It was a banner decade for the NFL with many franchises building new stadiums and posting record attendance. The caliber of the play on the field was arguably the greatest of all time with many superstars putting their stamp on the decade.
Unlike previous decades where a Super Bowl blowout was a common occurrence, the 2000′s saw six Super Bowls decided by a touchdown or less, including dramatic endings to the final two Super Bowls played in the decade.
Offenses generally ruled the roost with high-powered attacks lighting up scoreboards across the league. However, defense was still an important component of most championship teams.
Because NFL careers are often short, selecting the top 10 players of the decade is a challenge because many of the best players at the end of the decade were not even in the league when the decade started.
Most of the players on this list were key performers on teams that achieved playoff and often Super Bowl greatness. Please feel free to share your thoughts on who else you think is deserving of being considered among the best of the decade.
Who Was the NFL's Best Player of the Decade?
- Peyton Manning (45%, 134 Votes)
- Tom Brady (28%, 82 Votes)
- Ladainian Tomlinson (6%, 17 Votes)
- Ray Lewis (6%, 17 Votes)
- Troy Polamalu (4%, 13 Votes)
- Champ Bailey (3%, 9 Votes)
- Derrick Brooks (2%, 6 Votes)
- Randy Moss (2%, 6 Votes)
- Tony Gonzalez (2%, 5 Votes)
- Ed Reed (1%, 4 Votes)
- Marvin Harrison (1%, 2 Votes)
- Jonathan Ogden (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 296
Below is our list of the top players of the decade:
10. TIE – Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed – Two of the top impact defensive players in the NFL during the decade were Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. The pair shares the 10th spot on our list of the best players of the decade.
A great testament to the value of Troy Polamalu to the Pittsburgh Steelers is how the defense has struggled due to his absence for much of the 2009 season. During his first six seasons in the NFL Polamalu was essential to then success of a Pittsburgh squad that ranked among the top three in the NFL in total defense four times and claimed a pair of Super Bowl titles. Polamalu has been selected to five Pro Bowls and twice earned first team All-NFL honors. He has 20 career interceptions and is known for his big defensive hits from the strong safety position.
Few defensive players have ever been better at making the big play than Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed. In just eight seasons, Reed has recorded 46 interceptions for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns. Among his returns were a 106-yarder in 2004 and a 107-yarder in 2008. He twice has led the league with nine interceptions in a season and his 358 return yards in 2004 was a record until being eclipsed this season by Darren Sharper. Reed was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and has been a Pro Bowl selection five times and a first team All-Pro on four occasions.
9. Tony Gonzalez – Perhaps the greatest tight end in NFL history, Tony Gonzalez earned nine Pro Bowl selections in the decade and was a first team All-NFL selection four times. He caught 828 passes in the decade for 9,939 yards and 67 touchdowns. Gonzalez eclipsed 90 catches four times during the decade, including a career-high 102 catches for 1,258 yards in 2004. After spending 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Gonzalez moved to Atlanta in 2009 and with one game remaining has caught 80 passes for 837 yards and six touchdowns.
8. Jonathan Ogden – The dominant offensive tackle of his era, Jonathan Ogden was a Pro Bowl selection in each of the eight seasons he played in the decade before retiring following the 2007 season. He also was a first team All-NFL selection three times during the decade. The Ravens led the NFL in rushing yardage in 2003 and finished in the top 10 in rushing offense three times during the decade. Baltimore won the Super Bowl following the 2000 season and made four playoff appearances during Ogden’s time with the team.
7. Champ Bailey – It isn’t very often that a defensive back is traded for a running back, but that was indeed the case when the Denver Broncos traded running back Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins for Champ Bailey. Portis has been a solid runner for the Skins, but Bailey was a game-changer for the Broncos defense. The Broncos ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense in each of his first three seasons with the squad. Bailey has 28 interceptions since coming to the Broncos and in the decade has 41 interceptions. He has been selected to eight Pro Bowls in the decade and three times was a first team All-NFL selection.
