The Best NFL Player at Every Position
The NFL boasts exceptional talent at every position.
There's a host of of game-controlling runners, a slew of dominant defenders and certainly no shortage of elite quarterbacks, but who is the best NFL player at each position?
Some are easy—Patrick Willis, for example—and some are tough (running back), but there are numerous players who could make an argument to top the list at their position.
Let's take a look at every position on the football field.
And while you're reading, just imagine if this "All-NFL" team could strap on a helmet and play an actual game together.
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Quarterbacks are always under the microscope, and in the current NFL, the position is as important as it's ever been. Aaron Rodgers was the MVP last season for a reason—the man can do it all.
When he's given time to throw, Rodgers will carve up even the NFL's best defenses with his rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy. And when the protection breaks down, No. 12 uses his feet to move the pocket and create a throwing lane for himself.
Rodgers benefits from throwing to perhaps the league's best receiving corps, and for that reason, the Packers remain a serious Super Bowl contender in 2012.
RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings
The running back position has taken on a different role in recent years. As the NFL continues its trend towards becoming an all-out aerial assault, rushing attempts are going down, and the position is becoming devalued.
In 2012, there isn't a clear-cut answer as to who the league's top running back is—unlike the mid 2000s, when LaDainian Tomlinson stood head and shoulders above his peers.
LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Ray Rice give opposing defenses nightmares, but it's tough to take anyone over a healthy Adrian Peterson.
In a league full of talented runners, there's one player that just looks different when carrying the football—it's Peterson.
Honorable mentions: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Arian Foster, Texans; Ray Rice, Ravens
FB: Vonta Leach, Ravens
Like running backs, fullbacks are being phased out of offensive game plans. Vonta Leach, however, is a true "throwback" player at the fullback position.
Leach first made a name for himself paving the way for Texans running back Arian Foster in Houston. But now, the former East Carolina road grader has taken his talents to Baltimore to plow open holes for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.
There are a lot of scary sights across the NFL, but Leach is the one player that none of the league's linebackers enjoys meeting in the hole.
Honorable mentions: Greg Jones, Jaguars; John Kuhn, Packers
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions
Is there really any question here? Wide receivers are some of the best athletes across the league, and Calvin Johnson stands above the rest.
His measurables are borderline unfair. At 6'5", 235 pounds, Johnson boasts a vertical leap of 42.5 inches and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. So, there's that.
Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson are both prototypical wide receivers, and they handle themselves with a great deal of class. "Megatron," however, may be the most physically gifted receiver in NFL history. This guy has only scratched the surface of what he could one day become.
Honorable mentions: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals; Andre Johnson, Texans
TE: Jimmy Graham, Saints
While fullbacks and running backs aren't as important to NFL offenses as they once were, the importance of the tight end position has never been higher than it is today.
By way of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, the 2011 season was the best year two tight ends have ever had in NFL history. Last year, Graham and Gronkowski combined for 189 catches, 2,637 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Although Gronkowski is more of a traditional tight end than Graham, the 6'7" former Miami basketball player is likely the biggest mismatch in the entire NFL. Deciding between Graham and Gronkowski is like choosing between a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce. Graham gets the slight edge.
Honorable mentions: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
OT: Joe Thomas, Browns
As the NFL has transformed into a pass-happy league, teams place a high importance on reliable pass-protecting offensive linemen.
The best in the business? Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas.
Since coming into the league in 2007, Thomas has been one of the most reliable tackles in football. The only reason his greatness has been relatively quiet is that he plays in Cleveland without much offense to speak of.
If not for an injury that's keeping Jason Peters out of the entire 2012 season, he'd rival Thomas as the league's top tackle. But without Peters in the picture, Thomas is clearly the NFL's best offensive tackle.
Honorable mentions: Jason Peters, Eagles; Jake Long, Dolphins, Duane Brown, Texans
OG: Evan Mathis, Eagles
The offensive guard position is the least glamorous spot on the offensive line. Offensive tackles get all the credit for keeping their quarterback upright, and centers are centers.
But despite ranking low on the line's "popularity meter," offensive guards have gotten more respect in recent years. This offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dished out $47.5 million to sign offensive guard Carl Nicks from the New Orleans Saints.
Nicks has developed into one of the top guards in the NFL over the past few seasons, but Philadelphia's Evan Mathis was the league's very best in 2011 and is off to a good start in 2012. In fact, Pro Football Focus thought highly enough of Mathis to include him on its top 10 list of offensive players from 2011.
