With the 2018 World Cup upon us, Jeremy Bergman and Adam Rank are divvying up the NFL and selecting the top 11 -- or in, yes, FOOTBALL parlance, all-time XI -- players from each of the 32 teams' history. Today, Rank presents the top XI for each team in the NFC South.
1) Michael Vick, QB (2001-2006)
2) Jessie Tuggle, LB (1987-2000)
3) Claude Humphrey, DE (1968-1978)
4) Deion Sanders, CB/RS (1989-1993)
5) Matt Ryan, QB (2008-present)
6) Mike Kenn, OT (1978-1994)
7) Julio Jones, WR (2011-present)
8) Tommy Nobis, LB (1966-1976)
9) Steve Bartkowski, QB (1975-1985)
10) Roddy White, WR (2005-2015)
11) William Andrews, RB (1979-1986)
Coach: Dan Quinn (2015-present)
Michael Vick is difficult to contextualize in Falcons history because he's polarizing for a number of reasons. But his six-year run in Atlanta was amazing. The playoff win at Green Bay. The overtime walk-off against the Vikings. And, of course, "Madden '04". He's the reason why there are so many Falcons fans in the world. So, you could either be a flaming star like Nirvana, or be a mediocre band that churns out a bunch of terrible records. Like Nickelback. Seriously, Vick or Steve Bartkowski's on-the-field career? Thought so.
Jessie Tuggle was a great player for a long time in Atlanta. He was a consistently dominant force. Am I giving him too much credit because he played his entire career for the Falcons? Perhaps. Do I care? I don't.
Claude Humphrey and Deion Sanders also pose a dilemma because they did thrive for the Falcons -- Humphrey especially -- but moved on to different teams later in their careers. Humphrey was a part of the Eagles' first Super Bowl run. Sanders became one of the top mercenaries in the NFL during the 1990s, leading the 49ers and Cowboys to the Super Bowl.
I'm not sure if it's good or bad that two current players (Matt Ryan and Julio Jones) rank so high on this list. I wouldn't take it as a "Wow, we didn't have a lot of great players." Instead, take it as an opportunity: You're getting a chance to witness two of the best players in franchise history, in their prime.
1) Steve Smith, Sr., WR (2001-2013)
2) Cam Newton, QB (2011-present)
3) Greg Olsen, TE (2011-present)
4) Sam Mills, LB (1995-1997)
5) Luke Kuechly, LB (2012-present)
6) Michael Bates, WR/RS (1996-2000)
7) Julius Peppers, DE (2002-2009, 2017-present)
8) DeAngelo Williams, RB (2006-2014)
9) Muhsin Muhammad, WR (1996-2004, 2008-2009)
10) Thomas Davis, LB (2005-present)
11) John Kasay, K (1995-2010)
Coach: Ron Rivera (2011-present)
I enjoy the give and take with editors when putting these lists together because I realize I can be a victim of my own myopia. But so far, two hills I'm willing to die on: Devin Hester is one of the top five Bears players of all time and Steve Smith is the best Panthers player of all time. If you don't believe me, my colleague Chris Wesseling made the definitive case here. Well, Chris is making the case for Smith being in the Hall of Fame, but he writes in the article that Smith's the best player in franchise history. Boom. Proof.
I'm sure Mike Martz would never condescend to read this list. But I hope he feels a twinge every time Greg Olsen scores a touchdown. It was Martz who fueled Olsen's trade from Chicago to Carolina in 2011 because he couldn't find a way to make one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history work in his offense. Oh, like his offense was so special. Do you think Gordon Ramsay would walk into a kitchen and claim he couldn't work with those ingredients?
Speaking of Hester, I wanted to give a little love to the Panthers version of Hester, Michael Bates. Now, he's not as good as Devin. Let's get that out of the way. But still very good. And if I'm going to stick with the special-teams theme, I have to include John Kasay here. I mean, he'd be higher on the list if he didn't pooch that kickoff out of bounds in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
I'm rather certain I'm romanticizing Mills a bit. He played just three seasons with the Panthers, but what an amazing run it was. He had a pick-six of Jets QB Bubby Brister to seal the Panthers' first win in franchise history. He made the Pro Bowl in 1996 (at age 37) as Carolina reached the NFC Championship Game in its second season. Mills went on to become a coach for the Panthers, and continued to coach while undergoing treatment after being diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2003. He passed away in 2005. Mills is the inspiration behind "Keep Pounding" and is the only player in club history to have his number retired.
New Orleans Saints
1) Drew Brees, QB (2006-present)
2) Rickey Jackson, OLB (1981-1993)
3) Willie Roaf, OT (1993-2001)
4) Pat Swilling, OLB (1986-1992)
5) Sam Mills, LB (1986-1994)
6) Morten Andersen, K (1982-1994)
7) Marques Colston, WR (2006-2015)
8) Archie Manning, QB (1971-1982)
9) Jimmy Graham, TE (2010-2014)
10) Jahri Evans, OG (2006-2016)
11) Danny Abramowicz, WR (1967-1973)
Coach: Sean Payton (2006-present)
Marques Colston was one of my favorite players to watch. He was an incredibly frustrating fantasy performer because of Brees' penchant for spreading the ball around to all of his receivers, but he's easily the best receiver Brees has had. Although had Jimmy Graham stayed in New Orleans for his entire career, we'd be talking about him as the best Saints pass catcher and he'd probably be a few spots higher on the list.
It seems weird to not have a Saints running back on the list. They've had some good ones. Deuce McAllister, Dalton Hilliard and Pierre Thomas all made the Saints' All-50 team. I can't say any of them are better than Mark Ingram. Or George Rogers. And if I'm being completely honest, I really wanted to put Alvin Kamara on this list, but I was talked out of it.
You don't know how badly I wanted to keep Archie Manning off this list. Oh, it's a shame Manning played on such bad teams! Yes, if only quarterbacks had a bigger influence on the outcome of games.
Real talk: I didn't see Danny Abramowicz play. But when I saw his highlights, I thought to myself, when did Mark Wahlberg play a Saints receiver in a movie?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1) Lee Roy Selmon, DE (1976-1984)
2) Derrick Brooks, LB (1995-2008)
3) Warren Sapp, DT (1995-2003)
4) Ronde Barber, CB (1997-2012)
5) John Lynch, S (1993-2003)
6) Simeon Rice, DE (2001-2006)
7) Paul Gruber, OT (1988-1999)
8) Hardy Nickerson, LB (1993-1999)
9) Jimmie Giles, TE (1978-1986)
10) Warrick Dunn, RB (1997-2001, 2008)
11) James Wilder, RB (1981-1989)
Coach: Jon Gruden (2002-2008)
I really was torn between Lee Roy Selmon and Derrick Brooks for the top spot. Maybe I'm giving Selmon some love because he was the first pick in club history. And he meant so much to the team as a whole. Actually, that's pretty much why I'm doing it.
I'm ready for all of the Mike Alstott fan boys to raise hell for 1) Alstott not being on the list and 2) Warrick Dunn being on it. But deal with it. I loved Alstott. He was a great player. But Dunn was better. You know it, and I know it.
James Wilder is also one of the most underrated backs in history. His star didn't shine as bright because he played during the dread-ball era of the Buccaneers. Yep, I just made that term up. He also was given 407 carries in the 1984 season. Dude was a monster, but 407 carries might be a bit excessive. Still a great player, though.
And for the record, as you are all spoiled by catch-first tight ends today, realize Jimmie Giles would be in the G.O.A.T. conversation if he played in today's era. Watch his film. It's like watching Gronk in a creamsicle uniform.