Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Jun 2012

LaDainian Tomlinson Retires

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, LaDainian Tomlinson will sign a ceremonial one-day contract to retire as a member of the Chargers.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 17 Jun 2012

128 comments, Last at 24 Jun 2012, 9:19am by DisplacedPackerFan


by andrew :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 2:01pm

I think he is easily HOF. But for some reason I don't think the same about Curtis Martin, who had 500 more yards.

(let me be clear I'm not saying Martin isn't, just not the slam dunk I think LT is).

I remember during that playoff game at the end of the 2006 season Aaron mentioning that Patriots fans were ecstatic any time they could hold him to a 5 yard gain...

by chemical burn :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 2:46pm

Martin just got in. (or technically will be inducted in August, I guess.) I think let will be first ballot, though...

by Tim Wilson :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 5:47pm

I read the first sentence here and thought "Well that's absurd that there's even a question, of course LDT is a Hall of Famer" but then was surprised when you mentioned he had fewer career yards that Curtis Martin. I guess I thought of LDT in the early 2000s as one of the greatest talents I've seen in this generation of players, and never had that same feeling about Martin. But I probably underrate Martin's compiled statistics mentally. LDT's touchdown numbers are insane, and he was clearly the best back in the game for multiple years, I'd think he's a Hall of Famer for sure, although I imagine it'll take a few years because some voters won't like his numerous postseason struggles or no-shows due to questionable injuries.

by andrew :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 7:37pm

Yeah I know Martin is in, its just that my gut instinct is always "he really had that many yards?" when I see his numbers.

He never wowed me the way LT does. There is no doubt he was the best RB if not the best player on the planet for a couple years there. He alone was enough reason to watch the chargers.

by Thok :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 6:22am

Curtis Martin's Hall of Fame candidacy is based on his career of 11 years/prime of 10 years. LDT's Hall of Fame candidacy is based on his six year peak (which is not to say he had a bad career, but that most of the power of his career comes from his best few years.)

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 8:51am

Tomlinson had far higher peak performance and was a much better receiver, as a result of which he had more career yards from scrimmage than Martin. He also had 62 more career touchdowns.

Tomlinson went over 2000 yards from scrimmage three times to Martin's none (and over 2300 twice). His sixth and seventh best seasons by AV (2002 and 2008) are equivalent to Martin's first and second (2001 and 2004). It's not much of a contest.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 6:51pm

They both had 11 year careers, so the comparison is pretty easy.

Tomlinson's peak was definitely higher. I don't think there was a single season where there was any discussion about Martin being a serious MVP candidate. Tomlinson won the award in 2006.

The only really serious advantage Martin has is that he was considerably more productive in his 30s than Tomlinson was. He actually led the NFL in rushing at the age of 31.

I think they're both clearly Hall of Fame RBs. If Tomlinson had been able to maintain the productivity level of his mid-20s, he'd be in the discussion with Payton, Brown, Smith, Sanders as one of the best RBs ever.

But he didn't. But I think it's clear he's been the best RB of this century thus far.

by bubqr :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:44am

We had the discussion in another thread, but to me Curtis Martin is a member of the Hall of Good For a Long Time, but I have a hard time considering him as a "real" HOF talent (unlike LT). Might also be because I saw the end of his career only.

by Dean :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 9:50am

Tomlinson has a higher profile because he was a Fantasy Football Superstar. It raised his profile amongs a large percentage of NFL fans. He's not as good as many think he is. He's still a no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer, don't misunderstand. But he's not in the top 10 RBs all time, for example. Although that's hardly an insult.

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 11:36am

But he's not in the top 10 RBs all time, for example.

Except in rushing yards, total yards, yards from scrimmage, rushing TDs, total TDS, receptions by a RB, consecutive 1000 yard seasons, double digit TD seasons, consecutive games with a TD, multiple TD games, passing TDs by an RB and passer rating by an RB.

Besides that, not really much to talk about.

by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 5:54pm

Completely agree with the sentiment here, it's wrong to just brush off LDT as a possible Top 10 guy, but I also think it's possible that he doesn't quite crack it.

In no particular order, you'd have...

OJ Simpson
Jim Brown
Emmitt Smith
Barry Sanders
Walter Payton
Eric Dickerson
Marshall Faulk
Gale Sayers
Marcus Allen

Then Tomlinson would probably be fighting it out for the 10th spot with guys like Curtis Martin, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, and Franco Harris. So he's in the conversation but it's not an easy dismissal or an easy shoo-in, in my opinion.

(I understand people have differing opinions about Sayers because of the shortness of his career...my point is just that Tomlinson is probably a borderline Top 10 guy, not an easy "He's definitely on this or that side" call)

by Scott C :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:11pm

How many of those guys threw for 7 TDs? One did, but that one had many incompletions and interceptions too.

If you want a pure runner, several were better. Add in pass catching and blocking, and LT rises past a few guys above in your top 10, IMO.

Add in that he was the best at avoiding fumbles, and the best passing option of all, and it puts him in the top 5 for me. (OJ, Brown, Sanders, Faulk, LT)

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:23pm

Payton was asked to play QB for a full game once because the Bears backup options were so bad. The fact that he has more incomplete passes shouldn't not count against him.

by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:30pm

For me, running ability (and other things a RB is routinely asked to do, like blocking and receiving) vastly outscale passing ability in evaluating these guys.

I think LDT in the top 5 is nuts, but that's just my opinion.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 5:31am

I'd say the highest ranking for Tomlinson that could conceivably be defended is 6th. I wouldn't put him that high, but there are only five backs who I think it would be downright ridiculous to rank behind him - Brown, Faulk, Payton, Sanders and Simpson. Somewhere towards the back end of the top ten seems about right to me.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:40pm

Watch it, you're going to rile up the Emmit Smith fans...

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 6:54am

Wouldn't be the first time . . .

For the record, I would probably rank Tomlinson ahead of Smith, but I'm pretty far towards the peak performance > longevity end of the spectrum when it comes to my Hall of Fame preferences, and can easily see legitimate arguments the other way. They're both no-brainers, obviously.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:12am

I dunno man, Emmitt's peak was pretty high. 4 consecutive 1st team all pros, 4x leading rusher, 3x leading rushing TDs and combined rushing/receiving TDs, 2x leading total yards from scrimmage. That's a significantly better peak than LDT. Even if you're peak guy, I think Emmitt had a superior career. And I say that as a Redskins fan.

by Tim Wilson :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:27am

I think Emmitt ahead of LDT is a no-brainer, but that's my opinion.

I know postseason performance is tough as a metric in football, where one player has so little to do with team success, but Emmitt played EXTREMELY well in his postseason appearances, while Tomlinson notably let what appeared to be minor injuries take him out of the line-up and relegate him to Darth Vader impersonations on the sideline (admittedly he also had one excellent playoff game against the Pats). That stuff matters a bit for me in career evaluation.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 12:13pm

Tomlinson was a much better receiver, though. And while he probably played in a friendlier offensive environment, his peak years came behind significantly less good blocking than Smith's. I'm not inclined to weight post-season performance that heavily for a running back, but if you are then fair enough.

