Even in a normal offseason, June and July are a bit of a dead period in the NFL calendar. That is felt now more than ever, and it's forced content creators to really tap into their creativity.
ESPN is filling the early days of June by compiling lists of the best offensive and defensive players in the NFL based on the conference they played in while at college. The rosters are comprised of 11 players on the offensive and defensive side of the balls, including a flex player.
Three Atlanta Falcons players were included among the NFL ultimate all-conference teams, which consisted of a team for each of the Power 5 conferences as well as one non-Power 5 roster. The three Falcons chosen shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone, as they've been among the very best players at their respective positions during their careers.
Alex Mack was chosen as the starting center for the Pac-12 all-conference team; Grady Jarrett was chosen as one of the two defensive tackles on the ACC all-conference team, and Julio Jones is listed as one of the two wide receivers on the SEC all-conference team. ESPN made sure to note that Jones was the only unanimous choice for the SEC team among the running backs and receivers chosen.
A few fun things to point out from these all-conference team lineups:
- Jarrett is paired with Aaron Donald on the interior of the ACC team's defensive line – good luck.
- The SEC's skill positions are manned by Jones, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Derrick Henry and Jared Cook.
- Seven of Mack's offensive teammates on the Pac-12 team are players the Falcons will face during the 2020 season.
There are a few Falcons players who might have cases for inclusion on these all-conference teams.
Matt Ryan, a former NFL MVP, was beaten out by the reigning NFL MVP – Lamar Jackson. He's in decent company among the also-rans, though, as Deshaun Watson and Philip Rivers were also passed over.
The days of SEC running backs flaming out in the NFL might be a thing of the past, as there were some great candidates for ESPN to pick from. Although Henry ultimately was the choice, the site acknowledges that Todd Gurley was also in consideration along with his former Georgia backfield partner Nick Chubb and New Orleans star Alvin Kamara. At his peak, Gurley is probably the choice here.
While it's tough to argue with Laremy Tunsil's place as one of the two offensive tackles on the SEC's team, Jake Matthews might have a gripe about losing out to Andrew Whitworth for the other spot. While Whitworth has been a great player throughout his lengthy NFL career, the 38-year-old didn't play at the same level as Matthews in 2019.
It's perhaps Deion Jones who should hold the biggest grudge against the voters of the SEC all-conference team. Bears linebacker Roquan Smith was selected alongside C.J. Mosley for the two linebacker spots, but Smith's numbers, while very good in his two NFL seasons, don't stand up to Jones's. Smith has 222 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, seven pass defenses and two interceptions since joining the Bears in 2018. Meanwhile, Jones had 246 tackles, 21 pass defenses, 14 tackles for a loss, six interceptions and two touchdowns in his first two seasons, and he's been playing at a similarly high level throughout his career.
Former San Diego State star Damontae Kazee could have pushed for one of the two safety spots on the non-Power 5 roster, given his incredible propensity to create turnovers. Ultimately, Kevin Byard and Jimmie Ward were the choices, and while Byard is one of the best safeties in the game, Kazee already has eight more career interceptions than Ward and might have a legitimate case for this roster in a season or two.