Andrew: Hello, 新年快乐, and welcome to this very special edition of Scramble for the Ball. Your Humble Scramblerén have been plotting and scheming for this article since the beginning of the season, as we look to celebrate the end of the 2010s in the finest way we know: by making picks.
Bryan: Of course, we’ve already done our Prop Bet Extravaganza, our overly lengthy rundown where we massively overanalyze one football game. So, now, we’re going to go the other direction — an overly lengthy rundown where we massively overanalyze an entire decade.
The 2010s were the first decade that Football Outsiders and, by extension, Scramble for the Ball, covered from front to back. Along with our Scrambling brethren of this decade — Mike Kurtz, Tom Gower, Andrew Healy, and Sterling Xie — we have spent the past ten years cataloguing the worst of the worst; the plays, players, and situations that have done the most damage, or just been outright hilarious to watch. We have handed out 209 weekly Keep Choppin’ Wood awards. We have compiled 10 yearly All-Keep Choppin’ Wood teams. And now, all that hard work and research is about to bear fruit.
Scramble for the Ball is proud to present the 2010s All-Decade Keep Choppin’ Wood Team.
Andrew: We applied a few different criteria to these selections on a case-by-case basis.
- Worst individual season. For some players, one season is all the chance they get.
- Worst cumulative. Others get many, many seasons to prove their awfulness.
- All-time insanity off the field. Sometimes even good players go bad.
- Messing up multiple franchises. Not even The Patriot Way is foolproof.
Bryan: It’s not even necessarily about being the absolute worst on the field. High-priced free agents that killed the salary cap! First-round draft picks who looked like they had never seen a football before! One bad moment, especially in a playoff game! All of these, and more, can qualify for the worst of the worst.
In other words, there are many, many more ways to be bad than there are to be good. As such, we know that our team won’t please everyone — it just can’t. We could likely create full rosters for each of our major criteria, as well as the countless number of players who fall between the cracks, unique in their own universes of terribleness and woodchoppery. Even listing runner-ups and might-have-beens at each position, it’s quite likely that you can think of several terrible players we’ve forgotten. And that’s really the point — there is no one true team here. This is a celebration of the worst football has to offer. We’ve really enjoyed walking down memory lane, digging through old articles, stat tables, and footage to try to recall some of the truly wretched performances we’ve been fortunate enough to witness over the past ten years. We hope you enjoy taking this trip with us, and can fill the comments with your own stories of players who haunted your 2010s.
Andrew: Also, for the purposes of completeness and posterity, here are all ten of the decade’s individual All-KCW teams:
Bryan: Quarterback is a great place to start, because the overabundance of stats we have available lets us really dive down into the question of quantity over (lack of) quality. Do we want to honor someone who put up one of the worst halves of football we’ve ever seen, or should the spot go to someone who aggravated their fanbase for nearly a decade as a starter? Woodchoppingness is often in the eye of the beholder, but it wouldn’t really be a decade-ending Scramble for the Ball if we didn’t produce one last ridiculous table to try to quantify the unquantifiable, would it? Besides, the terrible quarterback is really the Patron Saint of Scramble for the Ball; the players that get us up and excited to write week in and week out. If anyone deserves an overly deep dive, it’s these gentlemen.
The following table lists the worst quarterbacks of the decade by adjusted net yards per passing attempt — basically normal yards per attempt, but with a bonus for touchdowns and a penalty for sacks and interceptions. It starts with the lowest ANY/A for any quarterback who started a game: Todd Collins. From there, it goes to the quarterback with the lowest ANY/A with more attempts than Collins, and the lowest ANY/A with more attempts than that guy, and so on and so forth. The worst quarterbacks with X attempts, in other words. It’s as good a starting place as any. It also includes the cumulative passing DYAR and attempt-weighted average passing DVOA for each player, just to put it in a more Football Outsiders-friendly context.
|Worst ANY/A Ladder|
The bottom names on the list are just there to complete the table. Drew Brees is the worst quarterback of the decade with at least 5,997 passing attempts because he’s the only player in the league to have that many passing attempts. Matt Ryan is right behind him in second place. Even Eli Manning doesn’t really belong on the list; though he ends the decade with a negative weighted DVOA, he had a top-10 season in 2011, was consistently well above replacement level for the first half of the decade, and has a Super Bowl ring. Those may not be Hall of Fame numbers, but they’re not All-KCW numbers, either.
So, with all apologies to Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel, that leaves us with an appropriate 13 candidates, all of whom deserve at least a quick mention. Let’s start with the small sample size wonders.
Todd Collins had retired after the 2009 season, but got brought in for one more year as Jay Cutler’s backup in Chicago, ending up starting one game due to a Cutler concussion (and then later getting some action in the NFC Championship Game, after Cutler came out with an injury that was only revealed later, in perhaps the first instance of a player getting slammed live on social media. Simpler times). Collins’ performance as a starter in that Week 5 game was the worst performance by a (winning) starting quarterback this decade — 6-for-16 for 32 yards and four, count ’em, four interceptions. He didn’t shatter DYAR records at the time, thanks to being pulled for Caleb Hanie in the second half, but I believe his -223.4% DVOA for that one game remains the all-time record for worst performance by a winning starting quarterback — or, at least one with at least 10 pass attempts in the game.
And while we’re talking about 2000s quarterbacks, coming back for one more swing at a terrible game, we have Kyle Boller! Boller’s decade existed in the very, very brief moment between Jason Campbell’s collarbone injury and Carson Palmer’s debut the next week for the Oakland Raiders. (Remember when Hue Jackson traded a pair of first-round picks for Palmer in a panic? Good times. We’ll be back to Hue later.) Boller was never a good quarterback — he’d be in the Blaine Gabbert spot on a similar list for the 2000s — and his one start was a three-interceptions-in-one-half disaster, but his presence on this list is a failure of the calendar more than anything else.
On the other side of the decade, we have a couple of recent draft picks who simply have not had a chance to overcome early-career disasters to this point. Will Grier’s crisis of a game-and-a-half cameo as Carolina’s starting quarterback this year might well be his last NFL action, even coming for a terrible team that had given up for the season, with an interim coach just trying to run out the clock on 2019. But Grier was just a third-round pick; Josh Rosen was a top-ten choice who has now put up two disastrous seasons. Rosen’s -53.0% DVOA in 2018 was the second-worst by a rookie in DVOA history (minimum 200 attempts), and Rosen didn’t exactly have a Jared Goff-esque revival in Year 2. You can blame some of Rosen’s terrible numbers on being on a disaster of an offense in Arizona and a tanking team in Miami, but the dude was demonstratively outplayed by Journeyman Legend Ryan Fitzpatrick this last season. Rosen will likely get another chance, somewhere, to prove that the talent that drew scouts’ eyes in 2017 still exists somewhere, but at this point, you’re just hoping against hope that three-year-old scouting reports still mean something.
Rosen’s not the only Cardinals quarterback on the list, either — both John Skelton and Ryan Lindley make well-deserved appearances on the worst of the worst tables, a welcome reminder of how bad the Cardinals’ passing attack was pre-Carson Palmer. Neither actually ever led the Cardinals in passing yards, with the hit parade of Derek Anderson, Kevin Kolb, and Drew Stanton (and, to be fair, Palmer once) leading the way from 2010 to 2014; one wonders how Larry Fitzgerald remains sane. Ken Whisenhunt sure did love him some tall, strong-armed statues. Lindley even had to start a playoff game due to injuries to Palmer and Stanton; the 78 yards of offense Arizona put up against Carolina in their 2014 wild-card game remains the lowest total in playoff history, as well as the second-most anemic performance of the decade. No team had more KCW-quality passers in the 2010s than the Arizona Cardinals.
Remember when Mark Sanchez and Ryan Lindley gave us the worst quarterbacked game of all time? pic.twitter.com/3cXi00M9uZ
— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 6, 2019
But Skelton, Lindley, and Rosen won games. Collins won his game. Boller won games in the previous decade. Grier never won, but he only had two starts. And then you have the sad case of DeShone Kizer. If the ultimate goal of a football team is to win games, than Kizer is the least successful quarterback in NFL history. As a rookie, starting for the ill-fated 2017 Cleveland Browns, Kizer managed to go 0-15. That is the most starts without a win for any quarterback in NFL history, shattering the previous 0-10 record shared by Zach Mettenberger, Brodie Croyle, and old-timey halfback Harry Gilmer. Kizer’s stats are horrible, but I do give him a little bit of allowance for being on one of the worst teams of all time. Still! 0-15! If you never win any football games, you deserve a spot on this list.
But ah, Nathan Peterman. If you’re looking for the worst of the small sample size wonders, it has to be Peterman. We mentioned that Collins had the worst DVOA for any winning starter in DVOA history. After looking through a dozen spreadsheets, we believe Peterman’s Week 11, 2017 start against the Chargers to be the worst DVOA for any starter on our books — an astonishing, nearly impossible -227.3% performance in one half of football. Eleven of Peterman’s 14 passes that day were completed, which is really good! Just, uh, five of those passes were completed to men wearing Chargers uniforms. The Bills benched Tyrod Taylor in order to set up one of the worst performances in the history of the league, and it has never adequately been explained why. But, of course, it’s not just one bad game; Peterman’s career 9.23% interception rate is the eighth-worst since the merger among players with 100 attempts (and blows away 2010s runner-up Kevin Hogan’s 6.93%), and his -14 era-adjusted interception rate index is by far the worst in that timeframe; he’s the only player with 100 attempts to have a negative number. League average is set to 100. Peterman is legendarily bad. And he still earned the Week 1 start in 2018 for Buffalo! The only reason Peterman doesn’t win our overall award is that he only darkened our doors on four Sundays in the 2010s, but he is a strong runner-up.
