Calvin Johnson and the NFL's 50 Scariest Offensive Players to Game-Plan Against
There are some players in the National Football League that give defensive coordinators headaches, even before they take the field.
These are players that are multidimensional and can pretty much do anything you ask of them. They are not limited to just one position on the football field.
They also don't have to be considered among the best offensive players in the National Football League.
Instead, you are going to see a combination of proven veterans and youngsters with a whole heck a lot to prove. Both of the top rookie quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, will find themselves on this list, but some veterans you might think belong will be left off.
Such is the nature of a list like this.
50. Tim Tebow, Quarterback, New York Jets
Sorry, NFL Network, Tim Tebow belongs nowhere near the list of the 100 best players of 2012. So why do I have him on this list? Well, it is pretty simple: He is extremely hard to game-plan against and can be pretty dangerous in the right package.
Tebow has recorded nearly 900 rushing yards on just 165 attempts for an average of 5.4 yards per attempt.
Look at it this way: The former first-round pick of the Broncos has 29 total touchdowns compared to just nine interceptions in two NFL seasons.
He can be brought in for short-yardage situations and pick up the first down, either at quarterback, running back or fullback. Teams can zone in on Tebow as a runner, and he can beat them rolling to the outside with a pass down the field.
While Tebow will never be an average starting quarterback in the NFL, he will still be able to contribute in certain packages.
49. Doug Martin, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I could care less that Doug Martin hasn't played a regular-season game in the National Football League. It doesn't matter that he played against less-than-stellar competition at Boise State, either.
The 2012 first-round pick is going to be a dynamic player in the league, starting this year. He has that rare combination of field vision, power, speed and acceleration that makes up some of the best running backs in the game today.
Defenses aren't going to be able to plan against Martin as just a running back. He has incredibly soft hands and can pass-protect better than a vast majority of veteran running backs in the league today.
Simply put, Martin is going to be one scary force for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
48. Randy Moss, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers
Yes, you saw this right. I have made the decision to include Randy Moss in this article.
One primary reason for that is the fact that he still scares the jockstraps off of opposing defensive coordinators.
A perfect case study is when three Denver Broncos defenders followed Moss down the field against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. While Alex Smith was not able to complete the pass to this future Hall of Famer, the play gave us the idea that teams are still scared of Moss.
Even as a decoy, Moss is a dangerous figure in the 49ers offense. If teams are going to be focusing on him outside, it is going to leave the likes of Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in single coverage.
47. Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
Despite throwing nearly as many interceptions in 2011 as he did the previous two years combined, Philip Rivers is one scary force for opposing defenses.
When the talented quarterback gets on a hot streak, there simply aren't any quarterbacks more productive than him in the NFL.
Just look at what Rivers has done in December throughout his career: The Pro Bowler has compiled 23 wins in 27 games, while throwing three times more touchdowns than interceptions.
46. Tony Gonzalez, Tight End, Atlanta Falcons
Tony Gonzalez will go down as one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game of football, if not the absolute best.
A 12-time Pro Bowl performer that has reached the summit in terms of production, Gonzalez ranks second to only Jerry Rice in career receptions. He doesn't appear ready to call it quits quite yet, either. Gonzalez recorded 80 receptions for the fifth time in his career last season.
The former basketball player at Cal continues to transcend age and is still among the most productive tight ends in the NFL.
45. Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
Most people figured that Steve Smith was on the downswing of his career when he compiled only 550 yards and two touchdowns in 2010 as a 32-year-old wide receiver
That couldn't have been further from the truth.
Smith has rejuvenated his career with Cam Newton, who was 11 years of age when the talented receiver was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2001.
Despite this generational gap, Smith excelled beyond any previously set expectations by compiling nearly 1,400 receiving yards and earned his fifth trip to Hawaii.
44. Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown is an electric football player with the ball in his hands. He recorded 1,100 receiving yards and a total of over 2,200 all-purpose yards for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.
With Mike Wallace reporting to camp, you can definitely expect Brown to produce at an even higher level in 2012. The combination of these two young receivers is enough to give opposing defensive coordinators coronaries.
I still envision defenses honing in on Wallace as the Steelers No. 1 wide receiver, which will leave Brown playing against less-than-stellar competition.
