Which NFL Teams Have the Most Talent at Each Position?
Not surprisingly, last season's Super Bowl participants feature on the list of the NFL's most talented position groups. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are strong along the trenches.
A four-time Super Bowl winner from the NFC boasts the best stable of receivers in the league. In the AFC, a perennial contender's strength is based on the best tight end rotation in the game.
Here is a breakdown of the teams that own football's most talented position groups. The list begins with defense. Linebackers and defensive lines have been split into subsections based on scheme.
All stats are courtesy of NFL.com.
3-4 Defensive Line: Baltimore Ravens
The strength of the defending Super Bowl champions is based on the toughest defensive front in the league. Versatile mammoth Haloti Ngata is the linchpin of a powerful group.
Ngata's pre-snap alignment sets the strength of the front. He lines up in various techniques and is the focus of every opposing blocking scheme.
What makes the Ravens front so strong is the talent around the dominant Ngata. Arthur Jones has the potential to be almost as destructive as Ngata.
Terrence Cody is no playmaker, but he is tough to move in the middle. The Ravens got even better this offseason by adding two proven 3-4 ends in Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.
Runners-up: San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans
The 49ers were a very close second to the Ravens in this category. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are the finest 3-4 end partnership in the game.
Glenn Dorsey was a smart pickup from the Kansas City Chiefs. He is a thick-bodied run-stopper who could fit best at nose tackle.
As a starting trio, this group knows no equal. But the same cannot be said for the depth in San Francisco. The NFC West kings cannot match the rotation the Ravens can field.
The Houston Texans rely on more one-gap principles than most 3-4 teams. Ends Antonio Smith and the awesome J.J. Watt suit this scheme perfectly.
However, the Texans do have a legitimate question mark at nose tackle. Earl Mitchell has yet to prove himself as a playmaker, which leaves only late-round draft pick Chris Jones.
4-3 Defensive Line: Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals possess a strong defense because they field the best four-man line in the NFL. They have stud pass-rushers on the outside in duo Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap.
However, it is the interior where the true strength of this group lies. Geno Atkins is an overwhelming inside pass-rusher. Atkins, Johnson and Dunlap combined for 30 sacks in 2012.
Domata Peko is the unsung hero of this quartet. The scrappy nose tackle is a tough, resourceful run defender and force opposite the center.
As if the Bengals did not already boast enough riches up front, Wallace Gilberry is a quality, productive reserve.
Runners-up: Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears
The Miami Dolphins have a terrific tackle tandem to supplement premier pass-rusher Cameron Wake. Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are tough to move in the middle.
Soliai is the classic hulking nose tackle. He closes rushing lanes and drives blockers into the backfield. Starks is a little more dynamic. He flashes good pass-rush skills through B-gaps and is still powerful enough to occupy multiple blockers.
Starks and Soliai help create one-on-one matchups for Wake on the outside. The former CFL standout does not even need the help, though. Wake crushes the edges of pass protection with strength, speed and leverage.
If rookie Dion Jordan can complement Wake's efforts from the other side, the Dolphins will rival the Bengals front four.
Like the Dolphins, the Chicago Bears are undermined only by the absence of a second dynamic starting end. Julius Peppers is still a destructive force on one side.
What makes the Bears front line so tough to handle is the emergence of tackle Henry Melton. Not even Atkins can match Melton's takeoff speed on the inside. His range and athleticism create consistent penetration. Next to Melton, nose tackle Stephen Paea gives the Bears a natural anchor and tough run-stuffer.
3-4 Linebackers: San Francisco 49ers
No team in the league can field a better set of linebackers than the 49ers. The strength of this dynamic, complementary group is in the middle.
Quick, powerful hitters Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are virtual mirror images. This duo is not comprised of specialized players. In the true traditions of their position, Willis and Bowman are playmakers in every aspect of the game.
On the outside, Ahmad Brooks is a formidable edge-setter. He repels the run, is a smart ball hawk in coverage and still finds the time to make himself a factor on the pass rush.
Speaking of pass rush, few linebackers are more prolific in this area than Aldon Smith. The long-armed, fleet-footed ace inspires nightmares in the minds of offensive tackles.
Runners-up: Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins
The Kansas City Chiefs have issues at most positions except linebacker. Bookend pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston terrorize quarterbacks.
In the middle, Derrick Johnson is a natural playmaker. If the Chiefs field a better defense in 2013, it will be due to their active, versatile linebackers.
