Analysts and fans put tons of effort into evaluating the careers of professional football players, making lists and writing thinkpieces and comparing achievements -- but no outside observer can ever hope to match the intimate knowledge shared by those who actually spent time on an NFL field together.
In this series, former players who work for NFL Network will name the five best players they each individually played with in their careers. Note that these lists are completely subjective, based on factors that only contemporary colleagues could fairly evaluate, like locker-room influence and impact as a teammate, in addition to skill sets and in-game production. Which means they will be packed with surprises -- and they'll be more interesting than a simple recitation of the most obviously accomplished past teammates. (Note also that the personal nature of this exercise means the absence of a high-profile ex-teammate or two SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS A SNUB.)
Below, former NFL offensive tackle Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns, 2007-2017) provides his ranking of the top players he played with, listed in reverse order:
5) Phil Dawson, K, retired
Dawson was Thomas' teammate from 2007-2012 with the Cleveland Browns.
Kickers probably aren't a popular pick for this exercise, but I have to include Dawson. He's one of the greatest kickers the league has ever seen, in my opinion. An undrafted player, he played for 20 seasons and finished his career ranked seventh in NFL history in regular-season games played (305), eighth in field goals made (441), 11th in points (1,847) and 20th in field goal percentage (83.8). It's one thing to be a great kicker when you're playing in warm weather or in a dome, but what separated him was his ability to nail a kick no matter the conditions: rain, snow, sleet, wind. You name it. And with poor weather sometimes comes a beat-up field, but he found a way to be effective. That's a testament to his process, ability to overcome variables and work to build muscle memory to execute kick after kick.