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?
Since Rich Gannon’s MVP season in 2002, the Oakland Raiders have been one of the most dysfunctional franchises in professional sports. Randy Moss’ tenure in black was a disappointment. So was Carson Palmer’s.
In the five seasons following their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay, Oakland accrued a record of 19-61. The Black and Silver wouldn’t have another winning season until 2016. During that span, the Raiders were 63-145.
It was a historic level of incompetence, not just for Oakland, but for the NFL. Looking at their draft boards, the sight doesn’t get any prettier.
In 2000, they spent a first-rounder on a kicker. Let that sink in.
In 2004, they drafted tackle Robert Gallery second overall. After being talked up as one of the best offensive lineman to come out of college in years, Gallery would fail to make a Pro Bowl and struggle with sacks during his entire career.
In 2007, they drafted JaMarcus Russell, likely the biggest bust in NFL history, ahead of the receiver known as Megatron, Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson. In 31 games, Russell threw for a little over 4,000 yards, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, was sacked 70 times and fumbled on 25 occasions. He constantly dealt with conditioning issues, eventually ballooning to 290 pounds going into minicamp, and it was released after his NFL career that he struggled with an addiction to codeine.
In 2008, they drafted two-time Heisman finalist Darren McFadden, a running back that never became the franchise player they had hoped for. McFadden broke the 1,000 yard plateau twice in his 10-year career, once with Oakland. During his tenure, he dealt with lingering issues, including an ongoing case of turf toe.
In 2009, they spent the seventh overall pick on speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey, ending perhaps the worst back-to-back-to-back first round selections in the history of the NFL. Heyward-Bey was drafted purely because of his speed and that speed did not aid his route running technique. In his four years in Oakland, Heyward-Bey registered 140 receptions for 2,071 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But the streak would continue. In 2010, they drafted Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, a Butkus award winner and national champion. McClain never proved to be an elite linebacker, eventually going on a Facebook rant talking about how much he wanted out of Oakland. He had a brief resurgence in Dallas before violating the league’s substance-abuse policy multiple times and earning an indefinite suspension. During his time in the spotlight, he built quite the rap sheet, including a codeine addiction, third-degree assault, reckless endangerment, discharging a firearm inside city limits, menacing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, providing an officer with false ID, firearm and drug charges and possible arson.
So after being drafted in the second round of 2014 by Oakland, Derek Carr was already shadowed by the past of his older brother, David. Drafted first overall in 2002 by the newly-formed Houston Texans, David Carr never became the franchise stalwart he was supposed to become.
It’s worth noting how weak the 2002 draft was. Of the 32 first-rounders, only 10 would make a Pro Bowl. Of the 261 picks that year, only 20 made it to Hawaii in their careers. Of course, there were productive players that never made it to a Pro Bowl, such as Deshaun Foster, who led Carolina in rushing for many years, eventually becoming the franchise record holder, and Deion Branch, who was Brady’s top target for a few seasons and a Super Bowl MVP.
Overall, though, 2002 was a bad draft and so to label the elder Carr a bust seems a tad unfair. He had no offensive line as the franchise set league records for sacks allowed (He was sacked a belittling 76 times his rookie season). The truth remains that David was one of the most disappointing top picks in league history and for that reason there was a bit of ho-hum when Derek Carr was drafted as one of the early selections in the second round. It seemed doomed to end the same way for the Raiders.
It did not.
After an MVP-caliber season in 2016, Carr looked like a franchise quarterback, pulling off late game-winning touchdown drives on a weekly basis. Sadly, what looked like a team geared for a serious playoff run fell short in the wild card round to Houston. Carr suffered a broken fibula in the second-to-last week in the season and did not get to start that game, but in his best season, Carr finished with just under 4,000 yards, a 63.8 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns to six interceptions and a passer rating of 96.7.
Up to this point, Carr’s career has progressed in a similar path to Andrew Luck’s. His team heavily relies on him and the distance he can carry that team with define his legacy as a franchise quarterback. Unlike Luck, however, he has a dominant receiver in Amari Cooper, one of the best offensive lines in the league and one of the league’s most dominant predators in Khalil Mack. General manager Reggie McKenzie has given Carr all the tools he needs to succeed and it’s now up to him to turn his own talents and those around him into a championship contender. After a disappointing 6-10 season coming off a contract extension that made him one of the highest-paid players in the league, McKenzie has now swapped Michael Crabtree for longtime Packer receiver Jordy Nelson and brought in coach Jon Gruden. Anything short of a playoff win in 2018 would be a disappointment for the Black Hole.
Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper make arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL, which should make for a lethal air raid. Amari Cooper became the first rookie receiver in Raiders history to notch 1,000 receiving yards in 2015 after being drafted fourth overall. He was dominating NFL prospects in college and has continued to do so at the professional level. But he also had a disappointing 2017, totaling only 48 receptions and 680 yards. How Carr and Cooper perform these next two years will determine if the AC/DC connection will be one of the most productive quarterback-receiver mashups in Raider history or if it will be another reminder of high draft picks that never meshed the way ownership hoped.
Remove the blitzkrieg taking place on the offensive side of the ball and you have a lone wolf seemingly keeping the defense from imploding. Khalil Mack might be the league’s top edge rusher and years into his career has not run into a wall he can’t speed past or bull over. He is a wrecking ball for opposing defenses.
He won Defensive Player of the Year in only his third season and has piled over 40 sacks and 300 tackles thus far in his career. He’s the most valuable player to the defense and it’s a unit that holds on by a thread year after year, routinely near the bottom third in most defensive categories. In 2016 during his DPOY season, the Raiders had 25 sacks, fewest in the NFL. The last time Oakland allowed under 5,600 yards was 2010, when the Raiders were tenth in the league in yards allowed with 5,165. If they want to be a true contender, getting a capable defense to back up that rapid fire offense is the way to do it and they won’t accomplish that without Mack. Better get that extension taken care of quick.
Carr is a nice story, Cooper has the traits of a top-tier star but Khalil Mack is a gridiron terrorist.
My pick: Khalil Mack. My jersey: Color Rush Silver.