NY Jets fans hold an American Flag at MetLife Stadium during a 2011 game against the Dallas Cowboys.
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Crafting an American Football Team USA

At long last, we are witnessing the summer Olympic games in Tokyo. This may be a year later than originally scheduled, but the postponement was, of course, necessary at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the old saying goes: better late than never.

If only that same mindset were applied to adding American football to the Olympics. The greatest sport in the world is once again absent among the multitude of competitions and games being played in the worldwide event.

Regardless, the long-awaited international phenomenon has us at Jets X-Factor wondering: If American football were in the Olympics this year, who would be representing Team USA?

The NFL is loaded with all-world talent, so if your favorite player doesn’t make the cut, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of a roster spot.

Head Coach

  • The pick: Andy Reid

It’s so hard to pick just one head coach, as the NFL has so many good ones. Bill Belichick is considered one of the greatest ever, Andy Reid’s offenses pace the league year after year, and Kyle Shanahan finds ways to win games no matter who his quarterback is.

If only Adam Gase were still a head coach … he’d be the easy pick.

In all seriousness, the nod goes to Reid. He has decades of NFL experience and his teams always perform at a high level. The same can certainly be said for other coaches, but Reid is arguably at the very top of the game right now. Additionally, his cheeseburger obsession perfectly embodies what the rest of the world thinks all Americans are like.

Quarterbacks

  • The picks: Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers

The most important position in sports. Naturally, Patrick Mahomes is the first name that comes to mind for most people. Whether everyone’s happy about it or not, Mahomes is the best signal-caller in the NFL and would be the perfect face of Team USA.

It’s that QB2 spot where things get interesting. Should it be current reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers? What about the GOAT Tom Brady? Foreign teams sure wouldn’t be ready for the electrifying Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson deserves serious consideration as well.

Realistically, none of these guys would likely agree to join Team USA as the backup quarterback, but let’s remember this is all purely hypothetical — American football still isn’t even in the Olympics.

Ironically, the one who would probably be the least likely to accept a backup role is also the one who gets the honor here. He’s the reigning MVP, so he has the best case over the others. Congratulations, Aaron Rodgers!

Running Backs

  • The picks: Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey

How much fun would it be to watch foreign players try and tackle Derrick Henry? The 6-foot-3, 238-pound back’s physical superiority alone lands him the RB1 spot on Jets X-Factor’s Team USA.

Christian McCaffrey may have missed most of last season with injuries, but he’s still going first overall in almost every fantasy draft — That speaks volumes about how the general public still views him. In 2019, he went for 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. Dalvin Cook deserves real consideration, but CMC gets the edge.

Wide Receivers

  • The picks: Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill

After last season, Davante Adams has quite possibly planted himself atop the league’s best wide receivers list. There simply aren’t any weaknesses to his game. He’s physical, he catches everything thrown his way, and he’s an elite route-runner.

Now we can go ahead and copy and paste that description into our DeAndre Hopkins explanation. Yes, the two players have very similar strengths, but one thing that can be said about only Hopkins is the size of his hands — they’re more commonly referred to as “baseball mitts”. Is it really fair to ask players to break up passes thrown at a guy whose hands are twice the size of theirs? Just give Hopkins his gold medal now.

Tyreek Hill is someone who could possibly compete in actual Olympic sports, like track. Hill’s speed is widely known, and it’s mainly because of it that he gets the WR3 spot over Stefon Diggs, who should definitely be considered here too. Hill’s speed and twitchiness provide another dimension to the offense though, while Diggs plays more similar to Adams and Hopkins.

Tight Ends

  • The picks: Travis Kelce, George Kittle

The number of Kansas City Chiefs on this list says a lot about how good their offense is. Travis Kelce is quite possibly the easiest pick on this entire roster. After last season, few will argue that he isn’t the game’s top tight end, as he nearly led the league in receiving yards. If any offensive player were considered a lock for the Team USA roster, it would probably be this guy.

Our TE2 is no slouch, however. Kittle was hurt for much of last season, but he remains the best blocking tight end in the league. Combine that with his insane catch radius and elite ability to gain yards after the catch, and he’s a relatively easy choice as well. Some may argue for Darren Waller, but Kittle’s blocking is far superior.

Offensive Linemen

  • The picks: Trent Williams, Quenton Nelson, Corey Linsley, Zack Martin, Ryan Ramczyk

At left tackle, a real argument can and should be made for David Bakhtiari. However, we see Trent Williams as every bit as good. He had the highest overall PFF grade of any offensive tackle in the league last season and he makes big-time blocks look routine. While well above average in pass protection, Williams’ run blocking was elite last year and should make Jets fans drool over what Mekhi Becton, an elite run blocker himself, could become with just a little development.

Left guard is an easy pick, as Quenton Nelson is not only considered arguably the best guard in the league, but some even say he has a shot at being one of the best ever.

The addition of Corey Linsley here is painful, as he was very high up on most Jets fans’ 2021 free agency wish list. Coming off of a first-team All-Pro season, he’s one of, if not the best center in the NFL today. His addition would have been game-changing for Gang Green, but in this case, it’s game-changing for Team USA.

