Power Ranking the 25 Best Players Still Alive in NFL Playoffs

Nick Kostora@@nickkostoraContributor IIIJanuary 8, 2013

Power Ranking the 25 Best Players Still Alive in NFL Playoffs

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    With only eight teams left in the NFL playoffs, determining the 25 best players still in the hunt is a tricky proposition.

    However, clear patterns emerge when everything is broken down.

    The Baltimore Ravens defense is absolutely loaded, great quarterbacks tend to make the postseason and Atlanta almost has too many offensive weapons.

    So, who are the 25 best players still alive in the NFL playoffs?

    Let's start these power rankings off right with a Rookie of the Year candidate.

25. Russell Wilson

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    Russell Wilson is only a rookie, so perhaps it is somewhat premature to put him on a list of this nature. 

    However, how can you not include him after the season he has had?

    Wilson has made the transition to the pro level look easy, posting 3,118 yards passing, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He moves the pocket, knows when to use his legs to his advantage and is deadly accurate out of the pocket.

    Wilson is only 5'11" and 206 pounds, but he makes size seem like the least important trait when assessing a good quarterback. 

24. Julio Jones

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    Julio Jones had somewhat of an up-and-down 2012 season, but when he is playing his best there are few targets that are more dangerous.

    Jones is one of the fastest wide receivers in all of football and consistently beats cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. Having Roddy White opposite him is certainly not hurting Jones, but he is a talented player in his own right.

    Gaining 1,198 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns was good, but Jones has exponential room to grow.

23. Elvis Dumervil

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    Consider this: Elvis Dumervil has 63.5 sacks since entering the league six seasons ago.

    His 11 sacks this season were surpassed by Von Miller, but Miller's success is at least partially due to Dumervil drawing double teams from opposing offenses.

    He has at least 10 sacks in three of the last five seasons and helps Denver to have one of the most formidable defenses in the AFC.

    Dumervil may be outshined at times, but he is a great pass-rusher and an even better tackler.

22. Ryan Clady

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    When Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos, Ryan Clady instantly became the most important man on the field next to him.

    Clady is in charge of protecting Manning's blind side at left tackle and he has stepped up to the challenge in a big way. In a contract season, Clady has made a case for one of the biggest offseason lineman contracts in recent history.

    Denver is stout at pass protection and seems rejuvenated by the emergence of Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield. If opponents are going to get to Manning, it is probably best that they rush the opposite side of the line.

21. Paul Kruger

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    Who is the most underrated player on the Baltimore Ravens star-studded defense?

    Paul Kruger.

    Kruger made his presence felt in the Wild Card Round as he amassed 2.5 sacks of Andrew Luck, but he was playing great football in the regular season as well. Kruger had nine sacks in that time and has become a feared member of Baltimore's linebacker core.

    Will he ever have the name recognition of Ngata, Lewis, Reed or Suggs?

    Perhaps not, but Kruger is every bit as important to the success of the Ravens defense,

20. Wes Welker

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    Constantly underrated and yet always ready to prove any and all doubters wrong. Wes Welker started this season surrounded by controversy as many wondered if New England was phasing him out of the offense.

    Those worries proved to be nothing as Welker regained his place as a favorite target of quarterback Tom Brady. Welker finished the regular season with 1,354 yards receiving and six touchdowns.

    He can go over the middle of the field for tough catches in traffic, adjust routes to beat man coverage or settle into soft zones.

    Welker is not the most athletic or physical wide receiver, but he has tremendous technique and sure hands.

19. Haloti Ngata

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    6'4", 340 pounds.

    Those are the measures of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. It takes a supremely talented player to excel at the tackle spot in a 3-4 defense and Ngata is the perfect example of such a player.

    Running backs rarely head up the middle against Baltimore because Ngata is capable of taking out multiple lineman on any given play. He does not take plays off and has even become better at dropping back into the occasional bit of pass coverage.

    Ngata has 239 tackles and 22 sacks over the course of his career and will need to disrupt the passing lanes of the cerebral Peyton Manning in the Divisional Round.

18. Terrell Suggs

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    Defensive players from the Baltimore Ravens are becoming frequent members of these Power Rankings and Terrell Suggs continues that trend.

