NFL: A Look at Each Team's Franchise Centerpiece
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Every NFL franchise is constructed with similar building blocks.
Each team features a general manager that assembles the personnel, every squad has a head coach that they trust with the decision making, each offense is led by a quarterback and so on. But, at the core of each team lies a "centerpiece" of the franchise.
Sometimes it's the quarterback and sometimes it isn't.
Certainly, teams like the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints feel extremely confident about the state of their franchise and the quarterback position. However, numerous NFL teams lack a true star under center.
Let's take a look at each NFL team's centerpiece for the franchise.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice
Joe Flacco is improved, the defense is great, but Rice makes the Ravens go round.
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The Ravens boast one of the most complete teams in football. They can light up the scoreboard on the arm of Joe Flacco or they can shut you out with a defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
But no single player means more to the Baltimore Ravens than running back Ray Rice.
After signing a 5-year $35 million contract extension this past offseason, Rice will remain in Baltimore for a while. "Franchise" running backs are rare in today's NFL but Rice is one of a few game-changers at the position.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green
Green has the talent to develop into one of the NFL's best.
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The Bengals knocked the ball out of the park in last year's NFL Draft. After drafting Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green in the first round, Cincinnati added TCU quarterback Andy Dalton at the top of round two.
It's hard to imagine a better result than finding your franchise quarterback and his No. 1 wide receiver with consecutive picks. With Green and Dalton both in their second year in the NFL, the future of the Bengals is extremely bright. Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson stands alone among current receivers, but Green has the athletic ability to become the same kind of player some day.
Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson
With only two NFL games under his belt, Richardson is the Browns' key piece.
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Prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, the "face of the franchise" in Cleveland may have been All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. However, the Browns felt strongly enough about Alabama running back Trent Richardson to move up and select him with the No. 3 overall pick, instantly making him the centerpiece of the team.
Richardson had a quiet first game in the NFL but he exploded for over 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 2 against the Bengals. Potential only takes a player so far, but Richardson has a similar skill set to physical freak Adrian Peterson.
This guy will be a star.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
The defense may be the best in the league, but Big Ben makes the Steelers a Super Bowl team.
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Say what you want about Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he goes against the "traditional" mold of a quarterback and he's had trouble with the law but the guy has two Super Bowl rings,
And the Steelers are primed for several more runs in the near future.
Roethlisberger has the privilege of throwing to speedsters Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. As a result, the Steelers aren't the traditional "ground-and-pound" team that they once were. This Pittsburgh team can score points by the bunch.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler
For better or worse, Cutler carries the Bears' franchise on his shoulders.
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Jay Cutler has as much talent as most quarterbacks in the NFL. However, talent has never been the question in regard to Cutler—it's leadership.
The most recent example of Cutler's questionable leadership was on Thursday night when the quarterback screamed at left tackle J'Marcus Webb on the sidelines after Webb allowed a sack to Clay Matthews. Regardless of what fans or his teammates think about him, Cutler is the face of the Chicago Bears.
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson
Matt Stafford is the former No. 1 pick, but Johnson may be the NFL's best player.
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In a league full of incredible athletes, Calvin Johnson stands out.
As good as quarterback Matthew Stafford is, his top pass catcher may be the best player in the league, regardless of position.
Johnson rode a breakout 2011 season to the front of the Madden 13 cover and he's not going anywhere anytime soon. Opposing defenses treat Johnson like no defense has every treated a wide receiver before. Last season, the Saints had two defensive backs line up across from Johnson when the Lions were in the red-zone. Enough said.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
The 2011 MVP has the Packers primed for another Super Bowl run.
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For the next five or so years, perhaps no NFL team is in better shape than the Green Bay Packers.
Why? Because they have MVP Aaron Rodgers on their side.
The Packers are flooded with talent on offense. Wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are both Pro Bowl-caliber players, tight end Jermichael Finley has as much talent as any tight end in the NFC not named Jimmy Graham and Randall Cobb is an emerging home run threat a la Percy Harvin.
No one throws a prettier ball than Rodgers and he makes the Packers one of the most dangerous teams in football.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
There's no other way to put it—Peterson is a man among boys.
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The running back position boasts some pretty amazing talent across the NFL. You have versatile guys like Ray Rice, speed backs like Chris Johnson, power backs like Steven Jackson—and then you have Adrian Peterson.
