Some of my All-Time Best NFL players…

Potential players that most certainly should make the ALL-CENTURY List…  I would suggest the following:

1. Lynn Swann WR, Steelers
2. Terry Bradshaw QB, Steelers
3. Ray Lewis LB, Ravens
4. Orlando Pace OL, inventor of the “pancake-block,” Rams
5. Lawrence Taylor(!) DE, Giants
6. Deion Sanders CB, 49ers+Cowboys+Falcons+Ravens
7. Randy Moss WR, Vikings+Patriots
8. Darrell Green CB, Redskins
9. Gale Sayers RB, Bears
10. Barry Sanders RB, Lions
11. Reggie White DE, Eagles+Packers
12. Peyton Manning QB, Colts

There are numerous other people that probably could or should have been listed who I have either forgotten or just didn’t have the time or space to put on this list. The people that HAVE been listed so far are, for the most part, NFL players who have changed the game of football at their position by being so infinitely superior to their comrades of the day that the rules had to be changed to make the game fair once more.

Swann makes the list for changing being a receiver into an art form.. Bradshaw for calling his own plays and creating his own audibles in an era when the head coach or offensive coordinator called the plays. Ray Lewis is in for being underestimated from the very beginning of his career and becoming an annual fixture on the All-Pro and Pro-Bowl lists.. as well as destroying and tackling anyone who opposed him. Orlando Pace makes this one for leaving college early, not for the money or the prestige but for pure competitive spirit.. he had noone left to compete with at the collegiate level, even leaving Florida State-star Simeon Rice in the dust.

Lawrence Taylor will always be on my list of all time greats for this simple truth: He single-handedly jumped the price-tag of defensive ends and therefore left tackles tenfold. It doesn’t hurt that he will forever be known as the monster who destroyed Hall of Fame QB Joe Theismann’s career. Deion Sanders was known on and off the field for his larger then life antics, highlights and mouth. He talked a good game but also played one as well, and was one of the first complete shut-down corners who was versatile enough to even contribute in the passing and special teams game.

Randy Moss makes this list for being not only an incredibly tall receiver who can jump as well, but also for routinely beating double and even triple-teams. Any team that has him on the field, regardless of the QB, is instantly better offensively. He also has some of the softest hands in NFL history. Darrell Green is very similar to Deion Sanders in that he was also a shut-down corner.. only Darrell is even faster and played in an era where defensive backs like him did not exist. He was SO good that teams often would blank out the side of the field that he was on, telling their team not to pass even in the general direction of wherever Green was.

This comment is running a little long so I’ll keep the rest of it short and sweet, with no disrespect intended to the following players.

Gale Sayers, if not for a few career-changing injuries, was among the fastest and shiftiest RBs to ever live. The fact that he’s in the Hall of Fame and only played 4 years speaks volumes about his game-changing ability. Barry Sanders was such an incredible RB that he helped the Lions get to the playoffs and made the Hall of Fame despite playing on some of the most awful teams in NFL history. His ability to turn a 3-yard loss into a 30-yard game was without equal. The Rev, Reggie White dominated QBs and struck fear in offensive coordinator’s minds and game plans by sacking and tackling people for a loss with impunity. He WAS the Packer defense.

Finally, a player who is still currently playing and is about to play in his second Super Bowl in 4 years.. Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts deserves a stake in the All-Time Greatest Players for being a complete QB. When I say that, I mean that he is every head coaches wet dream/fantasy; He does everything he’s supposed too and more, he says only the most appropriate things to the press and on TV, his idea of a night out is watching game film into the wee hours of the night. Oh, by the way, this is in addition to him having the height and the physical attributes of the prototypical QB.. a specimen with perfect mechanics and the intelligence to call his own plays/audibles, kind of like Terry Bradshaw a generation ago. For all these reasons, my hatred for the Colts withstanding, Peyton will in my opinion go down in NFL history as one of the best QBs of all time.

-Michael, (Sorry I rambled so long… I just get really passionate about some of these players who are sometimes snubbed by other fans, analysts and media insiders.)

Rating and Comparing the AFC North. [Offseason Edition]

Just a quick update on how I feel the AFC North is shaping up this year.

As has been most often the case in terms of the past decade, the AFC North is once again most likely a two horse race, what with the Cleveland Browns and the Cinncinnati Bengals having severe deficiencies in one or more categories.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most revered and ancient of all the current NFL franchises, has won two championships in the past decade. The Baltimore Ravens, one of the youngest expansion teams, has taken home one. For two very different franchises there seem to be a number of striking similarities.

As offseason workouts come to an end and with training camp looming, this is how I see the two elite teams and the other two teams in the AFC North shaping up.

