I am back to finish Part III B of the offensive side of the ball for our Wine Cellar Team. You can find the previous parts of this series below:
Part I : The Concept
Part II: In Memoriam
Part III A. – The Offense
Now on to Part III B of the offense where we will cover the Tight Ends and Offensive Lineman.
Tight Ends (3)
2011 Rob Gronkowski
Over the last 20 years I’m not sure if there is a bigger disparity in the talent gap between the best player at his position and the runner-up, than tight end. Rob Gronkowski is the best in the game bar none. No one combines the blocking skills, receiving skills and overall mismatch threat than Gronk. He’s already trending to be the best tight end to ever play the game and it’s not even close. He is one of the few position players that radically shifts the balance of power when he is in the game. You’ve heard it since 2010, there are the Pats with Gronk and the Pats without him. Two completely different teams and the ceiling for offensive greatness is so much higher when he is 100 % healthy.
So why 2011 Gronk?
For one it is the only season that Gronk has been able to play and start in all 16 games. He set career highs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. In 2011 we get Gronk at 22 years old, pre-ACL injury and a full year removed from the back surgery that caused him to drop into the second round in the 2010 draft. He is a matchup nightmare for any human, species or alien. He’s literally one step removed from squaring off in those YouTube videos; Lion vs Cheetah, Alligator vs Python, Gronk vs Grizzly Bear.
He’ll have no problem forming a connection with ’07 Tom. He can be put in any situation; goal line (run or pass), no huddle. He will be part of our 6’4” and up package (more on that later). And he’ll be the life of the party during the grueling 8 week training camp leading up to the showdown with the aliens (read Part I if you’re confused). He’ll keep Tom Brady and Barry Sanders from getting too serious. The preverbal straw that stirs the drink. Aside from the off-the-field bonuses Gronk brings, his talent at the tight end position is undeniable. If the Wine Cellar Team needs a 4th and 15 bad, Gronk up the seam may just be the call.
2013 Jimmy Graham
The other no-brainer at tight end for this Wine Cellar Team. Both Gronk and Jimmy Graham broke out in 2011. In fact it is the greatest duel tight end seasons of all-time. It shifted the commodity of big, fast and athletic tight ends into a must have in today’s NFL. They even affected fantasy football to the point where these two guys were legit first round picks (unheard of before then).
But which year do you want from Jimmy Graham? His 2011 and 2013 year are some of the best in NFL history. He had more catches and more yards in 2011, but in 2013 he was more efficient and explosive with more touchdowns (16 vs. 11) and yards/catch (14.1 > 13.2). And he did all that in 2013 on 7 less targets. So I gave the nod to 2013 Graham. We still get Graham at his absolute peak age, 27, and he is a bit more seasoned by then. Given the fact that I foresee tons of two tight end sets, lack of playing time won’t be an issue for Graham.
The 6’4″ and up package: Just imagine, Gronk and Graham both on the line with ’98 Moss and ’11 Megatron split out wide. Who the hell are you going to double on the goal line?! What happens when I put a trips set to the right with Calvin, Gronk and Graham and then run a quick tight end screen to 6’7” 260lbs Graham as 6’5” 235 Calvin and 6’6” 265 Gronk block for Graham. That just might be the easiest 10 yards ever!
Having Graham allows us to play any way we want; left-handed, right-handed (aka when the defense wants to focus on taking a player away ala Belicheck) or two-hands tied behind our backs. We should be set at tight end but screw it, let’s go with another mismatch nightmare…
2004 Tony Gonzalez
The father of the too big, too fast and too freakish to cover tight end. Gonzo revolutionized the tight end position from a receiving standpoint. He holds every conceivable tight end record there is. He more than holds his own blocking which makes him a perfect fit to pair with Gronk in our run situations. As the third tight end in a goal line formation, how unstoppable is the block/slip pass on play action?
But question is, what year is the best from one of the most durable and consistent tight ends ever to play the game?