Like I say, I can completely see the argument for Smith. But if I could have either prime Smith or prime Tomlinson lining up in the backfield for my team, I'd take Tomlinson. Maybe not in the Deadball era, but definitely in the era that either of them actually played in.

by Tim Wilson :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 12:54am

Yep, we'll just agree to disagree on this one...Emmitt has been debated more than thoroughly on these boards already. I'm sure he's happy with his three rings. And his Dancing With the Stars trophy. Can't take that away from him.

by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:30am

And FO's numbers show that Smith really was incredibly good, more productive and effective even than Sanders on a year by year basis for most their shared career - and note that Sanders played on some pretty good offenses himself, frequently Top 10 squads with very good passing DVOA in his prime. The fact is, Smith's numbers frequently blow away Sanders' and the difference in their respective offenses isn't nearly large enough to justify dismissing Smith's accomplishments. And I say this is an Eagles fan who also loved watching Sanders play.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 12:15pm

Incredibly productive is indisputable. The question is incredibly good vs. really good in an incredible situation. I lean towards the latter.

by chemical burn :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 12:26pm

To pit him against his eternal foil, I think the question with Sanders needs to be just as much "really good or really flashy?" Those Dallas offenses were great, but they were rarely the #1 best by DVOA in the league. The fact is that Detroit frequently had an offense in the 90's in the neighborhood of Dallas - in 1994, it was 16.9% vs 6.4%, not a world-shattering difference. Detroit's passing offense was Top 10. In 1995, it was 30.1% (1st in the league) against 16.2% (6th in the league) and Detroit's passing offense far exceeded its rushing attack (5th at 33.7% vs. 12 at 2.1%) Smith is basically the only back in the history of the league to not get the lion's share of credit for team's success running the ball. It just needs to stop. Barry wasn't playing with chumps and carrying his team nor was Smith simply falling forward for 5 yards every play.

by tuluse :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 12:59pm

"nor was Smith simply falling forward for 5 yards every play."

Not every play, but probably every 3rd play ;)

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:01am

Where would you put Jim Thorpe and Doak Walker?

by Dean :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 8:56am

Emmitt Smith does not belong on that list.

About a month ago, I made my own list in a totally separate conversation. At the time, I rated Tomlinson 11th all time, right in between Gale Sayers and Marion Motley (whom Dr. Z calls the greatest player he ever saw). I think that's a pretty fair assessment for Tomlinson.

My top 10...

1. Jim Brown
2. Walter Payton
3. Barry Sanders
4. Steve Van Buren
5. OJ Simpson
6. Jim Thorpe
7. Earl Campbell
8. Red Grange
9. Marshall Faulk
10. Gale Sayers

by Eddo :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 10:31am

That's a damn fine list, Dean, though I suspect you have Van Buren (who, admittedly, I know the least about of all these players) a bit too high. I'd also consider Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen very strongly. And it's extremely hard to rank Thorpe. And Smith was certanly helped by his lines, but so were most of these guys. I'd put him on the list somewhere, for sure.


Brown | Payton
Thorpe | Grange(**)
Campbell | Smith | Faulk | Van Buren
Sayers | Dickerson | Allen

(*) Brown's peak was so awesome that he's tier one, and Payton basically did everything and did it for a long, long time without missing games (he missed one game his entire career). Sanders's peak was not quite as high as Brown's and he didn't have the all-around game Payton did, so I keep him a tier below.

(**) The "old-timey" tier. I really have no idea if these two should be ahead of Simpson or behind the others. It was such a different game.

by Independent George :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 11:16am

I have to restrict my own list to post-1960 (AFL Era) running backs. I just don't have any fair way to measure guys like Red Grange or Bronco Ngurski, who played a much different game. Of course that also leaves out guys like Marion Motley, who probably does belong on the list somewhere.

Tier 1 (the no-brainer division), alphabetical order:

Jim Brown
Eric Dickerson
Marshal Faulk
Walter Payton
Barry Sanders
Gale Sayers
Emmitt Smith

Tomlinson doesn't quite make that group, but I'd still put him well ahead of the Earl Capmbell, Franco Harris, Larry Csonka, and Tony Dorsett group.

Marcus Allen gets an asterisk because he has the distinction of being in Al Davis' doghouse during much of his prime, which seems to be a unique handicap whose impact cannot truly be measured. His numbers declined significantly in this stage, but I've seen his highlight reels, and his peers seemed to still think very highly of him throughout this stage, and afterwards. As far as I know, there is no valid statistical adjustment for "feuded with a crazy person".

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying Tomlinson a definite HOFer in my eyes, and one of the best I've had the pleasure of watching.

by Tim Wilson :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:08pm

Gotta think about including OJ in that Tier 1 group too, right? 2000+ yards in a 14 game season, with a 6.0 YPA! I was too young to remember watching him live, but from the highlights and the stats, he seemed like a unique force in the league during that time. He is admittedly hurt a bit by having only a 5 year peak. But it was quite a peak.

by Dean :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 8:22am

"I have to restrict my own list to post-1960 (AFL Era) running backs"

The problem with this is that it completely discards half the leagues history.

by Dean :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 11:47am

Thank you.

As for Van Buren, he was the NFLs all time leading rusher when he retired and held that title until Jim Brown came along. Regardless of your opinion of Beattie Feathers, Van Buren was the first to rush for 1000 yards twice. He was the first to average 100 yards/game and the first to break the 1200 yard barrier. He was the centerpiece of the 48-49 Eagles who went to back to back championships. I believe he was in the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame.

I tend to mark Dickerson down slightly because he never met a sideline he didn’t like. On the flip side, I will always have a soft spot for guys like Earl Campbell who would rather run a guy over than run around them. That’s purely subjective, but since it’s my list and 100% opinion, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m not pretending it’s anything other than opinion even if I do like to think it’s fairly well founded.

As for the old timers, I’m forced to rely on legend just as much as anyone else. But I tend to subscribe to the school of thought that those legends didn’t happen by accident. It’s flawed, sure, but it’s the best I can do as I’m not an archivist in Canton.

Regardless, if you stretched this list out to 15 or 20, both Dickerson and Allen would be prominently featured.

by Tim Wilson :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:03pm

I wildly disagree with your opinion on Smith, but am not interested in having another "Why Emmitt Smith has actually now become underrated due to all the backlash" debate on these boards.

I find it difficult to account for the diminished level of competition that Thorpe, Van Buren, and Grange played against. This is the same reason I have trouble ranking Otto Graham in the QB pantheon. I find it easier to put Otto in the top 5 than I do Grange in the top 10, though.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:15am

It is beyond ridiculous that you would keep Emmitt off your top-10 yet you rank Jim Brown #1. Brown had every advantage Emmitt had and you could argue his advantages were even greater. If Emmitt doesn't belong on your list then neither does Brown.

by Dean :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 8:51am

Which all completely ignores the absurdity of using cumulative statistics to compare players of different eras.

Besides that, not really much to talk about.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:40pm

Ugh, this is my pet peeve - you understand it's not called the "Hall of Great" or "Hall of Excellence," right? Admission into the HOF isn't based exclusively on who has the best numbers, nor should it be... not that my irk-itude applies to Martin, really, but as an Eagles' fan, I tend to have more respect for durable players who can come out and perform without interruption for years than maybe other fans who haven't watched a line-up of injury-prone almost-greats for a decade... I put a premium on health as a skill...

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:44pm

Sure, but staying healthy is only useful if you're also good.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 2:12pm

And Martin was very good. As were the Eagles' injury-prone players McNabb, Westbrook, Vick and we can throw in Stewart Bradley, Jason Peters and Jamaal Jackson, all of whom were on their way to great careers for the Eagles before injuries ended them. Also, Trotter was wasted by injuries for the final part of his tenure. If they had stayed healthy all through their career, there's a good chance we'd be talking HOF for at least a couple of them...

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 3:40pm

I don't get it, where did the random "I think these Eagles players were really good" conversation come from? I agree with the Martin point but have no idea what it has to do with those Eagles guys.

