Hey Joe Top 10: Best football players – Detroit Free Press
7 months ago Comments Off on Hey Joe Top 10: Best football players – Detroit Free Press
This will much easier for basketball, because, although you have perimeter players and interior players, it’s five people doing most of the same things at once. Rating football players across all positions, with so much specialization, is almost ridiculous, though not ridiculous enough to keep me from trying it. Most people believe quarterback is the most important position in football, so should this be all quarterbacks at the top? Can a great kicker be considered a great football player? What about linemen? No stats, so how do you compare them to skill players? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, actually. But I’m going with my gut and with overall excellence, playmaking and toughness as guides, at whatever position. And to reiterate, this is from my time on the beat, 1998-99 and 2003-present. There will be many, many great MSU football players left off this list.
1. Darqueze Dennard. He came in as a completely anonymous true freshman and fit in right away, before getting injured. He became a standout as a sophomore single-handedly turning the Outback Bowl win over Georgia with a pair of second-half picks, one returned for a score. He was clearly the best defensive back in the Big Ten as a junior, though many still didn’t realize it. He was the best football player I’ve covered during his senior year, at a position – in a defense – that is set up to make you look bad. He so rarely did, and so often made crucial plays as a tackler and a pass defender.
2. Jack Conklin. A running theme you’ll pick up here is the ability to overcome injury and perform. That’s a necessity in this game. And though Conklin wasn’t totally himself for much of the 2015 season after suffering a knee sprain, he came back freakishly early and still managed to be effective in the Michigan game. And when he was right, he’s the best offensive lineman I’ve seen play at MSU. Randy Gregory, Joey Bosa and many others just stopped rushing from his side eventually. He’s underrated right now by the NFL analysts and he’s good enough to be a No. 1 overall candidate. But I suspect that will be discovered over the next several years after some lucky team gets him in the middle of the first round.
3. Connor Cook. You can’t really go lower than this for MSU’s best all-time quarterback, can you? You can say a lot of guys would have won a lot of games with a team like that around them, and you can wonder why he wasn’t a captain. But you can’t find many people who can make as many high-pressure plays as he did. And so many of them after mistakes that would have shaken so many quarterbacks. The shoulder injury was an unfortunate way for Cook to end his career, and he was never close to the same after it. Before it, he was carrying a pretty flawed team on his back.
4. Javon Ringer. One thing to make clear here: I don’t care about NFL success. That’s not what this is about. This is about what I saw at Spartan Stadium and other stadiums around the Big Ten and country. And when you consider that Ringer blew a knee in high school … then again as a sophomore at MSU … yet still came back early, at the end of that 2006 season, when the Spartans were simply playing out the string with John L. Smith already fired … I don’t know why I keep using ellipses, but that’s crazy stuff. Crazier: Ringer tore a knee ligament a couple days before MSU’s game at Michigan in 2008, was not expected to play as of Friday, suited up Saturday and carried the ball 37 times for 194 yards. Incredible toughness, selflessness and talent.
5. Kirk Cousins. From the first time Cousins talked to reporters, as a completely unknown freshman in 2007, you could tell he was going to do something. Well, except for the reporter (who shall remain nameless) who declared that day that Cousins would be at Hope College by the fall of ’08. I still think the Cousins-Cook debate is worth having, because Cousins never had the kind of offensive line play that Cook enjoyed in his three seasons as a starter. He never had defenses as good as MSU’s 2012 and 2013 versions, either. He did have great offensive playmakers around him. And he got better each year. And that’s still happening for him, which is no surprise.
6. Julian Peterson. This guy just destroyed offensive tackles and anyone else who tried to block him. You saw his athleticism early in the 1998 season on the pick six against Notre Dame, but he was a role player until Robaire Smith broke his leg at Ohio State. Peterson completely dominated that game. And then he was one of the best defensive players in the country in 1999.
7. Denicos Allen. Allen ended up just two shy of Peterson’s tackles for losses record of 48 (Greg Jones is No. 2 with 46 ½ and Shilique Calhoun ended up with 44). And he has two of the memorable plays in recent history, both against Ohio State – the “Waterboy” leaping stop in 2011 and the game-saving tackle of Braxton Miller to win the Big Ten in 2013. Undersized, yes, but that meant nothing on the field. Allen was the best blitzer I’ve seen at MSU.
8. Plaxico Burress. So many terrific receivers have played in the MSU program, but none of them can match the dominance of Burress in that 1999 season. There have been bigger numbers than his 66 catches for 1,142 yards that year, but offenses are different now, too. And his performances against Michigan and Florida alone provided a season’s worth of highlights. And the trash talk to go with them.
9. Le’Veon Bell. The work load he took on in 2012 was something else – he did it all for an otherwise limited offense. Frankly, he was the team’s best option on the outside as well for most of the season. Bell’s combination of power and shiftiness is quite unique, and it’s enhanced in the NFL with a few less pounds on his frame.
10. Jack Allen. With apologies to Greg Jones, Sedrick Irvin, T.J. Duckett, Aric Morris, Isaiah Lewis, Trae Waynes, Max Bullough, Calhoun, Jerel Worthy, B.J. Cunningham, Tony Lippett, Trevon Pendleton and others, Allen is the choice for two things he did as a senior. One, he played left tackle with Conklin out and was pretty good at it. I didn’t even think that was possible for a 6-foot center. Two, he came back from a nasty ankle injury to play really well at the end of the season. Also, he was a four-year starter, a leader and he has to be on MSU’s All-Time Tough Guy team. Those are solid credentials.