Posted by Chase Stuart on February 2, 2010
Before the season began, I explained my choices for 90% of the decade's all-pro rosters. You can see them at the link below:
Through nine of the ten years in the '00, he was the roster I had selected:
First Team Second Team QB Peyton Manning Tom Brady RB LaDainian Tomlinson Marshall Faulk RB Priest Holmes Tiki Barber WR Terrell Owens Marvin Harrison WR Randy Moss Torry Holt TE Tony Gonzalez Antonio Gates OT Walter Jones Orlando Pace OT Jonathan Ogden Willie Anderson OG Alan Faneca Will Shields OG Steve Hutchinson Brian Waters OC Jeff Saturday Kevin Mawae DE Jason Taylor Richard Seymour DE Michael Strahan Julius Peppers DT La'Roi Glover Kevin Williams NT Jamal Williams Kris Jenkins LB Ray Lewis Joey Porter LB Derrick Brooks Zach Thomas LB Brian Urlacher Mike Vrabel CB Champ Bailey Chris McAlister CB Ronde Barber Ty Law S Ed Reed Troy Polamalu S Brian Dawkins Darren Sharper PK Matt Stover Jeff Wilkins P Shane Lechler Todd Sauerbrun KR Terrence McGee Josh Cribbs PR Devin Hester Dante Hall HC Bill Belichick Tony Dungy
The actual team, as chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, made some structural changes before announcing this decade's roster:
1) The recent all-decade teams did not select a pure fullback. In the '90s, four halfbacks were chosen -- Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis and Thurman Thomas. In the '80s, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Roger Craig and John Riggins were the choices at running back. While Craig and Riggins both played fullback, they were often the main ballcarrier on their teams and put up big numbers in a bunch of statistical categories. The idea of a pure blocking fullback making the all-decade team is new to the '00 roster.
2) Apparently -- and perhaps I'm missing something -- the selection committee has done away with the first-team/second-team distinction, and simply named twice as many players. Roger Staubach was the QB of the '70s and Joe Montana the QB of the '80s, and the second-leading vote getters were placed on the second-team; now the Committee selected twice as many players with no second-team. As far as I can tell, this is the first time this has happened (it's also possible that the Committee has *not* done away with the distinction, but the reporting sources have yet to catch on). Every article I've read indicates that the first-team/second-team distinction was eliminated, except for Wikipedia, which does have such a breakdown but cites no source.
Without further ado, here are the choices, listed alphabetically within each position:
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning
Running Backs: Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson
Wide Receivers: Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens
Tight Ends: Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez
Fullback: Lorenzo Neal
Offensive Tackles: Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Willie Roaf
Offensive Guards: Larry Allen, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Will Shields
Centers: Olin Kreutz, Kevin Mawae
Defensive Ends: Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor
Defensive Tackles: La'Roi Glover, Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour, Kevin Williams
Linebackers: Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis, Joey Porter, Zach Thomas, Brian Urlacher, DeMarcus Ware
Cornerbacks: Ronde Barber, Champ Bailey, Ty Law, Charles Woodson
Safeties: Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Darren Sharper
Let's go through the roster position by position and compare the actual team to my pre-season selections:
No surprise here. A healthy debate could ensue about Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, and others for the #3 spot. But even the most passionate Brady or Manning hater realized that this was a no-brainer. Most would agree that these two should have been the choices, and everyone would have guessed that these two would have been the choices. With no distinction between first/second-team, this was as easy as it gets.
I noted that after Tomlinson, the RB position was a mess. I put Holmes and Faulk on my team because of their dominant play during the decade; at least at the RB position, it appears as though the Committee valued longevity over dominance (highlighted by the Jamal Lewis pick). James and Alexander are solid selections; James was very good for most of the decade, even if he was low on dominance. Alexander had some huge seasons, but he only did so behind two of the best blockers of the decade, and he faded quickly. Lewis, though, is a head-scratcher. He's got the 2,000-yard season, and a few other solid years, but was a below-average RB for much of the decade. He's the ultimate compiler pick, a guy who was very lucky to enter the NFL in 2000. It's possible that voters discovered that Tomlinson, Alexander and Lewis were the only 10,000-yard rushers of the decade and that Alexander joined Tomlinson as the only other player to rush for 100 touchdowns. The Committee focused too much on compilers and not enough on ability and peak production, in my view, but the RB position was definitely a messy one to sort through.
