Detailed findings and methodology:
The likelihood of a state cultivating an elite athlete largely depends on the extent to which the gridiron is engrained in the state’s culture. Texas is a state that eats, sleeps, and breathes football. So it should come as no surprise the Lone Star State has produced more total NFL players than anywhere else in the U.S.
Texas has also produced plenty of truly great players that have dominated the NFL. From Bobby Layne in the 1950s, to “Mean” Joe Greene in the 1970s, and Drew Brees still putting up points in 2018, Texas is well represented on the field and in the NFL Hall of Fame. There are 31 players from Texas enshrined in Canton, Ohio, more than any other state.
Just seven Hall of Famers, on the other hand, hail from New York, the fourth most populous state in the country. In New York, football can take a backseat to sports like lacrosse, hockey, and baseball. Alabama — a state with less than one-quarter of New York’s population — has produced as many NFL Hall of Famers as the Empire State.
Even with half the population of Texas, Pennsylvania is also well represented, with 29 Hall of Famers.
As might be expected, less populous states have produced fewer NFL stars. Alaska, Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island have no active players in the NFL. There are 11 states with no natives in the Hall of Fame.
Still, Alaska, though it has a small population, sent over players like Mark Schlereth and Steve Smith. Those two not only played in the NFL, but were both selected to the Pro Bowl and won Super Bowls during their careers. New Mexico isn’t known as a football hotbed, but it has produced NFL legends like San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott and Philadelphia Eagles flanker Tommy McDonald.
In many large states, determining the greatest NFL player was an incredibly difficult task. Florida is home to some of the best players to ever play football. Hall of Famers like Emmitt Smith, Warren Sapp, and Deion Sanders didn’t make the list, despite their dominance.
The choice was relatively obvious in some states. Tom Brady, widely regarded as the greatest player ever, thanks to his postseason success, would be the clear choice for any state. Brady was born in San Mateo, California, and he beat out the many other good choices. Other players came from states with few other great players and stood out easily. 49ers teammates Jerry Rice and Steve Young are some of the best to ever grace the NFL and established themselves as easy choices for players who came from Mississippi and Utah, respectively.
In order to determine the best NFL player from each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed each player in the league’s history sorted by state. Players were ranked based on career accolades and successes including Pro Bowls, All-pro designations, Championships, impact on the game and Hall of Fame Status. Players were sorted according to where they were born, not necessarily where they grew up.