November 30, 2009
Time is running short on the last year of the '00s, so it's time to dive into the daunting task of ranking the NFL's best of the decade. Best what? Best everything. We're going with a series of top 10 lists, and if something miraculous happens between now and Dec. 31, well, we'll just have to catch it at the end of 2019.
10. Derrick Brooks(notes). Brooks went to the Pro Bowl seven times in the '00s, and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2002. He's one of just five players to win the DPOY and a Super Bowl in the same year. The others are Mike Singletary, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis(notes).
9. Michael Strahan(notes). We've had no shortage of great pass rushers this decade -- Jason Taylor(notes), Dwight Freeney(notes), Jared Allen(notes) -- but Strahan stands just a tiny cut above the rest. In 2001, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award and set the all-time record for sacks in a season with 22.5. He was also the leader of the Giants' defensive line that spent Super Bowl XLII in Tom Brady's(notes) face, which was the key to the biggest upset of the decade.
8. Marvin Harrison(notes). Marvin Harrison was a one-man tidal wave of production in the '90s. He went over 1,000 yards receiving in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. He scored double-digit touchdowns in all those same years. In three of those years, he had over 100 catches, and was never below 80 in that streak. Incredible production and consistency.
7. Orlando Pace(notes). Every April, when the draft experts talk about the offensive tackle prospects who have everything -- size, agility, technique, strength -- they all get compared to Orlando Pace. He set the a new gold standard for elite NFL tackles.
6. Randy Moss(notes). Moss had his ups and downs through the decade, but for sheer unstoppability, he takes a backseat to no one. Frequently, the only person who could slow down Randy Moss through the '00s was Randy Moss. Either him, or the entire Oakland Raiders organization working together.
5. Alan Faneca(notes). I'm sure he's sold fewer jerseys than anyone on this list, but his contributions were just as vast. He was the lynchpin of the offensive line back when the Steelers used it as their primary weapon, and they destroyed people with it for the better part of the decade.
4. Ray Lewis. Ray-Ray spent the decade putting himself in the conversation about the best middle linebackers of all time, next to Butkus, Singletary, Seau, etc. The Ravens defense is on equal footing in the '00s with the Colts offense or the Patriots offense, and Lewis has been the biggest part of that.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson(notes). Running back might be the only position where there was a clear No. 1 player, and arguments for the spot would be rare. Not that there weren't other great running backs, because there were, but candidates got more and more limited as the decade went on and everyone switched to multiple-running back systems. Getting anywhere near a decade of great production is a lot to ask of any back, but Tomlinson was a stud for most of the '00s.
2. Tom Brady. Brady's got the three Super Bowls, which, barring a Ben Roethlisberger(notes) Super Bowl victory this year, will win the decade. To tell you the truth, if that was your end-all, be-all argument for Brady at the top of this list, I couldn't argue with you. That's perfectly valid.
1. Peyton Manning(notes). Manning vs. Brady is a never-ending argument. Books could be written on the subject. You should be able to go to college and major in Manning vs. Brady. It's not something that can be summed up in a paragraph, so I'll simply say this: Peyton Manning is the best football player I've seen in the '00s.
Trying to name the top ten football players of any decade is a sick, sick task. I feel pretty comfortable with the ten above, but could easily list ten more names and see very little discernible drop in quality. Observe:
See? And we're still leaving out deserving guys like Tony Gonzalez(notes), Willie Roaf(notes), Charles Woodson(notes), Edgerrin James(notes), Ty Law(notes), Darren Sharper(notes), etc. You could get 1,000 different football people to put together a "top ten players of the decade" list, and you'd probably get 1,000 different lists. We've seen so many great players come and go in the last 10 years.
Comments, criticisms, omissions, and your own top ten lists are encouraged in the comments below.
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