The Top 5 NFL Teams at Every Position
There are an uncountable number of NFL season previews every year. Some are good. Some are outdated by the time you read them. Some leave you lonely and confused. This one won't.
Anyone can take a look at a schedule and predict who will win or lose games based on the individual matchup, but which teams actually have the talent to prevail? Who has the depth needed to overcome multiple offseason surgeries and a murder investigation at one position? Not many teams.
We're taking a preseason preview at the NFL teams with the most talent at each position.
This is not about who has the best player at each position, but rather the most talent on the depth chart at said position. J.J. Watt is a quarterback-slaying nightmare, but the Houston Texans may or may not have the talent around him to qualify for the rankings.
Try to keep that in mind as you read and comment, but definitely do read and comment.
All depth charts courtesy of Ourlads.com.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson, Brady Quinn, Tarvaris Jackson
Wilson was a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate in leading the Seahawks to the playoffs. Quinn and Jackson are both solid depth players at the position with starting experience should Wilson miss time to injury.
4. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman
It helps having one of the game's best quarterbacks as your starter, but the Packers have more than just Aaron Rodgers. Harrell is a perfect No. 2 quarterback thanks to his high football IQ, and Coleman is a nice developmental prospect for quarterback guru Mike McCarthy.
3. New York Giants
Eli Manning, David Carr, Ryan Nassib, Curtis Painter
The Giants have a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and excellent depth. Carr and Painter have both started in the past, and Nassib was considered by some to be a potential first-round draft pick.
2. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert
Manning may go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play the position, so that helps. As does the young talent in Osweiler and Dysert.
1. New England Patriots
Tom Brady is the headliner here, but in Mallett the team has a high-potential backup. Tim Tebow may not have the trust of many as a quarterback, but he does bring value as a third-down or goal-line specialist under center.
5. Houston Texans
Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Deji Karim
The Texans may have the most well-known backfield talent, and there is some validity there. Foster is a classic work-horse back with game-changing patience and vision. Tate has the physical tools of a starter, while Karim is a very good complementary back.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Felix Jones
McCoy has world-class agility and open-field moves. Brown plays with an angry approach on every carry. Put them together, and the Eagles have a backfield that could easily lead the NFL in rushing this season. Add in Felix Jones as a potential third-down back, and you have a nice trio of runners.
3. Chicago Bears
Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Armando Allen
The Bears have two running backs in Forte and Bush with the talent and experience as starters. Each brings talent in the run and passing game. Other teams may have more depth, but the Bears have talent, versatility and experience.
2. Buffalo Bills
C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Tashard Choice
Spiller and Jackson both have starting quality talent, giving the Bills exceptional depth and a dynamic ability to mix it up in the backfield. Spiller's speed, Jackson's vision and Choice's strength make this backfield deep and versatile.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Bobby Rainey
The Ravens have an amazing duo in Rice and Pierce, who in his second season could start to steal carries from his more famous teammate. The two put together have the potential to dominate.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Drew Davis
The Falcons have amazing talent at the top with Roddy White and Julio Jones, but the talent falls off considerably after those two. If this were a list of the best starters, they'd be No. 1. If Davis can develop into a legitimate threat this season, the Falcons could move up the list.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn
You've no doubt heard all about Jackson and Maclin, and you should have, as they bring front-line talent to the Eagles receiving corps, but Avant might be the most underrated No. 3 receiver in football. The foursome above are all talented pass-catchers, with Benn and the starters possessing game-changing speed.
3. Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin
It's amazing that the Packers can lose Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and still make this list. It speaks to the talent on hand and the job Ted Thompson has done building the team. Nelson, if healthy, could lead the league in catches in 2013. Cobb and Jones both have great touchdown potential for Aaron Rodgers in the red zone.
2. Denver Broncos
Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Andre Caldwell
Will there be enough Peyton Manning passes to go around? Between Thomas, Decker and Welker, you have three players whose talent commands a high number of targets. In terms of front-line talent on the field each play, the Broncos are the best in the AFC.
1. Seattle Seahawks
Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate
The Seahawks have an embarrassing amount of talent at receiver. Harvin and Rice have the speed to be big-time difference-makers if they can stay healthy. Tate is well known for the "Fail Mary" play, but he quietly put together a big-time season in 2012. Baldwin is, hands down, the game's best No. 4 wide receiver.
5. Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna
Having an all-around great player in Jason Witten gets Dallas on this list, but rookie Gavin Escobar warrants his own mention. One of the best tight end prospects in a loaded 2013 draft class, he's the future at the position in Dallas.
4. New Orleans Saints
Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson, Mike Higgins
The Saints live and breathe off of Jimmy Graham in the passing game, but Watson has put together a solid post-Patriots career and adds to what the team does offensively. With Watson's short game and Graham's all-over game, Drew Brees has options.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald
The 49ers have a treasure trove of speed at tight end. Davis is one of the toughest matchups in the game, and a great blocker to boot. If all the things being written about McDonald come true, the team will have big weapons for Jim Harbaugh's two-tight end sets.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison
Rudolph has big-play potential—watch the Pro Bowl if you need to see what he can do with a good quarterback—while Carlson was a highly regarded player when the team signed him away from Seattle. Ellison brings versatility as a blocker in the run game and graded out exceptionally well there in 2012.
1. New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jake Ballard
You can put a gigantic asterisk next to this one. If Gronkowski is healthy and Hernandez's off-field issues clear up, the Patriots would have the most talent by far. However, there's also the chance that Ballard will be thrust into a No. 1 tight end role—something he did quite well pre-injury for the New York Giants.
5. Tennessee Titans
Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Fernando Velasco, Chance Warmack, David Stewart (left to right)
A re-made offensive line gets the Titans on the list, thanks to the additions of guards Levitre and Warmack. Roos and Stewart are as good a tackle duo as they come when healthy.
4. Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas, Shawn Lauvao, Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz
In a few seasons, the Browns may have the best line in the game. Thomas is a perennial All-Pro, and Mack and Schwartz are working their way up to that level. Greco was an unsung hero during the 2012 season and has amazing upside.
3. Denver Broncos
Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton, Louis Vasquez, Orlando Franklin
The Broncos have to be happy with their booked tackles, Clady and Franklin, as well as free-agent addition Louis Vasquez. The team has weak links in Walton and Beadles, but both are solid enough in combinations to hide their deficiencies.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Bryant McKinnie, Kelechi Osemele, Gino Gradkowski, Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher
The Ravens line found its strength in the playoffs with McKinnie in the lineup at left tackle and Oher at right tackle. Now that unit is back, minus center Matt Birk, with a chance at another Super Bowl run. The team's best lineman, Marshal Yanda, is the fuel for a balanced offensive attack.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis
General manager Trent Baalke patiently built an All-Star offensive line with three first-round picks (Staley, Iupati and Davis) while hitting home runs on the low-risk signings of Goodwin and Boone. The result is an offensive line that can excel in both run and pass situations. There is no doubt that this is the best offensive line in the NFL.
5. Carolina Panthers
Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Frank Alexander
Few teams have the talent and production to match the Panthers' two starting defensive ends in the 4-3 defense. Johnson and Hardy are both exceptional at crashing the edge and getting to the quarterback, but a lack of depth keeps Carolina at the bottom of the list.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Margus Hunt, Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry
The Bengals are almost a complete opposite of the Panthers, in that they have a ton of depth without any big-named stars. Michael Johnson gets paid like an All-Pro and has that ceiling, but what makes this group so good is their depth and versatility as power or speed rushers.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Red Bryant, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons
Were it not for injuries (Bennett, Clemons) or suspensions (Irvin), this would be the best 4-3 defensive end group in the game. But there are injuries and suspensions, so instead this is a great unknown for the Seahawks. They could be dominant or overhyped.
2. Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Kyle Wilber, Tyrone Crawford
Ware and Spencer make up the best defensive end unit in the league, but the lack of depth is a concern. Second-year players Wilber and Crawford have talent but are relatively unproven. If you're looking for elite front-line players, the Cowboys have it at defensive end.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Tank Carradine
Starters, depth and developmental players make up the league's best defensive end roster. Justin Smith is an All-Pro, and McDonald is routinely considered one of the most underrated players in the league. Dorsey, a former top-five draft pick, has very good run-stopping skills, while Carradine was my No. 5 overall player in the 2013 draft class.
5. Minnesota Vikings
Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans
The Vikings hit the draft jackpot when they added Sharrif Floyd late in the first round, and he'll be a perfect understudy to Williams in the team's 3-technique position. Guion is underrated against the run, and even Evans brings good value as a situational pass-rusher from inside.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Marcus Spears, Brandon Williams
Ngata is still one of the most dominant players in the game and can truly take over a game by himself. Cody is on the verge of draft-bust city and could be edged out by rookie Brandon Williams. Marcus Spears is one to keep an eye on as a quiet veteran producer.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still
Geno Atkins makes this group go, but 2012 draftees Thompson and Still both have exceptional potential as pass-rushers and run-stuffers. Peko is an unheralded run-stuffer who does a lot of dirty work for very little credit.
2. Buffalo Bills
Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Torell Troup
The Bills will switch to a 3-4 hybrid defense in 2013, but Kyle Williams will still be considered a defensive tackle by most. That gets them up to No. 2 overall on our list, thanks to the pass-rushing ability of Dareus and Williams' run-stuffing skills.
1. Detroit Lions
Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley
The duo of Suh and Fairley is unfair to the rest of the NFL. Now that both players have realized their potential and begun producing, you could call them two of the 10 best players at the position in the game. Mosley is talented enough to spell either player, giving the Lions good depth behind an elite starting core.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham
A transition to a 3-4 defense has left some uncertainty on the Eagles depth chart, but there is no denying the raw talent available. Cole and Graham are high-level pass-rushers off the edge, and both have the agility to play well standing up. Barwin is a proven player coming from the Texans and will be a tough first- and second-down player.
4. Washington Redskins
Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Darryl Tapp
Brian Orakpo returns from injury to give the Redskins one of the best pass-rushing outside linebacker duos in the game. Kerrigan has developed into a high-level player in his own right, so teamed with the All-Pro-caliber Orakpo, the 'Skins will have a dynamic duo on the edges.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Frank Zombo
The Chiefs put Hali and Houston in the Pro Bowl last year, and there's no reason to think they cannot do it again in the team's 3-4 under scheme this season. They don't bring much in coverage, but they don't have to with a combined 19 sacks.
2. Denver Broncos
Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Shaun Phillips
Miller and Woodyard represent all that a 4-3 outside linebacking duo should be. They are athletic, show great range and can each attack the offense in a unique way—Miller as a pass-rusher, Woodyard in coverage. Add in veteran pass-rusher Shaun Phillips, and the Broncos have the most versatile outside linebackers in the game—and possibly the best overall player at the position in Miller.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Corey Lemonier
Depth and production are the key to being the top team on each position list, and the 49ers have both at outside linebacker. Smith and Brooks combined for 26 sacks and two interceptions in 2012, making them one of the most productive duos in the league. The depth gets a major boost with Haralson's return from injury and the addition of Lemonier in the 2013 draft. From top to bottom, this is the best unit in the game.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Johnson, Akeem Jordan, Nico Johnson, Zac Diles
The Chiefs have a superstar in Johnson, and good depth beside and behind him with Jordan and Diles. Rookie Nico Johnson has room to make a big impact in his first season out of Alabama and fills the need for a thumper on the inside of the scheme.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Vince Williams, Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence
Of course Pittsburgh makes the list of best inside linebackers. Timmons has been a high-level player since his second season and would make my list of most underrated players in the game. Larry Foote is a cagy veteran and may give way to one of the three youngsters behind him before long. Williams could be a steal from the 2013 draft coming out of Florida State.
