In each of the last two offseasons, we have NFL Survivor Squad, representing our attempt to build the best possible roster using one representative and only one representative from each of the 32 NFL teams. Well, we're here to do that again.our annual
To make things more challenging on myself and avoid reprinting the same article year after year, I have once again unilaterally declared every player and coach who made either the 2020 or 2021 roster off limits for this year's exercise.
That means none of Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Greg Roman, Brian Daboll, Robert Saleh, Patrick Graham, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Michael Thomas, CeeDee Lamb, Zach Ertz, Darren Waller, George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Kenny Golladay, Ja'Marr Chase, Jake Matthews, Laremy Tunsil, Quenton Nelson, Ali Marpet, Brandon Linder, Corey Linsley, Zack Martin, Brandon Scherff, Jack Conklin, Lane Johnson, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Brian Burns, Myles Garrett, Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, DeForest Buckner, Stephon Tuitt, Kenny Clark, Kyle Van Noy, Nicholas Morrow, Bobby Wagner, Eric Kendricks, Roquan Smith, Demario Davis, Tre'Davious White, James Bradberry, Xavien Howard, Kendall Fuller, Chris Harris Jr., Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Budda Baker, Jalen Ramsey, Tress Way, Logan Cooke, Randy Bullock, Younghoe Koo, Adoree' Jackson or Gunner Olszewski were eligible for this year's team.
In an exercise like this, it's important to know exactly how you want to build your team. To compete in the modern NFL, you have to recognize that the passing game is king, and build the roster accordingly. So, in all toss-up decisions, the tiebreaker was whichever player would help our offense throw the ball efficiency and explosively or our defense stop the opposing offense from doing the same.
Once again, we wanted our team to be as flexible as possible -- especially on defense, where the ability to disguise what you're doing and have players fill multiple roles depending on the snap is paramount. So, pass-catching running backs, receivers who could play on the perimeter or in the slot, defensive linemen who could flex to the edge or inside, linebackers who excel against the run and the pass, and safeties who could drop down into the box, play up high, or slide to the slot were all things that we looked for in building the roster.
All that said, a few quick notes before you get to the reveal of the full roster:
- The players (and coaches) selected at each position are not necessarily the best players (and coaches) at that particular position, but those who made the most sense on a roster where you can only (and must) take one representative from each team.
- The same is true of the players (and coaches) listed in the "also considered" section. Those players are also not listed in any particular order.
- For the first time, there were no "must-have" players or coaches on this year's team. That led to a significantly greater number of people being considered for roster spots, and also to my head spinning into the ground as I constructed various iterations of the roster. There may or may not have been a group email sent to the CBS staff that contained squads A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H, along with potential modifications I was considering for each unit. In a totally unrelated development, I'm taking some time off next weekend.
Without further ado, let's walk through our squad.
Head coach: John Harbaugh (Ravens)
Harbaugh has had tremendous success in Baltimore, compiling a 137-88 record that is good for the fifth-best mark in the NFL since he took over in 2008. In 14 seasons, he's taken the Ravens to the playoffs nine times, compiling an 11-8 postseason record and winning a Super Bowl with a quarterback who, to put it kindly, was not elite. Over the past few seasons, he has shown a willingness to adapt to his personnel that is likely unmatched by any other coach in the league. (The Ravens completely overhauled their offensive philosophy to mesh with Lamar Jackson's talents in the span of one offseason.) He's also consistently made aggressive decisions when it comes to things like fourth downs and two-point conversions, and as a former special teams coach, he'd likely make that a priority for our squad as well.
Also considered: Brandon Staley, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Kyle Shanahan, Frank Reich, Mike Vrabel, Mike Tomlin, Dan Campbell
Offensive coordinator: Shane Steichen (Eagles)
- 2021 (ineligible): Brian Daboll (Bills)
- 2020 (ineligible): Greg Roman (Ravens)
Steichen has only been an offensive coordinator for two seasons, but the way those two seasons have played out spark optimism for his future. He was at the helm in Los Angeles for Justin Herbert's remarkable rookie season, helping him to one of the best debut years any quarterback has ever had -- even though Herbert wasn't supposed to start before Tyrod Taylor's accidental collapsed lung forced him into action. Steichen was then part of the Eagles staff that did a hard pivot toward a run-heavy offense when it became clear that their pass-focused attack wasn't working early on during the 2021 season. Philly emerged as the best rushing team in the league behind its powerful offensive line, and made a run to the playoffs. A willingness to try new things when it's clear that Plan A will not be successful is a good quality to have, and Steichen's history working with a huge, mobile, do-everything quarterback will serve him well with the signal-caller on our team.