Last summer, I wrote:
if you want a blocking fullback, take Neal. If you want a pass catching fullback, take Anderson. If you want an all around fullback, take Richardson. If you want a half back that lines up at fullback, take Alstott.
Neal was the chalk pick; for whatever reason, it's Neal that's been remembered by many sportswriters and fans as the best lead blocker of the decade. Neal is lauded for the number of different 1,000 yard-rushers he blocked for ((in the '00s, Eddie George ('00), Corey Dillon ('01, '02) and LaDainian Tomlinson ('03 to '07)), but Richardson has blocked for more ((in the '00s, Priest Holmes ('01 to '03); Larry Johnson ('05), Chester Taylor ('06), Adrian Peterson ('07) and Thomas Jones ('08, '09)). I highly doubt that more than a handful of the members of the Committee were qualified to choose between Neal and Richardson or Mack Strong or William Henderson or Fred Beasley. However, neither am I, and Neal is a fine pick.
Another easy group to select. Unless Steve Smith, Hines Ward or Chad Ochocinco had a historic season in 2009, this was written in stone a year ago (although I've got no doubt that Ward got some love over Holt by certain members of the Committee).
Gonzalez was one of the most obvious picks of the decade. If they did break down a first-team/second-team, I suspect that Gonzalez was a unanimous pick for the first-team and Gates was a near unanimous pick for the second-team. By nearly any measure, these were the picks.
I was curious to see which of the Big 3 -- Jones, Ogden and Pace -- was going to be left off the first-team. Jones, Ogden and Pace were the most decorated tackles of the decade, and as such were clear picks for this team. The 4th spot was a little more open -- here's what I wrote last June:
Who should be our four offensive tackle? Roaf, Anderson, Samuels and Adams stand out due to their Pro Bowls, but this is a two-horse race of Willies. Roaf has had the better career, but Anderson was better during the '00s.
While the Committee clearly favored longevity at the RB position, they ignored that Roaf was a starter for just five seasons in the decade while Anderson was a starter for eight years. Roaf probably had the higher peak, and as Jason pointed out to me, Anderson has the edge in All-Pro selections because the Associated Press took a LT and a RT each season; therefore, Anderson was up against much leaner competition than Roaf. Roaf had the better career and was probably the more dominant blocker overall, but a significant portion of his career came in the '90s. I'm on the fence with this pick, although one could argue that at least one RT should have been on this team.
Faneca, Hutchinson and Shields were the three most dominant guards of the decade. The 4th spot? I wasn't crazy about taking Brian Waters, and said he might need a big season in '09 to get selected. Objectively, Allen and Waters are the most accomplished guards of the decade after Faneca, Hutchinson and Shields. But Allen was making Pro Bowls largely on reputation for most of this decade, and his play really fell off in San Francisco. Waters played for longer, and Allen already made the All-decade team of the '90s; I don't think it's an egregious choice, but I would not have selected Allen over Shields.
Deciding who should be named at the center position was one of the toughest decisions in this process; I noted before that five players had legitimate claims to make, including Kreutz. Not much has changed in 2009, and I would have been content with any of those five centers (Kreutz, Mawae, Saturday, Matt Birk or Tom Nalen) making the team. I'm surprised Saturday missed the cut; he made more Pro Bowls and first-team All-Pros than Kreutz, and obviously was a part of much better offenses and more championship teams. I understand that Peyton Manning tends to get credit for just about everything that happens in Indianapolis, but Saturday has struck me as underrated for years. But admittedly, I don't know much about grading centers.
Strahan and Taylor were the obvious picks; they were the only two DEs to win the Defensive Player of the Year award during the decade. Peppers was not far behind them as far as both talent and production is concerned. For the fourth slot, I chose Seymour; more on him later. Absent Seymour, Freeney, with a decade-leading three first-team All-Pros at the position, is a solid choice for that last spot. Freeney was the best pure pass rusher of the last ten seasons, but he was one-dimensional; I would have selected Seymour or Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith. Smith didn't win many awards but 3-4 DEs rarely do; Smith has been arguably the best 3-4 DE of the decade and would have been a more well-rounded choice.
A lot of the choices for the all-decade team were simple, but I'm going to take issue with one of the few difficult positions there were to analyze. The Committee took the easy way out in more ways than one here.
For the most part, the three-technique or under-tackle player gets more accolodates than the space-eating NT, even though they're equally important players. A big-bodied defender in the middle can make an entire defense work, but often the Pro Bowls and the All-Pro awards go to the players who rack up the high sack totals at the DT position. That's why I chose to separate out my DT into two different groups. Glover and Kevin Williams were the star under-tackles of the decade, and the Committee agreed with me there. I also chose to take two tackles who play over center -- Jenkins and Jamal Williams both had season-ending injuries in '09, which hurt their chances in a crowded field. But the Committee could have still selected either of those players, or Casey Hampton (5-time Pro Bowl NT) or Pat Williams (run-stuffing extraordinaire for two different teams this decade). To leave Hampton, Pat Williams, Jamal Williams and Kris Jenkins off the team shows a lack of respect for the valuable role of the zero-technique tackle.
So who did the Committee choose in their place? Warren Sapp, who ranked as my third best three-technique tackle of the decade. Sapp was a worthy selection and is likely a future HOFer, but I'm not sure he deserves a spot over all of the names listed above. He had four great seasons and not much else in the decade. The Committee valued longevity at the running back spot, but ignored it here. If you had to put him on the team, I'd take him over Glover.
The fourth pick wasn't a defensive tackle at all, but 3-4 DE Richard Seymour. While a 4-3 DT and a 3-4 DE share many similar responsibilities, so do a 4-3 DE and a 3-4 OLB, and the Committee didn't put Joey Porter or DeMarcus Ware in as a 4-3 DE. There's no doubt that defensive ends have different responsibilities in different systems. Football isn't baseball, and positions are much more amorphous on the gridiron. But for the purposes of an all-decade team, or a franchise-tag, or whenever we need to list an official position, the actual name of the position he plays is what should be used. And Seymour's a defensive end. Putting him as a DT on this team was simply a way for the Committee to sneak Dwight Freeney onto the roster instead of a player like Hampton or Jamal Williams. The DEs are the glamour positions, which explains why they were willing to call Seymour (a 3-4 DE who often plays like a tackle) an end but not call Ware (a 3-4 OLB who often plays like a defensive end) a defensive end; the Committee wanted to throw as many defensive ends onto the roster as possible, as those players rack up the gaudy stats.
The Raiders played a 3-4 defense for the entire decade of the '80s; Howie Long was selected as a defensive end on the All-80s roster, not as a defensive tackle. The Buffalo Bills played a 3-4 front the entire decade, as well, and Bruce Smith was a second-team defensive end (not tackle) on the All-80s roster. Lee Roy Selmon was a DE in the 3-4 for the Bucs and that's how he was listed on the second-team of the All-80s roster.
If Long, Smith and Selmon -- just like Seymour -- were 3-4 DEs that were placed on their All-decade team as defensive ends, how can you justify placing Seymour at DT? In the '90s, Bruce Smith was again selected as defensive end on the all-decade team, despite playing in a 3-4 front for the Bills. The Committee ignored precedent and common sense in order to get Seymour on the roster in the most advantageous way possible, but it strikes me as intellectually dishonest.
By putting Seymour, Glover, Sapp and Kevin Williams on the team, the Committee effectively ignored the role of half of the defensive tackles in the league during this decade. All four defensive tackles selected were guys who were better rushing the passer than stopping the run, and all played alongside some valuable nose tackles who enabled them to rack up Pro Bowl selections and All-Pro awards. Giving guys like Hampton, Jamal Williams and Pat Williams some recognition by placing them on this team seemed like a no-brainer to me.
The Committee took three MLBs, two 3-4 OLBs and one 4-3 OLB. This might seem a bit odd considering that the majority of linebackers in the league in the '00s were 4-3 OLBs; 3-4 OLBs and 4-3 MLBs are the glamour positions, so no surprise here. I actually can't argue too much with the decision, because Brooks was by far the best 4-3 OLB that no other player looked particularly worthy of being selected.
Lewis and Brooks were slam dunk picks. Urlacher, Porter and Thomas have clearly been among the most dominant defensive players of the decade, so no surprise there. My sixth selection was Vrabel, which I admitted was a cop-out pick because of the lack of a star sixth linebacker. Well, '09 changed things: with another first-team All-Pro selection, Ware now stands out as the last star linebacker of the decade.
Lewis, Brooks, Urlacher, Thomas and Ware are the only LBs to be selected first-team All-Pro three different times by the Associated Press in the '00s; only one other LB was chosen even twice, and that was Patrick Willis. With just three seasons in the decade, Willis wasn't a viable option for the sixth choice. Porter -- who recorded 25.5 more sacks than the second highest player (Ware) and 37 more than #3, was also an obvious pick.
As long as you're comfortable taking just one 4-3 OLB -- and in light of the lack of good options, it's an understandable choice -- choosing the linebackers was very, very simple once Ware had another dominant season. Either Lance Briggs, Julian Peterson or Keith Bulluck would probably be the pick if you wanted another 4-3 OLB on the team.
Barber and Bailey made this team years ago. I think several guys were in the running for the #3 and #4 spots, and Woodson significantly boosted his candidacy with his DPOY award in 2009. Law was a terrific cover corner for most of the decade, and had some notable playoff performances. In a tight field, I think that's a reasonable tiebreaker. McAlister was mostly a "best of the rest" pick, and I probably would have put Woodson on my team after '09, too. No real complaints here; Revis and Asomugha are up there in quality but not quantity.
Four for four! I didn't predict Darren Sharper's breakout season, but thought he was a solid darkhorse candidate for this spot. Obviously his performance in '09 made him an even stronger candidate; now, Polamalu is the most questionable candidate. While his value was evident this year as the Steelers' defense collapsed without him, Polamalu started just 77 games in the decade, and unlike Ware, has some serious competition at the position. I still would have put Polamalu on my team, but I can understand chosing Lynch (120 starts, 7 Pro Bowls, ) or Rodney Harrison (105 starts) who were very good for significantly longer. All three safeties won Super Bowls during the decade, but Polamalu struck me (and most, I suspect) as the most valuable of the bunch.
The argument that Lechler's numbers are overrated because of his team's poor offense is becoming mainstream; that said, he still is a solid choice for this team. While the Chargers' Mike Scifres had another great season in '09, I'm happy with the selection of Moorman. He's been a hidden gem for years for the Bills, and while Saurbrun has been out of the league for a couple of seasons, Moorman set a career high in yards per punt in '09.
Despite little objective evidence to support it, you just knew Vinatieri was going to make this team. Stover was actually called out of retirement to take Vinatieri's place on the Colts this year, despite being nearly five years older. Stover was the most consistently successful kicker of the decade, while Vinatieri had three or four famous kicks and just as many big misses that were forgotten. Akers had a big season in '09, and seems like a decent selection considering he kicked for the entire decade and made four pro bowls.
Obvious picks here.
In my system, McGee and Hall came out on top, but that was before including the '08 or '09 seasons. I've got no doubt that Cribbs will vault to #1 in my KR rankings of the '00s after including those years. McGee also comes out ahead of Hall, and since we're already including him as a punt returner, why not throw McGee a bone here?
McGee has a much higher KR average for the decade and returned 2.4% of his kickoffs for touchdowns compared to just 1.4% for Hall. The argument for Hall would probably center on his longevity, but McGee has been the better kick returner.
Once again, obvious picks here.
Those were my quibbles. What are yours?