The return to health of Brian Orakpo gives the Washington Redskins one of the league's strongest linebacking quartets. Orakpo is the prolific pass-rusher in the group, but fellow outside 'backer Ryan Kerrigan is the more complete player.
On the inside, veteran London Fletcher still makes his share of key plays. Next to Fletcher, youngster Perry Riley is steadily improving.
4-3 Linebackers: Denver Broncos
The presence of Von Miller gives the Denver Broncos a dangerous linebacking trio. Miller's ability to create pressure gives this group an edge over most 4-3 sets.
Wesley Woodyard is the classic weak-side ace. Light and fast, Woodyard is a major factor in underneath coverage and can chase down any running play.
There is a question in the middle. However, veterans Stewart Bradley and Joe Mays are natural 4-3 thumpers.
Runners-up: Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks
The Carolina Panthers boast three quick, active linebackers. Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are intelligent and athletic in coverage and are fierce hitters against the run. They complement youthful middle 'backer Luke Kuechly. He possesses top-notch recognition skills and is a brutal tackler once he reaches the ball.
The Seattle Seahawks field their own bruising combination at the second level of defense. Bobby Wagner enjoyed a splendid debut season in the middle. His brute force is matched by his deceptive speed.
Next to Wagner, K.J. Wright is just as physical. This aggressive pair forms one of the most fearsome one-two punches in football.
Cornerbacks: Seattle Seahawks
As powerful as their front seven is, the real strength of the Seahawks is their pass defense. That is defined by powerful cornerback tandem Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
Both are towering, big-built cover men. They smother receivers with press techniques. Sherman and Browner are helping redefine the physical requirements for cornerbacks in the modern game.
Runners-up: Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys
The Bears can count on Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings to be the most opportunistic combination in the NFL. They contributed 12 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles last season.
The success of the Dallas Cowboys' new 4-3 defense may rely on their cornerbacks. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have the size and instincts to play Cover 2 and versions of man coverage.
They can bump receivers off their patterns and possess the ball skills for the big play.
Safeties: Seattle Seahawks
Individually, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have their limitations. Together, they perfectly complement one another as a punishing duo.
In keeping with the design of the Seattle defense, Chancellor and Thomas are big, brutal hitters. They are also flexible enough to rotate between dropping down into single coverage and patrolling the deep middle.
Runners-up: Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants
Like the Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers pair Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are better collectively than as individuals. Each is willing to hover near the line and be a force against the run.
They have also improved in coverage, with Clark being a shrewd member of a redesigned pass defense.
The New York Giants lost a quality safety when Kenny Phillips bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Fortunately, they are still left with Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.
Rolle is never quite appreciated despite the many functions he performs for the Giants. Brown emerged from obscurity to showcase real talent as a ball hawk in 2012.
Adding former Steeler Ryan Mundy to the mix makes the safety position a real strength for Big Blue.
Offensive Line: San Francisco 49ers
The front five for the 49ers are noted for their dominance in power blocking. The group does overwhelm in this area and defines the success of San Francisco's prolific ground game.
They also showcased greater-than-advertised athleticism in 2012. The 49ers expanded some of their concepts to include read-option and Wildcat designs to free dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
That required mobility and technique to block on the run. Thankfully, athletic left tackle Joe Staley is the linchpin and is supported by tenacious guard Mike Iupati.
Runners-up: Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans
As talented as running back Adrian Peterson is, his dominance in 2012 was certainly helped by a strong, skilled O-line. The unit is particularly strong on the edges.
Tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are powerful drive-blockers who rely on massive frames and use their hands well. Center John Sullivan is unheralded, but in reality the intelligent center is the key member of the group.
Everything the Texans do on offense is made possible by a smart, mobile line. The strength of this technically sound front five is a savvy trio of Pro Bowlers.
Wade Smith, Duane Brown and Chris Myers are all skilled zone-blockers. They are major factors in the running game and are solid protecting the passer.
Running Backs: Houston Texans
Even with a strong line, the Texans offense is helped by a terrific running back rotation. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both intelligent, one-cut runners.
Injuries slowed Tate last season after he nearly posted 1,000 yards in 2011. When healthy, Tate combines excellent initial quickness with above-average power.
Reaching the 1,000-yard mark has rarely been a problem for Foster. He has surpassed 1,200 yards in each of the last three seasons. Few backs run with the intelligence Foster demonstrates. He quickly identifies gaps in a defense and possesses a creative range of movement.
The addition of Greg B. Jones gives what is already a dominant rushing attack a formidable lead blocker. The Texans should own the NFL's best ground game in 2013.
