Bracket Style Breakdown of the Top 64 Players in the NFL: First Round
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Wouldn't it be great to know how Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would fare in a bracket style breakdown of the best players in the NFL? Would they have the hypothetical football advantage over players like J.J. Watt, Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson?
With the NCAA Tournament dominating the sports world this week, we decided that it'd be fun to do our own March Madness for the greatest game in the world. We've ranked the top-64 players in the NFL, put them into a bracket and are going to break down how each first-round matchup could play out.
You can view the entire bracket here.
Last Four Left Out
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Not every top player could make it into our final field of 64 players. However, there are some notable names that were extremely difficult to leave out of our tournament.
Here are the last four players that were left out of our tournament:
Tony Romo, QB
Romo gets a lot of criticism for always seeming to come up a little short for the Dallas Cowboys, but it is hard to argue that he is one of the best players in the NFL.
Now that Dez Bryant is emerging as an elite receiver, Romo could be in for his best statistical season in 2013. However, Romo still needs to get the Cowboys deep into the playoffs before he's considered a truly elite quarterback.
Lance Briggs, OLB
With Brian Urlacher sidelined for a good chunk of the 2012 season, Briggs stepped up in a huge way for the Chicago Bears.
He was all over the field, making plays in both the run and pass game for Chicago. Briggs has been as consistent as any linebacker in the game, but barely misses the cut in our tournament.
Mike Wallace, WR
The big reason we're keeping Wallace out of the tournament is because we aren't sure how he'll fit in with the Miami Dolphins. Also, based on his 2012 season as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it'd be hard to put him in the tournament.
However, Wallace is still an elite deep threat who could be in for a huge season as the No. 1 receiver in Miami.
Ed Reed, S
The hardest player to keep out of our tournament of the top-64 players in the NFL was Reed. He's been one of the best players in the league for years, and he is easily one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game.
Unfortunately, Reed's overall play is on the decline, as evidenced by his average 2012 season. He was passed over by some younger safeties who are looking to take over Reed's spot as one of the best safeties in the game.
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Before we get to the actual breakdowns of each first-round matchup, let's take a quick look at which players are seeded where.
This will simply be an overview as we move into the specific regions and matchups of our tournament.
No. 1 Seeds: Aaron Rodgers, QB; Peyton Manning, QB; Adrian Peterson, RB; Tom Brady, QB
No. 2 Seeds: J.J. Watt, DE; Calvin Johnson, WR; Von Miller, OLB; Patrick Willis, ILB
No. 3 Seeds: Richard Sherman, CB; Arian Foster, RB; A.J. Green, WR: Rob Gronkowski, TE
No. 4 Seeds: Joe Flacco, QB; Jason Pierre-Paul, DE; Darrelle Revis, CB; Larry Fitzgerald, WR
No. 5 Seeds: Drew Brees, QB; Clay Matthews, OLB; Haloti Ngata, DT; Andre Johnson, WR
No. 6 Seeds: Vernon Davis, TE; Ray Rice, RB; DeMarcus Ware, OLB; Justin Smith, DT
No. 8 Seeds: Roddy White, WR; LeSean McCoy, RB; Matt Ryan, QB; Daryl Washington, ILB
No. 9 Seeds: Jimmy Graham, TE; Jairus Byrd, S; Marshawn Lynch, RB; Geno Atkins, DT
No. 10 Seeds: Charles Tillman, CB; Ben Roethlisberger, QB; Julio Jones, WR; Jamaal Charles, RB
No. 11 Seeds: Duane Brown, OT; Aldon Smith, OLB; Ndamukong Suh, DT; Calais Campbell, DE
No. 12 Seeds: NaVorro Bowman, ILB; Ryan Clady, OT; Aaron Hernandez, TE; Troy Polamalu, S
No. 13 Seeds: Cam Newton, QB; Marshal Yanda, OG; Jared Allen, DE; Antoine Winfield, CB
No. 14 Seeds: Colin Kaepernick, QB; Justin Houston, OLB; C.J. Spiller, RB; Joe Thomas, OT
No. 15 Seeds: Earl Thomas, S; Dez Bryant, WR; Tony Gonzalez, TE; Andrew Luck, QB
No. 16 Seeds: Evan Mathis, OG; Reshad Jones, S; Robert Griffin III, QB; Joe Staley, OT
The Defensive Region
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The first region of our bracket, also known as "The Defensive Region", not only houses our No. 1 overall player in Aaron Rodgers, but it also has more defensive players than any other region in our tournament.