Honorable mentions: Carl Nicks, Buccaneers; Jahri Evans, Saints; Logan Mankins, Patriots; Marshal Yanda, Ravens
C: Nick Mangold, Jets
His sister is an Olympian, and he's one of the NFL's best. This family has loads of athletic ability, just like the league has loads of talent on the front line. And Nick Mangold stands above his peers as the top center in football.
Although football fans only hear about the Jets' backup quarterback, their center is likely their best overall player.
Houston's Chris Myers garners consideration, but Mangold is a "throwback" as a prototypical road grader in the middle of the Jets' line. With two below-average quarterbacks and an average receiving corps, the Jets' best bet is to utilize a true "ground-and-pound" offensive philosophy.
It all starts with Mangold, their All-Pro center.
Honorable mentions: Chris Myers, Houston
DE: Justin Smith, 49ers (3-4)
South Park produced a popular episode featuring a cartooned Al Gore, called "ManBearPig." While the character is completely fictitious, I'm somewhat certain that 49ers defensive end Justin Smith is not human. He's half-man, half-bear.
Smith is a 285-pound mammoth at defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. As the anchor of the defensive line, Smith combines with outside linebacker Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis to form the best front seven in the NFL.
Baltimore's Haloti Ngata plays all over the Ravens' defensive line, and Calais Campbell has emerged as one of the top 3-4 linemen in the NFL, but Smith is currently the best in the business. He controls the line of scrimmage.
Honorable mentions: Haloti Ngata, Ravens; Calais Campbell, Cardinals
DE: Julius Peppers, Bears (4-3)
There are a lot of former basketball players who have enjoyed NFL success. Most of the hoops-stars-turned-football-players come from the tight end position. But not even Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley or Jimmy Graham has had as much long-term success as Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
A hustle player and rebounder as a North Carolina Tar Heel, Peppers was selected No. 2 overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 NFL draft.
Peppers narrowly edges Giants defensive end and athletic freak Jason Pierre-Paul and Minnesota's Jared Allen as the top 4-3 defensive end in the league. While a fierce pass-rusher, Peppers is a force against the run as well.
Honorable mentions: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jared Allen, Vikings; Justin Tuck, Giants; Mario Williams, Bills
DT: Vince Wilfork, Patriots
There's certainly no shortage of athletes across the NFL. But if not for some dominant "bigs" in the middle, the league's best athletes would be ineffective from week to week.
Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has played in both a 3-4 and a 4-3, and his 325-pound frame (yeah, right) controls the line of scrimmage every week. The defensive tackle position is a difficult one at which to pick the best player in the league.
However, Wilfork gets the nod slightly over Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins simply because he's done it longer. He's 30 years old and in his ninth NFL season, and he's playing some of the best football of his career.
Honorable mentions: Geno Atkins, Bengals; Kevin Williams, Vikings; Brandon Mebane, Seahawks
OLB: DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys (3-4)
DeMarcus Ware controls a game as much as any player in the league. Dating back to 2006, Ware has compiled six consecutive seasons with at least 11 sacks. His best season was 2011, in which he amassed 19.5 sacks, just shy of his career-high 20 in 2008.
Through two weeks of the 2012 season, Green Bay's Clay Matthews has nearly twice as many sacks (six) as any other player in the NFL. Combine his ability to get after the passer with his great coverage skills, and Matthews is making a strong case to be the Defensive Player of the Year.
Then again, no defensive player has been as dominant over the past several years as Ware. The guy's motor never ends, and he's as athletic as any linebacker in the NFL.
Honorable mentions: Clay Matthews, Packers; Tamba Hali, Chiefs; James Harrison, Steelers; Terrell Suggs, Ravens
OLB: Von Miller, Broncos (4-3)
It's extremely rare for a player to come into the league and become the best at his position after just one season. However, Von Miller has done exactly that.
Playing a unique role as a pass-rusher in Denver's 4-3 scheme, Miller is the No. 1 focus for opposing offenses. Miller has limitless potential, and he's well on his way to becoming a perennial Pro Bowl player.
As far as a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker, Chicago's Lance Briggs and Minnesota's Chad Greenway can do it all. But the best of the rest may be Jacksonville's Daryl Smith, who has developed into a compete player with nearly no weaknesses.
Honorable mentions: Daryl Smith, Jaguars; Lance Briggs, Bears; Jerod Mayo, Patriots; Chad Greenway, Vikings
MLB: Patrick Willis, 49ers
It's pretty safe to say the 49ers boast the NFL's best defense, and they're led by the league's top linebacker in Patrick Willis.
