Analysts and fans put tons of effort into evaluating the careers of professional football players, making lists and writing thinkpieces and comparing achievements -- but no outside observer can ever hope to match the intimate knowledge shared by those who actually spent time on an NFL field together.
In this series, former players who work for NFL Network will name the five best players they each individually played with in their careers. Note that these lists are completely subjective, based on factors that only contemporary colleagues could fairly evaluate, like locker-room influence and impact as a teammate, in addition to skill sets and in-game production. Which means they will be packed with surprises -- and they'll be more interesting than a simple recitation of the most obviously accomplished past teammates. (Note also that the personal nature of this exercise means the absence of a high-profile ex-teammate or two SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS A SNUB.)
Below, former NFL defensive back DeAngelo Hall (Atlanta Falcons, 2004-07; Oakland Raiders, 2008; Washington Redskins, 2008-2017) provides his ranking of the top players he played with, listed in reverse order:
5) Jordan Reed, tight end, free agent
Reed was Hall's teammate from 2013 to '17 with the Washington Redskins.
Reed was unguardable when he was at full health, which, unfortunately, wasn't often. I can say with full confidence that I'd take a healthy Reed over almost every single tight end I've ever played against -- even Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is a great player, but he didn't strike fear into me at the line of scrimmage. He's big and physical, but I knew Gronk could never run by me. Reed could run by defenders on every play thanks, in large part, to his basketball background. I'm telling you, basketball guys who play football are different animals. That's why I'm so high on rookie Henry Ruggs III. These guys are so tough to defend because they shake and shimmy to set you up and then they beat you with a crossover. Before you know it, they're out of reach. Reed could run every route and was flat out more athletic than everyone else. It almost wasn't fair. The 2016 Pro Bowler had the best footwork of any player weighing 240-plus pounds that I have ever seen, and he couldn't be covered one-on-one.
Reed was the person you faced in practice if you wanted to get better, and I loved competing against him. He fought so hard for everything he got, and that was to his detriment at times. There were moments when I hated watching him fight for that extra yard to help the team because he was beating up his body. His injuries haven't allowed him to play a full regular season. He's a free agent after being released by the Redskins this offseason, and I'm hoping he'll get a chance to reach his out-of-this-world potential with the team that signs him.
4) DeSean Jackson, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
Jackson was Hall's teammate from 2014 to '16 with the Washington Redskins.
We didn't start out as great friends. That's no secret. With Jackson being a Philadelphia Eagle for the first six years of his career and me being a DB in Washington at that time, how could we be? But when I got the chance to help recruit him to Washington in 2014 -- my then-teammate Pierre Garcon, rapper Wale and I took him out in D.C. -- I was stoked because I would no longer have to play against him. And from his first day in Washington, he pushed me and made me work in practice like no other receiver had. I generally wasn't worried about receivers out-running me, but I was with DJax. He was a younger speedster and I was a veteran who still felt like I could stay with anyone. He forced me to perfect my technique because I couldn't rely solely on my speed against him. We were both great at tracking the ball -- an aspect of my game that I always prided myself on -- and we had fierce competitions in practice. I wish that I had been healthier during our time together and that I had been teammates with a receiver of his caliber for more of my career. Iron sharpens iron -- and we bettered each other.
The three-time Pro Bowl selectee is the total package as far as receivers are concerned, in my opinion, and it's too bad he didn't reach even greater heights with the Redskins. Sure, he had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Washington and led the league in yards per catch in 2014 and '16 (20.9 and 17.9 ypc, respectively) but I still think DJax could've been more of a centerpiece for us during those years. Years later, he's still playing at a high level -- just with those damn Eagles again.
3) Jason Taylor, DE, Hall of Famer
Taylor was Hall's teammate in 2008 with the Washington Redskins.
I started the 2008 season with the Oakland Raiders after signing a seven-year deal that offseason, but I was cut after just eight games. So I headed home to play with the Redskins. They had a loaded defense that featured guys like London Fletcher (I'll get to him in a minute), LaRon Landry, Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs, but no dude was better or cooler than Jason Taylor. I only played with the Hall of Fame defensive end for half a season, but man, did I enjoy playing with him. At 6-foot-6, 244 pounds, Taylor was extremely versatile and he pretty much played wherever we needed him, dropping in coverage as an outside linebacker or playing with his hand in the dirt on the line. Great players all have a certain IT factor and Taylor was no different. He had this aura about him. You just knew no moment was too big for him. His confidence matched his talent, which was a big reason he was able to accomplish so much during his career. He's living in the history books because of it.
2) London Fletcher, linebacker, retired
Fletcher was Hall's teammate from 2008 to '13 with the Washington Redskins.
Fletcher was undoubtedly one of the most consistent, iron man-type of players. He didn't miss a single game in 16 seasons. Some might be surprised by that when they learn he had a 5-foot-10, 242-pound frame and went undrafted in 1998. But after seeing the way he approached the game and the mentality he brought to work every day, it's not the least bit shocking. When we became teammates, he really challenged me to be a great player and leader. I'd turn to him before every game during our six seasons together and say, "You lead, I'll follow." He gave everything he had on each snap -- he even threw up on the sidelines before every game -- and his never-ending motor was infectious. I always felt like even if I did one-tenth of what Fletcher did, we'd be OK that day. He was overlooked so often because he played in the same era as Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, players who got instant credibility partly because of team success. Our Redskins teams struggled during those years, but if people turned on the film, they would have to respect what Fletcher did.
Fletcher ended his career with 1,384 solo tackles -- ranking second since 1994 behind only Lewis (1,568) -- and made four Pro Bowl appearances. He was the definition of a football player, and when thinking back on the way he played, I find myself often disappointed with the product some players put out on the field in today's game. He never took a play off, never stopped before the whistle.
1) Michael Vick, quarterback, retired
Vick was Hall's teammate from 2004 to '07 with the Atlanta Falcons.
Growing up in Virginia, I remember watching Vick play at Virginia Tech from afar (before I got there) and was mesmerized by what he did as a quarterback. When I arrived in Atlanta my rookie year, I quickly realized that everything people said about Vick was true. He was revolutionary. Sure, I was used to seeing quarterbacks run all over the field in high school and even college. It was unusual to see a player do it at the NFL level, though, and he did it all the time. I remember getting up out of my seat on almost every drive when our offense was on the field -- when the defensive players usually sat down to catch our breath on the sidelines -- because Vick was exciting as hell to watch. And, hey, we had the best seat in the house.
Vick finished his career as the league's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks (6,109 yards) and was the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season (1,039 in 2006). To this day, I'm still in awe of the play where he split Minnesota's defenders. I was in college then but remember saying, "Did he just do that?" Even now, when I replay it, I think he's not going to make it through -- like I'm watching a live game or something. One thing Vick didn't get enough credit for was his arm strength. Until you're physically on the field and trying to stop Vick, you don't realize how difficult it was. I had to be in tight coverage on every route because he could throw the hell out of the ball and drop it right into the receiver's hands. I gained much more respect for that part of his game after playing with him in Atlanta early in my career.