Thursday, February 25, 2021

Standig: Washington must give Brandon Scherff its best offer, not franchise tag


By Ben Standig 2h ago (February 25, 2021)


For the long-term future of the franchise, there’s almost no logic in the Washington Football Team placing the franchise tag on guard Brandon Scherff.

Either the two sides will work out a long-term deal or they won’t, regardless of the tag threat.

The window for all 32 teams to use the tag opened Tuesday and runs through March 9. Washington went that route last year when it was unable to strike a long-term contract with Scherff, one of the top offensive linemen in the game. Now the four-time Pro Bowl selection is the rare NFL player with leverage in contract negotiations because the money being discussed is so out of line relative to others at the position.

If Washington offers a second franchise tag, which would pay Scherff $18.04 million, 120 percent of his 2020 salary, the athletic guard will run to sign that piece of paper. Based on current numbers, that would make him the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman, behind three left tackles.

Perhaps Washington thinks using the tag buys it more time to agree to terms with Scherff on a contract before July 15, the deadline for signing a franchise-tagged player to a multiyear deal. It shouldn’t. It must put its best offer on the table now, before other teams can — and if it doesn’t, it’s because it is unwilling to spend the projected market rate.

Several league executives with other teams imagine that’s Washington’s thinking, unless it is exceedingly comfortable with paying Scherff a massive salary next season.

It might be — the fifth pick in 2015 was selected first-team All-Pro last season — but that wouldn’t mesh with Washington’s non-Super Bowl contender status. The second tag almost assuredly means Scherff won’t be on the team in 2022, when Washington may position itself closer to the elite.

Scherff, 29, topped all guards in annual salary last season at $15.03 million. Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks paced all non-tagged guards with a $14.1 million average annual salary. Should Scherff, represented by agent Neil Cornrich, agree to a multiyear deal, he’s expected to receive an average annual salary in the $15 million to $16 million range, according to projections from numerous league and industry sources.

“If he goes to market, he’s probably going to get top money,” said Jason Fitzgerald, a salary-cap and contract expert for Over the Cap. “He’s got too much pedigree behind him. You’re really not going to compromise much on price.” Fitzgerald predicted a $15.5 million average annual salary with $35 million in guarantees for Scherff, who told reporters after the season that he “absolutely” wanted to return.

Perhaps a player who missed 16 regular-season games since 2018 because of a variety of injuries — one-third of all games, equal to a full season — desires to lock in more guaranteed money and the peace of mind that comes with a long-term contract.

That would be part of any pitch from Washington, along with the idea of at least doubling the guaranteed money over the tagged amount. League sources suggest Washington could include contract terms like per-game roster bonuses to offset some injury risk. The two sides had yet to begin formal discussions as of a few days before the tag window opened, according to sources.

In the tag scenario, Scherff could punt free agency to 2022 and take the $18.04 million in salary after receiving $15.03 million last season. That’s also with the knowledge another big payday looms the next offseason, when the salary cap could rise dramatically after a cut this cycle because of lost revenue from the pandemic.

Scherff also took the injury risk last year. At the time, his longtime linemate, left tackle Trent Williams, was involved in a nasty divorce from the organization that resulted in a trade to San Francisco. Ron Rivera arrived after the 2019 season to take control of all football matters. The new coach made clear he wanted to learn more about his inherited players before reworking or extending contracts. Perhaps Scherff felt the same.

Then the season played out. Washington overcame a tumultuous 12 months, which included Rivera’s cancer diagnosis, to win the NFC East. Scherff, despite missing three games with a knee injury, became the team’s first player named All-Pro since punter Matt Turk in 1996.

“We never gave up,” Scherff said last month, the day after Washington’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay. “Coach Rivera wanted to come in and change the culture and he did.”

Not known for sharing his feelings publicly, Scherff expressed “love” for Rivera and offensive line coach John Matsko.

“I’ve always said I want to stay where I got drafted. And I’ve been here for six years and I absolutely love it here,” Scherff said.

Pro Football Focus rated Scherff seventh among the guards who played at least 235 snaps last season, and he ranked in the top eight players at the position in three of the prior four seasons. A respected leader, Scherff was also selected by his teammates as Washington’s winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. He’s also an ideal fit in Rivera’s vision for team culture.

“When you look at guys like Brandon Scherff that had a knee injury and came back after three weeks and played and played to the level that they did, that’s impressive,” Rivera said after the season. “That’s a guy that’s in it for the long haul. That’s a guy that’s in it for his teammates. Those are the kind of guys that you remember, that you appreciate.”

With roughly $38.3 million available in salary-cap space, Washington has enough room to fit Scherff’s new contract. Perhaps it could frontload the contract so Scherff’s annual cap numbers decrease by 2023, when players like wide receiver Terry McLaurin, right tackle Morgan Moses and defensive tackle Daron Payne hit free agency. That cap space means Washington could absorb a massive one-year salary, but as one industry insider posed, “Do you really want to pay $18 million next year to a guard with his injury history in a reduced-cap world?”

