You name it, we’ve got it: we rate the best and worst of the NFL in 100 different categories
MARSHALL FAULK STILL IS THE best player in the NFL.
The Raiders have the worst fans. And the Packers have the best.
Daniel Snyder has no idea how to run an NFL team, but he isn’t the league’s worst owner. Mike Brown is.
Who says so? We do, off course.
In fact, we’ve come up with the 100 best and worst things about the NFL. They range from the crazies in the Black Hole of Oakland to the Cheeseheads in Lambeau Field. From the brilliant scheming of Mike Shanahan to the in-over-his-head coaching of Gregg Williams.
When you’re done going over FOOTBALL DIGESTs list, we’re certain you will come up with many alternatives to our choices. Maybe even 100 of them. Feel free to give us your feedback.
Anyway, here are our picks:
Best Player (Offense)
Marshall Faulk still gets the nod, but only when he is healthy. The running back is the perfect weapon for the St. Louis Rams’ multipronged attack and is a nightmare for all defensive coordinators.
Best Player (Defense)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks is coming off of the best season of an already brilliant career. He only now is reaching his peak.
Mike Shanahan gets as much as is possible out of his players. Have the Denver Broncos really had the top collection of talent in any of his seasons in charge? No, but he owns two Super Bowl rings, and his ability to find running backs like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and then Clinton Portis and make them focal points is astonishing.
We should put an asterisk here, because we expect the Buffalo Bills to do well this season. So far, though, Gregg Williams has been out of his element as a head man, and if Buffalo does not contend this year, his job security will be gone.
Best Offensive Coordinator
Mike Martz is the best offensive coach in the game, but the top offensive coordinator is a tougher choice. You have to love what Mike Madarkey has done in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers no longer are run-happy, even with journeyman Tommy Maddox at the controls.
Best Defensive Coordinator
Many top head coaches basically run their own defenses, so Bill Belichick and Marvin Lewis, for example, shouldn’t count. We’ll go with Philadelphia Eagles blitzmeister Jim Johnson, who can confound any offensive mastermind. Tampa Bay’s Monte Kiffin is close behind.
The temptation is to plug the Oakland Raiders’ Al Davis for the way he treats his players and turns retreads back into stars. But his recalcitrant nature, unwillingness to provide a first-class home venue, and outlandishness drop him behind a newcomer, Bob McNair of the expansion Houston Texans. The Texans will become a model franchise in the nation’s most popular sport, guided by their savvy, honest, and community-oriented owner.
This is a tougher decision than you might imagine, but the Cincinnati Bengals’ dozen years of destitution give Mike Brown the edge over Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins. Oddly, though, Brown made some wise offseason moves this year, which could lift him out of the cellar. And the likes of the Spanoses on the San Diego Chargers or Bill Bidwill on the Arizona Cardinals could slide below Snyder, whose team actually has a chance of winning in 2003 (but probably won’t).
Best in the Draft
Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese deserves special credit for the nuggets he’s unearthed, particularly on defense (Jevon Kearse, Keith Bullock, Carlos Hall). He’s had some misses, mainly at wide receiver, but the Titans have had more than their share of solid drafts.
Worst in the Draft
Cincinnati’s Mike Brown–and, no, we are not picking on him. He deserves it just for Akili Smith and David Klingler, but there have been so many more busts. Even Peter Warrick, a supposed gamebreaker, has been a disappointment.
Either of the Pennsylvania teams could get this nod. The Philadelphia Eagles have become a perennial winner under Jeff Lurie’s leadership, and they have a sparkling new stadium and a terrific front office. But the Steelers have been even more consistently successful; the way they manage the salary cap and stay competitive year after year is amazing.
You would think the Bengals should receive this dubious honor because they have the worst owner. But they have not alienated the community or made as many poor non-football decisions as the Cardinals. And the Bengals already have their new stadium. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been bungling for years on that front.
We’re measuring only one thing here: power. Forget about accuracy, mechanics, touch, or versatility–just think about pure, unadulterated throwing power. Nobody can cut it loose like Michael Vick. Best of all, he has most of the other attributes, too.