    The linebacker is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and although he is battling back from a tough injury, Suggs is close to the dominant force of a season ago.

    He had only two tackles against the Colts in the Wild Card round, but Suggs is always in position to make a play and plays with a reckless abandon that few others can match.

17. Roddy White

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    Roddy White only found the end zone seven times this season. That may seem like a bad thing, but there is only one football to go around in Atlanta and a ton of weapons that need the ball.

    White and fellow wideout Julio Jones create one of the most dynamic duos in the league and both have top-end speed that forces defenses to game-plan around their skill sets.

    White's 6'0", 211-pound frame allows him to make quick cuts, accelerate out of his breaks and perform dynamic moves in the open field to avoid defenders.

    He is part of a tremendous offensive puzzle in Atlanta, but may be the most important piece.

16. Marshawn Lynch

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    Beast mode.

    The term has become synonymous with Marshawn Lynch and he has lived up to the moniker for almost the entire 2012 season.

    Lynch has rushed for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. The play of Russell Wilson gets most of the headlines, but Lynch is a steadying force and his ability to wear down the clock and keep opposing offenses off the field is key.

    Only six times all season has Lynch rushed for less than 100 yards in a game. He will need to continue producing at a high level for Seattle to have any hope the rest of the way.

15. Andre Johnson

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    Andre Johnson got off to a slow start to the 2012 season. He had just two touchdowns through the Texans' first nine games and had two games of at least 100 yards receiving in that time frame.

    However, Johnson has reminded the league of why he is one of best deep-ball threats in football in the last half of the season. Johnson finished the year with a strong 1,528 yards and has given quarterback Matt Schaub the elite weapon that he so desperately needs.

    Houston's offense is best when it is balanced and Johnson's talent is required to achieve that. He has averaged 14.3 yards per catch this season and demands constant double teams.

14. Ray Rice

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    Ray Rice has rushed for at least 1,100 yards in each of the last four seasons.

    The Baltimore Ravens passing game has been inconsistent at times, but Rice has always produced and helped propel the team into the postseason.

    His 5'8", 212-pound frame is not prototypical, but Rice is adept at rushing between the tackles and yet also has the explosiveness to burst runs to the outside.

    Baltimore will likely lean heavily on Rice as attention is turned towards the Denver Broncos.

13. Tony Gonzalez

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    Some things only get better with age.

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez fits this description quite nicely. He is a surefire Hall of Famer and is one of the most reliable pass catchers in the NFL.

    Gonzalez has 930 yards receiving and eight touchdowns this season and has averaged 10 yards per catch. Roddy White and Julio Jones vertical ability helps to open up seams over the middle for the 36-year-old star.

12. Aldon Smith

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    J.J. Watt was not the only man chasing after Michael Strahan's single-season sack record this year.

    San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was making a run at the crown himself. Smith fell short with 19.5 sacks, but he is still a player to be feared in this postseason.

    Smith is part of a 49ers defense that refuses to give up rushing yards and is particularly skilled at pass rushing. Smith's finesse moves at the line of scrimmage allow him to get past offensive lineman before they even have time to react and he always uses his speed to his advantage.

    Smith is only getting better with each passing season and it is scary to think how good the 23-year-old can become.

11. Rob Gronkowski

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    100 percent healthy or not, Rob Gronkowski is always a threat to find the end zone.

    He has built up great chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady and the offense is simply not the same when "Gronk" is out of the lineup.

    He amassed 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games this season and knows how to properly use his 6'6", 265-pound to his advantage, particularly on short-to-intermediate routes.

    Gronkowski has a safe set of hands and a quick first step that allows him to get ahead of defenders.

10. Ed Reed

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    At 34 years old, Ed Reed is clearly closer to the end than the beginning. The Baltimore Ravens safety has thrown his body around for years and often finds himself either injured or hurt.

    However, there are few players more dominant when on the field. Reed acts instinctively, always knowing where the ball is and where it is going to go. Lateral quickness and solid acceleration allow Reed to be in position to make plays and wreak havoc.

