Georgia, scored 52 touchdowns and set 41 school records and 11 NCAA records during his three-year career in the 1980s, leads the way at running back for the First Team.

Roger Staubach, the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner and certified Navy badass before starring on the Dallas Cowboys, is slated as the No. 1 passer of all time.

The First Team is rounded out by NFL legend and Mississippi Valley State's very own Jerry Rice, former North Carolina linebacker and 1980 ACC Player of the Year Lawrence Taylor and 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson out of Michigan.

Peyton Manning, who despite never won a national championship for the Tennessee football team went on to become a Super Bowl champion, mans the Second Team offense. Auburn Tigers legend Bo Jackson and Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss combine for a lethal offense.

The Second Team's defense features two of the best defensive backs to ever step on the gridiron: Georgia standout Champ Bailey, who played cornerback and wide receiver, and Miami's Ed Reed, the ballhawking safety who recorded 21 career interceptions, shore up a scary secondary.

Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas, who recorded an astounding 27 sacks and 39 tackles for loss during his senior season and netted 52 sacks over his Crimson Tide career, heads the Second Team linebacking corps. In front of him is North Texas defensive lineman "Mean" Joe Greene, who in the 1960s made the All-America team despite playing in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The full list is exhaustive and covers just about every position pretty darn well. Did your school's best player of all time get left off the list? Find out below.



QB Roger Staubach, Navy (1962-64)

RB Jim Brown, Syracuse (1954-56)

RB Herschel Walker, Georgia (1980-82)

WR Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State (1981-84)

WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh (2002-03)

TE Mike Ditka, Pittsburgh (1958-60)

C Chuck Bednarik, Pennsylvania (1945-48)

T Orlando Pace, Ohio State (1994-96)

T Bill Fralic, Pittsburgh (1981-84)

G John Hannah, Alabama (1970-72)

G Jim Parker, Ohio State (1954-56)


DE Hugh Green, Pittsburgh (1977-80)

DE Reggie White, Tennessee (1980-83)

DT Bronko Nagurski, Minnesota (1927-29)

DT Lee Roy Selmon, Oklahoma (1972-75)

LB Dick Butkus, Illinois (1962-64)

LB Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina (1977-80)

LB Tommy Nobis, Texas (1963-65)

CB Deion Sanders, Florida State (1985-88)

CB Charles Woodson, Michigan (1995-97)

S Jack Tatum, Ohio State (1968-1970)

S Ronnie Lott, USC (1977-80)


K Sebastian Janikowski, Florida State (1997-99)

P Ray Guy, Southern Mississippi (1970-72)

AP Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska (1970-72)



QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee (1994-97)

RB Bo Jackson, Auburn (1982-85)

RB Archie Griffin, Ohio State (1972-75)

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (1996-97)

WR Fred Biletnikoff, Florida State (1962-64)

TE Keith Jackson, Oklahoma (1984-87)

C Dave Rimington, Nebraska (1979-82)

OT Anthony Munoz, USC (1976-79)

OT Jonathan Ogden, UCLA (1992-95)

OG Aaron Taylor, Notre Dame (1990-93)

OG Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska (1981-83)


DE Bubba Smith, Michigan State (1964-66)

DE Bruce Smith, Virginia Tech (1981-84)

DT Randy White, Maryland (1972-74)

DT Joe Greene, North Texas (1966-68)

LB Jack Ham, Penn State (1968-70)

LB Derrick Thomas, Alabama (1985-88)

LB Cornelius Bennett, Alabama (1983-86)

CB Rod Woodson, Purdue (1983-86)

CB Champ Bailey, Georgia (1996-98)

S Kenny Easley, UCLA (1977-80)

S Ed Reed, Miami (1998-2001)


K Kevin Butler, Georgia (1981-84)

P Russell Erxleben, Texas (1975-78)

AP Tim Brown, Notre Dame (1984-87)

This article was originally published December 26, 2019.

MORE: Herschel Walker Voted the Greatest College Player of All Time