- All-time greats were inevitably passed over in our draft of every player in history. So here's a shot at an all-star lineup from the (wildly talented) pool of leftovers. Smile, Adrian Peterson and Thurman Thomas
When the dust settled on The MMQB All-Time NFL Draft, 300 players were selected to 12 teams. That still left some 23,000 players from the history of pro football—from Aaron Adams to Jim Zygmont—who weren’t taken. Of course there were high-profile omissions, from which you can construct a pretty impressive roster. Here’s one crack at it. Your mileage may—undoubtedly will—vary. Have a look at our GMs’ 12 rosters, and send your suggested lineups of players left out to email@example.com.
QB: Bart Starr | 1956–1971
With only 12 teams drafting, it was clear that a host of great passers would be, well, passed over. There are 28 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, plus a number of strong candidates who are active or soon to be eligible. With that pool to choose from, several GMs in the All-Time Draft went in with the strategy that they could wait until later rounds for a quarterback while stocking up on other positions, and still get an all-time great passer. Brett Favre and Dan Marino went in the 10th round. Gil Brandt waited until the 20th and still got and three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman.
In a way the quarterback choice for this All-Undrafted Team is harder. Just one pick from a leftovers group that includes Joe Namath, Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and Drew Brees, among many others? It’s hard to go wrong with any those QBs. But the choice here is Starr, a five-time NFL champion with the Packers of the ’60s and winner of the first two Super Bowls. He wasn’t the greatest athlete at the position; nor did he have the most powerful arm. Instead, Starr was tough and ruthlessly efficient for his era—at the time of his retirement in 1971 he had the highest completion percentage (57.4%) in history and the fourth-best passer rating. More importantly, Starr was at his best in the biggest games: He lost just once in 10 playoff appearances, and his postseason passer rating of 104.8 remains the highest in history. Oh, and he also knows what it’s like to be snubbed in a draft: Starr was the 200th player selected in 1956.
RB: Adrian Peterson | 2007–
In this All-Time Draft, those of us who weren’t around back in the day must trust the experience of the personnel men who chose the likes of Hugh McElhenny, Cookie Gilchrist and Steve Van Buren for their backfield. But might there have been a little anti-recency bias at work? Only three featured backs who played in this millennium—Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson—were selected among the 24 starting RBs on the 12 All-Time rosters. We’ll correct that by taking the finest pure runner of the past decade. Big, strong and with blinding burst, Peterson is the closest thing to Jim Brown that the game has seen in recent years. (As Brown himself said of Peterson in The MMQB in 2015: “He has the full physical package, and the runner’s attitude.”) Peterson has led the league in rushing three times, including in 2012, when he came within eight yards of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 (a year after blowing out his knee), and has been All-Pro four times. His 95.5 rushing yards per game rank fourth in history. Give him the ball.
RB: John Riggins | 1971–1985
We’ll need some power to pair with Peterson, and for that we’ll give a slight nod to Riggins over Jerome Bettis, if only to reach further back in time. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Riggo was a tremendous workhorse over 14 seasons, and especially on Washington’s teams of the early ’80s, when he enjoyed the best late-career bloom of any back in history. Riggins holds numerous records for running-back production after the age of 30, most notably 71 TDs (of his 104, sixth-highest all-time), and he led the league in rushing TDs in ’83 and ’84, a year before his retirement. Beginning in 1982, at the age of 33, Riggins averaged 24 carries per game over the next three seasons. His 1982 postseason may be the best ever by a running back: Over four games that year, he rampaged for 610 yards on 136 carries, highlighted by his memorable 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run on fourth-and-1 in Super Bowl XVII, which put the Redskins ahead for good. He was named the game’s MVP.
Wild Card: Thurman Thomas | 1988–1999
One of the bigger omissions in The MMQB’s All-Time Draft, Thomas was the tremendously versatile backfield weapon for the Jim Kelly-led Buffalo teams that won four straight AFC championships. He led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage every year from 1989 to 1992 and had eight straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Thomas also averaged 55 receptions a year from 1989 to ’94 and led the NFL in rushing attempts in 1993, with 355. A two-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler and the NFL MVP in 1991, Thomas was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
WR: Antonio Brown | 2010–
The All-Time Drafters were a little more inclined toward recent receivers than running backs, with both Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones selected. One they passed up was the Steelers’ Brown, so we’ll take him for this squad. Too soon? Brown has only been the most productive receiver in football history over the past four seasons—his 481 receptions are the most ever in a four-year span, and he and Ben Roethlisberger have gelled into the most dangerous QB-WR pairing in the game. Brown is fast, tough and wily: His desperate lunge for a touchdown in the last minute against Baltimore on Christmas Day, while in the grasp of three Ravens defenders, saved the Steelers’ playoff hopes last season. He can also serve as a punt returner—he’s taken four back for TDs in his career.
