Analysis  

 

Tom Brady, Drew Brees among top 20 NFL players of the 2000s

If Jonathan Ogden isn't a fan of being left off this list, he could certainly display that disappointment by squashing me like a bug.

Whether you're 5-foot-9, 166 pounds, or 6-5 and pushing three bills, Ogden could have his way with you. All too often he'd give a defender a jab in the ribs while in "pass protection," then laugh it off. Ogden was a gentle giant who would pancake an opponent, then be merry with him three plays later.


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Call that just one of numerous reasons it was so difficult not to include him. In Ogden's case, too much of his prime came in the '90s. Ogden joins guys like Will Shields and Marshall Faulk whose careers spanned two decades -- and who didn't fit the bill here. Meanwhile, great players like Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers and Steve Smith would have easily comprised 21 to 30 had we broadened the exercise that far.

So with that bit of accounting aside, here is our best shot at picking the Terrific 20 of the 2000s, starting with a guy who didn't have the breadth of others but was the most prolific player in the sport for three years -- and it wasn't even close. Speaking of, if you think we're way off ... send your thoughts to @HarrisonNFL.

20) Priest Holmes: It's impossible to keep him off the list. While his window of health was small, his 2001 to '03 production was simply insane -- he averaged 2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns!

19) Ben Roethlisberger: He had a late start, but his immediate impact in 2004 as one of the best rookies of all time, plus his two Super Bowl wins, get him on the list.

18) Alan Faneca: Odd to put Faneca over Roethlisberger, but the offensive lineman was a better player during the period. This guy was a six-time first-team All-Pro in the '90s. ... Roethlisberger simply was not as consistent prior to 2010.

17) Larry Fitzgerald: Forget his four 1,000-yard and double-digit touchdown seasons from 2004 to 2009. Fitzgerald's 2008 postseason -- 30 catches, 546 yards and seven touchdowns -- was the most dominant of any player ever.

16) Troy Polamalu: The Steelers won two Super Bowls in the decade largely because of this guy. He was a first-team All-Pro in both 2005 and 2008 and was often the best player on the field.

15) Torry Holt: Talk about a forgotten guy. Holt's production: 1,635; 1,363; 1,302; 1,696; 1,372; 1,331; 1,188; and 1,189 receiving yards from 2000 to '07. Good night.

14) Brian Urlacher: The All-Pro middle linebacker was good right out of the gate in 2000, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year and a key contributor for the Bears the entire 10-year stretch.

13) Walter Jones: The Hall of Famer and All-Decade Team member was a dominant force at left tackle, narrowly edging out Ogden due to longer service in the decade.

12) Steve Hutchinson: He was the top overall lineman in the NFL for several years, irrespective of position. Shaun Alexander's production plummeted when Hutch left Seattle in 2006.

11) Marvin HarrisonThe Cris Carter of the 2000s, Harrison caught an NFL record 143 balls in 2002 and an astounding 89 touchdown passes from 2000 to '06.

10) Drew BreesBrees only rates as low as 10th because of his slow start with the Chargers. However, he was outstanding his final two years in San Diego before lifting New Orleans from the depths of despair with an NFC Championship appearance in 2006 and a Super Bowl win in 2009. Brees also posted the second 5,000-yard passing season in NFL history toward the end of the decade.

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9) Ed Reed: Reed would be higher on this list if he had played in 2000 and '01. He earned the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year award after returning nine interceptions for a then-record 358 yards and one touchdown. Reed also took a fumble to the house that season. Overall, he totaled 46 picks during the era, leading the NFL in the category twice.

8) Champ Bailey: Bailey was a standout from stem to stern in the 2000s, bookending the decade with Pro Bowl appearances while earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2004, '05 and '06. His 18 interceptions combined in '05 and '06 represented the most in a two-year span since Everson Walls in 1981 to '82. We've got a first-ballot Hall of Famer right here.

7) Terrell Owens: Sure, he could be a distraction, but, oh, was T.O. a force. A five-time first-team All-Pro, Owens was a production machine, posting 1,000-yard seasons for three different clubs in the 2000s: the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys. The chatty receiver recorded seven double-digit touchdown seasons in the '00s.

6) Tony Gonzalez: Placing Gonzo over Owens was a tough call, but Gonzalez was a first-team All-Pro for nearly the entire decade, and the AP only allows one such allocation on its prestigious team. Despite playing mostly inside, Gonzalez had four 1,000-yard seasons. He also became the first tight end to ever catch 100 passes in a single campaign, accomplishing the feat in 2004.

5) Randy Moss: Moss was the most electric player in football in the 2000s, taking the mantle from Barry Sanders in the '90s (who took it from Eric Dickerson in the '80s). Moss posted eight 1,000-yard seasons, but two of those years really stand out: In 2003 he caught 111 passes for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns; in 2007 he had 98 catches, 1,493 yards and an NFL benchmark -- 23 touchdowns. How about 120 scores in the decade? Not bad.

4) Ray Lewis: Widely considered the premier defensive player of his era, Lewis' run from 2000 to '09 began with dominance and ended with back-to-back All-Pro honors. His best year was 2000, when he was named Defensive Player of the Year and helped Baltimore win Super Bowl XXXV.

3) LaDainian Tomlinson: The 2006 NFL MVP had as good a decade as any player in the league. In the nine years he played (from 2001 to '09) during the era, "L.T." rushed for 12,490 yards and caught 530 passes. That's an average of 1,388 rushing yards and nearly 59 receptions per season. Oh, and he scored 153 total touchdowns during the decade, too.

2) Peyton Manning: The 2000s were a period of growth for the future Hall of Famer. Called out by then Colts coach Jim Mora in 2001, Manning responded with the best statistical decade any QB has ever put together. More important, Manning has been voted the league's MVP five times, with four of those honors coming during the era: 2003, '04, '08 and '09. He led the Colts to a Lombardi Trophy in 2006, earning Super Bowl MVP honors in the process.

1) Tom Brady: If winning is truly everything, then how can anyone else on this list touch Tom Brady? He went 97-30 as a starter during the regular season. He was even better in the playoffs, winning 14 of his 18 starts (.778 winning percentage). He led New England to three Super Bowl wins, taking home the MVP Trophy in two of them -- after leading game-clinching drives in both. In 2007, Brady threw 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. Selecting Brady as No. 1 on our list, frankly, took all of five seconds.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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