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 Cincinnati Bengals have been on the struggle train for a while now, with seemingly no end in sight. A roster that at times has shown promise has been unable to pop out a playoff win. The team hasn’t won one of those since 1990, stifled by a host of draft busts such as Ki-Jana Carter and Akili Smith. With Marvin Lewis at the head for another few years fresh off a contract extension, that doesn’t look to change. A culture has been created in Cincinnati for dirty play, from notable players such as Vontaze Burfict, quite possibly the league’s dirtiest player, and Adam Jones. That culture cost them a playoff win in 2015, one of the weirdest endings to a football game you’ll ever see. With the game all but over, running back Jeremy Hill got stripped by young talent Ryan Shazier, giving Pittsburgh another chance. Vontaze Burfict went headhunting in the most crucial moment of the contest and Adam Jones just couldn’t help himself when it came to doing something stupid.
The Bengals have only seemed to embrace those with character issues by drafting Josh Shaw, who did this, and Joe Mixon, who did this. This is not to say the Bengals are the only team to do this. Plenty of teams have decided to give players with flawed histories a second chance, but they have done little to prevent this aggressive mindset from festering.
You can make an argument that Andy Dalton, the Red Rifle, is a jersey worth having, but the TCU product has yet to win a playoff game. He has made a career of chucking 50-50 balls to one A.J. Green and there are rumors Cincinnati may let him test free agency. If I buy a jersey, I want it to be one that will stay relevant and I don’t see Dalton staying relevant in Cincy or anywhere for that matter. He’s barely stayed relevant during his time there. He’s had a QBR over 60 once in his seven-year career and is coming off his worst campaign since his rookie season, completing a slice under 60 percent of his passes. In fact, you can make the argument the less you use him, the better he plays. In his best statistical season, he threw for only 3200 yards in 13 games. He had 386 attempts in those games, an average of about 30 per. The more he throws, the worse he performs. He’s not a play caller that can take over a game, which is what you look for your quarterback to do. I’ll pass on this misfire.
I’m sure someone out there wants to see Tyler Eifert’s name on this list, but the Notre Dame star has dimmed quite a bit in recent years. Coming off his third back surgery, his career highlights are likely behind him and the time when he was in the conversation as one of the best tight ends in football has passed. He had 13 touchdowns in 2015, quite an accomplishment for a tight end, but has played in only ten games since. In total, he has missed about two and half seasons worth of time because of injuries.
One of the best defensive lineman in the league, Geno Atkins has big moment potential. He has the impact of a game-changer. He has a high motor, a bull rush than can overpower a lineman of any caliber and a swim that can finesse nearly any double team. He’s also one of the best values you can find on the defensive line at a $9.5 million cap hit. Cincinnati grabbed him in the 2010 draft in the fourth round out of Georgia. He was the 13th defensive tackle taken. To get a player with the ceiling he has at that round is a steal for a franchise. He’s already set a franchise record in sacks with 12.5 (2012) and has had at least nine sacks in each of the past three seasons. He’s the player to fear on that defense.
But Atkins isn’t the only Georgia stud on the Bengals. One Adriel Jeremiah Green, drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, began his career with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and has yet to miss a Pro Bowl since coming into the league and this despite a lingering injury history.
And look, maybe they should have taken Julio Jones, who wasn’t taken until the sixth pick that year, but A.J. Green might be the third best receiver in the game. He’s got the hands and leap made for the deep ball and no matter the coverage, A.J. Green always seems to be a safe bet. He has excellent sideline awareness and the type of vertical presence one associates with Calvin Johnson. Goal line fades were made for athletes like Green, someone who can simply outmuscle you and go over top of you, mano-a-mano. Green also has speed that defenses have to respect (recorded a 4.47 at the combine). Only making it more impressive is that Cincinnati has never given Green a solid number two. Marvin Jones hadn’t yet come into his peak when Cincy let him walk and just when they found a talent in Mohammed Sanu, who showed the potential of a one when Green missed time, Cincy let him go, too. The lack of weapons on offense has hurt this team and if it weren’t for Mr. Green, they’d have been bottom feeders long before now. Where A.J. goes, the team goes.
It’s possible Green might be on his way out, too. 2018 is the final year of his four-year, $60 million extension and he’ll be 29, but it’s also true that he’s been one of the most dominant players at his position for five plus years now. To be honest, Cincinnati doesn’t have much else going for them.
My pick: A.J. Green. My jersey: Home Black.