The Single Greatest Current Player for Each NFL Franchise
With regards to picking the very best player on each and every NFL team right now, that’s a task certainly much easier said than done.
No matter the level of overall success, each NFL team is full of big-time ballers, which partly explains why quality, evenly played football is on display nearly every week in the league.
Even with that said, however, there can only be one player on each squad who can claim the title of “the greatest.”
Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus DT
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The Buffalo Bills’ hopes for building a formidable defense in the future may well rest on the very broad shoulders of second-year defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.
The former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide is a stud on the defensive line and is arguably Buffalo’s most valuable player overall. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is too unreliable for that title, although dynamic Bills running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller certainly give Dareus a run for his money here.
Miami Dolphins: Reggie Bush RB
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Certainly Miami Dolphins fans are hopeful that rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will eventually become the team’s greatest player.
But for now, that honor goes to running back Reggie Bush.
The former USC star and NFL veteran is finally emerging as the feature back some thought he would become when he migrated from New Orleans to South Beach. Over the past season plus, Bush has rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns and is a threat to score as a runner, receiver and kick returner.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady QB
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Do I need to say more?
Brady is not only the face of the New England Patriots, but he’s arguably the face of the entire NFL. The 13-year veteran still possesses a golden arm, along with those stunning looks, supermodel wife in Gisele Bundchen and endorsement deals from UGG Boots (don’t laugh) and Under Armour.
He, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft are the three biggest reasons why the Pats have shot up from relative unknowns to one of the league’s model franchises over the past decade plus.
New York Jets: Darrelle Revis CB
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Rarely do you see a cornerback being a team’s best player in today’s pass-happy NFL, but that’s exactly the case for the New York Jets.
There’s little debate that All-Pro defensive back Darrelle Revis is Gang Green’s best player overall. Revis, who is rightfully regarded in many pro football circles as the league’s greatest defensive back, gives Jets coach Rex Ryan the luxury of being very aggressive with his front seven in defensive schemes.
Revis’ ability to shut down his half of the field every week is simply a godsend for a defense-minded coach like Ryan.
Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Suggs LB
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For years, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis has been considered the Baltimore Ravens’ best player.
It’s looking more and more like that torch is being passed over to Terrell Suggs (especially now). Even though he’s missed the first half of the 2012 season rehabilitating his torn Achilles injury, Suggs has become a defensive force during his Ravens career.
If the defending Defensive Player of the Year can successfully return from the mend and play at the same high level he did before the injury, consider the torch officially passed in Baltimore.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green WR
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He’s only in his second pro season, but Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is on the fast track to becoming the league’s premier player at the position.
Currently, Green leads the NFL in receiving, with 43 catches for 628 yards and six touchdowns.
Green oozes athleticism and explosive ability and has a great rapport with second-year quarterback Andy Dalton. Their building chemistry will be a big reason why Green will be regarded as the game’s best receiver down the road, if he isn’t already.
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas OL
A serious argument can be made that Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas is the game’s best offensive lineman.
The travesty is that few football fans realize this, considering how the Browns don’t get a lot of attention thanks to their recent run of football futility. But Thomas is rock solid.
Since being selected third overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas hasn’t missed a start. Additionally, Thomas has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first five NFL seasons.
The only other offensive lineman to ever accomplish that feat was former Miami Dolphin Richmond Webb.
It’s safe to say the Browns made the right decision to draft Thomas back in 2007.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger QB
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When searching for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best player, look no further than two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Over the past several seasons, the veteran quarterback has turned into one of the premier players at the position. It’s Roethlisberger’s rifle arm and pocket presence that have allowed the Steelers to transition from a ground-oriented offense to a lethal passing attack in recent years.
The Steel City is Big Ben’s town, and rightfully so.
Houston Texans: Arian Foster RB
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It’s pretty amazing—and a little unfathomable—that Texans running back Arian Foster entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie.
Some college scouts around the league probably lost their jobs over that big mistake. Whether you believe he’s a product of head coach Gary Kubiak’s effective zone blocking system or not, Foster has become the league’s best running back in a matter of just a few years.
Since first taking the field for the Texans back in 2009, Foster has rushed for nearly 3,500 yards and 36 touchdowns. Whether it’s taking a handoff or catching passes out of the backfield, Foster is a threat to break a big play every time he gets his hands on the pigskin.