— NFL Memes (@TheRealNFLMemes) November 14, 2018
At the opposite end of the attempt spectrum, we have the Checkdown Kings, Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco. The record for failed completions in a single season? That goes to Joe Flacco’s 2016, with 144. The runner-up? Joe Flacco’s 2017, with 127. Coming into this season (we haven’t calculated 2019’s numbers up yet), Flacco also had the ninth-biggest season, his 2013. Not to be outdone, Bradford had two seasons in the top 25 himself — his 2010 season with the Rams and his 2016 season with the Vikings.
We had to cut about 1,000 words from Football Outsiders Almanac 2019 just telling Broncos fans what to expect from their new starting quarterback. There has never been a passer who has been given so much rope for so much mediocre play in the history of the NFL. He is the all-time leader in basically any statistical category you can find among players who have never been to the Pro Bowl, even as an injury replacement. He’s one of just five quarterbacks in post-merger history to be his team’s starter for five consecutive years with a below-average ANY/A. And he did most of that after turning an incredible 2012 playoff run into the largest contract a quarterback had ever signed at the time, a six-year, $120.6-million deal that kept Baltimore in salary cap purgatory for years, with just one year in the top 15 in DVOA or DYAR to show for it.
Bradford’s salary, too, hurt his team for years; he was the last No. 1 pick under the old, pre-2011 CBA, which established the rookie salary cap — paid like one of the best of the game, without the history to back it up. Had Bradford managed to stay healthy, perhaps he would have lived up to some of that contract. But injuries have been the story of Bradford’s career — high ankle sprains, a torn ACL, a second tear of the same ACL, wear and tear on the knee containing that ACL, and so on, and so on, and so on.
But Bradford and Flacco finished the decade with positive DYAR, and DVOAs above -10.0%. That’s not good, but it’s not bad enough to be our all-decade KCW starter. No, that decision came down to three finalists.
I feel like we can sum up Mark Sanchez’s candidacy in just one play.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) November 22, 2019
But Sanchez was so much more than just the Buttfumble. We could point out that he never finished in the top 20 in DVOA in his five qualifying years, or his low cumulative career DYAR, or the indecision and poor accuracy that ultimately led to him losing his starting job. But Sanchez’s 2010s were more about moments. Moments like Rex Ryan getting a tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey, and nothing but a Sanchez jersey. We have our suspicions why Ryan liked Sanchez so much, but Sanchez soon went from Ryan’s sole-mate to his arch-enemy, with Ryan later saying that he knew Sanchez would never be a franchise quarterback. We all get tattoos of game managers, right? Moments like the worst quarterback battle of all time, with Sanchez battling Geno Smith and Tim Tebow for the right to start for the Jets. Moments like Sanchez throwing a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions to lose a Week 17 game that should have sent them to the playoffs — and Sanchez was great at throwing interceptions, with a 3.53% interception rate that is the worst in the decade among players with at least 1,000 pass attempts. Moments like Sanchez eating a hot dog on the sideline during a game.
But yeah, I mean, the buttfumble. The play which almost singlehandedly earned Sanchez All-KCW honors back in 2012. What else can you say?
Blake Bortles was our All-KCW quarterback in 2018, and he was a serious contender in several other seasons. He was nearly picked in 2014, when he had the (at the time) third-worst passing DYAR ever, and a -40.7% DVOA which is still one of the ten worst we’ve ever recorded for a rookie. He wasn’t one of the finalists in 2016, but his poor play was one of the reasons his offensive coordinator Greg Olson made the All-KCW team that year. For several years, our “Garbage-Time Player of the Week Award” was named after Bortles, thanks to his frustrating tendency to pad his stats when the Jaguars were well out of contention; nearly 20% of Bortles’ touchdown passes have come with his team down at least three scores.
The most frustrating part of Bortles’ tenure in Jacksonville was how the front office kept doubling and tripling down on Bortles as the long-term solution. They picked up his fifth-year option after that aforementioned 2016 season. They gave him a three-year extension after the 2017 season and the Jaguars’ surprise AFC Championship run, despite that clearly being a result of the defense and not the subpar quarterback play. As Rivers McCown put it in FOA 2019, watching Bortles involved “periods of quiet, cautious play, followed by a dumbfounding mistake that hit the Jaguars like a 100-pound bag of cement.” Most quarterbacks who fit that description, even former first-round picks, end up starting for a handful of seasons before being quietly set to one side. Not Bortles, who became one of just eight quarterbacks to lose more than two-thirds of his starts in the 2010s (minimum 20 starts).
But Bortles was at least above average in 2017. Sanchez’s 2010 and 2014 were both above replacement level. No, our winner has to go to Bortles’ predecessor in Jacksonville, and Sanchez’s predecessor on the All-KCW Team: Blaine Gabbert.
We could just point to Gabbert’s -2,270 cumulative DYAR, or his 5-22 record in Jacksonville, but there’s more to love here. How about Jack Del Rio not knowing his team was planning to trade up to take Gabbert in the 2011 draft, or the ensuing -46.5% DVOA, -1009 DYAR season that still ranks as the sixth-worst rookie season we’ve ever recorded? Things never got better from there. Gabbert never did have a season with a DVOA over -15.6%, an embarrassing high-water mark. He has a sack rate of 8.4%, fifth-highest in the decade (minimum 1,000 pass attempts); he stands around aimlessly in the pocket until he’s either clobbered or chucks a ball up for grabs. He has an interception rate of 3.1%, eighth-highest in the decade. You know, let’s just hand this one over to Vince Verhei, from his 2013 Quick Reads in Review:
When you add [Gabbert’s 2013] to Gabbert’s rookie season (-1,010 passing DYAR, the second-worst season we’ve ever analyzed) and his 2012 campaign (-268 DYAR), you get a total of -1,704 passing DYAR. That sure sounds bad, but can we put into context? Why yes, yes we can. Before this season, Danny Tuccito looked over the worst quarterbacks on record in total DYAR, and found that the only quarterback worse than Gabbert was Ryan Leaf. Well, forget that. Gabbert has fallen deep below the Leaf pile, and stands alone and undisputed as the Worst Quarterback of the DVOA Era. No high-profile bust of the past 25 years — not Leaf, not JaMarcus Russell, not Akili Smith nor David Carr nor Joey Harrington — has ever been this bad. Each of those notoriously bad passers looks down at Blaine Gabbert, likely with disdain, or perhaps pity.
Since then, Gabbert has added -564 DYAR to his career totals as an emergency injury replacement in San Francisco, Arizona, and Tennessee. There’s simply no one else we could have possibly picked to lead our team.
Blaine Gabbert…what a throw! Hits Darius Leonard right in the numbers pic.twitter.com/bZpKtjCRz3
— RPO Podcast (@RPOpod) November 18, 2018
Gabbert looking DEEP down field…
It’s under thrown.
— NFL (@NFL) December 3, 2017
Its picked off! Gabbert with a COSTLY interception!
— PFF (@PFF) December 31, 2018
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 3, 2017
Andrew: The debate around the running back position is not entirely dissimilar to the quarterback debate, albeit mercifully about six pages shorter.
Bryan: Is that snark? That feels like snark. Hold on, I think I’ve got a table or three for measuring snark lying around somewhere…
Andrew: There are many different ways to earn a spot on an All-Keep Choppin’ Wood team. You could simply be very, very bad at playing the position, as Kalen Ballage was in 2019. You could be suspended for an off-field incident, as Kareem Hunt was last year. You could be vastly overpaid relative to your production, as Le’Veon Bell was (not necessarily his fault, it must be said) last season. Two of our major nominees combine at least two of these traits.
Adrian Peterson was the best pure running back of his generation: an MVP and four-time first-team All-Pro, Peterson defied every trend about the importance of running backs in the modern game while almost single-handedly dragging the Vikings to the 2012 postseason. Peterson was a great, great player who will be a deserved Hall of Famer, but for a few years between 2014 and 2017, he was a professional disaster. In 2014, he was indicted for child abuse and suspended for almost the entire season — his only appearance was in the team’s opening game. He bounced back to form after reinstatement in 2015, then missed most of the 2016 with a meniscus injury. The Vikings declined his contract option, so he joined the Saints — where he played poorly when he was given the ball, which was not often. His public complaints led to a trade to the Cardinals, and he finished the year ranked 46th of 47 players on our DYAR table. A move to Washington after Derrius Guice’s injury has brought something of a late-career resurgence for Peterson, further enhancing his Hall of Fame credentials, but his on-field legacy could have been even greater if not for his off-field missteps.