Losing Scherff in free agency would sting, though Washington would receive a third-round compensatory selection in 2022 for a player of Scherff’s contract status. Washington could also consider the tag-and-trade route.

There’s also broad financial uncertainty for teams and players until the NFL specifies exact salary-cap figures for 2021, though high-end free agents like Scherff aren’t likely affected too much. New England’s Joe Thuney, who also played on the franchise tag last season, is the only other guard ranked on The Athletic’s list of the top 50 free agents.

That Washington doesn’t have an obvious replacement factors into its decision, some league sources said. Wes Schweitzer started three games on the right side with Scherff injured and solidified the left guard spot over the final 11 games.

Washington also remains high on fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles, whose only two snaps during an injury-plagued rookie campaign were at guard. The team could use the money targeted for Scherff in free agency at guard or on a left tackle, or it could select his replacement in the draft.

Other potential factors loom for Washington’s brain trust of Rivera, front-office executives Martin Martin and Marty Hurney and contract negotiator Rob Rogers. Perhaps Cornrich tells Washington that Scherff desires the chance to receive other offers after being denied the opportunity last season. Maybe the Midwesterner takes less on the open market from a team closer to his native Iowa. After trading Williams last year and likely letting Ryan Kerrigan exit in free agency next month, Washington may determine it cannot let another longtime stalwart escape. Plus, there’s always a chance another guard resets the market.

There are scenarios worth considering, including the franchise tag. Consider it, then move on. That’s what Washington should do when it comes to keeping Scherff for 2021.

And, for those recalling the Kirk Cousins saga, he was a quarterback, a position considered superior to all others, and a player whom not everyone in the organization viewed favorably. The end-of-season love fest between Scherff and Rivera provided plenty of evidence both hope to make a deal work. We’ll see if the almighty dollar changes any vibes. Using the franchise tag probably would.

(Photo: Brad Mills / USA Today)


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

How Penn State OC Yurcich became a QB whisperer by pouring his ‘heart and soul’ into football


FEBRUARY 23, 2021 08:00 AM, 

UPDATED FEBRUARY 23, 2021 09:37 AM

Penn State football's new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich talks about the type of offense that he plans to run during a call with reporters on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. BY PENN STATE ATHLETICS

Mason Rudolph had to stay alert. Sitting in the quarterbacks room of Oklahoma State’s Sherman E. Smith Training Center in the fall of 2014, he could feel the nerves tingle throughout his body.

The then-freshman third-string Cowboys quarterback watched as Mike Yurcich, his offensive coordinator at the time, pointed to a whiteboard and surveyed the room. Yurcich was trying to decide who he’d call on to diagram the next play in front of the group. Even in Rudolph’s first season with the program, he knew he wasn’t safe. And he was almost certain that Yurcich would rip him a new one if he drew it up incorrectly.

“I had been studying my playbook, but you never know which play he might pick for the day,” Rudolph recently told the Centre Daily Times. “He kinda did that to me and the younger quarterbacks at the time because he knew we were still learning and he wanted to test my ability to retain information.”

Then only in his second year as a Division I offensive coordinator, Yurcich looked to prove his worth in Stillwater. So, he pushed himself — and those around him — to his absolute limit.

But even today, nearly three years after his time at Oklahoma State came to an end in 2018, Yurcich has maintained the same fire that first catapulted his career. It’s an approach that’s earned him a reputation as a quarterback whisperer of sorts — and it’s one that he’ll bring with him to Penn State, where he was hired to replace Kirk Ciarrocca as the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator last month.

“He kinda just had like a little bit of an extra grind, hustle, energy, excitement to him that I didn’t really see in a lot of the other coaches at the other Division I schools,” said Rudolph, now the backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “He pours his heart and soul into everything he does.”


It took just one interaction for Zach Zulli to be sold when a then-35-year-old Yurcich was hired as the offensive coordinator at Pennsylvania’s Division II Shippensburg University in 2011.

Zulli, a redshirt sophomore quarterback at the time, was all but set to transfer. He played several other positions for the Raiders, too — starting kick and punt returner, as well as backup receiver and backup running back — but he wasn’t getting on the field much aside from on special teams. So, he was ready to move on to a school that would give him the opportunity to play quarterback. That was before he spoke to Yurcich.

“As soon as I met Yurcich — like the first meeting — I knew this guy was special,” Zulli said. “Just the way he broke down film and his energy level — he had the passion for football like I do.”

Yurcich saw something in Zulli, and under his tutelage, Zulli said he learned “how to play again.”

