We all have our own sweet spot, that short window of time we fell in love with football as a kid.
Think of yours. Possibly, you grew up on fullback Marv Hubbard running roughshod over defenders in the 1970s. Possibly, you lived for Brett Favre gritting through yet another injury to will the Packers to a fourth-quarter comeback in the 1990s. Or maybe it’s a hearty Hines Ward crackback block in the 2000s you enjoyed. One player, one game, one moment in time got fans hooked.
So, the criteria for our 1st annual All-Old School Team at Go Long is this: Which players today remind you of the sport you loved then?
Let us know who’d make your list in the comments below.
Here are our picks.
MATTHEW JUDON, DE, NEW ENGLAND
Crazy to think, but the four-year, $54.5 million deal the Patriots edge rusher signed in March is now looking like robbery. Judon wrecks games, plain and simple, vs. the run and the pass. Through 12 games, he has 11.5 sacks and 24 QB hits. Somehow, he’s managed to affect the quarterback when it seems that’s precisely what all 32 owners do not want.
A.J. DILLON, RB, GREEN BAY
There had to be older fans at Lambeau Field getting John Brockington flashbacks in Green Bay’s win over the Rams on Sunday when Dillon trucked poor Rams safety Taylor Rapp. This is why the Packers took the Boston College running back in the second round of the 2020 draft — to punish defenses, in the cold, deep into the fourth quarter. The only other running back in the NFL with this much of size and power may be Derrick Henry.
PATRICK RICARD, FB, BALTIMORE
The 311-pound, former Maine defensive tackle is a hammer in Baltimore’s power rushing game and a major reason why it doesn’t matter who has the ball behind him. That’s a lot of meat and bones getting a full head of steam downhill. He walls off linebackers and ends alike. The Ravens’ 34-31 win over the Vikings was particularly fun to watch. On the drive of his life, Ricard caught three passes and a TD. On the reception, it took half of the Vikings defense to tackle him.
TAYLOR HEINICKE, QB, WASHINGTON
Heck yeah, give me the undrafted 28-year-old from Old Dominion who has beaten both Tom Brady and Russell Wilson this season. Washington (5-6) doesn’t know if he’s the long-term answer — who does? — but these final six games should dictate plenty. In that No. 4, Heinicke attacks the position like his childhood idol. No other starting quarterback in the NFL has taken this path, from the Vikings to the Patriots to the Texans to the Panthers to the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL to Washington. Heinicke’s play style reflects his journey, too. You never know what’s going to happen.
JOHNATHAN ABRAM, S, LAS VEGAS
They don’t teach safeties to play like this anymore. Abram can be exposed in coverage. But Abram will also be a presence vs. the run like he was in the Raiders’ upset win over Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. Zero in on him this Sunday — he sacrifices his body every game. One year ago, Abram broke down this mentality to Go Long. The same angle remains, too: The Raiders need this “legalized butt-whipper” in an up-for-grabs AFC West.
DEMARIO DAVIS, ILB, NEW ORLEANS
See ball, get ball. That’s the modus operandi of the Saints’ fast, ferocious middle backer. In another era, he’s Willie Lanier or Randy Gradishar. Plays every down, makes just about every tackle and improves every year.
GRADY JARRETT, DT, ATLANTA
His father, Jessie Tuggle, made a million tackles for the Falcons for a million years. Grady refers to Ray Lewis as his uncle (biologically, he isn’t). In seven seasons he has made them both proud. No, he isn’t the incomparable Aaron Donald, but with his incredible quickness and non-stop motor he’s in that same ballpark.
LINVAL JOSEPH, DT, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
What has always drawn me to Joseph is his will to win. Some massive guys prefer to shut it down when fatigue comes around. Linval just hunkers down even more and powers through. He’s one of the very best nose guards of this era or any other. Don’t make him mad, either. Then he’ll play even harder.
QUENTON NELSON, G, INDIANAPOLIS
He entered the NFL in 2018 as the No. 6 pick overall and being mentioned in the same breath by scouts as Larry Little, Mike Munchak and Randall McDaniel. Four seasons in and he has done nothing to disappoint. Want to see an offensive lineman go for the throat? Watch Nelson, the ultimate finisher.
JAMAAL WILLIAMS, RB, DETROIT
He’s doing the same things for the Lions that he did for the Packers. That is, get everything inch out of every run, catch every pass, bring fun and energy on a daily basis and never fumble (he hasn’t in five seasons). Hard-nosed handyman backs like him always have and always will find homes in the league.
JOE BURROW, QB, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Has played behind one of the worst offensive lines and will never see him use it as an excuse. He mixed it up with TJ Watt after an interception and was not looking for the officials to throw a flag. He is cool and tough at the same time which is why every player on the Bengals will do anything for him. Reminds me of Joe Montana.
DEEBO SAMUEL, WR, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The fact that he is used as a running back just solidifies how he is a football player and not just a receiver. His ability to make plays after the catch has always been special, but it’s the way he will run through defenders to gain extra yards and make catches in traffic without hesitation that’s really impressive. Reminds me of Sterling Sharpe (both former South Carolina standouts).
KHALIL MACK, DE, CHICAGO BEARS
The most gifted player in terms of size, athleticism, and love for football I ever scouted. He can airlift offensive tackles when he bull rushes or dip around them with his agility. He is pure violence and requires attention on every snap. Reminds me of Lawrence Taylor.
CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, WR, ATLANTA FALCONS
It does not matter what position you list him at, he is a football player. For a tall player, he has reinvented himself between the tackles running low and with power to easily break arm tackles. We know about his dominance as a returner but is nasty as a gunner on the punt team as well. Reminds me of Hines Ward.
JOSH NORMAN, CB, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
He is why I can’t stand the NFL Combine. Just because he was not fast, the entire NFL passed on him until the fifth round. What he has always done is embarrass you at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, cause fumbles when tackling and, of course, pick every pass off if he was near it. Norman’s seven forced fumbles are already the second-most in team history since 1994. His instincts and love for the game are hard to find. Reminds me of Rod Woodson.
Coming later this week: Our profile on Browns guard Wyatt Teller and a Q&A with former Packers running back Ahman Green.