Professional football in the 1980s belonged to Lawrence Taylor and Joe Montana.
Super Bowls, MVP awards, Pro Bowls -- they had it all in their heyday. But who was the best of the decade?
Presented in conjunction with NFL Network's "Decades Month," NFL Media analyst Elliott Harrison ranked the top 20 players of the 1980s, taking into account how many seasons said players actually performed -- and performed at a high level -- during that 10-year period. He came up with Taylor at No. 2, sandwiched in between two ex-49ers and fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame members Montana (No. 1) and Ronnie Lott (No. 3).
"So much has been said about LT that it is difficult to add on -- except, it's not," Harrison wrote. "He's one of two defensive players in league history to win the AP NFL MVP award. That honor came in 1986, when Taylor lifted his all-world game to another level with 20.5 sacks as the best player on the Super Bowl champion Giants. Taylor played nine seasons in the '80s, earning AP First-Team All-Pro honors in eight of them.
"His one 'disappointing' season? 1987, when he racked up 12 sacks in 12 games and did indeed earn First-Team All-Pro honors from Pro Football Weekly. This guy completely redefined the outside linebacker position, and certainly left his mark on the 3-4 defense. Put another way, without Taylor, Jadeveon Clowney never goes No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft."
But why Montana over Taylor?
"Montana wins a very close battle with perhaps the greatest defensive player of all time," Harrison continued. "The reasons? A) Fair or unfair, as a quarterback in the era he played, Montana was able to have a larger impact on more games; and B) his performance in big games was superior to Taylor's. Montana threw 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions over four Super Bowl wins, earning game MVP honors three times. LT, as amazing as he was, can't compete with that little portion of the résumé."