2012 NFL: Every AFC Team's Strongest Position

Dan Snyder@@dsnyder34Correspondent IMay 23, 2012

2012 NFL: Every AFC Team's Strongest Position

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    Different coaches have different philosophies on how to build their teams. 

    Bill Belichick and the Pats used to be all about the defense, but now have taken a more offensive approach, while the Steelers and Ravens seem content slugging it out with each other in some old fashioned beat-downs.   

    Whatever your prerogative, every team in this league (yes even the Cleveland Browns) has a strong point. 

    So let's dive in and find out what your favorite AFC team's best position might be. 

Buffalo Bills: Defensive Line

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    One could have made a case for the running backs with Fred Jackson coming off an injury and C.J. Spiller playing pretty well at the end of 2011, but with the offseason the Bills had, it's hard to ignore that big defensive line. 

    The biggest of these moves comes in the form of former number one overall pick Mario Williams taking his talents to Buffalo. 

    In his six seasons (formerly with Houston), Williams has recorded 53 sacks and forced 11 fumbles. Add him to a line that already boasts defensive tackle Marcel Dareus and returns Kyle Williams from injury

    I also love the signing of Mark Anderson to compete with Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay for the starting spot opposite Williams.  

    Buffalo only mustered up 29 total sacks last season with Kyle Williams sidelined and Dareus leading the way with 5.5. The Bills now have a legitimate pass rush to put pressure on Tom Brady and bring down the Patriots dynasty. 

Miami Dolphins: Running Back

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    This was a pretty tough call considering the Dolphins aren't very good or deep at any single position, but running back really stood out to me. 

    Last year, Reggie Bush exploded back onto the NFL scene as he rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his pro career and scored seven total touchdowns. Bush looked like the guy all the scouts raved about in Southern California back in 05-06 and really carried Miami to a few wins. 

    But he wasn't the only guy getting it done. 

    In his first NFL season, 2nd rounder Daniel Thomas proved to be a nice spell back for the Fins. Thomas gained over 500 yards on the ground, but disappointed somewhat as he failed to reach the end zone on the ground. 

    The Dolphins also drafted University of Miami running back Lamar Miller to add depth behind Bush, Thomas and Steve Slaton. 

    Miami's going to need these running backs this year as their quarterback and receiver situations look pretty bleak. Look for Bush to get most of the touches and Thomas to be a situational guy, including touches on the goal line. 

New England Patriots: Wide Receiver

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    Talk about loading up at one position. That's exactly what the Patriots did at wide receiver this offseason. 

    After retaining Wes Welker and Chad Ochocinco, New England re-signed Deion Branch and brought in veterans like Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez to make one of the league's top receiving corps. 

    It's hard to imagine there's any better position for the Pats then the combo of Gronk and Hernandez, but anytime you can come out and have five legitimate starters on your receiving depth chart...well let's just call that another win for an already-dominant offense. 

    It looks like Welker and Lloyd will be the two starters with Branch, Ochocinco and Stallworth leading the next wave.

    Guys like Stallworth and Ochocinco might not make the team, but if they do, New England will finally be able to move their sixth receiver, Julian Edelman, permanently to defensive back.  

New York Jets: Cornerback

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    I really struggled between the corners and the Sanchez-Tebow combo at quarterback, but in the end, I had to go with Revis and company. 

    Clearly that was sarcasm, but seriously, the Jets might have the best trio of corners in the NFL. 

    That obviously starts on Revis Island. 

    It's become pretty apparent that Darrelle Revis is the most feared corner in the league today, and that's critical considering all the talent at receiver in the NFL. He's made the Pro Bowl each of the last four years and was a first-team All-Pro selection the past three seasons. 

    But he's not the only player helping the Jets on the outside. 

    Like him or not, Antonio Cromartie is still playing corner at a very high level. His biggest problem in New York is that Revis plays opposite him. That forces quarterbacks to throw more balls Cromartie's way, making him look worse then he actually is. 

    Kyle Wilson, a former first round pick, also happens to play for the Jets and really came into his own last season hauling in his first two career interceptions and defending six passes. 