Peterson has been as consistent as they come since coming into the league from Oklahoma. When he runs the ball, it just looks different than everyone else. He runs angry and he runs fast.
The presence of Peterson will be vital in the development of quarterback Christian Ponder moving forward.
Houston Texans: Arian Foster
The Texans have a deep offense, but Foster is their best player.
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Despite the fact that they're among the best teams in the NFL, the Texans are one of the toughest teams to name a "centerpiece" for.
Matt Schaub is in the top-half of professional quarterbacks, and Andre Johnson remains an extremely talented wide receiver; however, no one player makes more of a weekly impact for the Texans than Arian Foster.
As far as talent goes, there isn't much difference between Foster and backup running back Ben Tate. However, the coaching staff clearly trusts Foster with the workload and he's done nothing to disappoint. The dude can run the football.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck
He may be a rookie, but he's the face of the Indianapolis Colts.
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Despite only having two NFL regular season games under his belt, Andrew Luck is clearly the face of the Indianapolis Colts.
Luck won the first game of his career in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings and it figures to be the first of many.
Just like the Colts once built their team around Peyton Manning, they'll continue to assemble a high-flying offense around Luck. Indianapolis has already found two key offensive pieces in rookie tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and you can bet they'll continue to add talent as long as Luck is in town.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew
MJD is clearly the focus of the Jaguars' offense.
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Yes, Blaine Gabbert is last year's first-round pick and, yes, he is the starting quarterback but Maurice Jones-Drew is clearly the centerpiece of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jones-Drew, who entered 2012 as a holdout, has surpassed 1,300 rushing yards in three consecutive seasons and the Jaguars certainly hope for a similar performance in 2012.
The former UCLA star's value to the Jaguars goes beyond running the football. He's caught 278 passes in six seasons as a professional. The Jaguars don't have much to be excited about, but they do have one of the best running backs in football.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker
Chris Johnson is talented, but Jake Locker is the future of the Titans.
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The Titans have two possible options as their centerpiece: it's either running back Chris Johnson or second-year quarterback Jake Locker. Because Johnson is coming off a disappointing 2011 season and has had an extremely quiet start to 2012, we're giving Locker the nod as the face of the Tennessee Titans.
Locker's development will be vital in determining whether or not the Titans can become a mainstay in the AFC Playoffs. The Titans have assembled a talented receiving corps featuring Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and rookie Kendall Wright. If Johnson can't get back to his "CJ2K" form, the Titans may have to start airing it out on offense.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is armed with weapons, and Atlanta is on the upswing.
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Matt Ryan has had a ton of success in the early stages of his career.
In the regular season, that is.
The postseason has been a different story so far but the Falcons are loaded with talent and Ryan certainly has the ability to get them over the hump.
Boasting a reliable power running game with Michael Turner, the Falcons feature one of the most dangerous air attacks in the league. Julio Jones and Roddy White are likely the best duo of wide receivers in the NFL and Tony Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer. With the Saints in disarray currently, the NFC South is the Falcons' to lose.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton
Newton is perhaps the most impressive athlete in the NFL.
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Cam Newton took the NFL by storm in 2011. Even his biggest supporters never foresaw what he was able to accomplish as a rookie, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for over 700 yards and another 17 touchdowns.
Newton is built like a tight end at 6'5", 245 pounds, but he runs like a running back. With three capable running backs in Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, the Panthers may possess the deepest running game in football.
Under the lead of Newton, the Panthers have a clear direction—success.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Brees is the Saints' best player, and his responsibilities have grown since Sean Payton's suspension.
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When it was announced that the Saints would be without head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, the burden of responsibility grew even heavier for Drew Brees.
The Saints are winless through their first two games, but with one of the best quarterbacks in the world on their side, they're not out of anything just yet.
Brees is perhaps the most accurate quarterback in football, and he has the luxury of throwing to a pair of the biggest matchup problems in football—tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles.
Brees has his work cut out for him this season, but he's always proven doubters wrong in the past.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman
Freeman is looking to improve on a disappointing 2011 season.
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The Buccaneers made it their top priority to improve the offense this offseason. Adding receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and running back Doug Martin certainly makes Tampa Bay a better team, but at the core of the Bucs' team is quarterback Josh Freeman.
In his second year in the NFL, Freeman threw 25 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions before tossing 16 touchdowns and 22 picks last season. Freeman has had a promising start to the season and wide receiver Mike Williams looks like he's returned to his rookie form. The Bucs could surprise some people moving forward.
Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller
The Bills' centerpiece? Not Stevie Johnson or Ryan Fitzpatrick, it's now C.J. Spiller.
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Entering the 2012 season, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller formed one of the top backfield duos in the entire NFL. But two games into the season, Spiller has capitalized on Jackson's absence from the lineup and now leads the NFL in rushing.
It's hard to imagine Jackson regaining his starting spot once he gets healthy, seeing as Spiller has run for 292 yards and three touchdowns in the first two weeks. In fact, Spiller has made a good case for the NFL MVP through two weeks.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill
Reggie Bush has been great this season, but the franchise rests on Tannehill's shoulders.
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Dolphins running back Reggie Bush has rushed for 241 yards through the first two weeks of the NFL season, trailing only C.J. Spiller. However, with a top-ten pick invested in quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the future of the Dolphins' franchise lies on his shoulders.
Tannehill was better in Week 2 than he was in Week 1 but the rookie quarterback has a lot to prove moving forward. Once the Dolphins assemble an NFL-caliber corps of wide receivers, Tannehill may finally be able to reach his potential.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
As long as he's still in uniform, Brady will be the face of the Patriots.
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There's no question as to who the Patriots' centerpiece is.
Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and, as long as he's still playing, the Pats will be Super Bowl contenders.
On top of losing tight end Aaron Hernandez to injury, New England suffered a shocking home loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. Despite these recent frustrations, Brady's greatness will surely carry the team into the Playoffs yet again this year. This guy is good, which means his team is good.
New York Jets: Darrelle Revis
Revis is one of the best players in the NFL, regardless of position.
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Tim Tebow will not be mentioned throughout this entire write-up. In fact, neither of the Jets' below-average quarterbacks are deserving of being labeled "the face of the Jets."
There really isn't much talent to choose from on the Jets' offense, but the defense is a different story.
Darrell Revis is perhaps the most impressive player in football. Every single week, he's asked to cover the opposing team's best wide receiver, and he constantly produces at a high level. If not for Revis, Rex Ryan couldn't run the aggressive defense that he does.
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo
Tony Romo may be heavily scrutinized, but he's extremely talented.
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The Dallas Cowboys are always under the microscope. When things are going well, they're the talk of the league, but when things are going bad, it's nearly all you hear about other than Tim Tebow.
DeMarcus Ware is certainly an option as the centerpiece for the Dallas Cowboys but the quarterback gets the nod over the defender. Tony Romo is one of the top ten quarterbacks in all of football and with Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten on his side, the Cowboys have a lot of potential on offense.
New York Giants: Eli Manning
Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings. It's safe to say think he's the Giants' centerpiece.
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The Giants are another team that have several established veterans on both sides of the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck dominate opposing offensive lines on a weekly basis but its Eli Manning and the Giants' elite receiving corps who hold down the offense,
"The other" Manning has already won two Super Bowl rings, and he's still only 31 years old. The Giants have found a formula for winning Championships, and it all starts with Eli.
Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy
Mike Vick is good, but LeSean McCoy makes the Eagles go.
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The Philadelphia Eagles are loaded with offensive talent. Michael Vick may be the most athletic quarterback in NFL history and DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin form one of the top wide receiver duos in the league.
However, LeSean McCoy is the engine to the Philadelphia Eagles. Without him, Andy Reid and Co. wouldn't be able to do nearly as much offensively. As far as being an elusive back between the tackles and an elite receiving threat, McCoy is probably the best in the NFL.
Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III
RG3 is a freak athlete, and he has the Redskins in a good place.
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Just like Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson, Robert Griffin III has clearly emerged as the centerpiece of his franchise despite having only appeared in two professional games up to this point.
Griffin can do it all—his deep ball is one of the prettier things in the league and his athletic ability is rivaled by only Cam Newton and Michael Vick among NFL quarterbacks.
The rookie will surely endure his fair share of bumps and bruises this season, but the future of the Washington Redskins looks bright with Griffin leading the way.
Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning
Manning is 36, but he's still the centerpiece of the Broncos' franchise.
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Peyton Manning wasn't Peyton Manning in the first quarter of the Broncos' Monday Night game against the Atlanta Falcons. His three interceptions had nothing to do with his neck injury and everything to do with making poor decisions.
But regardless of his "off" night, Manning remains the face of the Denver Broncos at age 36. Outside linebacker Von Miller makes an argument as an elite pass rusher on the defensive side of the ball, but Manning gets the nod as one of the best passers in league history.
Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry
Jamaal Charles has struggled, and Matt Cassell is average. Eric Berry is the face of the franchise.
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Kansas City is in a very unique situation. Jamaal Charles has struggled mightily in 2012 coming off an ACL injury last season. Matt Cassell is nothing more than average and Dwayne Bowe needs a quarterback to reach his full potential.
As a result, the "centerpiece" of the Kansas City Chiefs is on the defensive side of the ball. Tamba Hali is one of the most feared pass rushers in all of football but safety Eric Berry has the potential to develop into the best defensive back in the NFL. Yes, he's that good.
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden
Darren McFadden is extremely talented, and he's the centerpiece of the Raiders' franchise.
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Darren McFadden has battled a slew of injuries throughout his NFL career, but when he's on the field, he's among the most effective backs in football.
McFadden has yet to play a full 16-game season and his current yards-per-carry average is a meager 2.1. However, his potential as a player surpasses anyone else on the Raiders' roster.
With a rare combination of size and speed on top of being an above-average receiver, McFadden is consistently the focus for opposing defenses to stop.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
Rivers is an elite quarterback. He's the face of the Chargers.
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Philip Rivers may be one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL.
Sure, he threw 20 interceptions last season and 2011 was by far his worst season since taking over as the Chargers' full-time starter. But prior to his disappointing season a year ago, Rivers threw for at least 28 touchdowns and no more than 13 interceptions in three consecutive seasons.
The former North Carolina State signal caller is off to a hot start in 2012 and his Chargers are 2-0.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
Despite not having a good quarterback, Larry Fitzgerald is a stud.
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It's hard for one to say he or she "feels bad" for any NFL player because of their wealth and talent but the Cardinals' quarterback position holds Larry Fitzgerald back from being the special player that he could be.
Everyone saw Fitzgerald's greatness when Kurt Warner was in Arizona but Kevin Kolb and John Skelton simply can't get him the ball.
However, Fitzgerald remains the centerpiece of the Cardinals franchise and they'll certainly continue to look to fill in the holes around him. If Arizona is in position to draft a top-tier quarterback in April, you can bet that's the route they'll go with the pick.
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford
Steven Jackson is great, but Sam Bradford is the center of the Rams' franchise.
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Sam Bradford had a promising rookie season before a disappointing sophomore campaign a year ago. But he's off to a good start in 2012, having thrown four touchdowns compared to just one interception and accumulating a passer rating of 112.4.
Rams running back Steven Jackson is a terrific player in his own right, but he's past his prime and the Rams are now Bradford's team. With Danny Amendola back in the fold and a better corps of wide receivers than in years past, the Rams certainly appear to be on the upswing.
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis is the best middle linebacker in football, and he leads the best defense in the NFL.
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As great as Alex Smith has looked over the past few months (dating back to last season), he simply isn't the centerpiece of the 49ers' franchise. The San Francisco 49ers boast the league's top defense and they're led by All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis.
Willis plays alongside Navorro Bowman, forming the strongest duo of inside linebackers in the NFL. Both players are able to stay on the field in coverage on passing downs, which gives the defense a huge advantage as far as bringing extra pass rushers to pressure the quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks: Earl Thomas
No disrespect to Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch, but Earl Thomas is Seattle's best player.
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Marshawn Lynch is a great player and he's incredibly entertaining, and Russell Wilson has proved his doubters wrong and won the job as Seattle's starting quarterback.
However, neither player is worthy of being labeled the "centerpiece" of the Seahawks' franchise.
That title is boasted by starting safety Earl Thomas, who has developed into one of the league's top play-making defensive backs. After coming out of Texas, Thomas is now in his third season in the NFL and he's the best player on a highly underrated Seahawks defense.