With exactly half the members of this region represented by the defensive side of the ball, this will be one of the most physical regions of our bracket.
Let's take a look at how these matchups breakdown.
No. 1 Seed: Aaron Rodgers, QB (No. 1 Overall) vs. No. 16 Seed: Joe Staley, OT (No. 64 Overall)
The best quarterback in the game is none other than Mr. Rodgers. He constantly makes throws and other athletic plays that leave our jaws on the floor.
Even during what many considered to be a down season for Rodgers in 2012, he still managed to lead the NFL with a quarterback rating of 108. He's just entering his prime and only a handful of players would even have a chance against him in this tournament.
While Staley is one of the best offensive tackles in the game, he'd get blown out of the water in this matchup. Still, Staley is coming off a season that saw him ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 offensive tackle (subscription required).
I'm sure that Rodgers would love to have a left tackle like Staley on his roster, but he'll have to settle for beating him in our tournament for now.
No. 8 Seed: Daryl Washington, ILB (No. 32 Overall) vs. No. 9 Seed: Geno Atkins, DT (No. 36 Overall)
In our first defensive battle, both Washington and Atkins are coming off career years for their respective teams. This would be one of the most enjoyable matches to watch due to the intensity that both players bring to the field.
Washington really made an impact last year against the run and also when he was asked to get pressure on the quarterback. While he struggled some in coverage, he more than made up for it by being all over the field for the Arizona Cardinals.
As for Atkins, he was the most disruptive defensive player in the league in 2012. He recorded 49 quarterback hurries, which is a ridiculous number for a defensive tackle.
As good as Washington was last year, Atkins pulls the slight upset in this matchup.
No. 5 Seed: Andre Johnson, WR (No. 20 Overall) vs. No. 12 Seed: Troy Polamalu, S (No. 48 overall)
It may be a little surprising to see Polamalu as such a low seed in our tournament, but his play has been declining over the past few seasons. As for Johnson, he was one of the best receivers—if not the best receiver—in the NFL in the second half of the 2012 season.
An imaginary matchup like this between two of the best players in the NFL is what makes a tournament like this so enjoyable. Both of these players are overly physical and would provide great entertainment in a one-on-one setting.
As good as Polamalu has been in his career, Johnson is the better player right now and barely squeaks out a victory in the first round.
No. 4 Seed: Larry Fitzgerald, WR (No. 16 Overall) vs. No. 13 Seed: Antoine Winfield, CB (No. 52 Overall)
This all depends on who is throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. He has the ability to be the best receiver in the game if the Arizona Cardinals ever get a quarterback who can actually throw him the ball.
Winfield, on the other hand, is coming off his best season in the NFL. While he was at his best against the run last year, he still showed the physicality to slow down a big and physical receiver like Fitzgerald.
In our first upset of the tournament, Winfield gets the first-round victory due to the Cardinals' current crop of quarterbacks' inability to get the ball to Fitzgerald.
No. 6 Seed: Justin Smith, DT (No. 24 Overall) vs. No. 11 Seed: Calais Campbell, DE (No. 44 Overall)
Our second defensive matchup is a battle in the trenches between Smith and Campbell.
Since Smith joined the San Francisco 49ers, he's been one of the premier defensive linemen in the league. He has the ability to slow down the run, and he also demonstrates a great ability to get pressure on the quarterback.
Campbell is a very similar overall player to Smith. He also excels against the run, but his 21 quarterback hurries in 2012 prove that he can consistently put pressure on quarterbacks, too.