His 2000 and 2008 seasons also got consideration, which is a testament to itself, that’s nearly 10 years between peak seasons that could be considered for the Wine Cellar Team. 2000 was the more statistically proficient of the two, plus Gonzalez is at the ripe age of 24 in 2000. I ended up going with 2004 because he was able to corral more catches in his targets that he saw. In ’04 he also set career highs for catches in a season with (102) and receiving yards. Yes his touchdown numbers were down, under double digits, but in those mid-2000s years the Chiefs had two running backs both get over 20 plus touchdowns so I don’t downgrade Gonzo that much for the dip in scoring. If anything it highlights his goal line blocking which isn’t Gronk level but pretty damn good in its own right.
So there it is, those are the three tight ends I’m going to war with. We get a good mix of talents in all three of them. Graham shaded more towards the receiving end, Gonzo little bit more on the blocking side and Gronk, who is the complete tight end of all time.
2009 Antonio Gates
There are a number of years you could go with for Antonio Gates. 2003, 2004 or 2006. Every one of those years he posted an “AV” of 13 or above (2009 he tied a career high w/’06 in 14). It’s a shame that he can’t make this team, but I simply couldn’t roll with four tight ends and cut someone elsewhere more deserving. Gates was the second coming of Tony Gonzalez. In fact he even was a former college basketball star just like Gonzo was and later Jimmy Graham. And when you look at his production, it pales in comparison across the board to our top 3 tight ends. He deserves to get a mention here, when you think of dominant tight ends of the last 20 years, his name most certainly comes to mind.
2009 Vernon Davis
I’m not sure there was ever a better NFL Combine performance than 2006 Vernon Davis. His sheer numbers forecasted the coming freakishness that we would soon grow accustom to from NFL players that should not move this athletically for being that big. Unfortunately there were only a couple of years that Vernon could actually put it all together (2009 & 2013). Part of it wasn’t his fault (Alex Smith and the carousel of QB’s) and some of it was. He deserves to be considered for his 2009 effort but ultimately we are pretty set at the position with our top three. Now, on to the big uglies….
Offensive Line (9)
*I am not a guru when it comes to offensive line play, few of us really are (except you Robert Mays). There was not a lot of quantitative stats to acutely judge offensive line play over different years. So we went with the Pro-Football-Reference.com “Approximate Value” (“AV Score”) as a guide and used some common sense.
But there was one individual who was an absolute no doubter to be one of the granite blocks of the Wine Cellar Team….
1995 Bruce Matthews – Center
AV Score: 10
Arguably the greatest offensive lineman ever to play the game. He is the son of Clay Matthews Sr. (Offensive Tackle for the San Francisco 49ers from 1950-1955), brother to Clay Matthews Jr. (Linebacker who played 19 seasons for both the Browns and Falcons from 1978-1996) and uncle to current Green Bay Packers star Linebacker Clay Matthews III (2009-present). Besides the Manning’s, I’m not sure there is a better NFL family than the Matthews and Bruce is the best of all of them.
He played every single position along the offensive line during his 19 year career, primarily Right Guard, Center and Left Guard. 1995 was his first year playing LG but for this team he will be the starting Center because that was his best position during his absolute prime with the 1980s Oilers. Speaking of prime, that is the main reason why I’m going with 1995 Bruce Matthews, in ’95 we get him at 34 years old, the youngest possible age I could. Yes he’s no spring chicken but offensive lineman age better than any other position group in football outside of kickers and punters. And considering Matthew’s best “AV” year came in 1999 with the Titans at age 38, I’m not worried about his skills diminishing.
Plain and simple, I want Bruce Matthews at his athletically youngest and he will anchor the center of our offensive line for the Wine Cellar Team.
