The Most Dynamic Duos in NFL History (2024)

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The Most Dynamic Duos in NFL History (1)

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Every great team in NFL history has at least two stars recognized by fans. Typically, fans think of quarterbacks and receivers. Joe Montana had the incomparable Jerry Rice. Roger Staubach won with Hall of Famer Drew Pearson. Terry Bradshaw threw to the acrobatic Lynn Swann, and Tom Brady passed to the indomitable Rob Gronkowski. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce are the current iterations.

There are exceptions. The 1990s Cowboys relied on Emmitt Smith and the offensive line. Few teams achieve championships without great defenders. The Steelers don’t win four titles without Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. We now delve into the most dynamic duos in NFL history.

1. Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

The Most Dynamic Duos in NFL History (2)

Patrick Mahomes and his favorite target, Travis Kelce, have taken the NFL by storm. In just five seasons, these two have become so recognizable that even casual football fans recognize their faces. They are a media and social media sensation. But Mahomes and Kelce are most well-known for their football exploits.

They have guided the Chiefs to 4 Super Bowls in five years, winning three of them. They have now won back-to-back titles, looking to become the first to win three in a row. Mahomes is a 3-time Super Bowl MVP, and Travis Kelce, with 907 receptions and over 11,000 yards, is one of the greatest tight ends in history.

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2. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers

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Possibly the most legendary duo in NFL history is Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Montana is regarded by some as the greatest NFL quarterback and Rice is at the top of most wide receiver lists. Together, they won two Super Bowls (each won three total).

Montana put San Francisco in the upper tier of the NFL with one great pass leading to a nearly two-decade run for the 49ers. Rice changed the way receivers were looked at. He was big, fast, and ran perfect routes. He broke nearly every single game, season, career receiving, and touchdown record in the NFL.

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3. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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Quarterbacks and wide receivers dominate the list, but this duo broke the mold. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski proved that a great tandem can include a tight end. They won four Super Bowls together. Whenever Brady needed a key pass or first down, it seemed that he could always count on the sure-handed Gronk.

Brady is typically acknowledged as the greatest player in modern NFL history, with seven Super Bowl titles in his ten appearances. He threw for 649 touchdowns and over 89,000 yards in his magical career. Gronk did his part with an astounding 92 touchdowns from the end position.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

4. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts

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The Colts have a glorious history with two of the all-time greats. Peyton Manning put up astronomical numbers in his 13 seasons with Indianapolis. Marvin Harrison was his go-to guy. In 11 seasons together, they set tandem records, collaborating for 961 pass receptions, 12,881 yards, and 112 touchdowns.

Manning, the 5-time MVP, and Harrison led the Colts to a Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears. Manning threw for 399 touchdowns and over 54,000 yards while in a Colts uniform. Harrison had 1102 catches, over 14,000 yards, and 128 touchdowns in his 13-year career in Indianapolis.

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5. Dan Marino and Mark Clayton, Miami Dolphins

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Has there ever been a better pure passer than Dan Marino? When playing with Mark Clayton, it didn’t seem so. This tandem hooked up for 82 touchdowns in 138 games. Clayton also caught 550 passes for 8,643 yards from Marino. The Dolphins were almost always an offensive juggernaut when these two played.

Clayton was great at running sharp routes yet maintaining his ability to make the catch. Marino’s quick release allowed Clayton to make great plays after catching the ball. They made it to one Super Bowl but, unfortunately, never won the big one. They are still a top-ten duo of all time.

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6. Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, Baltimore Colts

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Travel back in time to the 1950s, and you will find the original dynamic duo: Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry. These two are largely responsible for making NFL football the most popular sport in America. They were always great, but in 1958, they played and won the NFL championship in overtime in “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.

Johnny U. was the first quarterback to put up prolific numbers, setting NFL records for completions, yards, and touchdowns. Berry set career marks in the receiving department. But their fame was in their collective abilities to win. They also repeated as NFL champions in 1959.

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7. Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

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The most unique dynamic duo includes the collaboration between the Dallas Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith and the “Great Wall of Dallas”. Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards and rushing touchdowns (164), was the league MVP in 1993 and won three Super Bowls, where he was named SB MVP of the 1994 game.

Fans agree that his massive offensive line was part of that success. Larry Allen, 6’3” and 335 pounds, is regarded as the greatest and strongest lineman ever. He was joined by the “meanest” in Erik Williams (6’6”/324 lbs). Other All-Pros on the line included Mark Stepnoski, Mark Tuinei (6’5”/302 lbs), and Nate Newton (6’3”/315 lbs).

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8. Steve Young and Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers

The Most Dynamic Duos in NFL History (9)

The San Francisco 49ers have a rich tradition of great tandems. Steve Young and Jerry Rice are near the top. Young led the 49ers to a Super Bowl title in 1994 and won the league MVP along with the Super Bowl MVP as he threw for a record six touchdowns.