Mentioning Stewart Bradley on a list of players who had elite or HoF potential but got derailed by injuries is utterly nuts, by the way. Gotta show a bit more than one above average season in order to qualify as being "on the way to a great career for the Eagles."

by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 4:18pm

As for mentioning the Eagles, I was just making a point about why as a fan I put more of a premium on "health" as a skill - if Westbrook had Martin's longevity and ability to avoid injury, then... holy cow, you know? Martin deserves credit for being there and getting the yards and staying on the filed when others went down. I appreciate players blessed with an amazing ability to avoid injury because it's freakin' valuable as heck and I've seen too many key players struggle to stay on the field for my own team...

With Bradley, that's why I said "some of these guys" for HoF. I mentioned Bradley because you might have noticed LB has been chaotic for the past in Philly - Bradley's injuries are the reason why. He was good enough to be a Pro Bowl starter and they kept banking on him anchoring the unit. Instead, he had a bunch of injuries and the unit suffered substantially. Didn't mean to imply he was on the way to the HoF (and thought it would be understood that I wasn't saying all those guys were.)

Aaaaand it's not like Martin got there riding out his career with several 800 yard seasons. He had one down year and hung it up. He was remarkably consistent at a well above-average level for the rest of his career...

by Scott C :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:08pm

"although I imagine it'll take a few years because some voters won't like his numerous postseason struggles or no-shows due to questionable injuries."

Yes, if HOF voters let fiction get in the way.

Name a questionable injury?

He did not miss ONE GAME due to injury in the first 8 years of his carreer, and missed only two in his 9th in San Diego. He had a 120+ yard rushing, 70+ yard receiving game in a loss to the patriots in the 2006 playoffs that was lost due to other player's mistakes (mostly on defense, where two 4th down Brady stops turned into first downs late in the game due to stupidity). Nobody watching any of SD's playoff losses criticized LT for a poor showing -- the problems were almost always the failure of the defense to provide a stop when needed coupled with a missed FG.

Other playoff games he performed quite well; only one was he taken out by an injury where he tried to play with a torn MCL in 2007 but could not.

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 11:25am

Tomlinson's career average per carry is .19 higher than Martins. This is not an insignificant amount.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:17pm

So you're saying it's a significant amount?


by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:17am

Did you do a T-test? What's the P-value?

by tally :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 12:31pm

Hard to do without play-by-play data in order to calculate standard deviation.

LDT and Martin have a 0.3 YPC difference according to pro-football-reference.com (4.31 vs. 4.01) so it's a big difference over 3000+ carries--even a standard deviation equal to their mean YPC would still yield a p-value of 0.003. That's a pretty conservative estimate compared to the usual stdev estimate of one-third the median minus the minimum (the histogram of a RB's YPC will be positively skewed since the minimum yardage will probably be -5 or so while the maximum won't be cut off as close to the median).

So tuluse is basically correct--with that large of an N, a 0.3 difference is huge.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:33pm

Oh I assumed it was a significant difference, I was just making a joke.

by andrew :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 3:56pm

dup post

by Drunkmonkey :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 2:57pm

For me personally, this is the first retirement that I've seen where I'm saddened by the loss of a great player. I really didn't start paying attention to the NFL until 2001 or so, and he was easily the best running back in the league since I started actively watching games. Brett Favre doesn't count cause he should have retired about 4 years prior to when he did, and was already in his prime when I discovered him. I'm not saying Tomilinson is great now, just that he was a total BEAST during his prime.

by mansteel (not verified) :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 10:30pm

I'm STILL hoping Barry Sanders will come back.

by Independent George :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 10:32am

Why limit yourself to 20 years in this game? Why not add in Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, Charlie Joyner, etc.?

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 6:55pm

Jim Brown was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1983 at the age of 47 because he was threatening to try to make a comeback. He was appalled at the notion that Franco Harris might get his rushing record.

He was quite happy to see Walter Payton end up with it.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:19am

Um, because Charlie Joyner wasn't that good?

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 3:43pm

I'm rather surprised but glad to see that he and the Chargers could put back

This is probably an odd question, but if you were to make franchise all-star teams out of players from just the last 20 years, would the Chargers actually be the best team? You get Brees/Rivers, LdT, Gates, Seau, and Rodney Harrison at his peak.

by Guido Merkens :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 3:55pm

The 1999 Chargers defense with the 2006 Chargers offense would be a pretty sick team. But you could make some other interesting pairings with teams that had great offenses and great defenses at different times. What about a selection of players from the 2011 49ers defense and 1994 49ers offense? Or the 1992 Seahawks defense with the 2006 Seahawks offense? Or some of the mid-90s Chiefs defenses with early-2000s Chiefs offenses?

by Scott C :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:14pm

The 94 niner defense was pretty good. In fact, it was ideal for a powerhouse offense -- create turnovers and get the ball back, but don't worry about shutting em out.

by Jerry :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 4:25pm

I'm rather surprised but glad to see that he and the Chargers could put back.

Maybe Seau's death reminded both sides of how important it is to keep the "family" together.

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 4:30pm

That first sentence should be "I'm rather surprised by glad to see that he and the Chargers could put the past behind."

How it turned into that, I'm not sure.

by Joseph :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 4:53pm

Boy--that would be an interesting exercise. The Saints could have their offense of either 2011 or 2009, with their defenses of the late 80's (I know, just outside the timeframe) added to 2009 Jabari Greer & 2009 Darren Sharper + K Morten Andersen to nail the FG anytime Brees didn't get the O into the endzone.

If I had to guess, the 49ers would be the best, since they'd have Montana at QB, Rice at WR, and then Lott and Sanders at DB's. When you can put 4 players on the field who are on the short list for GOAT at their position (and 2 for GOAT EVER!), you've got the good makings for an all-time team (over the last 20 yrs.)

by Tim Wilson :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 5:43pm

There aren't many teams that don't put together a formidable squad when you do this, so it's tough to say. 49ers would obviously be great, as would the Cowboys, since both had dynasties within the time frame (both would feature Deion, as it happens). Demarcus Ware and Charles Haley as bookend rushers would be pretty impressive, as would TO and Irvin at wideout.

Green Bay would be ridiculous as well...Jennings and Sharpe at WR, Desmond Howard as KR/PR, Reggie White and several other All-Pro defenders...wonder if you use 1996 Favre or modern day Rogers, though? Chiefs would have Montana and Priest Holmes and a RIDICULOUS offensive line, plus Derrick Thomas and other members of some very stout defenses.

by tuluse :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 5:47pm

The Packers top 5 receivers would be insane. Sharpe, Jennings, Driver, Javon Walker, and Jordy Nelson.

by Tim Wilson :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 5:55pm

The Giants' pass rushers would be similarly formidable, if the time frame included Lawrence Taylor, to line up alongside Strahan, Tuck, etc. Same with the Steelers. Again, any team that has had a dynasty or won multiple championships in this stretch is going to look ridiculous. To answer the original question, I don't think the Charges would rank #1.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 10:20pm

I don't think Walker makes it. 1995 Robert Brooks (352 DYAR), 1998 Antonio Freeman (346) were really good too. Though I guess Walkers 354 DYAR in 2004 was better than I recall. It's odd, but Jennings best season is only a 330 DYAR (I think). But he still makes it, easily.