WR: Fred Biletnikoff | 1965–78
Reliable and more consistent over a longer period than fellow ’70s-era Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, another contender for this spot, Biletnikoff was a precise route-runner with sure hands (helped by the liberal use of Stickum) and deceptive speed. The lifelong Raider had 10 consecutive seasons of 40 or more receptions, a record at the time, set in the days of ground-and-pound football. Biletnikoff was a two-time All-Pro (once in the AFL and once in the NFL) and was named to six All-Star or Pro Bowl teams. He played in two Super Bowls for the Raiders, nearly a decade apart, and had four catches for 79 yards in Oakland’s Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings.
TE: Jackie Smith | 1963–78
Along with Mike Ditka and John Mackey, Smith was at the forefront the new wave of pass-catching tight ends in the ’60s. Overshadowed by that pair because he played on some middling Cardinals teams—Smith didn’t appear in the postseason until 1974, his 11th year in the league—he nevertheless put up numbers comparable to Ditka and Mackey, and did it over a longer period. A five-time Pro Bowler, Smith was the all-time receptions leader (480) among tight ends upon his retirement, and he’s still third all-time in yards per catch (16.5) at the position. In 1994 he became the third tight end inducted into the Hall of Fame—after, of course, Ditka and Mackey.
T: Tony Boselli | 1995–2001
Boselli was on his way to all-time greatness when a nagging shoulder injury and ensuing surgeries cut short his career. He was a three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection in his first six seasons, and his performances against the best pass-rushers of the time—notably a dominant showing versus Bruce Smith in Jacksonville’s 1996 playoff upset of the Bills—cemented Boselli’s reputation and justified Tom Coughlin’s selection of him as the first draft pick (second overall) of the expansion Jaguars in 1995. Boselli was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2017; his candidacy could be boosted by the inclusion of another NFL short-timer and contemporary, running back Terrell Davis.
G: Mike Michalske | 1927–37
The original “Iron Mike,” Michalske was the best guard in the game when he starred with the New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers in the ’20s and ’30s. Agile and powerful at 6'0" and 210 pounds, Michalske played on both sides of the ball but stood out as a pulling guard, leading the way for Johnny Blood McNally and Bob Monnett on the Green Bay rushing attack. He won three straight championships with the Packers from 1929 to ’31 and was All-Pro each of his first five seasons in the league.
C: George Trafton | 1920–32
A couple other old-time Hall of Fame centers, Alex Wojciechowicz and Frank Gatski, could also be considered here, along with a host of more modern players. But let’s look at the Bears’ center of the 1920s. Red Grange called Trafton the “meanest, toughest player alive.” Legend has it the man nicknamed “the Brute” was disliked in every NFL city except Green Bay and Rock Island, “where he was hated.” In one game in the latter city, Trafton knocked out four Rock Island players in the space of 12 plays and was chased from the stadium by fans. He also was a boxer, once facing off against former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera. “Extreme violence was his forte,” a writer noted of Trafton at his death. How can you pass on a reputation like that? Trafton must have been a pretty good center as well—he was named to the All-Decade Team for the 1920s and was a member of the Hall of Fame’s second class, in 1964.
G: Bill Fralic | 1985–93
The second overall pick in the 1985 draft out of Pitt, Fralic was a mainstay on the Atlanta offensive line for eight seasons, paving the way for workhorse back Gerald Riggs early in his career. An All-Pro in ’86 and ’87, Fralic never quite made it into the spotlight, playing in Atlanta on middling Falcons teams. He was an early and outspoken critic of the use of steroids in the NFL.
