Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Tom Brady got many of the NFL headlines a year ago, but it was a mostly unknown, Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, who led the way in overall pro football compensation. Johnson earned a stunning $34 million during the 2011 season, the first of a six-year, $72 million contract.

That's all the more impressive when you consider the average NFL fan has no idea what he looks like.

Aside from Johnson, ESPN released a list of the top paid athletes in 31 sports based on salaries and or prize money from 2011. These large sums of money don't include all the extra cash athletes earned from endorsements, appearances and sponsorship deals.

So outside of baseball's Alex Rodriguez ($30,000,000) and the NBA's Kobe Bryant ($25,244,000), who cashed in among the lesser-known athletes?

Next time you play darts with friends, dazzle them with details of Phil Taylor, who earned $938,497 last year in dart tournament prize money.

Taylor's story is just the tip of the legal tender ice berg.

Manny Pacquiao was the top earning athlete, listed at a stunning $50,000,000 for two WBO title fights.

Many people turn to racquetball for a good workout, but Kane Waselenchuk cashed in $270,000 for taking part on the International Racquetball Tour in 2011.

Money doesn't grow on trees, but competitive eater Joey Chestnut found $205,000 in hot dog buns. And they say overindulgence doesn't pay.

Sled dog racing wasn't exactly a road to riches for Dallas Seavey, but $50,400 for winning the 2012 Iditarod isn't chump change.

When not Tebowing, Lindsey Vonn took home $612,417 from World Cup Skiing prize money a year ago.

Silvano Alves cashed in $1,461,964 by staying on large animals with the Professional Bull Riders in 2011.

Professional surfing definitely has some liquid assets. Kelly Slater led the men with $556,250 while Carissa Moore topped the women at $114,900.

All things considered, if you reach the top of your sport, no matter what it is, you'll end up making a nice living.

-- Follow Ben Maller on Twitter @BenMaller.

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