Picking an all-decade team in the NFL sounds simple, right? Just pick the best players and go from there.
It sounds easier than it actually is. After all, there are thousands of players each year who play the game. And how do you measure greatness? Is it two or three outstanding years? Is it solid play over the course of the decade? There are a lot of factors involved.
That was my task this week. As one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors, I was additionally tasked by the NFL with submitting my ballot for the NFL’s All-Decade Team.
This was a big deal. When we were discussing the merits of potential Hall of Fame players at the selection meeting back in early February, players who were chosen for the All-Decade Team carried more weight. My vote could affect who does and who doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame in future years. Because of that, I took the vote very seriously, researching each position and sifting through the past decade with a fine-toothed comb.
By now, my ballot has been submitted, so I’ll share with you my choices and some of the reasoning for those picks.
Realize that we were tasked with picking not just a first team, but a second team as well. And at every position, multiple players had to be chosen on both teams.
We’ll go over the offense and specialists today, saving the defense and coaches for later in the week.
First team: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers
Second team: Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning
This was tough. I had to leave off Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, a pair of obvious Hall of Fame players. Brady and Rogers were slam dunks. Wilson has been outstanding and been to two Super Bowls, winning one, and Manning, despite playing only half the decade, did the same. And he had a 55-touchdown season in there, as well.
First team: Adrian Peterson, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Marshawn Lynch
Second team: Frank Gore, Arian Foster, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley
This list was much tougher than I thought it would be. So many players had good stretches for a year or two and then fizzled out. The first-team guys were largely no-brainers. The second team consisted of players who had shown longevity, even if they weren’t necessarily a star (Gore) and those who had some outstanding seasons (Foster, McCaffrey, Gurley).
OFFENSIVE FLEX PLAYER
First team: LeSean McCoy
Second team: Jamaal Charles
McCoy and Charles easily could have been on the running backs list. But I thought they were much more useful weapons, in some cases, than the other backs. McCoy was initially on my second-team running back list, but I wanted to get him on the first-team, so he went in as a flex player. Charles was a more productive version of Alvin Kamara, who didn’t make the cut because he isn’t used enough as a running back.
First team: Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins
Second team: A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans
The first-team guys were slam dunks. I went back and forth between Fitzgerald and Demaryius Thomas on the second team. Fitzgerald is an all-time great. Thomas had 724 catches for 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns in the decade. Fitzgerald (855-10,016-61) beat him everywhere except touchdowns. There were some other deserving players, but it really came down to those two.
First team: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce
Second team: Zach Ertz, Greg Olsen
I gave Olsen the nod over Jason Witten and Antonio Gates because he’s the more explosive player. Olsen also had three 1,000-yard seasons compared to two for Witten and none for Gates. George Kittle was great in 2019, but that was largely it for him -- so far. He does have a leg up on making this team in the 2020s. Sorry, Steelers fans, Heath Miller was great in the early portion of the decade, but he didn’t play long enough to make the cut with these guys.
First team: David Bakhitari, Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas, Jason Peters
Second team: Andrew Whitworth, Trent Williams, Joe Staley, Mitchell Schwartz
There are a lot of Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections among this group. It was easily the most decorated group on the list. And all will get Hall of Fame consideration at some point in the future. Even at that, I had to leave some other good players off the list – Duane Brown, Ryan Clady. Schwartz is the only player on the list who wasn’t an All-Pro player multiple times. And the only reason for that is because he’s the only right tackle on the list. And until recently there was no designation between right and left tackles, so the best left tackles were chosen for the All-Pro teams and right tackles were habitually ignored.
First team: Zack Martin, Jahri Evans, Marshal Yanda, David DeCastro
Second team: Joel Bitonio, Keleche Osemele, Josh Sitton, Logan Mankins
This was tough. The first four guys were all deserving, as was Mankins, a five-team Pro Bowl player and four-time All-Pro. I went with DeCastro over Mankins because he’s played more in the decade. Mankins’ final season was in 2015. Trai Turner, who was recently traded from the Panthers to the Chargers, also deserved some consideration, as did Mike Iupati. Quenton Nelson is the new wunderkind at the position, but he hasn’t done it long enough to break onto this list.
First team: Travis Frederick, Jason Kelce
Second team: Maurkice Pouncey, Alex Mack
I know Steelers fans are going to give me grief on this one. Pouncey has been outstanding in the decade. His eight Pro Bowls and five times on the All-Pro team are the most of any center in the decade. And he’s a likely Hall of Fame player because of it. But Frederick is considered an all-time great and, to me, Kelce has been better than Pouncey over the latter part of the decade. We’re splitting hairs here. All four are great players. But somebody had to be on the first team and somebody had to go on the second.
First team: Justin Tucker, Stephen Gostkowski
Second team: David Akers, Matt Prater
What, no Adam Vinatieri on this list? Nope. Tucker is the best kicker of all-time. And it’s not close. Gostkowski and Akers were the only other kickers in the decade to be named All-Pro more than once. And Prater’s distance kicking – even when he moved over to Detroit from Denver – put him on the team. Vinatieri? He was All-Pro once, hasn’t handled kickoffs in years and rarely attempted kicks of over 50 yards. He might be the most overrated player in league history. Gostkowski was a much better kicker for the Patriots.
First team: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Lockett
Second team: Leon Washington, Devin Hester
Patterson has been the best kick returner of the generation and is one of the best to do it in league history. Lockett was an All-Pro kick returner before becoming the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver and still handles those duties. Washington returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2010 and added another TD in 2012. He was dynamic in that respect. A large bulk of Hester’s great returns came in the 20-aughts. He was still good in the 2010s, but not like he was previously.
First team: Tyreek Hill, Darren Sproles.
Second team: Tarik Cohen, Dexter McCluster
Hill and Sproles were two of the scariest players in the league with the ball in their hands on a punt return. Hill has four touchdowns on punt returns. Sproles had five in the decade. Cohen and McCluster are specialists who excelled at it, as well. Perhaps Diontae Johnson cracks this list in the next decade if he continues to do it after leading the league in punt return average in 2019.
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