2012 NFL Wild Card Playoffs: Naming the Best Player at Each Position

Joe Rapolla Jr.Featured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2012

2012 NFL Wild Card Playoffs: Naming the Best Player at Each Position

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    Some of the teams that have made it to the 2012 NFL Playoffs possess some of the best players in the league, while some of them do not.

    The New England Patriots, for example, will send eight players to the Pro Bowl, while the Denver Broncos will send just three.

    Let's take a look at the teams that will play on Wild Card Weekend, the No. 3 to No. 6 seeds in each conference, and name the best players at every position.  

Kicker: Jason Hanson, Detroit Lions

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    Jason Hanson is an NFL journeyman, yet he hasn't lost a step. 

    His field-goal percentage this season is a solid 82.8 percent. He's also kicked off more than ever in his career, due to the Lions' powerful and explosive offense that frequently finds the end zone. 

    He really has a "leg up" on his competition. 

Punter: Britton Colquitt, Denver Broncos

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    Britton Colquitt gets a lot of practice, mostly because Denver's offense is so ineffective. 

    Colquitt has booted 101 punts this season, 33 of which have landed behind the 20-yard line. Between Colquitt, kicker Matt Prater and Denver's defense, the Broncos are a hot pick to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. 

Return Specialist: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Antonio Brown is an emerging star at wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he has also been a very effective punt and kick returner. 

    With 737 kick return yards and 325 punt return yards this season, he is in the very top tier of all players in the league. 

    His Pro Bowl bid as the return specialist was well-deserving, and he should definitely prove to make some exciting plays on Sunday. 

Cornerback: Johnathan Joseph, Houston Texans

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    Johnathan Joseph is finally starting to get recognition as one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the league. He took a major risk in signing with the Houston Texans, whose defense was pitiful last season. 

    The addition of Joseph has helped to turn the Houston Texans defense into one of the league's best. He has four picks on the year and has forced one fumble. 

    His stats would be even better if opposing quarterbacks didn't avoid throwing in his direction.

    He'll face his former squad, the Cincinnati Bengals, on Saturday. It's sure to be an interesting storyline.  

Safety: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    He's a commercial star and the leader of a very physical Pittsburgh Steelers defense, yet Troy Polamalu's success and popularity has come from nowhere or no one except himself.

    He was a college star at the University of Southern California, and while his may have have bought him some extra looks from spectators, it was his on-field play that attracted the attention of NFL scouts.

    Polamalu's career has been nothing but a success, and this season was no exception. While he tied his career low for interceptions with two, he accumulated 91 tackles, a career high.

    His athleticism and focus on the field makes him one of the most dangerous and unpredictable defensive players for opposing offenses.  

Linebacker: Von Miller, Denver Broncos

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    He's only a rookie, yet Von Miller has defined himself as one of the league's best linebackers. 

    For the Denver Broncos, he primarily plays the outside linebacker position and is used often as a pass-rusher. In this role, he has been extremely effective. 

    He's forced two fumbles this season and has sacked quarterbacks 11.5 times. He should also be a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Geno Atkins has quietly done a very good job in holding up the middle part of Cincinnati's defensive front seven. 

    His 7.5 sacks have gone largely unnoticed, and he and fellow defensive tackle Domata Peko have a combined 113 tackles. That's fantastic for a defensive tackle tandem. 

    At 6'1", Atkins is an extremely small defensive tackle, yet he makes up for it in weight (300 pounds), strength and speed. 

Defensive End: Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

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    JPP is as commonly used an acronym as FYI in the New York area nowadays. A morning sports radio show doesn't air without the anchors praising the performance of the Giants defensive end. 

    The second-year player out of South Florida came out of nowhere to become yet another All-Star on the Giants defensive line. 

    His 16.5 sacks are good for third-best in the league, and when you put him on the defensive line with Justin Tuck and the healthy Osi Umenyiora, you have to fear the Giants. 

Quarterback: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    71.2 passing percentage. 

    5,476 passing yards, good for a new single-season record. 

    46 touchdown passes. 

    Only 14 interceptions. 

    One rushing touchdown. 

    An ugly birthmark that for some reason looks cool on him. 

    The pride of New Orleans. 

    Need I say more? 

Guard: Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints

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    Carl Nicks has done a great job of protecting his MVP quarterback, Drew Brees

    The entire New Orleans offensive line has been tremendous this season, allowing Darren Sproles to prosper out of the backfield and giving Brees plenty of time to make his 468 completions. 

    At 6'5" and 343 pounds, Nicks is a tough guy to get around. He's a well-deserving Pro Bowler. 

Tackle: Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans Saints

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    When you protect the blind side of the best quarterback in the league, you deserve a pat on the back. 

    That is what Jermon Bushrod got this year, earning the first Pro Bowl invitation of his career. 

    Drew Brees was only sacked 24 times this season, and a large part of that is due to Bushrod's consistent play. 

Center: Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Maurkice Pouncey has had an amazingly successful stint in the NFL throughout his first two seasons. 

    Despite battling some injuries that cost him two games this year, Pouncey has still played incredibly reliably for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Very few players as young as he is play the center position with such comfort. 

    The transition at center could have been a tough one for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, yet Pouncey made the change flawless for Pittsburgh. 

Running Back: Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Arian Foster is currently known as the running back who broke out and won a lot of people fantasy football championships last season. Now, he has a chance to make himself known as a dominant postseason runner. 

    Players are remembered for their postseason play, and Foster needs to transfer his regular-season dominance onto the field on Saturday. 

    With fourth-string quarterback Jake Delhomme starting for the Houston Texans on Sunday, Foster needs to shoulder the load of the offense and solidify his star status. 

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, New York Giants

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    There's never to much to say about fullbacks; they do the brunt work on the offense that goes largely unnoticed. 

    To have a solid blocking fullback is an unquestionable fixture for an offense who looks to succeed, yet to have one who can break free and make a big run for you when you need it, well that's just huge. 

    Henry Hynoski is this man for the New York Giants. 99 percent of the time he'll just quietly make blocks that drive the offense. Every once in a while, however, he pumps up the offense with a big, athletic run. 

Wide Receiver: Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson

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    Writing about Calvin Johnson is an easy job, because not much needs to be said and he needs no introduction. His nickname is "Megatron," for crying out loud!

    His unique mix of size, strength and physicality makes him a threat to any defense. He's a huge target for Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, and a huge reason why the Lions offense has blown up this season. 

    He has an amazing 1,681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns this season. 

Tight End: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    Jimmy Graham has potential to be one of the best tight ends that the NFL has ever seen. He has greater size, yet also more speed and athleticism than you almost ever see in a tight end.

    At 6'6" and 260 pounds, Graham isn't built like a tight end or a wide receiver; he's built like a basketball player. This is exactly what he excelled at in college at the University of Miami. It's only fitting that he commonly will "dunk" the ball over the field-goal posts after scoring a touchdown.

    He's caught 11 touchdowns this season, so it would be no surprise to see Graham dunk once or twice on Saturday when the New Orleans Saints take on the Detroit Lions.