I think I'd have to rank them (all from their primes of course)
Freeman (people forget he did have an All Pro season)

Brooks had more injury issues than I like to remember I think and putting him ahead of Brooks is fine, but I'd still take Freeman over either. But yes, that receiver corps from the last 20 years would be crazy. You'd also have Finley, Franks, Chmura, Jackson at TE. But you easily can get 5 top notch wide outs that can all do anything.

by tuluse :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 11:02pm

I always felt Freeman's production was approximately 80% Favre and 20% Freeman. Walker really scared me but then he had that injury, got traded, and watched his friend die.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 11:20am

Fair enough. I agree Favre made him better, I just don't think it was to that extent (and in this scenario he will have Favre or Rodgers throwing to him anyway). I will grant that Walker was a better deep threat and had more talent, but Freeman did have three 1000 yard seasons (and nearly had a 4th). I know Walker's career derailed faster, it's actually why I lumped him more with Brooks, a great talent that, like many in the NFL, only was around for a short time because of injury/other issues.

I think Freeman was more talented than he gets credit for, partly because he was able to repeat it a few times. He was actually a bit more 'Welker like' in that he made much of his living over the middle, but still he was generally over (or very near) 15 YPC in uninjured seasons and he managed to get open enough for Favre to keep throwing to him (and they weren't all just Favre forcing it). A talent that I value more than others I think (part of why I think Welker is better than some think too). But I will discount his top season some because the other options were end of career Chmura, injured Brooks, 2nd year Schroeder, and Derrick Mayes and I do know he was fed the ball at times because it was the best of a bad set of choices.

Now if you want to talk about a receiver that was all Favre, Bill Schroeder is your man there.

Any way you want to rank them though, having your #5-7 receivers being Freeman, Walker, and Brooks isn't a bad thing.

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 9:02pm

Montana only played one game with the 49ers in the last 20 years. It seems a little silly to say that his 21 passes in 1992 would really deserve to be on over Steve Young.

The 49ers would definitely be good, though.

by tuluse :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 5:44pm

20 years is so long, I'm pretty sure just about any team looks amazing.

Just as a small example, here's the Bear's all-star defensive line just over the past 10 years. Starting would be Julius Peppers, Tommie Harris, Ted Washington, and Adewale Ogunleye, coming of the bench you have Keith Traylor, Alex Brown and Philip Daniels. Then on 3rd down, you move Peppers inside and have Roosevelt Colvin play end.

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 9:00pm

I didn't say it would be the only amazing team. I asked if it would be the best.

Brees, Gates, Seau, Harrison, and LdT almost assuredly gives you five Hall of Famers--and they're not bubble guys, either. I could be wrong, but I don't think every team has five pretty obvious Hall of Famers in any given 20-year stretch.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 12:36pm

No, certainly EVERY team doesn't have 5 HoFers during that stretch. But I don't think the Chargers have a shot at the top slot in these hypothetical rankings. The 49ers and the Cowboys both have at least five Hall of Famers during that span, in my opinion...

Cowboys: Demarcus Ware, Emmitt Smith, Jason Witten, Larry Allen, Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens, Charles Haley, Deion Sanders, etc.

49ers: Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Ronnie Lott, Deion Sanders, Charles Haley, etc. (maybe Patrick Willis someday?)

Chargers' line-up pales in comparison to those two franchises, in my opinion. The Steelers, the Giants, the Packers, and a few others probably also beat the Chargers.

by Independent George :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:28pm

You can play this game with a LOT of surprising teams.

The 90s Chiefs under Schottenheimer were a defensive powerhouse; under Dick Vermeil, they were a offensive powerhouse. I think Joe Montana, Tony Gonzalez, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Derrick Thomas qualify as HOFers or future HOFers.

How about the Vikings? No sustained excellence, but there's a crazy level of talent on the 1998 and 2009 teams. Favre, Moss, Carter, Peterson, McDaniel, Birk, Hutchenson, Randle, Williams (x2), Allen.

I think I just made Will Allen cry.

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:35pm

Is the best Chiefs QB in the past 20 years Montana or Green?

by Independent George :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:58pm

Good question.

Green's stretch from 2002-2005 are better than Montana's '93 and '94, but he had a far better supporting cast in an offensive-friendly league and system. Montana was clearly not the same player at ages 37 and 38, but he was still very effective. It's very hard to say, as memory plays tricks on how well I remember either.

by Scott C :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:18pm

I think the more interesting question is was there any OL, EVER you would take over the Cheifs around 2003 +- a couple years. (with today's rules, in any scheme).

I'm not so sure there is one. And I hate the Chiefs.

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:25pm

I think the mid 90s Cowboys have an argument. Then you go further back and have lines like the hogs.

by Shattenjager :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 7:04pm

If you just want to run the ball, the '96-'98 Broncos, whichever of those three versions you prefer. Those Chiefs lines were better at pass blocking, but those Denver lines were absolute terrors on the ground.

by Independent George :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:45pm

What about the old Raiders with Shell, Upshaw, and Otto?

by sayan (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 5:02pm

1991 Redskins

by Shattenjager :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 3:42pm

Ronnie Lott's last year with the 49ers was 1990, so he would not count.

I think you're still right that at least the Cowboys and 49ers both go above the Chargers, so I will say that the answer to my original question is most assuredly "no."

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 3:26pm

I know I'm hijacking the thread but it was an interesting thought process to waste time over lunch and very neatly covers most of my adult football watching life. To be somewhat relevant I'd love to LdT over the running back choices of the Packers (even with Green having a stronger peak than many realize). I also think the Chargers have more sure fire Hall of Famers than the Packers in that time though there are a couple of current Packers (Rodgers, Matthews, and Jennings if he has 6 more years like 2010 and the start last year before the injury) who are too young to say. White, Favre, and Woodson are the only 3 so far.

I, of course, had to look more closely at the last 20 years of the Packers. I already covered WR earlier. My problem is do you have them play a Dom Capers 3-4 or a Fritz Shurmur 4-3 (they have 5 years as a 3-4 team in that span as they were 3-4 still in 92 and 93 and a few of those players make it on a Capers 3-4). The offense, special teams and the secondary are pretty easy, it's that front 7 configuration I have problems with. I think I take McCarthy as my head coach over Holmgren but that's a tough call too. The OC doesn't matter much because Holmgren and McCarthy both called their own plays. This also influences my QB choice which really was a coin flip but I'm staying McCarthy and Rodgers. Also Rodgers makes fewer mistakes and with the amount of talent on offense that pays off more than the gambles. His legs are still a bit better than an in prime Favre as well. Sadly I carry 2 fullbacks because both Holmgren and McCarthy tended to.

QB: Rodgers, Favre
RB: Green, Grant, Levens
FB: Henderson, Bennett
WR: Sharpe, Driver, Jennings, Nelson, Freeman
TE: Finley, Chmura, Franks
LT: Cliton, Verba
LG: Wahle, Sitton
C: Winter, Wells
RG: Rivera, Sitton
RT: Tauscher, Dotson

I wanted to give Sitton a starting spot but I think Wahle would still edge him out. I considered if Verba or Dotson would have been moved inside as starters at guard but I don't think they would have. Adam Timmerman got consideration as well but 9 linemen was enough.

Finley I think gets more play time than Chmura, but you would see them both on the field Chmura was a better blocker than Finley. Bennett was a full back in the same way as Kuhn though he did get HB starting carries a few years but he also played as a blocking full back before Henderson showed up. Henderson is your blocker. Grant is the only non receiving threat of the group, though Henderson was really just pretty good as a safety valve. Levens, Green, and Bennett all had pass plays designed to go to them. Levens and Bennett were both excellent 3rd down backs in that they could carry, blitz pick-up, and catch.