6. Derrick Brooks – Though some of his teammates on the Tampa Bay defense were better known, Derrick Brooks was the key anchor of the great Buccaneer defenses of the decade. He reached his peak in 2002 as Brooks was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year as the Buccaneers claimed the Super Bowl Championship. The Buccaneers ranked among the top 10 in the NFL in scoring and total defense eight times in the decade and Brooks was a key reason for that consistent success. He was named to eight Pro Bowls during the decade and was a first team All-Pro four times.
5. TIE – Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison – It is almost impossible to differentiate between these two receivers who were arguably the best at the position in the decade.
As the go-to receiver for Peyton Manning for more than a decade, Marvin Harrison annually posted huge statistics. He eclipsed the 100-catch mark three times in the decade, including a record 143 catches for 1,722 yards in 2002. In 2006 at the age of 34, Harrison caught 95 passes for 1,366 yards to earn All-Pro honors as the Colts claimed the Super Bowl title. For the decade, Harrison caught 791 passes for 10,439 yards and 95 touchdowns.
Considered by many to be one of the best big-play receivers of all-time, Randy Moss has at times been revered for his great talent and at other times has been criticized for an apparent lack of commitment and effort. Regardless, Moss has produced great statistics on the field. He eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving eight times in the decade and seven times caught 10 or more touchdown passes in a season. His finest season was in 2003 when he caught a career-high 111 passes for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings. In 2007 he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a record 23 touchdowns as the New England Patriots completed the regular season undefeated. Overall, Moss has caught 772 passes in the decade for 11,664 yards and 120 touchdowns.
4. Ray Lewis – There have been a lot of great defensive players in the decade, but it is difficult to argue with proclaiming Ray Lewis as the best defensive player of the decade. Selected to seven Pro Bowls and a first team All-Pro five times in the decade, Lewis was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003. He was also the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV as the Ravens dominated the New York Giants. Lewis registered more than 1,000 tackles in the decade with 21 interceptions, 15 fumble recoveries and 12 forced fumbles. The Ravens ranked in the top five in the NFL in yards allowed seven times in the decade and five times were in the top five in points allowed in the league.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson – Without question, LaDainian Tomlinson has been the most consistent great running back during the decade. Others have had short periods of greatness, but until this season, Tomlinson has annually been ranked among the top 2-3 backs in the NFL every single season since joining the league in 2001. He ranked among the top 10 in rushing yards eight times in the decade, including leading the league in both 2006 and 2007. Tomlinson has scored at least 10 rushing touchdowns in each of his nine seasons and in 2006 scored an NFL record 28 touchdowns on the ground. Also an excellent receiver, in 2003 he caught 100 passes and during the decade has caught 528 passes for nearly 4,000 yards. He was the NFL Player of the Year in 2006 and has been selected to five Pro Bowls.
2. Tom Brady – He may not be the best quarterback of the decade, but Tom Brady is without question the best winner among quarterbacks of this decade. He has led the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl titles, a perfect regular season and victories in 77% of his starts since moving into the lineup in 2001. Brady has been selected to four Pro Bowls and in 2007 tossed a record 50 touchdown passes while completing 68.9% of his passes for 4,809 yards. He was named the NFL MVP in 2007, as the Patriots became the first team to ever go 16-0 in the regular season. He has been named the Super Bowl MVP twice and is 14-3 in playoff games.
1. Peyton Manning – While Tom Brady may have more Super Bowl victories, Peyton Manning has been nearly as successful in winning during the regular season despite spending much of the decade saddled with an inferior defense. Manning has won 72% of his starts and guided the Colts to at least 10 victories in nine of 10 seasons in the decade. In fact, the Colts have won at least 12 games every season since 2003 and twice started a season with at least 13 straight victories. Statistically, Manning has posted numbers that will likely ultimately result in him being the most prolific passer in NFL history by the time he retires. In the decade he passed for at least 4,000 yards nine times and eclipsed the 30-touchdown mark five times, including 49 touchdowns in 2004. Manning has been the NFL MVP three times in the decade and should add his record fourth award within the next week. He finally led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory following the 2006 season and they will enter this postseason as the top seed in the AFC.
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