Welcome to the new
With that, a decade in the NFL defined by even more Patriots dominance, the continued exemplary play from future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks approaching the end of their careers, the slow and gradual movement toward analytics, and the sudden emergence of a new era of superstar quarterbacks has reached its end. But before we move onto the next decade, it’s time to take one final look back at the decade that just passed by piecing together one team that represents the best that the NFL had to offer over the past 10 years. It’s time to unveil CBS Sports’ NFL All-Decade Team.
Over the past week, the members (roughly 20 in all) of the NFL editorial team here at CBS Sports cast their votes for the best players at every major position group. The votes were gathered, corresponding points were distributed to the players, and by the end of the lengthy process, we had ourselves an All-Decade Team.
What’s surprising, but also encouraging, is that even though the voters did not have access to everyone else’s ballots, most of us voted quite similarly. As a result, there weren’t many notable snubs — not in the sense that a few deserving players didn’t miss the cut (of course a few deserving players didn’t garner the number of votes they probably deserved) — but in the sense that there truly weren’t many cases of a player missing out by only a couple of points. At most position groups, a clear-cut winner emerged. There wasn’t much controversy.
That said, there were three position groups where the margins were slim: right tackle, EDGE, and cornerback. The four players who missed the cut by the slimmest of margins? Lane Johnson, Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan, and Darrelle Revis.
But beyond those four players at those three position groups, the margins were wide. The end result is a team that most of the voters here at CBS Sports cannot be, for the most part, unhappy with. As for how you, the reader, will react, well, that could be an entirely different story. We leave that up to you.
Below, you’ll find CBS Sports’ official NFL All-Decade Team. It should come as no surprise to hear that we’re beginning with a certain quarterback named Tom Brady.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
It was nearly unanimous. All but one of our voters named Brady their top quarterback of the decade. It’s nearly impossible to argue against the selection. In the decade alone, Brady captured two regular-season MVP awards, two Super Bowl MVP honors, and two first team All-Pro selections — cementing his status as the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history along the way. In that span, he threw for the fourth-most yards, the second-most touchdowns, and won the most games by a wide margin.
Running back: Adrian Peterson
In the past decade alone, Peterson totaled 11,268 yards and 76 touchdowns from scrimmage. Among all running backs in that span, only LeSean McCoy scored more touchdowns, and only McCoy, Frank Gore, and Matt Forte racked up more yards from scrimmage. But what separates Peterson from those aforementioned running backs is just how dominant he was at his peak. In 2012, he dragged the Vikings to the playoffs with 2,097 rushing yards, falling eight lousy yards short of tying the all-time record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. It remains impressive that Peterson, even at age 34, has managed to hang around as a productive running back when most players at his position group fall off a cliff upon turning 30. The past two years in Washington, Peterson has averaged 1,145 yards and 6.5 touchdowns from scrimmage per season. He’s the best running back of his generation.
Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk
Juszczyk is the rare fullback who is actually fun to watch, namely due to his ability to actually play a role in the passing game as a receiver. Over the past six seasons in Baltimore and San Francisco, he’s averaged 30 catches and 274.5 receiving yards per season. He’s also been named to four straight Pro Bowls.
Wide receiver: Julio Jones
The sixth-overall pick in 2011, Jones ranks third in receptions and first in receiving yards, but only ninth in touchdowns (as Fantasy owners can certainly attest to) among all receivers during the decade. He’s almost always been an unguardable downfield threat due to his physicality, speed, and skillset. If not for a miraculous comeback by the Patriots, he’d also be remembered as a Super Bowl champion who made the best play of the game (a jaw-dropping sideline grab). Even if he never gets a ring, he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory — and he’s not slowing down, as his 99-catch, 1,394-yard season so clearly demonstrates.
Wide receiver: Antonio Brown
Before it all went so wrong for Brown in the past year, he emerged as the league’s best receiver due to his reliable hands, route-running, and explosive speed. A sixth-round pick in 2010, Brown was at his best from 2011-18. During those seasons, he racked up the most receptions by 123 catches, the most receiving yards by 309 yards, and the most touchdown catches by seven touchdowns. He was the best receiver in football and it wasn’t that particularly close. The past year has certainly soiled his reputation — rightly so — but there’s no doubt that at his peak, in terms of strictly playing receiver in the NFL, nobody was better.