For defense regardless of the front 7 I think you have a secondary of

CB: Woodson, Harris, Tramon Williams, Mike McKenzie, Tyrone Williams
SS: Butler, Burnett
FS: Sharper, Collins

I probably don't need to carry Burnett, Collins as a back up to two all pro's is probably fine, but I had the roster spot and 4 safeties, 5 CB seemed good. If you don't go with Burnett you are probably looking at another primarily FS in George Teague or the end of career Eugene Robinson. After Butler SS has been a revolving door on this team with luminaries such as Marquand Manuel, Mark Roman, Aaron Rouse, Atari Bigby, and Charlie Peprah as starters.

With those starters above all in their prime you don't want to make a mistake as a QB against them.

Up front I think the starters aren't to hard to hit on, I just wasn't sure about depth and how well some players would translate defense which made it trickier and I still don't know which way to go with them.

LDE: White, Jenkins, Jones
LDT: Brown, Pickett
RDT: Dotson, Raji
RDE: Kampman, KGB, Jones
LOLB: Paup, Koonce, Hawk
MLB: Barnett, Harris
ROLB: Matthews, Diggs, Hawk

Yeah I've got Sean Jones as the #3 DE on both sides. Gilbert Brown and Dotson aren't playing every down. Raji would probably find himself a starter but I have no real way to see how he translates. White and Jenkins both have the ability to play inside. I figure Matthews is good enough that he can play outside in any scheme. Barnett and Bernardo Harris are pretty much the only starting 4-3 MLB's the Packers have had in the past 20 years (you've got a year of Hardy Nickerson, a couple of Fred Strickland, and the play everywhere George Koonce had a year where he was the primary in there too). Bryce Paup was better in the 3-4 but he did have a Pro Bowl year as a 4-3 outside backer. Hawk would make the team, he is still very solid (and would be considered a great pick had he been #25 in round 1 not #5) and with the use of sub packages he would be on the field for early downs at times. He probably should be ahead of N'ail Diggs but whatever.

You've got a ferocious pass rush there. I'm guessing you've got Jones, White, Jenkins, KGB on obvious passing downs, of course you could have Raji inside as well depending on what other threats you feel might be coming your way. Kampman was an every down end and could would be fine staying on passing downs too, again you have a lot of flexibility. But it would be Kampman coming off the field for KGB if they wanted major rush. You've got Paup, Koonce, or Matthews hanging around out there too that you can blitz with.

A 3-4 plays similar, but I think you get a few different 'specialty' players

LDE: White, Brock, Jones
NT: Raji, Jurkovic, Brown
RDE: Jenkins, Picket, Dotson
LOLB: Paup, Koonce
LILB: Harris, Bishop
RILB: Barnett, Hawk
ROLB: Matthews, Diggs

White did play a year as a 3-4 DE in 93 in GB racking up 13 sacks and 79 tackles and another pro bowl. I'm sure he could adapt to a Capers scheme. Matt Brock was a 3-4 end in the early 90's before the switch and Jurkovic was the NT on those teams. I'm sure Gilbert Brown would have worked well as a nose and I also think Jones and Dotson would work as ends. Paup was an all pro 3-4 OLB in Buffalo the year after he left GB (coming off a pro bowl as a 4-3 OLB) Capers would get the same out of him so Matthews has the bookend that he doesn't have now. Koonce was a starter at pretty much any linebacker position you could think of (outside and inside in both the 3-4 and 4-3) he'd find his way on the field. Harris never played in a 3-4 but he'd work on the inside in just fine I think. You are getting inside pass rush, outside pass rush, whatever you want pass rush from these guys and I think you get OK pass coverage from the backers. I know Paup could do it, Matthews has shown that he can too. Barnett was better at it in the 3-4 than any current Packer ILB has been. Harris seemed to average 2 int a year which isn't bad for a backer so I think he would do well.

Special teams wasn't too hard either, you carry 3 roster spots for them
K: Longwell
P: Hentrich
K/PR: Howard

If you want to argue Crosby over Longwell you can, both are better than Chris Jacke was (and Jacke wasn't bad). Cobb and Roell Preston get honorable mention as return men, and after next year someone saying bump Howard for Cobb might even be a good idea, Cobb is already a better choice if you need someone else to play WR than Howard was. Of course he might be good enough as a WR that he would crack that line-up in the future anyway.

Anyway, that's my 20 year history lesson and roster for the Packers. As I said it was a good way to blow my lunch hour, if someone gets something out of reading it, that's just a bonus.

by jebmak :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 6:23pm

I don't care much about the Packers, but I enjoyed reading that. Thanks.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 8:58am

I think your 3-4 makes more sense than the 4-3 mainly because the 4-3 linebackers and the 3-4 inside linebackers are weak compared to the pass rushers and while Bryce Paup and Clay Matthews are great players, they would be poor in pass coverage for 4-3 OLBs.

I'd also start Gilbert Brown at nose tackle. I used to hate that guy, you just couldn't move him. My next guy off the bench would be Pickett. Cullen Jenkins and Reggie White would be an awesome pair of ends.

by blackmallard (not verified) :: Sun, 06/24/2012 - 4:48am

You don't get to start Rogers over Favre. Certainly not yet. 95-97 is something Rogers hasn't matched and its still in the last 20 years.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Sun, 06/24/2012 - 9:19am

I'm taking peak year for my starters. I like the McCarthy offense better than the Holmgren offense. I don't know if McCarthy would be able to get the most out of Favre. Favre needed a disciplinarian, some who would hound him about his footwork and reign in some of the exuberance. I know Rodgers works very well with McCarthy and last year even accounting for supporting cast, was a higher single year peak than Favre had. I agree he hasn't had quite the same 3 year peak (though it's not far behind all he needs is 2012 to be in the same range as 2010-2011 and I think he beats Favre's best three years). So yes I do get to start Rodgers.

I'm not a Favre hater, the guy was an immense joy to watch during his peak (and I would say 94 belongs up there with 95-97) and I also think that the offensive upgrades he would get would help him with his biggest weakness, which was accuracy (despite him still being in the top 10 in the league with his sub 60% completion rates some of those years), I'm not sure it would cut the ints from his around 3 - 3.5% to the Rodgers 1.5 - 2% range. Favre has had two seasons a 2.3% in 95 and a 1.3% in 09 in MN that were under Rodgers worst year of 2.4% in 08, his first year as a starter. I do not expect Rodgers to have the longevity of Favre. I do think he can surpass his sustained peak, just like he has surpassed his single season peak. I'm very happy to have transitioned from a Hall of Famer to a clearly talented enough for the Hall of Fame QB. Favre is the best players the Packers have had when you add it all up, beter than Starr, better than Hudson, better than all the others. But for a single season last 20 year's player pool, I'm still starting Rodgers.

Also despite Karl Cuba's very good points (and the belief that Brown would be an excellent nose tackle after more thought) I think I'm still leaning towards a Shurmur 4-3. That -24.3% DVOA league leading defense in 1996 (Capers has never been better than -14.0% in Green Bay) would get linebacker upgrades even if Matthews is doing more pass coverage (or subbed out). Simmons, Koonce, and Williams wasn't a great LB corps. Barnett or Harris is betting in the middle, Koonce is better on the outside and Paup was not bad in pass coverage as a 3-4 outside backer. Besides with that front 4 that you would have playing a 4-2-5 would work well with the improved secondary if you wanted, and Shurmur did use 3-4 alignments at times too. I just want to see Reggie and Clay on the field together. Maybe Clay just comes in as a rushing 4-3 end on passing downs, I don't care, I just think it would be fun to watch because they are/were both great but in different ways and there would have to be a way for them to work together well. I'm aware that GB has had outside rushers with better numbers than Clay has yet produced and some of them are on that roster, but there is something about the way Clay plays that makes him feel more special. It's not Reggie special, I still think Reggie is the best defensive player I've had the pleasure of watching, yes, better than Lawrence Taylor and Revis, and other's who are clearly the best I've seen at a position; but Clay is still a special player. Reggie was just something else.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:16pm

"20 years is so long, I'm pretty sure just about any team looks amazing."