Also considered: Byron Leftwich, Kellen Moore, Scott Turner, Pete Carmichael, Brian Callahan, Pep Hamilton, Eric Bieniemy
Defensive coordinator: Don Martindale (Giants)
- 2021 (ineligible): Patrick Graham (Giants)
- 2020 (ineligible): Robert Saleh (49ers)
This might be a little bit awkward, considering Harbaugh just fired Martindale from his Ravens post this offseason. But he landed in New York under new Giants head coach Brian Daboll, and the Giants not having many good candidates for the roster, combined with us wanting to use players from other teams who would help more than their respective defensive coordinators, led us to reunite Martindale with his former boss. Before last season, Wink ran one of the best defenses in the NFL, and his style will mesh will with the personnel we've collected on defense. His experience using players in hybrid roles and utilizing unorthodox personnel groupings should be especially helpful. Unless all of our defensive backs get injured like Baltimore's did last year, Martindale's aggressive, multiple scheme will work just fine.
Also considered: Dan Quinn, Jonathan Gannon, Aaron Glenn, Joe Barry, Phil Snow, Raheem Morris, DeMeco Ryans, Leslie Frazier, Lou Anarumo, Shane Bowen
John Harbaugh (BAL)
Shane Steichen (PHI)
Don Martindale (NYG)
Offensive skill players
Quarterback: Josh Allen (Bills)
- 2021 (ineligible): Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
- 2020 (ineligible): Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs)
Allen is an outrageously talented player who over the last two seasons has blossomed into one of the most impactful players in the league. There is not a throw on the planet that he cannot make. Outside of Lamar Jackson, he is the best and most dynamic rushing threat at the position. He has shown a willingness -- eagerness, even -- to seek out big gains down the field, and to extend the play until the last moment, trying to see if an opportunity for such a shot opens up. There were versions of this roster where Justin Herbert was the quarterback, but the rest of the pieces didn't quite come together the same way they do with Allen here.
Running back: Jonathan Taylor (Colts)
Behind our offensive line, Taylor should be able to find plenty of success on the ground. He's not quite as good a pass catcher and someone like Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones, or D'Andre Swift, but A: Allen doesn't check down to his running backs that often because of his ability to make plays with his legs; and B: While leading the NFL in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, Taylor also saw 51 targets last year after getting 39 as a rookie -- and he looked more comfortable working in space. On screens and designed swing passes, he works just fine. Plus, if we really want to get the running back involved in the passing game in a big way, we've got other options. (More on that below.)
Perimeter receivers: Davante Adams (Raiders) and Justin Jefferson (Vikings)
- 2021 (ineligible): DK Metcalf (Seahawks) and A.J. Brown (Titans)
- 2020 (ineligible): DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals) and Mike Evans (Buccaneers)
Good luck to the cornerbacks who have to cover this duo. Adams and Jefferson can move all over the formation, and they win at every stage of the route -- from the release to the stem to the break to the catch point and then by creating yards after the catch. They are impeccable technicians and terrific athletes, and nobody has shown the ability to shut them down in any meaningful way. Adams' ability to work the sidelines should mesh well with Allen's rocket arm, and both his experience with Aaron Rodgers and Jefferson's with Joe Burrow should help on scramble-drill-style plays where Allen makes something happen outside of structure.
Slot receiver: Cooper Kupp (Rams)
Kupp was essentially uncoverable last season, as he went from being a close-to-the-line possession receiver to one of the most dynamic full-field threats in the league. Allen, like Matthew Stafford, can access just about any area of the field with his arm strength, so Kupp should be able to do many of the different things he did for the Rams last season. Allen's experience working on choice routes with Cole Beasley should serve him well in the transition to Kupp, who is bigger, stronger, faster, and better after the catch than the former Buffalo slot man. We can also get creative by moving him into the backfield to really stress opponents who will have to decide whether to cover him with a linebacker or safety or have a corner move into an uncomfortable spot on the interior of the defense, as the Rams did on occasion last year.
Tight ends: Travis Kelce (Chiefs) and Cole Kmet (Bears)
- 2021 (ineligible): George Kittle (49ers) and T.J. Hockenson (Lions)
- 2020 (ineligible): Zach Ertz (Eagles) and Darren Waller (Raiders)
Kelce is still the league's best pass-catching tight end. He had a bit of a midseason dip last year, but so did the entire Chiefs offense, and he then exploded down the stretch and in the playoffs. (He was also dealing with a stinger around the time of that dip. It probably wasn't a coincidence.) Playing with Allen also shouldn't be too much of an adjustment after working with Patrick Mahomes over the past few years. Kmet is our representative for the Bears, mostly because he fit the roster better than guys like Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson. He flashed some chain-moving ability last year and he's a huge target, so he can help in the red zone.
