The Best NFL Player at Every Position in 2012

Jesse ReedCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2012

The Best NFL Player at Every Position in 2012

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    Von Miller is the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL; a fact nobody can dispute. 

    The NFL is full of dominant players, though, and it's rare for one guy to stand out as much as Miller has at his position.

    As the 2012 NFL season draws to a close, we're starting to see certain players pull ahead of the pack, and we wanted to take a look at the top dogs at every position. 

    Certainly, many of you will disagree with our findings, so we encourage you to let us know which players deserve to be dubbed the best at their positions in the comments section below. 

Left Tackle

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    Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos

    Keeping Peyton Manning clean is Clady's No. 1 job, and his performance in 2012 has been nothing short of phenomenal. 

    Through 13 games and 921 snaps, Clady has only allowed one sack, five quarterback hits and 11 quarterback hurries (ProFootballFocus.com, login required), and his performance is a big reason why Manning is having one of the best statistical seasons of his entire career.

Left Guard

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    Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles

    Don't scoff. 

    The Eagles have a ton of issues to fix on both sides of the ball, but one position that's not in question is left guard. 

    Mathis has played in all 13 games for the Eagles, logging 956 snaps in the process. In all that time, he's not allowed a single sack, has only allowed seven quarterback hits and 11 hurries (PFF) while providing massive lanes for the team's running game.

Center

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    Mike Pouncey, Miami Dolphins

    At the tender age of 23, Pouncey is already the NFL's best center. 

    He and Ryan Tannehill have worked well together this season, and the future is bright for the Miami Dolphins on offense.

    Pouncey has played in all 13 games for the Dolphins this season, logging 857 snaps. Amazingly, he hasn't allowed a single sack, has only allowed one quarterback hit and two quarterback hurries (PFF), and he is a mobile, dominant run-blocker.

Right Guard

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    Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens

    There isn't a right guard in the NFL playing better than Yanda in 2012. 

    He's a stud in both the running game and the passing game, and you can only knock him for his seven penalties this season.

    Yanda hasn't allowed a single sack and has only allowed three quarterback hits and six quarterback hurries in 859 snaps (PFF). The Ravens usually run behind him, too, and he's a big reason why Ray Rice has found so much success with limited opportunities.

Right Tackle

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    Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals

    There aren't too many dominant right tackles in the NFL. All the best ones play on the left side. 

    Smith has turned himself into an excellent player after embarrassing himself during his first year, and he's been phenomenal this season for the Bengals—especially down the stretch.

    Smith has only allowed four sacks, two quarterback hits and 20 hurries in 884 snaps (PFF), and his run-blocking prowess has been a big key to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' late-season surge.

Tight End

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    Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

    Gronkowski hasn't played or practiced since Week 11 when he broke his right forearm, but he's likely going to return for the playoffs unless his recovery doesn't go as planned.

    Even missing the games that he's missed, Gronk's production can't be denied.

    In the 11 games he has played this season, Gronkowski caught 53 passes for 748 yards with 10 touchdowns. No other tight end in the league can match the impact he provides for his team when he plays. 

Wide Receiver

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    Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

    It's not Johnson's fault Matthew Stafford has had trouble getting the ball into the end zone this season. Stafford's refusal to employ solid quarterback mechanics hasn't stopped Johnson from having a heck of a season. 

    Johnson is nearing hallowed ground in 2012, as his 1,546 receiving yards puts him only 302 yards shy of Jerry Rice's all-time record for most yards in a single season. At Johnson's current pace, he'll break Rice's record.

    Megatron is undoubtedly the NFL's best receiver right now, and he may end up surpassing Rice on more than one occasion as he enters the prime of his career. 

Running Back

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    Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

    If you want to argue this one, then I can only assume you've been living under a rock the past year and haven't witnessed the glory that is Peterson's 2012 campaign. 

    With three games left on the schedule, A.D. only has 506 yards standing between him and Eric Dickerson's all-time record for most rushing yards in a single season. 

    Power, speed, vision, high motor, anger—Peterson's got the entire package, and there isn't a running back in the NFL that can hold a candle to him in 2012. 

Fullback

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    Bruce Miller, San Francisco 49ers

    Miller is the tip of the spear for the 49ers' No. 2-ranked power rushing attack. 

    He's only touched the ball 12 times this season, but he impacts the game in other ways. His job isn't flashy, and he rarely gets any glory. But time after time, Miller has opened up holes for Frank Gore and the rest of the 49ers running backs. 

Quarterback

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    Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

    Manning is back to his old tricks again, and he has his Broncos rolling on an eight-game winning streak—the best mark currently in the NFL. 

