For Part 3 of my NFL “Independence Day” team, i’ll be revealing the last three parts of the team: the guys on Special Teams, the coaching staff, and the guys who just missed the cut from this hypothetical 53 man roster.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots — Plain and simple, I want a kicker I can trust. That’s Stephen Gostkowski. He finished 5th in the NFL in field goal percentage (just under 92%), but more importantly, he didn’t miss a single field goal under 40 yards all season, and he didn’t miss any newly-elongated extra point attempts, either (despite having the third most attempts last season).
Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams — Johnny Hekker is a punting machine. In 2015, he boomed punts for an average of 47.9 yards and 43.7 net yards (both of which were tops in the NFL), despite punting it more times than anyone in the league last year. You want someone who can help with the “field position battle?” Hekker’s punts pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line over 42% of the time (easily the most in the NFL).
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks — A one stop shop for returning kicks. Tyler Lockett finished third in the league in punt return yardage (379) and kick return yardage (852). He was also one of only two players to return a kick for a touchdown and a punt for a touchdown. I would hope that the reserves on my team, who’ll be out playing Special Teams in the most meaningful game of their lives, could create a crease for Lockett to burn through with his track-star speed.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots — How could this possibly be anyone else? There are very, very few coaches in the entire history of the NFL who wear the proverbial hats of head coach and organizational CEO the way that Bill Belichick does. He has six Super Bowl rings as a coach (four as head coach of the Patriots, two as defensive coordinator with the Giants). In 16 years as the head coach of the Patriots, he’s led the team to 13 playoff appearances and 14 seasons with double-digit wins. Look at the litany of assistants he’s molded into future head coaches. There isn’t a single man in organized football, at any level, who would command the respect of every single player and coach on this team more than Belichick.
Offensive Coaching Staff
Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals — Not enough people realize that Bruce Arians is the best coach in the NFL not named Bill Belichick. No coach has won more games in his first three years as head coach in the entire history of the Cardinals franchise than Arians has.
Quarterbacks Coach: Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints — Even in spite of a historically awful defense and less offensive playmakers than in years past, Sean Payton still guided the Saints to the #1 passing offense in the NFL.
Running Backs Coach: Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns — The only thing I need to say to justify Hue Jackson being on this staff is that he helped transform Andy Dalton into a legitimate MVP candidate in 2015. Enough said. He is more than deserving of the opportunity he’s gotten in Cleveland.
Wide Receivers Coach: Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers — Before the bottom fell out (yet again) for the Chargers — no thanks to injuries and their lack of depth at key positions — Mike McCoy was poised to lead that offense to mind-boggling passing numbers.
Tight Ends Coach: Dabo Swinney, Clemson University — With experience in coaching receivers and tight ends in his past, and having coached a Clemson team that’s only lost a grand total of eight games in the last four years, Dabo Swinney deserves to be on this staff.
Defensive Coaching Staff
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Saban, University of Alabama — There are people in the state of Alabama who would be ok with putting Nick Saban in the same conversation as the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. Personally, I think if you had to carve a Mount Rushmore of the four best football coaches alive today, Saban is on that list. He might be the closest thing to Bill Belichick that we have on any level of football.
Defensive Line Coach: Wade Phillips, Denver Broncos — The only assistant coach on this team, although in reality, Wade Phillips was the mastermind behind the Broncos defense that carried the offense (and the entire organization) to a Super Bowl win.
Linebackers Coach: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers — As a player, Ron Rivera was a linebacker on the 1985 Chicago Bears — almost unquestionably the best defense in NFL history. As a head coach, since December 1st, 2014, his team has only lost a total of three games.
Defensive Backs Coach: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks — A former NFL coaching failure and college football coaching afterthought, Pete Carroll has led his college and NFL teams to a total of five championship appearances (and three wins). I can’t think of a better coach to lead this cross-NFL “Legion of Boom” i’ve created.
Special Teams Coach
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens — Having emerged through the ranks as a Special Teams coach, John Harbaugh has led the Ravens to winning seasons (and playoff appearances) in six of the past eight seasons. The team might’ve had its worse year under Harbaugh in 2015, but few coaches in the NFL are thought of more highly than him.
10 TOUGHEST OMISSIONS
10. Terron Armstead, Offensive Tackle, New Orleans Saints — I still remembering how hard my jaw dropped when the 6’5, 304lb Terron Armstead ran a 4.71 in the 40 yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine (the fastest time ever recorded for an offensive lineman). But he’s far from a workout wonder; he’s shooting up the ranks as one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL at both run blocking and pass protection.
9. KJ Wright, Outside Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks — He might be one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL, and a major cog in the vaunted Seahawks defense. I went back and forth between keeping or excluding KJ Wright as my weakside/outside linebacker, because he’s right up there with the very best coverage linebackers in game.
8. Jordan Reed, Tight End, Washington Redskins — At the risk of homerism, if there was a fourth tight end spot on my roster (I only have room for three), it would’ve gone to Jordan Reed. He is the most athletically gifted and polished receiving tight end in the NFL, this side of Rob Gronkowski. The biggest reason he didn’t make this list is because he’s still a below-average blocker.
7. Calais Campbell, Defensive End, Arizona Cardinals — A man who has the height of an old school NBA power forward (6’8), the wingspan of a pterodactyl, and the lateral quickness of a cheetah, while weighing in at (an absolutely chiseled) 300lbs. Calais Campbell was the anchor for the 5th ranked defense (in 2015) of the Arizona Cardinals. As much as I wanted to include him on this team, he just gets caught in the numbers game at the position and on my roster.
6. Ezekiel Ansah, Defensive End, Detroit Lions — The next great NFL defensive end, and a bona fide athletic freakshow. Ezekiel Ansah had 14.5 sacks last year (only trailing JJ Watt and Khalil Mack), despite the fact that he’s still developing as a football player (he’s only played six years of organized football in his entire life).
5. Kam Chancellor, Safety, Seattle Seahawks — I absolutely agonized over this one, because I would’ve loved to have a player who’d inspire unbridled fear within the receiving corp of our invading opponents. But, Kam Chancellor got penalized for missing the first two games of last season due to the contract dispute, and the few games it took him before he rounded back into his usual form.
4. Darrelle Revis, Cornerback, New York Jets — Perhaps the biggest shocker. Darrelle Revis is still an excellent cornerback who is (still) as cerebral and crafty as any player at his position. But, “Revis Island” is no longer the Bermuda Triangle-esque lost zone that it used to be for opposing wide receivers. For the first time, he started to show signs of slowing down last year.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers — If it weren’t for the fact that he missed four games last season due to injury (after playing in all 16 games for the two seasons prior), and for the fact that Carson Palmer was unquestionably one of the three best quarterbacks in the NFL until December, Ben Roethlisberger would’ve/should’ve made this team.
2. Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, New York Jets — 109 catches (tied for 5th in the NFL), 1,502 yards receiving (fourth in the NFL), and 14 touchdown receptions (tops in the NFL). Brandon Marshall was so good last year that he fooled everyone into thinking that Ryan Fitzpatrick actually played at a high level (including probably FItzpatrick himself). The only reason Marshall doesn’t make the squad — and it was a very tough decision — is because i’ve already got a cadre of guys with similar skill sets.
1. Le’Veon Bell, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers — Look, when he’s healthy, he’s unquestionably right up there with Adrian Peterson in the conversation for best running back in the NFL, and a lock to make such a team. But, I can’t, in good faith, put a player who missed 10 games in 2015 — two because of suspension, and eight because of injury — on this team, no matter how good he is otherwise.