This team isn't simply a list of the best guys in the NFL at each position. It's the guys whom you would take if you were GM and were starting a new team and could pick from any position.
So obviously you would want to keep in mind a guy's age. Kurt Warner (age 37) is essentially useless, because he's got just a few years left. You want to keep in mind age, injury level, and obviously, talent.
For running backs, keep in mind the mileage they have so far. With that in mind, here's my team.
You absolutely have to take Matt Ryan (23). Who else would you pick if you were starting a team? Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are both over 30. I personally wouldn't take Eli Manning, simply because I think Ryan is just as good, and he's younger.
Besides, it's not every year a rookie QB starts every game and takes his team to the playoffs (and no disrespect to Joe Flacco, but I think Ryan is a lot more crucial to the success of his team).
There were a lot of great rookie running backs this year in the NFL: Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and Jonathan Stewart.
But there is only one Adrian Peterson. (Actually there are two...But only one is any good). This guy is someone special. Just 23 years old and he's already got two Pro Bowls and over 3,000 yards rushing. The way he is playing now, no records are safe.
I also gave some consideration to DeAngelo Williams, who is one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
I guess I should take two of them here. I'm gonna rule out all the older vets: Randy Moss, T.O., and Hines Ward. Braylon Edwards would have been on the team, but he dropped off my list.
I think Steve Smith is the best wide receiver in football, but he's pushing 30. I can't leave the NFL's leader in catches (115) and yards (1,575) off my list. So Andre Johnson (27) gets the first spot.
The final spot is between Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, and Calvin Johnson. I'm going to give it to Calvin Johnson (23) because of age, more upside, and I just think he has more overall talent.
Tony Gonzalez will be 33 in a month and he still put up the best statistics of any tight end in the NFL. But I just can't take him at that age. I would have said Antonio Gates. But he didn't put up quite as good of numbers as I expected—he was just third among tight ends in receiving yards within his division.
I have to get past my hatred of the Cowboys, and take Jason Witten (26). That pick ought to make Tony Romo happy. Witten is a beast. I don't know if I've ever seen a guy break tackles as routinely as he does. And he's a killer blocker.
It's always tough to evaluate offensive linemen. So I'm going to have to go by what I've seen in highlights, or read on ESPN or magazines. I can't pass up Ryan Clady (22). A rookie who made the All-Pro team: That's pretty impressive.
And Joe Thomas (24) of the Browns has made two Pro Bowls in two seasons in the NFL. Both of those guys should hold down the line for another 10 seasons or more.
Steve Hutchinson is widely regarded as the best offensive lineman in football. I know he's 31, but he's made six straight Pro Bowls. And offensive linemen can play into their late 30s. I was very tempted to put him on this list. But I like two younger guys: Chris Snee (27) of the Giants and Kris Dielman (27) of the Chargers. Both are Pro Bowlers and just in their mid-20s.
Nick Mangold of the Jets is one of the best centers in the NFL today—and he's still just 24. He's a great run blocker and helped Thomas Jones earn a Pro Bowl invitation for the AFC this year.
There are a lot of great defensive ends in the NFL. Julius Peppers is a physical freak, although he is in his seventh season. Jared Allen had two great back-to-back years, although I think he plays for sacks too much and not so much to stop the run.
And I thought of some other guys—John Abraham, Dwight Freeney, Trent Cole, Aaron Kampman—but I went with two of the youngest guys: Justin Tuck (25) and Mario Williams (23).
Tuck played the entire season without Umenyiora or Strahan to take pressure off of him and still managed to record 12 sacks against almost entirely double and triple teams. And Williams has proven he was worth the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, with his second consecutive double-digit sack season. Both of them should be good for many more years to come.
Albert Haynesworth (27) was an MVP candidate for much of the season as a defensive tackle, and he helped the Titans finish with the NFL's best record. My other tackle is Haloti Ngata (24) of the Ravens, who should have made the Pro Bowl this season. He had a fabulous season and helped free up space for Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to make plays.
I was tempted to take Ray Lewis here. I know he's 33, but he's still one of the best players in the NFL, and the Ravens would not be what they are without him in their defense. But Patrick Willis (23) of the 49ers is a tackling machine...and about 10 years younger.
He was my preseason pick for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and while he didn't win it, he sure didn't disappoint, racking up 141 tackles on the way to his second straight Pro Bowl invitation.
Should I pick Merriman or not? He's still very young and a physical freak—even when he's not on steroids. And he racks up sacks like they're tackles. So even though he missed last year due to injury, I'm going to put Shawne Merriman (24) on my squad and hope for 15 sacks a year from him.
And the other spot goes to DeMarcus Ware(26), who led the NFL with 20 sacks, and could break the single-season record in one of the upcoming years. By the way, I was tempted to go with two Cowboys, and put Bradie James on this list, but I think Merriman is a little better, and he doesn't have Ware on the other side taking pressure off him.
Champ Bailey has been the NFL's best cornerback since the turn of the millennium. But he's into his 30s now, and I think Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha (27) has replaced him as the league's elite cover corner.
A former seventh-round pick, Corteland Finnegan (24) of the Titans, gets my other slot. He was widely regarded as the NFL's best defensive player over the first four weeks and he plays tough, physical defense.
Ed Reed (30) plays free safety for my team. Easiest selection of this entire list. He was the best player in football this season. He might go down as the greatest safety of all-time. He's so good that I don't even care if he's 30.
Strong safety is Troy Polamalu (27). With those two guys back in my secondary, I don't think teams would throw a touchdown against this defense all year.
Kickers can play until they're 40 or 45 (just ask those Morten Andersen), so I really didn't focus on age too much here. And Stephen Gostkowski (24) is probably the best kicker in the NFL. He's terrific on kickoffs and he made 90 percent of his field goals, including 10-for-12 on field goals from 40 or more yards.
Shane Lechler (32) is widely regarded as the best punter in the NFL, with five All-Pro selections during his career. I almost took Mike Scifres of the Chargers for his amazing performance in the wild-card round of the playoffs, but I can't take a guy simply because of one game.
I still am taking Devin Hester. I know he didn't have a great year, and didn't break any returns for touchdowns. But he's just 26 years old and he's bound to bounce back next season for me.
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