The NFL has many high-profile players, and everyone in the league is obviously a terrific athlete compared to the rest of us. But some players stand out as especially dominant.
Just what does dominant mean? It doesn't just mean being a great player, though that is certainly a factor. In fact, being a great player is probably the biggest factor in defining the NFL's 25 most dominant players.
The word dominant is key, however. It may sound a bit obvious, but this means that a player is capable of taking over, that he is nearly impossible to stop. That he dominates.
This isn't based on just 2012 results. Of course, recent dominance is preferred, but the player is more important than the results. This is a projection.
Some names on this list will be no surprise. Obviously, Calvin Johnson will make an appearance toward the top. Some names, however, might not be so clear.
Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals; Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks; Duane Brown, OT, Houston Texans; Clay Matthews III, OLB, Green Bay Packers
All of these players are great athletes who perform at an elite level. All of them, at times, dominate. Unfortunately, on a list of just 25, not every dominant player can be mentioned.
Calais Campbell is among the most physically impressive players in the NFL, standing at 6'8", 300-pounds. Fellow defensive lineman Gerald McCoy established himself as a premier player in 2012.
As a rookie, Russell Wilson dominated and is now one of the game's top quarterbacks. His combination of athleticism and throwing ability is unparalleled in today's NFL.
Since entering the NFL, Clay Matthews III has been an elite pass-rusher. In Green Bay's 3-4 defense, he had shown great ability in coverage, as well. He is a complete player.
Though rarely mentioned along with Joe Thomas and Ryan Clady, Duane Brown is a true blindside protector at left tackle. He is clearly among the upper echelon of offensive linemen.
At this point, Cam Newton may not be one of the game's 25 best players.
Most dominant, though? Absolutely.
Few players in the game possess the pure physical ability of Newton, and he is capable of taking over a game like few can. His size, athleticism and arm strength make him nearly unstoppable when he is at the top of his game.
Consistency remains an issue for the former No. 1 overall pick, but that doesn't take away from his dominance. He is a force.
Despite playing in the NFL for just two seasons, Julio Jones has already supplanted another of the game's top wide receivers, Roddy White, as the No. 1 guy in Atlanta. The 6'3", 220-pounder is a physical specimen with nearly unlimited upside.
Right now, the only thing keeping Jones back on this list is his lack of truly dominant production. While 79 receptions, 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns is certainly impressive, it isn't up there with the Andre and Calvin Johnsons of the world.
In another year, Jones could easily be in the top 10.
The game's most prolific inside linebacker, Patrick Willis has been an elite player since entering the league in 2007. He has had just one season with fewer than 120 tackles.
The only knock on Willis is a lack of game-changing plays. He doesn't pick up many sacks or create many turnovers, but he certainly makes an impact. In fact, it is nearly impossible for an inside linebacker to be noticed more frequently.
It will be difficult for Willis to increase his standing, but he is known as the NFL's best inside linebacker for a reason.
After a breakout 2011 campaign, Jason Pierre-Paul disappointed in 2012, picking up just 6.5 sacks. Despite this lapse, JPP is one of the game's most feared players.
In 2011, Pierre-Paul racked up an astounding 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. He dominated nearly every game, and he has the ability to build upon that performance in 2013. Players with his physical ability don't come along often.
Another season like 2012's will knock Pierre-Paul off this list. Fortunately, there is reason to believe he will rebound with another brilliant season.
Only two offensive linemen made this list, and Marshal Yanda definitely deserves to be one of them. The 28-year-old has played both guard and tackle, but he is better on the inside.
Yanda plays with a nastiness foreign to most linemen, and he is a dominant force in the run game. Few guards possess as much power and tenacity, making Yanda stand out among and above the rest.
Guards tend to fluctuate from elite to simply above-average, but Yanda has been a premier interior lineman for several years now. He is among the most unrecognized stars in the NFL.
Brandon Marshall has been terrific throughout his career, gaining over 1,000 yards in all but one of his seven seasons. Reunited with Jay Cutler in 2012, Marshall had his best year ever, catching 118 passes for 1,508 yards.
At 6'4", 230 pounds, Marshall is a massive wide receiver with impressive athleticism and catching ability. He had produced with bad quarterbacks in the past, but when paired with a quarterback who can throw vertically, Marshall's production goes up even higher.
It's difficult to imagine Marshall improving upon 2012, sheerly because of how brilliant he was. Any further progress would truly be impressive.
Despite playing the less typical left end position, Cameron Wake has developed into a top-level pass-rusher. His 15 sacks in 2012 were among the best in the NFL, and he has repeatedly shown he can sack the quarterback.