Ray Rice was also a terrific player in his prime, but he was already on the decline when his own shocking misdeeds came to the fore. In 2012, Rice signed a five-year, $35-million deal to stay with the Ravens, and that first year he almost justified it as the Ravens won the Super Bowl. From then on, he did not: Rice finished 46th in DVOA and 47th in DYAR in 2013, by far the worst season of his career. The following preseason, video emerged of him punching his then-fiancée, Janay, unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator in March 2014. The Ravens eventually released Rice and issued a recall and exchange program for all Rice-branded merchandise, and the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely (though that suspension was later overturned in a grievance). The Ravens got one season of strong production for their $35-million investment, incurring almost $16 million in dead cap over 2014 and 2015. Though he offered to donate any future paycheck to domestic violence charities, Rice has not played again since. He has, however, undergone counselling and married Janay, and there is no indication that he has ever repeated the terrible events of that awful night in New Jersey.
Peterson and Rice did terrible things off the field, but both players were generally very good on it. Only one running back in the 2010s cost two separate organizations a first-round pick despite never finishing above No. 37 in DYAR or No. 34 in DVOA. Step forward Trent Richardson, whom the Browns drafted third overall in 2012, then traded to the Colts a mere 17 games later. Ryan Grigson, the infamous general manager who oversaw the Richardson trade, paid what turned out to be the No. 26 overall pick for a running back who started only 20 games in Indianapolis — only 37 in his entire career — and averaged 2.9 yards per carry that season. Richardson never even reached 80 rushing yards in a game for the Colts, was benched by the end of 2014, then was out of the league at the end of the year, one of the biggest draft busts of the decade. He had no seasons above replacement level in DYAR; finished every year with a 43% success rate, which ranked No. 36 among qualifying backs; and never came close to justifying what either organization spent on him. There were worse backs, and there were backs who did worse things, but never was so much given by so many for so little.
Trent Richardson’s career summed up in 2 pictures pic.twitter.com/mfN9hy0WrR
— Sports Nation Ohio (@SN_Ohio) August 15, 2015
Andrew: Unlike the running back question above, three receiver spots meant we could separate our woodchoppers into three different “buckets.” Not only did we not have to miss anybody, we could also avoid having too many winners of the same general type. The first of those buckets was plain bad performance — all the better if that bad performance was posted by a high-round draft pick. The easy winner was 2013 first-round draft pick Tavon Austin. In his seven seasons since being selected eighth overall out of West Virginia, Austin has qualified for our main receiver table three times. He has never ranked higher than 80th (!) in either DYAR or DVOA, and he has been below replacement level in four of his seven seasons as a professional. From 2015 to 2017 in particular, Austin piled up an astounding -419 DYAR, finishing at -99 or worse every year. Austin was meant to add value as a punt returner, but he was terrible at that too: he led all non-quarterbacks in fumbles during his three-year “peak” for the Rams.
Austin has since moved to Dallas, where he has at least finished in positive numbers for two straight seasons: he has 20 DYAR on 37 targets. The soon-to-be 29-year-old is an unrestricted free agent this March, and he has never come close to living up to his draft status.
— NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) September 22, 2017
Our second bucket contains players who could have been great, and whose franchises invested considerable resources in them, but who never lived up to their potential for whatever reason. Two names stood out to us here, for sadly similar reasons. Both came into the league in the same offseason that also gave us Trent Richardson, though their draft paths were slightly different.
Justin Blackmon was Jacksonville’s choice as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft, having recorded over 3,500 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns in three seasons at Oklahoma State. The Jaguars traded up for Blackmon, handing Tampa Bay a fourth-round pick to move up from No. 7 to No. 5. In his rookie year, he looked absolutely worth it: despite catching passes from Chad Henne and a rookie Blaine Gabbert, Blackmon led all rookies in receptions and receiving yards, and his 236-yard game against Houston was the third-most receiving yards in a single game of any NFL rookie ever. However, ahead of the 2013 season Blackmon was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He returned to play four games, piling up another 400 yards, but was suspended again in November, this time indefinitely. He was denied reinstatement for 2014 following an arrest for marijuana possession, then was arrested for DUI in 2015. The Ringer produced a worthwhile longform read on Blackmon in 2016. At the time of writing, he technically remains on the Jaguars roster on the reserve/suspended list, where he has been since 2014. In his early days, he had several games in which he was almost uncoverable; he is arguably the greatest example of unfulfilled NFL potential in the 2010s.
However, one other receiver surpasses him for this spot on the All-Decade team, and the identity of that player will be no surprise. Josh Gordon technically entered the league in the same draft class as Blackmon and Richardson, but he did so through the supplemental draft after being suspended in college for substance abuse. Gordon’s record of suspensions and returns could fill page after page: he has been on NFL rosters for eight seasons, and has missed games due to suspension or substance abuse problems in all but one of those seasons. Those substance abuse issues range from heavy drinking and smoking marijuana before games to hard drugs, DUI arrests, and spells in in-patient rehabilitation facilities. When he was on the field and on form, Gordon was untouchable: he was the first receiver in league history to record back-to-back 200-yard games, and he posted over 1,600 yards and nine touchdowns in only 14 games for the 2013 Browns despite a quarterback depth chart of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer. However, since that season he has played only 33 of a possible 96 games, and this season alone he was mysteriously cut by the Patriots (presumably as a result of his problems), picked up by the Seahawks, then suspended again under the substance abuse policy. Gordon appeared to have one more chance this year to fulfil some of his undoubted potential; sadly, that chance has now surely come and gone.
Bryan: For our third receiver, we wanted to highlight someone whose off-field incidents outshined considerable on-field talent.
For a long time, we considered Kenny Britt, a two-time All-KCW starter in 2013 and 2017. To win this award in multiple seasons is already worthy of all-decade consideration; only 20 men managed that feat this decade. To win it five years apart shows impressive reach and range. Britt’s tenure in Tennessee was plagued by legal issues — DUIs, police chases, drug arrests, bar fights, a weird situation where he guaranteed bail for an accused murderer and then got in trouble for not paying said bail. He also suffered through multiple injuries and was benched in his contract year for shoddy route-running, multiple penalties, and a ” lackadaisical approach to blocking,” something which absolutely did not fly in Mike Munchak’s tenure. He then went to the Rams, who ended up letting him go because of his ” off-field commitment” and discord between him and Jared Goff. He went to the Browns, where his effort was again questioned, and was released after catching just 18 passes in nine games. General manager John Dorsey said the decision to cut Britt was easy, adding that “from a cultural standpoint, I don’t think he fits in the prototypical character point of what I’m looking for in terms of a leader. He did not live up to his expectations as a player. … [Britt] may have a higher opinion of himself than I have of him as a player.” Ouch.
And up until Week 17 of 2018, that would have given Britt our third receiver spot without any trouble. And then Antonio Brown began the strangest 13 months (and counting) that we have ever seen. Like Britt, Brown is a two-time All-KCW winner, finishing out the decade strong. We won’t rehash the entire last 13 months here — we just did that two weeks ago in our yearly KCW team, which you should check out. We should add that since that article went live, Brown has been arrested on felony burglary with battery charges. He was released on bail in a hearing that was reported as being “contentious” which, no, we’re shocked. Even before his 13-month odyssey, Brown was reportedly difficult to handle; he tossed furniture out of his apartment window in the offseason, argued with his offensive coordinator in the media, and fought with Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster. He livestreamed his locker room on Facebook, slammed things and screamed at coaches on the sideline. Antonio Brown will be on both the All-Decade team AND the All-Decade KCW team, and he absolutely deserves both honors.
Bryan: This is a position we thought long and hard about, but ultimately, we had to pick Aaron Hernandez. We were hesitant to include him at all. The Keep Choppin’ Wood team is meant as a lighthearted celebration of the worst of the worst, and nothing about Hernandez is lighthearted. But if we didn’t pick him, we figured we would have to explain why we didn’t pick him; we couldn’t ignore him entirely. And if we have to include him in the article, we really can’t try to suggest that bad contracts or a lack of on-field effort compare to, y’know, murder. The circumstances around Hernandez, and the extent to which his CTE affected his actions or emotional stability, are well, well, well beyond the scope of this article, but there just are no extenuating circumstances that could redeem Hernandez enough to not be on this list.
If you prefer a less depressing nominee, we do in fact have a couple for you. Martellus Bennett joined the Packers as a high-priced free agent in 2017, and then started publicly raging against Green Bay’s medical team, allegedly quitting on the team by stating his intention to have surgery on an injury he had previously been prepared to play through, and then parlaying his ensuing release into a return to the Patriots. There’s two-time All-KCW winner Brandon Pettigrew, who would have received this honor, but we were afraid he’d drop it, or at least catch it and fumble it. There’s Marcedes Lewis, whose -161 DYAR in 2011 is the worst we’ve ever recorded among tight ends, just beating out Ricky Seals-Jones’ -158 from 2018. Any of these gentlemen would make fine additions to your worst of the worst for the decade, and would win in most normal competitions.
Andrew: Somewhat surprisingly, this might be the deepest spot on the entire All-KCW roster. Mike Remmers snags our right tackle spot, as the worst offensive tackle on several of the league’s worst offensive lines — and in fact, the worst offensive tackle on a Vikings line that included our other All-KCW tackle. It’s not so much that Remmers was a turnstile as that he never had the power, base, or technique to play offensive tackle at this level. The Vikings eventually moved him to guard, where he made the 2018 All-KCW Team for the second time in three years. A multiple-season woodchopper at multiple positions is an easy pick.
