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The Five-on-Five NFL Challenge

What pro franchise would have the best five-man football team? Our panel of experts decides.

Getty Images/Elias Stein
Getty Images/Elias Stein

Do you ever watch the NFL and think to yourself, “Are we sure all these guys need to be out here at once?” What if you could take the most interesting, athletic, versatile group of players from an NFL team and put them on a five-man squad? Each player would play both sides of the ball, and would run the most primal and basic of football plays. This would also provide us with an opportunity to completely remix coaching. We need different coaches. The Ringer staff did a loose draft, and these are the five-man teams we came up with. Leave your own five-man teams in the comments, and be sure to come back Friday to see the reader-response post.

Oakland Raiders

Five-man team: Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Karl Joseph
Coach: Lane Kiffin

Kevin Clark: A five-man team would suit the ultra-athletic Raiders well: They would get to keep their freak athletes and dump the bad defenders who’ve played terribly this year. It’s a team of combine warriors who are also awesome football players. Carr can jump 34.5 inches in the air, Mack (who was All-Pro at TWO positions last year) can jump 40 inches high, Amari Cooper ran one of the best 20-yard shuttles in history, and Karl Joseph will hurt you.

Arizona Cardinals

Five-man team: Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, David Johnson, Chandler Jones, Deone Bucannon
Coach: Bruce Arians’s Hat

Mallory Rubin: This is an unfair exercise. My colleagues had to rack their brains, but I barely had to try. I already know that cornerback Patrick Peterson is the best wide receiver in football:

I’m already well aware that safety Tyrann Mathieu has the vision of a Hall of Fame running back and the grace of a gazelle:

I’m all caught up on running back David Johnson being a better tackler than the guys trying to tackle him:

I’m current on Chandler Jones’s special teams wizardry:

And I read The Ringer, so I know linebacker Deone Bucannon is the face of post-position football:

I win.

Los Angeles Rams

Five-man team: Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Tavon Austin, Todd Gurley, Alec Ogletree
Coach: Larry Brown

Tate Frazier: Robert Quinn (4.70), Tavon Austin (4.34), Aaron Donald (4.68), Alec Ogletree (4.70), Todd Gurley (4.40).

Forty-yard-dash times translate to any field, pitch, court, or sport. Unless you’re playing golf, because that’s a course. Otherwise, you’re set with speed. These guys are all natural athletes who have freakish speed. I’ll take them over any other team. And if it doesn’t go well, we’ll be the quickest team to hit the locker room.

New England Patriots

Five-man team: Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty
Coach: Bill Belichick, with co-defensive coordinators Rob and Rex Ryan

Robert Mays: Every player on the Patriots already plays about five positions, so this should be seamless. Julian Edelman is a former college quarterback that might be a better passer than half of the league’s starters, and his ability to play corner goes beyond speculation. He’s actually done it. Gronk is … well, Gronk. And Jamie Collins can be a linebacker on first down, a safety on second down, and a defensive end on third down. Plus, that blood pact they’ve already signed with the devil can’t hurt.

Minnesota Vikings

Five-man team: Jerick McKinnon, Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs, Trae Waynes, Marcus Sherels
Coach: Tim Tebow

Danny Kelly: You wouldn’t believe me, but my team can run like the wind blows. Defending these guys would be like trying to catch an Australian Shepherd that doesn’t want to be caught. And good luck breaking down, chopping your feet, and making an open-field tackle on these wiley fuckers: McKinnon (4.41 in the 40), a former college option quarterback, is clearly the signal-caller here, but we’re running custom Coach Tebow–designed wildcat, triple-option, and single-wing looks. It’s all about making plays in space; Patterson (4.42) is the power back, Waynes (4.31) is the scat-back, and Sherels (4.37) will run misdirection jet-sweeps on every play. Diggs (4.46) will hike the ball and run straight downfield as a pass option, just to keep the defense from crowding the line of scrimmage.

Golden State Warriors

Five-man team: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala
Coach: Steve Kerr

Ryan O’Hanlon: Football might be a better fit for them since you can’t blow a 3–1 lead when the championship is only one game.