Yes, he gets the ball there, and he’s one of the rising stars of the league. Still, the arm of Chad Pennington in no way resembles a howitzer.
Chad Pennington makes up for his negatives by being intelligent, which leads to accuracy and efficiency. He rarely panics, which is amazing considering he’s started for less than a season. on the New York Jets.
Most Erratic Quarterback
We’re limiting this to starters or semistarters, which leads us to the underachieving Jake Plummer. Maybe under the league’s best coach, Mike Shanahan in Denver, that will change.
Maybe it’s the offense and all that he has learned over the years, but reigning MVP Rich Gannon gets better all the time. A healthy Kurt Waxner is a close second.
Any quarterback who is under center for the Carolina Panthers.
Best Leader (Quarterback)
More than a decade into his career, and possibly in his final season, it’s still Brett Favre.
Worst Leader (Quarterback)
Call it the Jeff George Syndrome, quarterbacks who simply don’t inspire their teammates. That honor goes to Brian Griese, who played his way out of a job in Denver and now is trying to resurrect his career on the Miami Dolphins.
Best Fourth-Quarter Quarterback
Ignore the stats here and go with the guy who has the best feel for late-game situations. The winner? Jeff Garcia of the San Francisco 49ers.
Nobody can do more things with the ball in his hands than Michael Vick. He may be a QB, but he was born to run.
Best Power Runner
Nobody picks up yards while moving the pile the way Ricky Williams does. And he’s added some shiftiness, too.
Fastest Running Back
Michael Bennett of the Minnesota Vikings could be an Olympic sprinter. Unfortunately, he’s been felled this year by a bum foot.
Best Receiving Running Back
Marshall Faulk who is like a wideout in the backfield. Priest Holmes and Tiki Barber deserve notice, too.
Best Third-and-One Runner
Zack Crockett converted 12 of 13 in 2002, helping the Raiders capture the AFC championship.
A lot of teams have solid feature runners, but nobody is deeper than San Francisco or has a one-two combo like Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow.
Even with Emmitt Smith, the Cardinals will be hard-pressed to move the ball. And Emmitt no longer is capable of carrying the entire load by himself.
A difficult choice because wideout is the deepest, most skilled position in the game. Buffalo’s Eric Moulds is a good pick. He catches everything thrown his way.
Best Moves (Wide Receiver)
It doesn’t matter what an opposing defense does to the Indianapolis Colts’ Marvin Harrison. The man always finds a way to get open.
For pure speed, Santana Moss is tough to match. For best use of speed, Randy Moss is the king.
Best Bloking Receiver
Hines Ward. It’s not even close.
Worst Bloking Receiver
It’s supposed to be part of the job description, but how many wideouts want any part of downfield blocking? One who doesn’t is Muhsin Muhammad.
Jerry Rice should be retired by now, yet his guile and dedication have kept him ahead of the field. The guy simply has seen everything and knows how to beat everything.
Even if Randy Moss tried on twice as many plays, he’d still get this dishonor.
Receiver on the Rise
Jerry Porter could be the Raiders’ go-to guy this season.
Receiver on the Decline
Wayne Chrebet no longer is Mr. Reliable for the Jets.
Best Third-Down Receiver
A landslide for Marvin Harrison, who had 44 such catches last year. Yes, 44, or 14 more than anyone else.
Best Receiving Corps
St. Louis was on top for a while, but the mantle has been passed to the Pittsburgh trio of Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, and budding star Antwaan Randle El.
Worst Receiving Corps
Finding a quality wideout on the Cardinals might be tougher than finding water in the Arizona desert.
Best Bloking Unit
We love what the Kansas City Chiefs have done up front, led by resurgent William Roaf and steady Will Shields
Worst Bloking Unit
David Carr is lucky to have escaped last year’s pass-rushing assault in Houston. Bad does not begin to describe this unit.
Have you ever seen a ball carrier escape from the clutches of Ray Lewis? Neither have we.
It’s a tie. Jets cornerbacks Aaron Beasley and Donnie Abraham gave a clinic early last season on how to miss a ball carrier.
