NFC West: Zach Thomas

 
  ESPN.com Illustration
  Best of the best: Michael Strahan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

 Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ranking the 25 best NFL players of the decade seemed easy.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson sent an initial list to me for review. The list appeared strong. I suggested a couple minor tweaks.

All-Decade Honors
Monday: Defense
Tuesday: Offense
Wednesday: Moments
Thursday: Team, coach, MVP | Rankings
Friday: Top players | Special teams

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The hard part came when we considered those who fell just short of the list.

Guard Alan Faneca has gone to eight Pro Bowls this decade. John Lynch and Will Shields went to seven. Brian Dawkins, La'Roi Glover, Kevin Mawae, Olin Kreutz, Matt Birk, Larry Allen, Chris Samuels and Zach Thomas went to six. Ronde Barber, Keith Brooking, Al Wilson, Julian Peterson, Donovan McNabb, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Chad Ochocinco were among those with five.

None of them made the top 25 list. Had all of them made it, only six spots would have remained for the 25 players you see in the chart.

We settled on five quarterbacks, four receivers, four offensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive ends, two running backs, two safeties, one cornerback, one tight end and zero defensive tackles (few dominated consistently for extended periods).

Seven of 10 league MVPs this decade made the top 25. Marshall Faulk, Rich Gannon and 2003 co-MVP Steve McNair were the exceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger made the list despite only one career Pro Bowl appearance. It's not his fault Manning and Brady play in the same conference.

2
ESPN.com's Top 25 Players of the Decade
Rk Player Pos. Team Pro Bowls This Decade Analysis
1
Tom Brady
QB NE 4 The NFL's Horatio Alger hero in cleats was drafted in the sixth round and became one of the greatest quarterbacks of a generation. The four-time Pro Bowler played in four Super Bowls this decade, winning three and being named MVP of two. (TG)