Bryan: Our other starting tackle is Matt Kalil, an overpaid lump for most of his career this decade. Kalil is the 17th-highest paid tackle of all time, making nearly $59 million in his five-year career. Kalil’s rookie season was strong enough, but he just fell apart after that. Minnesota ranked 23rd, 27th and 29th in adjusted sack rate from 2013 to 2015, and while that’s not all Kalil, yeah, a lot of that was Kalil. Kalil also was a penalty machine, drawing 12 flags in 2014 alone. Despite all that, Kalil managed to get a massive contract from Carolina, in a move I called ” the worst of [free agency] so far” when it was signed. I was not proven wrong. He came out of retirement to play with Houston in 2019, and his training camp and preseason performance had a huge impact on the team, in the sense that it sort of forced Bill O’Brien to trade two first-round picks for Laremy Tunsil.
Take it away, Rivers:
There are plenty of honorable mentions here, too. Bobby Hart is a two-time All-KCW winner for both the Bengals and Giants, a false start machine who refused to play in the 2017 season finale for New York, reportedly encouraged his teammates to loaf and play up injuries, and got in bizarre Twitter feuds. The offensive line is actually a deep spot for two-time winners, as Bradley Sowell is one of the few players picked by both the Bryan/Andrew team and the Tom/Mike team from the beginning of the decade, with Sowell getting benched once in Arizona and twice in Seattle. Teams are still trying to find Sowell’s ideal position, with him going from left tackle to right tackle to left guard to fullback and now tight end in Chicago; one day, someone will stick him back as a kick returner and magic will happen.
Cedric Ogbuehi ended up starting just 25 games for the Bengals, which is pretty bad for the 21st pick in the draft; he managed to be blown up at both left and right tackle, and was a healthy scratch before Cincinnati eventually turned down their fifth-year option on him. And Tom Gower of old Scramble lore insisted we put Greg Robinson on this list, too; Robinson has done such a poor job living up to expectations that the Browns opted to release him before the 2019 season began, confident they could re-sign him. They released their starting left tackle because they were sure none of the other 31 teams would want him. That’s bad.
Bryan: Richie Incognito is a four-time Pro Bowler who has made a career of being the bright spot on some terrible lines in Miami and Buffalo. Only five guards made the Pro Bowl more frequently than Incognito did in the 2010s, so while he likely won’t be making any All-Decade teams, he has consistently been recognized as one of the better guards in the league. That’s not what he’s going to be most remembered for, however. Incognito was the centerpoint of the 2012-to-2013 Jonathan Martin bullying scandal, eventually leading to his suspension and subsequent dismissal from Miami. His three years in Buffalo were relatively quiet, all things considered, though he did keep up his reputation of being the dirtiest player in the league, being alleged to gouge players’ eyes, throw punches, and make illegal tackles on a regular basis. And then, in between his Buffalo and Oakland stints, Incognito was placed on involuntary psychiatric hold for throwing a dumbbell at a gym patron, believing that the feds were in some way tracking him. He was later arrested after bringing five guns into a funeral home, punching caskets, throwing objects, and threatening to shoot the employees for not acceding to his funeral arrangements for his father — namely, that he be allowed to cut his father’s head off for research purposes. That’s the kind of resume that can only get you a job on the All-Decade KCW Team … or the 2019 Oakland Raiders. One or the other.
Andrew: We’ve already mentioned a quarterback, a receiver, and a tight end from those early-2010s Jacksonville Jaguars teams. No review of the worst players of the decade would be complete without a nominee from the line that brought us Luke Joeckel, Guy Whimper, and notoriously inept guard Will Rackley. Rackley was a third-round pick in 2011 who started 25 games for the Jaguars across 2011 and 2013, and was at least an honorable mention for All-KCW in both seasons. He frequently came up in J.J. Cooper’s old Under Pressure columns as having one of the worst sack rates of any guard. Every season of his career apart from his rookie year ended with him on injured reserve, and he was an utter liability when he did make it onto the field. Rackley has a case to be the worst offensive lineman who started at least 25 games at any spot this decade.
We didn’t have many honorable mentions for the guard spots, mainly because bad guards seem to be quicker and easier to replace than bad tackles. Our ten All-KCW teams this decade named 20 different starting guards, including such luminaries as Jonathan Cooper (2015), Cameron Erving (2016), Xavier Su’a-Filo (2017), and whoever happened to be the worst guard in the NFC West that year (seriously, that accounts for 2010, ’11, ’14, ’16, ’17, and ’18). Cooper is probably the biggest draft bust of those players, Su’a-Filo the worst player, and T.J. Lang (2012) or Ramon Foster (2010) the guy who went on to have the best career.
Bryan: Samson Satele was the All-KCW center in both 2012 and 2013, as his time replacing Jeff Saturday did not go as well as hoped, and his time in Oakland and Miami frankly wasn’t much better. A terrible pass-protector, Satele seemed to be functioning as if he was in a badly-designed video game, rag-dolling all over the field as interior linemen routinely turned him into a revolving door. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked him the worst center in the league in 2014, noting that Satele didn’t have the “body control, strength, or quickness” to be effective, and that his “sloppy technique negates any strength or power he could create.” Sounds perfect for our lineup!
The other honorable mention we considered at center was Russell Bodine, the weak link on some very weak Bengals lines from 2014 to 2017. At various times, Football Outsiders alumni have critiqued Bodine for poor technique, lack of power, failure to pick up stunts and twists, and just general overall stinkosity.
Bryan: Greg Hardy set the Carolina single-season franchise record for sacks with 15.0 in 2013, in what looked like a continuing upwards path for him; he wasn’t quite great yet, but he was moving in that general direction. Then came 2014, when Hardy was arrested for assault and communicating threats. While his conviction was later overturned on appeal, he was suspended for nearly the entire 2014 season for violating the Personal Conduct Policy, because good lord, the photos that came out were beyond the pale. It was enough for Jerry Richardson of all people to say enough was enough, releasing Hardy and saying that the Panthers “do the right things.” Hardy bounced to Dallas, where he was suspended for 10 games (later reduced to four on the threat of legal action), and then fought with Jason Garrett about his inappropriate tweets, frequent tardiness, and generally being a bad influence, in a series of events which absolutely no one could have foreseen coming. He also arguably had quite an effect on a rookie edge rusher Dallas happened to pick up in 2015…
Andrew: These retrospectives often throw up names you might never have remembered otherwise, as is the case here. Randy Gregory was a second-round pick by the Cowboys in 2015 as a talented edge rusher out of Nebraska. He was projected as a first-round talent but fell out of the first round after failing his combine drug test for marijuana — a test that has often been described as an intelligence test more than an actual drug test. His rookie season was quiet, both on the field and off it — he had zero sacks but also no drug policy violations. That was his last season on the field with none of either: Gregory recorded his first sack in the 2016 season, but only played two games over the next two seasons due to drug suspensions. After being conditionally reinstated for 2018, Gregory posted a career year — six sacks, two forced fumbles, and 15 quarterback hits as a rotational edge rusher — but then failed yet another drug test in February 2019 and missed the entire 2019 season. He remains signed to the Cowboys roster after extending his contract though 2020, but there is no indication yet when or if he will be able to play for them again.
Bryan: Our biggest honorable mention here was Mario Williams and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Contract. Williams parlayed a very solid career in Houston into the most lucrative contract a defensive player had ever signed — six years, $100 million. He continued to make the Pro Bowl and even earned an All-Pro nod on the Bills, but his tenure there quickly soured as he was accused of loafing. He constantly complained about Rex Ryan’s scheme, frustrated with the constant adjustments at the line of scrimmage and moaning about having to drop back into coverage — to be fair, he was a square peg in a round hole, but a square peg making $14 million a year. He was released by the Bills, and then lasted just one year in Miami before being let go, going from All-Pro to out of the league in less than three seasons.
Andrew: We can’t forget Aldon Smith either. Smith was one of the star defenders of the early part of the decade, being mentioned in the same breath as J.J. Watt while helping propel the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. However, that all fell apart over the next couple of seasons as a series of DUI arrests and suspensions led to the 49ers outright cutting him in August 2015. During the 2015 season, Smith was charged with a hit-and-run collision and suspended by the league, then released by the Raiders following a domestic violence allegation in March 2018.
Andrew: Interior defensive lineman was probably the most challenging position to pick. This decade did not have a standout bonehead player like Albert Haynesworth. Even Ndamukong Suh, long considered the dirtiest defensive lineman in the league, has seldom been anything but excellent for his teams and has only missed two games through suspension in his 10-year career. Suh’s addition to a defensive line has often resulted in one of the league’s best run defenses, regardless of team — even the Buccaneers this season went from the No. 31 run defense DVOA in 2018 straight to No. 1 in part by replacing Gerald McCoy with Suh. Suh has done many unpleasant things in his career, but he very rarely hurts the team he plays for, so we are forced to look elsewhere.
We eventually settled on a pair of players of similar profile. Both players were highly touted prospects in the 2011 draft. They were chosen at opposite ends of the first round — one third overall, one at No. 30. They both signed big-money deals after strong performances on their rookie contracts, and they both made All-KCW teams for similar reasons shortly after signing those deals.
