Drafting the all-time greats for MMQB

Johnny Unitas photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

Editor’s note: In May, Peter King conducted an NFL draft of all players from all eras for a July package he planned for his Monday Morning Quarterback web site. Rick Gosselin was one of the 12 men with historical perspective King invited to participate as drafters. Here Gosselin writes of that drafting experience and also his team-building thought process.

The call from Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King in May was, at first, flattering. Then daunting.

King wanted to conduct an all-time NFL draft of players from all eras, and I was one of his 12 choices to participate in the drafting. That’s the flattering part. The daunting part was competition I’d be facing from the other 11 drafters.

King invited both Pro Football Hall-of-Fame general managers, Bill Polian and Ron Wolf, to participate, as well as two other personnel gurus who built Super Bowl champions, Ernie Accorsi and Gil Brandt. In addition to myself, there were two other Hall-of Fame-writers participating, King and Bob McGinn, plus a Hall-of-Fame player, quarterback Dan Fouts.

These guys know their football.

The draft was 25 rounds, allowing for the selection of a full lineup — 11 starters on offense, 11 on defense, a pair of kickers and a wild-card selection. Thus, 25 rounds for 25 players.

I built my draft board the day I got the call from Peter. My goal was to select a true team, position specific. On offense, I would draft a true halfback and a true fullback, not two halfbacks. I would draft a speed wide receiver and a power receiver to complement him. I would draft a left tackle and a right tackle, not two left tackles.

On defense, I would draft a strongside end and a weakside end, not two weakside pass rushers. I would draft a power tackle and a speed tackle to complement him. I would draft a strongside linebacker and a weakside backer, a strong safety and a free safety.

If my team actually had to line up for a game, everyone would be comfortable at their starting spots. I also wanted proven commodities at those starting spots. And I got them. At the end of the 25 rounds, I had 24 all-decade selections, 17 Hall of Famers, six members of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and three members of the league’s 50th anniversary team. My 25 players combined to attend 172 Pro Bowls.

The two key elements of a successful football team are the quarterback and the pass rush. Those would be my priorities at the top of the draft. I also wanted to focus on defense early because there are fewer great defensive players in the game’s history than there are on offense. Only 32.8 percent of all players enshrined in Canton played defense, compared to 66.4 percent who played offense.

So my goal was to stock up on as many blue-chip defenders as I could early. I knew I could still get quality offensive players, Hall-of-Fame-caliber players, deep into the draft. I found my center in the 22nd round – Kevin Mawae, who went to eight Pro Bowls and was a Hall-of-Fame finalist in 2017. I found my power receiver in the 23rd round – Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin, who set an NFL record with 11 consecutive of games of 100 yards or more in 1995.

My other objective was to build my offense around the arm of my quarterback. I drew the third overall choice of the draft – and in every round thereafter. My first choice was going to be quarterback, so I knew I would get either my first (Johnny Unitas), second (Tom Brady) or third (Otto Graham) option at the position. I wound up with Unitas, who called his own plays, invented the two-minute drill and put the NFL on the map in the 1950s by becoming the game’s first star of the television era.

Having locked up the most critical position on the football field, my goal in the second round was to grab the best edge rusher available. I wound up with the No. 2 end on my draft board – David “Deacon” Jones, who gave the term “sack” to football and collected 173 ½ of them, third most in NFL history.

With my next three picks I landed the top middle (Dick Butkus), weakside (Jack Ham) and strongside (Bobby Bell) linebackers on my draft board. I also selected three 100-sack pass rushers on my front line: Jones, end Neil Smith and tackle John Randle. Smith and Randle were both 1990s’ all-decade selections. Randle, my speed tackle, collected 137 ½ sacks, second most in NFL history at his position.

My power tackle was Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, a two-time Hall-of-Fame finalist, who played at 6-6, 300 pounds in the 1950s when the average NFL defensive linemen was playing at 245.

I wanted to give the best quarterback in NFL history a cast that could highlight his arm. In addition to Irvin, I drafted Lance Alworth, the No. 2 wideout on my board, as my speed receiver. An AFL great, Alworth posted five seasons in double figures in touchdowns and four seasons when he averaged better than 20 yards per reception. He was my sixth-round pick.

I also drafted tight end Antonio Gates in the 16th round. His 111 touchdowns are the most ever by an NFL tight end. But the key would be my outlet receivers. Only three running backs in NFL history have managed to catch 100 passes in a single season. I got one of them in halfback LaDainian Tomlinson with my eighth-round pick. Only three running backs in NFL history have managed to catch 1,000 yards in passes in a single season. I got one of them in fullback Roger Craig with my 18th round selection.

