Monthly Archives: March 2018

One Team, One Jersey: Denver Broncos

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 Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl 50 is the obvious choice for this list. Texas A&M’s Von Miller is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. As we saw in that historic game, Miller has tremendous speed off the edge. In that spectacle, he was on another gear, it seemed. He could not be stopped. It was one of the most impressive postseason performances I’d ever seen. The game was in his hands and everyone else was just a piece in what seemed destined to happen.

Not to be cliché, but Miller was a man amongst boys. Carolina boasted what analysts were calling a supreme offense and the Denver defense, despite being excellent for much of the season, was not given much respect going into the game. That quickly changed. Cam Newton wasn’t just flustered. He was a man in a box for most of the game and Von Miller made the box, glued the box and supervised the box to make sure it stayed shut.

I started watching Super Bowls when I was 7. The event that was watching Tom Brady and the Patriots upset the 14-point favorite St. Louis Rams was the first one I got to witness. Since then, I’ve seen offensive studs take over games and I’ve witnessed defensive units save games but up until Super Bowl 50, I never saw a defensive player manipulate a contest to such an absurd extent. Von Miller seemed to have the game under lock and key. That’s not to say the game was out of reach for Carolina from the start, but as the game progressed, a simple fact became more and more apparent: Von Miller was too fast. Von Miller was more super than anyone else on that field and he was coming for his ring.

Following a surreal experience like that, Miller signed a long-term deal that handed him $70 million guaranteed, a deal he more than earned. In 2018, Miller would have had a cap hit of $22.4, the second-highest cap hit among defensive players (Suh had the third overall highest cap hit in the league at $26.1 before getting cut by the Dolphins) and the ninth-highest in the league (The Broncos and Miller agreed to restructure his contract and backload his deal, dropping his cap hit to a more manageable 9.7). He has the talent level to make even this mammoth deal look team friendly but he hasn’t shown it the last two years. The Broncos haven’t been the same since that Lombardi ceremony and Miller has been unable to make many highlight reel plays to take over games the way I’ve seen he can. That stutter in production leaves me a tad concerned with how much of an overall impact he can consistently make.

Still, Miller is a six-time Pro Bowler and has 83.5 sacks only seven years into his career. In the history of the NFL, only 32 players have 100 career sacks and Miller should join the exclusive list sooner rather than later.

Denver sports perhaps the best corner duo in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Talib isn’t eligible for One Team, One Jersey, as he has played most of his career with Tampa Bay. He’s made a career of being a corner for hire and while certainly talented, off the field issues leave me distancing myself from him anyway. I have a hard time putting on a jersey of a man who found a way to accidentally shoot himself, among other things.

Chris Harris Jr. is the other half of the equation and is good enough to be a number one corner himself. For a span of over two seasons, Harris didn’t allow a touchdown. Talk about a shutdown corner. In my eyes, he’s one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. I don’t think people realize how good he is. A lot of that is the defensive bubble he’s in. As long as Denver sports a significant pass rush and employs Talib, people will overlook Chris Harris Jr. I’d gladly start him as a number one corner without any hesitation and maybe in the future we’ll get to see his resume expand to being “the guy” for an NFL franchise. Until then, Chris Harris Jr. is the best number two corner in professional football. (Talib was traded to the Rams in free agency, meaning Harris Jr. will get his shot.)

Since we’re talking about the Broncos, we need to talk about Tim Tebow. Tebowmania took the world by storm in 2011, creating the Tebowing gesture and an incredibly loyal fan base. Was Tebow a great quarterback? No. Tebow’s throwing motion had been severely maligned by his baseball career. His ability to read defenses was average at best. Compared to the other guys on the field, Tebow sometimes looked out of place, like a regular joe trying to hold it together next to professionals.

There was some otherworldly element that seemed to surround him though, something that couldn’t be quantified by science or rationalized by statistics. He could be dreadful for most of the game but when the game came down to the wire, something magical would happen. You never felt out of it with Tebow. He was an underdog despite two college championships and a Heisman at Florida. He was doubted despite his passion, criticized without attention paid to his will to win. He had an aura about him that simply made him mesmerizing, almost magnetic to the sport’s followers. Even those who weren’t devoted to the sport of football began to follow the quest of Tebow.

It was so easy to buy in, to root for the underdog. Tebow had six fourth quarter comebacks that year. Despite all the evidence that told you it shouldn’t, you knew it was gonna happen again. You could feel the momentum swing and man, was it strong.

Tebow wasn’t a prima donna, nor was he an exceptional athlete, but he was insanely entertaining to watch without ever doing anything uncharacteristic to become so. It was the way he kept fighting on. Tebow showed the world, more than anything, how far will and heart can get you. Evidently, pretty far.

Every general manager in America would love someone who played an entire game like Tebow played in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t the clutch gene. I still don’t know what it was. It was a mystical force, some element we haven’t discovered perhaps. All the cards just seemed to fall his way.

Truthfully, despite all of the talent still on Denver’s roster, I’d rather have a Tebow jersey than any other, even Von Miller. In addition to his performance on the field, Tebow is a helluva role model, which pretty much seals the deal for me. It would be a rare jersey that would carry nostalgia into my collection.

However, Tebow doesn’t meet the rules so we’re gonna have to pick someone else.

Going off the feel-good story angle, Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas’ mother and grandmother were sent to prison for crack distribution when he was a kid. He was dealt a bad hand. He overcame it. I admire that.

Demaryius Thomas was one of the key contributors to the highest-scoring offense in NFL history and has demonstrated his skillset in the years following that record year. After beginning his career at Georgia Tech, who ran the triple option and never fully realized the talent they had on the outside, Thomas’ first two seasons were beset by injuries. Then Peyton came to town and Demaryius reached his final form. While Demaryius isn’t in the conversation for top five receivers in the NFL, he is an all-around receiver who can play physical at the line or play off the corner and go speed for speed. In that way, Georgia Tech helped mold Thomas’ playing style.

As explosive a player as Von Miller is, he was suspended for violating the substance abuse policy in 2013 for reportedly trying to cheat a drug test. Especially since that was at the beginning of his career, that’s always stuck with me and put a stain on his performance, at least for me. That’s why I’m going Demaryius.

My pick: Demaryius Thomas. My jersey: Bronco Orange.

Image result for demaryius thomas orange jersey free use

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One Team, One Jersey: Pittsburgh Steelers

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.

He’s had some moments that will live on in football lore, like this and this.

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.

Image result for pittsburgh steelers brown jersey free use

 

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