Peyton Manning
QB IND 8 The three-time MVP made eight Pro Bowls, was first-team All-Pro four times and won a Super Bowl this decade. Widely regarded as the league's most irreplaceable player. (PK)
3
LaDainian Tomlinson
RB SD 5 Without a doubt, Tomlinson is the best non-quarterback to play in this decade. He has gained at least 1,000 yards in each of his eight NFL seasons. One of the most consistent running backs ever to play. (BW)
4
Walter Jones
T SEA 8 Mike Holmgren called Jones the best offensive player he ever coached. That's saying something. (MS)
5
Jason Taylor
DE MIA 6 Few defenders can match Taylor's résumé. The NFL's active career sacks leader was chosen for six Pro Bowls this decade. Taylor was named the league's defensive player of the year in 2006 and the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2007 for his community service. (TG)
6
Champ Bailey
CB DEN 8 The gold standard of cornerbacks this decade. Bailey is a complete player who shut down the left side of the field nearly all decade. (BW)
7
Marvin Harrison
WR IND 7 Seven straight Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections and a Super Bowl win this decade. His 143 receptions in 2002 stand as the single-season record and he's got a 20-catch cushion on the next closest player. (PK)
8
Michael Strahan
DE NYG 4 One of the most prolific pass-rushers in history of the league. He was relentless and he helped lead the way to a world title in 2007. (MM)
9
Ray Lewis
LB BAL 7 Lewis is the top-rated linebacker of this decade with a Super Bowl victory and seven Pro Bowls since 2000. But No. 9 still seems a little low for the future Hall of Famer and one of the most dominant defenders ever to play the game. (JW)
10
Tony Gonzalez
TE ATL 9 The best receiving tight end ever to play in the NFL. If you don't think so, look at the top of every important receiving record for NFL tight ends. You'll see Gonzalez's name on every list. (BW)
11
Jonathan Ogden
T BAL 8 As the most consistent player on Baltimore's usually inconsistent offense, Ogden will probably never get as much credit as he deserved. But his football journey will land him in Canton soon. (JW)
12
Ed Reed
S BAL 5 In a decade when mostly hard-hitting safeties ruled the NFL, Reed brought "ball-hawking" back to the position. His hands, anticipation and knack for the spectacular play are as good as any safety in NFL history. (JW)
13
Torry Holt
WR JAC 7 Seven Pro Bowls, one first-team All-Pro selection, two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl win this decade with the St. Louis Rams. A major component of an out-of-nowhere team that became "The Greatest Show on Turf." (PK)
14
Randy Moss
WR NE 4 He was edged out by Torry Holt for the all-decade team, but Moss is one of the league's all-time greats. He has gone to four Pro Bowls this decade, averaging 77 catches for 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns. (TG)
15
Derrick Brooks
LB TB 8 Best player in Tampa Bay's history. Most important building block in Bucs going from laughingstock to Super Bowl champions. Brooks was a leader on the field and in the community. (PY)
16
Orlando Pace
T CHI 6 At the height of his career, Pace was the most dominant left tackle in the game. No one could get around him as the St. Louis Rams set a series of offensive records. Injuries have slowed him down recently, but he hopes to finish his career strongly in Chicago. (KS)
17
Kurt Warner
QB ARI 3 Took two franchises to the Super Bowl this decade and had three total appearances (one following the 1999 season). Still going strong. (MS)
18
Shaun Alexander
RB SEA 3 The only player in NFL history to score 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. Averaged 1,501 yards rushing and 17.4 rushing touchdowns per season over a five-year period. (MS)
19
Troy Polamalu
S PIT 5 Polamalu is just approaching his prime, but already has two Super Bowl wins and five Pro Bowls in six seasons. He has the potential to make the next decade's list as well. (JW)
20
Richard Seymour
DE NE 5 The Patriots defensive end has been All-Pro three times and a Pro Bowler five times. He's strong against the run and can create havoc in the pocket, collecting 39 sacks in eight seasons. (TG)
21
Ben Roethlisberger
QB PIT 1 "Big Ben" joins Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls in this decade. Despite joining the NFL in 2004, that was enough for Roethlisberger to make the cut. (JW)
22
Steve Hutchinson
G MIN 6 Considered the best guard in the game since shortly after Seattle drafted him in 2001. Has helped Minnesota rank in the NFL's top five in rushing twice in three seasons with the Vikings. (KS)
23
Brett Favre
QB -- 5 Finished last season atop the NFL's list for all-time passing yardage and touchdowns. (Interceptions, too.) Named to his 10th Pro Bowl at age 39. (KS)
24
Terrell Owens
WR BUF 6 He has put up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers and he continues to be a dangerous receiver into his mid-30s. (MM)
25
Brian Urlacher
LB CHI 6 The NFL's best defensive rookie in 2000, the best defensive player in 2005 and the captain of a team that went to the Super Bowl in 2006. A quasi-defensive back in college, Urlacher is a perfect fit for the Tampa 2 scheme that requires the middle linebacker to cover the deep third of the field. (KS)

Glossary
TG -- Tim Graham (AFC East); JW -- James Walker (AFC North); PK -- Paul Kuharsky (AFC South); BW -- Bill Williamson (AFC West); MM -- Matt Mosley (NFC East); KS -- Kevin Seifert (NFC North); PY -- Pat Yasinskas (NFC South); MS -- Mike Sando (NFC West)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Will from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering since a lot of people consider this year's class of quarterback to be not as great as others, and most have a possibility to be a bust, would it perhaps be better for the Seahawks to draft an OT in the first round, and then take Josh Freeman in the second?

 
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  An inside look at quarterback Mark Sanchez.

I believe what draws people to Sanchez over Freeman is the fact that Sanchez was made to look alot better then he actually is by the fact that he was surrounded by tons of talent in USC, whereas Freeman wasn't. What are your thoughts about this?

Mike Sando: I do think Sanchez benefits from the perceived lack of quality depth at quarterback this year. This Seattle team probably isn't going to win playoff games in the short term with anyone other than a healthy Matt Hasselbeck under center.

Every team needs to prepare for the future, but the Seahawks need to prepare for 2009. This team won four games last season. The fourth player chosen needs to help the team now. Another down season would signify the start of a trend, not tough luck.

I do see the other side. I do think Seattle needs to at least consider a quarterback at No. 4, if available. How many times does Seattle expect to draft this early? Might as well take a quarterback now while you have the chance to get a highly rated one.

It's a tempting thought, but I'm not convinced it's the most likely option.

(Read full post)

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