Power Ranking Every Player Position in the NFL
The NFL is an evolving game, a never-ending battle of wits between 32 teams that constantly promotes change and innovation.
That evolution of the game has changed the way we view several things with professional football, including the importance we place on certain positions.
In the following slides, we'll examine how the changing NFL has influenced which positions we consider the most important.
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You need look no further than the 2011 Indianapolis Colts to understand the importance of the quarterback position.
A perennial Super Bowl contender with Peyton Manning under center, the Colts won just two games last season after Manning was lost for the season with a neck injury. Indianapolis likely would have struggled to get to 10 wins with its supporting cast around a healthy Manning, but his injury was the difference between a potential postseason appearance and becoming the laughingstock of the NFL.
In this day and age of professional football, where passing reigns supreme, quarterback is undoubtedly the game's most important position.
2. 4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB
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If quarterback is the most important position, pass rushers have to be a close second.
2011 gave us another example of why those players are so important.
The Green Bay Packers came into last season with one of the most talented secondaries in football. The likes of Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Nick Collins, etc. made up a group that had its way with passing offenses in 2010.
But the Packers struggled to generate pressure from their pass rushers in 2011, and the result was a historic failure: Green Bay gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history.
Part of the reason was losing Collins in Week 2 for the season, but not having a pass rush was the main culprit. Without one, a defense today can't survive.
3. Offensive Tackle
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With a number of NFL teams passing the football 600 or more times in a single season, protecting the quarterback has become the No. 1 priority of offensive lines. No two players are as critical to that success than the left and right tackle.
Charged with stopping some of the game's most impressive athletes—some as tall as 6'8" and others weighing well over 300 pounds, but both with tremendous quickness and power—offensive tackles have their hands full on every snap.
Without two solid players on each bookend, NFL offenses struggle to score points. Quarterbacks can't complete passes on their backs.
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Cornerback is a position that has increased in value since the game has shifted more towards passing. There was once a time where cornerbacks could mug opposing receivers into submission, but those days are long gone.
Now, cornerbacks must be able to cover receivers 40-50 times a game without contacting the receiver after five yards. Pass interference calls are more stingy. And they also need the ability to come up and tackle much bigger players near the line of scrimmage.
The best in the game can shut down one receiver or side of the field, but those players are very, very rare.
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Any player that touches the football on every single offensive play is important, and No. 5 could even be too low for center.
Centers are the leaders of the offensive line, complete with the responsibilities of reading defensive fronts, shouting out audibles and directing traffic before the ball is snapped. Once he starts the action, the center then must block some of the game's biggest and toughest players inside.
The best in the game are highly skilled at both keeping the quarterback upright and paving holes in the ground game.
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6. Tight End
The NFL is in the middle of a tight end revolution, with players such as Rob Gronkowski, Jermichael Finley and Jimmy Graham changing the position in the present and future. Gronkowski is the best in the game because he's nearly unstoppable in the passing game while also being a capable in-line blocker.
7. Defensive Tackle
Despite the passing game explosion, the NFL still features a lot of running on first and second downs. The most important players in stopping those plays are the defensive tackles. Any added pass rush is just a bonus at this position.
8. Inside Linebacker
Ten to 15 years ago, middle linebacker would have been much higher. But as the importance of running backs dies off, so does the need for elite linebacker play inside. The best in the game—Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis—can still a change a football game, however.
As tight ends get more and more important in NFL offenses, the importance of having a versatile safety increases. These players need to be good enough to cover the back end of a defense, come up in run support near the line and cover the game's hybrid tight ends. Players like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are increasingly rare players.
9. Wide Receiver
No position in football gets more undeserved credit than at receiver, where a good quarterback can turn a bunch of average pass-catchers into a quality group. See Brady, Tom, for any needed evidence of that fact.
10. Running Back
The running game has become more and more a back-by-committee process, with two or even three backs contributing a large role carrying and catching the football. The best are still game-breaking players, but this is a position on the obvious decline.
Guards are primarily run blockers, but the emergence of pass-rushing defensive tackles has increased the need for above-average pass blockers, too. Still, guards are among of the game's least important positions.
12. Kicker and Punter
Baltimore Ravens fans won't agree, as their kicker was the difference between playing overtime for a chance at a Super Bowl and going home. Kickers probably have too much importance in the professional games, to be perfectly honest. Punters can be a defense's most important weapon.
Fullbacks are still around in the NFL, but they're an endangered species. Teams are now content with taking the fullback off the field and replacing him with another tight end or receiver. The Packers kept three fullbacks in 2010, but those days are probably long gone.