Zulli went from barely getting on the field to starting at quarterback. But, because Yurcich recognized the then-unpolished quarterback’s potential, Zulli got “the worst” of Yurcich’s fiery nature. Zulli said he got “messed with, yelled at, cursed at — everything.”

“But the greatest thing was when I did something right, he would go insane,” Zulli said. “Like a good insane. Like, ‘Dude, that was freaking awesome — that was the best pass ever!’ Or, ‘Great freakin’ read!’ He was so enthusiastic and loved the game and loved everything about it.”

Oftentimes during practices, Yurcich would run out onto the field and act like a defensive back to show his players where defenders would be in a game.

There were also the several hours a day spent in the film room. Zulli said there were plenty of times when the team would only get through six plays in an hour when studying practice tape.

By the time Zulli was a redshirt junior in 2012, Yurcich’s second year with the program, Shippensburg’s offense was humming. The Raiders finished that season ranked No. 1 in Division II in total offense with 529.92 yards per game and No. 2 in passing offense with 387.69 yards per game.

At the end of the year, Zulli took home the Harlon Hill Trophy, an annual award given to the top player in Division II, in a campaign in which he tied the Division II record for touchdown passes in a season with 54.

“It was a lot,” Zulli said. “But you know what? It paid off. I mean, shit, I won the Heisman of Division II. So, I was obviously doing something right. I mean, he taught me everything.”


After Yurcich was hired by Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator in 2013 after two seasons at Shippensburg, he wasted no time putting together a roster for the future.

One of the first recruits he secured was Rudolph, then a four-star prospect out of Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Rudolph noticed Yurcich’s intensity and passion right away during the recruitment process. He committed just four months after being offered a scholarship in February 2013. And when he arrived on campus as an early enrollee in the spring of 2014, everything he’d suspected about Yurcich was confirmed.

“A lot of times, you’ll get kinda that older coach that’s been in the system a while, that’s been there for a decade or so,” Rudolph said. “And they kinda get flatlined; they kinda get a little bit complacent with where they are and making their money. And you could tell from the very beginning that Mike had a vision for his own career.”

Yurcich was so hungry to demonstrate that he belonged at the Division I level that some nights he’d sleep on the couch in his office at the team facility. Often, Rudolph had to remind him: “You need to go home to your wife!”

When Rudolph won the starting job with three games left in his freshman year, Yurcich began inviting him to meet with the offensive staff on Mondays, the team’s off day, to ensure that Oklahoma State’s game plan was tailored to his quarterback. This helped the two build chemistry and cohesion.

“When it came to game day, I could a lot of times anticipate what he was gonna call,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph went on to achieve back-to-back 4,000-plus-yard passing seasons in 2016 and ‘17 and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award — an award given annually to the top upperclassmen quarterback in the country — as a senior.

And as a result, Oklahoma State’s offenses were among the nation’s best. In 2016, the Cowboys ranked No. 17 in points per game and No. 12 in yards per game; in 2017, they ranked No. 4 in points per game and No. 5 in yards per game.

Though Rudolph finished his collegiate career as the winningest quarterback in Oklahoma State history before being selected in the third-round of the the 2018 NFL draft by the Steelers, he had to earn everything throughout his four years.


Making a name for himself with the development of Zulli at Shippensburg and Rudolph at Oklahoma State propelled Yurcich’s career.

He left the Cowboys after the 2018 season to become the quarterbacks coach at Ohio State, where he helped quarterback Justin Fields to a third-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting in Fields’ first year as a starter in 2019. Then, last season, he served as Texas’ offensive coordinator — leading the Longhorns to finish No. 8 in points per game and No. 19 in yards per game behind star quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

“We talk about the quarterbacks that we’ve been able to coach (and) how fortunate I’ve been in my career,” Yurcich said earlier this month. “Those aren’t just notches in the belt or resume builders. You’re also learning from those elite quarterbacks — learning a lot.”

Yurcich made it a priority to gain insight from his quarterbacks, even after he was done coaching them.

In his six seasons at Oklahoma State, Yurcich kept in frequent contact with Zulli, asking his former signal caller for advice from a different vantage point — everything from what to do against a Cover 4 to how to handle a snap count in a loud stadium.

A willingness to receive input from his quarterbacks has allowed Yurcich to continue to evolve as an offensive coordinator.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said Yurcich’s track record of molding quarterbacks was a significant factor in his decision to bring him in, especially after the struggles the Nittany Lions had at the position last season. Starting redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford finished 2020 with 16 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions through nine games, while completing only 60.6 percent of his throws.

“I think that’s another big part of this — getting back to that position playing at a high level, and even taking the next step of playing really, really high-level football,” Franklin said last month. “And I think we all know — whether it’s NFL, college or high school — that position is critical to your overall team’s success.”

With backup redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Levis transferring to Kentucky, Clifford seems like the likely starter for a third consecutive season. But, regardless of whether it’s Clifford or an incoming transfer behind center for the Nittany Lions this fall, Yurcich’s work will be cut out for him.

