Following is the definitive offensive team of the decade for the years 2000-2009. In some cases I name two players when it was particularly close call and the second player deserved a prominent mention on the team. Mostly I name one player for each position.
I only use statistics where needed when players are fairly close and it helps differentiate between contenders for key spots.
Fact checking was done using the following: NFL.com, 2009 NFL Record and Fact Book, Pro-Football-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com.
Quarterback: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
There will be a never ending debate over who was the better quarterback in their careers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Peyton sycophants will trot up all kinds of statistics that will show that Peyton Manning is the best regular season quarterback in this decade. I am not going to debate that.
But on the biggest stage and in the playoffs, Tom Brady has dominated the league in the 2000’s. He has been to four Super Bowls and won three of them, more than any quarterback this decade. And he engineered one of the greatest offensive performances in league history with 50 touchdown passes and a perfect 16-0 regular season record in 2007.
Meanwhile Peyton Manning’s teams have underperformed in the playoffs and have been to one Super Bowl, which they won.
Add to that Peyton Manning has had stability at wide receiver with Marvin Harrison and now Reggie Wayne, while Tom Brady had to work in average receivers in a lineup that changed frequently over the years.
To me, especially at the quarterback position, championships matter, so my nod goes to Tom Brady as the best quarterback of the decade.
Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are the most likely young quarterbacks to define the next decade, but they are unlikely to duplicate the success of these two.
Running Back: LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
Tomlinson is really the only running back that can be mentioned as the tailback of the decade. He has defined excellence at this position since he entered the league in 2001, reeling off eight straight 1,000 plus yard seasons. He has already amassed 12,489 yards rushing with 138 touchdowns, and 3,938 yards receiving with 15 touchdowns (stats as of 2009 week 16). He ranks 8th on the all time rushing list.
His best season was 2006 when he rushed for 1,815 yards and scored 28 touchdowns to lead the league in scoring.
Will Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans or Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings show up on this list in 2020?
FB: Lorenzo Neal, San Diego Chargers
Lorenzo Neal played for 17 years before being cut by the Carolina Panthers this year. From 2003 to 2007 he was the lead blocker for the best running back of the decade, LaDanian Tomlinson. I list him as a San Diego Charger even though he also played for the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, and most recently the Baltimore Ravens in this decade. It was his five year stint with the Chargers where his performance earned him this award.
Will La’Ron McClain of the Baltimore Ravens take up the mantle at this position in 2010’s?
Center: Kevin Mawae, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans
Kevin Mawae has been an anchor on the offensive line this decade for both the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans. No other center comes close to matching his excellence at this position over so many years. He is a seven time Pro Bowl participant.
Guard: Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets
Guard: Will Shields, Kansas City Chiefs
Guard: Steve Hutchinson, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings
This decade Alan Faneca has been the most consistent performer at the guard position. He has made the Pro Bowl nine times in his 12 year career.
Will Shields is a forgotten player, maybe because he has been out of the league for a few years, but to me he was one of the most consistent and solid guards this decade. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1993 to 2006. He went to 12 Pro Bowls in his 14 year career, making it every year from 1995 to 2006, when he retired. He blocked for the likes of Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, and Larry Johnson. He was also an iron man starting in every game except one his entire career.
I could not in good conscious leave Steve Hutchinson off of this list. He has made the Pro Bowl seven times in his nine year career with the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings and is perennial regarded as one of the most outstanding guards in the league.
Tackle: Jonathan Ogden, Baltimore Ravens
Tackle: Walter Jones, Seattle Seahawks
Jonathan Ogden was the best offensive lineman in the league during his prime and is a shoe in for the Hall of Fame at left tackle. He made the Pro Bowl 11 times in his 12 year career with the Baltimore Ravens spanning the 1996 to 2007 seasons. A toe injury forced him to retire in 2007.
Walter Jones is the other dominant left tackle in the 2000’s, playing for the Seattle Seahawks from 1997 to 2008. He is currently on injured reserve. He has made nine Pro Bowls and has been recognized nearly every year he played, along with Ogden, as the best left tackle of the league.
