NFL Nation: Building Blocks
ESPN.com asked each of its bloggers to construct a team to win the Super Bowl for the next three seasons using players only from within the division.
We were given 10 selections before, presumably, being forced to fill out the rest of our roster with open tryouts like the one that turned up Vince Papale for the Philadelphia Eagles.
1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots. If you're looking for someone to lead you to the Super Bowl, the top pick has to be Brady -- not only in the AFC East, but also the entire league. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has a lot of great years left in him. He will turn 32 in August.
2. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets. In his second pro season he emerged as one of the NFL's top cover corners. He intercepted five passes and went to the Pro Bowl. He'll turn 24 right before training camp.
3. Jake Long, LT, Dolphins. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008 had an impeccable season at one of the game's most important positions. Long showed no weaknesses in run or pass blocking, and was good enough to get sent to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
|Evan Pinkus/Getty Images|
|Tom Brady is back after injuring his knee in the 2008 season opener.|
4. Randy Moss, WR, Patriots. He's 32 years old, but we're gunning to be a Super Bowl team over the next three years. Moss has enough elite football left in him for that task, and we don't want to break up one of the game's most lethal passing combinations.
5. Vince Wilfork, NT, Patriots. Like three-quarters of the division, we'll stick with a 3-4 defense. Wilfork is an elite nose tackle and just 27 years old.
6. Nick Mangold, C, Jets. At 25 years old, he is establishing himself as one of the best. He would be a keystone on any offensive line. He already has been to a Pro Bowl.
7. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Bills. We selected Lynch over Dolphins catalyst Ronnie Brown, but Lynch is four years younger and runs much harder. Off-field problems are a concern, but based purely on running ability, the 23-year-old Lynch is entering the prime period of his career.
8. Richard Seymour, DE, Patriots. He's a five-time Pro Bowler, led the Patriots last year with eight sacks and doesn't turn 30 until October. What's not to like?
9. Calvin Pace, OLB, Jets. We need a speed-rusher for our 3-4 defense, and Pace offers the best combination of skill and youth. He led the AFC East in tackles for losses last year.
10. Vernon Carey, RT, Dolphins. There were quite a few players left to consider, but we went with the best right tackle in the division to give Brady a formidable offensive line. Carey will turn 28 in training camp.
A few notes:
- This is not a list of the 10 best players in the division. We were assembling a team and needed to distribute talent among all positions. Once I selected Moss, there wasn't enough room to consider Lee Evans or Wes Welker, too. Once I took a nose tackle, Kris Jenkins would have been redundant.
- As you can tell by my explanations, age played a major role. This team has to be good for the next three years. That ruled out big names such as Jason Taylor and Terrell Owens. It's also why I went with Long over Matt Light and Pace over Joey Porter.
- Jerod Mayo almost made the cut. He's going to be a star, but inside linebackers are among the easier players to find. I rated pass-rushing outside linebacker and right tackle to be more valuable positions.
- There are some talented, young safeties and guards in the
AFC East, yet none good enough to supplant the players on this list.
- I gave strong consideration to including Leon Washington because he's three threats in one: Running back, receiver and kick returner. Players such as him, however, are luxuries, not building blocks.
Start a team by drafting any 10 players out of the AFC South while aiming for a three-year long Super Bowl window. Factor in age.
That was the request.
In my thinking, we have to start with a quarterback and we have to more heavily consider receivers, pass rushers and cornerbacks. Still, this was somewhat agonizing. Here are the first 10 players I would draft in trying to build the winner of Super Bowl XLV through XLVII.
|Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI|
|Indianapolis' Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the division and the starting place for a Super Bowl contender.|
2) Andre Johnson, WR, Texans. He won't turn 30 until the final year of our window and he's a tremendous combination of size, speed, physicality and professionalism.
3) Mario Williams, DE, Texans. Already one of the most feared pass rushers in the league, he's only 24 and has bundles of sacks ahead.
4) Michael Roos, T, Titans. Athletic and smart, he'll adapt to whatever offense we need to run and be a quiet, super-steady presence.
5) Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans. The best young cornerback in the division and one of the best in the league has the speed, skills and temperament teams covet.
6) Chris Johnson, RB, Titans. Early versions of this draft included no running backs in the top 10 picks, as there are so many good ones to choose from we could address it later. Yes, Maurice Jones-Drew is great and Steve Slaton is dangerous. But opponents fear no offensive weapon in the division outside of Andre Johnson more than Chris Johnson.
7) Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts. Does he have three quality years left? Well, 10.5 sacks as a 28-year-old certainly helped the case, and who's the second best defensive end in the division for the next three years?
8) Michael Griffin, S, Titans. A very good all-around football player, who will consistently be around the ball and deliver big hits from the secondary. Going into his third year, he's heading into his prime.
9) Eric Winston, RT, Texans. Strong, smart and still has his best football ahead of him. Probably a coin flip between Winston and Tennessee's David Stewart for the spot opposite Roos. I give Winston a tiny edge as he is better equipped to play left tackle or guard if we need to make a move.
10) Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars. My first version had no running backs. Now I've got a tandem. A Chris Johnson-Jones-Drew tandem means there is a dangerous, versatile back on the field at all times.
Before the complaints roll in, a clarification and some explanations.
This isn't meant to be a list of the 10 best players in the division. The presence of Andre Johnson, for example, reduced the pull of Reggie Wayne. Wayne turns 30 this season, I expect he'll be productive for more than three more years, but am compelled to emphasize youth.
Go ahead, kill me on Bob Sanders.
Sanders is a great player, but as the scouting bromide goes, the best ability is availability. Based on his injury history I can't rely on him for 48 games over the next three years plus playoffs. The Colts have done OK without him in the lineup, and we will do OK building without him as a cornerstone. I had to go younger and healthier and look to other positions.
Texans LB DeMeco Ryans suffered a similar fate, as I don't put the same kind of value on linebackers as the positions I mentioned at the top.
Given all that, others who received my serious consideration were: Wayne; Stewart; Melvin Bullitt, S, Colts; Rashean Mathis, CB, Jaguars; Owen Daniels, TE, Texans; Steve Slaton, RB, Texans; Jason Jones, DT, Titans; Eugene Monroe, LT, Jaguars.
Thanks for your input, connected to this post from earlier this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
As part of our Ultimate Building Block feature this week, below is a look at the 10 AFC West players I would draft if I were building a team to try to win the Super Bowl after the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. The reasoning is based mostly on age and production.
There is some good, young talent in this division. The top five may be as good as any in the NFL. I originally had a list of about 40 players I had to whittle down from.
I have multiple players from the same position, in some cases, because this is a wish list. It's my draft big board. If I wasn't able to draft Philip Rivers, then Matt Cassel was my next quarterback on the list.
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|Nnamdi Asomugha is the highest-paid CB in the league.|
You may notice that there are only two defensive players on this list. That's a not a surprise, to me at least, since offense is the strength of the division heading into the 2009 season. Offense dominates this division and it dominates this list.
1 . Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego: Quarterbacks are the glue to the team, and Rivers has a chance to be one of the league's best for the next decade.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback, Oakland: Shutdown cornerbacks are franchise-type players. Asomugha is an elite cornerback and a special talent.
3. Ryan Clady, offensive tackle, Denver: If Clady were available in the 2009 draft, he may have been the top pick. He was brilliant as a rookie last season and has the makings of being one of the game's best left tackles for the next 12 years.
4. Shawne Merriman, linebacker, San Diego: Merriman could be listed higher next year if he bounces back from a knee injury. He is a premier pass-rusher.
5. Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, Denver: I'm not thrilled with Marshall's injury and off-field history, but he is a dominant receiver. He is already a consistent 100-catch talent.
6. Vincent Jackson, wide receiver, San Diego: Jackson is not quite at Marshall's level, but he's becoming a fine No. 1 receiver. He and Rivers have a special connection.
7. Matt Cassel, quarterback, Kansas City: Cassel likely will not be at this spot next year. The Chiefs quarterback will likely either shoot up the board or fall off it. We're going to see what he can do without the New England system and supporting cast.
8. Antonio Gates, tight end, San Diego: Gates has been dealing with injuries, but he is still a productive player and is a huge weapon for San Diego.
9. Dwayne Bowe, wide receiver, Kansas City: For all of the problems in the AFC West, it does boast some nice receivers and Bowe is one of them.
10. Knowshon Moreno, running back, Denver: I took the rookie over LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson strictly based on age. Banking on 30-plus running backs (both Tomlinson and Johnson turn 30 this year) is not a prudent way of building a team. I took Moreno over fellow youngster Darren McFadden because McFadden is not considered a three-down back.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Building a championship NFL franchise is not easy. It takes tons of scouting, hard work and a little luck.