1999 Orlando Pace – Left Tackle
AV Score: 20
One of this generations’ best left tackles, playing for one of the most electric and potent offenses ever. Orlando Pace was the stalwart of the left side of the ’99 Rams as he protected Wine Cellar Team considered QB Kurt Warner and current teammate Marshall Faulk. He is one of the few on this list that notched two years of O line “AV” scores above 20. His 2000 year (22) scored slightly better than his 1999 year (20) but at this point we’re really just splitting hairs. He represents the prototype I want in my left tackle. He checks every box in attributes, measurables and football IQ. Throw in the fact that he is just getting done with his third NFL year and is 24 years young is just icing on the cake. There were many tackles considered for this spot but no one who had a better overall claim to this crucial position than ’99 Orlando Pace.
1995 Larry Allen – Right Guard
AV Score: 14
It has been said that Larry Allen was possibly the most physically strongest man ever to play the NFL game. He set records in the official bench press (705 lb. (320 kg)) and squat (905 lb. (411 kg)). He was also the main lynch pin of that vaunted 1990s Dallas Cowboys offensive line. 1995, his second year, he helped pave the way for Emmitt Smith’s career year and set a then NFL record with 25 rushing touchdowns. Allen gives this the Wine Cellar Team that road-grader offensive guard that every team needs. It only helps that he is one of the most physically imposing players ever to lace them up. There were other years that could’ve been considered but given the youth and athletic prowess Allen had in 1995, he gets the nod over his 1998 year.
2003 Jonathan Ogden– Right Tackle
AV Score: 12
I was a bit torn here. There were not a lot of options to go with pure right tackles. The only tenured right tackle that got consideration was 1996 Gary Zimmerman from those late ‘90s Shanahan Broncos who were renowned for their zone blocking skill and helped catapult Terrell Davis into Wine Cellar consideration. But I went Ogden here instead because it’s basically a toss-up between ’99 Orlando Pace and ’03 Ogden for the right to starting left tackle which is the premiere position on the O line. Usually it is easier for any left tackle to kick to the right side of the line and perform better. Now Ogden has got massive size, standing 6’9” and at 340 lb. he will make up as physically intimidating of a right side of the offensive line being paired Larry Allen as we can get. Ogden will excel in pass blocking and he has the size to be a dominant right side blocker too. Which is part of the reason why I went with 2003 Ogden as he was a vital part to Jamal Lewis’ 2,000 yard campaign, and at age 29, Ogden is in his full prime with this team. So far I have; ’99 Pace, ’95 Matthews, ’95 Allen and ’03 Ogden, I have one more position to fill for my starting 5.
1998 Randall McDaniel – Left Guard
AV Score: 18
With the physically imposing giants we have on the right side of the line, I went with elite athleticism at this spot. Randall McDaniel stands 6’4” at 287lb. and is a nimble of interior guard that you will find. It wasn’t out of the norm for McDaniel to be a fullback for both the Tampa Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings in short yardage and goal-line situations. I chose 1998 because that was his most complete year statically with an “AV” score of 18. Yes he will be 34 years old but were talking 8 weeks of training camp and one real game, he’ll be fine. Plus in ’98, McDaniel anchored one of the greatest offensives ever with fellow Wine Cellar teammate ’98 Moss. In fact, I count on the familiar face and McDaniel’s veteran leadership to help guide the young Randy Moss should his attitude need an adjustment. All that is really just a bonus, McDaniel gets on here because of his elite athleticism meshes perfectly with ’99 Orlando Pace for our left side of the O line. So we have the power on the right side in ’95 Allen and ’03 Ogden, the left side is already spoken for, and everything held together in the center by the greatest offensive lineman to ever play in my opinion, Bruce Matthews, try and stop us.
2003 Will Shields – Backup Right Guard
AV Score: 16
The constant in the Kansas City Chiefs running game from the days of Marcus Allen through the Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson years. There is a reason that the latter two were not considered for the Wine Cellar Team, not because they lacked the numbers or the talent but because Will Shields was the primary reason why the KC running game was so feared. In ’03 Shields helped Priest Holmes rush for a then NFL record 27 rushing touchdowns. Possessing ideal size and length, he is the number one option to slide in at right guard or even left kick to left guard. As a 12X Pro-Bowler, including 2X First Team All-Pro selection, there were many seasons to choose from. Given his experience and the heights he helped the Chiefs (13-3) and Priest Holmes reach in 2003, it was very hard to choose another year.
