Played 10 seasons as an NFL guard, then served as a scout for 23 years; now chairman of The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for increasing opportunities for minorities in coaching.
I put together my list based on people I felt could play in today’s NFL. Even with Hall of Famers, I asked the question, Could they play today, and how effective would they be? And I put together my list accordingly. It just opened up a great avenue of thought. Those of us who are old enough, we can make comparisons among the players of yesteryear. For instance, at tight end for me it came down to Ozzie Newsome, or Ron Kramer from the Packers’ championship teams. Kramer was a great tight end. When I looked back at my list, I was surprised that I picked as many non Hall of Famers as I did. It’s because we know that these guys were good players.
In the last round I had Bobby Mitchell sitting on my sheet. Bill Polian was picking right ahead of me, and he’ll never tell the truth on this, but I think he heard me talking about Bobby Mitchell, and he took him. I probably should have picked him earlier. I had him as my extra pick because I had done the combo kicker-punter, which was my strategy going in.
On my list you’ll see a lot of guys I played against. This experience brought back so many guys who you don’t think about who were really outstanding players and people. I think the players back in our day were more in tune with each other than the players of today are. Not just as teammates, but just guys that you didn’t mind hanging out with, just having a good time. First and foremost, thought this was really a lot of fun. Listening to the guys put you back in the old draft room from many years ago. This brought back a lot of memories.
|On the short list for greatest coach of all time, Walsh led the 49ers from 1979 to ’88, winning three Super Bowls. A disciple of Paul Brown and progenitor of the West Coast offense, Walsh was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year twice, in ’81 and ’84 and helped spawn the success of numerous Hall of Fame players including Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Fred Dean and Jerry Rice. His vast coaching tree includes Sam Wyche, Mike Seifert, Mike Holmgren and Dennis Green.|
|“Joe Cool,” the owner of 31 fourth-quarter comebacks and 33 career game-winning drives, won four Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the 49ers. Twice named the NFL’s MVP, Montana delivered when the lights were brightest, with 122 consecutive passes in Super Bowls without an interception, and the highest career QB rating in Super Bowls (127.8). Said the late Bill Walsh: “Joe has always appeared to be passive. But under the surface there was this tremendous energy, this magnetic ability to rise to the occasion.” He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2000.|
|The 1968 Heisman Trophy winner’s entry into the NFL was one of the most anticipated in the game’s history, and he delivered. His five-year stretch from 1972 to ’76 is unmatched: In that span Simpson averaged 1,540 yards per 14-game season, with 54 touchdowns (rushing and receiving combined), and his 143.1 rushing yards per game in 1973 is best in history by an astounding 10.0 yards. A Hall of Famer in 1985, Simpson played in just one postseason game in the NFL—a 32-14 loss to the eventual champion Steelers in 1974. His 1995 murder trial and later imprisonment on robbery and gun charges forever altered his legacy.|
|“The World’s Greatest Athlete” gained fame as a major league baseball player and Olympic champion (decathlon and pentathlon), but his most successful pursuit was football. Between 1915 and 1928 Thorpe played for eight pro football clubs, earning a spot on the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s first All-NFL team in 1923. Said president Dwight Eisenhower, who played against Thorpe’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School as a student at Army: “He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.” He was a member of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1963.|
|A prolific possession receiver more than a downfield threat, Monk took the all-time receptions record from Steve Largent in 1992 and was first player to catch 900 career passes. A three-time Super Bowl winner with Washington after the team took him with the 18th pick in the 1980 draft, Monk was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.|
|“Bullet Bob” Hayes is the only person to earn both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. The world class sprinter won gold in the 100-meter dash and the 4x100 relay at the Tokyo Games in 1964, eight years before catching a pair of passes from Roger Staubach in Super Bowl VI. Twice named All-Pro, Hayes is widely credited with hastening the league’s reliance on zone defense to combat elite speed. His 20.0 yards-per-catch average is sixth-best all-time. Hayes was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2009, seven years after his death.|