Others that deserve mentions as being outstanding in their primes are Willie Roaf (1993-2005) who played with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs. And, believe it or not, Orlando Pace who is now a washed up shell of himself in Chicago, was one of the best tackles of the decade in his prime with the St. Louis Rams.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons
Tight End: Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Tony Gonzalez is best tight end of the decade, making a huge impact both blocking and receiving. He has 996 receptions for 11,777 yards and 82 touchdowns from 1997 to 2009 (with one game to go in the regular season). He currently is the career leader for tight ends in receptions and reception yards. He also has the single season reception record for tight ends with 102 catches in 2004.
With all due respect to Dallas Clark and Jason Witten, Antonio Gates has been the other dominant tight end this decade. From 2003 to 2009 he has 478 receptions, 6,211 yards receiving, and 58 touchdowns. He has been an integral cog in the Chargers offense during his career.
Wide Receiver: Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, and New England Patriots
Wide Receiver: Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
Randy Moss burst into the league in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings and has been one of the most feared receivers in the league since. Despite less stellar years, by his standards, with the Oakland Raiders (and one with the Vikings) he has really been the face of the wide receiver position in the 2000’s. He currently has 921 receptions for 14,390 yards and 148 touchdowns. He is 10th all time in career receptions, 6th all time in career receiving yards, and second only to Jerry Rice in career receiving touchdowns. He also holds the NFL record for touchdown receptions in a season with 23 in 2007.
Marvin Harrison has been the most consistent wide receiver in this decade until a knee injury shut him down in 2007. He played for the Colts from 1996-2008 with 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards, and 128 touchdowns. His best years were from 1999 to 2006 when he had multiple 100 plus catch seasons and was always over 1,000 yards receiving. In 2002 he set the single season receptions record with an amazing 143 catches for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns. He currently ranks second, only to Jerry Rice, on the all time receptions list.
Terrell Owens has statistics that rival Moss and Harrison, and some would even say surpass them with 1,002 receptions, 14,886 yards, and 143 touchdowns, but his divisiveness has literally blown up one team (the Philadelphia Eagles) and hurt two others (San Francisco 49’ers and Dallas Cowboys).
Tory Holt, who played for the St. Louis Rams from 1999 to 2008 (and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars in a career that appears to be winding down) also deserves a mention. He was the key offensive threat during the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf era from 1999 to 2001. He currently has 920 receptions for 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns. He currently ranks 11th in all time receptions (one behind Randy Moss), and 10th in reception yards.
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts
Who else? Adam Vinatieri may not be the best pure kicker in the 2000’s but he may be the best clutch kicker of all time. He has made the most dramatic field goals in the most pressure packed situations than any kicker this decade. He kicked game winning field goals with little time on the clock in two Super Bowls and has four Super Bowl rings (three with the Patriots and one with the Colts).
But the most dramatic moment in Vinatieri ‘s career came in a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in 2001. In a driving blizzard he kicked a game tying 45 yard field goal to send the game into overtime at 13-13. Some have called this the greatest kick of all time, and it probably was. He then kicked a 23 yarder in overtime to win the game which launched the Patriots on their way to their first Super Bowl championship where Vinatieri kicked the game winning field goal with no time left on the clock. What a year for a kicker!
Kick Returner: Dante Hall, Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams
Kick Returner: Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
From 2000 to 2008 Dante Hall had 10,136 yards on kickoff returns with six touchdowns, to go along with 2,261 punt return yards and six touchdowns. He was referred to as a human joystick with his ability to run around like a madman to break free for a long return, but mostly he went straight up the gut and followed his blockers, which he said is the key to success in returning kicks. Hall ranks 5th in combined kickoff and punt return yardage with 12,397 yards. He just barelyekes out Joshua Cribbs for the top spot only because he also had six career punt returns for touchdowns (which is tied for fifth most held by several players) and has complied return yardage that currently puts him among the top returners of all time.
Joshua Cribbs has played for the Cleveland Browns from 2005 to present. While there are many good kick returners in the league today, Cribbs is on a record breaking pace for kickoff yards and touchdowns. With 7,009 kickoff returns for a 26.7 average and eight touchdowns, he has already set the career record for kickoffs returned for a touchdown in a career, and he ranks 9th all time in career yardage. He also has 100 punt returns for 1,123 yards and two touchdowns. His 11.2 yard per return average ranks right up there with the best punt returners in the league now (DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles and Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears).
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE DECADE: TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Three Lombardi Trophies.
Four Super Bowl appearances.
Two Super Bowl MVP awards.
That’s what it’s all about.