Both Zulli and Rudolph are more than confident that whoever that player is will excel under Yurcich’s guidance, though.

While Rudolph won’t soon forget what it felt like to wait anxiously to be called on as a freshman in the Oklahoma State quarterbacks room, it’s the memory of Yurcich’s halftime locker room tirades that will be forever etched in his mind.

But at least by then he knew it was mostly all out of love.

“There were some really good, motivating, inspirational butt-rippings, butt-chewings that took place,” Rudolph said. “And we all became better for it.”

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lions Pro Bowler Identified as NFL’s Next Breakout Star


Getty T.J. Hockenson makes a gesture in the season finale for the Lions.


The Detroit Lions might have an uncertain future to some, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still have a bright future on the field in plenty of ways.

While the Lions have several notable roster holes that every fan knows about, they are also stacked at a few spots where the team could theoretically have some top talents in the league. On the offensive side of the ball, quietly, Detroit might have one of the league’s best breakout stars in the form of tight end T.J. Hockenson.

According to Pro Football Focus, Hockenson is trending to become the next elite tight end in the NFL, and have a major breakout season come 2021. The site recently made this bold prediction for the future.


Hockenson’s solid play culminated in a Pro Bowl invite, and it’s possible that might only be the beginning for the tight end in terms of his future. Hockenson trained with George Kittle this past offseason, and it’s possible that the tight end taught him plenty tricks of the trade in terms of getting to the next level.

Come next season, the Lions could have their hands on one of the best young players in the league moving forward for Dan Campbell, a former tight end himself, to groom.

T.J. Hockenson Keeping Elite NFL Company 

As Pro Football Focus pointed out a few months back, Hockenson is well on his way and is starting to be thought of as one of the bigger names in the league at the position with his play this year. It was a solid season which finished strong for Hockenson, and PFF was all-eyes in terms of the company he was keeping during the end half of last season.


Late during the 2020 season, Hockenson certainly stepped up his game. Joining with Kittle and Travis Kelce isn’t easy to do as a young player, but Hockenson was able to get into the mix with these players given how well he had been playing late last season. This might only be another reason he is set to take off in 2021 and formally join these players.

By matching his play and getting some quality comparisons along the way, the news looks good for Hockenson moving forward.

T.J. Hockenson Stats

There is simply no understating the importance of Hockenson to the Lions in the future moving forward in 2021 and beyond. The team hasn’t gotten much of anything from any of the other tight ends on their roster, and while he hasn’t had the most dramatic statistical impact thus far in his career, Hockenson has easily been one of the team’s top rookies in 2019 and 2020 and a player capable of impacting both the run and the passing games. 

During the season last year, many fans were upset with Hockenson for not making a bigger impact on the game. He had only 367 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year which is not the statistical impact that many people expected from him as a top 10 selection for the team. 2020 was a major bounce back from that, though, and Hockenson put up 723 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Clearly, Hockenson is on the right track to being thought of as one of the best players in the league at his position.

Friday, February 05, 2021

If Mike Yurcich passes his latest test as Penn State OC, his next one will be running his own shop


When Mike Yurcich was slated for a half-hour video conference on Tuesday afternoon, the first crack reporters would have at him at Penn State, I deferred to Bob Flounders. I was just as interested in seeing the new offensive coordinator’s countenance and demeanor and delivery as I was asking about the schematic and offensive philosophical stuff that BoFlo has a better handle on anyway.

In a case like this, I’m like Chauncey Gardner: I like to watch.

Show me a coordinator with confidence and alacrity in his manner and I’ll show you a man who can communicate and sell his plan to a team. I’ll also show you a guy who can run his own shop.

Anyway, I’ll never be mistaken for Greg Cosell when it comes to disseminating the intricacies of a man-vs-zone coverage, modes of attack with 11 personnel vs. 12 personnel, or how Quarterback A makes this or that read better than Quarterback B.

What I was more interested in about the new Penn State OC was his communication skills. And if there’s one seminal takeaway from Yurcich’s brief opening conference, it was this:

Boy, is this guy gonna be a hot ticket as a potential head coach – if he succeeds at PSU.

Give him one big season with the Penn State offense and his agent will need a full week to sift through the offers.

Why? He’s got the gift. It’s a certain comfort in his own skin that you either have or you don’t. Yurcich has it.

During his Tuesday session, he didn’t just effortlessly glide from one point to another, he seemed to genuinely enjoy talking football – even to reporters. That’s a jagged pill for a lot of coaches because they’re quite a bit more sophisticated than we are and tire of attempting to connect with a more elementary level of understanding.

But look at it this way. That’s the trait a lot of great teachers have – primary school all the way up to doctoral-level professors: They enjoy sharing knowledge. They not only don’t view it as a chore, but they love to converse about their passion.