    The Jets need these corners in the worst way in 2012 especially. It seems like everyone in the division minus the Dolphins made their receiving corps better. New York will have to find a way to stop them. 

Baltimore Ravens: Defensive Tackle

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    Call it crazy, but the Ravens aren't overly strong at any one position...they're just really solid at all of them. 

    I went with defensive tackle for a few BIG reasons.

    The biggest of those reasons was Haloti Ngata. Ngata is a household name if you watch football and rightfully so. He's an absolute monster up front and causes mayhem wherever he's stationed.

    Ngata made his third straight Pro Bowl last season after recording 68 total tackles, 5 sacks and forcing two fumbles.

    But it's not just Ngata that makes the Ravens' defensive tackles great.

    Nose tackle Terrance Cody came on strong in his second year and helped lead Baltimore's defense to rank second in the league against the run.

    It's a shame the team lost out on Cory Redding in free agency, but the combination of Ngata and Cody is a frightening sight for any opposing running back.  

Cincinnati Bengals: Cornerback

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    Cincy was one of the NFL's biggest surprises last season. That resurgence was led mostly by their defense and that defense got a lot better this offseason. 

    Some of the main targets in free agency and the draft were at cornerback.

    After losing Jonathan Joseph in free agency following the 2010 season, most expected the Bengals pass defense to fall off last year. But even with a season-ending Achilles injury to top corner Leon Hall, the Bengals finished the season ranked ninth in pass yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed.

    The team followed up their success in 2011 by adding former Cowboy Terrance Newman and drafting Alabama standout Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round.

    Although Newman, Nate Clements and "Pacman" Jones are getting older and Hall may not be ready to start the year, the Bengals have enough depth in the secondary to get by until they're at full strength.

    Defensive tackle also should get noted here as Geno Atkins led all DT's in sacks while Domata Peko led the position in tackles.   

Cleveland Browns: Defensive Tackle

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    Looking at the Browns roster, they're not very deep anywhere. 

    But one place they have loaded up the past few seasons via the draft is at the defensive front. 

    Last year the team traded back and took big Phil Taylor from Baylor who Browns fans looked forward to seeing this year. Unfortunately, Taylor will be out indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle.

    It's a good thing that the Browns loaded up at the position in the draft with two players to note.

    Cleveland took John Hughes from Cincinnati in the third round and Billy Winn out of Boise State in the sixth. Both rookies will look to battle it out to fill Taylor's shoes and some have even reported that Winn has the upper hand.

    The Browns also host one of the most underrated interior defensive linemen in the entire league in Ahtyba Rubin.

    Rubin, a four-year vet, quietly racked up 83 tackles and five sacks last season including 26 tackles and two sacks in four games against the Steelers and Ravens.

    Rubin will have to be the leader of the young defensive linemen in 2012 and look to be a bright spot in what could be a dim year in Cleveland.  

Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide Receiver

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    Who would have ever thought that with the traditional, hard-nosed pound-it-out mentality of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization that wide receiver would ever be the deepest and best position on the team's roster. 

    Well, in 2012, that's absolutely the case. 

    Despite the contract situation that has loomed large for months, Mike Wallace is still a Steeler and still one of the best deep threats in the league. The former third-round pick recorded his second straight 1,000 yard season and played in his first Pro Bowl in 2012. 

    Fresh faces also lent a hand to the Steelers new passing attack. 

    Antonio Brown exploded onto the NFL scene last year, recording his first 1,000 yard campaign on 69 catches. 

    The Steelers also look to be in pretty good shape behind their two starters. 

    Third year man Emmanuel Sanders and veteran Jericho Cotchery add great depth behind Wallace and Brown with Cotchery stepping into the role of veteran leader left by the retirement of Hines Ward.

    With all the receiving weapons on this team and starting running back Rashard Mendenhall sidelined for a majority of the season, don't be surprised if the Steelers offense has a new look to it in 2012.  

Houston Texans: Defensive End

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    In their first season under defensive coordinator Wade Philips, the Texan defense shined. Houston finished the year ranked number two in total defense, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers in that category. 