If there’s one player who can push Nelson for the best guard in the league, it would be Zack Martin. Even as Dallas’ offensive line has collapsed around him, Martin remains better than most of the league’s linemen. It works out perfectly that Nelson plays on the left and Martin plays on the right.

Ryan Ramczyk of the New Orleans Saints rounds out the starting five. Drafted in 2017, Ramczyk has been the NFL’s most valuable tackle since entering the league.

With an offensive line like this, Mahomes can be wearing 50-pound ankle weights in the pocket and still never get touched.

Edge Rushers

  • The picks: Khalil Mack, Myles Garrett

This position group is sure to get controversial, as there is no clear-cut best edge rusher in the league — so many guys could hold that title.

Most of the excitement surrounding the Jets signing Carl Lawson is based on Lawson’s elite pressure and penetration numbers rather than his sack totals. Going off that same logic, Khalil Mack is still absolutely elite. His sack numbers aren’t even in the league’s top ten over the past two seasons, but he dominates his man on almost every rep and the pressures and penetration are still very much there. If you don’t think Mack is still among the best edge rushers in the league, you can’t justify confidence in Lawson.

The player to bookend Mack for Team USA is Myles Garrett. Since entering the league, Garrett has been one of the best at his position in essentially every significant pass-rush category. He also ranked at the 98th percentile of PFF’s pass-rushing grade in 2020. This spot could easily go to his division rival T.J. Watt, but Garrett gets the nod.

Interior Defensive Linemen

The picks: Aaron Donald, Chris Jones

While deciding on two edge rushers was a bit complicated, it’s relatively easy to identify the league’s two best players on the interior of the defensive line.

Remember how I said Kelce was a lock on the offensive side to make this roster? Aaron Donald is a lock on the defensive side. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks there’s a better NFL defender than Donald right now. He gets double and even triple-teamed regularly, but it just doesn’t matter — he’s getting through no matter what.

While there’s a talent gap between Donald and Chris Jones, the latter has created something of his own talent gap between himself and the rest of the league. Over the past three seasons, Jones has recorded a PFF pass-rushing grade of 90 or better every single year.

Would it even be fair to roll out a defensive line like this against foreign national teams?

Linebackers

  • The picks: Bobby Wagner, Fred Warner, Eric Kendricks, Darius Leonard

Bobby Wagner holds the crown for the NFL’s best linebacker. He’s one of the hardest hitters and best tacklers in the game and he’s been incredibly effective as a pass-rusher as well. Since Luke Kuechly retired, Wagner has been the undisputed best linebacker in the league.

Fred Warner is one player who could begin to push Wagner for that top spot in the coming years. The two play quite different games, however, making them a terrifying duo for Team USA’s defense. Wagner would handle the big hits and run-stopping, while Warner could be deployed in coverage — an area he is already elite in at just 24 years old.

Speaking of elite coverage by a linebacker, Eric Kendricks is similarly gifted in that area. He has 17 pass breakups over the past two seasons (including playoffs) and would be a force over the middle for Team USA.

The last linebacker spot goes to Darius Leonard because of how well-rounded his game is. Since entering the league, he hasn’t had a bad season in any area of play. To translate: he’s good at everything and doesn’t have a single weakness — I guess that’s one thing he has on Superman.

Safeties

  • The picks: Justin Simmons, Harrison Smith

Justin Simmons has been elite in coverage each of the past two seasons and has now played himself to the top of the league at the safety position. In the five seasons he’s played since being drafted, Simmons has recorded 37 pass breakups to go with 16 interceptions — nine of which have come over the past two seasons.

Playing strong safety for Jets X-Factor’s Team USA is Harrison Smith. As long as he’s been healthy, Harrison Smith has not had a bad year in the NFL. He’s consistently fantastic for the Vikings and even at 31 years old, snagged five interceptions in 2020.

Cornerbacks

  • The picks: Jalen Ramsey, Jaire Alexander, Xavien Howard

Cornerback is yet another position that has so much talent that there are bound to be phenomenal players left off the list. One name that just can’t be left off, though, is Jalen Ramsey. He is constantly matched up with the game’s best receivers, and he constantly stifles them. He’s no Darrelle Revis, and there are certainly occasions he gets beat, but simply put, he’s the game’s best corner right now.

It’d be incredible to have Ramsey mic’d up at the Olympics and get to hear him trash talk other countries’ national teams.

Jaire Alexander is a guy who really came into his own last season. He was always really good, but the 24-year-old reached a new level in 2020. All season long, including the playoffs, he gave up a total of 353 receiving yards, and he’s only going to get better.

Xavien Howard is the definition of a ball-hawk. The Miami Dolphin had 10 interceptions last season alone and was firmly in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Fortunately, the Jets may no longer have to face this guy twice a year due to his recent trade demands.

A trio of Ramsey, Alexander, and Howard is the best possible tandem of corners Team USA could have.

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Ian Roddy is a young Jets X-Factor writer who currently attends Loyola Marymount University. Email: iroddy@lion.lmu.edu

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