T: Joe Jacoby | 1981–93
Massive at 6'7" and some 300 pounds, Jacoby manned both tackle spots on the Redskins’ fabled Hogs line over his 13-year career, starting on the left side and then moving to the right for the final few seasons. SI’s Paul Zimmerman called Jacoby “a terrifying force at tackle, a mobile 298-pounder who has no problem pulling out to trap on the opposite side. He also has a mean streak, maybe because he came to the pros as a free agent.” Jacoby played in 21 postseason games, including all four Redskins Super Bowls (three of them victories) in the Joe Gibbs era. A two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection, Jacoby has been a Hall of Fame finalist each of the past two years.
DE: L.C. Greenwood | 1969–1981
Of the front four that gave the Steelers’ defensive dynasty its nickname—“the Steel Curtain”—only Joe Greene is in the Hall of Fame. A strong case can be made for Greenwood, the outside pass-rushing threat to complement Greene’s inside power game. A 10th-round draft choice in 1969, the year Greene arrived in the first round, “Hollywood Bags” was a two-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of the 1970s All-Decade second team (behind Hall of Famers Jack Youngblood and Carl Eller), and he has been a finalist for Canton six times. Forget whether there are too many ’70s Steelers in the Hall and recall Greenwood’s utter domination in two Super Bowls: SB IX, when he chased Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton all over Tulane Stadium (Greenwood reportedly ran a 4.7 40) and SB X, when he sacked Cowboys QB Roger Staubach four times. Unofficially he’s credited with 12.5 sacks in 18 postseason games.
DT: Alex Karras | 1958–1970
Perhaps best remembered for his scene-stealing performance in Blazing Saddles and his role as the genial adoptive dad in the ’80s sitcom Webster, Karras was one of the premier tackles of the ’60s—a three-time All-Pro and member of the All-Decade team alongside Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly. Karras was strong and studious, and SI’s Richard Hoffer said of him, “Offensive guards seldom had answers for his various moves, or even his fierce bull rushes, no matter that he was relatively undersized at 6'2" and 248 pounds.” His nimbleness earned Karras the nickname Twinkletoes, though it’s unlikely that opponents would say it to his face. “His specialty is the karate chop,” the veteran guard John Wilbur once said. “It can numb you for a second if you don’t learn how to get out of the way of it.” Karras’s full-year suspension for gambling in 1963 may have tarnished his Hall of Fame chances.
DT: Richard Seymour | 2001–2012
One of the most versatile linemen of the last two decades, Seymour played all along the front on the Patriots’ Super Bowl defenses of the early 2000s, doing most of his damage from the inside. A massive presence at 6'6" and 310 pounds, Seymour was a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowl selection (including twice after being traded to the Raiders in a classic Belichick player dump). He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s as well as the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Team.
DE: Dwight Freeney | 2001–
We’ll go recent here as well and take Freeney (though you wouldn’t go wrong with Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or Freeney’s Indy teammate Robert Mathis). A whirling dervish of pass-rusher with a devastating spin move—he “comes around the corner quicker than a heartbeat,” said SI’s Paul Zimmerman—Freeney had double-digit sacks in seven of his first nine seasons with the Colts and, even as his career has wound down, he’s contributed to successive deep postseason runs by the Cardinals in 2015 and the Falcons last year. Freeney is a three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection. (And his ability to drop back into a linebacker role, added to Seymour’s versatility, would allow this team to play a hybrid front seven.)
LB: Sam Huff | 1956–1969
Huff was about to give up football as a rookie in 1956, frustrated at the Giants’ inability to settle on a position for him. Then Tom Landry concocted the 4–3 alignment and slid Huff in at middle linebacker. Playing in New York City, Huff would help glamorize the position, thriving on smarts and vision in a system that funneled plays his way. He won an NFL championship with the Giants as a rookie and played in five more title games with New York. A two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl pick, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
LB: Nick Buoniconti | 1962–1976
Undrafted by the NFL and left to the 12th ound by the AFL, the 5'11", 210-pound Buoniconti wore a chip on his shoulder for 15 pro seasons. Tough and driven—he “played each snap with life-or-death fervor,” SI’s S.L. Price wrote earlier this year—Buoniconti became a four-time All-Pro in the AFL, leading the Patriots in tackles and interceptions over seven seasons. In 1970 he moved to Miami and under Don Shula manned the middle for the No-Name Defense that lifted the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowl appearances, two Lombardi trophies and a perfect season in 1972. In total, Buoniconti earned five All-Pro nods and eight Pro Bowl selections; he got his gold jacket in 2001.