Offensive flex: Deebo Samuel (49ers)
- 2021 (ineligible): Ja'Marr Chase (Bengals)
- 2020 (ineligible): Kenny Golladay (Lions)
The NFL's ultimate flex player takes up the same role in our offense. Samuel reportedly doesn't want to be used as anything remotely resembling a full-time running back, and we don't need him to be. But the threat of him in the backfield is hell for defenses, and he is one of the best in the league at creating yards after the catch on screens and jet sweeps. And that's before you get to all that he can do as a regular ole wide receiver. Taylor-Adams-Jefferson-Kupp-Samuel-Kelce might be the best skill position group we've had in this exercise so far.
Josh Allen (BUF)
Jonathan Taylor (IND)
Davante Adams (LV), Justin Jefferson (MIN)
Cooper Kupp (LAR)
Travis Kelce (KC), Cole Kmet (CHI)
Deebo Samuel (SF)
Left tackle: Rashawn Slater (Chargers)
Slater earned his way onto this roster with a terrific rookie campaign. He was the offensive line equivalent of a Justin Jefferson or Ja'Marr Chase, immediately stepping in as one of the league's best at his position. He was one of only four tackles with a Pro Football Focus grade of 80 or better as both a pass blocker and run blocker last season, along with Tyron Smith, Trent Williams, and Jordan Mailata.
Left guard: Joel Bitonio (Browns)
- 2021 (ineligible): Ali Marpet (Buccaneers)
- 2020 (ineligible): Quenton Nelson (Colts)
Bitonio got off to a strong start to his NFL career but has finally begun getting recognized for his contributions over the past few seasons, making four consecutive Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams (three second, one first). He allowed just two sacks and 17 pressures all of last season, per PFF, and had arguably his best year overall.
Center: Frank Ragnow (Lions)
- 2021 (ineligible): Corey Linsley (Chargers)
- 2020 (ineligible): Brandon Linder (Jaguars)
Ragnow is coming off an injury-ruined 2021 campaign but he was a Second Team All-Pro in 2020, when he ranked third in PFF's grading and allowed only nine pressures all year. He's a bit better in the run game than as a pass blocker, but given the makeup of the rest of our unit up front, that's just fine.
Right guard: Alex Cappa (Bengals)
- 2021 (ineligible): Brandon Scherff (Commanders)
- 2020 (ineligible): Zack Martin (Cowboys)
Cappa has turned into a very solid right guard over the past few seasons, and given his age (27) likely still has room for improvement. He was one of the key pieces of Cincinnati's offensive line overhaul this offseason, and should team with Ted Karras and La'el Collins to dramatically upgrade the right side of the line in front of Burrow.
Right tackle: Tristan Wirfs (Buccaneers)
- 2021 (ineligible): Lane Johnson (Eagles)
- 2020 (ineligible): Jack Conklin (Browns)
Wirfs has been a star from the moment he stepped into the NFL. He was a deserving All-Pro a year ago, he's heading into his age-23 season, and he's already arguably the NFL's best player at his position. One key note: he was called for just three penalties all of last season, playoffs included.
Rashawn Slater (LAC)
Joel Bitonio (CLE)
Frank Ragnow (DET)
Alex Cappa (CIN)
Tristan Wirfs (TB)
- 2021 (ineligible): Brian Burns (Panthers) and Myles Garrett (Browns)
- 2020 (ineligible): Von Miller (Broncos) and Khalil Mack (Bears)
Nabbing the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a pretty good way to start your defense. Watt is widely considered either the best or second-best edge rusher in the NFL, and he's a lot more than just a sack master. He more than holds his own setting the edge against the run. Judon is more of a pure pass-rush type, but he's coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons and showed more flexibility in New England last year. Plus, our defensive coordinator (Martindale) has plenty of experience putting him in position to succeed, since he did just that in Baltimore for several seasons.