On the college football globe, that means two things: 1. They make friends and allies in the business. 2. They learn from all sorts of different sources.

Both of which lead to that other thing – interviews for head coaching jobs.

Now, I’m not going to distill being a head coach down to winning press conferences. We all know, not only is there a lot more to it than that, but that successful head coaches come in all shapes, sizes, verbal volumes and proclivities. It’s a spectrum ranging from Paul Chryst at one end to P.J. Fleck at the other. They had a showdown for the 2019 Big Ten West title, remember? And the reserved man of few words beat the verbose sloganeer.

I’m just talking about projection and ease of self. Yurcich breezed through his 29 minutes with a minimum of fabricated BS but also a secure handle on what he would talk about, what he wouldn’t because it would be bad form as the new guy, and an ebullience that explained it all – while making a point to use the names of reporters he’d never met.

I know this might seem like trivial stuff to some of you, but trust me, it’s not. Yeah, being an OC is all about putting points on the board. But it’s these personal skills which often make that happen at the college level, even more than in the pros. At some point, the geeky technician types like Chip Kelly hit a ceiling (as Kelly is now at UCLA) if they can’t inspire.

College football is about sales. You first must persuade high school kids and their parents that your school is the right one for them to develop a professional résumé. You must communicate the plan of attack to a wide variety of developing intellects. You must motivate and encourage a disparate array of emotional makeups during a volatile point in their lives. You need to light a fire under your assistants so that they’re not just willing but eager to work crazy hours recruiting and game-planning. You have to oil up big donors and greet their families with style at fundraising functions.

And then, you must have a firm handle on all the schematic stuff that allows quick in-game adaptation to whatever punches the defense throws, and quickly and succinctly explain adjustments to the integral players, especially the quarterback.

Mike Yurcich made his name as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. Oklahoma State athletics

All of that is about personality and belief. If you believe in yourself, your players will believe in you. If they believe in you, they’ll believe in your plan. And then, if the plan works, it all reinforces itself.

Yurcich has that thing. I don’t know exactly how to describe it other than the fact successful head coaches very often have it and lifetime coordinators who never get a shot at the top job often don’t. The Nick Siranni cases are the exception.

So, as I suspected when James Franklin unexpectedly fired Kirk Ciarrocca and hired Yurcich four weeks ago, it looks very much to me as if this will be an OC rental not a purchase. At least, Franklin probably hopes so.

Given success either in 2021 or then certainly in 2022, Yurcich will be too attractive a candidate for Penn State to fight off his suitors. If the right offer for the right job comes along, he’ll be out the door.

And Franklin knew that when he hired him. A productive PSU offense will mean cracking open the Rolodex all over again. At this point, I’d guess that’s a deal for which most of the Nittany Nation will sign on.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

The 55 greatest players in Super Bowl history: How high do Patriots legends rank?



Nate Davis


Published 7:27 AM ET Jan.30, 2021

Crafting a list of the greatest players in Super Bowl history is a near-impossible endeavor. Do you favor the biggest stars? Those who shone brightest on Super Sunday? The ones with sustained levels of excellence? While undertaking this fool's errand, I weighed each consideration, attempting to also make it representative of all positions rather than skew too heavily toward quarterbacks or offensive players who more easily show up in the box score (and MVP log).

With that prologue in mind, here's my list of the 55 greatest players in Super Bowl history as we head into Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

44. OLB Mike Vrabel: A consummate Patriot, he played in four Super Bowls and wound up with three rings. He also racked up 16 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble ... and two TDs on two receptions while lining up as a tight end in goal-line packages. Not bad.

The 55 greatest players in Super Bowl history: How high do Patriots legends rank?


Nate Davis


Published 7:27 AM ET Jan.30, 2021

Crafting a list of the greatest players in Super Bowl history is a near-impossible endeavor. Do you favor the biggest stars? Those who shone brightest on Super Sunday? The ones with sustained levels of excellence? While undertaking this fool's errand, I weighed each consideration, attempting to also make it representative of all positions rather than skew too heavily toward quarterbacks or offensive players who more easily show up in the box score (and MVP log).

With that prologue in mind, here's my list of the 55 greatest players in Super Bowl history as we head into Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

1. QB Tom Brady: The longtime New England Patriots star has more rings (6) and Super Bowl MVPs (4) than any other player. His record nine Super Bowl starts – soon to be 10 – have allowed him to become the game's all-time leader in pass attempts (392), completions (256), yards (2,838) and TDs (18). Brady aired it out for a Super Sunday record 505 yards in the Super Bowl 52 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2017 season, breaking his mark of 466 set the previous year. But his Super Bowl 51 effort may be the most impressive given he orchestrated the greatest comeback in the game's history, leading the Super Bowl's lone overtime drive against Atlanta after digging out of a 25-point hole. And yet the book still isn't closed.