1997 Dermontti Dawson – Backup Center
AV Score: 16
When it came to elite centers of the last 20 years there were two names that kept popping up. You already know the first (Matthews), Dermontti Dawson was the other. He was the Pittsburgh Steelers center for 13 years who peaked very late in his career. His best years were with those mid to late 1990s Steelers when he helped pave the way for Jerome “The Bus” Bettis on the way to a Super Bowl and numerous AFC Championship games. His 1997 season was his finest as he garnered one of his (7) Pro-Bowl nods and also one of his (6) 1st Team All-Pro selections in route to leading Pittsburgh to an 11-5 record and an AFCCG birth.
2005 Steve Hutchinson – Backup Left Guard
AV Score: 16
For our other backup guard I’m going with Steve Hutchinson. A lineman who was the staple of the Seahawk led rushing attack and later the Minnesota Vikings. He opened up holes for some of the best running backs over the last 20 years (Shaun Alexander in Seattle and our Wine Cellar Team starter in “All Day” Adrian Peterson). Choosing a single version of “Hutch” was tough. He had the distinction of the best guard in football for most of the 2000s. I went with 2005 because then I get Hutchinson in his peak prime at 28 years old, but more so because he helped RB Shaun Alexander to his best season ever with 1,880 yards and tied an NFL record 27 rushing touchdowns. As the best player on a Seahawks team that went to the Super Bowl that year, he gets a spot on this team.
1996 Gary Zimmerman – Backup Right Tackle
AV Score: 14
This is the only pure right tackle to make the team. Zimmerman was a constant for the 1990s Vikings and the Denver Broncos. But it wasn’t till Mike Shanahan came to the Mile High City that Zimmerman reached his full potential. Gary Zimmerman was a master in the zone-blocking scheme that Shanahan deployed in the 90s. I went with 1996 because it was his highest “AV” score and I wanted to go with a wily veteran that had big time experience in big games playing right tackle just in case he is called upon. Zimmerman rounds out our offensive line for the Wine Cellar Team.
*I went 9 lineman in all; ’95 Bruce Matthews as the captain (he can back up all 5 spots if need be), athletic technicians on the left with ’99 Pace and ’98 McDaniel and physically imposing road-graders on the right with ’95 Allen and ’03 Ogden. And elite backups at every spot except LT which ’03 Ogden, ’95 Matthews and ’96 Zimmerman can all play there in a pinch.
1995 Willie Roaf – LT
AV Score: 15
The 11-time Pro-Bowler and 3-time 1st Team All-Pro who was long time left tackle for the New Orleans Saints and then finished his career with Wine Cellar guard Will Shields in KC. Roaf was a very tough cut but the dearth of players able to plat LT for this team simply made him expendable. Nonetheless, he was a stalwart in his prime and deserved recognition.
2005 Walter Jones – LT
AV Score: 15
Another very tough cut at the left tackle spot. He was Hutchinson’s running mate in Seattle for that vaunted run game. Unfortunately a lot of great left tackles didn’t make the cut.
2005 Jeff Saturday – C
AV Score: 18
Extremely high “AV” score, in fact his three year “AV” score run from 2005-2007 is some of the best of any O lineman considered. But I simply can’t roster Saturday above ’97 Dawson and the god of our Oline, ’95 Matthews. Besides, ’05 Saturday would be probably pissed that Peyton Manning didn’t make the team. And I can’t have that.
2005 Alan Faneca – LG
AV Score: 17
Tenured Pittsburgh Steelers guard. Anchored the line along with Demontti Dawson for the Jerome Bettis days. Aged like a fine wine into his 30s with his best year coming in ’05 and he capped it off with a Super Bowl.
-That will do it for Part III A. & B. for our NFL Wine Cellar Team 1995-2015. Stay tuned for the defensive side of the ball coming in about 2 to 3 weeks.
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