Is Tom Brady or Jerry Rice the Greatest NFL Player of All Time?

The Greatest of All Time debate is a done deal for many NFL fans. Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a whopping six Super Bowl rings to back up his case. For some plugged-in fans, though, the subject is far more contentious. If individual talent is paramount, there might be no better pick than wide receiver Jerry Rice. Which comes out on top?

Who’s the great NFL player of all time? A case for Tom Brady

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Bucs QB Tom Brady in control against the Broncos defense | Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

Brady doesn’t like being thought of as the GOAT. He told Michael Strahan on Good Morning America it makes him “cringe” when people say it. Yet none other than Aaron Rodgers — the other great QB of this era — told ESPN that Brady’s five championships “ends most discussions.” That was shortly before Brady notched a sixth.

Much of the case for Brady is in how he performs under the most difficult circumstances. How They Play pins his playoff winning percentage at 73.1%. That’s the best of any QB ever. That’s above undisputed all-time greats like Joe Montana, John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Dan Marino.

The same piece points out that Brady gave up the second least interceptions per game, at .628. Montana gave up fewer interceptions overall, with 139 to Brady’s notably higher 179. But Brady’s impressive longevity in the game explains that number; per game, he’s the best.

Speaking of his 20-season-and-counting career, let’s look at his overall win percentage. The Football Database, which tracks stats from 1970 to now, puts Brady at the top. He has the longest set of games to pull from of any QBs — ample data that eliminates statistical anomalies. His .769 win rate is untouched.

Could Jerry Rice’s resume earn him the GOAT crown?

RELATED: Could Jerry Rice Still Play in Today’s NFL?

Rice, like Brady, doesn’t think of himself as the GOAT. He passes that honor onto another Hall of Fame offensive star, Jim Brown. There’s a strong case to be made there, too, although stats weren’t tracked the same way during Brown’s era. Brown’s Pro Football HoF page doesn’t even have a Super Bowl win listed, but rather an NFL Championship.

With Rice, you have stat after attention-grabbing stat. By the end of his career in 2005, NBC Sports reports that he held 38 all-time NFL records. His 1,549 career receptions, 22,895 receiving yards, and 197 touchdown receptions are the apex of the game. Any young player who thinks they can become the best wide receiver in the NFL has confronted the fact that 15 years of trying hasn’t toppled Rice in most regards.

Who is the real NFL GOAT: Brady or Rice?

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It’s an interesting time to compare Brady and Rice since both played 20 seasons in the NFL. Brady’s career isn’t quite done yet, so this all will shift slightly out of place depending on how long his run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lasts.

Brady’s best stats are at the highest level: wins, Super Bowl rings on his fingers. When it comes to individual stats, he slips even limited just to other active QBs. Rodgers has Brady slightly beat, according to Sports Illustrated, in most respects. But Brady has better results, and to many, that’s what counts.

Rice, comparatively, was and in many categories remains, the greatest WR to ever play the game. For a more Brady-esque long-view look at his consistent overall performance, he averaged 77 catches per season, as shared in this glowing New York Times summation of his career. Sure, his Hall of Fame page has three Super Bowl wins, while Brady’s will have six.

But Rice was, individually, the best at his position, and likely the best to ever play the game. Brady’s impact was undeniably immense, yet head coach Bill Belichick has shared credit, especially for how strong the Patriots defense was throughout his QB’s career. If individual performance is everything, Rice is the GOAT. If participation in the longest run of actual wins is everything, then Brady is your man.