With Alworth, Irvin, Gates, Tomlinson and Craig as his targets, Unitas would be the best player in any league. Who are you going to double? Are you going to put a linebacker on Tomlinson? Someone will always be open and my quarterback will find him.

I also have no concerns running the football. Tomlinson won two NFL rushing titles and is the NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher. He ranks third among all players in touchdowns with 162, sitting behind only Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Craig had a 1,500-yard rushing season in 1988 when he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.

I took Art Shell as my left tackle, Bob St. Clair as my right tackle and Will Shields and Randall McDaniel as my two guards, all in the middle rounds. All are in the Hall of Fame. They went to 37 Pro Bowls among them. So Unitas would have time to throw.

I drafted Emlen Tunnell as my strong safety with my ninth overall pick. He joined Unitas and Jones on the 50th anniversary team and ranks second all-time in interceptions with 79. I claimed my strong safety with my next pick, Kenny Easley, a member of the Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2017.

I drafted Darrell Green as my speed corner with the ninth overall pick and Ty Law as my physical corner with the 19th pick. They combined for 107 career interceptions and played on three Super Bowl champions apiece.

I loaded up on my special teamers late, drafting the NFL’s all-time leading scorer Morten Anderson as my kicker, the punter on the all-time All-AFL team, Jerrel Wilson, and the return specialist on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. Unitas, Alworth, Jones, Butkus and Ham joined White Shoes on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.

King also held a draft for head coaches in reverse order, so I was picking 10th. To my surprise, I landed the No. 2 coach on my draft board, Paul Brown. In my mind, that was like finding Tom Brady in the sixth round. A lot of drafters missed on this one.

Not only was Brown a great coach – he took the Cleveland Browns to 10 consecutive title games from 1946-55, winning seven of them — but he was one of the game’s greatest innovators. He introduced film study to football and invented the playbook. He also was the first head coach to hire a full-time staff of assistants.

The draft was a fun exercise. At 15 seconds per pick, there was pressure to know your draft board and your needs — but hardly the type of pressure NFL teams face in April. They draft the unknowns. We were drafting the knowns. You didn’t hope to find a Hall of Famer in the 11th, 19th or 23rd rounds. They were there for the taking. Brett Favre was a 10th round pick, Emmitt Smith a 13th rounder and Eric Dickerson a 24th rounder.

So no pick was a bad pick — and I happened to like the 25 players I chose and the team I assembled:

Position, player, noteworthy, (round drafted)

QB — Johnny Unitas, NFL’s 75th anniversary team (1)

HB — LaDainian Tomlinson, Hall of Fame (8)

FB — Roger Craig, 1980s NFL all-decade team (18)

WR — Lance Alworth, NFL’s 75th anniversary team (6)

WR — Michael Irvin, Hall of Fame (23)

TE — Antonio Gates, 2000s NFL all-decade team (16)

LT — Art Shell, Hall of Fame (7)

RT — Bob St. Clair, Hall of Fame (14)

G — Will Shields, Hall of Fame (11)

G — Randall McDaniel, Hall of Fame (15)

C — Kevin Mawae, 2000s NFL all-decade team (22)

DE — Deacon Jones, NFL’s 75th anniversary team (2)

DE — Neil Smith, 1990s NFL all-decade team (24)

DT — John Randle, Hall of Fame (13)

DT — Gene “Big Daddy” LIpscomb, 2-time Hall of Fame finalist (17)

SLB — Bobby Bell, Hall of Fame (5)

MLB — Dick Butkus, NFL’s 75th anniversary team (3)

WLB — Jack Ham, NFL’s 75th anniversary team (4)

CB — Darrell Green, Hall of Fame (12)

CB — Ty Law, 2000s NFL all-decade team (19)

FS — Emlen Tunnell, NFL’s 50th anniversary team (9)

SS — Kenny Easley, Hall of Fame (10)

K — Morten Anderson, Hall of Fame (20)

P — Jerrel Wilson, all-time All-AFL team (21)

KR — Bill “White Shoes” Johnson, NFL’s 75th anniversary team (25)

Coach — Paul Brown, Hall of Fame




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  1. bachslunch
    July 17, 2017

    Looks like a really fun exercise to participate in. Rick, liked you team a lot as well as Gil Brandt’s, Joe Horrigan’s, and John Turney’s. Getting good balance in offense/defense/special teams is really tough in an exercise like this.

  2. stmrler
    July 17, 2017

    Both the defensive ends are left defensive ends. Both the outside linebackers are left outside linebackers. Both safeties are strong side safeties.

  3. TheJJWattExperience
    July 18, 2017

    This would have been fun to participate in if there were 32 expert GMs drafting. I like stuff like this.

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