Alongside NaVorro Bowman in the middle, Willis plays both the run and the pass brilliantly and rarely comes off the field. Willis is a sideline-to-sideline player who can attack fullbacks head-on in the hole and cover opposing tight ends like a blanket.
Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher will go down as two of the best linebackers of their generation, but Willis is well on his way to becoming a legend in his own right. The word "Willis" has become synonymous for "boss." He's the best in the business.
Honorable mentions: Ray Lewis, Ravens; Jon Beason, Panthers; Brian Cushing, Texans
CB: Darrelle Revis, Jets
There are hundreds of great players in the NFL—quarterbacks that can slice up a defense, running backs that can run through walls and wide receivers that look like machines. But of all the NFL's great talent, Darrelle Revis may be the most impressive football player on the planet.
The "honorable mentions" for the cornerback position are unnecessary—Revis is clearly the top player at the position in the NFL. Every single week, Revis is asked to man up on the opposing team's best wide receiver, and usually he shuts him down.
He plays for a head coach that does a lot of talking, but Revis certainly walks his coach's talk.
Honorable mentions: Johnathan Joseph, Texans; Champ Bailey, Broncos; Cortland Finnegan, Rams
FS: Ed Reed, Ravens
Ravens safety Ed Reed flirted with retirement this past offseason, but the 34-year-old safety ultimately decided to return to Baltimore, and it didn't take him long to make his impact felt.
In Baltimore's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, Reed picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown. The 34-yard interception return broke Rod Woodson's record for the most interception return yards in NFL history.
Despite his age, Reed hasn't lost a step on the field. San Diego's Eric Weddle and Seattle's Earl Thomas are close, but no NFL safety controls a game quite like Reed.
Honorable mentions: Eric Weddle, Chargers; Earl Thomas, Seahawks
SS: Troy Polamalu, Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for their defense, and the face of their defense is Troy Polamalu. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau puts Polamalu in position to trust his instincts, and that recipe has produced a boatload of turnovers.
However, Polamalu's unpredictability sometimes gets him into trouble, and the defense gets burned.
Despite Polamalu being caught out of position at times, he remains one of the best defensive players in all of football. The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson is close, and Charles Woodson rivals Polamalu as far as instincts, but No. 43 is still No. 1 when it comes to the league's strong safeties.
Honorable mentions: Adrian Wilson, Cardinals; Charles Woodson, Packers
K: David Akers, 49ers
After leaving the Philadelphia Eagles to sign with the San Francisco 49ers, Akers connected on an incredible 44 of 52 field-goal attempts last season.
Through the early stages of the 2012 season, it looks like more of the same from Akers. On opening week, the 49ers ace tied an NFL record by converting a 63-yard field goal at Lambeau Field—and he got style points for hitting the crossbar.
San Francisco's stout defense keeps it in nearly every game it plays, and having a reliable kicker like Akers often gives the 49ers an edge in close games. He's been around for a long time, and he's currently playing the best football of his career.
Honorable mentions: Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders; Rob Bironas, Titans; Robbie Gould, Bears
P: Shane Lechler, Raiders
What do they put in the water in the Bay Area? One could make a convincing argument that the Raiders and 49ers are home to the league's top two kickers and the top two punters.
San Francisco's Andy Lee is a terrific punter, but all great punters are compared to Lechler, who has been the most consistent player in the league at his position. Since coming into the league in 2000, Lechler has played in 944 games for the Raiders, boasting a career average of 47.6 yards per punt.
Also serving as an emergency quarterback, Lechler is a respected athlete on top of being an excellent punter. As long as he's still in the league, Lechler tops the list of the league's best punters.
Honorable mentions: Andy Lee, 49ers; Sam Koch, Ravens; Mike Scifres, Chargers
KR: Devin Hester, Bears
There are a plethora of game-breaking return men in the NFL, but Chicago's Devin Hester is still the standard to which every returner is compared.
Hester is likely the best kick returner in NFL history, and he'll be recognized as the best in the business until he's out of the league. The rest of the NFC North has done a great job in trying to emulate the Bears' special teams success by adding the likes of Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb in recent years.
The Bears made it all the way to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman at quarterback. If not for Hester's dominance, Chicago likely wouldn't have been remotely close to the big game. That's extremely high praise for a kick returner.
Honorable mentions: Leon Washington, Seahawks; Josh Cribbs, Browns; Patrick Peterson, Cardinals; Percy Harvin, Vikings; Randall Cobb, Packers
Marques Eversoll is a Packers writer at Jersey Al's AllGBP.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll