NFL: The Best Offensive Players I've Seen by Position
A friend of mine recently navigated through the pages of Bleacher Report and noticed how many slide shows focus on the greatest players of a given franchise, position or whatever the flavor of the day is.
He wasn't shocked by the ideas behind the slideshows, but rather the athletes who popped up on some of the lists.
Most notably, he pointed out how often someone in their teens, 20's or 30's talks about a player from the turn of the century as if they are familiar with the athlete. He suggested some of the people on here start stop talking about the Ed Delhanty's of the world and start creating lists that focus on current players.
It certainly adds credibility to the piece and the last time I checked, credibility is the most important thing you can have on your side.
The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
News broke Monday morning that Terrell Owens recently underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL. Immediately following the report everyone began to wonder if his career was over and if he was worthy of being in the Hall of Fame.
Instead of wondering where T.O. fit into the pantheon of the greatest receivers, I wondered how he stacked up against the best receivers I saw and if he would be on a roster that included the best players I ever watched.
To give some background information about myself, I was born in 1982 and my first memories of football came around 1988 thanks to the Fog Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.
With a limited window, players like Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown can't be on the list because I obviously wasn't alive to see them play.
Players like Anthony Munoz, and Joe Montana were still playing, but I never witnessed the greatness of their entire career and what I witnessed does not do them justice.
Note: on the offensive line, I put players where they either played most of their career or made the biggest impact when they played.
Left Tackle: Orlando Pace
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The St. Louis Rams moved from Los Angeles in 1995 and they were a mediocre and forgettable bunch that eventually evolved into a downright pathetic team.
Their futility led them to the first pick in the 1997 NFL Draft.
Fortunately for St. Louis, the draft was not filled with skilled position players and they had no choice but to take offensive tackle Orlando Pace.
With a solid lineman in place the Rams started to pick up players like Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner and eventually won a Super Bowl thanks to one of the greatest offenses being anchored by the greatest left tackle I ever saw.
He was able to go up against a team's best pass rusher, handle him one-on-one and allow a statue like Warner to sling the ball all over the field to receivers such as Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
In the backfield, Faulk had his best years in St. Louis behind Pace.
Maybe that's what made Pace so great in my mind. He wasn't a one-trick pony who could only excel at pass blocking or run blocking. He seemed to dominate the game regardless of what the Rams wanted to do and in the process made everyone on the offense that much better.
Left Guard: Alan Faneca
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been the epitome of a smash-mouth football team and Alan Faneca may be the best person to represent that style.
In 13 seasons in the NFL, Faneca went to nine Pro Bowls, earned six All-Pro honors, missed just two games and put hundreds of defensive linemen on their backs.
Even late in his career he dominated young players who thought they could overpower Faneca instead of using different techniques to try and make a play, as seen in this article: http://www.aolnews.com/2008/10/30/between-the-lines-alan-faneca-takes-glenn-dorsey-to-school/.
Faneca was such a versatile player that he was moved to left tackle in 2003, made the Pro Bowl, and then went back to guard the following season to earn another trip to the Pro Bowl as the Steelers went 15-1 with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
In 2005 Faneca won his first and only Super Bowl.
Center: Bruce Matthews
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Bruce Matthews moved along the offensive line like a wide receiver going in motion. He did it seamlessly and executed the game plan to perfection.
Throughout his career, he started at every position along the line.
Regardless of where Matthews lined up, he was always one of the best players on the field, as evidenced by his record-tying 14 consecutive Pro Bowls. He went to Hawaii three times at right guard, six times at left guard and five times at center.
I knew one of the great things about Matthews was his longevity, but I never realized how great it was until I read on profootballhof.com that he played long enough to allow Jeff Fisher, his former USC Trojan teammate, to become his head coach.
Matthews capped off his personal accolades when he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Right Guard: Larry Allen
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Larry Allen played at left guard for nine of his 14 seasons in the NFL and went to the Pro Bowl seven times while lining up left of the center.
But the truth about Allen is that you could line him up anywhere and he would dominate a game. That is the reason he is listed at right guard.
In his other five seasons, Allen lined up at right tackle in his rookie campaign, moved to right guard for the next three seasons where he made it to the Pro Bowl each year and then shifted to left tackle, where he went to another Pro Bowl before settling down at left guard.
His most notable season may have come at right guard in 1995 when he helped Emmitt Smith rush for 1,773 yards and score 25 rushing touchdowns as the Cowboys won their last Super Bowl.
When the 2013 Hall of Fame class is announced there is little doubt in my mind Allen will make it with ease.
Right Tackle: Jon Runyan
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Something needs to be said about consistency, especially on the offensive line.
How long does it take a coach to say that the line is still gelling after someone goes down with an injury?
In nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Jon Runyan never missed a game and Andy Reid never had to worry about his line losing chemistry due to an injury at right tackle.
Similar to Pace, Runyan was a great blocker against the run or pass even though he found himself in a pass-oriented offense.
While Runyan provided stability at tackle, he routinely found himself starting next to different right guards. Despite the changes around him, Runyan played at a high level and made guards such as Jermane Mayberry, Bobbie Williams, Shawn Andrews, and Max Jean-Gilles better.
Shockingly, Runyan was only named to one Pro Bowl.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez
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Shannon Sharpe and Antonio Gates influenced the way tight ends play today.
Tony Gonzalez perfected it.
He can block well enough to allow his team to run the ball effectively. In Kansas City, he blocked for backs such as Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. In Atlanta, he's been fortunate enough to play with Michael Turner.