Jerry Rice is the most prolific receiver in NFL history. He caught 780 passes for 11,462 yards and 119 touchdowns in 137 games with Young. In most Super Bowls, Rice’s numbers in that Super Bowl would have won him the MVP, as he hauled in 10 passes, 149 yards, and three touchdowns.

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9. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, Dallas Cowboys

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Although their statistics aren’t quite as impressive as Montana, Young, and Rice, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin had more success together than the aforementioned duos. The Dallas Cowboys, under the direction of Aikman and Irvin, won three Super Bowls in four years to become the team of the decade.

Aikman is well-known for his precision passing. Irvin has quipped that he could catch an Aikman-thrown ball with his eyes closed. Aikman was named SB MVP, completing 22/30 passes, 273 yards, and four touchdowns. Irvin was a 5-time pro bowler and caught 641 passes for 9,949 yards and 54 touchdowns from Aikman.

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10. Jim Brown and Cleveland Browns Offensive Line

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The Cleveland Browns were a football powerhouse in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s. This is due in large part to the greatness of Jim Brown. He led the league in rushing in eight of his nine seasons and was league MVP four times. He amassed 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns.

Running behind All-Pro Dick Schafrath, John Wooten, John Morrow, John Brown, and Gene Hickerson, Brown led Cleveland to one championship (1964) in three trips to the title game. In that championship game, Jim Brown rushed 27 times for 114 yards. Many fans still consider him the greatest player ever.

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11. Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman, Green Bay Packers

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Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman. Just the words conjure up images of long passes on the cold field at Lambeau to Packers fans or a Super Bowl record. These two greats led the Packers back to the Super Bowl after a 29-year drought. Favre set records for yards and touchdowns during his career.

Freeman became a favorite target for Favre in the 90s, and the two became a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. Freeman was named a Pro Bowl receiver. But his fame came against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI as he raced 81 yards for a Super Bowl-record touchdown.


12. Drew Brees and Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints

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The New Orleans Saints had a long history of mediocrity. Drew Brees and Marques Colston changed all of that. The two combined for 706 passes, 9,709 yards, and 72 touchdowns in 144 games. Their incredible explosiveness culminated in a 31-17 Super Bowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Brees was named Super Bowl MVP for completing 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. The 13-time pro bowler broke many NFL career passing records. Colston is the most prolific receiver in Saints history. Saints fans will fondly remember them together as Super Bowl champions.

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13. Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowls go together. The most recent version includes Big Ben Rothlisberger and Hines Ward. Together, they guided the Steelers to two championships. Rothlisberger was a gigantic quarterback who led Pittsburgh to three Super Bowls in six seasons, beating Seattle 21 to 10 and Arizona 27 to 23.

Ward came up big, winning Super Bowl MVP against Seattle with five catches for 123 yards and one touchdown. Even though the Steelers focused on a power running game and a stout defense, Rothlisberger and Ward combined for 527 pass receptions for 6,408 yards and 46 touchdowns.

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14. Earl Campbell and Houston Oilers Offensive Line

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Anybody who watched Earl Campbell run the ball was mesmerized by his combination of speed and power. Highlight videos abound of him knocking defenders backward, tearing loose from multiple tacklers, then sprinting past others for touchdowns. A true superstar. But no running back is a star in the NFL without some help.

Leon Gray, Bob Young, Carl Mauck, Ed Fisher, and Morris Towns knew that if they paved a small path, Campbell would make the most of it. Together, they led the Oilers to the brink of a Super Bowl, losing in two AFC championship games to the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

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15. Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

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It is rare for defenders to be considered as dynamic duos in the NFL, but Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs were just that: dynamic. They were sack masters from the 1990s. Thomas won Rookie of the Year and was a runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.

Thomas led the league in forced fumbles twice, sacks once, and safeties three times as he led the Chiefs to AFC prominence and one AFC championship game. Smith led the NFL in sacks once and forced fumbles once. Together, they totaled 231 sacks in their careers.

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16. Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, New York Giants

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Lawrence Taylor is widely recognized as the greatest defensive player in NFL history. He teamed with Harry Carson to lead the New York Giants to their first Super Bowl title. Carson was a 9-time pro bowler. His ability to control his side of the ball allowed Taylor to freelance on defense.

Taylor was fierce. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times, 8-time All-Pro, and 2-time Super Bowl champion. He is one of the rare defensive players to ever be named league MVP. The Giants' championships were built on defense, and these two were the epitome of greatness.

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The Most Dynamic Duos in NFL History (18) Author Randy Bryan Last Updated: February 20, 2024

The Most Dynamic Duos in NFL History (2024)


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