Houston definitely doesn’t have a problem with Foster in the backfield.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck QB
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It would’ve been very tempting to go with Colts mainstays like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in this position.
But those veterans aren’t the long-term future in Indianapolis—rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is.
Even just a few games into his NFL career, Luck has already shown signs that he just may be the suitable replacement for Peyton Manning that Colts fans were hoping he’d be when the team drafted him first overall back in the spring.
Luck has guided a Colts roster devoid of exceptional talent to a respectable 2-3 record so far in the 2012 season. As the Colts assemble more talent around Luck in the coming years on both sides of the ball, expect the gifted Luck to flourish into a star.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew RB
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You almost have to feel a little bad for the Pocket Hercules known as Maurice Jones-Drew.
He’s still one of the most talented and complete backs in the business, but MJD is wasting the best years of his career being overwhelmed on a Jacksonville Jaguars offense that lacks a lot of talent around him.
Considering how there’s not a whole lot of other playmakers and marquee names on the roster, naming MJD the Jaguars’ best player is a no-brainer. But depending on whether or not the Jags decide to throw big bucks his way, Jones-Drew may not be Jacksonville’s best player much longer.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson RB
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Until both Kenny Britt and Jake Locker prove they can stay healthy for long periods of time, the title of best player on the Tennessee Titans still goes to Chris Johnson.
Yes, CJ2K hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations since signing his mega contract extension back in September of 2011. But Johnson is slowly but surely showing signs of returning to the productive back he's always been in his career.
Johnson has rushed for 255 yards in the Titans’ past three games, including 141 against Houston and 91 against Pittsburgh—both regarded as tough defenses to run against. Plus, unlike Britt and Locker, Johnson has been very durable for the Titans, as he hasn’t missed a game in any of the past three seasons.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller LB
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Some pundits were skeptical when the Denver Broncos drafted linebacker Von Miller second overall in last year’s NFL Draft.
What are those pundits saying now?
In a very short amount of time, Miller has become the Broncos’ best defensive player and most promising young player overall. Miller’s nearly unblockable one-on-one.
In his rookie year of 2011, he had 11.5 sacks and he’s tallied six sacks through six games so far in 2012.
If you think Miller is unblockable now, just wait until he enters that proverbial “prime” of his promising Broncos career in the near future.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles RB
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Adrian Peterson isn’t the only elite running back who has impressively rebounded from a torn ACL.
In Kansas City, Jamaal Charles is once again proving to the league why he’s the Chiefs’ greatest asset.
Through the first six games of 2012, Charles has almost 600 yards rushing on 5.1 yards per carry. For a man who’s averaged over five yards per attempt for his career, it’s like Charles never even suffered a debilitating knee injury last season.
Charles is one of the few reasons fans of the 1-5 Chiefs have reason to cheer thus far in 2012.
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden RB
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If Raiders running back Darren McFadden can find a way to stay consistently healthy in the future, he’s going to be a tough one to defend against, if he already isn’t.
McFadden is the complete package at running back. He’s big (6’1”, 218 lbs.), physical and has breakaway speed. That combination in running backs simply isn’t something NFL general managers find on an everyday basis.
McFadden only played in seven games for the Silver and Black last season due to a nagging foot injury. Reggie McKenzie, Dennis Allen and all members of Raider Nation are hoping Run DMC stays on the field in 2012, because he gives the Raiders the best chance to “Just win, baby.”
San Diego Chargers: Eric Weddle S
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Philip Rivers should be the man in this position for the San Diego Chargers.
But he’s been far too inconsistent recently to be named the Chargers’ greatest player. One star player in San Diego who’s solid every week is safety Eric Weddle.
Out of Utah, Weddle is fundamentally sound and rarely gets beat in his back-end coverage. The sixth-year player is coming off a career-high seven interceptions last season and can also return kickoffs and punts when called upon.
The Chargers’ brass must think highly of Weddle’s talent when they chose to give him, and not former San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson, a handsome contract extension in 2011.
Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware LB
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Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have had their fair share of hits and misses in the NFL Draft over the past decade or so.
But there’s no denying America’s Team hit a grand slam picking DeMarcus Ware in 2005. Since then, Ware has only become the fastest player ever to 100 sacks in NFL history, beating Reggie White’s record back in Week 1 against the Giants.
It’s no coincidence that Ware was mentioned in the same breath as the legendary White in regards to that statistic. Like White, Ware will undoubtedly be enshrined in pro football’s Hall of Fame five years after he retires.