Best Cover Corner
Champ Bailey gets most of the attention for his coverage skills, but our choice is the Baltimore Ravens’ Chris McAlister, a better all-around defender.
Worst Cover Corner
Marcus Coleman converted one good season with the Jets into a lucrative contract with the Texans, but he’s been a liability in Houston.
Many people favor Tampa Bay’s. Some may go for Miami’s or Oakland’s. We go for the difference-makers with the Eagles, led by Brian Dawkins and Troy Vincent.
The DBs in Kansas City lived in a toaster oven last year. It doesn’t look like that will change this year.
Best Pass-rushing Unit
No unit made more improvement last season than the one in Carolina. It should be even more formidable this year.
Worst Pass-Rushing Unit
Sorry, Cardinals, but you win again. Opposing quarterbacks can pack a picnic basket as they survey the field against Arizona’s anemic rush.
Forgetting all other duties and concentrating solely on getting to the quarterback, we will take Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila over Leonard Little.
We’ve restricted this to defensive backs because it is so difficult to decipher the duties of linebackers nowadays. Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins gets more opportunities in Jim Johnson’s defense, and his blitzing is a strong part of his overall All-Pro game.
Best Linebacking Corps
If Ray Lewis returns this season at full strength, the Ravens will have everyone worrying about their four-deep set.
Worst Linebacking Corps
One reason the Detroit Lions have been so pitiful lately is the play of their linebackers. That’s ironic, considering team president Matt Millen played the position.
Houston quarterback David Carr gets our praise for taking all those sacks last year and coming back for more. Jets running back Curtis Martin is a close second because he has played through so many injuries.
Most Fearsome Player (Offense)
In the tradition of Conrad Dobler, it’s the unpredictable Kyle Turley. Players on either side of the ball have no idea what the offensive linemen will do.
Most Fearsome Player (Defense)
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis can take over a game from his middle linebacker spot, striking fear into any offense he faces.
We’re back to bashing Randy Mires, who has taken some hard hits recently, both on and off the field.
Most Underrated Player
New Orleans Saints wideout Joe Horn has developed into a game-breaker, yet his name rarely comes up in discussions of the best players at his position.
Most Overrated Player
How about Jevon Kearse of the Titans? The defensive end had an incredible rookie season in 1999, but since then, he hasn’t lived up to all the hype.
Best Special Teams
Even though returner Chad Morton now is in Washington, the Jets still have quite a unit, led by Santana Moss.
Worst Special Teams
The New York Giants lost their shot at playoff advancement partly due to their abysmal kick teams. They were ultra-aggressive trying to fix the unit in the offseason, but it remains to be seen whether things will improve.
Most Dependable Kicker
Anyone who kicks a Super Bowl winner on the final play and gets better from there is our pick. You’re the best, Adam Vinatieri.
Least Dependable Kicker
Whoever is trying to figure out the conditions in Pittsburgh, especially late in the season.
Best Protectors of the Ball
The Chiefs post huge numbers on offense, partially because they rarely turn over the ball.
Worst Protectors of the Ball
The Rams should be embarrassed by how often they turn over the ball. High-powered shouldn’t mean charitable, too.
Best Red Zone Offense
The Chiefs are almost automatic inside the 20.
Worst Red Zone Offense
The Dallas Cowboys don’t get there often, and when they do, they accomplish very little.
Best Red Zone Defense
The Super Bowl champs. The Buccaneers may be even stingier in ’03.
Worst Red Zone Defense
Buffalo has been a swinging gate inside its 20, but that could change with Taken Spikes on hand.
Team Most Likely to Be in Turmoil
You always can count on the Vikings to implode.
Team Least Likely to Be in Turmoil
Everything will be lovey-dovey in Houston for one more year. After that, though, the expansion honeymoon will be over.
Best Bet to Become a Superstar in ’03
Jerry Porter might outshine Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in Oakland.
Best Bet to Become a Has-Been in ’03
Safety Jason Sehorn is trying to get things going on his new team, the Rams–but his career is all but ova, especially after he broke his foot in training camp.
