NFL
July 27, 2020
BY Manouk Akopyan

Projecting the NFL’s 2020 All-Decade Team

The next ten years for these perennial All-Pro players look more promising than an Andy Reid visit to Tommy Bahama with a loaded gift card. 

QB: Patrick Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes has already pocketed an MVP award, Super Bowl victory (and MVP) and a 10-year contract extension in two full seasons as a starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Entering his fourth year in the league, the 24-year-old gunslinger should undoubtedly star as the league’s preeminent signal-caller for the next 10 years and out-perform the likes of Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and the yet-to-be-seen Joe Burrow. 

Mahomes was off the charts his first full year as a starter, racking up 50 TDs and over 5,000 yards passing in 2018. A more toned-down version of Mahomes in 2019  — 26 TDs in 14 games — equated to better success on the field as he led his team to a Lombardi Trophy. 

RB: Saquon Barkley

With girthy legs hefty enough to make the Hudson River rise above sea level, Saquon Barkley is shaping up to carry the New York Giants on his back. 

The dual-threat ball carrier bulldozes through the line of scrimmage like old-school bruisers yet is nimble and shifty enough to be elusive and run a route as a wide receiver from the slot position.

Barkley has already totaled 3,469 yards rushing and receiving and 23 TDs in his first two years. 

At just 23, he still has plenty of tread on his tires. 

Barkley’s success during the decade ahead in Gotham City will be dependent on sophomore Daniel Jones’ development under center. If Jones is not the real deal, Barkley will be having never-ending nightmares of eight-man boxes. 

Flex: Christian McCaffrey

The sky's the limit for Christian McCaffrey heading into his fourth season. With a contract worth an annual average of $16 million, McCaffrey is already the league’s highest-paid running back and signed to play for the Panthers through 2025. 

McCaffrey had a banner season in 2019, finishing the campaign with 1,387 rushing yards, 1,005 receiving yards and 19 total TDs.

His league leading 2,392 total yards was good for third most in NFL history. Considering McCaffrey accomplished the feat with paltry play at quarterback made it even more impressive. 

The 24-year-old has also broken the record for most receptions by a running back in consecutive seasons. He had 107 catches in 2018 and 116 hauls in 2019. Expect more of the same in the years ahead. 

WR: Tyreek Hill

The 26-year-old undersized speedster serves as a perfect pairing in catching Patrick Mahomes’ deep balls.

If Hill can escape injury — an ailing clavicle sidelined him four games last year — the four-year wide receiver and occasional ball carrier should have a similar impact to that of Antonio Brown during the 2010s.

Through four seasons, Hill has tallied 4,115 yards and 32 touchdowns while contributing 4 rushing TDs and 5 scores returning kicks. 

WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Perennial playmaker JuJu Smith-Schuster has tallied 2,895 yards and 17 touchdowns through his first three seasons. 

With Antonio Brown no longer in the Pittsburgh picture, the 23-year-old is the No. 1 option in the Steel City. 

But can Smith-Schuster stay healthy enough to reach his ceiling? He was sidelined for four games due to a knee injury last year.

TE: George Kittle

The 49ers hit gold in 2017 when they drafted George Kittle in the fifth round. In three years, the charismatic Kittle has already matured as the best tight end in football.

As Jimmy Garapollo’s favorite target, the 26-year-old has banked back-to-back years catching over 80 passes for over a 1,000 yards and scored 5 TDs each season.

Kittle is equally dominant as a blocker for the run-heavy Niners and finds a way to contribute even when he’s not a targeted receiver. 

LT: Ronnie Stanley

Ronnie Stanley has started every game of his four-year career and highlights a Ravens frontline that is largely responsible for the team’s prodigious running attack — along with Lamar Jackson developing into an MVP quarterback. 

According to PFF, the 26-year-old Stanley “led all tackles with a 92.8 pass-blocking grade while allowing only 10 pressures on 543 attempts. Stanley also ranked first in pass-blocking grade on true pass sets and had the lowest percentage of negatively graded plays in the run game.”

Stanley will have to stay healthy if he plans on playing well into the decade. He has not yet played a full season, as he’s missed a total of eight games since being drafted sixth overall in 2016.

