Is Lawrence Taylor or Tom Brady the Greatest Player of All Time?

Is Giants Lawrence Taylor or Buccaneers Tom Brady the GOAT?

Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes

Introduction

The debate for the title of the Greatest of all time, or GOAT for short,  always causes division within the sports fandom community. In the National Football League, there is less discourse than in other sports because Tom Brady has distanced himself from the pack in the eyes of the crowd. His seven super bowl rings, more than any individual franchise has on its own, give him a clear case for the GOAT title, or at least the greatest quarterback to step on the gridiron. However, other positions impact the game too, perhaps none more than the pass rusher position. 

The undisputed king of the edge rush group is Lawrence Taylor. The New York Giants drafted University of North Carolina edge rusher Lawrence Taylor in the 1981 draft and he played his entire 13-year career for Big Blue. Though the NFL did not record sacks as an official stat until Taylor’s second season, he retired with 132.5 sacks to his name. Taylor’s dominance contributed to two super bowl victories for the Giants and earned him a place in Canton.

The Case for Taylor

Taylor played in a much more physical brand of football than Brady. The 1980s were a decade chalked full of hard-nosed coaches who were focused on establishing a dominant running game. Taylor had to play the run more often than contemporary edge rushers. Taylor was not only a force against the run, but he also terrorized opposing quarterbacks. For his entire career, Taylor wreaked havoc on offenses. In his best season, he even won Most Valuable Player. In that season, Taylor posted 20.5 sacks, 105 tackles, and even defended 5 passes. Taylor was arguably in the prime of his career during every season he played. At a position where it is difficult to remain elite for more than half a decade, Taylor’s 13-year stretch of elite play is a marvel. 

A significant part of the case for Taylor rests on the idea that Brady’s success was a product of his environment, thus making him unworthy of the GOAT title. Tom Brady played under the greatest coach of all time and had an outstanding roster for most of his New England tenure. In addition, Brady’s Patriots cheated during the deflate-gate saga.  

The Case for Brady

Tom Brady’s career screams excellence. Part of what makes Brady’s career so special is the lack of expectations that he came in with. An unathletic sixth-round pick, pick 199 to be exact, has no business leading a franchise to the playoffs. Brady is second all-time in passing yards, but he will lead Drew Brees this season. Brady is only ten passing touchdowns behind Brees as well, meaning he will be the leader in both categories when he retires. After the 2020 season, Tom Brady has 79,204 passing yards, 581 passing touchdowns, and five Super Bowl MVPs. Counting statistics do not do Brady’s career justice. His consistent excellence (16 division titles in the past 18 years) and late-career resurgence in Tampa Bay have elevated him into the conversation of the greatest athlete of all time in a team sport. And, the craziest part of Brady’s career is that he has shown no signs of slowing down. Since 2014, Brady’s PFF grade has yet to dip below 80. In 2020, Brady posted an elite grade of 93.3, good for second at the position behind Aaron Rodgers. With at least two more years in Tampa on a star-studded roster, it wouldn’t be shocking for Brady to win an eighth or ninth super bowl. 

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