|Rick Havner/Associated Press|
|Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton is a future NFL icon who would be a pivotal part of football's "Dream Team."|
The NFL season is almost here and I could not be happier. The Arizona Cardinals will face the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, and every weekend between then and late January will feature some kind of football activity. Life is about to get very good.
But to keep our minds occupied in the interim, we have the Olympic Games, which are a great alternative. When I see what some of the incredible athletes competing in these games are capable of, I think some of them would fit well on the football field.
Of course, the NFL boasts its share of incredible athletes. While American football is a long shot to ever be included in the Olympic Games (as my colleague Albert Breer has documented), the United States could certainly produce an awe-inspiring squad. Just for the sake of discussion, what if the gods of international competition were to smile on our sport and add it to the 2016 Olympics, which are to be held in Rio de Janeiro? What would American football's version of a "Dream Team" (sorry, Philadelphia Eagles) look like that year?
Things might change between now and then, but I took my best guess and assembled a potential roster, made up exclusively of NFL players, for Team USA to take to Rio in 2016. Remember, these players will not necessarily be All-Pro in 2016, but they would give the United States its best chance to win gold.
QB: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton is big, fast, powerful and has an amazing arm. All are qualities that would make him worthy of the Olympic stage.
RB: Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
Richardson possesses unique power and an ability to break tackles that should make him one of the top backs in the league four years from now.
TE: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Is there a more impressive player in the NFL right now? In four years, Gronk will have four more Pro Bowl appearances under his belt, and he'll still be carrying tacklers down the field.
TE/H-back: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Graham is a premier athlete who will also have made many additional Pro Bowl rosters by the time the next Games roll around. Graham has rare athletic skill and would be a natural fit for this team.
OT: Nate Solder, New England Patriots
Solder is an extremely gifted athlete with a rare combination of size and speed, like many Olympians. He has the versatility to play either tackle position.
OT: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Smith will be entering his prime when the 2016 Games kick off, and should have matured into one of the best tackles in football. He's another versatile performer who can play on either side.
OG: Amini Silatolu, Carolina Panthers
Silatolu is a big man who can move defenders off the ball. He has great feet and the versatility to tangle with the world's best.
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pouncey family includes two NFL centers who would be worthy of joining this Olympic team, but Maurkice has a slight edge over twin brother Mike (who is currently with the Miami Dolphins).
WR: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green, who broke out during his rookie season in 2011, should be one of the best pass catchers in the NFL in 2016.
P: Bryan Anger, Jacksonville Jaguars
Anger is a power kicker who can control field position with the incredible hang-time and distance he gets on his punts.
DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
Pierre-Paul is fantastic. Four years from now, he'd likely be worthy of captaining the U.S. team and even carrying the Olympic torch.
DE: Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
He was my favorite defensive end in the 2012 NFL Draft, in part because of his rare speed, arm length and rushing ability. He'd be an easy choice for the 2016 team.
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Suh might not have had his best season in 2011. However, I do expect him to dominate this year and continue dominating for the next three.
DT: Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
As a rookie in 2011, Dareus showed that he has every trait a tackle needs to be truly great. He will continue to improve and should become a real force in the NFL by 2016.
OLB: Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Miller can do everything a linebacker must: rush, set the edge and make plays against the pass. He clearly showed as a rookie in 2011 that he'll be a star for many years to come.
OLB: Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
As great as Smith was last year, he has the potential to be even better in the future. I could see him earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors one day, demonstrating that he would belong on this squad.
MLB: Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Willis is at the top of his game right now. He should still be one of the NFL's best linebackers when it would be time to pick a team for Rio.
CB: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Peterson is big, strong and excels in man-to-man coverage. He is also dynamic with the ball in his hands as a returner. He was great as a rookie in 2011, and I expect him to just keep improving.
CB: Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens
I love big corners. Smith (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) has plenty of size, but he also has the rare speed to beat receivers down the field. He is one of the most talented athletes in Baltimore; I expect him to be a great corner in 2016.
S: Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Barron can cover, he can hit and he's a great tackler. He will make an immediate impact with the Bucs in 2012, and would be a force for Team USA.
K: Matt Prater, Denver Broncos
Age is never a major concern for kickers, but they must have a powerful leg. Prater will be nearly 32 when the 2016 Olympics kick off, but I'm not worried about his ability to boot the ball long and true.
I like this team, and I would love their chances to stride into Rio and take home the gold.
Five years ago Monday, legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh passed away. His impact on football continues to be felt -- and it will likely be even stronger by 2016, when this team would be taking the Olympic field. Coach Walsh will always be missed and remembered.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.