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The New York Jets All-Time Best Players, Part 1

The list begins

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New York Jets

With the last minicamp in the rear view mirror and training camp a few weeks away it might be a good time to look back at some of the franchise’s best players . So before we can make a top ten list we need to make a list of players who were great but did not make it that high.

Players from different eras can have misleading stat lines so we will try to differentiate production to players actual value to the team. What we will try to discern is the relative importance each player had to team success with his overall play as well as leadership and dominance.

This list I will admit does favor players who have great longevity with the team. Some players were dominant but their length of service was too short to be considered “top 10 material.” Many of those players will be listed here, which is still a great deal of reverence. I also will not list any current players since their time with the Jets is not over and their ultimate contributions are yet undetermined.

These next 20 players (players #s 11-30) I will list in no particular order since it would be arbitrary. To reduce the traffic I will bring to you I will make 7 separate articles with 4 devoted to those who didn’t make the top ten and 3 articles of the top ten. This gives ample time to not only discuss and analyze each player but to give each the reverence deserved as a member of such an elite group.

The list of prominent players who didn’t make the top 30 include...

QB- Richard Todd

QB- Chad Pennington

QB- Mark Sanchez (of course)

QB- Boomer Esiason

QB- Vinny Testaverde

RB- Leon Johnson

RB- Leon Washington

RB- Johnny Hector

RB- John Riggins

RB- Bill Mathis

RB LaMont Jordan

RB- LaDainian Tomlinson

RB- Bilal Powell

RB- Richie Anderson

RB- Adrian Murrell

FB- Richie Anderson

WR- Santana Moss

WR- Jerricho Cotchery

WR- Jeremy Kerley

WR- Jo-Jo Townsell

WR- Rob Moore

WR- Keyshawn Johnson

WR- Art Powell

WR- Robby Anderson

WR- Braylon Edwards

WR- Derrick Gaffney

TE- Pete Lammons

TE- Richard Caster

TE- Jarome Barkum

TE- Mickey Shuler

TE- Dustin Keller

OT- Chris Ward

OT- Marvin Powell

DL- Muhammad Wilkerson

DL- Bryan Thomas

DL- Marvin Washington

DL/LB- Jeff Lageman

DL/LB- Calvin Pace

LB- Greg Buttle

LB- Al Atkinson

LB- David Harris

LB- Lance Mehl

LB- Bart Scott

DB- Aaron Glenn

DB- Dainard Paulson

DB- Antonio Cromartie

DB- Victor Green

DB- Jamal Adams

DB- Burgess Owens

DB- Kerry Rhodes

These next 20 players had much more distinguished careers with the Jets.

So without further ado the first 5 of those players...

Pat Leahy - Kicker (1974-1991)

In a position that can be replaced as easily as a pair of socks Pat Leahy defined longevity with a single team for all kickers. Leahy is the Jets leader in games played with 250 and points scored with 1,470. He played his entire career with the Jets from 1974-1991, and his point total is over twice as much as any other player in Jets history. In fact the top 4 scorers in Jets history are all kickers with Nick Folk 2nd all time but a distant 2nd with 729 points.

Leahy is the only Jet kicker to be named All-Pro which he did after the 1978 season. Back then kicking was very tough with very few indoor stadiums, stadiums with horrible field conditions, and stadiums with zany wind conditions. Leahy that season had a 73% success rate on his field goals which was his best success rate until the mid 80’s when field conditions started to improve.

To give you an example of the difficulty in kicking the following year Leahy had one of his worst seasons caused by a troublesome knee injury he was forced to kick with. He was hitting only 61.5% of his kicks, but that was good enough to rank 14th out of 28 kickers who had attempted enough field goals to qualify.

Leahy does not make our top 10 because even though he appeared in more games and scored more points than any Jet in history, he was a kicker. Bill Parcells made his thoughts clear on kickers once when he asked the team doctor hours before a game if the kicker was able to go. The doctor replied, “I don’t know yet if he can play.” To which Parcels replied “Hey doc he don’t play, he is a kicker. I just want to know if he can kick.”

Bruce Harper RB (1977-1984)

Harper was the diminutive back who was a UDFA out of Kutztown State who had a 7 year career (all with the Jets) from 1977-1984. In an era when few players of his size (5’ 8” 174 lbs) were able to even make it in the NFL Harper excelled. He was lightning in a bottle as a runner, receiver out of the backfield, and punt and kick returner.

Harper played (like Pat Leahy) in a time where fields were not manicured like they are today. Most fields were slow tracks which hindered the speed and quickness of players like Harper, he was not going to run too many guys over. Yet he has the highest average per rush in NY Jets history for players with more than 370 rushing attempts. In fact his 4.9 yards per carry dwarfs second place Freeman McNeil who averaged 4.5 per carry.

Harper also was spectacular as a receiver out of the backfield with 220 career receptions with an amazing 11 yards per reception. He had only 594 offensive touches in his career but averaged 7.1 yards per touch which is outstanding.

If you graded him just on his offensive attributes he was outstanding, but where he truly was a marvel was as a kick and punt returner. While Harper had only one return for a TD he constantly gave the Jets great field position with his returns. On his 183 punt returns he averaged an excellent 9.7 yards a try. In fact Harper has the most kickoff return yards in the history of the Jets by a wide margin. He has 2,341 more yards than 2nd place Justin Miller. Harper also is the all time leader in punt return yardage for the Jets with 1,784 yards which is 424 more yards than 2nd place Jo-Jo Townsell.

Sadly his eight year career left him a little short (no pun intended) in reaching the top ten Jets players although those who saw him play were all impressed. He was always a fan favorite with good reason as an undersized player when they were an abnormality rather than part of teams like they are today.

Ken O’Brien QB (1983-1992)

The player who many Jet fans cursed when he was drafted because he wasn’t Dan Marino actually had a decent career with the Jets. He is the Jets all-time leader in passes completed by a QB and has the 2nd highest passer rating of all the Jets QBs who have completed at least 329 passes. He also has the lowest passes intercepted by percentage of any Jets QB. His +29 TD to INT ratio is also the highest of any Jets QB.

The problem was (and still is to many Jets fans) he is not a Hall of Fame player the way Dan Marino was. You have to wonder if that is a fair comparison considering they played on different teams with different philosophies. I will have another article in the future to tackle that question.

O’Brien led the Jets to the Playoffs in 3 of the 7 years he was the primary starting QB for the Jets including his first two years as the starter. The Jets only made the playoffs once after moving on from O’Brien (in 1992) until the 2001 season.

He had some very good receivers during his tenure, but they were spread out over the years without much overlap. In 1985 when he took over the helm of the Jets he had a 22 year old Al Toon with a 30 year old Wesley Walker who was near the end of his career only starting 10 games with 34 receptions. This pass was a nice throw to Wesley Walker (in 1986) for his 4th TD of the game against the Dolphins in overtime to win the game.

Mickey Shuler was the Jets primary tight end, and when Al Toon began to have concussion problems the Jet drafted a nice receiver in Rob Moore with a 1st round pick in the supplemental draft in 1990.

The Jets though were a team who wanted to establish the run most of all, and their offensive line was built for run blocking not pass blocking. This is why they drafted Blair Thomas 2nd overall in 1990 (bust) while the Dolphins selected Richmond Webb with the 9th pick to protect Dan Marino. Webb played in 184 games as a tackle, and Thomas lasted 64 mediocre games.

O’Brien was not a very mobile QB, and with the lack of pass protection he set a team record in career fumbles (68) and fumble recoveries (26) while he was sacked a remarkable 338 times in 124 career games. O’Brien though never complained. He took the punishment then came back for more.

Randy Rasmussen Guard (1967-1981)

Rasmussen was considered a huge guard (6’ 2” 255 lbs) when he was drafted in the 12th round back in 1967 #302 overall. He came to the Jets from a tiny school (Nebraska-Kearney) and was a pivotal player for the Jets especially when he took over the right guard position that year. In Super Bowl III he helped keep Joe Namath upright most of the day as the immobile Namath was sacked just twice.

Rasmussen came to New York from a tiny community and it took him time to adjust to the big city. As he told it, “When I headed out for New York, I said, ‘I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what it’s going to look like.’ Thank God (training camp) was up in Peekskill. It’s busy up there, but it’s not the big city. I wouldn’t drive in (Manhattan), but somebody took me down there, and oh, man, you’re just kind of amazed at everything – the size, the number of people, the amount of cars, the horns blowing and everything else. It was intimidating.”

Here he is helping cut down DT Fred Miller to allow Joe Namath to complete a pass in Super Bowl III.

Rasmussen never made a Pro Bowl, but he started 199 of the 207 games he played for the Jets over 15 years. His games played in total is 2nd in number to only kicker Pat Leahy in Jets history. Every down Rasmussen played in the NFL was for the Jets. He was a stalwart on the line. and the Jets could count on his superior play every week. He said, “My whole theory on that is you’ve got to show up on Sunday. You’ve got to be there. Bob Fry, one of our coaches, said, ‘What we look for is we want to know what we can get out of a guy week in, week out. That’s what I like about you. We know what we’re going to get week in and week out.’”

Rasmussen is part of the Nebraska High School Football Hall of Fame after playing for Elba High School in Howard County. The school sizes where he played were small so Randy played in 8 man football. He is now 76 years old, retired and living in North Carolina.

Thomas Jones RB (2007-2009)

The Jets traded a 2nd round pick to Chicago for Jones after the 2006 season to get a more powerful runner behind the Jets offensive line. The diminutive Leon Johnson had led the Jets in rushing in 2006 with only 650 yards, and the Jets wanted to be more physical. The plan worked as Jones would rush for over 1,100 yards each of the next 3 seasons. He was a Pro Bowl player for the first time in his career in 2008, and his dominance on the field continued into 2009. In those two years he rushed for a combined 2,714 yards and 27 TDs. He added 46 receptions as well in those years. He was the Jets workhorse RB.

Here he is with a nice 13 yard TD against the Rams, a game Jones had 149 yards rushing, 3 rushing TDs with the Jets crushing the St. Louis Rams 47-3.

Sadly the Jets lost 4 of their last 5 games that year to finish at 9-7 in 2008 and out of the playoffs. That signaled the end of the Eric Mangini regime and the beginning of Rex Ryan’s. Even with Jones rushing for 1,402 yards in the ground and pound offense the Jets moved on in 2010 using Shonn Greene plus an aging but still active LaDainian Tomlinson (who was a better receiving back) for another attempted title run.

Jones’ contribution to the Jets cannot be overlooked. He was the son of hard working coal mining parents and showed that toughness every time he stepped on the field. Had he been with the Jets a little longer he may have had a chance to crack the top ten.

So there you have the first 5 of the 20 runners up to the top 10 Jets of all time. Maybe you think some of the group of 50 who won’t make the write up cut should have been given more respect than I gave them.

Let me know what you think, and regale us with some of your best memories of these players listed. More will follow.