OK, let's go in the opposite direction! :)

The Lions leap to mind. They've had exactly one year of good QB play. Yes, they'd have Barry Sanders and Megatron, but aside from those superstars you're looking mostly at two decades filled with many mediocre teams.

I think the worst team (other than the Lions) might well be the Redskins. There last Super Bowl title was 1992, just outside our 20-year window. Even though the NFC West has been mostly horrible, the Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks, and 49ers all have had higher peaks than the Redskins.

Even though the Bucs won a Super Bowl, I don't think their team would be all that great in comparison to many of the others. A real shortage of high quality offensive players there.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:38pm

I don't think the Lions are close to the worst team.

Browns? Jets? Cardinals? Hell -- the Bears. The 20-year think doesn't do teams with consistent styles any favors.

let's see -- last-20 Lions

QB: Stafford, Mitchell
RB: Sanders, a very tired Sanders, an injured Sanders, circa-2012 Sanders, and then Jahvid Best until he gets a concussion
TE: Pettigrew, Sloan
WR: Johnson, Moore, Perriman, Morton, Williams

The O-Line is a nightmare. I really struggle to fill the G-T slots.
T: Brown, Backus
G: Hartings, Compton
C: Glover, Raiola

Defense is a 3-4, I think. Even though Detroit lacks for good OLBs.
NT: Ball, Rogers
DE: Porcher, Eliss, Scroggins, Suh
ILB: Spielman, Boyd
OLB: Swilling, Scroggins

S: Delmas, Blades, Clay
CB: Bly (hahahahaha), Crockett
K: Hanson, Harris

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:55pm

No, the Lions have been awful.

The Jets have been significantly better for most of the past two decades. And they'd have Curtis Martin, pre-injury Pennington (who was really quite good), not to mention Revis Island.

The Cardinals are only saved by the fact that they'd get to line up the Warner/Fitz/Boldin offense of their Super Bowl run.

I have to admit that I'd overlooked the Browns. I was about to add a comment saying that they may be even weaker, since I'd just thought of them. Even though Browns 2.0 is 13 years odd, their best season in the time frame is still the Belichick playoff team of the mid-90s.

As for the Bears, you'd get a hell of a defense. You'd probably be stuck with Cutler as your QB, and the offense in general wouldn't be that great compared to those of the elite teams, but it'd be serviceable.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 11:22am

I would happily be stuck with Cutler (because I think he is bloody amazing) but you could also go for Jim Harbaugh (who won league MVP once) and the offense wouldn't be that bad.

QB- Cutler, Harbaugh
RB- Forte, Jones, Benson
WR- Marshall, Booker, Graham, Conway
TE- Clark, Olsen
OT- Tait, Brokemeyer, Big Cat Williams
OG- Brown, Tucker, Villiarial
OC- Kreutz, Weigmann

Not packed with HOFers but not too shabby and the defense would be awesome.

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 12:00pm

I don't think Harbaugh ever won MVP.

I think a lot of people underestimate how good the offensive line would be because the Bears have had a lot of good linemen but rarely 4 or 5 of them at the same time.

You could also pick Erik Kramer, who would be really good until he got hurt.

Edit: The past 20 years probably eliminates Marshall too, but that just means Waddle in the slot :) Actually, you'd probably want Marcus Robinson's one amazing season before he got injured.

by Shattenjager :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 11:36am

Harbaugh won league MVP once? Where?

He never won it from the AP, the Pro Football Writers Association, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the Sporting News, or the Maxwell Club. Did I miss someone who awards a noteworthy NFL MVP award or am I misunderstanding what you mean by league MVP or what?

by Jimmy :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 11:51am

Sorry he won the passing title (ie best passer rating) and was runner up to league MVP.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:24am

Fun exercise just building a team's list. I'll try for the Steelers:

QB: Ben Roethlisberger
LT: Marvell Smith
LG: Alan Faneca
C: Dermontti Dawson
RG: Justin Strzelczyk
RT: John Jackson (I'm making him play on the right side)
TE: Heath Miller
HB: Jerome Bettis
WR1: Hines Ward
WR2: Mike Wallace (Sample size still small some I'm projecting some)
WR3: Yancey Thigpen

NT: Casey Hampton
RDE: Aaron Smith
LDE: Brett Keisel
ROLB: James Harrison
LOLB: Greg Lloyd (He's switching sides)
ILB: James Farrior
ILB: Levon Kirkland
SS: Troy Polamalu
FS: Carnell Lake
CB1: Rod Woodson
CB2: Ike Taylor

by Jerry :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 3:28am

Slash: Kordell Stewart

You remember that Lake was actually a (very) strong safety. Darren Perry or Ryan Clark are credible free safeties if you want to actually choose one.

The fact that you can legitimately bypass Porter, Greene, Woodley, and Gildon at outside linebacker speaks volumes.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:00am

Fun! My 49er twenty year team:

QB: Steve Young, Jeff Garcia
HB: Garrison Hearst, Frank Gore, Charlie Garner, Ricky Watters
FB: William Floyd, Fred Beasley, Moran Norris
WR: Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, John Taylor .... wow, not a lot else, JJ Stokes, Arnaz Battle? One year of Antonio Bryant? Uurgh
TE: Vernon Davis, Brent Jones, Eric Johnson
LT: Steve Wallace, Joe Staley
LG: Guy McKintyre, Ray Brown
C: Jesse Sapolu, Jeremy Newberry, Bart Oates
RG: Derrick Deese, Mike Iupati
RT: Harris Barton, Scott Gragg

Probably a 3-4 system with some back up pass rushers

RE: Justin Smith, Junior Bryant
LE: Bryant Young, Ray McDonald
NT: Dana Stubblefield, Isaac Sopoaga, early Ted Washington
Pass Rushers: Chris Doleman, Richard Dent
OLBs: Charles Haley, Rickey Jackson, Aldon Smith, Tim Harris, Julian Peterson
ILBs: Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman, Derek Smith, Ken Norton
CB: Deion Sanders, Eric Davis, Carlos Rogers, Tarrell Brown, Ahmed Plummer and a version of Rod Woodson who was too slow to play cornerback but would kick arse in zones, Nate Clements (might not have been worth the money but a decent player)
FS: Merton Hanks, Dashon Goldson, Zac Bronson
SS: Tony Parrish, Tim McDonald, Donte Whitner

K: Joe Nedney
P: Andy Lee
RS: Deion Sanders, Tedd Ginn
LS: Brian Jennings

Hall of Famers and All Pros at nearly every spot and meagre Pro Bowlers manning hte rest, I present the mighty 49ers.

by theblackmallard (not verified) :: Sun, 06/24/2012 - 4:52am

Why would Sanders be tired and injured?

by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 1:08am

Ha...this angle actually might be more interesting, since we've laid out pretty clearly that it's not hard to find at least 6 or 7 franchises with ridiculous levels of talent if you think about it for even a moment.

