To mark the end of the 2015 International Series, RealSport are presenting two teams made up of the best players and performances that we’ve seen on British shores – the All-Wembley team, and the All-International Series teams. The All-Wembley team is made up of the best all-time players to have played at Wembley during the International Series. The All-International Series team is made up of the players who have given the best performances during International Series games. Enjoy!
The 2015 NFL International Series is in the books, so now is a good time to review the best players to take to the hallowed turf. Some tough decisions have had to be made, and this isn’t based on stats alone, but on the impact, profile and talent of each player. There are some positions where I would have loved to include more players, and there are some position groups that get a lot of love (here’s looking at you, 49ers OL). So without further ado, here is the greatest team of players to have played in England’s national stadium.
Note – Players’ teams are given as the team they played for at Wembley.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots (2009, 2012)
It’s hard to describe Tom Brady without running out of superlatives, but I’ll try. In his illustrious career, he has won two NFL MVP awards, three Superbowl MVP awards, two NFL Offensive Player of the Year Awards, and four Superbowl rings. He is also showing no signs of slowing down. His body of work is unparalleled by any of the other candidates for this team, although honourable mentions go to Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
Randy Moss, New England Patriots (2009)
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (2014*, 2015)
Two of the most gifted athletes to ever play the game. Prime Randy Moss had breakneck speed, amazing hands and a stunning ability to beat defenders to any ball thrown even vaguely near him. Moss was a member of two of the most exciting offenses of all time – the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, for whom he set almost every NFL rookie record, and the 2007 Patriots who came one game short of perfection. Johnson is, on his day, pretty much uncoverable. He has had the misfortune to spend his career on some quite frankly terrible Detroit Lions teams. More often than not, he has been the sole highlight for Lions fans, and owns the NFL single season receiving record, with 1,964 yards.
*Johnson was inactive when the Lions played in 2014 but played this year
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2013)
LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers (2008)
Peterson’s 2012 season is seen by some as the most miraculous in football history. Less than a year removed from ACL surgery, he ran for 2,097 yards, good for second most in NFL history and the MVP award. 2012 Peterson carried the Vikings into the playoffs, but couldn’t get past the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round. LaDanian Tomlinson is one of the best loved Chargers of all time. His 28 rushing touchdowns in a single season is an NFL record, and in 2006 and 2007 he was the NFL’s leading rusher. A true threat both receiving and rushing, Tomlinson should join the Hall of Fame in the next few years.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (2012)
It’s little surprise that Tom Brady is continuing to put up the yards with a threat like Rob Gronkowski. When healthy, the Patriots Tight End is a matchup nightmare. His return turned an uncertain 2014 New England team into a Superbowl Champion winning side. Whilst he may never put up the numbers of Tony Gonzalez, in terms of sheer ability and physical gifts, Gronk is already the best to play at TE.
Left Tackle – Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers (2010, 2013)
Left Guard – Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers (2010, 2013)
Center – Nick Mangold, New York Jets (2015)
Right Guard – Dan Connolly, New England Patriots (2009, 2012)
Right Tackle – Doug Free, Dallas Cowboys (2014)
Staley and Iupati played together on the 49ers’ 2012 NFC Championship winning team, and both were selected to the All-Pro team (Iupati 1st, Staley 2nd) in that same year. Nick Mangold was, at one point, the highest paid center in the NFL, and with good reason. The six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro 1st teamer has been a stalwart of the Jets’ O-Line for nearly a decade. Dan Connolly won 3 AFC Championships and 1 Superbowl with the Patriots, and is best known for his record breaking 71 yard kickoff return against the Green Bay Packers, a record for an offensive lineman. Doug Free was a key member of a line that assisted DeMarco Murray in leading the league in rushing in 2014.