LG: Quenton Nelson

Power, quickness and technique — he has it all. Quenton Nelson is one of the league’s quintessential road graders. In his first two seasons in the league, the 24-year-old has already banked two All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors while starting all 32 games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson had the No. 2 run-blocking grade and the No. 7 pass-blocking grade in 2019.

Nelson has all of the makings to be bound for Canton once his career comes to a close. 

C: Erik McCoy

New Orleans traded up to snag Erik McCoy in last year’s draft with the 48th overall pick and immediately bestowed starting duties for the Texas A&M product.

According to PFF, McCoy “posted a 78.0 grade that ranked fourth in the league and a 77.6 run-blocking grade that ranked third.”

Sure, there are better active centers in the league than the 22-year-old McCoy, but most are on the wrong side of 30. 

The only bump in the road for McCoy to be named the NFL's All-Decade center is for McCoy to remain at the position. The Saints drafted Cesar Ruiz, a center, in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. 

RG: Zack Martin

At the age of 29, four-time All-Pro Zack Martin is the oldest offensive player on this list.

But with everlasting longevity and premier play since entering the league in 2014, the leader of the Cowboys’ O-line should be playing well into his thirties. 

According to PFF, “Martin’s 91.4 overall grade since 2015 ranks first among guards. He also ranks second in pass-blocking grade and fourth in run-blocking grade.”

Martin has also been a mainstay on the field and provided true value for Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott, as he’s missed just two games in his career, both of which came during the 2018 season. 

RT: Ryan Ramczyk

Ryan Ramczyk was the last player picked in the first round of the 2017 draft, but he’s the No. 1 leader on the New Orleans Saints’ offensive line. 

According to PFF, “Ramczyk has a 90.2 grade in his first three years in the league, a mark bested only by Joe Thomas and Jake Long during the PFF era (since 2006). Ramczyk also boasts a 90.2 run-blocking grade since 2017 that ranks second at the position.” 

The mauler has missed only one game during his career and should be a Bayou mainstay well past the Drew Brees era.

DE: Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa led the Niners’ defense all the way to a Super Bowl appearance and garnered Defensive Rookie of the Year honors during his first NFL season. 

Blessed with great genes, the son of John Bosa and brother of Chargers star Joey Bosa, Nick can certainly be the best of the bunch. 

The 22-year-old jumped straight onto the scene in the Bay Area and tallied 9 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 2019.

Expect more of Bosa in his sophomore season, and all the way up to 2029. 

DT: Chris Jones

Chris Jones has led the Chiefs in sacks for each of the past two seasons, and he was paid handsomely this offseason for his superior play. 

Jones was rewarded with a four-year, $80 million contract for tallying 33 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles in 61 career games.

Jones recently turned 26 and should be smoking through offensive lines better than a brisket at Joe’s in Kansas City for another few years.

DT: DeForest Buckner

The Colts valued DeForest Buckner so much that they traded a first-round draft pick to acquire him this offseason from San Francisco and immediately signed him to a contract extension. 

During his first four years with the Niners, the former team captain Buckner, 26, was a force in the Bay Area, accumulating 262 tackles, 28.8 sacks while missing only one game.

The 6-foot-7, 295-pound Oregon product is equally elite as a run plugger and pass rusher. Buckner made the leap to superstardom in 2018 during his third season and should be continuing the momentum in Indianapolis. 

DE: Myles Garrett

The Cleveland Browns have been seemingly cursed throughout the millennium.

But that curse might've been broken when they selected Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. The Browns made sure to keep him in Berea by awarding him this offseason with a five-year, $125 million contract, $100 million of which was guaranteed. 

The 24-year-old will make more money annually than what his age is — the $25 million average salary is a record for a defensive player.

Garrett has rightfully earned his spoils. In just three years, he’s totaled 30.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. He needs to find ways to stay on the field, however. He’s missed 11 games due to injuries and suspension.

If Garrett can get the Browns back to their winning ways and within sniffing distance of a Super Bowl, he might as well run for Governor of Ohio. 

LB: Leighton Vander Esch

Leighton Vander Esch’s third year in Dallas should define his decade ahead, and whether or not he has the chops to be one of the best linebackers in the game. 

The 24-year-old was a Pro Bowl player during his rookie season but suffered a neck injury in his sophomore year that sidelined him for seven games.

