We enter rarefied air with the top 13 players in Jets history. These men have had the greatest impact on the success of the Jets over the years. These are the men who shone brightest on the field of play. They came from all eras and from big schools to little ones.
The top thirteen spots #13, 12, 11
Kyle Clifton LB 1984-1996
Clifton was the Jets 3rd round pick in the 1984 NFL draft (#64 overall) from TCU. He played his entire career as an inside linebacker. His 6’ 4” 236 lb size was enormous when he played and is still on the large size even today. Clifton is the Jets leader in tackles by a wide margin. Defensive stats like sacks, QB hits, tackles for loss and tackles in general were not always counted by the NFL stats department when he played. Yet Clifton dwarfs the tackle total of the 2nd place player on the Jets all time list by 457 tackles. He even is tied for 29th in interceptions in Jets history.
Clifton was a literal tackling machine, and his status as one of the greatest tacklers in NFL history belies his obvious Pro Bowl snubs that went to players from teams with a longer winning tradition. As a rookie in 1984 he was 3rd in the NFL in tackles with 113.
The year 1985 was the Chicago Bears’ great Super Bowl run and vaunted defense. The Bears leading tackler was Wilbur Marshall, who ranked 24th with 78 solo tackles. It was Kyle Clifton who led the league in tackles with 160, which was 19 more than 2nd place Duane Bickett of Indianapolis.
In 1986 Clifton again led the league in tackles with 174, 30 tackles ahead of Bickett who ranked 3rd that year. In 1987 Clifton was injured and only started 8 games, but he came back in 1988 to lead the league again with 162 tackles while the Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors went to Clay Mathews (101 tackles) and Cornelius Bennet (103 tackles) respectively.
This continued with Clifton ranking 3rd in tackles in 1989 with 162 tackles and 2nd in 1990 with 199 tackles. That year both he and Jesse Tuggle (201 tackles) were Pro Bowl snubs while Darryl Talley (123 tackles) made the Pro Bowl.
Here Clifton makes one of his many tackles against the Dolphins RB Marc Logan on a straight handoff from a single back formation. The Miami line opens a massive hole and Clifton has to make a tackle on the big back, who has a full head of steam coming through the line. Clifton drops him where he hits him.
Clifton played 13 season in the NFL, all with the Jets, and his 204 games played ranks 3rd in Jets history behind only Pat Leahy and Randy Rasmussen. He was a mentor to both Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones. Lewis and Jones rank just behind Clifton in tackles by a Jet with 1011 (2nd) and 730 (3rd) respectively.
Clifton also ranks 3rd all-time in fumble recoveries with 15 and 4th in forced fumbles with 13. Ken O’Brien leads the Jets in fumble recoveries by recovering 26 of his own fumbles. Clifton was a fan favorite because of his rugged playing style and the fact he seemed to always be in on the tackle. At the time of his retirement he ranked 2nd all-time in tackles in NFL history. This is significant since the Jets did not scheme the defense for Clifton to make tackles. Other teams would play two mammoth defensive linemen in front of their ILB to take up blocks and free the ILB to make all the tackles. Since the Jets did not do that Clifton had to fight through many blocks before he could make the tackle. He was an underappreciated player when he played and is still so to this day.
Wayne Chrebet WR 1995-2005
The “Green Lantern” was one of the most adored fan favorites in the annals of Jets history because he was never supposed to make it in the NFL. Chrebet was given a chance by mere good fortune. The fact that Chrebet had tied an NCAA record (held by Jerry Rice) of catching 5 TD passes in a game his senior year at Hofstra University and the fact the Jets had their training camp at the same school on Long Island gave Chrebet a chance to be noticed in a tryout camp prior to the 1995 season.
When Wayne Chrebet showed up for his tryout with the Jets he was denied entry into the facility by the security guard, who thought he was too small to be an NFL football player. He thought Chrebet was a fan trying to sneak onto the field. Chrebet was allowed to enter only after the guard called down to find out he was on the list of tryout players.
Hofstra was not considered a hotbed of football, but the Jets should have known there was talent there as the 2nd player from Hofstra to play in the NFL was John Schmitt, who played 11 years for the Jets and was the starting center on the Super Bowl Jets team.
The Jets in 1995 were the worst team in the NFL with Rich Kotite. who was “not liking to work long hours,” at the helm. Kotite, who couldn’t even pronounce Chrebet’s name, gave Chrebet a shot since the team was so bereft of talent. Chrebet thanked the Jets by making 150 receptions in his first two years, which at the time was an NFL record.
In 1996 Chrebet had to endure the wrath of a rookie receiver (Keyshawn Johnson) after Johnson was drafted #1 overall by the Jets. That year Johnson had 70 receptions to Chrebet’s 84 receptions, which led Johnson to write a book titled “Just Give Me The Damn Ball.” The Jets were 1-15 that year, but Johnson inexcusably called his QB Neil O’Donnell “a stiff puppet,” his offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt “an old fool” and Wayne Chrebet a “team mascot.” He went on to say “Chrebet wouldn’t even make anybody else’s team. It was time to stop the love affair with the little dude from Hofstra.”
During that same offseason the Jets fired Kotite and hired Bill Parcells as the new head coach. The Jets were brewing to have a locker room war on their hands, so Parcells (in perfect Parcells fashion) defused the situation by assigning Johnson and Chrebet lockers right next to each other. He figured they’d work things out on their own.
Through it all somehow Chrebet shined, even though he had a myriad of questionable QBs during his 11 years as a Jets WR. Those QBs (with games): Boomer Esiason (12), Bubby Brister (4), Frank Reich (7), Neil O’Donnell (20), Glenn Foley (8), Ray Lucas (9), Vinny Testaverde (41), Rick Mirer (6), Chad Pennington (37), Quincy Carter (3), Brooks Bollinger (3), Jay Fiedler (2).
Chrebet had to fight off not only tacklers during his NFL career but also a number of concussions that would ultimately end his career. He told of his first concussion his rookie year:
It’s the first time I ever played in a dome. I remember getting hit, getting blindsided, in the game. I was sitting on the bench, and I was kind of out of it. I’m looking around and I see all the advertisements, things like McDonald’s and Gap and all these different things, and I honestly thought I was in the shopping mall, looking at the food court.
I always laugh about it, why was I out there? I didn’t let anybody know about it or anything like that. But that was my first serious concussion in the NFL.
It was a Brooks Bollinger pass on November 6th 2005 that ended Chrebet’s career (not Bollinger’s fault) in a game against the San Diego Chargers. Chrebet suffered a final concussion that this time he could not come back from.
Through it all Chrebet was a gamer who persevered to become a player known for great catches, as well as a guy who left everything he had on the field. This is a classic Chrebet catch in the “Monday night miracle” game that tied the score in the 4th quarter.
Chrebet was the living version of the “little engine that could.” He was as much a good player as he was a genuinely good person. Chrebet would often go down to the local sandwich shop in New Jersey and sit down and eat with the locals. He was an everyman hero who proved that heart and dedication can do great things. He was the UDFA from Hofstra that had almost no chance to make it in the NFL but ended up a star.
Chrebet ended his career with 580 receptions, which is good for 2nd place on the all time Jets list, 40 behind Don Maynard, but Chrebet played 20 less games. If not for the concussions he would have been the leading receiver by quite a bit. He is also 3rd all time in receiving yardage (7,365 yards) behind only Wesley Walker and Don Maynard.
Chrebet will always be remembered as a team first, do everything he can for the team kind of player. He was an inspiration to many in the New York metropolitan, including the guard who almost didn’t let him in for his original tryout with the Jets. They eventually became good friends. “He’s a very old guy, Harry Fisher. I’ll never forget it, he’s just a funny guy. We always laughed about the incident and I’ll always remember Harry” Chrebet said.
Darrelle Revis CB 2007-2012 & 2015-2016
Darrelle Revis was a great high school athlete in Aliquippa high school, which is just north of Pittsburgh and just east of West Virginia. In 2003 he led his high school team from behind to win the state championship. In that game Revis rushed for 3 TDs, returned a punt for a TD, returned a block field goal for a TD, had an interception, a reception and he also completed a 39 yard pass.
In college Revis played near his home for the Pittsburgh Panthers. He was a Sporting News freshman All-American in 2004, first team All Big East in 2005 and 2006, Rivals 3rd team All-American in 2006, and a Jim Thorp award finalist. Revis won an ESPY for the best college football play of the year in 2006, a 73 yard punt return that broke several tackles. Here is that play.
The mercurial Revis was one of the top CB draft prospects in the 2007 NFL draft. The Jets liked him so much that they traded their 1st round pick (#25 overall), their 2nd round pick (#59 overall) and their 5th round pick (#164 overall) to the Carolina Panthers for the #14 pick so they could select Revis. Revis did not disappoint, as he played in all 16 games as a rookie and had 3 INTs as a lock down corner and was 5th in the league with 17 passes defended. Teams would test Revis since he was a rookie starting on the outside. For that reason Revis was 2nd on the team that year in tackles with 88, behind only David Harris.
That total of 88 tackles was by far the most of his career and at least 30 more than any other year he played. Revis continued to work on his game, and after a Pro-Bowl selection in 2008 he led the league with 31 passes defended and 6 INTs in 2009 earning him Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Still it did not deter some players like Tom Brady here from testing Revis, which was a mistake on this play.
A knee injury in 2012 shelved Revis for the year and the Jets decided to trade Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 1st & 4th round draft choice. Revis stayed in Tampa only one year (a Pro Bowl year) and then won a Super Bowl in New England (Pro Bowl & All-Pro year) before returning to the Jets in 2015. That year Revis had 5 INTs and again returned to the Pro Bowl. All in all Revis played in 108 games in 8 seasons with the Jets (all starts) and is 3rd all time with 25 INTs. The injuries and QBs’ reluctance to throw to his side reduced his INT possibilities. Injuries left him a little shy in the games played next to other elite players at his position. Still, for his career Revis was a 7 time Pro Bowl player and a 4 time All-Pro in 11 years in the NFL, of which 8 were in New York with the Jets.
In his prime Revis was one of the best lock down corners of all time in NFL history. I have him ranked 8th just behind Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson. If not for the injury he would certainly (in my opinion) have been a top 5 corner in league history.
Next up, the list will continue with players ranked 10, 9 & 8.