With "The Top 100 Players of 2011" wrapped up, it got us thinking: Who are the greatest players of the new millennium, the Y2K era? Since 2000, broad developments in NFL strategy have taken place, as well as the specialization of the players who fit into these new schemes. So who has thrived most in the league's ever-evolving environment?
McGinest: A case for Seymour
Richard Seymour came into the league with the Patriots in 2001, and he wasn't like the typical rookie. He was a lot more mature. His ability to absorb the information, the defense, pick it up and get right in the groove made him special. You see some of that right now with some of the young guys, like Ndamukong Suh, who can be productive right away.
With Richard's size, you couldn't beat him one-on-one. His speed and agility made him so hard to block. And he also was so good at holding the point, which made my job easier. If the defensive tackle is getting pushed five yards back, then I can't make any plays from the linebacker spot.
His mentality reminded me of me, only because he didn't take (expletive) from anybody ... even as a rookie!
He didn't care if there was an All-Pro across from him. Richard saw it as a challenge. Anybody can beat up a bum all day long.
If you look at Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli, he didn't get that big, big name until they put an ISO on him in a playoff game, and he kept beating Bruce Smith. That's because Smith was the best at that time. And I think Seymour had the same mentality as Boselli, that, "I want to go against the best or I want to dominate them, to let people know that I'm one of the best."
The main thing about Seymour is ... he is always competing, even with his teammates. When we played together, he would say, "Who's gonna make the big play?" He sought challenges, competing against me or whoever else to see who could make the big stop.
Seymour is more diverse of a player than other defensive tackle in this era. You can move him inside, over the nose or over the guard. He has played a lot of defensive end, but he's not just a pass rusher. And on some occasions, we even stood him up. He's also a guy who can block field goals ... he's diverse.
Basically, Seymour can play a bunch of positions on the line and be effective at all of them.
Harrison: A case for Casey Hampton
Casey Hampton gets my vote as the best defensive tackle for Player 2K.
He didn't make the all-decade team. He has nine career sacks. And he doesn't even look athletic.
This is a nod to the nose tackles who are the point men in the proliferation of the 3-4 defense, and big No. 98 has been the overall best at his job, controlling his space so that Steelers linebackers can play in space. He has been good enough to be a five-time Pro Bowl pick ... good enough to be on the Steelers' all-time team next to "Mean" Joe Greene and Ernie Stautner, both Hall of Fame defensive tackles. Good enough for our Pat Kirwan, too.
There's nothing sexy in Hampton's game. He doesn't do sexy. He just contributes to winning. Here's all you need to know: Since he came into the league in 2001, the Steelers have finished in the top three teams in points allowed six times, including three first-place finishes.
While some great players such as LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu have contributed to those numbers, none of those guys were there in 2001 when Pittsburgh finished second in yards allowed, third in points allowed, and made it to the AFC Championship with freaking Kordell Stewart at quarterback. Hampton was, starting 11 games as a rookie (including playoffs).
Along with defensive end Aaron Smith, Hampton has been the constant in Pittsburgh's defensive dominance in this decade, occupying blockers in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme so other guys can make plays and get those awful Fatheads made in their likeness.
Players in the discussion: Seymour, Williams, Wilfork, Glover, Pat Williams, Kris Jenkins, Warren Sapp (better in the '90s)
Great ... but don't belong: Ngata (not enough time), Jay Ratliff, Albert Haynesworth (don't get me started)
Guy(s) nobody talks about: Marcus Stroud