The Most Valuable Non-Quarterbacks in the NFL
What happens when trying to assess the highest overall value of an NFL player without considering the quarterback position?
This thought experiment originated through a delightfully engaging debate via Twitter. The purpose of the question was intended to indirectly provide a bit of inner peace in regards to another question—what’s the most valuable position in football after the quarterback?
Perhaps the many opinions offered up that night brought us no closer to answering the ever-debatable question of positional value; but it did serve up a bounty of delicious arguments for the most valuable players not lined up behind center.
For the purpose of this slideshow, the overall value of a player was determined by considering everything from age and injuries to production and freakish measurables. Another way to look at this is to imagine you're the general manager of an expansion team and the league has awarded you the ability to steal away any non-quarterback in the NFL.
The list has been broken down into four tiers consisting of three players per tier.
Patrick Peterson, CB/PR/KR, Tier 4
Weight: 219 lbs.
Patrick Peterson makes this list mostly as an unfinished product with the versatility in special teams capable of adding unique game-changing ability. At 22 years old, Peterson seems to be getting better with every week.
Giving his 4.3 speed and ideal size, Peterson could be on a Deion Sanders-like career trajectory. He also has lethal abilities as a punt and kick returner quite similar to Prime Time himself.
As a rookie, he tied the NFL record for most punt returns for a touchdown in a single season. It's this game-changing talent which helps him make this list as he progresses into one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks, a feat he should accomplish by next season.
In 2012, Peterson had seven interceptions and allowed the fifth-lowest QB rating in passes thrown his way. For Patrick, the best is definitely yet to come. Over the course of the next five years, it'll be challenging to find a player more valuable than Arizona's own No. 21.
NaVorro Bowman, ILB, Tier 4
Weight: 242 lbs.
Yup, that's right; NaVorro Bowman is actually the most valuable linebacker on the 49ers' roster. He most likely is the most valuable long-term/short-term player on the roster whose name isn't Kaepernick.
Bowman is one of the most intimidating defenders in the NFL. His ability to sniff out plays and shed blocks makes him an elite run stopper.
One of the more underrated aspects of Bowman's game is his ability to cover. He's truly an every-down linebacker, fully capable of running with receivers when the duty calls for it. Just take a look at his game-clinching defense against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game.
Still need convincing? Bowman is ranked No. 1 in yards gained per snap while in primary coverage (Per Profootballfocus.com).
In the 2011 season, the 49ers had to play a stretch of games without Patrick Willis, who was out with a pulled hamstring. During that time, Bowman and the 49ers defense didn't seem to miss a beat, thanks in large part to Mr. Bowman himself.
A.J Green, WR, Tier 4
Weight: 207 lbs.
In just his first two years as a professional, AJ Green has completely reinvigorated a Bengals offense that wasn't supposed to have the talent to win eight games in 2011.
Since then, Cincinnati has made two surprising playoff appearances, largely in part to Green, who managed to rack up 2,407 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns.
The value of a wideout may be one of the more dependent positions in football, but it still can have one of the biggest impacts in the game—especially with the current rules in today's NFL.
Green is quickly establishing himself as a premier deep-threat, home-run receiver with the grace and body control of a Cirque du Soleil performer.
He is beyond a doubt the most dangerous weapon in the Bengals offense, which causes defensive coordinators to account for him on every play or be forced to pay the consequences. This opens up a great deal of opportunities for other guys to make solid contributions.
At 24, this kid is just getting started and has yet to even reach his full potential.
Nick Mangold, C, Tier 3
Weight: 307 lbs.
Whenever there's any doubt about Nick Mangold's value to the Jets, all you have to do is look at how that offense sputters when Mangold is out of the game.
At 29 years of age, Nick can pull seniority amongst the rest of the guys on this list. But he still should be able to dominate the trenches for several more years to come, while leading his unit in communicating the protections.
Over the last five years, Mangold has been the most dominant center in the game. According to Pro Football Focus, Mangold has graded no lower than sixth overall each year since the site began grading every play in 2008.
Thanks in large part to Mangold leading the way and getting everyone on the same page, the Jets have had one of the better offensive line units in the league since he was drafted in the first round in 2006.
Joe Thomas, LT, Tier 3
Weight: 312 lbs.
Over the last five years, Joe Thomas has been by far the most consistent, reliable and dominant left tackle in the game. That includes guys like Duane Brown, Jason Peters and D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
Thomas' dominance over than span of time has unfortunately been mostly a waste. The Browns have been a struggling offense almost his entire career. So what does this tell you about the true value of a left tackle?
There are many good arguments out there that claim the next most important position after the quarterback is to protect that QB with an elite tackle. Well until that QB shows up, the Browns will be wasting Thomas' rare gifts.
Besides, when it comes down to it, there's very little difference in terms of results, between the best left tackle in the league and the 10th best. The impact per play from that position is more limited than a position which puts the ball into the player's hands.
For the Browns, having the most dominant player at left tackle yielded very little in terms of offensive production. For this reason, Joe Thomas is a Tier 3 guy.
Geno Atkins, DT, Tier 3
Weight: 300 lbs.
This undersized defensive tackle is the epitome of functional strength; couple that with his fantastic instincts for manipulating leverage and you get the most disruptive interior lineman in the NFL.
Geno Atkins may be small, but the guy is all kinds of strong. Turn on any tape of Atkins and you'll see a guy consistently driving offensive linemen back into the quarterback, forcing bad throws and even getting sacks.