The Lions aren't great, but I don't think they're the worst, at least not off the top of my head. The Browns are probably the worst, as has been mentioned. Who do you start at QB there? I may be forgetting someone, but I am really having trouble...Jeff Garcia? Kelly Holcombe? Tim Couch or Derek Anderson in their single halfway decent years? Yikes. Doesn't get a lot better on the other side of the ball either...all that's coming to mind at LB is waves of mediocrity...Andra Davis, Kevin Bentley, Dwayne Rudd, Earl Holmes, Kamerion Wimbley...? Yuck. I didn't follow the Brownies in the 1990s so maybe I'm missing a lot of guys.

The Redskins are not great but you can probably find a serviceable QB in the early 1990s, and they've got more than enough on defense to be very strong on that side of the ball (the peak seasons of Sean Taylor, LaRon Landy, Andre Carter, Brian Orakpo, Champ Bailey, etc.).

Buffalo would be another team that would be firmly in the bottom quartile once we get to 2015 and those 1990-1994 SB teams start to drop out of eligibility. Since then it's been pretty ugly up there.

Another team that would actually be pretty good that hasn't been mentioned yet is the Dolphins. Ricky Williams and late career Dan Marino is an excellent tandem, and you'd be able to scrape together enough good WRs over the 20 yr span to make a potent offense, I'd think. Plus you've got Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor as fearsome bookend rushers, and the peak-level years of Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison to provide stud CBs.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 5:25am

Pre-2011, the Texans would (unsurprisingly) be a candidate for the worst team, but I actually think the (healthy) 2011 Texans are probably better than a few of the 20 year teams of sad-sack franchises. An all-time Texans starting lineup might only include two players not on the roster in 2011 (Aaron Glenn and Vonta Leach, though younger versions of Johnson, Ryans and Daniels would be improvements).

Let's see:

QB: Schaub, Rosenfels, Carr
RB: Foster, Tate, Davis/Williams, Slaton
FB: Leach, Casey
TE: Daniels, Dreessen, Bruener
WR: Johnson, Walter, Gaffney, J. Jones, A. Davis, Mathis (KR)
LT: D. Brown, Salaam
LG: W. Smith, Studdard
C: Myers, McKinney
RG: Pitts, Brisiel
RT: Winston, Butler

DE: A. Smith, Watt, G. Walker, R. Smith
NT: Payne, Mitchell
OLB: M. Williams, Barwin, Reed, Babin
ILB: Cushing, Ryans, Sharper, Foreman
CB: Joseph, Glenn, Robinson, Coleman, J. Allen
SS: Quin, Pollard
FS: Manning, E. Wilson

K: Rackers
P: Stanley

So two proper starters from pre-2011 teams, plus a full back, nickel back and punter. Still, while that may not be as good as the all time teams of most franchises that have been around longer, I think it would at least be the best team in football more years than not. DVOA thought the healthy Schaub Texans were that anyway in 2011, and Aaron Glenn and Dunta Robinson for Kareem Jackson and Brice McCain is a big upgrade.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 10:41am

I don't agree. I think the 2011 Texans would get curb-stomped by almost every team's 20-year group.

I don't think you realize how good these 20-year teams would be. We're talking, for most of them, one side of the ball being historically good, while the other side of the ball is "best-in-league" good.

We're talking teams with -20-30% Defense DVOA and +50% Offense DVOA, and +10% ST DVOA.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 5:24am

Most of them, sure, absolutely. That's why I said "a few" and "sad sack franchises". The Browns, for starters. The Lions, probably. Quite possibly the Cardinals. Conceivably the Raiders, though there may well be some 90s players I'm overlooking there. And perhaps the Panthers, though in fairness they only have 17 years to choose from not 20.

Although worth noting is that all those teams would have far better depth than the 10 year Texans. Injuries to Schaub, Johnson or Brown in particular would be absolutely massive blows to that team, but really it's only RB, interior OL, DE and LB where the depth is in any way acceptable.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:40pm

The Raiders are tough to evaluate--you get great WRs, pretty good RBs who were also great receivers, a great QB, great corners, and the tail end of Howie Long's and Rod Woodson's careers, and then everything else is pretty weak (compared to what the other 20-year teams would be).

An awful lot of their players would also be outside their real peaks.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 6:28pm

Really? I'd give the Texans the advantage at OLB and FB, call it a wash at QB, OL, and RB (Sanders has a better peak, but Tate/Foster is a solid combo), and I'd tend to give the Lions the advantage everywhere else. Texas' DBs are awful, even by lionian standards. But for such a sad-sack franchise known for an elite RB, the Lions have had a surprising number of really good WR1s and a handful of really good WR2s.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 6:51am

The Texans secondary has mostly been awful, but if you only have to have each guy's best year, it's really not that bad. Joseph was absolutely outstanding in 2011, Glenn was very good when he first started with the team, and most Texans versions of Dunta Robinson (2004 possibly the best) would have been damn fine nickel backs. CB4 downwards is pretty awful, it's true, but that's one genuinely elite corner with two guys behind him who were at least above average CB1s and probably top 10. The safety situation is a little sketchier, with two above average starters and two so-so back-ups, but it's not a disaster (as it would have been if you'd performed the same exercise a year earlier.

I'd have thought the Texans would probably have the advantage at OL, though I may be underestimating the 90s Lions, and overall at TE. Difficult to compare DLs due to difference of scheme - the Texans' DEs are pretty damn good (both Watt and Smith should have been pro bowlers in 2011, and Walker was in 2002) but the NT situation - a real strength of the Lions, is pretty horrible, the weakest spot on the roster.

I'd be very interested to see a Lions fan's version of their team, though.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:24am

The Skins have sent Gus Frerotte and Brad Johnson to the Pro Bowl in that time frame, and also got some pretty good years from Trent Green and Mark Brunell.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 10:07am

For the Bucs, can I cheat by using "career years"?

QB: 2010 Freeman
RB: 2005 Cadillac Williams (the rookie year, before his knees exploded)
WR: 2010 Mike Williams, 2005 Joey Galloway
TE: Kellen Winslow II

That's at least a solid set of offensive skill position players, but you admittedly have to cherry pick the holy hell out of it. As for the defensive side, I'd probably just say "take the 2002 team as is" and go with that; that was one holy terror of a defense.

by Mike B. In Va :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 10:29am

Even just sticking to a full unit from each year, 20 years is crazy. I can't imagine the insanity of the 1992 Bills K-Gun offense with the 1999 Wade Phillips defense or the 2003 Gregg Williams Headhunters...

Although I think at the end of the day, the scariest team might still be the '92 or '93 Cowboys, without swapping anyone. That team was insanely talented.

by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 11:28am

Agree on the Cowboys...imagine just taking the '92 or '93 squad pretty much wholesale and adding in-their-prime versions of Deion Sanders, Terrell Owens, and Demarcus Ware. Yikes.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:00pm

Would they beat the 1993 Cowboys?

A good number of the players you cite were all on the Chargers at the same time, playing at their peak, and they didn't make the Super Bowl.

The 2002 Chargers had a young Brees, a young Tomlinson, an aging Seau, a Harrison still only 30 and....they went 8-8.

I would go with the 49ers, since I could take the current defense and the Young/Rice offense of the mid-90s.

by Shattenjager :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:28pm

Drew Brees in his first year as a starter was not exactly the same as he later became. Seau was 33 years old and had been in decline for a couple of years. Harrison, even though he was "only 30," had already begun to decline as well.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:45pm

Well, Drew Brees mostly became the QB he is now with the Saints, not the Chargers.
You could even make the cast that Rivers should be the starter anyway.