Smith's recent injury concerns along with his age allows the younger Campbell to pull off another upset in this region.
No. 3 Seed: Rob Gronkowski, TE (No. 12 Overall) vs. No. 14 Seed: Joe Thomas, OT (No. 56 Overall)
Despite missing most of last year due to partying..I mean an arm injury, Gronkowski is still the best tight end in the NFL. He's a complete player at his position, and is nearly unstoppable when he is on the field.
While Thomas has lost his hold as the best offensive tackle in the league, he still needs to be considered a top-three left tackle in the NFL. He's been the best player for the Cleveland Browns since we was drafted, and that likely won't change anytime soon.
Unfortunately, Thomas doesn't have the star power to pull off an upset over Gronkowski.
No. 7 Seed: Julius Peppers, DE (No. 28 Overall) vs. No. 10 Seed: Jamaal Charles, RB (No. 40 Overall)
While Peppers hasn't been as dominant since he was signed by the Chicago Bears, he is still one of the best defensive ends in the league. He's still a physical freak of nature, and he uses his athleticism to makes plays in a number of ways for the Bears.
A No. 10 seed might seem a little high for Charles at first glance. However, if the Kansas City Chiefs actually used Charles as much as they should, he would be an even higher seed.
As good as Peppers is, Charles' elite speed and playmaking ability push him into the second round.
No. 2 Seed: Patrick Willis, ILB (No. 8 Overall) vs. No. 15 Seed: Andrew Luck, QB (No. 60 Overall)
One of only two players from the 2012 draft class in our tournament, Luck gets the extremely difficult draw of Willis in the first round. Luck was exceptional as a rookie and proved that he'll be one of the best quarterbacks in the league for the foreseeable future.
With Ray Lewis retired, Willis can now officially take the reins as the best middle linebacker in the NFL. He's been as dominant as possible since entering the league back in 2007.
While Luck showed us as a rookie that he can win games, Willis is simply too good to lose this matchup.
The Oldies Region
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This region of our bracket, better known as "The Oldies Region", has four players that will be 30 years or older heading into the 2013 season. With younger players proving to be more and more ready for the NFL, these older players continue to be some of the best in the league.
The 36-year-old Peyton Manning has the No. 1 seed in this region, but let's see how the rest of this region plays out.
No. 1 Seed: Peyton Manning, QB (No. 2 Overall) vs. No. 16 Seed: Robert Griffin III, QB (No. 63 Overall)
A battle of the old-school quarterback vs. the new-age quarterback starts off this region of our bracket.
Griffin barely sneaks into our tournament because we believe he'll fully recover from an ACL injury that he he suffered in the 2012 playoffs. When healthy, Griffin is one of the most exciting players to watch in the game.
Unfortunately, Manning is coming off a truly special season for the Denver Broncos, his first with the team. Now that he has Wes Wekler to play around with, he should be even better in 2013.
Manning wins this matchup rather easily, showing the younger Griffin that old-school is still better.
No. 8 Seed: Matt Ryan, QB (No. 31 Overall) vs. No. 9 Seed: Marshawn Lynch, RB (No. 35 Overall)
Both Ryan and Lynch really seem to be hitting their prime years for their respective teams, and they are the offensive catalysts for two of the best teams in the entire NFL.
What would make this matchup so exciting to watch is that both players seem to step up their games when they need to the most. Ryan is commonly known as "Matty Ice" and Lynch always seems to go into "Beast Mode" at just the right time.
As great as "Beast Mode" is, Lynch comes up a little short in the clutch to Ryan and his late-game comebacks.
No. 5 Seed: Haloti Ngata (No. 19 Overall) vs. No. 12 Seed: Aaron Hernandez, TE (No. 47 Overall)
The crazy thing about this first-round matchup is that it could actually happen on the football field. As athletic as Hernandez is, I fully believe that Ngata could stick with him in the open field.
No defensive lineman should be able to be as agile and athletic as Ngata, but somehow, he manages to show us that he can defy the laws of physics, year after year. Of course, Ngata probably couldn't stick with Hernandez too long, but it'd be enjoyable to watch off the line of scrimmage.
