As 2010 approaches, lots of lists have been going up with titles like "The Top 10 Games of the Decade". With that in mind, I decided to make a list of the top player at each position during the 2000's, as well as the top head coach and coordinators. Obviously, some tough decisions had to be made, but all of these players are future hall-of-famers.
This is a very tough call. For me (and most people) this list comes down to Manning or Tom Brady. Brady has the edge in Super Bowl titles, but Manning has won one. Based on overall production, I give Manning the edge. His ability to read defenses and adjust to blitzes is amazing.
And yes, I know Brady has beaten him head-to-head. I know Manning has had some bad playoff games. I will even say Brady is the best qb to lead a comeback in the NFL.
But I'm sticking with Manning, whose numbers have been awesome every year.
LT was the most dominant back for much of the decade. Combining great size and power with explosive speed, LT could do it all. He was the crux of the San Diego offense, and this cannot be ignored when you look at Philip Rivers' development as an NFL quarterback.
As an Eagles fan, I would really like to put Brian Westbrook here, but Alexander was dominant for the first part of the decade, taking the Seahawks to a Super Bowl before his decline. Great combination of size, strength, and speed.
Randy Moss is one of the most talented players to ever set foot on a football field. Combining a 6'4" frame with sub-4.3 speed and excellent hands, the only question with Moss has been his attitude. While on the Patriots and Vikings, Moss was pretty close to unstoppable. He can beat you by running by you or jumping and getting the ball with defenders draped all over him.
Arguably the best route-runner since Jerry Rice, Harrison was a 1,000 yard machine for most of the decade. Formed a legendary connection with Peyton Manning, and was instrumental in the development of Reggie Wayne. Great player, great teammate.
I will probably get crucified for this. I hate Terrell Owens with a passion. That said, one cannot deny his production. So far, he has only had one season this decade with less than 1,000 yards (and he only played 7 games that year). Big and physical, TO was also a deep threat and played well into his thirties. Eagles fans can rip him all they want, but he did show a lot of heart by ignoring doctors' advice and burning the Patriots with 9 receptions for 122 yards in the Super Bowl.
This is quite possibly the easiest choice on the list. A great blocker, an elite receiver with great athleticism who played NBA summer ball, Tony Gonzalez is arguably the best tight end of all time.
Ogden was a beast at 345 lbs. He combined this size with great athleticism and was a force in the running game and passing game. You could make an argument for Orlando Pace, but he struggled with injuries and is a former Ohio State Buckeye. So I'm going with Ogden.
The Michigan product has been as consistent as they come. Minnesota running backs have had great success running behind Hutchinson, as did Shaun Alexander before Hutchinson left Seattle.
I was originally going to pick Matt Birk here, but considering that he played much of his career next to Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie and Jeff Saturday did not, I gave the nod to Saturday. Saturday is an extremely intelligent player and anchored a line that does a lot of pass-blocking for Peyton Manning.
A pretty easy choice. An 8-time Pro Bowler, Faneca anchored the power running Pittsburgh Steelers, helping them win a Super Bowl. Now, he is part of arguably the best offensive line in football with the New York Jets.
Few players played with the kind of mean streak with which Jon Runyan played. Runyan rarely missed a game and was widely acknowledged as one of the toughest players in the NFL. A constant on the Eagles' offensive line which kept Donovan McNabb upright in their pass-heavy West Coast Offense.
The unsung hero in LaDainian Tomlinson's success was Lorenzo Neal. Neal was a great blocker who could also carry the ball occasionally. After leaving the Chargers, Neal helped resurrect the Baltimore Ravens offense.
His record-setting 22.5-sack season aside, Strahan was a nightmare for opposing offenses. Four seasons with 10+ sacks in the decade, and was part of arguably the greatest defensive line performance in Super Bowl history.
A freakish athlete, Taylor showed a graceful side by appearing on Dancing With The Stars. Taylor was effective against both the pass and the run, consistently anchoring the Dolphins defense and pressuring the passer while also forcing a great deal of fumbles.
Together with his brother Pat, Kevin Williams forms a brick wall in the interior of the Vikings' defensive line. He is also a great pass rusher, with two double-digit sack seasons. Arguably the most complete defensive tackle, Williams is what Albert Haynesworth would be if he was motivated all the time.