Also considered: Demarcus Lawrence, Rashan Gary, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Haason Reddick, Robert Quinn, Danielle Hunter, Cameron Jordan, Shaquil Barrett, Nick Bosa, Joey Bosa, Carl Lawson, Odafe Oweh, Harold Landry, Randy Gregory, Chandler Jones, Maxx Crosby, Trey Hendrickson
Interior defensive linemen: Jonathan Allen (Commanders) and Jeffery Simmons (Titans)
- 2021 (ineligible): DeForest Buckner (Colts) and Stephon Tuitt (Steelers)
- 2020 (ineligible): Aaron Donald (Rams) and J.J. Watt (Texans)
While the rest of the defensive line disappointed, Allen bounced back in a pretty big way last season. He notched a career-high nine sacks and 30 quarterback hits, while adding 10 tackles for loss. According to PFF, he also had 32 run stops and a 1.9% missed tackle rate, the latter of which ranked sixth best among interior defensive linemen. Simmons had a true breakout year in 2021, and if you're wondering what he can do, go turn on the tape of his total destruction of Cincinnati's offensive line in the playoffs, which had to be replaying in the Bengals' heads as they went on their offensive-line-focused spending spree this offseason.
Defensive front flex: Micah Parsons (Cowboys)
- 2021 (ineligible): Nicholas Morrow (Raiders)
- 2020 (ineligible): Kenny Clark (Packers)
Parsons may not actually be a human man. After not playing at all in 2020 and not playing as an edge rusher since high school, Parsons was far and away the NFL's best pass rusher last year -- as a rookie. He notched a sack (13), hit (29), or hurry (40) on 22.4% of his pass-rush snaps last season, according to TruMedia. That led the league by such a wide margin that the distance between him and second-place Trey Hendrickson was equivalent to the one between Hendrickson and Mario Addison in 48th place. Before Parsons, nobody who had rushed the passer at least 200 times in a season since 2018 had topped 20%. Oh, and rushing the passer wasn't even his primary job. He made outrageous plays against the run (credited with 58 stops by PFF, fourth most among all linebackers) and flashed high-level coverage ability at times, allowing only 7.6 yards per reception. He's an absurdly talented player who will make life extraordinarily difficult for opposing offenses for a long time.
T.J. Watt (PIT), Matthew Judon (NE)
Jonathan Allen (WAS), Jeffery Simmons (TEN)
Micah Parsons (DAL)
Linebackers: De'Vondre Campbell (Packers) and Foyesade Oluokun (Jaguars)
- 2021 (ineligible): Roquan Smith (Bears) and Demario Davis (Saints)
- 2020 (ineligible): Bobby Wagner (Seahawks) and Eric Kendricks (Vikings)
Campbell finally put it all together last season, harnessing his elite athleticism to become a fantastic coverage player who also roamed sideline to sideline making plays against the run. That's the player the Falcons envisioned when they drafted him; it just took a move to Green Bay to find it within him. Oluokun got a nice raise from the Jaguars this offseason after developing into a high-level starter for the Falcons. Whether or not it was wise to invest so much in an off-ball linebacker before using a high draft pick on two more (Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma) doesn't change the fact that Oluokun is damn good.
Outside corners: A.J. Terrell (Falcons) and Marshon Lattimore (Saints)
- 2021 (ineligible): Xavien Howard (Dolphins) and Kyle Fuller (Broncos)
- 2020 (ineligible): Tre'Davious White (Bills) and James Bradberry (Giants)
Speaking of the Falcons, how about A.J. Terrell? Arguably the single-best corner in the NFL last season, he was a true shutdown man. He allowed just 29 completions on 66 targets, an NFL-low (among corners who played 250-plus snaps) 6.9 yards per catch, and a hilarious 47.5 passer rating. And he doesn't turn 24 until September. We will take that on our team all day. Lattimore has his ups and downs but has as high a ceiling as any corner in the league, and he always brings it when he's up against high-level receivers. With our defensive coordinator wanting to bring a lot of pressure, we need physicality at the corner spot, and a willingness to play man on the outside.
Slot corner: Byron Murphy Jr. (Cardinals)
- 2021 (ineligible): Marlon Humphrey (Ravens)
- 2020 (ineligible): Chris Harris Jr. (Chargers)
Murphy doesn't have elite size, but he's feisty and willing to stick his nose in to make plays. He faded a bit down the stretch of last season, just like the rest of the Arizona defense (and offense, and coaching staff), but if you can unlock what he had going early in the season, there's a really nice player there.
Deep safety: Justin Simmons (Broncos)
- 2021 (ineligible): Marcus Maye (Jets)
- 2020 (ineligible): Minkah Fitzpatrick (Steelers)
Simmons is a high-level coverage player on the back end, and he has no problem coming down into the box to make some hits. He's made two All-Pro teams over the last three seasons, mixing in 14 picks and 35 pass deflections during that time. He's even shown some ability as a blitzer on the rare occasions he's been asked to go after the quarterback, generating eight pressures on just 18 pass-rush snaps over that three-year span. Plus, you can line him up in the box or over the slot and he can hold up just fine.
