Football Outsiders Compiles Mike Shanahan's Coaching All-Star Team & it's Dominated by Broncos
Mike Shanahan is the most successful head coach the Denver Broncos have ever had, posting a 156-91 record (including playoff games) in his 14 seasons at the helm of the team. Shanahan is particularly remembered for coaching the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998.
Football Outsiders is examining the best players that top head coaches have had on their respective teams in their Coaching All-Stars series and, as you might expect, the top players Shanahan coached during his NFL career tend to be members of those Broncos Super Bowl teams.
However, FO's Bryan Knowles looked not just at overall careers, but at single seasons for each player, to arrive at his 'all-star' team. (In a few cases, though, he went with the obvious pick rather than the best by a certain measure.) This resulted in a few players making the team that Broncos fans might not expect.
Because Shanahan also had stints with the Raiders (who were in Los Angeles at the time he coached them) and with the Washington Redskins, his 'all-star' team isn't solely comprised of Broncos, though they do dominate — and a number of those players are from the 1998 team, for which the offense had the fourth-best Football Outsiders DVOA of 34.5 percent and the third-best rushing offense in history.
You can check Football Outsiders for the full list and Knowles' arguments, but let's go over some interesting highlights.
Skill players: The quarterback, running back, tight end and two wide receivers who made the team are all players that Broncos fans should know — and if you don't know who those five are, you have no business calling yourself a Broncos fan.
For the seasons, however, not all of them made it for the 1998 season. The three who did were John Elway, Terrell Davis and Ed McCaffrey. Shannon Sharpe made it for the 1996 season, while Rod Smith made it for the 2000 season.
But the fullback is interesting: Bo Jackson was the FB selection from the 1988 Raiders. Jackson's story is similar to Davis', in that he was a dominant running back whose career was cut short by injuries. Jackson, though, also played Major League Baseball, so he didn't play a full 16-game NFL season.
Offensive line: Gary Zimmerman at left tackle for the 1996 season, Mark Schlereth at left guard for the 1998 season and Tom Nalen at center for the 2000 season are all picks Broncos fans are likely to agree with.
But it's the other positions that may cause Broncos fans to raise their eyebrows. Tony Jones moved to right tackle in 1997 when Zimmerman came out of retirement and played well, but in 1998, he moved back to left tackle.
Jones was good at right tackle, but it was Matt Lepsis who got the nod for his 2002 season. Interestingly, Football Outsiders saw Lepsis' 2004 season at left tackle as his best overall season, but opted to go with 2002 to put him on the right side.
The right guard is a name many Broncos fans may not remember. He's from the 1998 season and replaced Brian Habib, who left in free agency. That player would be Dan Neil, a second-round pick in 1997 who had a rather short career with the team.
Front seven: This list featured players who were on those dominant playoff teams that included two Super Bowl wins, such as Alfred Williams (1996), Neil Smith (1997), Michael Dean Perry (1996) and John Mobley (1997). A couple others got the nod for seasons after that early run: Trevor Pryce in 1999 and Al Wilson in 2005.
The only non-Bronco to make the list was London Fletcher for his play on the 2010 Redskins. Fletcher was one of the best 4-3 linebackers in the game, so imagine pairing him with Wilson and Mobley in their primes.
Secondary: Steve Atwater and Champ Bailey are the two 'well, no kidding' players to make the team, Atwater for his 1997 season and Bailey for his 2006 season (Bailey had 10 interceptions that year but didn't win DPoY).
The other safety chosen was Tyrone Braxton, whom Broncos fans may have forgotten had logged nine interceptions in 1996. That left a cornerback spot to fill, and Knowles gave the nod to DeAngelo Hall on the 2010 Redskins.
For those who want to make the case for John Lynch, you'd have to argue he should move to strong safety or put Atwater there (both were free safeties). Besides, it's hard to ignore how well Braxton played under Shanahan.
Special teams: Jason Elam was the no-brainer pick, with his 2001 season being the best thanks to 31 field goals made, while it was Jeff Gossett and Tim Brown filling the punter and return man slots, thanks to their 1988 seasons with the Raiders.
As you can see, the Coaching All-Stars team features a lot of Broncos, but there are some you might not have expected. It's worth remembering, though, that players such as Braxton, Neil, and Lepsis shined under Shanahan and his coaching staff.
Shanahan's time with the Broncos ended on a sour note, but all indications are that he has mended fences with the team. Now all that awaits him is his rightful spot in the Broncos' Ring of Fame (and maybe someday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame).