NFL Nation: Building Blocks AFC
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.
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