In the end, Hernandez, with his athleticism and versatility, would prove to be too much to handle for the bigger Ngata.
No. 4 Seed: Darrelle Revis, CB (No. 15 Overall) vs. No. 13 Seed: Jared Allen, DE (No. 51 Overall)
Even though Revis missed most of the 2012 season with an ACL injury, he still needs to be considered one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. He is still the standard that all other cornerbacks are compared to.
Well, everyone except Richard Sherman, I guess.
As for Allen, he remains one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the league. The 2012 season was considered a down year for Allen, yet he still managed to record 12 sacks.
The big question with this matchup is just how well Revis will return from such a severe injury. My gut tells me that he'll be just fine, so he gets the nod in the first round over Allen.
No. 6 Seed: DeMarcus Ware, OLB (No. 23 Overall) vs. No. 11 Seed: Ndamukong Suh, DT (No. 43 Overall)
This matchup has the makings of an upset. Unfortunately, I picture Suh getting ejected for stomping or kicking or some other flailing of his body part illegally towards Ware.
Ware barely squeaks by with a first-round victory, although he probably wouldn't make it much farther than the first round in this tournament.
No. 3 Seed: A.J. Green, WR (No. 11 Overall) vs. No. 14 Seed: C.J. Spiller, RB (No. 55 Overall)
Two of the best young offensive playmakers in the NFL meet in this first-round matchup.
Early on last season, Spiller proved that he is one of the most dynamic running backs in the league. Unfortunately, injuries kept him from having as dominant of a season as we all know that he is now capable of having.
Green, on the other hand, was incredible from the first snap of Week 1 all the way through Week 17. He established himself as a top-five receiver in the league, and he could soon find himself only looking up to Calvin Johnson in terms of who is the most elite receiver in the NFL.
If Spiller can prove that he can stay healthy and productive for a whole season, he could eventually win this matchup. However, right now is all that matters, and right now, Green cruises into the second round.
No. 7 Seed: Eric Weddle, S (No. 27 Overall) vs. No. 10 Seed: Julio Jones, WR (No. 39 Overall)
The best safety in the NFL right now is Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers. There isn't an aspect of his game that lacks. He can cover, stop the run and has great instincts for his position.
However, he'll have his hands full with the ultra-athletic Jones. He's entering only his third season in the league, and he is already one of the best at his position.
If Jones' last playoff game (11 receptions, 182 yards and two touchdowns) was any indication of his ceiling, he will beat Weddle rather easily in this round.
No. 2 Seed: Von Miller, OLB (No. 7 Overall) vs. No. 15 Seed: Tony Gonzalez, TE (No. 59 Overall)
Gonzalez almost didn't make it into this tournament due to retirement, but thankfully, for the Atlanta Falcons and this tournament, he decided to come back.
Unfortunately, he drew one of the best defensive players in the league in the first round. Miller's 2012 season was a thing of absolute beauty. He was a dominant force in every aspect of the game, and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
As much as we'd love to move the best tight end to ever play the game along to the second round, he just doesn't have what it takes to beat the younger and more talented Miller.
The Running Back Region
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Over half the running backs in our top-64 reside in this region, which is why it'll be known as "The Running Back Region."
Adrian Peterson is coming off a season where he rushed for over 2,000 yards and won the MVP Award. This was good enough to gain him the No. 1 seed in this region, and the No. 3 overall seed in our bracket.
No. 1 Seed: Adrian Peterson, RB (No. 3 Overall) vs. No. 16 Seed: Reshad Jones, S (No. 62 Overall)
The most commonly unknown player in our tournament is Reshad Jones from the Miami Dolphins. He's only been in the league for three years, but he's already proving to be one of the best safeties in the league.
It's just too bad that he is facing the freight train known as Adrian Peterson in the first round. Jones will find himself run over and round around, time and time again, as this matchup turns into a total blowout rather quickly.