The first of those names is Marcell Dareus. Dareus has an enduring reputation in some quarters as a premier defensive tackle, but that reputation was earned entirely during his rookie contract in Buffalo. In 2015, Dareus signed a deal which, at the time, contained the most guaranteed money for any non-quarterback in NFL history. Since then, he has never surpassed 3.5 sacks, double-digit quarterback hits, or five tackles for a loss — numbers that he hit or exceeded in every season of his rookie deal. In 2016, he was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. In 2017, amid accusations of loafing, the Bills traded Dareus to the Jaguars for a conditional sixth-round draft pick. Reunited with Doug Marrone, Dareus started 22 games for a declining Jaguars defense before finishing the 2019 season on injured reserve. Though he was never truly a bad player, there is a stark difference in Dareus’ performance pre- and post-megadeal. Teams are often guilty of paying players for past rather than present performance, and Dareus was an egregious example.
A similar progression applies to Muhammad Wilkerson. During his rookie contract, Wilkerson was one of the very best interior defenders in the league — a key component of a Jets front that was one of the most formidable of the decade. In 2016, he signed an $86-million contract, and his production plummeted: he posted the fewest sacks and quarterback hits since his rookie campaign, and often looked like a liability for that season’s Jets. The following year, he was even worse: as the highest-paid defender on the team, Wilkerson was continually disgruntled, unproductive, and eventually benched after being late for another team meeting. The Jets cut him that offseason and the Packers signed him. He played three games in Green Bay, had no sacks, quarterback hits, or tackles for a loss, then suffered a season-ending injury and has not played since.
Bryan: Our defensive captain is Vontaze Burfict, the player the NFL’s front office wishes would just go away. He has accumulated over $5.3 million in fines and forfeited salary over the years, as well as missing 22 games via suspension, as “player safety” just isn’t something he has any interest in. SBNation compiled a solid history of his career of excessive recklessness, dating back to his time in high school. He has menaced everybody, but you could just watch the Bengals-Steelers games to get your full taste of Burfict — celebrating tearing Le’Veon Bell’s MCL in 2015, intentionally diving at Ben Roehtlisbergers legs later that year, knocking a defenseless Antonio Brown unconscious in the 2015 wild-card game, kicking Roosevelt Nix in the facemask in 2017, and elbowing Brown in the head in 2018. That’s all just against one team — the list of players he stomped on, punched in the groin, or generally tried to injure is a much, much longer list. Heck, even his own teams weren’t immune; he once incited a brawl during practice by diving at Giovanni Bernard’s knees just after he came back from an ACL tear.
His latest suspension was specifically cited as for “repeat violation” of the league’s player safety policies, and that’s a distinction the NFL very rarely makes; suspensions usually cite only one incident, though past behavior is factored into the length of the suspensions. In fact, I could only find five suspensions this decade where players were cited for “repeated” violations of anything. Two of those five suspensions went to Vontaze Burfict.
Our other linebacker is not selected for his on-field performance, but one strange, strange weekend. Lawrence Timmons had a very solid career in Pittsburgh, playing a decade for the Steelers and earning a Pro Bowl nod before spending the rest of his career in Miami. Or, well, most of the rest of his career in Miami, because he certainly wasn’t in Miami in Week 2 of the 2017 season. Nor was he at the team’s hotel in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, the Dolphins had no idea where Timmons was. When we say that a team has filed a missing persons report on one of their starters, we usually mean that they don’t seem to be contributing on the field; that they’re ineffective and generally not involved in the action. But no, Miami literally filed a missing persons report on Timmons because no one, and I mean no one, knew where the hell he was. Timmons was eventually located at LAX, ready to get on a flight back to Pittsburgh. He had been angered by … something, the exact nature of which has never been made clear. Again, when we talk about someone not showing up, we’re generally speaking metaphorically and not literally. Then again, if I had to play for Adam Gase, I might consider getting on a plane myself.
Our honorable mentions came from regular Scramble targets in the first half of the decade. Rolando McClain was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft. His tenure in Oakland is most remembered for Dennis Allen calling him out publicly for making too many mistakes, benching him for a fourth-round rookie, and kicking him out of team practice due to an … “incident.” He ended up going to Dallas, where he was suspended two years in a row for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He was indefinitely suspended from December 2016 until August 2019, and then suspended again in December 2019. It seems unlikely he’ll ever play football again.
Our other honorable mention, Quincy Black, can pride himself on being unlike the other nominees, never being suspended for violent play or for violating the substance abuse policy or for showing up unannounced at an airport on Sunday morning. No, he’s a two-time All-KCW starting linebacker thanks to being really bad at football; finishing at or near the bottom in stop rate among linebackers multiple seasons in a row for Tampa Bay.
Andrew: Our top cornerback made annual All-KCW teams during two different Scramble eras in the 2010s, three years apart for two different franchises. In 2015, Brent Grimes was already declining: he ranked No. 78 of 83 cornerbacks in success rate for a Dolphins team that ranked dead last against No. 1 receivers that year. Despite this, Tampa Bay signed Grimes to a two-year, $13.5-million contract. The 2016 Buccaneers were relatively successful, but in 2017 and 2018 Grimes and the Buccaneers defense were awful, finishing No. 31 and No. 30 against No. 1 receivers in each season while allowing more than 70 yards per game to opponents’ top targets. This culminated in Grimes’ appearance on his wife’s podcast in 2018, during which he complained bitterly that the Buccaneers expected their No. 1 cornerback to do the job of a No. 1 cornerback. Poor performance is one thing, but poor performance while bemoaning as disrespectful the fact that your coaches want you to do the job for which they’re paying you is quite another.
I thought Brent Grimes shredded his knee going for the ghost of Davante Adams here. pic.twitter.com/dCmVRxAgTO
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 8, 2017
Our second cornerback had a season for the ages as part of the legendary, nay, infamous 2015 New Orleans Saints. Brandon Browner was coming off back-to-back Super Bowl wins with the Seahawks and Patriots when the Saints signed him to be their top cornerback in a rebuilt depth chart. It did not work out: Browner set an all-time record for the most penalties in one season against a single player, and the Saints effectively tied the 1986 Buccaneers for the worst defensive DVOA in history. I may be biased here as a Saints fan, but I’m not sure I could come up with a single better example from the decade of a high-profile player signed after sustained success who produced a worse outcome on the field than Browner. Also — we’re back to betraying the lighthearted nature of the All-KCW team, but it’s worth noting that Browner is currently in jail for attempted murder. He’s not a good guy.
Brandon Browner wasn’t ready for DeAndre Hopkins pic.twitter.com/drNQBmJNCS
— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) November 30, 2015
Bryan: We covered our third pick in our yearly KCW column — it’s Trumaine Johnson, the worst free-agent acquisition in the history of the New York Jets. With $45 million in practical guarantees, Johnson’s per-good-play cost to New York is roughly … $45 million. Only Josh Norman and Patrick Peterson have ever — ever! — signed contracts with more guaranteed money among cornerbacks, and even the rapidly-tailing-off Norman has provided more value to Washington than Johnson has to the Jets.
We also should give a shoutout to Vontae Davis, who retired at halftime of Buffalo’s Week 2 game in 2018; he wasn’t bad enough for that to vault him to the top of our list, but that remains one of the more baffling events we’ve covered in the past few years.
Andrew: Our debate at free safety came down to two players. In the pewter corner is lifetime achievement woodchopper Chris Conte, whose performances for the 2017 and 2018 Buccaneers were the stuff of legend, and who narrowly missed also being named All-KCW in 2015. In the black-and-gold corner is Jairus Byrd, one of the very worst high-profile free agent signings of the 21st Century.
In 2014, the Saints signed Byrd to a six-year, $54-million contract to lure him away from Buffalo. That season, Byrd played only four games before suffering a season-ending meniscus tear. The following season, Byrd was the deep safety for the worst pass defense in DVOA history. Then in 2016, the Saints pass defense improved to merely bad rather than historically terrible, but still allowed a second-worst 56.6% DVOA against the deep pass. Byrd was cut that offseason, and the Saints defense has been above-average ever since. Conte, meanwhile, started for both the 2017 and 2018 Buccaneers — one of the very few teams to finish in the bottom three against the pass in consecutive seasons. In slight mitigation, he was never paid like Byrd, but he was woeful nonetheless. We could very easily have chosen either player, but in the end we settled on Chris Conte. Those multiple All-KCWs have to count for something!
Chris Conte wants to forget about this play pic.twitter.com/W0Y9bW7E3K
— Stadium (@Stadium) September 25, 2018
Bryan: But Conte wasn’t the only safety picked year after year. Our strong safety nod goes to T.J. Green. Andrew and I hated putting him on the team as a rookie in 2016, because although he ranked near the bottom of every metric out there, he was a rookie, and deserved benefit of the doubt. When he returned to the starting lineup the next year and had zero improvement, that benefit was gone. Since then, he walked away from the Seahawks in 2018, claiming he was planning to retire as he didn’t want to play football anymore. That made it really odd when he signed with the Saints last season. I don’t know, I just find it particularly easy to not play football; it’s something Green is clearly struggling with.
No list of the worst safeties of the decade would be complete without at least mentioning Sabby Piscitelli, who really could neither cover receivers nor tackle them after they caught the ball, skills we’re told are vital for a safety. Josh Shaw deserves a mention as well, as the first player suspended for gambling since 1996; with more and more states legalizing gambling and the Raiders setting up shop in Las Vegas, the 2020s version of this team might have a few more gamblers on it.
Bryan: You were expecting Roberto Aguayo, weren’t you? Hyped as the best thing since sliced bread coming out of college; the best kicking prospect in years, Aguayo went 22-for-31 in his one season in Tampa Bay, and just 4-for-11 beyond 40 yards. That’s terrible, and to make matters worse, the Buccaneers traded third- and fourth-round picks to go and get him. In the end, however, we went another direction — after all, Aguayo had nothing to do with the fact that the Bucs traded to get him; that was Jason Licht’s boneheaded decision. It’s not fair to blame Aguayo for that, and plenty of other kickers have burned out after one season. We’re not going to blame him for the hype. Nor are we going to pick Cody Parkey, despite his doinkitis dominating the psyche of the Chicago Bears during the 2018 offseason.
No, kickers, for better or worse, are judged by their performance in the biggest moments. It’s why Adam Vinatieri seems destined for the Hall of Fame, and why two different franchises curse the name of Blair Walsh. Missing a 27-yard field goal that would have won a playoff game is the single biggest failure a kicker had in the entire 2010s.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 10, 2020
— Andrew Luck (@FauxAndyLuck) January 10, 2016
Walsh, who had been an 85% field goal kicker up until that point, never recovered. He missed four field goals for Minnesota the next season before getting cut, and then went to Seattle and killed their playoff chances with multiple missed kicks in key situations in 2017. That 27-yard miss just killed any confidence he may have had.
Andrew: For some players, one play is all it takes to define a legacy. On the tombstone of Matt Dodge shall be inscribed the words, “he punted to DeSean Jackson.” Dodge was already a below-average punter on the verge of being cut; that play simply sealed his fate. We never heard from the 2010 seventh-round pick again, but his legacy lives on in our highlight reels.
I remember sitting in the living room and watching this game.
Punter Matt Dodge, a rookie at the time, got destroyed by Coughlin and was out of the league the following season. pic.twitter.com/Bbxb48Unsi
— Alex Zatarain (@TheRealZatarain) December 20, 2018
Bryan: Darius Reynaud wasn’t a terrible returner, mind you, although averaging less than 20 yards per kickoff return (and less than 6 yards per punt return) in 2010 for the Giants was really, really bad. Reynaud gets this away for the very first play of the 2013 season. Mike Munchack needed a good solid start in an attempt to save his job, so it’s important to get things off on the right foot. The kickoff bounces funny, Reynaud picks it up in the field of play, doesn’t like the situation, takes a step backwards and … kneels. In the end zone. For a safety. 2-0 Steelers before any time even officially comes off the clock. Reynaud was cut several weeks later.
Andrew: Most punt returners who are truly disastrous do not hold onto the job for long: they are simply too expendable. For that reason if no other, Preston Parker‘s 2011 season stands out. Playing for the Buccaneers (naturally), Parker returned 23 punts that year. He muffed or fumbled SIX of them, a rounding error over 25%, AND he fumbled a kickoff. Somehow, Parker recovered from that to put together a respectable career as a receiver, including seven starts for the 2014 Giants. He did not return another punt until that 2014 season though, during which he had eight returns … and fumbled another two times. Well, at least he was consistent.
Bryan: Oh, we had a fight over this one. When we tossed this question to the staff, no fewer than 10 different executives were named, each with very strong arguments. Where to begin?
The AFC East has been a disaster. Mike Maccagnan’s four years running the Jets included drafting Christian Hackenberg (who never saw the field), giving $39 million guaranteed to an over-the-hill Darrell Revis, and opting for Muhammad Wilkerson over Damon Harrison in 2016. He’s also responsible for that Trumaine Johnson deal which earned Johnson the all-KCW cornerback nod. Mike Tannenbaum’s tendency for bringing in high-priced, declining players and giving them huge signing bonuses ended up putting both the Jets and Dolphins into massive salary cap purgatory in the decade. And then there’s Buddy Nix and Doug Whaley, both of whom spent time running the Bills. Both are partly responsible for drafting EJ Manuel in the first round, and Nix couldn’t draft to save his life in his other years in charge. Whaley was famous for gaffe after gaffe after gaffe, alienating Fred Jackson, and being the lead force in trying to push Tyrod Taylor out of town for four years. And you wonder why the Patriots have such an easy time winning the division year after year?
Then you have the general managers who have recent failures that possibly outshine their work earlier in the decade. Tom Coughlin won a Super Bowl in New York in 2011, but his tenure as Jacksonville’s GM has been so bad that the NFLPA warned their free agents not to sign with the Jaguars because of Coughlin’s disregard for player rights. Dave Gettleman has become a punching bag for the analytics crowd in New York for his outdated and antagonistic thinking, but he did put together a 15-1 team in Carolina earlier in the decade. And then there’s Bill Polian, who is probably getting more flack for calling Lamar Jackson a wide receiver than anything he actually did as president of the Colts.
Washington fans are still celebrating the firing of Bruce Allen; Dan Snyder’s right-hand man has been responsible for a great deal of the dysfunction the franchise has suffered over the past 10 years. The multiple-year Kirk (or Kurt!) Cousins standoff, the Trent Williams holdout, the $36-million salary cap penalty for shenanigans in the uncapped 2011 season, firing Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur on the same day, the “winning off the field” presser, the “the culture is actually damn good” presser … we could go on. Consider him Runner-up A.
Jason Licht deserves nomination just for the Roberto Aguayo trade alone. In Licht’s six seasons, Tampa Bay has the third-worst record in the NFL and has had more head coaches (three) than playoff appearances (zero). He has a nasty habit of swinging and missing on high-priced free agents — Vinny Curry, Chris Baker, J.R. Sweezy, the list goes on. Tom Bassinger argued that his decision-making on picking Jameis Winston deserves mention as well. Consider him Runner-up B.
But, as there was no consensus, and I get to write the dang entry, I’m using my executive powers to give this spot to Trent Baalke. As Exhibit A in his masterclass of draft terribleness, I present the San Francisco 49ers’ 2012 draft class, Baalke’s first as man in charge — a combined four games started for San Francisco by the entire class, with A.J Jenkins and LaMichael James being two of the biggest draft busts in 49ers history. Oh, but Baalke made a habit of terrible draft decisions. No team was busier than the 49ers during Baalke’s 2012-to-2016 tenure; they made 51 selections as they repeatedly and aggressively traded down. Only the New Orleans Saints got less AV out of their drafted players from that time period than San Francisco did, and they had 20 fewer players to draw from. Only the Cleveland Browns got less bang for their buck when you consider the value of the draft picks used. It turns out, drafting a bunch of injured players carries the substantial risk that all of those players will continue to be injured. Shocking, I know. When Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took over the franchise after Baalke’s firing, they let 27 of their 31 pending free agents walk, including all four quarterbacks. It’s no wonder Shanahan told Jed York that the 49ers’ roster at the time was terrible. That was Shanahan’s pitch for getting the job!
And, of course, the 49ers needed a new head coach because Baalke was involved in a power struggle with Jim Harbaugh — you remember, the coach who came, turned the 49ers around after eight years in the wilderness, and immediately sent the 49ers to three NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl? Yeah, Baalke decided that that wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted around, and maneuvered things so that Harbaugh would get kicked out after 2014, and defensive line coach/yes man Jim Tomsula would take over. And then hand-picked coach Chip Kelly, whom Baalke fought with, anyway. Gah. I’m getting mad just remembering his tenure. Let’s move on before I burst a blood vessel.
Andrew: It takes something very special indeed to gazump former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley for this spot, but boy did Hue Jackson provide something special. Jackson’s tenure in Cleveland was marked by pessimism, defeatism, infighting, backstabbing, and so, so, so much losing. When he finally gave way at the start of 2018, Jackson had amassed a 3-36-1 record as head coach of the Browns and was one Chargers gypsy curse away from going 0-32 over his first two years. Interim head coach Gregg Williams immediately lifted the Browns back toward respectability, so naturally the Browns replaced Williams with interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens … whom they fired a year later for Kevin Stefanski. Even amid the dysfunction in Cleveland, however, Jackson’s stint stands out not so much like a sore thumb as a fetid, gangrenous appendage fit only for amputation.
Bryan: We should note that the 2010s also included Jackson’s 8-8 stint as coach of the Oakland Raiders back in 2011. Turning an 8-8 team into a different 8-8 team is not worth significant brownie points. If you just took Jackson’s four teams, projected an average regression to the mean based on historical precedent, and set that as a win total target — not exactly an exact science, but a decent way to adjust for taking over teams with low talent levels — Jackson comes out with an “expected” record of 23-33. You would expect Jackson to have a losing record; the Browns were terrible. He actually finished with a 11-44-1 record, 11.5 games below that.