Seattle Seahawks

Five-man team: Doug Baldwin, Thomas Rawls, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett
Coach: Marshawn Lynch

Micah Peters: Russell Wilson can come, too, I guess, as long as we can duct tape his mouth and repeal the ban on tinted visors, so that I don’t have to listen to him talk about chastity or John Mayer or “nanobubbles” or look at him for any length of time. Wilson is questionable anyway and Rawls’s fibula is in two pieces, but O’Hanlon picked the Golden State Warriors so since this is Nam and there are no rules Marshawn Lynch will be my coach. At some point he’ll get fed up with the sputtering offense and sub himself in to rush for 377 yards and eight touchdowns because he definitely still has it.

New York Jets

Five-man team: Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Quincy Enunwa, Matt Forte, Calvin Pryor
Coach: Stan Van Gundy

Sam Schube: The Jets have a thrilling set of big-boy receivers, but the Harvard Interception Experiment they’ve got at quarterback doesn’t care to take advantage. Screw him. Time to play SlamBall.

The Yinzers

Five-man team: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Mike Tomlin, Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell
Coach: Peyton Manning

Katie Baker: Player-coach Mike Tomlin can make a sneaky second option at receiver for The Roethlisbergunslinger — that is, when he isn’t busy blocking, chirping, or devising the sort of harebrained, Antonio Brown–reliant schemes that will light 5-on-5 football on fire. (“You are off script all the time” is this thought experiment’s entire mantra.) Jarvis Jones will show off for scouts, and Peyton Manning will be the quintessential rec-sport sideline manager: overinvested, otherwise underemployed, but secretly chill as hell that one time you manage to get him out to Le’Veon Bell’s postgame tailgate.

New York Giants

Five-man Team: Eli Manning, Eli Apple, Jason Pierre-Paul, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz
Coach: Victor Cruz

Shea Serrano: The Giants have everything you need for a perfect five-man football team. They’ve got a QB you can trust (Eli is occasionally a doofus but he is a fearless doofus, so I’ll take him), two handsome gentlemen you can just chuck the ball up to (Odell and Victor, each of whom is compelling for entirely different reasons), a powerhouse who is missing half of one of his hands (JPP), and a guy named after a piece of fruit (Eli Apple). Give me the Giants, then give me the trophy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Five-man team: Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler, Denard Robinson, T.J. Yeldon
Coach: Kliff Kingsbury

Chris Ryan: Denard Robinson drove into a pond (he’s OK); Myles Jack might need microfracture surgery down the line (he might not be OK), but he already knows how to play both sides of the ball; Dante Fowler is coming off knee surgery but will definitely be the guy who ruins a chill 5-on-5 game by baptizing some poor soul; and Jalen Ramsey TALKED TRASH TO STEVE SMITH. No fear. Name on the trophy. This is how we practice:

Tennessee Titans

Five-man team: Jack Conklin, Jack Conklin, Jack Conklin, Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan
Coach: Mike Mularkey

Mike Mularkey: Could use a few more spots on this team to add in more linemen.

Houston Texans

Five-man team: J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller
Coach: Ed Orgeron

Michael Baumann: The Plan: Get big guys with wheels for Miller to run behind (sometimes literal wheels — since Watt’s back is shot now, I’m putting him in a dune buggy), with Hopkins as a deep threat to keep the defense from crowding the box. Downfield blocking is the key here — I want the announcer to yell “He’s got a convoy!” at least once per drive.

Dallas Cowboys

Five-man team: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, Doug Free
Coach: Ed Orgeron

Jonathan Tjarks: Let’s get the best offensive line in the NFL in on this. With the exception of Free, they are all young and really athletic and they can just grab, hold, and beat all these little receivers up. I’d bet Tyron Smith could legitimately run routes and cover in space. I saw him at a Mavs game and he looked like an NBA power forward. There are a lot of linemen who move well for a big guy. Tyron is a freak athlete who just happens to be 300-plus pounds. All the weight is perfectly proportioned on his body. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Carolina Panthers

Five-man team: Fozzy Whittaker (point guard), Cam Newton (Russell Westbrook), Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin (my athletic forwards), Luke Kuechly (banger center)
Coach: Bill Belichick

Bill Simmons: My bad: I thought we were picking a basketball team. I still like my guys!