Back in September, I created a post sizing up players’ chances to make the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2010s and what it might mean for their Hall of Fame chances. With the last regular season of the decade in the books and the Super Bowl matchup set, I would expect the team to be named sometime in the next couple of weeks (assuming they’re doing it at all in the face of all the 100th Anniversary celebrations and not saving it for later in the summer and fall for the actual 100th Anniversary; last decade’s team was announced at the Pro Bowl), so it’s a good time to take one last look at the class and make final predictions for who’s likely to make the team in light of my previous post, and who might muscle their way in that I might not expect. Semicolons separate the first team from the second team, and names in italics are considered locks to me.
- Quarterback: Tom Brady; Aaron Rodgers. (Also possible: Drew Brees.) Brees picked up a Pro Bowl selection, but so did Rodgers.
- Running back: LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson; Jamaal Charles, Le’Veon Bell. (Also possible: Arian Foster, Todd Gurley.) Of the players named in my earlier post, only Ezekiel Elliott was named to the Pro Bowl; he also had the most points earned from NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” lists of anyone not listed here, but I just don’t think there’s room for him. If I’m right that at most one of Bell and Gurley can make the team, that could mean the difference between already being in the Hall of Fame and potentially needing to put together more strong seasons. If the All-Decade team follows the AP’s lead in only naming one running back, I could see McCoy and Peterson being named in either order, and I don’t see much room for anyone else unless the team also introduces a “flex” position.
- Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald; Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones. I could see these players named in any order, though despite what I said in September I’d be surprised if Brown wasn’t named to the first team. Fitzgerald was named to the 100th Anniversary All-Time Team as one of the ten best wideouts in the history of the league despite having one first-team All-Pro selection for his entire career, last decade; coupled with his having more “Top 100 Players” points than any other wideout, that pushed me to bump him to the first team.
- Tight end: Rob Gronkowski; Travis Kelce. (Also possible: Jimmy Graham.) Kelce was only 18 “Top 100 Players” points behind Graham and not only picked up a Pro Bowl selection but was named All-Pro by the Sporting News (and second-team behind George Kittle by the AP), while Graham seems to be on the downslope of his career and is more of an afterthought than he was back in the days when it was “Graham or Gronk” for your fantasy team. Is that enough for Kelce to pass Graham? Who knows. Certainly Kelce would seem to be more likely to make the Hall than not with an All-Decade selection, while Graham might be decidedly on the bubble even with a spot on the team.
- Offensive tackle: Joe Thomas, Tyron Smith; Jason Peters, Trent Williams. I call these “locks” and I would consider them to have the best resumes, but there’s enough disagreement over offensive-line excellence that I could still be thrown a curveball (though Thomas isn’t being bumped off the first team).
- Guard: Zach Martin, Marshal Yanda; Jahri Evans, David DeCastro. (Also possible: Logan Mankins.) With All-Pro or near-All-Pro seasons Martin and Yanda likely locked down their spots on the first team. DeCastro picked up a Pro Bowl selection, which could be enough to pass Mankins, but Mankins had a significant lead in players’ rankings and a number of second-team All-Pro selections. All-Decade selection could be critical to either player’s chances of getting into Canton, depending on what DeCastro does next decade.
- Center: Maurkice Pouncey; Jason Kelce. (Also possible: Alex Mack, Nick Mangold.) Kelce became the second center to get three first-team All-Pro selections from anyone and the only one to receive three from the AP; the problem is that this year also only marked his third Pro Bowl. He will likely move ahead of Ryan Kalil in acclaim from the players, but Mack or Mangold could still be rewarded for longer periods of Pro Bowl-caliber play this decade.
- Defensive end: J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack; Cameron Wake, Cameron Jordan. (Also possible: Justin Houston, Calais Campbell.) Below Watt the situation is a complete mess. Mack’s best season came last year at linebacker, and the stats still aren’t there; Jordan was named All-Pro by the PFWA and Sporting News but was only second-team by the AP and trailed the others fairly badly in acclaim from the players heading into the season, but it’s also worth noting that both of the AP’s first-team “edge rushers” are linebackers so if the AP had to stick to actual listed positions Jordan would be on the first team; I praised Wake’s stats but he doesn’t have a second All-Pro selection from anyone unlike Houston and Jordan; I listed Houston at defensive end because I thought he had a better shot of getting onto the team there, but both Jordan and Campbell were named to the Pro Bowl while Houston wasn’t, but Houston did better with the players than anyone I have here other than Watt and Mack.
- Defensive tackle: Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh; Geno Atkins, Gerald McCoy. With Fletcher Cox being named to the Pro Bowl but not the All-Pro team, the main point of suspense is whether an eighth Pro Bowl season (all but two years of the entire decade) from Atkins is enough to pass Suh for the first team.
- Linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Bobby Wagner; Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, DeMarcus Ware. (Also possible: Khalil Mack, Clay Matthews.) All three of my first teamers picked up Pro Bowls and no one else I had listed did, likely widening the gap between the first and second teams. I only don’t have Bowman a lock because of his relatively low esteem from the players, which is also why I have Matthews listed as a possibility.
- Cornerback: Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman; Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib. Sherman now has an identical resume in terms of All-Pros and Pro Bowls this decade as Revis, and only needs to hit the top 85 to pass him in esteem from the players, but I could still see the race between them going either way. An All-Decade selection would give Sherman an identical resume to perennial finalist Ronde Barber, making his chances of getting into Canton signficantly safer than I indicated in September.
- Safety: Earl Thomas, Eric Berry; Eric Weddle, Troy Polamalu. (Also possible: Harrison Smith.) I’m doubtful that a fifth Pro Bowl season from Smith would be enough to pass Polamalu, unless Polamalu’s All-Pro selections are considered to be more a result of his past history in the last decade than actual excellence.
- Kicker: Justin Tucker; Stephen Gostkowski. (Also possible: David Akers.) See the September post for how I assessed Gostkowski v. Akers.
- Punter: Johnny Hekker; Brett Kern. (Also possible: Andy Lee.) Kern joins Hekker and Lee as the only punters with multiple years being named All-Pro from at least one source, and coupled with picking up his third Pro Bowl selection, makes it a two-horse race for the second-team spot.
- Kick returner: Cordarrelle Patterson; Jacoby Jones. (Also possible: Brandon Tate, Leon Washington.) Because the Pro Bowl only names a single “return specialist” from each conference as opposed to the separate kick and punt return positions used by the All-Pro and All-Decade teams, coupled with the lack of backups, the return positions are especially difficult and lean to a significant extent on All-Pros and stats. Patterson is the only returner to have been named an All-Pro in three separate seasons and has the most kick return yards, yards per return, and touchdowns. Below him, Jones has the next-most yards per attempt (among players with at least 100) and is tied with Washington for the most touchdowns (though Washington has more total yards), and is the only other player to be named an All-Pro multiple times specifically as a kick returner. Tate, meanwhile, has the most total return yards.
- Punt returner: Darren Sproles; Devin Hester. (Also possible: Marcus Sherels.) It may seem odd that Hester, one of only two returners named to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, might never be named first-team All-Decade, but that’s what happens when you have an amazingly high peak only a few years long that happens to straddle the break between decades. Hester has the most return touchdowns and most yards per return among players with at least 30 returns this decade, and along with Tyreek Hill, is one of two players to be a) named first-team returner by the AP, b) be named as a punt returner by the other two organizations in the same year, and c) be selected to the Pro Bowl twice in the decade. Sproles fails to hit a) but has the most return yards of anyone to be named to the Pro Bowl at all, and with five touchdowns is tied for the second most with Sherels, who has the most return yards overall.