A few weeks back, Eli Manning led a game-winning drive (two of them actually) against the Patriots. Media types and fans far and wide (or at least in the greater NYC metro area) overreacted massively to Eli’s performance, and the phrase “You can’t spell elite without ELI” was born. At the time, I countered that Eli was far from “elite,” with the following reasoning:
Let’s pretend that in a galaxy far, far away, there’s planet called Marklar. Marklar is inhabited by beings that resemble humans in many ways, with similar athletic abilities. As luck would have it, they too play football, and amazingly, all their rules are exactly the same. However, they have superior military capabilities, and they’re kinda a bunch of jerks. They have informed Earth that they are annexing it, and plan to use all of Earth’s resources for their own home planet… that is, unless, Earth can beat them in a game of football. So I’ll pose this question: Are you taking Eli Manning with you to battle the Marklars?
Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. I started thinking of who I would take to Marklar with me, in this “Space Jam” type scenario.
I put together a 46-man roster (you only have 46 active players on Sundays). I also added 7 inactives, just in case we get to Marklar and they start changing the rules and make it a best of 7 after we smoke them. Let’s get right to it, starters in red, reserves in blue.
QB – Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL these days. I think that’s fairly obvious. He starts. The backup is where it gets a little tricky. My preference is Tom Brady over Drew Brees, personally, although I certainly won’t argue too hard if anyone disagrees. Then there’s a fairly large gap between those three guys and the 4th best QB in the NFL. I’m only activating 2 QBs. Brees makes the squad, but is inactive.
RB – Adrian Peterson is my workhorse. He’s quietly having a spectacular season for a terrible team that has no passing attack. LeSean McCoy is my backup. That’s a pretty nasty 1-2 combo. I’m also bringing Darren Sproles with me to be my kick returner and occasional weapon on offense.
FB – Vonta Leach makes the trip with us, but he’s inactive.
WR – OK, here’s where the fun begins. I’m listing 3 WRs as my starters. They would be Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson. Megatron is 6’5, 236. Fitzy is 6’3, 218 and can jump through the roof. Andre Johnson is 6’3, 226. Add in TE Jimmy Graham, 6’6, 260, and I’m not sure exactly how the Marklars are matching up against that size in the passing game. I strongly considered adding a true burner to the mix as my 4. That would have been Mike Wallace, but he stays home. Instead, I chose to value Greg Jennings‘ repore with his Packer teammate Aaron Rodgers. Wes Welker makes the cut working the underneath stuff and moving the chains. I’m also bringing Devin Hester with me as the punt returner. That’s kind of a no-brainer, in my opinion. I may even try to draw up a creative screen or two to Hester that gets Jason Peters out in front of him.
TE – The aforementioned Jimmy Graham is an absolute star and a matchup nightmare. I’m not really sure NFL defenses have anything close to an answer on how to stop him yet. I’m only bringing two TEs with me – Jason Witten is my #2.
OL – I have it like this: LT Joe Thomas – LG Logan Mankins – C Nick Mangold – RG Jahri Evans – RT Jason Peters. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is my swing tackle, and Jake Long is my extra beef in short yardage and goal line packages. Chris Snee is having a down year, but I like that he has the versatility to play center as well as his normal position at guard, so he makes the cut by a thread. I’m a little nervous about my interior OL, which is a weak spot in today’s NFL.
The defensive side of the ball gets a little murky. Do we run a 3-4? A 4-3? I think I want my defense to be somewhat of a hybrid, where we show all sorts of looks and utilize the skills of the best players in the NFL, but for the purpose of “naming starters,” we’ll go with a base 3-4, since it seems like that’s what majority of the best defenses in the NFL are running this year.