Slot receiver: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald has been going strong in Arizona since 2004, but in the past decade alone, he’s averaged 85.5 receptions, 1,001.6 receiving yards, and 6.1 touchdowns per season. No receiver caught more passes than him in that span, and he also ranked third in receiving yards and seventh in touchdown passes. No one will ever forget the time he singlehandedly won the Cardinals a playoff game with a 75-yard catch and run that preceded a 5-yard touchdown catch to eliminate the Packers in overtime.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski
There’s never been a tight end as dominant as Gronk. He wasn’t just an explosive and unstoppable pass catcher, which he certainly was, but he was also an awesome blocker. If you could create the perfect tight end from scratch, it’d be a Gronk replica. In his nine-year career, he racked up 7,863 yards and 80 touchdowns per scrimmage. To put those numbers into perspective, consider that during the span of his career, the closest a tight end came to matching him in receiving yards was Jimmy Graham and Graham still fell 425 yards short of Gronk even though Graham played in 22 more games. Gronk averaged 0.7 touchdowns per game in his career. Graham averaged 0.52 touchdowns per game in that same span. Simply put, nobody came close to matching Gronk’s efficiency or production. He was named first team All-Pro in four of his nine seasons and it likely would’ve been more if injuries hadn’t robbed him of so many games. He’s the best ever to play the position. I miss watching him on Sundays.
Left tackle: Joe Thomas
The ultimate iron man, Thomas set an NFL record by playing in 10,363 consecutive snaps. In his 11-year career, he was named first team All-Pro six times, with five of them coming in the decade. Thomas deserved far better than he got in Cleveland. The Browns were blessed with the best left tackle of the decade, but failed to take advantage of his consistent dominance by refusing to give him a franchise-caliber quarterback to protect.
Left guard: Mike Iupati
For the past 10 seasons, Iupati has been one of the most consistent left guards in the game — with his four trips to the Pro Bowl and one first team All-Pro honor serving as evidence. Among all guards in the past decade, he ranks fifth in approximate value, according to Pro-Football-Reference. The other four guards were all better known for playing right guard. In that sense, Iupati was the easy pick here.
Center: Maurkice Pouncey
With the Steelers for the entire decade, Poucey has gone to eight Pro Bowls and has been named first team All-Pro twice. In terms of approximate value among all centers over the past 10 years, he trails only Alex Mack (one could certainly argue that he was snub), but the two centers are neck-and-neck and clearly in a class of their own. Helping Pouncey is that he’s been a member of Steelers teams that have almost always won. Mack, meanwhile, had the misfortune of being drafted by the Browns before he joined the Falcons and promptly lost the Super Bowl in historic fashion.
Right guard: Marshal Yanda
Eight Pro Bowls. Two first team All-Pro selections. Only Jahri Evans had more approximate value among all guards during the decade. Even so, it’s difficult to argue against Yanda getting the nod here — especially after factoring in how well he’s played this year, at age 35, paving the way for a historically great rushing attack.
Right tackle: Mitchell Schwartz
Schwartz only just barely edged Lane Johnson in one of the tightest votes. Where Schwartz gained an advantage was in his reliability. Since entering the league in 2012, he’s never missed a game. Meanwhile, Johnson has missed 20 games in his seven-year career. Both players have been named first team All-Pro once, with Schwartz’s coming more recently. Again, it was close. Johnson was also deserving. But that doesn’t make Schwartz undeserving. He’s a worthy pick.
EDGE: Von Miller
Unlike the second EDGE position (more on that below), Miller’s appointment was unanimous. Every single voter gave him a first-place vote. It’s impossible to argue against his selection considering he generated 106 sacks in the decade. Nobody had more. Nobody even came close to having more. In second place are J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones, both of whom fell 10 sacks shy.
EDGE: Khalil Mack
Still, Jones did not find a way to sneak his way onto this list. Neither did Cameron Jordan, who also came devastatingly close to securing the second EDGE spot. It was tight. It was, by far, the closest vote of any position group. But in the end, Mack emerged as the winner. All three players are deserving — including Mack, who in six seasons with the Raiders and Bears, registered 61.5 sacks and racked up three first team All-Pro selections, five Pro Bowl nods, and one Defensive Player of the Year award. I have to imagine his 2018 season, when he arrived in Chicago via a blockbuster trade, helped his cause, because he really was one of the best players in football and he performed so well in the spotlight after the Bears gave up a king’s ransom for him.