|A three-sport (baseball, football, basketball) high school star and standout wide receiver at Alabama, Newsome was converted by Browns coach Sam Rutigliano to tight end, where he became one of the game’s all-time downfield threats from the position and a matchup nightmare for defenses. The 1999 Hall of Fame inductee spent his entire career with the Browns, making 198 consecutive appearances and setting franchise records in receptions (662) and yards (7,980).|
|A 27th-round (imagine that!) pick in 1953, “Rosey” Brown earned nine Pro Bowl nods and six All-Pro selections for the New York Giants and won an NFL championship in ’56. Brown was legendary for pulling out from his left tackle spot and lead-blocking far downfield for New York backs—Frank Gifford called him “the reason I’m in the Hall of Fame.” NFL Films named Brown the No. 2 Giant of all time; he was a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and the 1975 Hall of Fame class.|
|No less a light than Jim Brown described Hickerson as “the greatest downfield blocker in the history of pro football.” Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, a year before his death, Hickerson spent his entire career in Cleveland, earning Pro Bowl nods from 1965 to ’70 and winning an NFL championship in ’64.|
|Undersized at center even by 1960s standards at 232 pounds, Ringo spent 11 seasons anchoring the Packers’ line, winning two NFL championships. Said Vince Lombardi: “A bigger man might not be able to make the cutoff blocks on our sweeps the way Jim does. The reason Ringo’s the best in the league is because he’s quick and he’s smart.” He was abruptly traded in 1964 after five straight All-Pro seasons (legend has it because he asked Lombardi for a raise) to the Eagles, with whom he earned three of his 10 Pro Bowl nods. Ringo was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.|
|Kramer is the only player on the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team not in the Hall of Fame, and his candidacy for Canton remains a point of contention. The MMQB’s Andy Benoit laid out the former Packer’s convincing case in February: “He was a key blocker for Hall of Famers Bart Starr and Jim Taylor. He was the fulcrum of Lombardi’s patented sweep play. He was a first-team All-Pro guard five times and second-team once … ”|
|A Pro Bowler for three different teams, the No. 2 overall selection of the 1964 draft started 124 games for the Eagles, Rams and Raiders and is recognized as one of the great offensive tackles of his era. Said Rams defensive end Deacon Jones: “Bob Brown had a cold-blooded mentality. He’d kill a mosquito with an ax.” The five-time All-Pro was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Seniors Committee in 2004.|
|A five-time NFL champion and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Packers, Davis was a dynamic blend of speed, strength and agility on the outside of the Green Bay line, famed for his pursuit of QBs and ball-carriers. Though sacks were not an official statistic during his career, he is said to have notched more than 100, and still holds the Packers record for fumbles recovered (22). The five-time All-Pro was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.|
|The Hall of Famer and two-time All-Pro predated the keeping of quarterback sack statistics, but he’s credited with a career-high 15 in 1976 with the Falcons, the year he returned from a knee injury that kept him out of action for all of the previous season. The No. 3 overall pick of the 1968 draft was a member of Atlanta’s vaunted “Grits Blitz” defense that surrendered just 129 points in 1977, the NFL all-time low for a 14-game season.|
|A dominant force on the Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” defense, Page appeared in 218 consecutive games, racking up more than 140 career sacks, by some counts, before that stat became official in 1982. A six-time All-Pro and the 1971 NFL MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Page is member of both the Pro and College football Halls of Fame. After his playing days he became an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.|
|The ninth overall pick of the 1987 draft, Brown played just five seasons with the Eagles before his life was cut short at 27 years old, when he died in a car accident that also took the life of his 12-year-old nephew. In his five seasons, Brown earned two All-Pro nods. Despite the briefness of Brown’s career, fans voted him to the Eagles’ 75th Anniversary Team in 2007.|
|The face of the Chicago Bears for more than a decade, Urlacher earned eight Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro picks and was the NFL’s 2005 Defensive Player of the Year. A former college safety, he set the standard for Cover 2 linebackers, with a firm command of the line of scrimmage and a towering presence in coverage. Urlacher will be eligible for Canton in 2018.|