    One of the biggest reasons the team was so successful under Philips and the new 4-3 scheme was because of the play of their ends. 

    J.J. Watt, the team's first round pick in 2011, was an absolute stud last year. He racked up 68 total tackles and 5.5 sacks while living in the opponents backfield all season long. 

    His compliment on the other side wasn't to shabby either. 

    Eight-year vet Antonio Smith reeled in six sacks and forced a fumble all while helping to lead the Texans to the fourth best rush defense in the league. 

    In the fourth round of this year's draft, Houston stole Nebraska end Jared Crick who, if not injured for the better part of last college season, would have most likely gone in the late first to early second round. Crick has now began to draw comparisons to his new teammate Watt and gives the Texans a lethal weapon and a nice rotation piece. 

Indianapolis Colts: Defensive End

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    This one was a bit of a struggle and I almost ended up going with the pair of rookies at tight end, but, barring the team's inevitable move to a 3-4 under new head coach Chuck Pagano, defensive end is really all the Colts have to rely on this coming season.

    After the purging of the team this offseason, one of the only things that remains from the Colts "glory days" is their two, Pro Bowl caliber ends.

    Although he's well past his prime, Dwight Freeney is still one of the best pass rushers in the game.

    Freeney now has accumulated 102.5 sacks in his 10-year career and looks to continue that progress going forward. Although he only managed 8.5 last season, Freeney is still a threat to any quarterback he faces.

    His partner in crime over the last nine seasons, Robert Mathis, out-deuled his counter part last season, leading the team with 9.5 sacks and recovering three fumbles.

    Indy also spent a first round pick on former TCU end Jerry Hughes who has a ton of talent, but it just hasn't translated on the football field. Hughes has just one sack and 19 tackles in two seasons with the Colts

    Mathis and Freeney have combined for 174 sacks since Mathis joined the Colts in 2003, so it will be interesting to see if Pagano keeps to 4-3 for now, or forces the veterans to stand up and play linebacker.

    Either way, the Colts need a big season from both players if they want to have any shot it 2012.   

Jacksonville Jaguars: Defensive Tackle

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    Despite what their record may show, Jacksonville actually has one of the better defenses in the NFL. And for the Jags, it all starts in the trenches. 

    The Jaguars are big up front and led by fourth year Temple alum Terrance Knighton. 

    At (a generous) 346 lbs, Knighton has been called out by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for being too overweight and needs to control his size. But when T-Knight is on the field, he's a wrecking machine. 

    Knighton also got into an incident at a Florida bar this summer that nearly cost him an eye, but hopes to be ready for the start of training camp. 

    Lining up next to Knighton every week is Tyson Alualu. 

    After a lot of noise from Jaguar fans about taking Tyson so high in the draft, the rumblings have all but vanished after they've seen him play. 

    Alualu has racked up 78 tackles and six sacks in his first two years in the NFL and looks to improve upon those numbers in 2012. 

    Jacksonville also has some good depth inside with guys like C.J. Mosley, Corvey Irvin and even Jeremy Mincey from time to time. 

Tennessee Titans: Linebacker

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    This was another team I struggled with as I really liked the talent and depth the Titans have a quarterback. But looking at the roster, there's just a whole lot to like about the future and the now of this team's linebacking corps. 

    You have to start with the wily veteran Will Witherspoon. 

    Witherspoon will be entering his 11th season in the NFL and his third with the Titans. Witherspoon has racked up 145 tackles in his first two years in Tennessee and, even though he showed signs of slowing down in 2011, he's still a great teacher and locker room presence for the younger guys on the team. 

    The best of those young guys is last year's second round pick Akeem Ayers. 

    Ayers started all 16 games as a rookie last season and impressed with his 74 tackles and two sacks. He'll look to improve on those numbers this year while trying to take on a bigger leadership role as Witherspoon nears the end of his career. 

    The Titans also spent another second round pick on a linebacker this season. 

