A great post by Mike Ditka’s Cigar in the March 23rd Den got me thinking. Who is really a generational talent in the NFL? How many generational players have ever existed? What exactly is a generational player?
To answer these questions, and possibly incite more in the comments, I figured I could give you the background on this topic from the comments section. The topic came up, once again, on Quenton Nelson and his projection into the NFL elite. While the boards are split on his value at the #8 pick, it is even more split on what to call him. Is he Chance Warmack? Or is he John Hannah? If he is John Hannah, is he really "generational?"
Then MDC posted this comment:
Just because Nelson is the best Guard prospect in this draft, and probably the last several, let’s try to do two things:
1) Stop using the phrase "generational". A generation is about what? 30 years? It gets over-used WAY too much.
2) Keep in mind that while Nelson is an elite (better phrase than Generational) Guard prospect, that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to be an elite NFL talent. He might. He probably will. But prior elite talents haven’t panned out in recent years. Let’s not get carried away.
This carried into a topic of Hall of Fame players, and hall of shame busts that were supposed to be "generational." The discussion continued like this with RoamingBear discussing the "generational" moniker that was given to Julius Peppers and Peyton Manning. Roman F kept it rolling with this post:
Peppers and Manning are exactly what you’d call generational talents, as they are HOF players, and the peers that kept up with them are other HOF players. Peppers and Von Miller are examples of what you’re looking for at the top of the draft because they’re generational talents at a key position and can change your entire defense.
And with that, I was more confused than when the discussion started, until OptimistBear dropped a great post helping to define "generational" when he posted this:
I would define a football generation as the lifetime of a typical "good" career.
Not normal population generations but player generations. I figure 7-10 years would be a fair mark to be considered generational in football terms. Plus keep in mind they actually do separate population "generations" in roughly the same time frames (Gen X, Gen Y vs Millenial, etc).
If I were to look back in my generation in football based on a literal 30 year definition of generations there is probably only one truly generational talent I can think of and that would have to be Jerry Rice. You can argue for this or that QB, LB or RB’s all day long but only one guy stands head and shoulders above all others at their respective position statistically in the past generation and that is Rice.
So there you have it. I couldn’t argue with this philosophy. And with that post, it brought everything full circle. I now had a definition of what a "generational" player really is.
Generational – a player that transcended all others at his respective position for at least 4-7 seasons, in such a way that no equal could be found in the league during the time of his reign; and ultimately landing in the Hall of Fame.
So lets dive deep into the annals (hehe) of NFL history to craft the all-generational team! I will give you the main example at QB, then abbreviate for readers sakes the remaining positions.
QB1 – Dan Marino. From 1984 to 1989 Marino was in a class by himself. He led the league 4 of those 5 years and threw for 25,643 yards and 200 TD’s. In terms of just yardage, his "peers" during this time were Phil Simms (20,010), John Elway (19,532) and Joe Montana (19,075). But to compare apples to apples, the best of them in terms of touchdowns thrown was Montana at 138. So to put it lightly, his nearest "peer" was Joe Montana, who threw for 6,568 fewer yards and 62 fewer touchdowns. Marino was a generational QB.
QB2 – Dan Fouts. From 1979 to 1982, no one came close to Fouts’ production. During that run, he threw for 16,482 yards and 104 TD’s. The closest peer during his time was Terry Bradshaw, who posted 4,764 fewer yards and 15 fewer TD’s. For that 4 years, no equal could be found. In fact, no other QB has ever led the league for 4 straight seasons.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: Drew Brees. He’s led the league for 3 years in a row before playing second fiddle to someone else, and is the only other QB in league history to do so. Brees has had peers such as Brady, Rodgers, and Manning to contend with however.
RB1 – Jim Brown. From 1957 to 1965, a total of 9 seasons, he led the league in rushing 8 times. This isn’t even up for discussion. He is not only generational, but the best back in league history.
