Everyone knows that the quarterback is the most important position in football, but one person can’t carry a team to a Super Bowl victory on their own. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees know that better than anyone. So, this article is about the other position players who made the most impact on their respective teams throughout the 2010s. Sorry, Patriots fans, there will be no gushing about Tom Brady, only the Walmart employees who Belichick turned into superstars will be getting love in this article.
New England Patriots: Tight End Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski may not have worked at Walmart, but he would never have become the “Gronk” who we all know and love if it weren’t for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Gronk was picked in the 2nd round with the 42nd overall pick after a very solid performance at the University of Arizona. Since then, he has had a historic career on easily the best team of the decade. He played in 115 games from 2010-2018 when he announced his first retirement. In that time, he racked up 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns.
I’m going to break those stats down to help contextualize the greatness of Rob Gronkowski. In his nine seasons with the Pats, he achieved 873.4 yards per season, 68.4 yards per game, 0.69 touchdowns per game, and a 65.6% catch rate. If you add up his per-game stats and apply them to a full 16-game season, Gronk would have had about 1,094 yards and 11 touchdowns per year. That production from a tight end was unheard of until he came along.
Even Tony Gonzalez, who is widely considered to be the best tight end of all time, only managed 56.0 yards per game and 0.41 touchdowns per game in his career. To say Gronk had a better career that Gonzalez is preposterous and just incorrect because Gonzalez’s consistency and longevity are unmatched. However, I wanted to use him as an example to showcase just how dominant Gronk was during his time with the Pats.
In terms of production and efficiency in the 2010s, no other player on the Patriots, other than Brady, even comes close to Gronk on either end of the football. The others who came close to the title were Julian Edelman and Devin McCourty. Edelman was great, but his stats weren’t even close to Gronk’s. Devin McCourty was a lockdown defender who has been a staple of that Patriots defense since he was drafted in 2010. However, the Patriots probably still win all three of their Super Bowls without Devin McCourty; I can’t say the same when it comes to Gronk.
New York Jets: Cornerback Darrelle Revis
The entire AFC East played in the gigantic shadow of the New England Patriots for the past decade. The Patriots even took the one good thing the Jets had going for them in Darrelle Revis, who left the Jets for two seasons, one with the Buccaneers and another with the Pats, and then came back to the Jets, but isn’t that just a bit of a slap in the face?
“Hey we are going to borrow this guy for a year. He’ll be a First-Team All-Pro and we’re winning the Super Bowl, but don’t worry, we’ll give him back.” That has to be hard to watch as a Jets fan, almost as hard as watching any receiver who drops anchor on Revis Island.
He played 5 seasons with the Jets in the 2010s, only 4 of which were full. However, he did earn two First-Team All-Pro honors and went to three Pro-Bowls in that time. There were other noteworthy players that had a longer tenure with the Jets, but nobody was more vital to that team’s success than Revis. The Jets only had one playoff run last decade in 2010; in that season, Revis had the second-best year of his career, he was a First-Team All-Pro, and the Jets made it all the way to the Conference Championship.
I realize that the MVP of the team is not solely based on the best player in the winningest season, but the fact that Revis’ success and the team’s success were directly correlated should not go unnoticed. He was the Jets’ best player of the decade talent-wise by far, he earned the most awards of any Jets player, and he may have even been the best cornerback of the decade.
I hate standard cornerback statistics because they don’t show the full story, so I just won’t bother. All you need to know is that Darrelle Revis is the single greatest man-to-man cornerback I have ever seen play the game of football. He locked down countless number one receivers throughout his career, including Calvin Johnson, and he did it consistently every single week for several years.
His footwork, intelligence, speed, hand use, and ability to read his opponents were all elite; when you put that all together in one player, you have Revis Island, which came into being because when players went out against him, they were stranded and there was nothing anyone could do to help. The bottom line is, Darrelle Revis is the Jets MVP because he’s the best player in their HISTORY, and if he was on defense, there were only 10 players on offense.
Buffalo Bills: Defensive Tackle Kyle Williams
I’m going to be honest here, there weren’t very many contenders for this award. The Bills have been…quiet this past decade. They have only played two playoff games in the 2010s, and both were losses in the Wild Card Round. So, as you can imagine, it was slim pickings as far as star players go. Most of the options had pretty modest stats, and the players that played well only did so for 2-4 years. Kyle Williams was pretty much the only player on the Bills who played well for more than four years in the 2010s.
Williams spent his entire 13-year career in Buffalo, making six Pro-Bowls along the way, all six of which came in the 2010s. He is often overlooked when it comes to elite interior pass-rushers because he didn’t have the typical build of one. 6’1”, 303 lbs with an arm length of 31 7/8” is far from ideal. Most defensive tackles are much taller and have much longer arms, so the fact that Williams was able to have the career that he did speaks to the quality technique, strength, and quickness that he possessed.
In the 2010s, he played and started in 121 games and recorded 40.5 sacks, 394 total tackles, 71 tackles for loss, and 112 QB hits. He leads the Bills’ franchise in career tackles for loss and QB hits while ranking fifth in sacks and ninth in solo tackles, and his best years came in the 2010s.
He was the heart of the Bills defense up until his retirement in 2018 and no other Bills player even comes close to his impact in the past decade. Kyle Williams is a Buffalo Bills legend, and even though defensive tackles aren’t up there in importance with the safeties and corners, Williams was just that special and the Bills were just that bad.
Miami Dolphins: Defensive End, Cameron Wake
People forget how unstoppable Cameron Wake was up until about 2018. The Dolphins were unsurprisingly very disappointing this past decade, only appearing in one playoff game that ended, obviously, in a loss. However, they weren’t like the Bills and the Jets because they had a lot of talent, some of which they were even able to hold on to.
However, to say that Wake is “talented” is an understatement. I truly believe that this man was born to play football. Something people forget is that he didn’t start playing in the league until he was 27, so he had to play at a high level well into his 30s to maintain those averages. He was able to do that because he is one of the most physically-gifted athletes on the field at all times, he has an absurd arsenal of pass-rush moves, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he is absolutely shredded.
Wake was drafted by the Dolphins in 2009 and played for them until last season. So, from 2010-2018 he played in 141 games, earned a ticket to five Pro Bowls, received one First-Team All-Pro honor, and his stats were out of this world. Wake racked up 22 forced fumbles, 92.5 sacks, 337 combined tackles, 91 tackles for loss, and 204 QB hits in those nine seasons.
Let’s break down those numbers a bit more so we can all appreciate just how insane they really are. He averaged 10.3 sacks per season, 10.1 tackles for loss per season, and 22.7 QB hits per season. There is not a single season in his career where he started all 16 games and got 10 or less sacks. He was as consistent as they come off the edge for Miami.
I considered a lot of players for Miami’s MVP, including Reshad Jones, Xavien Howard, Jarvis Landry, and Mike Pouncey, but Cameron Wake was the only plausible choice. Reshad Jones played for 10 years but was not nearly as productive as Wake for that defense. Jarvis Landry is probably one of the best receivers to put on a Dolphins uniform, but he only played for four seasons.
I ran into a similar issue with Xavien Howard because he has been phenomenal the past couple years, but he just joined the team and his season was cut short last year. Finally, Mike Pouncey was another option that didn’t pan out because his impact as an offensive lineman simply wasn’t significant enough to push past Wake’s presence on the defensive line. Cameron Wake clearly made the most impact of any non-QB on the Miami Dolphins in the past decade.