|Marshall played for five NFL teams but made his mark in Chicago and Washington, winning Super Bowls with both clubs. After becoming an integral piece of the vaunted Bears defenses of the mid-’80s, Marshall made the rare decision to sign with another team as a restricted free agent, joining Washington in 1988. He is one 14 NFL players with 20 career sacks and 20 career INTs.|
|Raised in Columbus, the former Ohio State standout helped break pro football’s color barrier when he joined the AAFC’s Browns in 1946. A 210-pound middle guard—Paul Brown called him “the forerunner of the modern middle linebacker”—Willis was named to the Pro Bowl in three of his four seasons in the NFL, as well as earning three All-Pro nods. He won four AAFC championships with the Browns and an NFL title in 1950. Willis was voted into Canton in 1977.|
|A three-time Super Bowl champion (I, II, VI), the former Packers and Cowboys great snagged 48 career interceptions, returning seven for scores, in his 12 NFL seasons. Adderley and Packers teammate Bob Jeter are considered one of the greatest cornerback tandems of all time. A member of the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team, the former college football running back was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.|
|In 11 seasons with the Chiefs and five with the Raiders, Lewis picked off 42 passes and was four times voted to the Pro Bowl. He and former teammate Kevin Ross ranked ninth on the NFL Network’s Top 10 cornerback duos of all time.|
|A first-round pick of the Vikings, Browner spent nine seasons in Minnesota, earning All-Pro honors three times and a spot on the 1980s All-Decade Team. Remarkably, his former USC backfield included Ronnie Lott and future NFL head coaches Dennis Smith and Jeff Fisher.|
|One of the most vicious tacklers in NFL history, Atwater went to eight Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips employed Atwater as one of the first in-the-box safeties, and he finished his career with 1,074 tackles and 24 interceptions. He was a 2016 Hall of Fame finalist.|
|Cleveland’s punter and placekicker for the majority of his career, Cockroft is third all-time in points scored for the Browns behind Lou Groza and Phil Dawson. He was the most accurate placekicker in football in ’68, ’72 and ’74.|
|A founding member of “The Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis, Bruce led the NFL in receiving yards in 1996, making the Pro Bowl roster that season. He won a Super Bowl in 2000, catching the go-ahead 73-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner. Bruce ranks fourth all-time in career receiving yards, with 15,208, and 12th in touchdown receptions (91).|
|Nomellini, born in Lucca, Italy, joined the U.S. Marines out of high school and wasn’t drafted until 1950—the 49ers’ first-ever pick—when he was 26. “The Lion” went on to earn six All-Pro nods and 10 Pro Bowl selections in 14 seasons with San Francisco, and also dabbled in pro wrestling in the offseason (his signature move, fittingly, was the flying tackle). He entered the Hall of Fame in 1969.|
The coach: Bill Walsh. The quarterback: Joe Montana.
Regardless of what else happened in the draft, that pairing put Team Wooten in a sturdy starting position. Montana’s longtime star receiver, Jerry Rice, was off the board before Wooten’s second pick, but count it as a mild surprise that none of this team’s skill-position players came from the 49ers’ dynasty of the ’80s. Instead, Montana will line up with a backfield of O.J. Simpson and Jim Thorpe, a receiving duo of Art Monk and Bob Hayes, and Ozzie Newsome at tight end.
This was the second roster to draft a combo punter/kicker. Don Cockroft finished his career with a far better FG percentage (65.9%) than Team McGinn’s kicker/punter, Tommy Davis, but a much worse yards-per-punt clip (40.2). However, Cockroft’s presence on the roster allowed Team Wooten to draft “wild card” Isaac Bruce in the 25th round, adding another field-stretching weapon to Walsh’s aerial attack.
Another intriguing pick here was Bill Willis, a nominal defensive lineman, which begs the question: Is this going to be the league’s lone 5-2 defense? Willis was a middle guard for the Browns in their AAFC-NFL days, and the imaginary roster here sports an overload of D-linemen: Alan Page, Willie Davis, Claude Humphrey, Jerome Brown and Leo Nomellini. A more obvious hint could come in Wooten’s selection of just two pure linebackers—Brian Urlacher (Round 23) and Wilbur Marshall (Round 24).
Rolling a five-man front would put the secondary under a spotlight, so the strategy to wait on corners and safeties could haunt this squad—CB Herb Adderley was the ninth-round pick, but the remainder of the back four did not come together until Round 18 and beyond.
There won’t be any in-season trades (or, you know, a season), but this would be a team to watch if there were. There is an abundance of talent along the defensive line that could be used to bolster other positions.
— Chris Burke