— owin (@owinmayhew) November 2, 2018
One coach actually did do worse than Jackson compared to his “expected” record, however: Ken Whisenhunt. Remember, we’re just talking about the 2010s now, so Whisenhunt’s Super Bowl run in 2008 isn’t part of the equation. Whisenhunt’s 2010s resume is 18-30 in Arizona and 3-20 in Tennessee, a combined 14 games below expectations. Once Kurt Warner retired, any sense that Whisenhunt was some kind of offensive genius evaporated with him. None of his individual teams were as bad as Jackson’s worst, but you could make a strong argument that Whisenhunt’s failures over 71 games were more damning than Jackson’s failures over 56. I would not expect Jackson to have managed a 10-5 record over his next 15 games to move back above Whisenhunt’s winning percentage, mind you, but Whisenhunt was dealt the better hands and produced worse results.
Seven other coaches ended up at least six games below expectations, making them a nice run-down of the runners-up:
- Dennis Allen went 8-28 with Oakland from 2012 to 14. Admittedly, his Raiders had terrible salary cap issues, but he also decided that undrafted Matt McGloin was going to salvage his season. He did not.
- Matt Patricia sits at 9-22-1 after two years in Detroit. While he’s widely considered a defensive Xs and Os mastermind, that’s yet to be apparent with the Lions in any sense of the word.
- Gus Bradley went 14-48 with the Jaguars from 2013 to 16. Bradley’s downfall was sticking with Blake Bortles come hell or high water, though you’d expect someone with defensive chops and a lot of high defensive draft picks to be able to produce something better. At the time of his firing, his .226 record was the worst record for any coach with at least 50 games in the modern era. That record ended up getting passed twice this decade, however.
- Steve Spagunolo went 9-23 with the Rams in 2010 and 2011, and then 1-3 with the Giants as an interim coach in 2017. He was the one who took Bradley’s modern-day record (thanks to a 1-15 season back in 2009, not included in his totals for this decade), but he passed it down to Hue Jackson shortly thereafter. Good job all around.
- Jeff Fisher’s 7-9 bullshit became a meme because of the consistency of his mediocrity — every one of his six seasons in the 2010s had somewhere between eight and 10 losses. That’s a 6-10 record in his last year in Tennessee, and then a 31-45-1 record with the Rams. He didn’t lose as frequently as the others on this list, but he was just a drain on Rams fans morale for such a long time.
- Mike Shanahan went 24-40 with Washington from 2010 to 13. If Robert Griffin’s knee doesn’t shred, maybe Shanahan turns things around, but then again, Shanahan deserves a lot of criticism for handling the Griffin injury, both in bringing him back too early in the regular season and keeping him in the game in the playoffs.
- Chan Gailey went 16-32 with the Bills from 2010 to 12. Gailey had back-to-back-to-back double-digit-loss seasons to start the decade. The only coaches to match that feat were Gus Bradley, John Fox, and Todd Bowles.
Andrew: Much as we might try to forget, we all remember the 2015-16 Los Angeles Rams. Two straight seasons in the DVOA bottom four, finishing 31st in passing DVOA in 2015 and 32nd in both passing AND rushing DVOA in 2016. The offenses weren’t nearly as talent-starved as advertised either: the Rams had a young Todd Gurley make the Pro Bowl in 2015; Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, and veteran Wes Welker were available as receivers; and the quarterback options were Nick Foles and Case Keenum, two players who would go on to be successful elsewhere. While they were hardly loaded with talent, there was no excuse for them to be quite that bad. Some of the blame certainly falls on head coach Jeff Fisher, but Fisher was hardly an offensive mind: his offensive coordinator for that two-year stint was Rob Boras, a career tight ends coach who was clearly promoted beyond his competence. Finishing last in both passing and rushing DVOA takes some doing; Boras was the clear and easy choice for the decade’s worst offensive coordinator.
Andrew: Defensive coordinator was much more of a contest. We’ve already covered the battle between the track records of Chris Conte and Jairus Byrd above; the men coordinating those defenses were former Falcons head coach Mike Smith and, at least initially, a certain Rob Ryan.
In Smith’s favor: the Buccaneers finished dead last in defensive DVOA in two straight seasons. Not even Ryan’s Saints achieved that. In Ryan’s case, however, the 2014-15 Saints were not just bad, they were abominable. Particularly in 2015, when the Saints posted the second-worst defensive DVOA in history. Ryan’s defenses were the only thing that could keep Drew Brees and the Saints offense out of the playoffs; in his first year, when he had the element of surprise, the defense was respectable and the Saints made the postseason. It would be another three seasons before Brees made the playoffs again, by which time Ryan had been replaced with current coordinator Dennis Allen.
Either choice here would be justifiable: Ryan for ruining three years of prime Brees, or Smith for back-to-back last-place finishes. In the end, we went with Mike Smith only because Ryan wasn’t technically solely responsible for 2015, having been fired partway through after the Saints somehow lost 47-14 to Washington. Between those guys, the Atlanta Falcons in general, and the 2019 Panthers’ ability to stop the run, defense really was an afterthought in the NFC South for much of the 2010s.
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR
Bryan: We’re opting here for Ray Rychleski, who was the Colts’ special teams coordinator from 2010 to 2011, years in which the Colts finished 31st in special teams DVOA. We believe he’s the only coach in the past decade to have bottom-two finishes in all of his seasons as a coordinator, so he gets the nod. His units regularly looked unprepared and untrained, and he was part of a mass exodus of Colts assistant coaches after the terrible interregnum between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. We suspect the quarterback play had more to do with the Colts’ downturn than the special teams coordinator, but still.
Andrew: No discussion of the people who ruined football in the 2010s would be complete without our old pal Jeff Triplette, for most of the decade the unquestioned worst referee in the league. Triplette’s decisions were brainless, his explanations worthless, his game management hopeless, and his incompetence legendary. NFL Sundays have made infinitely more sense since his retirement.
Bryan: If we had to pick a least-favorite Triplette moment in this decade — no blinding Orlando Brown for us, as that happened in the ’90s, god, we’re old — it would have to come down to either his super-early whistle on a Marcus Mariota “sack” that possibly swung the result of the 2017 Titans-Chiefs wild-card game, or the time he ejected both a player from the wrong team and a player who did not exist after an on-field fight. We could have gone with the Replacement Referees just as a class here, but they were just in massively over their heads and replaced as quickly as possible. Triplette was supposed to be an expert. Refereeing is a hard job, and everyone can make mistakes. No one made more of them than Triplette.
|2010s All-Decade Keep Choppin’ Wood Team|
|QB||Blaine Gabbert||EDGE||Greg Hardy||K||Blair Walsh|
|RB||Trent Richardson||EDGE||Randy Gregory||P||Matt Dodge|
|WR||Tavon Austin||DL||Marcell Dareus||KR||Darius Reynaud|
|WR||Josh Gordon||DL||Muhammad Wilkerson||PR||Preston Parker|
|WR||Antonio Brown||LB||Vontaze Burfict||Pos||Coach|
|TE||Aaron Hernandez||LB||Lawrence Timmons||GM||Trent Baalke|
|OT||Mike Remmers||CB||Brent Grimes||HC||Hue Jackson|
|OT||Matt Kalil||CB||Brandon Browner||OC||Rob Boras|
|OG||Richie Incognito||CB||Trumaine Johnson||DC||Mike Smith|
|OG||Will Rackley||S||Chris Conte||ST||Ray Rychleski|
|C||Samson Satele||S||T.J. Green||REF||Jeff Triplette|
Keep Choppin’ Wood
Down 35-17, the Titans faced fourth-and-8 deep in their own territory. Almost everybody watching expected a fake punt: Mike Vrabel has not shrunk away from bold decisions as the Titans head coach. So when Brett Kern dropped back to pass, the Chiefs punt return team would surely be ready…
. @Titans with a fake punt convert to keep the game alive
— Bovada (@BovadaOfficial) 19 January 2020
Or not, as Kern found a wide-open Amani Hooker in the middle of the defense to convert for the first down.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Mike Vrabel also earned credit for his fourth-down aggressiveness early in the first half. Leading by three, the Titans faced fourth-and-2 from Kansas City’s 29. Field goals were never going to be enough against the Chiefs, so Vrabel had his team attempt to convert, and succeeded on a 3-yard pass to the returning Adam Humphries. That drive led to the first touchdown of the game, though ultimately even that was not enough in the end.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
For Green Bay to win the NFC Championship Game, they were likely to require a large slice of fortune and a little bit of bravado in critical spots. Their opening drive provided just such an opportunity: fourth-and-1 near midfield in a tied game. Every play the Packers had run up to that point had gained at least 2 yards, so the odds appeared good that they would convert. Matt LaFleur decided to punt instead, the 49ers drove for a touchdown, and the Packers never took possession with less than a touchdown deficit again.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Honestly, there wasn’t that much confusing coaching in the championship games — a nice respite, helped by the fact that our usual targets all fell victim to their own confusing decisions earlier on the postseason. The Packers switched to play more base defense to try to stop the run; it just didn’t work. The Titans tried to stop Patrick Mahomes; it just didn’t work. So instead, we’ll have to get a bit nitpicky.