Michael Strahan, New York Giants (2007)
Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears (2011)
Four-time 1st Team All-Pro, single season sack record holder, Superbowl Champion. Michael Strahan played in the inaugural Wembley game in 2007 and has a whole slew of records and honours. Inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2014, there are few better players at any position to have made the flight to London to play in the international series. Julius Peppers has played at a high level in the NFL for a number of years, beginning in Carolina, then moving on to Chicago and now Green Bay. His longevity is one thing, but his enthusiasm and desire, even at the age of 35, is something entirely different.
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions (2014), Miami Dolphins (2015)
Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (2009, 2012
One of the biggest moves of the 2015 offseason was Miami signing Ndamukong Suh to a six year, $114m contract. Whilst this year hasn’t been his best, in the first five years of his career Suh went to four Pro Bowls and was named 1st Team All-Pro four times. Known for playing hard and nasty, Suh is a high intensity monster with a ton of talent. For years, Vince Wilfork dominated in the middle of New England’s D-line, showing toughness, determination and surprising speed for a huge man. Now on a new adventure in Houston, the two-time Super Bowl Champion was named to five Pro Bowls including four consecutively between 2009 and 2012.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears (2011)
NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers (2010, 2013)
Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers (2010, 2013)
Brian Urlacher was talismanic on a fearsome, physical Bears defense. His leadership and mental abilities made him a force to be reckoned with. Things just aren’t the same without him in Chicago, and who wouldn’t miss a player with 8 Pro Bowls, 4 1st team All-Pro nods and a Rookie of the Year award? NaVorro Bowman had three consecutive 1st Team All-Pro seasons from 2011 – 2013. He and Willis were members of a formidable San Francisco defense that set a number of franchise records in 2011, and went to Superbowl XLVII in 2012. Together, they shone in an era where the NFC West grew into an extraordinary defensive powerhouse. Willis retired at the end of the 2014 season with five 1st Team All Pro awards and seven consecutive Pro Bowl seasons.
Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (2015)
Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos (2010)
They say that no man is an island. Revis is the exception that proves this rule. During his time in the NFL, many high flying wide receivers have gone missing over Revis Island. Aside from a patchy, injured year in Tampa Bay, and a stellar, Super Bowl winning season in New England, Revis has spent the majority of his career with the New York Jets, with whom he visited Wembley this year. Champ Bailey came to London with the Broncos on Halloween in 2010. He was a nightmare for opposing offenses during his illustrious career, and retired in 2014 with the most Pro Bowl selections for a defensive back in NFL history (12) and an AFC Championship in 2013. In his prime Bailey was one of the most dominant defensive players of the modern era.
Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders (2014)
Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers (2013)
There are three players left in the league from the 1998 NFL Draft. Charles Woodson has, this season, so far played the best of all of them. At the age of 39, his form this year has been nothing short of exceptional. His longevity is impressive, but during his 16 and a half years in the league he has garnered 65 interceptions, 20 sacks and who whole list of Pro Bowl and All Pro nods. On a team with the pedigree of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it takes a special player to be named to the franchise all time team. Troy Polamalu is one such special player. One of the most disruptive defensive players ever, his ability to break up plays from the secondary was mind blowing. Four times a 1st Team All Pro, 2010’s AFC Defensive Player of the Year won two Superbowls with Pittsburgh.
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (2009, 2012)
Gostkowski has been the NFL’s scoring leader in the last three seasons, is a three time AFC Champion and has one Super Bowl Ring. He recently surpassed Adam Vinatieri’s franchise record for consecutive field goals made, and holds the NFL record for most consecutive Extra Points made.
Britton Colquitt, Denver Broncos (2010)
Colquitt has consistently been one of the best punters in the NFL the past few years. The Broncos’ ability to win the field position battle has allowed their higher profile players to play with freedom.
Devin Hester, Chicago Bears (2011), Atlanta Falcons (2014)
Devin Hester is one of the most well-known returners of all time. He has 20 return touchdowns in his career, the longest play in Bears history, and the most career punt return yards in the NFL.