Interior defensive lineman: Aaron Donald
No controversy here. Donald’s been the most dominant interior defensive lineman since his NFL career began in 2014. It’s borderline insane that a guy who operates exclusively in the middle of the trenches has managed to average 12 sacks per season — including an epic 20.5-sack season in 2018. He’s also won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Interior defensive lineman: J.J. Watt
Watt was another uncontroversial selection, and with good reason. He recorded 96 sacks in the decade (tied for the second most) even though he’s missed 32 games over the past four seasons. At his peak, he might’ve been the best player in football. From 2012-15, he averaged 17.3 sacks per season. In that span, he had two 20.5-sack seasons. He was named first team All-Pro five times. And he captured three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Nose tackle: Vince Wilfork
Nose tackle isn’t the sexiest position group, which makes it difficult to list impressive statistics to bolster Wilfork’s case. Wilfok did earn one first team All-Pro selection and three trips to the Pro Bowl in the decade, and from 2010-12, he racked up an approximate value of 40, which ranked second among all defensive tackles. I suspect his ties to the Patriots helped his cause. Haloti Ngata and Damon “Snacks” Harrison finished second and third, respectively, but neither came particularly close to unseating Wilfork.
Linebacker: Bobby Wagner
No linebacker racked up more combined tackles than Wagner during the past 10 seasons. Wagner was also a member of a defense that will be remembered for generations to come, playing a key role in the team’s Super Bowl season and their near follow up. He’s seldom been injured, missing only nine games in eight seasons. He’s been named first team All-Pro four times — or 50 percent of the time. And he’s not really slowing down. He’s coming off a 159-tackle season, his second-most productive season in terms of tackles. This one’s a no-brainer. He’s the perfect inside linebacker.
Linebacker: Luke Kuechly
Likewise, Kuechly’s inclusion was another no-brainer. He’s second to only Wagner in combined tackles over the course of the decade, he’s been named first team All-Pro five times, and he won Defensive Player of the Year once. Like Wagner, he’s the perfect inside linebacker.
Linebacker: Patrick Willis
Things get a bit more contentious with Willis, who handedly beat out linebackers like NaVorro Bowman, Lavonte David, and Thomas Davis. Willis surprisingly retired after the 2014 season, meaning he played in only five out of 10 years of the decade. And in his fifth and final season, he appeared in only six games. But from 2010-13, Willis racked up 345 solo tackles, 11.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and three interceptions. By approximate value among inside linebackers during that three-year window, he led the league by a substantial margin. Willis might’ve only had three dominant years during the decade, but those three years were so dominant that he managed to sneak his way onto the list.
Cornerback: Richard Sherman
Nobody should have any issues with Sherman’s inclusion. Even though quarterbacks were so often terrified of throwing his way, Sherman still led cornerbacks in interceptions in the past decade with 35. The next closest player? Joe Haden and Marcus Peters with 27 each. It goes beyond the interceptions. Sherman almost always shut down opposing receivers who had the misfortune of running their routes on his portion of the field, played a key role in the Legion of Boom, led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl with his incredible tip in the end zone in the NFC Championship Game, and is now leading a 49ers‘ secondary that helped the team earn the top seed in the NFC. It’s remarkable that he’s still playing this well at age 31 after a serious Achilles injury a couple years back. He’s simply remarkable.
Cornerback: Patrick Peterson
Likewise, it’s difficult to argue against Peterson’s selection after seeing him notch 25 interceptions and three first team All-Pro nods over the past nine seasons. The only cornerback who came close to edging Peterson was Darrelle Revis, but Peterson has been better for a longer period of time during the decade than Revis, which helped him gain an edge.
Slot cornerback: Chris Harris
The best in the world at what he does, Harris was a near unanimous choice. In Denver beginning in 2011, Harris has 20 career interceptions, one first team All-Pro appearance, and four Pro Bowl selections. The more advanced metrics back up the assertion that Harris is far and away the league’s best slot corner.
Strong safety: Kam Chancellor
The hit he laid on Demaryius Thomas in the first quarter of the Super Bowl was a harbinger of how the game would unfold for the Broncos. That’s the play Chancellor will be most associated with and rightly so, because it perfectly captures how he played the position. He was the thumper in the Seahawks’ all-time great defense, and it’s a damn shame he never earned a first team All-Pro selection and was forced to retire after his age 29 season.
Free safety: Earl Thomas
You should sense a theme here: There’s a ton of Seahawks players on the defensive side of the ball. Thomas was the key to the back end of the Seahawks’ defense because of his ability to patrol the entire middle of the field while also providing cover for the cornerbacks on either side of him. Nobody was better than him during his prime and he’s still playing at a high level in Baltimore. It’s honestly a little surprising he was named first team All-Pro only three times.
The most accurate kicker in NFL history with a cannon for a leg. He already has a signature playoff moment — his game-winning 47-yard field goal in double overtime to send the Ravens past the Broncos in the playoffs during what would become a Super Bowl run — and he has a chance to get another one this postseason.
The Rams punter averaged 47 yards per punt and he went 13 of 22 for one touchdown and 13 first downs as a passer. That’s right, Hekker is a punter who can actually throw the ball like a quarterback. In the words of Bill Belichick,