These are indications that Brown is going to have a huge breakout campaign in 2012.
43. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is one of those rare players that doesn't just make opposing defenses worry about him but makes them worry about everyone offense. In short, Manning makes everyone around him better because of his mere presence on the football field.
You can hone in on the passing game all you want, but it won't matter. As long as Manning is healthy, he is going to pick apart defenses and put up a ton of points.
Just one more passing touchdown away from 400 in his career, Manning still has some treads left on those tires.
42. Jason Witten, Tight End, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo heavily relies on Jason Witten outside of the red zone but seems to forget about the tight end a great deal when the Dallas Cowboys are near the end zone. Witten has a total of 25 touchdowns over the course of the last six seasons.
This is one of the reasons why Witten isn't any higher on my list. That being said, the former Pro Bowler has nearly 700 career receptions and has put up 1,000 yards three separate times.
He is incredibly difficult to cover one-on-one between the hashes and causes a great deal of mismatches at the point of contact.
Just look at the way he shields defenders from the ball.
41. Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants
While the younger Manning might not scare opposing defenses during the regular season, it is hard to ignore the postseason success that Eli has had.
He has won eight of 11 postseason games, bringing home two Lombardi Trophies and accumulating twice as many touchdowns as interceptions during the playoffs.
Both of his Super Bowl-year regular seasons were full of inconsistency and underperformance for a Giants team that needed true leadership on the football field. But Manning went on to lead them to four postseason wins each season.
In short, Manning is someone that defenses would rather avoid in January and February.
40. Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
After sitting on the sidelines last season laughing at the likes of Curtis Painter, opposing defensive coordinators are actually going to have to plan against the Indianapolis Colts passing game in 2012.
That planning is definitely going to be necessary with Andrew Luck leading the charge in Indy this season.
He has such a great feel for the game, even before having played in one regular-season outing, that is he has to be considered one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks to enter the league in a great while.
Just imagine when Luck actually gains experience and fully starts to understand the nuances of the league.
39. Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens
Teams had a heck of a time covering Torrey Smith during his rookie year in 2011. He surprised a great deal of people by compiling nearly 17 yards a catch and over 800 receiving yards.
A total of 32 percent of Smith's receptions were for 20 yards or more, representing one of the most stunning figures in the National Football League last season.
I am expecting Smith to build off this stellar rookie campaign and become a more consistent threat on the outside. Once that happens, opponents are going to have a hard time containing him.
38. Darren McFadden, Running Back, Oakland Raiders
When healthy, Darren McFadden is one of the scariest running backs for opposing defenses. He was on pace for a monster season in 2012 before going down to a serious injury and missing the final nine games of the year.
McFadden had accumulated a total of 768 yards through just seven games prior to that injury.
The major question here is whether the former top-10 pick will be able to stay healthy. He has missed 19 games in four NFL seasons.
37. Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Now that Mike Wallace has reported to Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, we can finally focus on how the talented young receiver promises to build off a strong 2011 campaign.
He is coming off of two consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns and continues to get better every week he is on the football field. Before we know it, Wallace is going to be one of the most unstoppable receiving threats in the league.
You can take that to the bank.
36. DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson just wasn't the same player last year as what we saw in previous seasons. Pure conjecture here, but I believe a lot of that had to do with his unhappiness about not having a new contract.
Jackson won't have to worry about that in 2012 after signing a five-year, $51 million extension in the offseason.
A total of 33 percent of Jackson's career receptions have gone for over 20 yards. That is an eye-opening statistic right there.
He is a threat to take it the distance every time the ball is in his hands. While we can say that about a handful of running backs in the NFL, it is a rarity for a receiver to possess that ability.
35. Andre Johnsoon, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans
In 2011 injuries limited Andre Johnson to what equates to his worst NFL season as a professional. The unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver of the Houston Texans is also getting up there in age.
This doesn't mean that Johnson is ready to regress and cannot be counted on to put up solid receiving numbers.
Johnson has recorded at least 100 receptions three times and a minimum of 1,500 receiving yards two other times. During that span he has been the only reliable Houston Texans wide receiver, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
Being able to put up consistent production in the face of double-teams is a great indicator of success.
34. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
The fact that Adrian Peterson suffered tears of both his ACL and MCL less than a calendar year ago might give opposing defensive coordinators false hope that they can contain him in 2012.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
Once Peterson returns to full health, he will be able to fully pick up where he left off in 2010, meaning that he will once again be the best running back in the NFL.
It is simply amazing that Peterson has been able to do what he has done over the course of the last five seasons with the box constantly stacked against him.
33. Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Washington Redskins
Yes, I have another rookie quarterback on this list. Yes, I have Robert Griffin III ahead of Andrew Luck. I can hear the gasps of shock from Indianapolis right this minute.
With that in mind, there are multiple reasons that RGIII belongs on this list.
While Griffin III will not repeat what we saw from Cam Newton on the ground last season, he is fully prepared to be a lights-out performer in the passing game. The extra risk of him breaking the line against the run is going to make the Baylor product that much more dangerous.
Accuracy, a rocket arm, tremendous athleticism and great instincts all equate to elite play.
32. Michael Vick, Quarterbak, Philadelphia Eagles
When healthy, Michael Vick is still a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. He can beat opposing defenses with his arm and his feet. Moreover, the veteran brings poise to the offensive backfield in the face of pressure.
You cannot blitz Vick and hope to catch him for a sack all the time. The former No. 1 overall pick has great elusiveness and possesses the ability to keep his head downfield in the face of pressure.
Couple that with the fact that Philadelphia has multiple deep threats on the outside, and you have an extremely dangerous quarterback.
It is all about him remaining healthy, which is easier said than done.
31. Roddy White, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones might take some targets away from Roddy White, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the veteran receiver is any less dangerous on the outside.
Supposed experts said that this was going to happen in 2011, causing White's production to drop. White went out there and put up a second consecutive 100-reception season.
Expect much of the same this year.
30. Fred Jackson, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
Fred Jackson was among the most productive running backs in the National Football League last season before he went down to a season-ending injury.
Over the course of his first 10 games, Jackson recorded nearly 1,400 total yards. This would have put him on pace for 2,200 total yards if he had played the entire year.
Not much more to say here.
29. Matt Forte, Running Back, Chicago Bears
In terms of dual-threat running backs, there are not many better than Matt Forte in the National Football League. He is one of the best receiving backs and continues to progress as a runner both inside and outside.
Forte has racked up at least 50 receptions and 1,300 total yards in each of his first four seasons.
With his freshly signed contract extension, you can expect Forte to continue to progress as one of the best all-around running backs in the league. He is among most scariest players because of his abilities both on the ground and through the air.
28. Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson surprises opposing defenses with his ability to gain separation in the middle of routes. This has made the former second-round pick able to force defensive backs into defensive positions.
By this I mean that coordinators are stuck between a rock and a hard place in scheming to defend him. You can either play off-coverage or press at the line. Either way, Nelson seems to able to consistently find seams.
That being said, Nelson has been a productive NFL receiver for just one season. His yardage total doubled last season form the year before, as he caught twice as many touchdowns in 2011 as he did in his first three seasons combined.
Look for continued progression in 2012.
27. Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Sure, Chris Johnson has regressed in each of the last two seasons. He bottomed out with just 1,047 rushing yards and four overall touchdowns in 2011.
By no means does this indicate that Johnson isn't a scary figure for opposing defenses. Anyone that is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball is going to cause fits.
A running back doesn't gain over 7,000 total yards in four NFL seasons only to fall off the map and become pedestrian.
26. Devin Hester, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears
Anyone that sits atop the all-time list for punt-return touchdowns has to be one glaring figure on special teams.
What makes Devin Hester so much more than a pure special-teams player is what he can do with the ball in his hands on offense. Hester is so scary because he has been counted on a great deal to be somewhat of a central focus in Chicago's offense.
Adding Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to the equation will only make Hester that much more dangerous in 2012.
25. Reggie Bush, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
Even during his surprising underperformance with the New Orleans Saints, Reggie Bush was always someone that defenses had to hone in on. He could literally sidestep a defender, break a couple tackles and take the ball to the house on each play.
We have seen him take two-yard screen passes the distance on multiple occasions.