Another complete defensive tackle, Sapp was versatile enough to play defensive end as well. He posted 16.5 sacks for Tampa Bay in 2000, and was the key component of their fierce defense that netted Brad Johnson a Super Bowl. Sapp is a future Hall-of-Famer who played well for a long time into the twilight of his career.
A safety in college, Brian Urlacher moved to middle linebacker in the NFL and hasn't missed a beat. Perhaps the most versatile linebacker in the game, Urlacher is a force in coverage as well as against the run. His play makes the entire Chicago defense better.
Yes I know I have two middle linebackers on this list. Sue me. Leaving Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher off of this list is just blasphemy. An emotional leader, Lewis is another player capable of forcing a fumble, jarring a running back, or returning an interception for a touchdown on any given play. Vital part of the 2000 Super Bowl Baltimore Ravens legendary defense.
Although he did not play in the early part of the decade, the former fourth-round pick has been close to unstoppable as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. With 20 sacks last season, Ware shows no signs of slowing down and has often made up for other inconsistent players on the Dallas defense. An absolute physical freak, Ware blends elite quickness with great strength.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans should acknowledge that Brooks is probably the greatest player in Buccaneer history, and one of the all-time defensive greats. Combining fierce intensity with great coverage skills and big hits, Brooks had to always be accounted for by offenses. 2002 defensive player of the year and a big reason that Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl.
For a while, the conversation about the best cornerback in football began and ended with Champ Bailey. A former first-round pick out of Georgia, Bailey did not miss a step after being traded from Washington to Denver. He continues to be an elite corner deep into his career as part of an aging but savvy secondary that includes another member of this list.
Woodson has played for a few teams, but one thing has remained the same: his playmaking ability. Even as he has aged, Woodson has not let up. This was evidenced as recently as last week, when he shut down Calvin Johnson, a player who is physically in a different league from Woodson. The former Heisman trophy has dominated since entering the league and shows no signs of slowing down.
As soft-spoken off the field as he is dynamic on the field, Troy Polamalu has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl victories. Combining physicality with outstanding athleticism, Polamalu has revolutionized the strong safety position. Though he did not play the first few years of the decade, his stats, success, and impact dictate his inclusion in this list.
With apologies to Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins has to be on this list. A leader in every sense of the word, Dawkins was the backbone of the fierce Jim Johnson defenses of the 2000's. Whether he was coming for the quarterback on a delayed blitz, putting a running back on his back, or covering a receiver, Dawkins was a playmaker in every sense of the word. At 34, he left the Eagles for the Denver Broncos and has helped turn last year's 30th-ranked defense into an elite unit. What he has lost in speed he makes up for with intelligence and intensity. A true football warrior.
A very easy choice. Hester returned 11 kicks for touchdowns, to break the NFL's CAREER mark, after just TWO seasons. He has made the transition to wide receiver well, and was able to change the course and strategy of games with his ability. No other returner in the history of the NFL has been as consistently dangerous as Devin Hester.
There may be kickers who have been more accurate, and there may be kickers with bigger legs. But, ultimately, a kicker should be judged on his ability to hit a tough kick in a clutch situation. Vinatieri, who has kicked two game-winning field goals in Super Bowls and been instrumental in a third, i alone at the top based on this criterion.
Lechler received one of the highest contracts ever for a punter, and with good reason. Since the beginning of the decade, Lechler has been one of the best at his position and he has improved over the last couple of years to the point where he is in a class of his own.
Cameron coordinated the explosive Chargers offenses from 2002-2006 and helped develop Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Recently, he has resurrected the Baltimore Ravens offense and eased the transition of Joe Flacco to the NFL.
With respect to Dick Lebeau, nobody could game plan defensively like Jim Johnson. A genius with blitzes, Johnson's impact has been felt throughout the NFL. Many elite assistants like Ron Rivera and Steve Spagnuolo worked under Johnson and brought his style to other places. One of the most creative minds in the NFL, Johnson passed away earlier this year. Rest in peace, Jim. The NFL misses you.
Spygate and questionable 4th down calls aside, you cannot argue with Belichick's results. Three Super Bowls this decade are the most for any team in the 2000's, and his victory over the 2001 St. Louis Rams was legendary. Belichick did more with less early in the decade. Through injuries, trades, and free agency, the Patriots consistently contend, and credit has to be given to the coach.