Each of those backs had great seasons behind Gonzalez's efforts. But the best thing about Gonzalez is his ability to compliment the running game with his pass-catching skills.
He ranks sixth all time in pass receptions with 1,069 and tenth in receiving touchdowns with 88.
His speed gives him an advantage against linebackers and his size presents a mismatch against defensive backs.
With 34 catches next year, Gonzalez will move past Terrell Owens, Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison to rank second in pass receptions behind...
Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice
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I could talk about the cliche lines related to his work ethic, how he's the greatest football player of all time and how many records he holds.
But whenever I watched Rice, I couldn't have cared less about those things. The thing I always noticed was how he caught a ball about six yards downfield and turned it into a 30-yard reception.
Rice is probably the king of a lot of things to a lot of different people. To me, he was the king of yards after catch, or as it's more commonly called, YAC.
He made the West Coast offense work to perfection and caused many teams to try to run it, thinking any receiver could catch a slant route and keep the chains moving.
Once in a while you see players like Larry Fitzgerald or DeSean Jackson show glimpses of what Rice did. And when it happens, the highlights splash all over SportsCenter.
Rice found a way to make those plays on a weekly basis and for him, it was just another ho-hum play that led his team to another win and eventually three Super Bowls.
Wide Receiver: Randy Moss
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There are two types of players that I root for: anyone on the Philadelphia Eagles, and whoever is playing against the Dallas Cowboys.
When Randy Moss lit up the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in 1998 as a rookie, I instantly knew he was going to be something I may never see again.
During his rookie season he hauled in a mind-blowing 17 touchdown passes. Even more difficult to comprehend was the fact he did it with Randall Cunningham at quarterback.
Now Cunningham wasn't a complete slouch, but having watched him in Philadelphia I knew Cunningham was clearly on the downward spiral of his career and he loved to make terrible decisions from the pocket.
The beauty of Moss was that he made all of Cunningham's decisions no-brainers.
The only thing Cunningham had to do was heave the ball downfield and let Moss make a play.
The strategy was so successful that Moss made quarterbacks like Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins and Matt Cassel look good.
And when he finally had a great quarterback to work with in 2007 by the name of Tom Brady, he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Regardless of whether you think he is a good teammate, you cannot debate his greatness on the field.
Fullback: Daryl Johnston
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There are no stats to backup what Daryl Johnston brought to the field. He simply passed the eye test.
When I watched Johnston play, he routinely opened up running lanes for Emmitt Smith, picked up blitzes to protect Troy Aikman, caught passes out of the backfield and ran the ball when called upon.
To say the Cowboys would have played poorly without Johnston may be an exaggeration. But if Johnston wasn't on the field, players like Smith, Aikman, and Michael Irvin certainly would not have put up the numbers they did.
Running Back: LaDainian Tomlinson
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I was fortunate enough to watch Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.
Neither could do everything that LaDainian Tomlinson brought to the table.
Sanders was explosive, racked up more yards than Tomlinson (15,269 yards vs. 13,404) in the same amount of time and made your jaw drop nearly every time he touched the ball.
But Tomlinson found the endzone more often than Sanders did and is currently third on the all-time touchdowns list.
Sanders could definitely score from his own side of the field, but so could LT.
The difference came when each player entered the red zone. Tomlinson was more physical and used it to score on goal line carries when he wasn't going over the top of the line.
Where Tomlinson blows Sanders away is in the passing game.
Tomlinson currently has 582 receptions for 4,323 yards while Sanders was only able to come up with 352 catches for 2,921 yards.
It begs the question: do you want a pure runner at running back or do you want versatility?
I'll take the versatile back every Sunday and like my chances.
The debate stays the same when you get to Smith, because he too was not a great pass-catching back.
The obvious points to make on Smith's behalf are his all-time marks of 18,355 rushing yards and 164 rushing touchdowns, and his three Super Bowl rings.
The counter for Tomlinson is that he was not fortunate enough to play on teams like the '91, '92 and '95 Cowboys, which were made up of some of the greatest players ever to play.
It always seemed like the Chargers leaned more heavily on Tomlinson, whereas Smith had the luxury of playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Troy Aikman, a Hall of Fame wide receiver in Michael Irvin and the support of an offensive line that many consider to be one of the greatest of all time.
Again, I will fall back on Tomlinson's ability to do more things on the field.
And if we could have somehow put LT or Sanders on those Cowboys teams, each would have won rings.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Since I only saw the tail end of Joe Montana's career, I am left with two options: Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
I wish all of the decisions were this easy because this debate is not even close.
Brady has three Super Bowls against Manning's one, holds an 8-4 advantage in games played head to head, and has done more with less on offense.
If that last part rubs you the wrong way, please go back and tell me what offensive weapons Brady had at his disposal when he won his first Super Bowl and then look at who Manning had when he finally won his first ring.
In case you want to live in denial, I will remind you that Antowain Smith led the Pats in rushing from 2001 to 2003, and Brady's two best receivers in that span were Troy Brown and David Patten.
When Manning won his lone Super Bowl, he had Joseph Addai, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at his disposal.
Even when Manning does make the playoffs, the chances of him advancing are not good. In 11 playoff appearances Manning has lost his first game seven times.
In Brady's eight postseason trips he lost the first game only twice, but to be fair that has happened the last two years in a row.
If you want stats and fantasy football championships, saddle up with Manning.
If you want a quarterback who wins and plays at a higher level in the postseason, Brady wins hands down.