Runners-up: Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens
Featuring C.J. Spiller more often will make the Buffalo Bills' running game more dynamic. As exciting as Spiller is, not many teams can call on a reserve as good as Fred Jackson.
The Bills boast two legitimate 1,000-yard rushers. That makes them unique in today's pass-first league.
Ray Rice by himself is enough to give the Ravens a strong running game. His multipurpose skill makes him an X-factor against any defense.
The emergence of Bernard Pierce only makes the Ravens tougher on the ground. Pierce is a true bruiser between the tackles.
Releasing Vonta Leach made good cap sense, but the Ravens still waved goodbye to the league's best lead blocker.
Wide Receivers: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position.
Jordy Nelson and James Jones both possess speed and size on the outside. They are intelligent and precise route-runners who can succeed over the middle and as deep threats.
As versatile as they are, Jones and Nelson do not offer the same multiple skills as Randall Cobb. He is the speedy, diminutive matchup nightmare from the slot every offense craves.
Once he is in the open field, Cobb's talent as a returner comes to the fore. His quickness, elusiveness and sharp cutting take him around most would-be tacklers.
The Packers have the ideal range of weapons for a modern, expansive passing game.
Runners-up: Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints
If any team can rival the plethora of receiving talent the Packers boast, it is the Atlanta Falcons. Julio Jones and Roddy White are prolific, fleet-footed playmakers on the outside. They terrorize defenses vertically. Both have the size and speed to win against any type of coverage.
Complementing this awesome duo is unheralded but still valuable possession receiver Harry Douglas.
Despite parting with Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson in recent seasons, the New Orleans Saints still feature ample receiving talent.
The smart, versatile pairing of Lance Moore and Marques Colston comprise one of the best duos in the league. They are sure-handed and can exploit every level of coverage.
Colston and Moore each topped 1,000 yards in 2012 and combined for 16 touchdowns. Expect them to be every bit as productive this season.
Tight Ends: New England Patriots
Health concerns hover over Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. However, when fit, this tight end duo is the dominant force of the New England Patriots offense.
Gronkowksi is the sledgehammer who does some of his best work as an in-line blocker and pass-catcher. He can also move into the slot, where his frightening size gives the Patriots an advantage against any covering defender.
Hernandez is more the joker in the pack. He is moved all over the formation, from the slot to split out wide and even into the backfield.
As long as Gronkowski and Hernandez are able to take the field, the Patriots will remain viable contenders.
Runners-up: Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins
The Ravens were smart to make more use of Dennis Pitta last season. The crafty, sure-handed tight end emerged as a real clutch pass-catcher late in the season. He caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven scores.
Ed Dickson is not as consistent as Pitta but does have the athletic skills and overall potential to stretch intermediate coverage.
The Redskins can rely on tight ends to be a big feature of their passing game in 2013. Fred Davis is returning from an Achilles injury and could dominate if he is back to his best. He has wide receiver-type skills and is a genuine source of big plays over the middle.
The Redskins were smart to add Jordan Reed in the draft. He gives them a player with similar joker-style attributes to Davis.
Both will be augmented by useful reserve Logan Paulsen. The powerful blocker showcased a previously hidden talent as a receiving threat in 2012.
The Redskins would be smart to include their tight ends in the passing game more often this season. The talent at the position could encourage quarterback Robert Griffin III to resort to the run less and hone his technique as a passer.
Quarterback: Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts own arguably the best young quarterback in football in Andrew Luck. He gives them a 4,000-yard passer who will only get better each year.
In the event of injury or a highly unlikely dip in form from their star asset, the Colts can turn to competent veteran Matt Hasselbeck. He may not have much left in the tank, but Hasselbeck is still a scheme-savvy quarterback who knows what it takes to win in the NFL.
Runners-up: Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys
The Redskins are strong at quarterback as long as Robert Griffin III is healthy. His dual-threat talents will continue to baffle defenses, and not many quarterbacks can match his awesome deep ball.
Kirk Cousins proved a more-than-able deputy last season. Like Griffin, he possesses good play-action skills and a strong arm.
Even third-string retread Rex Grossman has value. He has a detailed knowledge of the Shanahan offense.
He has enough critics to populate a small island, but Tony Romo has done his part for the Dallas Cowboys during the past two seasons.
He topped 4,000 yards in both campaigns and hurled a combined 59 touchdowns. The Cowboys have not missed the playoffs because of their quarterback.
As backups go, Kyle Orton is one of the better options. He has proven he can start and has twice surpassed 3,500 passing yards in a season.