No. 8 Seed: LeSean McCoy, RB (No. 30 Overall) vs. No. 9 Seed: Jairus Byrd, S (No. 34 Overall)
The good news with the departure of Andy Reid from the Philadelphia Eagles is that McCoy will finally be unleashed. In fact, imagining him in Chip Kelly's offense should be quite exciting for the common football fan.
If Byrd played for a better team than the Buffalo Bills, he'd be a better known player. However, he has still been one of the top safeties in the league for the past few seasons, and has shown no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.
At the end of the day, McCoy's versatility in both the run and pass game gets him the slight win over Byrd.
No. 5 Seed: Clay Matthews, OLB (No. 18 Overall) vs. No. 12 Seed: Ryan Clady, OT (No. 46 Overall)
Clady has firmly established himself as one of the best pass-blocking offensive tackles in the league. Just ask how Peyton Manning how great Clady is.
As for Matthews, he remains one of the best defensive players in the league, and he has the ability to completely take over games with his aggressiveness and non-stop motor.
This is a matchup that we could actually see played over and over in an actual NFL game. It'd be close, but Matthews would ultimately pull out the victory.
No. 4 Seed: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (No. 14 Overall) vs. No. 13 Seed: Marshal Yanda, OG (No. 50 Overall)
Much like the above matchup, this No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchup is a rather possible individual matchup that we could see occur in an NFL game.
Yanda is an absolute beast on the interior offensive line, and he rarely gets pushed around by anyone. However, Pierre-Paul's elite athleticism would simply be too much to handle.
Pierre-Paul and his dynamic playmaking abilities get pushed into the second round.
No. 6 Seed: Ray Rice, RB (No. 22 Overall) vs. No. 11 Seed: Aldon Smith, OLB (No. 42 Overall)
Rice seemed to disappear a little bit in the playoffs due to Joe Flacco's complete domination of opposing defenses. That doesn't mean Rice got any worse, it simply means that Flacco was on another planet for the entire playoffs.
However, the player who kept the Baltimore Ravens together for the majority of the season was Rice. Smith, on the other hand, was incredible at the start of the season for the 49ers, but faded down the stretch.
If Smith was facing a quarterback in the first round, he'd have a chance to pull the upset. Unfortunately, he still needs to improve against the run, giving Rice the easy win.
No. 3 Seed: Arian Foster, RB (No. 10 Overall) vs. No. 14 Seed: Justin Houston, OLB (No. 54 Overall)
Our biggest blowout in this region resides in this matchup right here.
Houston had a breakout campaign in 2012 and he will only get better. However, he is simply no match for the second-best running back in the NFL.
Foster would dominate from the beginning to the end, leaving Houston on the ground, time and time again.
No. 7 Seed: Eli Manning, QB (No. 26 Overall) vs. No. 10 Seed: Ben Roethlisberger, QB (No. 38 Overall)
No two quarterbacks are more loved and hated at the same time than Manning and Roethlisberger—and the similarities between the two don't stop there.
They both have two Super Bowl rings to their names, they both missed the playoffs in 2012 and tThey both play erratic football at times.
The winner of this matchup would be the quarterback who can be the most consistent with his play. It'd come down to the final seconds, but Big Ben would come away with a last-second victory over Manning.
No. 2 Seed: Calvin Johnson, WR (No. 6 Overall) vs. No. 15 Seed: Dez Bryant, WR (No. 58 Overall)
If Bryant can ever become fully committed to the game of football, he might someday have a chance against Johnson. However, right now Johnson wins this matchup by a landslide.
I mean, the man's nickname is "Megatron." How are you supposed to stop that?
The Quarterback Region
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In our final region, "The Quarterback Region," we have the highest amount of players at the game's most important position.
This region is led by Tom Brady, but also making an appearance in "The Quarterback Region" are players like Joe Flacco, Cam Newton and Drew Brees. Of all the regions, this one provides the best blend of experience and potential.
Here is our final region, led of by none other than Mr. Brady himself.
No. 1 Seed: Tom Brady, QB (No. 4 Overall) vs. No. 16 Seed: Evan Mathis, OG (No. 61 Overall)
Can we just automatically move Brady into the Final Four?
