The NFL is a league made up of superior athletes, but there are a few who shine a little bit brighter than the rest. With the 2012 season slowly but surely approaching, some NFL stars will continue to lead the rest of the pack.
LeSean McCoy is a vital piece of a Philadelphia Eagles with high expectations. Calvin Johnson is the new Madden cover boy. McCoy, Johnson and others will continue to dominate the NFL in 2012.
LeSean McCoy had an outstanding 2011 season. The running back lit up the football field with 273 rushing attempts for 1,309 yards. He finished fourth in the league for rushing yards and fifth for yards per game (87.3). The Eagles' breakout star also led the NFL with 17 touchdowns. In addition, he contributed 48 receptions for three touchdowns and 315 yards.
The fourth-year running back has been compared to Barry Sanders in his running style, which is quick and elusive. McCoy will continue to dominate in 2012 because not only is he Michael Vick's best weapon, but he also hasn't even reached his prime. He's the best playmaker on an extremely talented Philadelphia team. The Eagles are poised for a title run in the 2012-13 season, and McCoy will be a key piece to their success.
I probably overplayed (LeSean) McCoy a little bit, even though he doesn't want to hear that. As he continues to get older and have the number of reps under his belt that he does, you'll want to back off the number of reps that he does.
However, don't think less touches means McCoy will be any less dominant. Reid simply wants to get more in the long run out of his electrifying running back. The head coach tried the same approach with retired running back Brian Westbrook and ended up getting eight years out of him. Besides, it's easy to talk about limiting McCoy's touches in the spring, but when the Eagles are pushing for a title run in the winter, that might change.
Calvin Johnson put up career-high stats across the board in 2011. He had 96 receptions for a league-best 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Johnson averaged 17.5 yards per reception and 105.1 yards per game, the best in the NFL. He became the third player in NFL history with at least 95 receptions, 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season, joining Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.
It's no wonder the Detroit Lions' wide receiver was voted to be the cover boy for Madden NFL 13, beating out Rookie of the Year Cam Newton. Nonetheless, don't expect Johnson to fall victim to the Madden Curse in 2012.
The Lions run a pass-first offense through quarterback Matthew Stafford, giving Johnson plenty of opportunities to make a difference on the field. The 26-year-old is at the prime of his career and won't be slowing down anytime soon.
Detroit is on the road to becoming an elite NFL team. In fact, last season the Lions had their first playoff appearance in 12 years. Expect Johnson to continue to dominate at his position, leading his team to another playoff berth.
Aaron Rodgers owned the NFL in 2011. He set the record for quarterback rating in a single season with 122.5. His completion rating of 68.3 was second in the league. He also threw for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns.
While his passing game was close to perfect, his running game was almost as good. Rodgers averaged 4.3 yards per carry and finished the season with three rushing touchdowns. The only quarterbacks to run more than him were Michael Vick and Cam Newton.
Rodgers is at the physical peak of his career, and the combination of his consistency, skill and drive put him one step ahead of the rest.
With no signs of slowing down, the reigning MVP is poised to have another spectacular season in 2012. Not only is Rodgers the best quarterback in the NFL, but he's also arguably the best player overall. At just 28 years old, Rodgers still has a lot left in him to give, as well as the offensive weapons to help him.
Justin Smith has been a top defensive end in the NFL for years, but after the 49ers' 2011 success, he is finally getting the attention he deserves. Smith had 58 tackles in the regular season, including 45 solo and 7.5 sacks.
Pro Football Focus named Smith the No. 2 player in the league in their Top 101 Players of 2011, second to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. While Smith hasn't won Defensive Player of the Year yet, it wouldn't be a surprise if he took home the award next season.
Smith is a key player in the 49ers' core group of playmakers, along with Patrick Willis and Alex Smith. San Francisco is poised to have another excellent season in 2012. As the team continues to succeed and bask in the limelight, Smith will continue to dominate on the defensive end.