Bush morphed into a much better all-around running back with the Miami Dolphins in 2011. He was able to run between the tackles instead of just outside. This has put opposing defenses on notice.
24. Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Not nearly as consistent as other receivers ahead of him, Percy Harvin is a pure playmaker on the outside.
It is, however, surprising that the former first-round pick has averaged just 12 yards per reception during his first three NFL seasons. That is more a result of quarterback play and scheme than anything else.
I will be intrigued to see how Harvin performs with a stronger quarterback at the helm.
23. Dexter McCluster, Running Back/Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
It doesn't matter where the Kansas City Chiefs line Dexter McCluster up; he is going to be an impact player. Opposing defenses have issues planning for the former Mississippi standout whether he is lined up outside, in the slot or even at running back.
This was evident last season, when McCluster combined for 844 total yards on just 160 touches.
Look for the Chiefs to make him a much more integral part of their offense this season. If that happens, there is no reason to believe he cannot accumulate 1,000 total yards and double-digit touchdowns while playing both wide receiver and running back.
22. Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis was nearly unstoppable towards the end of the 2011 season, including the playoffs. He recorded 18 receptions for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the San Francisco 49ers' final three games.
What makes Davis nearly unstoppable between the hashes is that opposing defenses just cannot game-plan against him. The former first-round pick causes matchup problems against safeties and linebackers. In fact, he is more athletically gifted than a vast majority of slot corners in the league.
If defensive coordinators plan to double-team Davis, that will leave Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham in single coverage.
If not, it just isn't fair for those tasked with defending him.
21. Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
The numbers that Wes Welker has put up speak for themselves. Less evident is the concern that he causes for opposing defensive coordinators on a weekly basis. Play off against him, and he will kill you on the intermediate routes. Play press against Welker, and he will dominate downfield.
It really is a no-win proposition.
Since his breakout 2007 campaign for the Patriots, Welker has caught a total of 554 passes, most in the National Football League. This equates to about 7.2 receptions per outing. By comparison, Calvin Johnson has averaged two fewer receptions per game during the same span.
20. Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
The two-time Pro Bowler racked up three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons prior to going down to injury after 13 games last season, a year in which Jennings was actually on pace to put up some of his best numbers.
What makes Jennings so dangerous is the multitude of weapons that the Green Bay Packers have on the offensive side of the ball. Defenses have an extremely difficult time justifying a double-team on Jennings, which causes a great deal of mismatches on the outside.
He is truly someone that can scare the crap out of opponents, because it is impossible to game-plan for the entire Packers pass offense.
19. Tony Romo, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
It really doesn't matter what we think about Tony Romo as a clutch quarterback. He is the identity of the Dallas Cownoys and makes the offense run. Last season was a prime example of his importance to the franchise.
In short, without Romo Dallas would have completely fallen apart.
His numbers were astonishingly good in 2011. Romo completed 66 percent of his passes, for nearly 4,200 yards, while throwing three times more touchdowns than interceptions. Say what you want about quarterback ratings. Putting up triple digits over the course of an entire season is impressive. It is even more impressive when you are tasked with playing behind what was a disastrous offensive line.
You know what is scary? Giving Romo a consistent running back and above-average pass protection.
This is what Dallas has appeared to have done heading into 2012.
18. Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
People seem to forget that Dwayne Bowe led the National Football League in touchdown receptions just two seasons ago. He is one of the most consistent end-zone threats in the entire league—this isn't even in question.
What impresses me more about Bowe is the fact that he used that huge frame to shield off defenders probably more so than any other receiver outside of Calvin Johnson.
This makes him a tremendous matchup problem for defenses on Sundays. Now it is up to Matt Cassel to actually get him the ball.
17. A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
Rookie wide receivers don't accomplish what we saw from A.J. Green last season. They most definitely don't when another rookie is throwing them the ball.
Green gained over 1,000 yards and scored seven touchdowns as a rookie. The most notable aspect of his production was the fact that defenses knew Andy Dalton was going to hone in on Green. He represented 30 percent of the Bengals' receiving yards in 2011.
The sure sign of a wide receiver being able to produce is seeing him continue to progress as a No. 1 receiving option early in his career. Green did this as a rookie, which indicates he is only going to become a more imposing figure this season.
16. Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions
Does Matthew Stafford make Calvin Johnson dangerous, or is it the other way around? This is a question that pundits ask themselves on a consistent basis, but it really doesn't matter.
I view it as them feeding off each other.
This is what makes them both so dangerous. Stafford is able to put the ball on target more often than not, especially in the direction of Johnson. While the former No. 1 pick does rely on his top target a great deal, he also spreads the ball around a lot.
15. Darren Sproles, Running Back, New Orleans Saints
It is nearly impossible to game-plan for Darren Sproles. His athleticism and lack of size make it difficult for defenses to scheme against him. Moreover, what he does with the ball in his hands is simply amazing.
Sproles combined for nearly 2,700 all-purpose yards last season, leading the entire National Football League in that category.
14. Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons traded up for Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL draft in order for him to be a complementary receiver to Pro Bowler Roddy White.
It hasn't exactly turned out that way, and all signs point to the second-year receiver taking the next step towards elite status.
His big-play ability as a rookie last year opened up what was somewhat of a vanilla Falcons offense in previous seasons. He can stretch the field, which causes major holes between the hashes, where Tony Gonzalez makes a living.
Additionally, teams simply cannot hone in on White opposite Jones. This extra dynamic makes the Falcons offense as scary as any in the NFL.
13. Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
Anyone that could possibly draw the conclusion that Victor Cruz had a fluky performance in 2011 and is going to plummet back to Earth this season simply doesn't have any idea what it means to be a productive wide receiver in the National Football League.
You don't average 96 receiving yards a game in your first season playing offense in the NFL only to regress the following year.
If that weren't enough, Cruz bled secondaries dry down the field. Nearly a quarter of his receptions were of at least 20 yards in 2011.
Statistics like that are enough to scare the crap out of opponents.
12. Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints
This new breed of tight end is going to continue causing headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Schematically, such players are incredibly hard to hone in on.
Jimmy Graham, entering just his third NFL season, is no different.
In his first season as a starter for the New Orleans Saints, Graham compiled 99 receptions, for over 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is a threat on the outside against corners and in the slot against linebackers and safeties.
Much like what I wrote about Vernon Davis before, Graham is a nearly unstoppable force in the passing game.
11. Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
Maurice Jones-Drew is much lower on this list than most people would expect. That is simply due to his current holdout and recent reports that the Jacksonville Jaguars running back is going to miss a couple of regular-season games because of it.
He led the NFL in rushing yards last season despite the fact that Jacksonville's was amongst the worst passing offenses in the entire league.
Just imagine what Jones-Drew would be able to do if Jacksonville had anything near a consistent passing game.
10. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
It doesn't matter if Drew Brees puts the ball up 60 times a game and opposing defenses continually run dime packages against him. The New Orleans Saints quarterback is going to consistently pick apart opposing secondaries. This has been proven time and time again.
The numbers are startling and enough to give defensive coordinators migraines.
Brees has tallied over 28,000 passing yards and 211 touchdowns since the start of the 2006 season. Just for fun, that equates to 16 miles or 2.6 miles longer than Manhattan.
9. Arian Foster, Running Back, Houston Texans
Numbers might not tell the entire truth when looking at production in the NFL. It is easy to be fooled by 4,000-yard passing campaigns and 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
This most definitely is not the case with Arian Foster.
The former undrafted free agent from Tennessee has been among the most electrifying running backs since jumping onto the scene as a second-year player in 2010. Over the course of the last two seasons, he has accumulated 4,061 total yards in just 29 games. That is an average of 140 yards per outing.
Simply put, Foster transcends the running-back position. He catches the ball fluidly out of the backfield, runs just as well on the outside as he does between the hashes and needs to be accounted for on every single play—rushing or not.
8. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
You cannot tell me that teams did not plan against Aaron Rodgers on a consistent basis last season, at least once he started the year with over 1,700 passing yards and 14 touchdowns in the first five games.
Adding to the equation is the fact that Rodgers has enough weapons at his disposal to build a fortress of hands around Lambeau Field
While Rodgers might not put up the numbers we saw last season, there is no reason to believe that he is going to regress as a quarterback. You simply cannot deny the exceptional accuracy and great field awareness that he possesses.