The 49ers faced a fourth-and-2 from the 9-yard line. They kicked a field goal, extending their lead to 17-0. They faced a fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 39. They took a delay of game, and then punted. They faced a fourth-and-3 from the Green Bay 24. They kicked a field goal, albeit one that moved it from a two-score game to a three-score game. These are all conservative decisions, especially when you consider the ease with which the 49ers were running the ball. The 49ers will likely need to be more aggressive to beat a much better Chiefs team, so hopefully Kyle Shanahan is just saving his creative fourth-down play calls for a more pressing situation.
‘Better Late than Never’ Fantasy Player of the Week
I mean, yes, this should go to Raheem Mostert for the second-most productive rushing day in postseason history, but we make a point of highlighting the best player that none of the staff chose in the Playoff Challenge here, and, well, Aaron was very happy with Mostert’s performance.
So instead, we’re going to turn to Sammy Watkins. Watkins caught three touchdown passes back in Week 1, before Patrick Mahomes hurt his ankle. After that, Watkins did not find the end zone again all season before catching a 60-yard bomb against the Titans to essentially end the contest. With the Titans focusing on taking Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce away, Watkins finally found a way to produce one last time. Watkins will probably not be with the Chiefs in 2020, as his contract is bad and Mecole Hardman is ready to step up, but the Chiefs wouldn’t mind one last big moment from Watkins this Sunday.
— NFL (@NFL) January 19, 2020
Garbage-Time Performer Player of the Week
Pick your Green Bay Aaron for this one. Aaron Rodgers did throw two touchdowns in his attempt to bring the Packers back from their nightmare first half, but that first half included a pair of interceptions — one on a terrible pass, one on a Hail Mary desperation shot. Instead, we’re going with Aaron Jones, the second-most valuable running back of the week. Jones picked up seven first downs during the Packers’ comeback attempt, a third of Green Bay’s overall total. He also scored the Packers’ first two touchdowns. All in all, that’s a 20-point fantasy day, better than anyone not named Mostert or Mahomes. He’s the most valuable Aaron for the Packers now.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) January 20, 2020
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
Even though they were both blown out in the end, this week’s two eliminated teams have little cause for pessimism — as you might expect for two conference championship participants. Our first eliminated team, the Tennessee Titans, won more playoff games during this season’s run than they had in the previous 15 seasons combined. Since making the change away from Marcus Mariota, they have performed as one of the best teams in the AFC in both DVOA and win-loss record. Assuming they can agree a deal with Ryan Tannehill, they look like early favorites for the
sentence I least expected to type this season award AFC South in 2020. As for Green Bay, they had a superb season under their rookie head coach. We looked at the conclusions we might be able to draw from rookie head coaching debuts in an earlier Scramble this season, and precedent appears to bode well for Matt LaFleur’s prospects. Both teams have work to do to improve over the offseason, but neither can complain about how the 2019 season went relative to preseason expectations.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
As has been the usual pattern for both teams this postseason, the Titans jumped out to an early lead over the Chiefs. They had a chance to cling to a 17-14 lead going into the half, too; or at least salvage a tie — something they would probably have been more than happy with coming into the game. Instead, Patrick Mahomes went all Steve Young all over the defense.
— Newt (@doodlebobnewt) January 19, 2020
We don’t need to tell you any more about Mahomes’ arm, but remember that Mahomes was fifth in quarterback rushing DVOA this season, despite playing quite a bit of it with a bum ankle and/or a dislocated kneecap. Mahomes becomes the fourth quarterback in playoff history to have back-to-back 50-plus-yard rushing games, joining Russell Wilson, Steve McNair, and … Otto Graham. You probably could have had 50 guesses and never come up with Graham, even if you knew it was an old-school player. Still, the greats always seem to find a way to get it done, and make no mistake — Mahomes is on his way to being one of the greats.
Staff Fantasy Update
Bryan: Two weeks ago, Aaron complained that the 49ers’ rushing game wasn’t helping his fantasy team. He’s not complaining any more.
|Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft|
|QB||Lamar Jackson||30||Drew Brees||10||Patrick Mahomes||78||Russell Wilson||47||Jimmy Garoppolo||11||Tom Brady||8|
|RB||Damien Williams||38||Latavius Murray||2||Alvin Kamara||11||Dalvin Cook||25||Aaron Jones||37||Mark Ingram||2|
|RB||Raheem Mostert||51||Gus Edwards||2||Devin Singletary||12||James White||5||Derrick Henry||61||Sony Michel||6|
|WR||Mecole Hardman||1||Tyreek Hill||20||Michael Thomas||7||Davante Adams||41||Tyler Lockett||25||Julian Edelman||10|
|WR||Emmanuel Sanders||3||Marquise Brown||12||Cole Beasley||4||DeAndre Hopkins||20||DK Metcalf||27||John Brown||9|
|WR||Willie Snead||5||Deebo Samuel||12||Allen Lazard||3||A.J. Brown||5||Stefon Diggs||12||N’Keal Harry||2|
|TE||Hayden Hurst||11||Dallas Goedert||7||Jared Cook||5||Travis Kelce||34||George Kittle||2||Mark Andrews||3|
|K||Robbie Gould||25||Wil Lutz||9||Harrison Butker||14||Mason Crosby||6||Jason Myers||12||Justin Tucker||7|
|DEF||Philadelphia||-1||Baltimore||-3||New Orleans||1||Kansas City||3||San Francisco||16||New England||1|
Bryan: The championship is probably a three-team race. I’m mathematically out. Rivers would need a Nick Mullens-versus-Matt Moore shootout of epic proportions. Scott technically has a chance with Patrick Mahomes back there, but it’s hard to imagine Mahomes putting up 68 points without also providing at least moderately big days to Travis Kelce or Mecole Hardman. A monster Mahomes-to-Watkins day would keep Scott in the running, but let’s just say I have my doubts.
That leaves Andrew, Vince, and Aaron with real chances to win it all. Andrew has a sizeable lead and three remaining players; a big 49ers day should see him through. Then again, Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle have combined for just 13 points this postseason as the 49ers simply have not needed to pass. If the Chiefs, like the Vikings and Packers before them, can’t make Kyle Shanahan turn to Page 2 in his playbook, Andrew’s not going to get many more points. Still, I’d rather be him than anyone else at this point in time.
Vince is in second place, but he’s probably third in terms of likelihood to win. Travis Kelce is absolutely capable of 20-point days, but he hasn’t had one since Week 13 of 2018. The 49ers are also very good at defending tight ends, so Kelce’s performance may be relatively limited. So Vince does have a clear path, it’s just a very difficult one.
Aaron’s lagging 40 points behind the leaders, but Raheem Mostert picked up more than that last week. I don’t think he’ll run for 200 yards again, but Aaron also has the Chiefs’ top running back, the 49ers’ kicker, and a couple of receivers who have done basically nothing all postseason long. Aaron’s odds go up if Tevin Coleman can’t play in the Super Bowl — making up that much ground is hard, but Aaron will make the Mostert of it.
Best of the Rest
Bryan: We’re down to six teams with a chance to win, and three teams with a, uh, legitimate chance to win. And a lot will rest on Tevin Coleman’s shoulder.
In first place at the moment is Spybloom, sitting on 172 points. It was Sammy Watkins’ big 60-yard touchdown reception that vaulted him into the lead, and he’ll likely need another decent day from Watkins to hold it; Watkins is his only player remaining. Just who he has to hold it from, however, is more of a mystery.
In second place at the moment is Sid, at 165 points. Both he and Spybloom share Watkins, so that won’t help Sid at all. But Sid also has Coleman, who injured his shoulder and had to be carted off against the Packers. The 49ers are optimistic he’ll play, but to what extent remains to be seen. Sid needs Coleman to play to have a chance; a single touchdown from Coleman might be all he needs to win it all. Sid is just ahead of Jcypress, sitting at 160 points in third place. Like Sid, he still has Coleman; that won’t help him catch second place. But he is unique among the top players in having Kendrick Bourne still alive on his roster; only one other player in the contest took the San Francisco receiver. The 49ers have not needed to throw the ball much at all this postseason, but Bourne did catch a touchdown against Minnesota, and you would have to think that San Francisco will have to throw a little bit more against the Chiefs. These are your three teams with a good chance to win.
The other teams in the top 10 can’t win; they have no unique players to pass any of the top three. The only other three rosters with even remote chances belong to SixKnots (123 points + Demarcus Robinson + Watkins), Simon2 (121 points + Robinson + Bourne) and Mglison86 (81 points + Darwin Thompson + Watkins + Robinson). Suffice it to say that none of them are likely to win, but at least, in some weird, strange alternate universe, they have a chance.
Your top five!
1. Spybloom: 172 points (Watkins)
2. Sid: 165 points (Coleman, Watkins)
3. Jcypress: 160 points (Coleman, Bourne)
T4. Eddo: 153 points (Coleman)
T4. Smilerz: 153 points (OUT)
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Bryan: Why are you looking here? We did this in a huge article just last week! Go check that out!
Now, unfortunately, we both picked the Chiefs (-1.5), so that won’t break the tie. We also both picked the Chiefs straight-up, so no help there. We also both took the over and Patrick Mahomes as MVP, have the first score being a touchdown (by the 49ers), have the 49ers scoring last in the game, and so on and so forth — two great minds, or something. So, in the interest of fairness, we must use the most important, most decisive (and divisive) prop available to us.
I’m on heads. Andrew’s on tails. Let the coins fall where they may.