Mathis was great in 2012 and is one of the best offensive guards in the league, but he still has no chance in a matchup against Brady.
No. 8 Seed: Roddy White, WR (No. 29 Overall) vs. No. 9 Seed: Jimmy Graham, TE (No. 33 Overall)
These seedings may seem a bit high for both White and Graham, but both players are some of the best at their respective positions.
Both White and Graham excel as vertical threats, and both can make difficult receptions look extremely routine. White has a little more experience than Graham, but Graham has a quite bit more athleticism than White.
Athleticism wins in the end, and Graham moves on to Round Two.
No. 5 Seed: Drew Brees, QB (No. 17 Overall) vs. No. 12 Seed: NaVorro Bowman, ILB (No. 45 Overall)
It was so hard to give Brees a No. 5 seed in this tournament. However, he couldn't keep up with the other top quarterbacks in the league, and other younger players stepped their games up to jump him for a higher ranking.
However, Brees still has the talent and experience to pose a major threat to everyone in this tournament. Bowman has the ability to stick with Brees for a while, but he will ultimately fall short of an upset in the first round.
No. 4 Seed: Joe Flacco, QB (No. 13 Overall) vs. No. 13 Seed: Cam Newton, QB (No. 49 Overall)
Giving Flacco the No. 13 overall ranking and a No. 4 seed wasn't an easy thing to do. However, the man did just dominate every team in the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl.
In terms of pure potential, Newton has Flacco beat in this matchup. The ceiling is literally limitless for Newton, and he started to show signs of just how good he can really be late in the 2012 season.
Unfortunately, this tournament isn't just about potential. In a few years Newton could win this matchup, but right now, Flacco comes out on top.
No. 6 Seed: Vernon Davis, TE (No. 21 Overall) vs. No. 11 Seed: Duane Brown, OT (No. 41 Overall)
Brown is our highest ranked offensive lineman in the tournament. He's been a dominant force on the left side for the Houston Texans throughout the past few seasons, excelling in both the run and pass game.
He'd have a good chance of beating a few other six seeds, but not Davis. The truly scary thing about Davis is that I still don't think we've seen everything that he is capable of. We've seen bits and pieces of just how good he can be, but he has yet to reach his full potential.
In order to make a deep run in this tournament, Davis would need to reach that full potential. However, to beat Brown, Davis simply needs to do what he already does, year in and year out.
No. 3 Seed: Richard Sherman, CB (No. 9 Overall) vs. No. 14 Seed: Colin Kaepernick, QB (No. 53 Overall)
Would anyone else love to see this matchup play out in real life? Could you imagine the trash talking that would go on between Sherman and Kaepernick before the actual matchup?
As much as I truly think Kaepernick could pull off the upset, Sherman was literally playing on another planet in 2012. It was one of the best individual seasons by a cornerback in NFL history.
Sherman barely comes away with the win this year in the first round.
No. 7 Seed: Brandon Marshall, WR (No. 25 Overall) vs. No. 10 Seed: Charles Tillman, CB (No. 37 Overall)
This is the only matchup in our tournament to pit teammate vs. teammate.
Tillman's physicality and ability to create turnovers makes him a sleeper in this tournament. Marshall, however, is coming off his most productive season in years after being re-united with Jay Cutler.
In the end, Marshall proves to be too sure-handed with the ball, beating Tillman to move into the second round.
No. 2 Seed: J.J. Watt, DE (No. 5 Overall) vs. No. 15 Seed: Earl Thomas, S (No. 57 Overall)
Watt is the highest ranked defensive player in our tournament. He barely missed out on a No. 1 seed, and he needs to be in the conversation when talking about the best players in the NFL.
To be honest, Thomas doesn't stand even the slightest chance in this matchup. Not only is Watt seven inches taller and over 90 pounds heavier, but he might also be more athletic than Thomas.
This matchup wouldn't be too entertaining at all, unless you love watching Watt destroy human beings, because that's what would happen.