My basic point was that these guys had played together (even though not at a point where they had simultaneously peaks) and they weren't that overwhelming.

They'd have a good amount of competition within their own division! After all, the Broncos got two rings over this time period and the Raiders had some excellent teams, too (including one that might have won a Super Bowl if they hadn't continued to idiotically use Jon Gruden's signals). The Chargers have made exactly one Super Bowl in the past 20 years, and they were thrashed soundly when they made it.

With that in mind, I'd be surprised to see them in the top 10 of this hypothetical 20-year all-star team.

Definitely behind 49ers and Cowboys, probably also behind Pats, Colts, Giants, Steelers, Ravens, and Packers (in no particular order).

by andrew :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 3:57pm

Hell if you just imagine what the chargers could have been had the Colts taken Ryan Leaf...

by Theo :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 6:27pm

Great career for a great player.
I started watching the NFL in 1999 and this guy is one of the best players I've actively followed since.
Perhaps the best in the 2000s.
Also one of a great draft class.
And without him, the world would have to do without this gem:

by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 7:13pm

LT best LT since Lawrence Taylor. Gerat back. First ballot inductee even though loser Charger player

by andrew :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 7:45pm

The Best LT since Lawrence Taylor?

Gee, that means he beat out the likes of:

Lawyer Tillman
Lamar Thomas
Lofa Tatupu
Larry Turner
Larry Triplett
Lester Towns
Leigh Torrence
Lamont Thompson
Leroy Thompson


i.e., that is not really saying that much...

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 11:23am

Count me among those who is going to miss a great player. He's the only slam dunk HoF running back for the 2000s to me.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 4:24pm

Don't you think RB has become really hard to judge in the last decade or so? The position has just morphed into something quite different from where it was in the 90's (not to mention the 70's.) I wonder if receiving value will play more of a factor in HoF decisions for RB's - aren't guys like Sproles, Reggie Bush and Matt Forte making their money in the passing game? Plus rushing leaders like Ray Rice and Arian Foster aren't too shabby in that area - I think no one considers Michael turner an elite back precisely because of his total uselessness in the passing game...

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:32pm

I think we're seeing an era where RBs are so fungible that it's going to be hard for anybody to put up real Hall of Fame stats. Consider, for example, Chris Johnson. Best RB in the NFL for ~2 years, but clearly not on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Shaun Alexander's resume is even worse.

Right now I think Adrian Peterson might have a Hall of Fame career if he can keep his production level up (and avoid future injuries, and recover from the ACL tear) but that's easier said than done. (This raises the question: what's the best ACL recovery we've seen for RBs?)

Ray Rice and MJD feel more like fantasy football Hall of Fame rushers than real Hall of Fame candidates. But they both have time to prove me wrong.

by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 12:54am

Garrison Hearst and Frank Gore are the best comeback stories that I can think of off the top of my head from MULTIPLE major leg injuries, including ACL tears. Staggering that they regained Pro Bowl level form after the big-time injuries they sustained.

Correll Buckhalter is actually decent too, when you consider it's remarkable he was able to suit up again at all given what his knees went through.

What did Gale Sayers due to his knees? He tore an ACL, right? He was never the same brilliant open-field explosive runner, but was able to return to very productive level briefly before he suffered a second major knee injury. Impressive given the medical technology of the day.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 11:26am

After his first knee injury Sayers had to change his running style to become a bruiser - because he had less wiggle. The fact that he was seriously good at that tells you how absurdly good he must have been when he could cut and run over people.

by chemical burn :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 1:22pm

Ai gree - there's also the issue of not just how RB's are employed, but the every GM's growing awareness of the fungible nature of the position and how much RB's lose after injury. GM's will cut and run with most backs after injury, not even easing them into a supporting role, but dropping them the moment they start to lose productivity. And every GM knows not to give a 28 or 29 back a big contract and then run him into the ground for 5 more years of slow decline - backs don't really get significant "hang around" seasons these days, even LDT himself had about 1 and a half seasons of a supporting role for the NYJ and had no teams taking a chance on him as a featured back late in his career.

He didn't get those John Riggins 1981-1985 type seasons where teams were still trying to get him on the field despite his injuries and steeply lessened abilities. I think in today's NFL, Riggins has his '81 & '82 seasons and gets written off or tools around as a back-up. I don't think he gets the opportunity to accumulate another 3,000 yards or gets those 5 years where he's slowed by injury but still gets to be the featured back. I think if even AP has another year struggles with injuries that he's going to find his way out of Minnesota quick and no one is going to take a chance on building around him.

by theblackmallard (not verified) :: Sun, 06/24/2012 - 5:04am

Edge rushed for around 8,000 yards after his ACL tear.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:35pm

"He's the only slam dunk HoF running back for the 2000s to me."

I think Marshall Faulk is a slam dunk, but half of his career was back in the 90s, so I don't know if he's being included by this comment or not.

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 8:48pm

No, I meant running backs who's careers started in the 2000s.

by AJ (not verified) :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 4:49pm

The whole view of judging rbs is very difficult indeed. We like to say how hard it is to judge qbs and receivers, separating their cross running correlation, but the same is true for rbs and thats before factoring in o line play. I'll say this about Lt, he was great and his six year peek of sustained excellence is good evidence that he was more than a system product. I do ask, however, how would our view of steven jackson be if he didn't have the misfortune of landing on the woeful rams? Ditto for whats happening with AP now, where his once marquee career is being forgotten as the vikings are rebuilding.

Finally- to chemical's pt, the whole notion of the running back has changed. While Ap, mccoy(really hard to separate him from vick), rice, and forte may all be better rushers, in my mind the most dangerous rb in football was sproles. it just goes to show its better to have a rb who can run outa shotgun, block, and catch passes than a standard i formation runner.

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 5:13pm

AP might be a better runner than LdT, but he a poor blocker, receiver, and he fumbles a lot.

by AJ (not verified) :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 5:16pm

What about Sjax? Playing behind inept qbs, horrific receivers and constantly changing yet similarly pathetic offensive linemen tends to drag stats down as well. I actually think sjax as a runner was near AP, a shade worse since he wasn't as fast, but a better power guy.

by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 5:36pm

I don't have an intelligent opinion on SJax. I know he's good, I know he's on a bad team. What's he's done there is very good, but LdT was even better on some very poor Chargers teams.

by Shattenjager :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 5:33pm

I can't find current data for league average fumble rates, but according to Advanced NFL Stats, the average fumble rate for RBs with 60 touches from '07-'09 was 1.3%, with "most" backs falling between 1.0% and 1.5%. Peterson's rate in his career (note that this is per touch, not per carry, because that's the denominator Advanced NFL Stats used for its league averages) is 1.4%. He really doesn't fumble that much.

His deficiencies as a receiver and blocker are definitely real, though. In fact, calling him a "poor" blocker is really probably overpraising him.

by RickD :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:29pm

AP used to fumble a lot more than he does now.

20 fumbles in his first three seasons. (915 carries)
2 fumbles in last two seasons (491 carries)

Clearly a statistically significant improvement. (I should really include receptions here, but I'm too lazy, and the eyeball tells me that the total number of touches is roughly proportional to the number of carries.)

by BJR :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 9:03am

LT's decline after his MVP year in 2006 was pretty sudden and steep. But it reflects well on him that he adjusted, and was happy to play out his final years as a role player without any histrionics.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:11am

The only thing I can say here is that Tomlinson made me a Chargers fan during those long dark years of Matt Millen running the Lions.