    A sure tackler with even better hands, Reed has 49 tackles this season and four interceptions. 

9. Von Miller

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    There are multiple playmakers on the Denver Broncos defense, but Von Miller has the highest ceiling of any of them.

    Miller generated 18.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and 55 tackles this season. He is learning the intricacies of blitzing schemes and rarely seems lost or confused in coverage as he did when he was a rookie.

    Miler does not have imposing size at 6'3" and 237 pounds, but will make any tackle and is quick to fill any gap opened up by the offensive line. He is perhaps the most important piece of a growing and evolving Broncos defense.

8. Champ Bailey

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    Champ Bailey had just two interceptions this season. He did not force any fumbles and he did not have any games with double digit tackles.

    Still, stats can be deceiving.

    At 34 years old, Bailey remains one of the best cover corners in all of football. He consistently takes on opposing offenses best wide receivers and remains adept at taking them out of games. 

    Bailey is tough to beat off the line of scrimmage, plays a physical brand of football and has great range once the ball is in the air.

7. Ray Lewis

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    Yes, Ray Lewis is clearly hampered right now. But how many linebackers still in the playoffs would you rather have on your side?

    Lewis managed to lead the Ravens in tackles in the Wild Card Round with 13 and is the unquestioned leader of the defense. Announcing his retirement has been a clear catalyst for Baltimore's playoff run and Lewis' services are desperately needed.

    Lewis has at least 10 tackles in five of the seven games he has played in this season. 

6. Arian Foster

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    How do you game-plan for Arian Foster?

    He excels at all facets of the running back position. Foster can bulldoze his way up the gut for four to six yards a carry or rush around the corner and blaze past everyone on the defense.

    Foster forces defenses to stay in the box and yet still found a way to rush for least 100 yards in seven games this year. He finished the regular season with 1,424 rushing yards and has to be considered one of the biggest ground threats not just in the playoffs, but in all of football.

5. Clay Matthews

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    Clay Matthews has amassed 42.5 sacks and 160 tackles in four short years with the Green Bay Packers.

    He has become the best player on the Packers defense and opposing offenses always have to game-plan around him. Matthews is a feared pass-rusher, but is fully capable of dropping into coverage, reading a quarterback's eyes and getting to a potential target before a pass can be completed.

    He is a complete sideline-to-sideline player and is the ultimate threat because he is so tough to stop. The Green Bay defense as a whole has not been great against the run this season, but that will have to change if the Packers want to have any hope of beating San Francisco this weekend.

4. J.J. Watt

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    69 total tackles and 20.5 sacks.

    J.J. Watt has quickly become one of the best defensive ends in all of football and is most certainly one of the best players left in the playoffs.

    Watt has one of the quickest first moves in the league and uses his 6'5", 295-pound frame to manipulate his opponents and get to the quarterback.

    Bringing in tight ends and pulling guards to help block Watt has been of little use so far, but he will have a great test in front of him in the Divisional Round as he tries to get to Tom Brady.

3. Aaron Rodgers

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    Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP for a reason. He is in the conversation as the best quarterback in all of football and has grown exponentially in recent years.

    The Packers signal-caller had another superb season, throwing for 4,295 touchdowns, 39 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

    His play was overshadowed by the comeback stories of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson, but the Packers' Wild Card Round victory over the Vikings showed that they are still a formidable opponent.

    Green Bay will always have a chance with No. 12 under center.

2. Peyton Manning

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    The Denver Broncos are a legitimate threat to win the Lombardi Trophy and Peyton Manning is undoubtedly the reason why.

    There were questions heading into this season about his age, arm strength and overall health after multiple neck surgeries.

    How did Manning respond?

    By throwing for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Oh, and leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record.

    Manning is playing some of the best football of his entire career.

1. Tom Brady

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    Tom Brady's skill is often taken for granted at this point in his career. Fans see him throw for 300 yards per game and think of it as business as usual.

    Brady rarely has off days. In fact, he threw for at least 300 yards in eight different games this season. New England has a plethora of offensive weapons because Brady can make the most out of anyone's abilities.

    The Patriots are going to threaten for the Super Bowl yet again and their run will hinge on the play of their quarterback.