New York Giants: Eli Manning QB
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Where would the New York Giants be without Eli Manning?
They certainly wouldn’t be sitting pretty with two Super Bowl titles in the past five seasons without Manning’s heroics. Manning has emerged from a rough start to his career to turn into the franchise quarterback Ernie Accorsi was hoping he’d become when he traded for Peyton Manning’s brother back in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Manning now directs one of the NFL’s most lethal passing attacks, turning receivers like Hakeem Nicks and the undrafted Victor Cruz into stars in the process. And it doesn’t look like Manning will be slowing anytime soon.
Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy RB
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Texans running back Arian Foster is regarded in many pro football circles as the game’s most complete back today.
Right behind Foster might be Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy. Shady McCoy has become quite the rushing and receiving threat for the Eagles over the past few seasons.
In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, McCoy tallied nearly 3,400 yards from scrimmage and a combined 29 touchdowns. With that kind of balanced productivity, it’s no wonder why McCoy has become one of the premier running backs in both fantasy (football, that is) and real life.
Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III QB
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The Washington Redskins may have surrendered a king’s ransom to draft Robert Griffin III, but even this far into his rookie campaign, it’s safe to say the ‘Skins have found the quarterback king they’ve been searching for.
It’s not a stretch to say that RGIII may be the most athletic quarterback to ever play the position in NFL history. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Minnesota Vikings’ defense, who RGIII torched on that epic touchdown run in Week 6.
With world-class sprinter speed, great pocket presence and natural leadership and toughness, Redskins fans will be saying “hail RGIII” for years to come in D.C.
Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher LB
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There are three constants in Chicago. The wind will always be howling, the Cubs’ curse will continue and Brian Urlacher will be there to bring the pain to unlucky opponents.
It seems the only thing that has stopped eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro in his Bears career is injuries. Other than missing most of 2009 with a wrist injury and a good portion of the 2004 season, Urlacher has been on the field playing at an elite level.
In 10 seasons, Urlacher has tallied at least 90 tackles and has manned the middle for a Chicago defense that has been wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers in the Windy City for years. Even at age 34, Urlacher is still highly productive (he’s coming off a 100-tackle season in 2010), making him as constant as those windy Chicago days and those unlucky Cubs.
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson WR
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There’s little doubt as to why Calvin Johnson has earned the famous nickname "Megatron" in his Detroit Lions career.
With all of the acrobatic catches he has hauled in from Matthew Stafford over the years, it’s almost like Johnson is more machine than man. It’s harder to decide what was more impressive about Megatron in 2011.
Was it the fact that Johnson hauled in 96 receptions for 1,681 yards (an unreal 17.5 yard average) and 16 touchdowns? Or that he did it while being constantly double- and even triple-teamed by most opposing defenses?
Either way, Megatron is an appropriate nickname for the Lions’ most ferocious player.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers QB
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But it turns out whoever eventually succeeds Rodgers is going to have a pretty tough act to follow himself. Rodgers’ past two seasons in the Packers green and gold have transformed him into a living legend in Green Bay.
In 2010, Rodgers took home Super Bowl MVP honors in leading the Wild Card Packers to the franchise’s fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy. He followed that performance in 2011 by taking home NFL MVP honors, throwing for over 4,600 yards and 45 touchdowns in leading Green Bay to a 15-1 regular season.
And, oh yeah, Rodgers is also king of the discount double check. That won’t be easy for Rodgers’ successor to follow up on, either.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson RB
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Enjoy Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson while he’s still trucking over defenders and leaving them in the dust.
Peterson may just be the last true workhorse running back the NFL will see in a while. In an era where almost every team is going with a running back by committee approach, with a combination of bruising backs and runners with breakneck speed, Peterson offers the best of both worlds.
Peterson made it look easy in his first five NFL seasons in Minnesota, rushing for over 5,500 yards and 52 touchdowns. Then, he tore his ACL in December of 2011, and some fans wondered if he would ever be the same.
Just a mere nine months later, Peterson made an impressive return to the field, and hasn’t missed a beat since. Pretty epic from a Viking who may just be the last true dominant every down, workhorse back we see in a while.
Atlanta Falcons: Roddy White WR
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Falcons star receiver Roddy White has earned the reputation of getting pretty rowdy on the field during his career in Atlanta—much to the dismay of opposing cornerbacks and safeties.