Vander Esch has the chance to be the team’s heart and soul on defense, much like Sean Lee and Demarcus Ware were before him. 

LB: Darius Leonard

Darius Leonard is a playmaker — plain and simple. The linebacker was all over the field during his rookie season, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

What can’t Leonard do? It’s hard to say. In two years, he has 12 sacks, seven interceptions, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Leonard will be Mr. Consistent at a very high level.

LB: Fred Warner

Fred Warner is trending upward with plenty of potential for the San Francisco 49ers. The first two seasons of his career have been developing year over year while starting every game for one of the top defensive units in the league. 

Warner made sure his presence was felt in the Super Bowl by intercepting Patrick Mahomes. 

During his first two seasons, Warner has 118 tackles (89 solo), three sacks, three forced fumbles, nine passes defensed and one interception returned for a touchdown.

He should be a cornerstone of the Niners' defense for years to come. 

CB: Tre'Davious White

Tre'Davious White developed into an All-Pro shutdown corner for the Buffalo Bills last year, leading the league with six interceptions — doubling his total from his first two years in the league.

White is tasked with stopping the opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver, and he did not allow a receiving touchdown on plays he was targeted last year. 

The 25-year-old has been a part of two playoff teams and should see many more if Josh Allen develops as much as the team believes he can.

CB: Jalen Ramsey

Jalen Ramsey’s first four years in the league were mired in headlines for being an unsatisfied malcontent in Jacksonville, so the Jaguars finally traded him to the Los Angeles Rams midway through last season. 

When Ramsey is on, there aren’t many cornerbacks who are better. 

The 25-year-old carries confidence, braggadocio and does everything well, but perhaps more can be desired than his 10 total interceptions in 60 games.

Ramsey is entering a contract year, so expect the ball hog’s play to be operating at peak levels.

S: Derwin James

Derwin James was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl player during his rookie season in 2018 and would have won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award had it not been for Leonard’s magical season.

James suffered a sophomore slump entirely due to a stress fracture last season, playing just five games. 

The defensive stalwart still has every bit of potential to be the best safety in the league. 

The 23-year-old physical specimen is a hard hitter and has all of the skills to bounce back and top the three interceptions and 3.5 sacks he compiled as a rookie.

S: Jamal Adams

Jamal Adams demanded a trade after just three years with the Jets, and the star safety was shipped to Seattle this summer.

Adams should soon supplant the aging Bobby Wagner as the Seahawks' best defensive player.

After an uneven rookie year allowing six touchdowns, receivers who caught passes against Adams last year did so at just 4.5 yards per reception. 

The safety is a bulldozer on the field and has a knack for the ball. Through his young career, he’s forced six fumbles while recovering four and returning it for a score; he also has two interceptions (one for a score), 12 sacks and 273 tackles. 

K: Harrison Butker

Harrison Butker has benefitted beautifully by kicking for one of the league’s top offensive units. In three years, Butker has successfully nailed field goals at an 89.7% clip, already good for second all-time.

Butker was 34 out of 38 last season, both tops in the league, for the Super Bowl champs. With extra points being no gimme these days, Butker gets them in between the uprights at a 95.2% rate. 

Butker also brings a big leg to the field and gives coaching confidence to attempt kicks well-beyond the 50-yard line. Barring a case of unforeseen yips, the 25-year-old Butker is primed to carry the torch as the league’s best kicker once Justin Tucker retires. 

P: Johnny Hekker

Johnny Hekker was part of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, as determined by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the age of 30, the league’s most consistent punter should be able to stay at the top of his game for the next 10 years. 

The lifelong Rams player has led the league twice in punting yards. He also brings a career average of 47 yards a kick to the table, good for second all time in league history. 

Returner: Tarik Cohen

Tyreek Hill stopped returning kicks last year, so we’ll give some shine to the speedy Tarik Cohen, who’s quickly developing into Darren Sproles 2.0. 

In three years, the part-time Bears running back has five rushing TDs, nine receiving TDs, two passing TDs and one punt return score. 

Cohen led the league in punt returns and return yards in 2018, and has a career average of 10.4 yards per punt return. 

Photo: Getty Images / Lines Illustration