It’s hard to argue with what Buffalo did, getting a first-round draft pick for wide receiver Peerless Price, then gambling on injured running back Willis McGahee with it. The Bills also significantly bolstered their defense with linebackers Taken Spikes and Jeff Posey and tackle Sam Adams.
The Jets must have felt like a punch-drunk fighter as the Redskins stole Laveranues Coles, Chad Morton, Randy Thomas, and John Hall. Meanwhile, the Cowboys took Richie Anderson and the Cardinals got James Darling.
Best Opening Schedule
The Packers must know somebody in the league office. Their first month has them at home against Minnesota and Detroit, and at Arizona and Chicago. Those teams were a combined 18-46 last season.
Worst Opening Schedule
We wouldn’t wish the Redskins’ opening month on anyone: Jets, Falcons, Giants, and Patriots. Then throw in the Eagles and Bucs to start off October.
Best Closing Schedule
The Vikings could make some noise late with December matchups against the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago, Kansas City, and Arizona.
Worst Closing Schedule
The Jets get five games in December thanks to a Monday-nighter against Tennessee. The others: at Buffalo, home for Pittsburgh and New England, and at Miami. They’ll need a cushion heading into this final stretch.
We have to get used to the “new” Lambeau Field. For now, our favorite remains Pro Player Stadium (or whatever the Dolphins’ home is called these days).
With Foxboro Stadium gone, the Metrodome in Minnesota is the bottom of the barrel. Other than its loudness, there’s nothing memorable about the place.
Toughest Place to Play
Is there anything teams dread more than heading up to Lambeau Field in December to play the Packers? It’s the ultimate home-field advantage for Brett Favre and company.
Worst Stadium Traffic
There might be a new stadium in Faxboro, but the gut-wrenching traffic jams, especially heading home, remain the same.
Best City for a Super Bowl
New Orleans: Bourbon Street, Emeril, Preservation Hall …
Worst Stadium for a Super Bowl
The Superdome in, ironically, New Orleans. Too bad they can’t play the game on Bourbon Street.
Best Network Coverage
ESPN in a walk. The cable giant is daring without going over the edge the way Fox usually does.
Worst Network Coverage
Fox’s Hollywood touch gets more than a little annoying. They know they’re covering football, don’t they?
Best Play-by-Player Announcer
Until he got the top national gig with Fox, Joe Buck was No. 1. But he clearly prefers baseball, and his work has slipped on the NFL. The best announcing now is being done on some of the secondary games, led by a hockey guy, the always professional and always prepared Sam Rosen.
Worst Play-by-Play Announcer
Oh, this is tough. There are so many from which to choose, from the phony enthusiasm of Kevin Harlan to the banalities of Greg Gumbel. However, nice guy, broadcasting legend Dick Enberg has become unlistenable.
No (BAM!), it’s not (WHAM!) John Madden. He’s become more showbiz than football. Our favorite is Cris Collinsworth, particularly because he is willing to speak his mind.
Here’s a surprise: We like them all. The only one who is slightly annoying is Joe Theismann when he hogs the mic. But Joe doesn’t turn us off, either.
Best Pregame Show
ESPN’s wealth of information and willingness to do investigative work easily make up for Chris Berman’s shtick. But Berman also knows what he’s talking about and works hard at it.
Worst Pregame Show
That would be Fox. From the stuff on Fox Sports Net to Fox itself, it’s unwatehable for anyone over age 13.
Consider not only the elements Cheeseheads must face late in the season, but their undying loyalty to the most important community property in Green Bay.
They’re a hoot to watch and listen to, but the followers of the Raiders also can be dangerous, even felonious.
We’re traditionalists, so it’s Pittsburgh over Oakland and Chicago. The Steelers’ helmet is the deciding factor.
Baltimore’s numbers are hard to read and the color scheme is garish–but don’t tell Ray Lewis we said that.
Did you really have to ask? The once and always champs we the cheerleaders in Dallas. But at least they have some impressive competition these days.
Daniel Snyder, Tom Benson, and Jerry Jones. Enough of them, already.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group