This week, ESPN.com takes a look at players in each division with the goal of putting together a championship-caliber team over the next three seasons. The time frame is very important, because the projection may exclude several veterans currently at the top of their game who may be retired or struggling down the road.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 building blocks for the AFC North:
|Kirby Lee/NFL/Getty Images|
|At 27, Ben Roethlisberger already has two Super Bowl rings.|
1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: When building a team, it's important to have a winner at quarterback. The 27-year-old Roethlisberger already has two Super Bowl rings at the NFL's most important position. He will keep my AFC North team in the annual title hunt well into the next decade.
2. Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers: Currently approaching his prime, Polamalu is the most dynamic player on the league's most dominant defense. He also has two Super Bowl rings and is on his way to a Hall of Fame career. I want my franchise along for the ride.
3. Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns: Every team needs a stud left tackle to protect the quarterback's blindside. Thomas, 24, is already in elite company at his position in only his third season. More important, Roethlisberger won't have to scramble every game and take big hits on a weekly basis.
4. Terrell Suggs, DE/OLB, Baltimore Ravens: How good is Suggs? The Ravens used the franchise tag on him two years in a row. I don't blame them. Versatile and elite edge-rushers in their prime are hard to find.
5. Ed Reed, S, Ravens: Reed, 30, would be higher on the list if this was a one-year scenario. But recent ailments make it questionable whether he wants to play football for another three years and beyond. Reed even discussed flirtations with baseball, because it's much easier on the body. But pairing Reed with Polamalu, even if it's just for a few years, would give my team arguably the best safety tandem in NFL history.
6. Haloti Ngata, DT/DE, Ravens: Ngata's rare combination of size, strength and athleticism will help my franchise dominate the trenches for many, many years. He should develop into a Pro Bowl player very soon.
7. James Harrison, OLB, Steelers: Harrison, 31, should provide at least two dominant seasons over the next three years. After that, age becomes an issue.
8. Braylon Edwards, WR, Browns: I'm not big on building franchises around receivers. But Edwards is one of the best when he's focused. Being around other great players like Roethlisberger, Reed and Polamalu will keep him in line and productive.
9. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Every elite team has a good backup quarterback. It was a tough choice between Flacco and Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals. But because this quarterback will sit behind Roethlisberger for the next three seasons, it's safer to go with the younger prospect in Flacco, who is just scratching the surface and has tremendous upside.
10. Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Steelers: This wouldn't be a true AFC North team if I didn't run a 3-4 defense. Therefore, I need as many dynamic linebackers as possible. Because Suggs and Harrison are already coming off the edges, LaMarr Woodley wouldn't help as a third outside linebacker. So I'm going with the more versatile Timmons, who can start at inside linebacker and still play on the outside if someone gets injured. With Reed, Polamalu, Harrison, Suggs, Ngata and Timmons, this defense is the best of any division for both the long- and short-term.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
If you were allowed to draft 10 players from the NFC East to serve as the core of a Super Bowl contender for the next three seasons, who would they be? I asked you guys to answer this question Wednesday, and you responded in a big way -- as always.
Now it's time to reveal my list of players who will lead me to Super Bowls over the next three seasons. With the talent base in the Beast, this team wins three consecutive Lombardi trophies. OK, let's get to it:
1. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants: I think Tony Romo is capable of breaking through in the playoffs, but give me the young guy who has already done it. Manning is about to have a huge season. I'm talking MVP-caliber season.
2. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys: Ware told the Beast on Tuesday that he's ready to take his game to a new level. He's not worried about another 20-sack season. He wants to make players such as Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff more dangerous. He's the most dynamic defender in the league right now.
3. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Washington Redskins: He's the most dominant defensive tackle we've seen in years. He's virtually impossible to block one-on-one. I think he'll make a huge impact on the defense in '09. Enough to get the Skins to the playoffs? Probably not.
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|Eli Manning enters the 2009 season with 98 career touchdown passes.|
4. Asante Samuel, CB, Philadelphia Eagles: He's hands down the best cornerback in the division, although Terence Newman's close when healthy. The ball always seems to find Samuel, and that's the best compliment you can pay a defensive back.
5. Jason Peters, LT, Philadelphia Eagles: Fantastic move by the Eagles to land one of the top left tackles in the league. He's certainly the best left tackle in the NFC East, and he'll protect Donovan McNabb's blind side for the next two seasons.
6. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys: He's become the best all-around tight end in the league. He's a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. With T.O. gone, Witten could have the best year for a tight end in franchise history.
7. Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants: He took full advantage of Osi Umenyiora's absence to become the heart and soul of this defense. The smartest move Jerry Reese ever made was signing Tuck to an extension before the Super Bowl in 2007. Otherwise, Tuck would be preparing to break the bank. Also one of the best locker-room guys a team could have.
8. Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants: I think Jacobs gives this offense its identity. When he's running downhill, he's almost impossible to stop. When he was banged up last December, the offense struggled.
9. Brian Orakpo, DE, Washington Redskins: If the Skins use him properly (at the line of scrimmage), Orakpo will be an absolute terror. I don't like him playing the SAM linebacker on first and second downs, but you guys already know that. Fantastic college player who will be a big-time producer at this level.
10. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: I really struggled on this one because I have immense respect for Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss. But leaving Westbrook off the list didn't feel right. His injuries are a definite concern, but he's still a dangerous player. I think Westbrook has two solid seasons l
eft in him. So let's put him on the team.
Honorable mention: Moss, Romo, Newman, Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Leonard Davis, Trent Cole, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, McNabb, London Fletcher, LaRon Landry, Hakeem Nicks, Chris Cooley, Clinton Portis, Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, Osi Umenyiora, Corey Webster and Antonio Pierce.
So you want to be an NFL general manager -- or at least play one on the Internet? Then join me for this ESPN Blog Network exclusive.
The assignment is to draft 10 NFC North players who would make up the nucleus of a Super Bowl contender for the next three years. I'll open up the discussion with my choices. Your job is to bash me -- er, make your own suggestions -- in the comments section below.
On with it:
|Tom Dahlin/Getty Images|
|Aaron Rodgers beat out Jay Cutler as the quarterback for the NFC North's Super Bowl contender.|
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Every championship team needs a quarterback, and for me Rodgers is the most comfortable choice. His maturity and leadership are worth the sacrifice in arm strength relative to Chicago's Jay Cutler.
2. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota. The only position more valued than quarterback is a pass-rusher, and Allen is the division's best. He just turned 27 and has several prime years remaining.
3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit. He put up huge numbers last season on a team without a quarterback. Imagine what he could do with a permanent fixture at that position. He'll be a living mismatch for the next decade.
4. Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago. He'll turn 32 in the final year of our projected time span, but he could always move inside if his speed begins to diminish. Briggs could provide a steady veteran hand and I'm sure he'll maintain all of his playmaking tricks.
5. Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota. In three years, Greenway should be in his prime: A tackling machine, veteran experience and the speed of relatively young 29-year-old.
6. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. This wasn't as easy as you might think. Running backs face short career spans and aren't good long-term investments. But even if Peterson slows down in Year Six of his career, he'll still be at a high level.
7. B.J. Raji, NT, Green Bay. He is going to be a disruptive force for years in this division.
9. Steve Hutchinson, OL, Minnesota. If I could choose one player to set a tone for my offensive line, it would be Hutchinson. He will be 34 in 2011, but he won't be any softer. His nastiness will rub off on the rest of my linemen.
10. Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago. He might be an average blocker, but Olsen is a gold mine for a smart offensive coordinator who knows how to create mismatches.
A few things I kept in mind while making my selections:
- For the most part, I looked for players who would have at least three more highly productive years left in their careers. That ruled out players like Orlando Pace (age 33), Pat Williams (36) and Jason Hanson (38).
- I tried to keep in mind the concept of a 24-position team, including kickers, rather than just assembling the 10 best players in the division. You obviously can't find 24 starters with 10 picks, but you can make a strong effort at solidifying most position groups. Glaring holes tend to derail Super Bowl dreams.
- I resisted the urge to take both Rodgers and Cutler. Obviously, any team would be deeper with two quarterbacks of that caliber. But I chose balance over depth in this area and wondered about the realistic consequences of either Rodgers or Cutler riding the bench. (Even though this entire exercise is rooted in fantasy.)
- I gave a lot of thought to putting a kicker on this team. A reliable place-kicker can win a couple of games on his own during the course of the season. But I couldn't squeeze in the Vikings' Ryan Longwell or the Bears' Robbie Gould.
OK. I'm done. Now it's your turn.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The assignment: Design a team built to win Super Bowls for the next three seasons using players only from the NFC West.
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Larry Fitzgerald is a game-changer a team can build around.|
The project's roots date to a related item I produced last month. We're adapting the item for all divisions. I have revisited and tweaked my list, adding new commentary for each selection.
1. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals. Fitzgerald is still young and still ascending. Improving is important to him. He makes the spectacular play routinely and very rarely drops a pass. A game changer.
2. Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers. The division offers a few solid building blocks at the position. Willis stands out above the others because he's extremely physical without sacrificing range, and he is also proven. The result: He can punish people all over the field.
3. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams. No running back in the division can match his combination of size and speed. Frank Gore is also appealing, but Jackson gets the call because opponents fear him so much.
4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Cardinals. The most dynamic talent at cornerback in the division. Tall cornerbacks generally lack this much speed and maneuverability. Rodgers-Cromartie looks like a star in the making.
5. Marcus Trufant, CB, Seahawks. Trufant gives this team two corners with excellent overall skills. Trufant won't turn 30 until deep into the 2011 season.
6. Joe Staley, LT, 49ers. Staley brings the mentality of a mauling right tackle to the left side. And he hasn't missed a snap in his first two seasons.
7. Jason Smith, RT, Rams. Smith and Staley could be interchangeable on this team. Both seem to have the right temperament to play on the line.
8. Adrian Wilson, SS, Cardinals. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree filled this spot on my initial list, but this team should be fine with Fitzgerald. Wilson brings another fearsome presence to the defense.
9. Darnell Dockett, DL, Cardinals. The division features few standout defensive linemen in their prime. Dockett is one of them.
10. Brandon Mebane, DT, Seahawks. Let's give the defensive line another disruptive player on the interior. Mebane and Dockett would force offensive lines into difficult matchups.
The list does not attempt to name the 10 best players in the division. Fitzgerald's presence diminished the need for Anquan Boldin and other NFC West receivers. Willis' presence made it easier to pass on Lofa Tatupu, Karlos Dansby and even Aaron Curry.
The list does not include a quarterback because none projects as clearly viable for the three-year window. Kurt Warner will be in his 40s by then. (No player in his 30s earned a spot on my list.) Matt Hasselbeck must reestablish his health. Marc Bulger must reestablish his career. Shaun Hill and Alex Smith must win jobs.
Dockett can pass-rush effectively from the interior, but a game-changing defensive end or two would have been nice. Flag me down if you find a healthy one in his prime playing in this division. Patrick Kerney hasn't stayed healthy lately. I like 49ers defensive end Justin Smith's game, but is he a pure pass rusher? No.
Thanks for tuning in.
The assignment sounded simple enough.
"Draft 10 players from the NFC South only with the goal being to win Super Bowls for the next three seasons," my bosses in Bristol said.
After agonizing for way longer than I expected (particularly on the last few spots), I came up with my list. Let's be clear that this is not necessarily a list of the 10 best players in the division; otherwise I might have included veterans like Tony Gonzalez, Ronde Barber and John Abraham.
I'm working with a three-year window and I don't know if those guys will hold up for the long haul. Heck, I'm not even sure that someone like Julius Peppers, who probably is the best pure athlete in the division, will be around for the short term. That's why I left him off my team, which probably isn't one of the four he wants to be traded to anyway.
I'm going only with guys I can count on and I'm focusing on the most important positions. I'm guessing we can fill in spots like tight end and safety with free agents.
|Bob Donnan/US Presswire|
|The dynamic Steve Smith is the perfect receiver for Drew Brees to throw to.|
For now, here are my top 10 picks and, remember, I'm basing this on a three-year window:
1. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. You start a franchise with a quarterback and this guy threw for more than 5,000 yards last year.
2. Jordan Gross, T, Carolina. When you start with a quarterback, you've got to protect his blind side. Gross is the best pass-blocker in the division.
3. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina. If I were ranking by best overall players in the division, I'd start with Smith. As it is, I'll take him third and let him be Brees' top target. He originally was drafted in the third round anyway and this will keep the chip on his shoulder.
4. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. I'm taking two quarterbacks because I can. If the window had been five years, I probably would have started this list with Ryan.
5. Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta. Just imagine what Brees can do with a 1,500-yard rusher behind him.
6. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina. It's a close call between Turner and Williams, but I'll be happy to let them share carries. For those who disagree with the order, picture Williams behind Atlanta's offensive line. Now, picture Turner behind Carolina's. I rest my case.
7. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina. I've ignored defense so far, so I guess Sean Payton is the logical coach for this team. But Beason's the most solid defensive player in the division.
8. Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans. Can't ignore defense any longer and I'm going to load up on guys who've played the middle and just let them fly around.
9. Barrett Ruud, LB, Tampa Bay. Same logic as Vilma.
10. Chris Gamble, CB, Carolina. I came real close to going with Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White for the final spot. But it's tough to find shutdown corners and Gamble's the only guy in the division who fits that profile.