It’s the middle of the offseason for football. We’re in ‘reach-for-the-stars territory’ as websites and companies do whatever they can for clicks and pageviews.
There are All-Decade teams aplenty nowadays but one that really stood out in this timeframe was the second one in a couple weeks from PFF, listing their top 101 players of the past decade.
Three USC Trojans made the list, and before we get there, let’s understand how the list was obtained.
Like all other PFF Top 101s, this list isn’t an evaluation of talent, but rather of production, efficiency and performance over a specific time period — in this case, the entire decade. Because the time period is far larger this time, we should get far closer to evaluating talent by proxy than in a list that focuses just on a single season, but it’s still a distinction worth thinking about.
This list includes the playoffs, so players with legendary postseason runs will see their stock rise compared to those who have faltered or never made it past the regular season.
Playing time was factored into the decisions, too; somebody who played twice as much within the decade was given some level of preference over players who played only a few seasons in the 2010s.
The list is also created with an “all positions created equal” mentality. The best guard or safety has just as much a chance of topping the list as the best quarterback or sack artist.
Lastly, just like any other All-Decade evaluation, there will be players whose careers get trapped between decades and therefore appear lower on this list than they might if their entire careers had been captured.
PFF’s longtime Lead NFL Analyst Sam Monson wrote the writeups for the players, and they went as such, for your USC alum.
No. 43 overall — Tyron Smith, the fifth-ranked tackle on the list
One of the most talented offensive linemen of all time, Tyron Smith has battled through injuries and still ended up as one of the best players of the decade. His peak play was as good as that of any tackle in NFL history. His 2015 regular season grade of 95.0 is the best single-season mark we have ever given to a tackle, and even though he suffered a number of injuries over the second half of the decade, he has never graded below 75.0 overall. Tyron Smith is the player every young offensive lineman wishes he could be — he has been one of the best players of the past decade in the trenches.
Smith is every bit as talented as any other tackle on the list above him, and I wonder if he hadn’t been injured, would he have been listed even higher. Still, that’s a great spot for Smith.
No. 63 overall — Troy Polamalu, the sixth-ranked safety on the list
Polamalu hasn’t played since 2014, but he was right in the middle of his prime at the start of the decade. He was the epitome of a game-changing safety who could line up all over the field, play the run, rush the passer, drop into coverage and disguise his intentions as late as possible with an incredible feel for where he needed to be. Polamalu ranked ninth in the NFL in PFF grade in 2010 before ranking first in 2011, 10th in 2012 and seventh in 2013 before tapering off in his final season in 2014. Few safeties could impact the game at all levels of the field like Polamalu, making him a unique Hall of Fame-caliber player who was still among the league’s best at the start of the 2010s.
Considering he played just five seasons worth of action during the past decade, and his last season as in 2014, the former USC great was just that in the NFL, great, even in his advanced stages of his career.
No. 96 overall — Jurrell Casey, the seventh-ranked interior defender on the list
Few players have been more consistently disruptive than Jurrell Casey. A third-round pick in 2011, Casey has yet to grade lower than 70.0 over a season and has notched at least 40 total pressures in every year since a slow first couple of campaigns in the NFL. Casey has been an impressive run defender and pass rusher throughout his career and has often done so with little surrounding help to take the focus off stopping him. Other players have had higher peaks than Casey, but few have been able to sustain his level of play for as long as he has — and he’s still productive.
Casey is unblockable and has featured some of the highest of the highs for the Titans over his career. Something similar to that of which he showed at USC, unsurprisingly.
So that sums it up — three Trojans on the list, unfortunately not the most from one school, but tied with some other big schools (Cal had the most at 6!).
But it also begs the question — who of the Trojans in the NFL right now, and who on the roster currently have the best chance of making a nomination on the next decade’s top 101 list?
That’s an interesting question — and I’d have to go with JuJu Smith-Schuster as one who is in the NFL right now and could very well continue to be so dominant well into the next decade.
What about you?