Box safety: Jeremy Chinn (Panthers)
- 2021 (ineligible): Budda Baker (Cardinals)
- 2020 (ineligible): Jamal Adams (Jets)
Chinn's off to a terrific start through his first two NFL seasons, and he made improvements in just about every area from Year 1 to Year 2. He's a big (6-3, 220 pounds), physical presence who can deliver big hits and make plays against the run while using his body to affect the short passing game. Given his athleticism, there are few tight ends he can't run with, and that should aid him as he develops as a coverage player.
Back seven flex: Jevon Holland (Dolphins)
- 2021 (ineligible): Jalen Ramsey (Rams)
- 2020 (ineligible): Kyle Van Noy (Dolphins)
If Parsons didn't exist, Holland would have been easily my favorite defensive rookie to watch last season. Miami moved him all over the formation, from free safety to the box to the slot and even weaponized him as a heavy blitzer. He finished with PFF's third-best coverage grade among safeties, as well as top 20 grades against the run and as a tackler. His 16 pressures were second among safeties only to teammate Brandon Jones, and five more than any player not on the Dolphins. Having a chess piece like Holland to move around on the back end is just fun, more than anything else.
A.J. Terrell (ATL), Marshon Lattimore (NO)
Byron Murphy (ARI)
Justin Simmons (DEN)
Jeremy Chinn (CAR)
Jevon Holland (MIA)
Returner: Braxton Berrios (Jets)
- 2021 (ineligible): Gunner Olszewski (Patriots)
- 2020 (ineligible): Adoree' Jackson (Titans)
Berrios was the All-Pro return man last season, averaging 30.4 yards per kick return and 13.4 yards per punt return. While the Jets have a bunch of intriguing young players whose futures could be bright, none of them made for very good fits for this type of team as they have yet to become star-level contributors. Therefore, Berrios (FROM? THE U!) was a fairly easy choice for this roster.
Also considered: None
Punter: Michael Dickson (Seahawks)
- 2021 (ineligible): Logan Cooke (Jaguars)
- 2020 (ineligible): Tress Way (Commanders)
Kicker: Ka'imi Fairbairn (Texans)
- 2021 (ineligible): Younghoe Koo (Falcons)
- 2020 (ineligible): Randy Bullock (Bengals)
The Seahawks and Texans were the last two teams with no representatives.
Also considered: None
Braxton Berrios (NYJ)
Michael Dickson (SEA)
Ka'imi Fairbairn (HOU)
|Head Coach||John Harbaugh (BAL)|
|Off. Coordinator||Shane Steichen (PHI)|
|Def. Coordinator||Don Martindale (NYG)|
|Quarterback||Josh Allen (BUF)|
|Running Back||Jonathan Taylor (IND)|
|Perimeter WR||Davante Adams (LV)|
|Perimeter WR||Justin Jefferson (MIN)|
|Slot WR||Cooper Kupp (LAR)|
|Tight End||Travis Kelce (KC)|
|Tight End||Cole Kmet (CHI)|
|Off. Flex||Deebo Samuel (SF)|
|Left Tackle||Rashawn Slater (LAC)|
|Left Guard||Joel Bitonio (CLE)|
|Center||Frank Ragnow (DET)|
|Right Guard||Alex Cappa (CIN)|
|Right Tackle||Tristan Wirfs (TB)|
|Edge Rusher||T.J. Watt (PIT)|
|Interior DL||Jonathan Allen (WAS)|
|Interior DL||Jeffery Simmons (TEN)|
|Edge Rusher||Matthew Judon (NE)|
|Def. Front Flex||Micah Parsons (DAL)|
|Off-ball LB||De'Vondre Campbell (GB)|
|Off-ball LB||Foyesade Oluokun (JAX)|
|Perimeter CB||A.J. Terrell (ATL)|
|Perimeter CB||Marshon Lattimore (NO)|
|Slot CB||Byron Murphy (ARI)|
|Deep Safety||Justin Simmons (DET)|
|Box Safety||Jeremy Chinn (CAR)|
|Back Seven Flex||Jevon Holland (MIA)|
|Returner||Braxton Berrios (NYJ)|
|Punter||Michael Dickson (SEA)|
|Kicker||Ka'imi Fairbairn (HOU)|