LB: James Harrison | 2002–
Like Buoniconti undrafted by the NFL, Harrison has crafted a stellar career as a fearsome pass-rusher for Pittsburgh (and Cincinnati for a season). Renowned for his free-weight workout regimen and packed with muscle even at age 39, he has amassed 81.5 sacks over his career, though he didn’t become a starter for the Steelers until 2007. His 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII remains one of the most memorable plays in championship history. Harrison is a two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl pick.
CB: Bobby Boyd | 1960-1969
Ball-hawking defensive back for the powerful Colts teams and a member of the 1960s All-Decade, Bald Bobby Boyd (as SI invariably called him) was a three-time All-Pro who led the league in interceptions in 1965 and finished his nine-year career with 57, tied for 13th all-time. He certainly could have played longer and boosted his credentials for Canton, but instead took a coaching position on Don Shula’s Colts defense in 1969, shortly after playing in Super Bowl III. Boyd’s interception rate of .47 per game is sixth-best in NFL history.
CB: Everson Walls | 1981–1993
Walls played 13 seasons, most notably with Dallas, with whom he led the league in interceptions three times, and the Giants, with whom he won a Super Bowl title in the 1990 season. Noted for his smarts and his exceptional break on the ball, Walls was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro in 1983. His 57 career interceptions are tied (with, among others, his cornerback mate on this team, Bobby Boyd) for 13th all-time.
S: Jake Scott | 1970–1978
Scott and fellow safety Dick Anderson formed the backbone of the Dolphins’ No-Name defense that dominated the league in the early ’70s, and either one deserves consideration on an all-time team. Tough as nails—“He’s the one guy no one messed with,” teammate Manny Fernandez said—Scott played his rookie season with a separated shoulder and Super Bowl VI with a broken hand and wrist. In Super Bowl VII, despite a shoulder injury so bad it was feared he wouldn’t play, he had two picks in the 14–7 win over the Redskins that capped Miami’s perfect season; Scott's performance earned him MVP honors. Overall, Scott had 49 picks in nine seasons, six with Miami and three with Washington. He holds the Dolphins’ franchise record for INTs, with 35, and punt-return average, with 10.5. Vince Dooley, Scott’s coach at Georgia, called him the best athlete he’d ever coached—and Dooley coached Herschel Walker.
S: Eric Berry | 2010–
A first-rounder for the Chiefs in 2010, Berry has been named to the Pro Bowl every healthy season of his career. Most remarkably, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma midway through the 2014 season, received treatment and returned in 2015 to earn the second of his three All-Pro nods, as well as, obviously, Comeback Player of the Year. Stifling in man coverage, heady against the run and dangerous on blitzes, the 6'0", 210-pound Berry embodies the new hybrid safety/linebacker, a type defensive coordinators love because of the scheme flexibility it offers.
K: Stephen Gostkowksi | 2008–
Given the radical improvement in the kicking game in recent years, it’s hard to argue for a pre-2000s placekicker, even such legends as George Blanda, Garo Ypremian and Mark Mosely. So we’ll go with Gostkowski, who had the unenviable job of following Adam Vinatieri—perhaps the greatest clutch kicker in history—for Bill Belichick’s Patriots. While Gostkowski hasn’t won Super Bowls with his leg (and even missed an extra point in Super Bowl LI) he’s been All-Pro twice and a Pro Bowler four times, and he is the fourth-most accurate field-goal kicker in history (almost three percentage points better than Vinatieri). His 73.1% success rate from 50+ yards is also fourth-best ever.
P: Thomas Morstead | 2009–
A fifth-round pick of the Saints in 2009, Morstead has a 47.0-yard career average, second all-time to Shane Lechler. Honestly, you could take any one of a number of current punters here: 20 of the top 25 in career average were active in 2016.
Coach: George Halas | 1920–1967
There were some real stunners in the All-Time Draft, none more so than the omission of Papa Bear, the founder of the league and the man who more than anyone else was responsible for ushering pro football into the American mainstream. Halas introduced daily practices, made film study part of team preparation and revolutionized offenses with the T-formation, which he deployed in the legendary 73–0 destruction of the Redskins in the 1940 championship game. Halas’s .682 winning percentage is better than that of Don Shula, Bill Belichick and Paul Brown.
Your suggestions for the biggest ommissions in The MMQB All-Time Draft? Send names (or full rosters) to firstname.lastname@example.org.