2. QB Joe Montana: He's been overtaken in several categories by Brady, who grew up idolizing the man who set the gold standard for Super Bowl quarterback play. Montana went 4-0 on Super Sunday, was named MVP thrice and had 11 TD passes with nary an interception, which explains his remarkable record for passer rating (127.8). And who can forget the methodical, 92-yard TD drive he led – capped by the game-winning throw to John Taylor in the final minute – to win Super Bowl 23?

3. WR Jerry Rice: As you'd expect of the original "GOAT," he's in a class by himself. He owns Super Bowl career records for receptions (33), receiving yards (589) and TDs (8). No one else has more than three TD catches, a total Rice matched in Super Bowl 29. His single-game record of 215 receiving yards made him Super Bowl 23's MVP.

4. QB Terry Bradshaw: He'll always have his detractors. But it was Bradshaw, not the Pittsburgh Steelers' famed Steel Curtain, who showed the way to victory in Super Bowls 13 and 14, taking MVP honors in both games. He was the first quarterback with four Lombardi Trophies, and his nine TD strikes trail only Brady and Montana. And what about the toughness factor? Bradshaw threw the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl 10 while taking a helmet to the jaw that literally knocked him out.

5. OLB/DE Charles Haley: Count 'em, five Super Bowl rings (two with the 49ers, three with the Dallas Cowboys) – a figure exceeded only by Brady. Since sacks became official in 1982, Haley's 4½ are the most in the Super Bowl record book. He bagged Cincinnati Bengals QB Boomer Esiason twice in Super Bowl 23, the Niners' narrowest Super Sunday win.

6. QB Doug Williams: He only played in one Super Bowl. But all the Washington star did was prove to any remaining naysayers that a Black quarterback could win it all ... while doing it on a hyperextended knee ... while throwing four TD passes in an unreal 35-point second quarter.

7. RB Emmitt Smith: The Super Bowl 28 MVP was the Cowboys' closer that night (132 yards, 2 second-half TDs) and again in Super Bowl 30. Smith's five rushing TDs are a record, and his 289 rushing yards rank third.

8. QB Eli Manning: We're not suggesting he's better than big brother Peyton. But Eli is definitely more deserving of a spot on this list given his heroics in twice winning Super Bowl MVP honors for the New York Giants with some truly miraculous plays in upsets of the Patriots.

9. RB Terrell Davis: In what was arguably the greatest Super Bowl effort by a tailback, he ran for 157 yards and a record-tying three TDs – while combating a migraine – on his way to Super Bowl 32 MVP honors as the Denver Broncos won their first title. Davis added 102 rushing yards and 50 more receiving when Denver repeated the next year.

10. QB Joe Namath: He was more game manager than gunslinger on Super Sunday and didn't throw a touchdown in the New York Jets' monumental upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3. But Broadway Joe was still that contest's MVP, wisely calling for effective gainers from his backs while delivering on his epic pregame guarantee and changing the course of pro football history by vanquishing the NFL establishment.

11. K Adam Vinatieri: His 34 Super Bowl points trail only Rice's 48. None were bigger than the pair of game-winning field goals Vinatieri drilled for the Patriots to end Super Bowls 36 and 38. He snagged a fourth ring with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.

12. QB Bart Starr: The numbers won't wow you – 452 passing yards and three TDs combined over the course of two games – but the steady hand of the Green Bay Packers great also clutched the first two Super Bowl MVPs as a capstone to a legendary dynasty.

13. WR Lynn Swann: He basically built a Hall of Fame career over four Super Sundays. Three of his four catches (totaling 161 yards) in Super Bowl 10 were of the acrobatic variety, including the game-deciding 64-yard TD in the fourth quarter, which is why Swann was the MVP. His three career TD grabs and 364 yards trail only Rice.

14. QB Steve Young: His six TD passes in the Niners' Super Bowl 29 victory remain a single-game Super Bowl record. And don't forget, Young collected two more rings as Montana's backup.

15. MLB Jack Lambert: The vampire-toothed man in the middle racked up 46 tackles during Pittsburgh’s four victories and famously chucked Cowboys S Cliff Harris after he taunted Steelers K Roy Gerela in Super Bowl 10.

16. QB Kurt Warner: With a break here and there, he'd have three championships instead of one. But credit Warner for leading the long woebegone Rams and Cardinals out of the wilderness. And not only did the Super Bowl 34 MVP set a then-record with 414 passing yards, his 377 yards in Super Bowl 43 and 365 in Super Bowl 36 gave him the three most prolific passing days in the game's history until Brady's explosions in Super Bowls 51 and 52.

17. RB Franco Harris: A four-time champion, nearly half of his career record 354 rushing yards came when the Super Bowl 9 MVP posted a since-broken standard of 158 en route to Pittsburgh's first title. Harris' four rushing scores trail only Smith.