The eight-year receiver has quietly become one of the best in the game, as proven by his back-to-back 100 catch seasons in 2010 and 2011. In addition, White has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in each of the past five seasons.
That’s about as rowdy as any receiver has been—with the exception of perhaps Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson—in the NFL recently.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton QB
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Certainly Cam Newton hasn’t had the greatest of starts to his sophomore campaign in the NFL.
But considering his overall pure talent and the incredible rookie season he had under center for the Carolina Panthers, it’s silly for anyone to give up on the former Heisman Trophy-winner just yet. Newton had arguably the greatest rookie season for an NFL quarterback ever when he threw for over 4,000 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns (a quarterback record) in 2011.
Newton’s physical attributes are off the charts. At 6’5” and nearly 250 lbs., he’s built like a fullback.
The thing is that no fullbacks have arm strength and speed like Newton possesses. That’s why Panthers fans should be patient in waiting for their franchise quarterback to break out of his sophomore slump.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees QB
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What compliment can we give Drew Brees that the accomplished New Orleans quarterback hasn’t already received?
Brees has been nothing short of a savior during his time in the Big Easy. All Brees has done in the Bayou is win Super Bowl MVP, the AP Male Athlete of the Year award (in 2010), make the All-Pro team four times, become the fastest quarterback ever to 40,000 passing yards and break two passing records that were thought to be untouchable.
In 2011, Brees broke Dan Marino’s long-time record for most passing yards in a season by throwing 5,476. And most recently, Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass; it’s at 48 and counting for Brees.
Instead of asking what further compliments we can lavish Brees with, maybe we should just ask where the Saints would be without this future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Donald Penn OL
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It’s very rarely that an offensive lineman is considered an NFL team’s best player, but that’s how good Donald Penn has been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite having to deal with blitz-happy defenses like the Falcons and Saints twice each year for the past several years, Penn has stood tall.
The seven-year left tackle has quietly turned into one of the best offensive linemen in the game, doing a great job protecting Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman’s blindside. I say "quietly," but Penn’s accomplishments haven’t gone totally unnoticed.
He was voted by his peers as one of the NFL’s Top 100 players in the annual player survey conducted by the NFL Network this past offseason.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald WR
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There’s little doubt that the crown jewel of the Arizona Cardinals franchise is All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
When determining the best receivers in the NFL, the seventh-year veteran out of the University of Pittsburgh is certainly on the short list—if not at the very top of it.
For the past five seasons, Fitzgerald has caught at least 80 passes and racked up 1,000 yards through the air. Despite playing with several different quarterbacks (Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton) in his career, Fitzgerald has remained remarkably consistent.
For Cardinals fans, watching Fitzgerald haul in acrobatic passes on a nearly weekly basis has been like finding an oasis in the Arizona desert.
St. Louis Rams: Chris Long DE
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Like father, like son. Much like Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long dominated for years with the Oakland Raiders, his son, Chris, is doing the same for the St. Louis Rams.
The former second overall draft pick is really coming into his own for the Rams as a defensive force. In 2011, Long compiled a career high 13 sacks, to go along with 37 tackles.
So far through six games in 2012, Long has four sacks and is one of the leaders of what has become a very stout Rams defense under first-year head coach Jeff Fisher.
Howie Long must be proud.
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis LB
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For years, guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher have been regarded as the best inside linebackers in the profession.
But they’re being replaced by the unblockable tackling machine out of the Bay Area, Patrick Willis. In his rookie season of 2007, the San Francisco 49er racked up 174 total tackles and hasn’t looked back.
Willis has tallied over 100 tackles in four of his first five seasons. The only reason he failed to reach that mark in 2011 was because he missed three games due to a hamstring injury.
The Niners are as dominant as they come these days on defense, and that’s due largely in part to the league’s best middle linebacker in Willis, a true San Francisco tackling treat.
Seattle Seahawks: Earl Thomas S
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The Seattle Seahawks are starting to garner some real attention for their shutdown secondary. And who’s the best player in that group? Earl Thomas, of course.
The former Texas Longhorn has blossomed into one of the league’s best, if not most underrated, safeties in just a three-year span. Thomas can come up to play the run, as evidenced by the nearly 140 solo tackles he totaled in his first two years in Seattle.
He also effortlessly blankets the back end of the defense, allowing Seattle’s physical corners like Richard Marshall and Brandon Browner to play aggressive, bump and run coverage.