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Top 10 Cleveland Browns in NFL History

Updated on February 14, 2015

They are one of the most storied franchises in the league. Today I rank to top 10 Cleveland Browns of all time.

The Cleveland Browns were founded in 1945 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference, which began play the following year. The Cleveland Browns went on to dominate the AAFC, compiling a 47–4–3 record in the league's four active seasons and winning its championship in each of them. When the AAFC folded after the 1949 season, the Browns joined the National Football League. The Browns won a championship in their inaugural NFL season, as well as in the 1954, 1955, and 1964 seasons. From 1965 to 1995, they made the playoffs 14 times, but have never won another championship or even appeared in the Super Bowl.

After the 1995 season, owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore and renamed it the Baltimore Ravens. The rights to the Browns' property were kept in trust, and in 1999, an expansion team opened in Cleveland under the Browns name.

While their status has yet to match that of their previous incarnation, the legacy of former Browns players lives on. For this list, I take into account player talent, team importance, and champion or Hall of Fame status.

10. Clay Matthews

Browns followers widely consider Matthews the biggest of the team's snubs for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it's hard to argue.

Given the high-attrition associated with his position, his 19-year NFL career is nothing short of incredible. It's even more impressive given his relatively small frame for his position at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds. Matthews was highly versatile and played every linebacker spot, registering 1,430 tackles, 62 sacks, 14 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries with the Browns. He retired averaging almost 85 tackles a year.

To some, he's better known as the father of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and brother to Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. In time though, there will be more and more consideration to put him Canton. He was the face of the defense during the his time and Cleveland and even brought leadership to Atlanta in his final three seasons.

9. Dante Lavelli

Nicknamed "Glue Fingers," Lavelli was a cornerstone for the Browns offense in the 40's and 50's.

Lavelli was an integral part of a Browns team that won seven championships during his 11 year career. Lavelli was known for his sure hands and improvisations on the field. He was also renowned for making catches in critical situations, earning his other nickname "Mr. Clutch". He played only a handful of games before he was drafted for service in the U.S. Army during World War II. Returning in 1945 after serving in Europe, he joined the Browns in the team's first ever season in the AAFC. Helped by Lavelli's play, the Browns won each of the AAFC's championships before the league dissolved in 1949 and the team was absorbed by the NFL. Cleveland continued to succeed in the NFL, winning championships in 1950, 1954 and 1955.

Lavelli also helped found the National Football League Players Association toward the end of his career. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975. While his stats are minuscule by today's standards, Glue Fingers was one of the first great NFL receivers.

8. Joe Thomas

It wouldn't be a true list if I didn't account for the post 1999 Browns. That's why I choose Joe Thomas.

Thomas was the third overall pick 2007 and since has established himself as one of the best offensive tackles playing today. He is on a short list of players who have been named a pro bowlers in their first seven seasons and has been named All-Pro four times. In his seven years, Thomas has never missed a game and has only allowed an average of three sacks a year.

He has had the misfortune of being the star player on a losing team. While he shows strong consistency, his skill set isn't the deciding factor in whether Cleveland can put up points. The Browns are lucky to have a player of Thomas' caliber in the past few years and will be fortunate if they can have him for his entire career.

7. Leroy Kelly

This running back had the unfortunate task of following the great Jim Brown and he definitely took the reigns of the offense.

Leroy Kelly became the teams starter in 1966 and quickly became a recognized running back. He led the league in rushing yards twice and touchdowns three times in his first four years as a starter. Noted as an exceptionally fine runner on the muddy playing fields of his day, Kelly gained major yardage in the famed Cleveland trap play up the middle, but was equally devastating on sweeps or as a receiver. His quick-starting ability, along with a sense of balance and knack of evading direct hits by tacklers, kept him relatively injury-free, missing only four games in ten years and never more than one per season.

In his career, Kelly amassed over 12,000 all purpose yards and 90 touchdowns. He was named to six pro bowl teams and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.

6. Bill Willis

Willis was also one of the first African Americans to play professional football in the modern era, signing with the Browns a year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

He was named an All-Pro in every season of his career and reached the NFL's Pro Bowl in three of the four seasons he played in the league. His techniques and style of play were emulated by other teams, and his versatility as a pass-rusher and coverage man influenced the development of the modern-day linebacker position.

Willis was a five time champion and is a member of the NFL's All Decade team of the 40's. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

5. Lou Groza

Playing both offensive tackle and kicker, Lou Groza was an important piece of the franchise for 21 seasons.

Groza was professional football's career kicking and points leader when he retired after the 1967 season and helped the team win 8 Championships in his 21 years with the team. His accuracy and strength as a kicker influenced the development of place-kicking as a specialty and he could kick field goals from beyond 50 yards at a time when attempts from that distance were rare.

He retired as a nine time pro bowler and his #76 has since been retired by Cleveland. Groza's play as a kicker lent the NCAAF to name the award for college footballs best kicker to be named after him. Groza was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.

4. Ozzie Newsome

This Alabama wide out quickly became one of the best receiving tight ends in NFL history.

Cleveland's first round pick in 1978, Ozzie Newsome quickly brought relevancy back to the struggling team. He was named rookie of the year and began setting records for receiving by a tight end. In his 13 year career, he was a five time All-Pro and never missed a game. When he retired after 1990, Newsome held every significant tight end record in NFL history. While his records have since been passed by tight ends like Jason Witten, Shannon Sharpe, and Tony González, his legacy as a great receiving tight end lives on.

Since his retirement, Newsome had become the first black general manager in league history and has won two Super Bowls as Baltimore's GM. He was inducted into Canton in 1999.

3. Marion Motley

Motley was one of the first power backs to put up impressive numbers.

A versatile player who possessed both quickness and size, Motley was a force on both offense and defense. Along with teammate Bill Willis, Motley was one of the first African-Americans to play the professional game in the modern era. Despite only playing eight seasons, he still holds the career average for yards per rush by a fullback with 5.7. Despite making only one pro bowl, Motley was a four time Champion and the AAFC's all time leading rusher. He is most famous for accidentally creating the halfback draw.

Knee injuries forced him to retire after 1953 but his legacy and running style live on in the Super Bowl era through players like Jerome Bettis. Motley was voted into the Hall of Fame In 1968.

2. Jim Brown

Jim Brown can arguably be considered as the best overall player in NFL history.

You name it, Jim Brown did it. Nine time pro bowler, eight time All-Pro, eight time NFL rushing leader, NFL champion, rookie of the year, three time pro bowl MVP, and three time league MVP. Jim Brown is the only running back in history to average over five yards per carry for a career and 100 yards per game.

So with all that listed, how can Brown not be the greatest Cleveland Brown ever? Simple, he left the game early at his prime. He retired as the NFL's all time leading rusher but if he were to still play, he would have push the record even farther. Regardless, Brown remains Cleveland's all time leading rusher and know Browns running back has come close to taking that record away.

1. Otto Graham

"Automatic" Otto is number one on this list because he emphasized the only important statistic that matters in football. Winning

Graham is arguably the most dominant player of any era because in his 10 seasons, he led the Browns to 10 Championship games with seven victories. With Graham at quarterback, the Browns posted a record of 114-20-4 which is a league record for highest winning percentage by a quarterback. While most of his statistical records have been surpassed in the modern era, he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt, with nine. In 1946, Graham won a championship with the Browns the same year he won a championship with the Rochester Royals of the NBA. He was a seven time champion, seven time All-Pro, and a three time league MVP.

After his retirement, Graham went on to be the head coach in Washington. He was inducted into Canton in 1965.

People's Poll

Who is the greatest Cleveland Brown

See results


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    • Robert Levine profile image

      Robert Levine 

      4 years ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

      I expected to see Mac Speedie and/or Dub Jones from their glory days in the 50s.

    • profile image

      Dawg Pound 

      4 years ago

      I would have put Sipe or Kosar up there. Other than Ozzie, the teams of the 70s and 80s were nothing offensively without those two at quarterback


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