Hall of Fame weekend has me thinking about the big picture of the NFL over time, which makes me think about decades. Every 10 years the NFL puts out an all decade team, so we’re about one year removed from seeing what that looks like for 2010-19.
Since we’re still a little ways from Chicago’s 1st preseason game on Thursday, I thought it would be fun to pick out who I think should be on the all decade team, though there are a few spots where 2019 could end up changing the pick.
I’m going to go with the most commonly used NFL personnel groupings, which on offense is 11 (1 QB, 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR, 5 OL) and on defense is nickel (2 DL, 2 edge rushers, 2 off-ball LBs, 3 CBs, 2 S). To keep it simple, I’m not going to worry about SS/FS, slot/outside WR, or nickel/outside CB designations.
Let’s get down to business.
QB: Tom Brady
Before even doing any research, I knew this was going to come down to Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. All have been really good QBs for the entire decade. Brees leads in passing yards and touchdowns, but hasn’t been 1st team all pro or won MVP in this decade. Rodgers and Brady both have 2 MVPs, 2 1st team all pros, and 1 2nd team all pro since 2010. Rodgers has slightly better individual stats, but Brady has played in 5 of the last 9 Super Bowls, winning 3 of them, while Rodgers has only played in 1. That nudges things in Brady’s direction in my book.
RB: Adrian Peterson
I went into this expecting to pick Adrian Peterson, but was surprised how difficult LeSean McCoy made this decision. Both players were 1st team all pros 2x since 2010, though Peterson has an edge in also being a 2nd teamer twice and winning an MVP. McCoy has an edge in volume statistics, however; he has about 1200 more rushing yards than Peterson, an extra 2000 receiving yards, and about 10 more total TDs. McCoy has been really good for longer, but Peterson’s peak was better, and I’ll lean in that direction. Todd Gurley is the only other RB with multiple 1st team all pro berths, but he only played in 4 of the 9 seasons and thus lags well behind the other two in volume numbers. Still, another 1st team all pro season in 2019 could put him in the discussion.
WR: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson
Brown and Jones were obvious choices here, as they’re clear of everybody else by about 1500 receiving yards since 2010 and have each been 1st or 2nd team all pro at least 4 times. The 3rd spot is a bit more up in the air. Three guys have put up great volume stats and been generally good but not consistently great for the entire decade: Larry Fitzgerald (4th in yards, 1 2nd team all pro), Demaryius Thomas (3rd in yards, 2 2nd team all pros), and AJ Green (5th in yards, 2 2nd team all pros). Calvin Johnson dominated the early part of the decade (3 1st team and 1 2nd team all pros) but retired after 2015; despite playing in only 6 of 9 seasons he’s 7th among WRs in yardage since 2010. DeAndre Hopkins has been dominant in the 2nd half of the decade, picking 2 1st team and 1 2nd team all pros in 6 seasons while coming in at 11th in receiving yards. I lean Johnson right now because his 6-season sample size was more impressive, but a big 2019 season from Hopkins would change that.
TE: Rob Gronkowski
This was a no-brainer choice. Gronkowski started his career in 2010 and had probably the best 9-year stretch of any TE in NFL history. Putting aside his excellent run blocking, Gronk leads all tight ends in receiving yards since 2010 by about 1300 yards. In his 9 seasons, he was 1st team all pro 4 times. If you were going to put together a 2nd team, the main guys in contention would probably be Jimmy Graham (2nd in TE receiving yards, 2x 1st or 2nd team all pro), Travis Kelce (7th in TE yards, 3x 1st or 2nd team all pro), or Jason Witten (4th in TE yards, 2x 1st or 2nd team all pro). My pick would probably be Kelce, especially after what will likely be another great season in 2019.
OT: Joe Thomas and Tyron Smith
Joe Thomas is a no doubt choice for one OT spot. He was 1st team all pro every year but one from 2010-16, with a 2nd team nod in the other year. The other spot is a bit more up for grabs. There aren’t many numbers to quantify OL performance, and Pro Bowls for OL in particular aren’t worth much, so I’m mainly going off of all pro selections here. Guys with multiple all pros to their name since 2010 include Jason Peters (2 1st, 2 2nd), Tyron Smith (2 1st, 2 2nd), Andrew Whitworth (2 1st, 1 2nd), and Mitchell Schwartz (1 1st, 2 2nd). I leaned Smith simply because he’s missed fewer games (118 played to Peters’ 112), but realistically 2019 should serve as some sort of tiebreaker for that spot.