    Former UNC stand-out Zach Brown is one of the fastest linebackers to ever enter the NFL and could be the heir apparent to Witherspoon. Brown needs some polish, but is a gifted athlete who will help this team and defense rebuild after losses of guys like Jason Jones and Cortland Finnegan. 

Denver Broncos: Running Back

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    Even with the signing of Peyton Manning, it seems all signs are pointed in the direction that Denver is going to need to use their running attack to win games. 

    And the Broncos have the tools to do it. 

    Willis McGahee found his second wind last season as he finished the year just shy of 1,200 yards on the ground in just 13 starts. He averaged nearly five yards per carry and helped lead the Broncos to the top rushing offense in the league. 

    Former number one pick Knowshon Moreno is a good compliment back to McGahee, but suffered a season ending injury last year and finished with just 37 carries for 179 yards, but with his best average of his career. 

    The void left by Moreno was quickly filled, however, as Lance Ball took over and bowled his way to over 400 yards on the ground and 16 catches in limited playing time. 

    Denver even went a step further to solidify their ground game by adding former San Diego State back Ronnie Hillman in the third round, possibly as insurance for the injury prone tandem of McGahee and Moreno. 

    Manning might not have the best receivers to work with in Denver, but this might be the best running game he's EVER had at his disposal and certainly the best since Edgerrin James was around. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Offensive Tackle

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    If you've read some of my work before, you already know that I'm really high on the Kansas City Chiefs this year. 

    They were obliterated by the injury bug last season, but finished strong and had a very good offseason to compliment that strong finish. 

    One of the best moves was bringing in right tackle Eric Winston from the Houston Texans. 

    Winston is regarded around the league as arguably the best right tackle in football today. He helped lead a rushing attack in Houston for years that was regarded as one of the best in the game. Chiefs fans and personnel hope he can do the same here.

    Opposite him will be fifth-year starter Branden Albert, who has started all but four games in his four years in Kansas City.

    The Chiefs added really good depth behind their two starters as well.

    In the second and third rounds of this year's draft, KC took Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson to add to their tackle rotation.

    After losing both running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Matt Cassel to season-ending injuries last year, hopefully these big tackles can keep them upright and give the Chiefs a shot to win the west.  

Oakland Raiders: Defensive Tackle

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    When the Raiders were at their peak, they were known for their nasty, brutal defenses that left opponents beaten and bruised walking off the field. 

    Now Oakland is well past their glory days and haven't sniffed the playoffs since 2002, but up the middle of their defense, they're actually pretty good. 

    They're led by 12th-year vet and three-time Super Bowl Champion Richard Seymour. 

    Seymour may be past his days as the playmaker he was in New England, but he showed in 2011 that he's still a force at the line of scrimmage. Seymour recorded six sacks, his highest total as a Raider and deflected three passes at the line.

    Seymour's counterpart on the line, Tommy Kelly has seen his ups and downs in the league, but has really been up the last two seasons, bringing the quarterback down 14 times and recording 100 total tackles in that span.  

    Desmond Bryant is young guy who really came along last season for Oakland and a guy that I really like a lot for the future of this team. 

    The Harvard grad hauled in five sacks and 35 tackles in his first year getting real playing time.  

San Diego Chargers: Outside Linebacker

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    The Chargers defense has really been unable to get to the quarterback since Shawne Merriman got busted for P.E.D's, but they did something about that in a big way this offseason. 

    San Diego went out and added a very underrated talent in Jarret Johnson from Baltimore, who anchored the Ravens defensive left side and allowed Terrell Suggs to run free to the quarterback.

    Johnson will play opposite to an already-dangerous threat on the outside in Shaun Philips.

    Philips had a letdown season last year, but faced plenty of double teams and played in only 12 games. Team's won't be able to focus as on Philips with Johnson in the lineup and another player the Chargers brought in via the draft.

    That player is Melvin Ingram.

    Ingram was a star at South Carolina and fell to the San Diego with the 18 pick because "his arms were a little too short."

    Give me a break.

    Ingram can flat-out get to the quarterback and is a threat off the edge in any passing situation.

    The Chargers also still have former first-round pick Larry English for depth, but he's never really materialized into the player they thought he would be.