3. San Diego Chargers
Manti Te'o, Donald Butler, Jonas Mouton, D.J. Smith
Amid all the Manti Te'o drama, people almost forgot that he's a very good middle linebacker. So is Donald Butler, which gives the Chargers considerable talent in their starting lineup. Mouton has been a starter and brings good depth, while Smith is a developmental player to watch.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Daryl Washington, Kevin Minter, Karlos Dansby, Jasper Brinkley
Losing Daryl Washington to suspension will test this group, but they have the talent to get by. Kevin Minter may have been the best inside linebacker available in the 2013 class, and Dansby and Brinkley provide experience, athleticism and versatility. Once the Cardinals get Washington back, this will be one of the more dominant groups in the game.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Dan Skuta
This isn't even debatable. Willis and Bowman make up the inside linebacker corps that every 3-4 defense is now trying to replicate. They're both athletic, tough and versatile enough to never leave the field. The only argument is which one is the better player.
5. Chicago Bears
Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden, Sherrick McManis
The Bears have a great starting duo with Tillman and Jennings on the field, but the team lacks a presence at the No. 3 cornerback spot and in sub packages. The front-line talent is tough to beat if they can replicate their 2012 production.
4. St. Louis Rams
Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee
One of the surprises of the 2012 season was the success of the Rams defense, and with an already talented group of cornerbacks getting a year older and wiser, they could be even more dangerous. Finnegan and Jenkins are both physical, mugging cornerbacks and consistently show up on game day.
3. Denver Broncos
Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Omar Bolden, Tony Carter
With five players on the depth chart who have the talent to start, the Broncos have a staggering amount of ability in the defensive backfield. Bailey may be aging, but he was very good in 2012. Harris might be the best-kept secret in the NFL right now, as he has shutdown potential at cornerback.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Darrelle Revis, Eric Wright, Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson
Trading for Darrelle Revis and drafting Banks turned a weakness into a strength in Tampa. The team struggled with the secondary in 2012, but this coming season, it will be the glue that holds this team together. If healthy, Revis is a top-two cornerback, but so much hinges on how quickly he's back to his old self.
1. Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Antoine Winfield, Jeremy Lane
As with most positions, the Seahawks have a wealth of talent. Sherman is either the best or second-best cornerback in the NFL right now, and he backs up all his talking with exceptional play. Browner has the size to keep up with the biggest receivers in the league, and with Winfield now on the roster, they have a slot cover man who will straight up lay the wood on runners.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Shamarko Thomas
It may seem absurd to have the Steelers this low on the list, but age has caught up with this group. Polamalu and Clark are no longer the enforcers they used to be, and it won't be long before rookie Shamarko Thomas is called on to replace the legendary Polamalu at strong safety.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Cody Grimm
The Buccaneers will have the hardest-hitting safety tandem in the league with Barron and Goldson. Neither player is great in coverage, but with Darrelle Revis and Eric Wright on the edges, they'll be free to roam and knock out receivers.
3. Atlanta Falcons
William Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Charles Mitchell
The Falcons finally got the production we were all waiting for from their safeties in 2012, thanks in large part to Mike Nolan's hiring as defensive coordinator. The two starters, Moore and DeCoud, are turnover machines in coverage.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Jeron Johnson
The Seahawks have a unique blend of talent, with Thomas' game-changing skills in coverage and Chancellor's big hits over the middle. This is one of the more dynamic groups you'll see on any given Sunday.
1. Miami Dolphins
Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson
The Dolphins might not have the most well-known safety duo in the NFL, but they do have the best duo in the game. Jones is a legitimate top-five talent at the position, and looking at what Clemons did in 2012, he deserves mention as one of the better young free safeties in football.