Sacks have never been for the big boys in the middle, but don't tell that to Geno. Over the last two years, Atkins has been the top ranked interior lineman each year in terms of pressure percentages. This really speaks to his consistency and overall ability of power, speed, and a deep repertoire of pass-rush moves.
In 2012, he had an unbelievable 12.5 sacks. This just doesn't happen from a defensive tackle. The only reason Geno is in tier-three and not higher is because it's hard to understand how this undersized dynamo is able to do the things he does. He's the one who should be outmatched by these much bigger linemen.
Keep in mind, this 24-year-old is no one-trick pony; he's just as dominant against the run.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tier 2
Weight: 265 lbs.
When this guy isn't busy dancing shirtless with a broken arm, he's actually quite the specimen on a football field. Though Rob Gronkowski's physicality and size are always amazing to watch, I'm always most impressed with his surprising ability to catch the football.
He seems like a guy who would like the finesse and sensitivity needed to haul in tough passes consistently, yet somehow this muscle-bound giant finds a way almost without fail.
Gronkowski is a rare talent capable of completely forcing a defense outside of its comfort zone. Gronk is the ultimate mismatch for any secondary, which is part of the reason he's the ultimate red-zone target.
In only 43 career games, Gronkowski has scored a whopping 38 touchdowns. That's nearly one touchdown per game for three years. This is the essence of dominance.
Oh and by the way, Gronkowski also happens to be a physical, bruising blocker in the run game. He is beyond a doubt one the game’s most valuable players. Without his presence in the Patriots' offense, the team struggles.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Tier 2
Weight: 198 lbs.
One of the best assets to a great defense is to have a shutdown corner. This allows that defense to become much more aggressive bringing pressure while shifting safety help over to the other corners on the field. One problem with shutdown corners is that they're extremely rare. Well, when healthy, Darrelle Revis is the best in the business.
It's difficult to say whether Revis will return to his old form after having season-ending knee surgery early in the 2012 season. With that said, we all saw what happened with Adrian Peterson's recovery, so there should be lots to be optimistic about.
"Revis Island" should return to full form after he irons out the kinks and learns to trust his body again. This was an issue even Peterson had to contend with as the Vikings slowly eased him back into football shape.
The void left by Revis on the defense this past year was obvious; he quite literally could have been the missing link to a Jets’ playoff appearance despite their terrible offensive displays all season long; yes, he is that valuable.
Von Miller, OLB/ DE, Tier 2
Weight: 245 lbs
Von Miller is equipped with rare speed and quickness for a man of his size. He utilized this combination of abilities to close ground on opposing quarterbacks.
In the 2012 season, Miller managed to rack up 18.5 sacks on the year. His ability to dominate both the run and pass with electrifying play-making has been a major asset for the Broncos.
Miller is another young pup with a bright future in the NFL; only for him, it didn't take long before he was one of the most dominant players in the game today.
Miller provides Denver's defense with a truly dynamic force. In fact, he may be the best pass rusher in the NFL today, a skill highly coveted by personnel departments across the nation. If you prioritize a good pass rush, then you almost certainly would have to go with Von Miller to be your guy for the next 10 years.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Tier 1
Weight: 217 lbs.
Did anyone expect to see Adrian Peterson return from a gruesome knee injury one year later only to fall just nine yards short of one of the NFL's most coveted records? In 2012, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards on the season, becoming only the sixth player ever to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
We've all seen this guy with a ball in his hand. He runs the ball like each carry will be his last. To say the least, AD is the complete package. He recently became the first running back in over six years to win League MVP, beating out Peyton Manning.
Peterson is now entering the prime of his football career. Expect Minnesota to be a force to be reckoned with as long as Peterson is carrying the ball for them.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Tier 1
Weight: 236 lbs.
Calvin Johnson, or the man known as "Megatron," has the speed to outrun almost anyone on a football field. Good luck trying to catch him.
But if somehow you manage to put enough guys in front and behind him, you still would not be able to out-jump this guy or snatch it away from his vise-like hands. Standing 6'5", there's virtually nothing defenders can do to stop him.
Johnson has almost single-handedly made the Lions a force to be reckoned with. In 2012, he set a new record for receiving yards in a single season with 1,964, breaking Jerry Rice's long-standing record set in 1995.
Johnson produces consistently regardless of the coverage, he's deadly after the catch with his amazing strength and speed, yet the most impressive thing of all could be the way he handles himself during all of his personal stats. He is a rarity in character as with everything else—humble and quiet.
J.J Watt, DE, Tier 1
Weight: 295 lbs.
What's there to say? Well, Jim Harbaugh might say something like "J.J. Watt is a one-man wrecking crew with a skill set unnatural to mankind." Simply put, Watt is a freak amongst freaks. Watching him dominate a game is almost unfair; it doesn't even matter who is trying to block him.
If he isn't sacking the quarterback like he did a league-leading 20.5 times, then he most likely can be seen tackling running backs in the backfield as if he wasn't even blocked. If you try and double or even triple-team him, then guess what he'll do?
You guessed it; they don't call him J.J "Swatt" for nothing. This guy lead the league pass deflections (15) at the line of scrimmage. Watt also led the league in shear 'amazingness.' The kid is surreal, the kid is unstoppable, and the kid is... only 23 years old! Look out offenses, J.J is coming, and there's no answer for his destruction.