18. MLB Ray Lewis: He was the villain of the week prior to the game, but Lewis emerged as Super Bowl 35's MVP after the dominant 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense shut out the Giants offense. Twelve years later, Lewis collected more bling in his final ride.

19. DE L.C. Greenwood: His four sacks of Dallas QB Roger Staubach in Super Bowl 10 represent an unofficial record since the NFL didn't officially recognize sacks until 1982. Same goes for the five career sacks of Greenwood, who started all four of Pittsburgh's victorious Super Sundays in the 1970s.

20. RB Roger Craig: The Niners' main man in the backfield, he earned three rings as one of the original do-it-all backs. He piled up 410 yards and four TDs from scrimmage, both figures good for third place in the Super Bowl record book.

21. OLB Ted Hendricks: He's usually remembered as a Raider, but the first of Hendricks' four Super Bowl wins came with the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 5. None of the defenses he played on surrendered more than 14 points.

22. WR John Stallworth: Like Swann, his Steelers wingman, he has three Super Bowl TD grabs, two covering more than 70 yards. Stallworth's 73-yard TD from Bradshaw in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 14 broke the backs of the plucky Los Angeles Rams.

23. RB Larry Csonka: The workhorse for the Miami Dolphins, including the 17-0 1972 team, his 297 rushing yards in three games are second only to Harris. Csonka scored twice and had a then-record 145 yards to net Super Bowl 8 MVP honors and had 112 yards the previous year when Miami capped its perfect season.

24. WR Julian Edelman: He owns three rings after his 10-catch, 141-yard showing in Super Bowl 53 earned him the MVP trophy. Two years earlier, Edelman's epic shoestring scoop of a Brady pass that was deflected by Falcons CB Robert Alford helped spark New England's epic comeback. The Super Bowl 52 loss to Philadelphia might have had a different outcome had Edelman not been sidelined by a knee injury. His 337 Super Bowl receiving yards trail only Rice and Swann.

25. QB Phil Simms: He threw 25 passes in Super Bowl 21, and only three hit the ground. Pretty high bar as the MVP led the Giants to the first of their four Lombardi Trophies.

26. QB Troy Aikman: He captained the '90s Cowboys to three titles and was named MVP for the first one in Super Bowl 27 after throwing for 273 yards and four TDs. Aikman's 70% completion rate in his three appearances makes him the most accurate Super Sunday passer.

27. S Jake Scott: His pair of interceptions, including the game-clincher, put a bow on the Dolphins' perfect season and brought him Super Bowl 7's MVP.

28. OLB Rod Martin: The only man to pick off three passes in one Super Bowl – Martin thrice victimized the Eagles' Ron Jaworski in Super Bowl 15 – he got one ring when the Raiders were in Oakland and another after they moved to L.A.

29. DT Joe Greene: No one embodies the Steel Curtain Steelers more than Mean Joe, who started all four Super Bowls in the 1970s.

30. WR Deion Branch: He's best remembered as MVP of the Patriots' Super Bowl 39 triumph (then record-tying 11 catches for 133 yards). But Branch may have been even better the previous year against Carolina, when he snatched 10 Brady passes for 143 yards and a TD.

31. CB Malcolm Butler: He was an undrafted rookie no-name when he made arguably the clutchest of all Super Bowl plays by undercutting Seattle Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette's route at the goal line to intercept Russell Wilson's pass and turn what seemed near certain defeat into the Patriots' fourth title. Butler will never be a no-name the rest of his life ... though he did garner unwanted attention for essentially being benched by Bill Belichick in Super Bowl 52, a decision that surely seemed to backfire.

32. OLB Chuck Howley: He's the only man to win the MVP award despite playing for the losing side when the Cowboys fell in Super Bowl 5. Howley, who established the Super Bowl career record with three INTs, won a ring the following year.

33. DT Manny Fernandez: He had a remarkable 17 tackles and one sack – unofficial totals – in the Dolphins' Super Bowl 7 win and almost certainly should have been named the MVP.

34. CB Ty Law: His 47-yard pick-six off Warner in Super Bowl 36 helped chart the course for New England's dynastic run. Law wound up winning three championships with the Patriots.

35. DT Justin Tuck: His contributions typically get overshadowed in the Giants' dual victories over New England. But Tuck was Brady's personal nemesis, sacking him twice in each game.

36. G Gene Upshaw: The Oakland Raiders stalwart played in three Super Bowls, each in a different decade. In Super Bowls 11 and 15, he teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Art Shell – they formed probably the best left side of any O-line in history – to embarrass both the Minnesota Vikings' famed Purple People Eaters and Eagles defense as the Silver & Black won their first two titles.