    Tom Brady is a close second right now, and nobody can deny how well he's playing, but it's important to recognize that Brady's getting much more help from his running game in 2012 than Manning. 

    Manning is working with the No. 20-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, yet he's still getting the offense to play at just as high of a level as Brady is with his No. 7-ranked rushing offense.

    Teams know the Broncos offense is one-dimensional, and Manning is still torching secondaries on a weekly basis. 

4-3 Defensive End

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    Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

    Wake has come on strong this year after showing signs of a career resurgence in 2011. 

    His 14 sacks are the most by any 4-3 defensive end, but he's getting it done in other ways for the Dolphins, too. His ability to hold the edge on running plays is a big reason the Dolphins feature the No. 9 rushing defense in the NFL.

3-4 Defensive End

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    J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

    Watt defies all we've grown to expect from 3-4 defensive ends. 

    With 16.5 sacks through 13 games, he's already put together an unprecedented season, and his ability to swat passes at the line of scrimmage has never been matched. 

    Like Von Miller, we haven't even begun to see Watt's ceiling, and it's going to be fun to watch him develop throughout the years. 

Defensive Tackle

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    Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

    When you look up the word "dominant" in the dictionary, you will find Atkins' picture next to the definition. 

    This young man is almost as disruptive as J.J. Watt, and his 10.5 sacks are the most, by far, of any defensive tackle in 2012.

    Not only is Atkins brutally tough to guard on passing plays, but his ability to penetrate the backfield manifests itself on running plays, too.

4-3 Outside Linebacker

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    Von Miller, Denver Broncos

    Miller's already the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, and the best part for the Broncos is that he's just beginning to tap into his full potential.

    With 16 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 45 quarterback hurries (PFF), six forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown, his ability to make impact plays for his defense is unmatched by anyone playing his position.

3-4 Outside Linebacker

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    Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers

    The list of freak players keeps on rolling with Smith. 

    Through 13 games, Smith has tallied 19.5 sacks and is on pace to break Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks in a single season. 

    Furthermore, he's not just a one-trick pony, as Smith has begun adjusting to playing in space as an every-down linebacker and is especially adept at stopping the run. 

    The crazy part about Smith's 2012 season is that he only had 4.5 sacks through his first six games. In the last seven games, he's been on fire and has tallied 15 sacks. 

Middle Linebacker

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    Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers

    Willis has taken Ray Lewis' mantle as the game's best middle linebacker the past two or three years now, and it's going to be a while before he's supplanted.

    Willis can do it all. He's brilliant against the run, can blitz the passer, can cover in space and rarely misses tackles. To be precise, he's missed three tackles...all year (PFF). 

    There isn't a more complete player at his position. 

Cornerback

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    Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

    Operating under the assumption that Sherman is innocent until proven guilty, I'm not going to leave him off of this list. He has a hearing on Friday to decide whether or not he'll be suspended after the NFL charged him with using PEDs, and he's expected to file a motion to further delay a verdict (h/t ESPN.com's Adam Schefter). 

    Sherman has the size, speed, quickness, instincts and pure skill to lock down the NFL's top receivers on a weekly basis. Sure, Tim Jennings has more interceptions and Charles Tillman is the king of forced fumbles, but there isn't a better cover corner in the NFL than Sherman. 

Strong Safety

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    Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins

    In his third year as a pro, Jones has become the NFL's top strong safety, and he's one of a handful who can actually cover in space.

    In 13 games, Jones has tallied 66 solo tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, three interceptions and has defended seven passes. Additionally, PFF finds that Jones has only allowed 48.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed and is holding opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 44.4. 

    The Dolphins have assembled an impressive group of young players, and Jones will be a cornerstone member of their defense for years to come. 

Free Safety

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    Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

    Playing for the Chargers, Weddle doesn't get the credit in the national media he deserves, but make no mistake about it, he's the best free safety in the NFL—no disrespect to Ed Reed.

    Weddle is strong against the run, can cover a ton of ground in the open field as a center fielder and has the cover skills to take on slot receivers one-on-one. 

    He has tallied one sack, two forced fumbles, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and has defended nine passes. Additionally, PFF finds that quarterbacks who dare to throw his way are suffering a brutal passer rating of 42.9. 

Kicker

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    Phil Dawson, Cleveland Browns

    Dawson has one blemish on his resume this season, and his lone miss came on a chip shot. 

    Other than one missed field goal from close range, he's been perfect, including a perfect 5-of-5 from 50-plus yards. 

Punter

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    Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers

    Punters are people, too, Rich Eisen, and Lee is the NFL's best.

    The way he drops balls inside the 10-yard line on a regular basis makes watching punts actually enjoyable. 

    Chew on that for a while...

     

    Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 and check out my weekly NFL picks at Pickfactor.com