OG: Marshal Yanda and Zach Martin
Like at tackle, I’m looking for all pro berths. Martin has only played in 5 seasons, but was 1st or 2nd team in all 5 of them, while Yanda has been 1st team twice and 2nd team 4 times. The other guard who popped up somewhat frequently was David DeCastro (2 1st team, 1 2nd team).
C: Maurkice Pouncey
Sticking with all pro nods, Maurkice Pouncey has been 1st team twice and 2nd team three times in the last nine years. Other guys I considered were Travis Frederick (2 1st, 1 2nd), Nick Mangold (1 1st, 1 2nd), and Jason Kelce (2 1sts).
DL: Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh
Despite only playing in 5 seasons, Donald was a no-brainer thanks to 2 defensive player of the year awards and 4 1st team all pros. He’s quite simply been the best defensive player in the NFL in the last 5 years, and is on pace to be one of the best defenders in NFL history. Ndamukong Suh is the other name who came up the most, as he’s been 1st team all pro 3x and 2nd team twice more. Other players I considered were Calais Campbell (1 1st team, 2 2nd teams, 1 defensive player of the year) and Geno Atkins (2 1st teams, 1 2nd team), but Donald and Suh really set themselves apart.
Edge rusher: Von Miller and JJ Watt
These were both pretty obvious choices. Miller leads the NFL in sacks since 2010 with 102.5 and has been 1st or 2nd team all pro in 7 of those 9 seasons. Watt is 2nd in sacks at 96.5, has been a 1st team all pro 5 times, and won defensive player of the year 3 times. The only thing I debated about with this was whether to put Watt as an edge rusher or defensive lineman, since he has played both positions. If I moved him to DL, he would bump Suh, and the open spot here would go to Khalil Mack, who has only been in the NFL for 5 seasons but has been 1st team all pro 3 times and defensive player of the year once. Right now Suh holds on due to longevity, but a monster 2019 from Mack could change that.
LB: Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner
These were both obvious choices that I didn’t really have to think about. Kuechly has been an all pro 6 times (5 of them 1st team) and won a defensive player of the year. Wagner has been an all pro 5 times, with 4 of them coming on the 1st team. Nobody else can compare to those resumes, though CJ Mosley (4 2nd team all pros) comes closest.
CB: Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Darrelle Revis
Peterson (4 1st team all pros, 4th in CB INTs) and Sherman (3 1st, 1 2nd, 1st in CB INTs) were both pretty easy choices for me. The last spot was a bit murkier. I considered Aqib Talib (1 1st, 1 2nd, 2nd in CB INTs), Darrelle Revis (3 1st team all pros), and Chris Harris (1 1st, 2 2nds). I ended up going with Revis because he had the best peak of any of those players, but a big 2019 from Talib or Harris could change that.
S: Earl Thomas and Eric Weddle
This was one of the most difficult decisions to make because there were basically three players for two spots. Thomas (3 1st team all pros, 2 2nds, 2nd in S INTs), Weddle (2 1sts, 3 2nds, 3rd in S INTs), and Eric Berry (3 1sts) were all worthy candidates. Berry ended up being hurt by his injury history; while he might have been the best safety of the bunch when healthy, he played in 6 games or fewer in 4 of the last 9 years.
K: Justin Tucker
This spot came down to 2 players: Tucker and Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski leads in field goals made and was an all pro twice (1 1st team), but Tucker has a better field goal percentage (90.1% vs. 88.3%) and has been an all pro 4 times (3 1st team). Advantage Tucker.
P: Johnnie Hekker
Hekker was the no-brainer choice for this spot. He’s been the 1st or 2nd team all pro punter every year since 2013, with 4 of those seasons naming him 1st team. His 47.1 yards/punt ranks 5th in average since 2010 among punters with at least 100 attempts.
Returner: Devin Hester
This was a surprisingly difficult selection. Cordarrelle Patterson has been the best kick returner in the NFL; he has been 1st team all pro twice and 2nd team twice more, is 2nd in total kick return yardage, 1st in average (minimum 50 attempts), and leads the NFL with 6 kickoff return TDs since 2010. But Patterson doesn’t return punts at all. Despite retiring after 2016, Devin Hester has been the best punt returner in the NFL over the last decade. Since 2010 Hester ranks 4th in total punt return yardage and 2nd in yards/return (minimum 50 attempts), and his 7 touchdowns lead the league. Hester was an all pro returner twice in that stretch, 1 1st and 1 2nd team. If I was picking only on one type of return, it would be Patterson, but Hester made an impact as a kick returner as well (3rd in yards, 17th in yards/return), which tips the scales in his favor. Another monster return season from Patterson in 2019, however, might change my choice.