Baltimore Ravens:
Predicted Finish 10-6 or 11-5

Key Additions: RG Michael Oher, CB Domonique Foxworth

Key Losses: S Jim Leonhard, CB Chris McAllister, LB Bart Scott, DC Rex Ryan

Key Weaknesses: Wide Receivers

With the departure of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and Star-LB Bart Scott, the defense is under a ton of pressure this season to continue to perform at a high level this season. Defensive captain and stalwart LB Ray Lewis returns, as does Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, helping ease the transition.

On offense, the only major weakness on paper seems to be the WR position, with the only consistent option being venerable veteran WR Derrick Mason. QB Joe Flacco and our trio of RBs have looked good in offseason workouts and voluntary sessions so far. First round pick RG Michael Oher was a complete steal at the 23rd pick and has looked very mature in quickly picking up the playbook this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Predicted Finish 10-6 or 11-5

Key Additions: DT Evander Hood, WR Shaun McDonald, WR Mike Wallace

Key Departures: WR Nate Washington, LB Larry Foote, CB Fernando Bryant, CB Bryant McFadden

Key Weaknesses: Wide Receivers, Offensive Line

Even with the success of winning the NFL championship last season, the Steelers enter this season with needs at the WR, CB and OL positions. Even though Hines Ward has signed a contract extension that will probably keep him in Pittsburgh until retirement, the departure of speedy 3rd WR Nate Washington leaves them without any options other then Ward and Santonio Holmes.

At CB, the retirement of recently re-signed CB Fernando Bryant and the loss of  CB Bryant McFadden leaves question marks at the position. To counter this the Steelers drafted CB Joe Burnett in the 5th round.

The O-line is the largest question mark or weakness on the entire roster. Last season, the Steelers O-line gave up over 40 sacks, an unheard of number for a championship-caliber team. The Steelers re-signed franchise player Max Starks but little else other then to draft OT Kraig Urbik in the 3rd round. If the O-line doesn’t get any better this season, the Steelers will find themselves in a world of trouble.

Cinncinnati Bengals: Predicted Finish 7-9

Key Additions: OT Andre Smith, LB Rey Maualaluga, WR Laveranues Coles

Key Losses: G Stacy Andrews, WR TJ Houshmandzadeh

Key Weaknesses: DL, CB, S, LB

As bad as it may seem in the state of Ohio, there IS hope in Cinncinnati this season. I say that with the utmost conviction, even though it would obviously be detrimental to the Ravens for them to do well.

The offense has quietly become better over the past couple months, mainly due to Star-QB Carson Palmer finally returning from injury.  He has looked good in offseason workouts and his return, in addition to new WR Lavernaues Coles, only bodes well for WR Chad Ochocinco and the rest of the Bengals offense.

As for the entire defensive part of the Bengals roster, it remains to be seen whether they can play better then they did last season. The addition of LB Rey Maualaluga and DE Michael Johnson in this year’s draft is a step in the right direction and should give them at least a semblance of an improved pass rush. Either way, the defense remains the Bengals Achilles heel and will be the primary basis to how the team finishes in ’09.

Cleveland Browns: Predicted Finish 5-11

Key Additions: C Alex Mack, WR Brian Robiskie, WR Mohamed Massaquoi

Key Departures: TE Kellen Winslow Jr, WR Donte Stallworth, CB Roderick Hood

Key Weaknesses: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Cornerback

It all comes down to question marks for this troubled team. There are so many question marks that I have limited my review to just the largest of them, including the big one at the QB position. Even as we begin to enter training camp, the Browns are still deciding whether QB Derek Anderson or QB Brady Quinn will be the starter this upcoming season.

Other then that, WR and TE appear to be of major concern to new head coach Eric Mangini and the Browns organization. The departure of their most consistent receiving option TE Kellen Winslow Jr. to Tampa and the loss of WRs Joe Jurevicius and Donte Stallworth greatly depleted the team’s depth. The only remaining starting option is drop-prone WR Braylon Edwards. Hopefully the addition of Massaquoi and Robiskie in the draft will help alleviate some concern.

The CB position stands out as one of the weakest parts of the roster, even among an inconsistent defense as a whole. The only impact moves the Browns made in free-agency and the draft to address this was to sign former-Cardinal/Eagle CB Roderick Hood, former-Raven backup-CB Corey Ivy and to draft rookie-CBs Coye Francies and Don Carey in the 6th round. I don’t have a ton of faith that this will really improve the defensive backfield a great deal.

In review the Bengals, the Ravens and the Steelers all have at least a shot of winning the division crown or at worst earning a wild-card berth. Of these three teams, the Ravens and Steelers are head and shoulders above the others in terms of team chemistry, depth and raw unadulterated talents.

The Browns, seemingly as usual, find themselves on the wrong side of the fence in terms of question marks and lack of battle-tested talent. It’s not that they don’t have a chance to surprise some good teams this year, it’s just that it would be surprising to just about anyone if they manage to win 8 games this season.