Wake is an explosive rusher off the edge with impressive power and flexibility. Few linemen require more attention, and Wake is more than capable of beating double teams.
In 2012, Wake confirmed that he is one of the game's best. He may go a step further in 2013, as he will be getting some help from Dion Jordan. This could allow Wake to put up even more impressive stats.
The most important job for a left tackle is pass protection. And no one at any level of football is better at protecting the quarterback than Joe Thomas is.
Thomas' credentials speak for themselves. In six seasons, he has made six Pro Bowls and been named to five All-Pro teams. He may not be the best run-blocker in the world, but his dominance as a pass-rusher makes up for it.
Skeptical of Thomas' ranking? Watch him against a premier pass-rusher. The former No. 3 overall pick almost always wins.
They call him "Beast Mode" for a reason.
Lynch was nearly unstoppable in 2012, as he ran for 1,590 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Adrian Peterson was the only running back who played better.
Lynch's dominance comes from his physical ability. He is 5'11", 215 pounds and plays like he is much bigger. Few running backs are more violent, and he has the speed and burst that they lack.
Due to his physical nature, Lynch's prime won't last long. But that prime, however short it may be, will be dominant.
The No. 4 overall pick in 2011, A.J. Green got off to quick start, picking up over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. The 6'4", 207-pounder is nearly unstoppable one-on-one and has, perhaps, the best catching ability in the game.
Green's only discernable weakness is his lack of elite ability with the ball in his hands. He can catch nearly anything, though, and his size and speed are both impressive.
Like Julio Jones, Green would benefit from more production. He has been great, but he needs to step it up a notch to be up there with Calvin Johnson.
Despite a somewhat disappointing and injury-riddled 2012 season, Jimmy Graham absolutely deserves to be on this list. His 2011 season was one of the best ever, when he caught 98 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even in 2012, Graham was great, catching 85 passes for 982 yards.
It's not difficult to see why Graham dominates. He is 6'6", 260 pounds with 4.5 speed and overall terrific athleticism. Defensive backs aren't big enough to cover him, and linebackers aren't nearly athletic enough.
Graham should come back healthy in 2013. Expect his results to parallel those of his 2011 season. If they do, he will move up this list.
Drew Brees might be the most accurate quarterback in NFL history. The 34-year-old has the most passing yards in a single season and three of the top five campaigns.
Brees consistently puts up incredible numbers. He has a talented offense around him, sure, but Brees is what makes it work. His supporting cast didn't cause him to throw over 30 touchdowns the past five years.
A no-doubt Hall of Famer, Brees will go down in history as one of the best to ever play, and he remains at the top of his game right now.
Only one current player can rival Tom Brady's streak of consistent dominance. He hasn't always had a great supporting cast in New England, but he always plays at an elite level.
Brady put together, perhaps, the best quarterback season ever, and he has several others that deserve consideration. He is poised, intelligent and has one of the better arms in football. He is nearly unstoppable.
Even at 35 years old, Brady continues to play at levels reached by few others. That won't be changing anytime soon.
When Darrelle Revis went down with a torn ACL, Richard Sherman quickly stepped up as the NFL's best cornerback. The 25-year-old routinely shut down elite wide receivers while also picking off eight passes.
At 6'3", Sherman is unusually tall for a cornerback, and that has aided his dominance. He is, perhaps, the best jamming cornerback in football, and his athleticism is crucial to his recovery.
Though Revis may still be the better cornerback, Sherman is dominant enough to at least make it a legitimate conversation.
Defenses frequently double-team him, as the Texans lack another legitimate receiving threat, but Andre Johnson continues to dominate. Now 31 years old, Johnson had one of his best seasons ever in 2012, catching 112 passes for 1,598 yards.
The 6'3", 230-pound Johnson is huge for a wide receiver but is still one of the position's most athletic players. He possesses physical ability that few can even compete with.
In 2013, Johnson might be even better. Houston finally picked up another wideout by drafting DeAndre Hopkins in the first round, and this could give Johnson more freedom to destroy defenses.
Peyton Manning, save for his missed 2011 season, has been the epitome of continued dominance through the last decade. At 37 years old, Manning's physical ability has begun to fade, but he is just as productive as ever.
Throughout history, Manning may be the smartest quarterback to have ever played. What he lacked in arm strength and athleticism, Manning made up for with intelligence and accuracy. He still has those traits, and that's why he continues to shred defenses.
Manning could begin to fade at any time, but for now, he is among the game's top two quarterbacks. In fact, Manning could actually improve in 2013 as he regains strength from his neck injury.