RB2 – Walter Payton. From 1975 to 1980, Earl Campbell led the league in rushing 3 times and finished that span with 5,081 yards and 45 TD’s. Payton finished that same span with 8,386 yards and 65 TD’s.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: Barry Sanders/Emmitt Smith, 1990 to 1997. For exactly the same reason, they played at the same time as each other. If a peer is found, they are not generational. You may hate me for it, but they rushed for 12,308 and 11,234 respectively. Even Thurman Thomas posted nearly 10k yards during that stretch.
WR1 – Jerry Rice. No contest. 1986 to 1995. That’s a decade of domination folks. 14,196 yards and 143 TD’s during that span. His closest "competition?" Henry Ellard. 10,462 yards and 48 TD’s.
WR2 – Don Hutson. From 1936-1944 he compiled 6,737 receiving yards and 84 touchdowns. It’s truly remarkable as the only other receiver during that time to top a combined 2,000 yards? Jim Benton (2,242). Benton also posted 25 touchdowns during that frame.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: Several. Antonio Brown has Julio Jones as a peer. Calvin Johnson/Andre Johnson. Randy Moss/Terrell Owens. Lance Alworth/Don Maynard. Raymond Berry/Lenny Moore.
TE – Tony Gonzalez. From 1997-2002 his stat line reads 397 receptions/4,731 yards/37 TD’s. No one in the NFL came close to that during that span.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: Shannon Sharpe played alongside Keith Jackson from 1990-1996 before Gonzalez entered the league. Dave Casper/Ozzie Newsome/Kellen Winslow were peers. Ditka/Mackey.
OT1 – Anthony Munoz. 11x Pro-Bowl selection. 9x 1st team All-Pro selection. He accomplished this facing Jacob Green, Greg Townsend, Bruce Smith, Andre Tippett, and Marc Gastineau; all of them with over 70 sacks during that time. You will not find a better tackle in the 1980’s. It’s not even close. And yes, that includes Jimbo and Keith.
OT2* – Joe Thomas. He was pure domination for his entire 10 year career. The Anthony Munoz of the 2000’s. He isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet, but he will be a first ballot.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: Ron Mix. He was the Anthony Munoz of the 60’s. But so was Forrest Gregg.
OG1 – John Hannah was the real OG. No one was more dominant in NFL history. 9x PB. 7x AP. 183 games played. 183 games started. Drafted in the 1st round in 1973, 4th overall, by the New England Patriots. He is the reason this whole discussion about Quenton Nelson’s value is being discussed.
OG2 – Larry Allen comes in a close second. 11x PB. 6x AP. If it weren’t for his 6 games missed for injury, he would beat out Hannah. Drafted 46th overall in 1994 if you were wondering.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: Too many to mention.
C – Jim Otto. You will not find a more dominate Center in NFL history. From 1960 to 1974 he started every game for Oakland. 15 seasons, 12 Pro-Bowls, 10 All-Pros. He was the GOAT.
C2 – Bulldog Turner. Our own Chicago Beloved. Check into his career. 7 All-Pro selections is hard to ignore.
Close, but no Mike Ditka’s Cigar: None. These generational Centers are hard to find. And as the anchor to the line, when you find one, you better pay to keep him. Are there other great Centers? To be sure. Generational? Nope.
*OL – Bruce Matthews. This guy belongs in a category all his own. From 1983-2001, Matthews played every position along the line. Check these accolades out:
3x PB and 3x AP at Right Guard
6x PB and 2x AP at Center
5x PB and 2x AP at Left Guard
2 full seasons at Right Tackle
1 full season at Left Tackle
296 games played, 293 started
Drafted 9th overall in the 1983 NFL draft by the Oilers and he played every down for them.
So here it is. The All-Generational team. It’s true what MDC said, this word is used way too much. In most respects, there are only 2 generational players at each position, and sometimes only 1. But if Quenton Nelson is truly generational, can we afford to pass on him at #8? Yes, he could be a Chance Warmack. But he could also be a Bruce Matthews.