An elite quarterback if I have ever seen one.
7. LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
Those are some eye-opening numbers if you ask me.
If Philadelphia is able to get more consistency from the passing game and other skill-position players, defenses aren't going to be able to hone in on McCoy. Instead, you are going to see the talented young running back with more room to operate and a whole lot of green turf ahead of him.
This possibility is enough for a defensive coordinator to call it an early career, collect his retirement and move to Maui, especially in the NFC East.
6. Rob Gronkowski, Tight End, New England Patriots
As Tom Brady's favorite target, Rob Gronkowski immediately becomes one scary offensive player. Add to the equation his size and speed, and you have someone that is nearly unstoppable on Sundays.
This doesn't even take into account the tremendous number of weapons that New England has outside of Gronkowski.
In what has been a continuing theme in this slideshow, it really is important to take a look at what each team has on offense when drawing conclusions about who the most dangerous players are. That's why I have this record-breaking tight end so high on the list.
Oh, and he stands at 6'6" and weighs 265 pounds. I can hear Gronkowki now when he goes up against opposing defensive players: "Tell me about the rabbits."
5. Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
The idea that horrible quarterback play is going to hold Larry Fitzgerald back doesn't carry a whole lot of weight for me. All this future Hall of Famer has done is perform at a consistently elite level, even with inconsistent quarterback play.
A case study would be the 170 receptions and 2,500 yards that Fitzgerald has compiled over the last two seasons—seasons spent with Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb throwing him the ball.
Give this dude a halfway-decent quarterback, and he would be absolutely unstoppable. After all, look at his production when Kurt Warner was throwing the ball to him.
4. Ray Rice, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens
A great receiver, a better runner and a tremendous blocker. Can you ask for a more well-rounded running back in the National Football League? I really don't think so.
Defenses might plan against Rice a great deal during practice, but that hasn't given them the ability to stop this dominating running back.
What makes Rice so much more dangerous and scary heading into the regular season is what appears to be a more consistent passing game from Joe Flacco and company. If the Ravens are able to open up the offense a little bit, Rice will be able to pick up yards by the bunches.
3. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots
It really doesn't matter that Tom Brady runs what equates to a one-dimensional offense. Though that might change a bit in 2012 with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the backfield, the New England Patriots are still going to be a pass-first team.
It is Brady's ability to get the best out of his receivers and tight ends that makes him so dangerous. It is also the seemingly endless number of weapons on the Patriots offense that puts him this high on the list.
Think about this for a second: Brady will surpass his childhood hero Joe Montana in career passing yards in the Patriots' initial game of the 2012 season.
I understand that we are in a different era in the NFL today, but that is a startling revelation.
2. Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Remember, this isn't ranking each player in terms of his importance or how good I perceive them to be. Instead, I am ranking players who will continually cause headaches for defensive coordinators.
On that note, Cam Newton definitely deserves to be No. 2.
Is it the running ability and 14 touchdowns that Newton scored on the ground last season that should scare defenses? What about the 60-yard pass that he can throw on a line? Maybe it is his intelligence on the football field. What about his improved accuracy?
I am pretty damn sure that opposing defensive coordinators have these questions and more in their heads when they prepare to play Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
After all, rookie quarterbacks rarely put up nearly 4,800 total yards and 35 touchdowns. It just doesn't happen.
1. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
It doesn't matter if you put two or even three defenders on Calvin Johnson: He is going to come down with the ball a majority of the time. Just ask Rob Ryan and the Dallas Cowboys defense last season.
In short, "Megatron" is a man among boys on the outside.
Opposing defensive coordinators don't game-plan to stop Johnson. Instead, they just hope to contain him and limit Matthew Stafford's options outside of the Detroit Lions' No. 1 wide receiver.
Johnson was targeted 54 times in the Lions' final four games of 2011, including the postseason. He came down with 36 receptions, for 771 yards and six touchdowns, during that span.
Defenses knew that Stafford was going to target Johnson towards the end of the season, but they couldn't do anything about it. Overall, 28 percent of Stafford's attempts and 30 percent of his completions went to Johnson during those final four games.
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