Front 7 – Justin Smith starts at DE. He’s the best 3-4 DE in the league, bar none. Even though Julius Peppers has spent his entire career in a 4-3 scheme, I like him as a nice fit as my other 3-4 DE. Don’t worry guys – I’m aware there are probably better DEs in the league than Peppers. They’ll likely get more snaps. But Peppers is my “starter” in the 3-4 base D, so his name gets highlighted in red. My NT is a no-brainer. Haloti Ngata gets the nod there. DeMarcus Ware starts on the outside. Opposite him is my team’s only rookie, Von Miller. And the kid gets the start as well. In the middle, Patrick Willis gets the radio helmet as my every down guy, with Ray Lewis alongside him. There are probably more athletic and guys than the aging Lewis, but I simply can’t leave him off the squad. Jared Allen will sub in on passing downs. Vince Wilfork will see some snaps in short yardage situations. Ndamukong Suh stays home. We’ll also find some ways to mix in James Harrison and Clay Matthews. London Fletcher is my first ILB off the bench should something happen to Lewis or Willis. I love the thought of Fletcher, Matthews, and Harrison running down field full steam on kickoffs. In somewhat of a surprise, I’m bringing NaVorro Bowman with me. Bowman had 26 tackles on special teams as a rookie last year, and has made himself into a great ILB in his 2nd year. I also really like Calais Campbell. Campbell is 6’8, 300, and has 3 blocked FGs this season. Love the thought of pairing him next to the 6’7 Peppers on the FG block team. Campbell would double as one of my interior rushers on obvious passing downs – I’m envisioning a 4 down lineman set of Allen-Peppers-Campbell-Ware.
CB – Obviously Darrelle Revis is going. I really struggled with picking the other starting corner, as Revis is the only one true elite corner in the league. In Philly, Nnamdi Asomugha is being asked to do things he’s never done at the NFL level. On this elite defense, he’s not going to be asked to cover up other deficiencies. I’m letting him do what he did in Oakland. I’m going to camp him out at RCB and let him play man press all day. Nobody better at that in the game than Nnamdi. Charles Woodson is my nickle. The Packers use him almost like a linebacker in nickle sets. That’s how he’ll be used on this team as well. My 4th corner is the best tackling corner in the game, Antoine Winfield. It’d be fun drawing up blitzes for Woodson and Winfield. I’m also bringing Charles Tillman. Over the last 4+ seasons, Tillman has forced 20 fumbles. That’s insane for a corner. He my gunner on punt coverage, among other STs responsibilities. Maybe he makes a play.
S – It’s kind of crazy how few really good safeties there are in the NFL. Obviously, there’s Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. But then who? I guess I’ll bring Eric Weddle with me. Good range, sure tackler. He’s the most well-rounded safety of the guys after Troy and Reed. I’m only keeping 3 active safeties.
K – Sebastian Janikowski. 2 misses this season, none from shorter than 40. 6 makes from 50+, including a 63 yarder.
P – Shane Lechler. No-brainer.
LS – Jon Dorenbos. I’ll just let this guy speak for Jon Dorenbos:
Inactives – Drew Brees, Jason Pierre-Paul, Trent Cole, Ryan Clady, Carl Nicks, Adrian Wilson, Vonta Davis.
|Aaron Rodgers *||Packers|
|Adrian Peterson *||Vikings|
|Darren Sproles (KR)||Saints|
|Calvin Johnson *||Lions|
|Larry Fitzgerald *||Cardinals|
|Andre Johnson *||Texans|
|Devin Hester (PR)||Bears|
|Jimmy Graham *||Saints|
|Joe Thomas * – LT||Browns|
|Logan Mankins * – LG||Patriots|
|Nick Mangold * – C||Jets|
|Jahri Evans * – RG||Saints|
|Jason Peters * – RT||Eagles|
|Julius Peppers *||Bears|
|Haloti Ngata *||Ravens|
|DeMarcus Ware *||Cowboys|
|Von Miller *||Broncos|
|Patrick Willis *||49ers|
|Ray Lewis *||Ravens|
|Darrelle Revis *||Jets|
|Nnamdi Asomugha *||Eagles|
|Troy Polamalu *||Steelers|
|Ed Reed *||Ravens|