The stats here speak for themselves. In two years—despite not starting as a rookie—Aldon Smith has picked up 33.5 sacks. That is impressive.
At 6'4", 258 pounds, Smith is big, long and athletic. He combines a terrific first step with great power and smoothness off the edge. He is a multi-faceted pass-rusher.
Smith's production did drop off in Justin Smith's absence, which drops him down the list a little. His weak play against the run is also a factor.
On the whole, Smith is a truly dominant pass-rusher who, at age 23, is just getting started.
In just three seasons, Rob Gronkowski has already scored 38 touchdowns. Due to injury, he played just 11 games in 2012 and still caught 55 passes for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns.
No tight end has ever dominated like Rob Gronkowski. The 6'6", 265-pounder is a great athlete with unparalleled physicality. He is an elite blocking tight end, as well.
There probably isn't a better red-zone threat in football, and Gronkowski can dominate from any part of the field. Health is an issue right now, but if he comes back strong, the 24-year-old should continue building toward being the best tight end ever.
Von Miller's 18.5 sacks in 2012 were at least as impressive as any other player's total. Why? Because Miller plays outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, meaning he doesn't rush the passer nearly as often as those ahead of him.
Miller is a complete player, showing the ability to play in coverage, defend the run and obviously get after the quarterback. In recent memory, there is no pass-rusher with a better first step.
Miller's sack totals will likely remain around his 2012 numbers, but in the right defense, he would be capable of much more. Miller, however, is too good of an all-around player to blitz every play.
J.J. Watt rightfully won Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, but Geno Atkins was clearly in second place. A 6'1", 300-pound defensive tackle, Atkins is a dominant pass-rusher, as his 12.5 sacks last year indicate.
Atkins is just as dominant against the run. His explosive first step, use of leverage and natural strength allow him to overpower offensive linemen straight into the backfield. Of course, he is also athletic enough to work his way around them.
Atkins is clearly the game's best defensive tackle. He makes play after play in the backfield, and he rarely loses a battle on an individual play.
No other defensive tackle can say that.
It's impossible to say just how Darrelle Revis will recover from his torn ACL, but the injury is far from a career-ender. In all likelihood, Revis will at least be nearly as good as he was. In that case, he belongs right here.
Despite never having more than six interceptions in a season, Revis has put together some of the best cornerback performances ever. He simply doesn't allow catches, and he almost never gets burnt deep. Interceptions are nice, but that's a cornerback's first job.
It sounds like an exaggeration, but Revis really does take away an offense's best wide receiver. He doesn't need help, and he won't lose.
Still just 29 years old, Aaron Rodgers is on his way to being the most productive quarterback in NFL history. His 2011 season was probably the best ever for a quarterback—it is according to quarterback rating—and he continues to dominate.
Rodgers' combination of intelligence, accuracy, arm strength and athleticism has never been seen before. He is essentially the ideal quarterback, and it's difficult to imagine anyone being better. That applies to even Andrew Luck.
Rogers' career quarterback rating stands at 104.9, the best ever. He still has a decade left in the NFL, but he could retire as the best ever.
J.J. Watt's 20.5 sacks in 2012 nearly set a record. That is impressive. More impressive is the fact that he did it as a 3-4 defensive end. The 6'5", 295-pounder is an elite run defender who plays along the interior defensive line.
Watt is an incredible athlete, and he has mastered the game of football. It is difficult to imagine the 24-year-old dominating anymore than he did last year, but he's almost certain to improve with more time.
In 2012, Watt put together what may have been the best defensive season ever. It's scary to think what he might do next.
You know the story. He was eight yards short. Adrian Peterson barely missed the single-season rushing record, but he did win the NFL's MVP award.
At 28 years old, Peterson has dominated like few ever. The 6'1", 218-pounder is a brilliant athlete with superb power and vision. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2012. That's good.
A.P. is the best running back in the game right now, and he may go down as one of the best ever, up there with Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. He still has at least a couple years left before his decline begins.
Calvin Johnson had nearly 2,000 receiving yards in 2012, and he shattered Jerry Rice's single-season record. In 2011, Johnson was nearly as dominant, picking up 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. 2012 wasn't a fluke—he's that good.
The 6'5", 236-pounder is an incredible athlete with great hands and catching ability. He is the prototype wide receiver. No matter how good A.J. Green or Julio Jones becomes, neither will hold a candle to "Megatron," who may unseat Rice as the best ever.
Megatron's 2012 season was the best ever for a wide receiver. He may never again repeat such dominance. But he will continue to be the NFL's most dominant player—that is certain.