With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.
As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.
If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:
The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.
Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.
Who will you choose?
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known for their stellar defense and in the middle of those defenses were exceptional linebackers: Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Greg Lloyd, James Farrior, Joey Porter. In recent years, the Steelers have spent a couple first round draft choices trying to find their next star in the middle. Ryan Shazier looked to be one of them before suffering a scary injury. If Shazier is ever brave enough to step on a football field, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be the same. He was one of the fastest linebackers I’d seen in quite a while and showed enough promise that he deserved a nod on this list.
Bud Dupree has yet to do anything spectacular for me, although he did kill a guy in a playoff game. Rest in peace, Matt Moore.
T.J. Watt, brother of infamous J.J. Watt, had a promising rookie season, though I’d like to see more before taking his jersey under serious consideration.
As good as T.J. was this year, he was not the rookie that impressed me the most. USC product JuJu Smith-Schuster has big play ability and is an absolute blast of entertainment. He’s had quite a few enjoyable touchdown celebrations and has become a town favorite, interacting with fans in the heart of the city and creating his own YouTube platform. His Twitter is hilarious (if you don’t follow him, strongly recommend) and as the youngest player in the NFL, he reminds us how fun football is supposed to be. He’s still a kid but carries himself well, something I hold a lot of respect for. I’ve never purchased a rookie jersey. I often wait to see how an athlete’s career progresses before I fully get behind them but JuJu has a lot of character. It’s easy to want to root for someone like that.
There is one other linebacker we haven’t discussed yet. While his tenure with the Steelers is likely over, James Harrison was on the Steelers roster in 2017. Harrison has become one of the greatest undrafted athletes to ever play professional football. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, the first undrafted player to ever win DPOY. That season he registered 101 tackles and a franchise-record 16 sacks, though his most memorable play of the year didn’t come until the postseason. He built a reputation for an incredible motor, his workout regimen and disciplinary issues. During his career, Harrison accrued hundreds of thousands in fines for helmet to helmet shots and late hits. Despite it, Harrison was a Pittsburgh favorite because like the Grim Reaper or the Terminator, Harrison was a bad man on the turf, one that could be truly terrorizing. People loved him for it. In addition to five Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl rings, Harrison also owns the franchise sack record. He’s been on the decline these last few years but his legacy is one worth remembering. Sometimes you buy a jersey for what that player is then. Sometimes you buy a jersey for what that player was and James Harrison was one of the best edge rushers in the NFL for a time.
Of all the players on the Pittsburgh defense the last few seasons, one player has more value than any other. Cam Heyward, since entering the league out of Ohio State, has been a regular figurehead for the black and gold. In four full seasons as a starter, Heyward has recorded 31.5 sacks, including 12 this past season, earning him his first Pro Bowl nod.
The Steelers also have the killer B’s to consider: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Bell is a literal bell cow for Pittsburgh. He’s a playmaker in the backfield and his patient style of running paired with superior field vision leads to quite the highlight reel. At times, he looks like the best back in the NFL. He might be.
He has a unique style that analysts can’t help but gush over and his versatility is one of his greatest assets.
He also has off the field issues, such as drug suspensions and talking about getting a new max contract or retiring hours before a playoff game, to pair with a history of season-ending knee injuries. He values himself at 15 million a year, more than twice what the current highest-paid running back makes (LeSean McCoy had the highest cap hit among tailbacks in 2018 at 8.9. DeMarco Murray had the highest base salary at 6.25) and yet he reportedly turned down a two-year, $30 million contract extension last year. He also turned down a three-year, $43 million offer. Given his injuries and disciplinary history, 13-15 million a year is a boatfull for Bell, but Bell thinks he’s worth quarterback money, an offer no team in the NFL will pay him. That isn’t what the market is for running backs. Devonta Freeman’s new contract came with a base salary of 8.25. Between Bell’s irrational contract demands and a propensity for poor decision making off the field, I have a hard time picking that jersey. As talented as he is, I will be thrilled when he’s out of Pittsburgh.
Antonio Brown, a sixth-round selection out of Central Michigan, is a straight-up superstar. He’s one of the fastest receivers I’ve ever seen and has the field vision of a returner. Asking any corner to execute man coverage against him is simply unfair. The best in the game struggle with Antonio. Sometimes double coverage even looks insufficient. He’s the best route runner in the league, makes crisp cuts and has the elusiveness of a Barry Sanders. He’s had more than 100 receptions in each of the last five years and a minimum 1,284 yards in all five as well. In 2015, Brown caught 136 passes, the second most receptions in a single season behind Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002. He’s currently the highest-paid receiver in the NFL and he should be. He’s on pace to surpass Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Hines Ward as the best receiver in Steelers history and routinely accomplishes athletic feats that leave you questioning if you should be in awe or shock. For much of 2017, Brown was in the running for MVP.
Finally, Big Ben Roethlisberger has made a career in the black and gold and will likely get a chance to pair that with a trip to Canton. Over the years, gridiron fans have gotten to see a player evolve. Early in his career, Ben took a lot of punishment but also had the ability to shuck some of those sacks and extend plays. Following that turn came the age of a vertical offense with Bruce Arians, exploiting the advantage that is Ben’s deep ball. Over these last few years, we’ve gotten to see Ben settle into a pocket passer role. Watching him evolve and progress through each stage of his career has been something.
He’s likely better than Terry Bradshaw, making him the greatest center man in the franchise’s history.
However, Roethlisberger was accused multiple times of sexual assault early in his career, something I can’t ignore.
James Harrison would be a great pick. He personifies the grit and toughness of Steelers football. I really am a big fan of JuJu these days. What a kid.
That said, the choice is easy.
Antonio Brown is one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever witnessed and has always been a privilege to behold. Teammates constantly describe him as the hardest worker on the team. He’s a true competitor first. When he does stuff like this, it’s hard not to get hyped. At his current pace, it’s likely we’re watching a Hall of Fame player. He’s got charisma, flair and a great sense of humor. He loves the camera and can’t help but be theatrical in front of it. He plays the game like a kid. He’s having fun and it’s impossible for me not to want to sign up for that.
My pick: Antonio Brown. My jersey: Home Black.