37. CB Mel Blount: The Steelers' super-sized corner collected a pair of Super Bowl picks and four rings.

38. CB Deion Sanders: The original shutdown corner went back-to-back with the 49ers and Cowboys in Super Bowls 29 and 30, respectively. Sanders picked off a pass for San Francisco, and the Steelers’ unwillingness to test him the following year was a big reason MVP Larry Brown snagged two INTs.

39. OLB Von Miller: A rare defender who won the Super Bowl MVP, Miller was picked as the guy from the vaunted 2015 Broncos defense to take the hardware home after registering 2½ sacks and two forced fumbles in Super Bowl 50.

40. DE Richard Dent: A rare defender who won the Super Bowl MVP, Dent was picked as the guy from the vaunted '85 Bears defense to take the hardware home after registering 1½ sacks and two forced fumbles in Super Bowl 20.

41. DE Reggie White: Maybe the greatest defensive end ever, he set the official Super Bowl record with three sacks of Drew Bledsoe in the Packers' Super Bowl 31 victory.

42. DB Ronnie Lott: The tone-setting defender of the 49ers’ great teams started at both cornerback and safety on his way to four championships.

43. T Joe Jacoby: He was one of only two Hogs to start on the offensive line in all three of the Redskins' Super Bowl wins. RBs John Riggins (166 rushing yards in Super Bowl 17) and Timmy Smith (204 yards in Super Bowl 22) both had record days running behind Jacoby and Co.

44. OLB Mike Vrabel: A consummate Patriot, he played in four Super Bowls and wound up with three rings. He also racked up 16 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble ... and two TDs on two receptions while lining up as a tight end in goal-line packages. Not bad.

45. OLB James Harrison: He picked up a pair of Lombardis in three trips with the Steelers. He also left his imprint with an unforgettable 100-yard INT return off a Warner misfire – producing at least a 10-point swing – In Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in Super Bowl 43.

46. TE Rob Gronkowski: No tight end has ever taken over a Super Bowl, but Gronk came pretty close against the Eagles, finishing with nine receptions, 116 yards and a pair of scores in a losing effort. His impact in New England's Super Bowl 49 victory went beyond six catches for 68 yards and a TD as he thoroughly occupied the attention of the Seahawks. In Super Bowl 53, his 29-yard reception on a badly bruised thigh set up the game's only touchdown (a 2-yard run by Sony Michel) on the following play. And despite playing on a bum ankle that would require surgery, Gronkowski nearly corralled what would have been a game-winning Hail Mary on the final play of Super Bowl 46. Gronk is the only tight end with three Super Bowl TD grabs and his 23 career receptions on Super Sunday are the most at his position – a mark he can improve while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

47. C Mike Webster: Another four-time Steelers champ, he was a tough-as-nails throwback who also handled long-snapping duties.

48. RB James White: Compelling case to be made that White, not Brady, should have been Super Bowl 51’s MVP. He set single-game records with 14 receptions and 20 points (he scored 3 TDs and a key 2-point conversion in New England’s comeback). White’s 2-yard TD run in overtime provided the winning margin against the Falcons. He added another 66 yards from scrimmage and a TD against Philadelphia the next year.

49. WR Max McGee: Love this guy. After a long night of partying on the eve of the first Super Bowl – McGee thought he'd be warming the pine for the Packers – he stepped in for injured Boyd Dowler and scored again. Despite being less than 100%, McGee caught seven passes for 138 yards and two scores, one a behind-the-back snare.

50. OLB Lawrence Taylor: He never notched a Super sack, but we're not leaving the two-time champion and greatest pass-rushing linebacker ever off the all-time team.

51. CB Dwight Smith: He had a pair of pick-sixes (covering 94 yards) in the Bucs' Super Bowl 37 beatdown of the Raiders.

52. KR/WR Jacoby Jones: He gets the nod over Super Bowl 31 MVP Desmond Howard as our return ace. Jones had a strong case to be the Ravens' Super Bowl 47 MVP after posting a single-game record 290 all-purpose yards, which included a record 108-yard TD on the opening kickoff of the second half. And that was after he ended the first half with his only catch of the game – a 56-yard TD.

53. OL Randy Cross: Had to give the linemen a little more love. Cross was a Pro Bowl guard for the 49ers' first two title teams and moved to center for their third Super Bowl win, which happened to be his final game.

54. LB Mike Jones: A journeyman who would have receded into NFL anonymity had he not seized his Super Bowl moment by making a game-ending, title-saving tackle of Tennessee Titans WR Kevin Dyson just shy of the goal-line (and a potential game-tying TD) in the Rams' only Super Bowl victory.

55. P Thomas Morstead: He's always been a fine punter. But it was the perfectly executed onside kick by the New Orleans Saints kickoff specialist – the play was designated "Ambush" – to start the second half of Super Bowl 44 against Indianapolis that forever minted him as a legend in The Big Easy.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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