What Are the Deepest NFL Teams at Each Position?
There are a number of NFL teams (if not all of them) that have very talented players peppered throughout their rosters. Players don't get to the NFL level without being good.
But it's not until a team can string together a number of elite players that said team is fighting in the playoffs each season.
In this day and age in the NFL, it's almost not good enough to have multiple elite players. NFL teams need such players, but they need them at a lot of positions. Because of injuries or stacked defenses that pose matchup problems, unless you have two top-notch wide receivers or a whole mess of Goliath offensive linemen with bone-crushing skills, it's hard to move the chains.
With depth and talent in mind, here are the deepest three teams at each spot on the field.
Special teams were not included in this slideshow.
New England Patriots
A solid backup quarterback is a luxury in the NFL. Most teams have capable quarterbacks starting, with a select few having those of elite stature. Only a handful of teams have backups who could step in for a starter and continue to win.
Tom Brady will go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Though his backup, Ryan Mallett, has seen little action, he has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. A first-round talent, Mallett fell to the third round due to admitted drug use in college. Mallett has since turned his life around in the substance-abuse department, and he has benefited from working alongside Brady.
The Redskins have two second-year quarterbacks—one who earned Rookie of the Year honors (Robert Griffin III) and one who won’t be a backup for much longer (Kirk Cousins).
Cousins completed 33 of his 48 passes for 466 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in the 2012 regular season. He might even be the best backup quarterback in the league. More than likely, Cousins won’t be on the Redskins in the next couple of years.
For the Colts, it’s an ideal situation. They have a young, top-tier quarterback paired with a seasoned veteran still capable of winning games.
Second-year quarterback Andrew Luck proved down the stretch that he was every bit worthy of the 2012 No. 1 pick. Now that Matt Hasselbeck is his backup, the Colts have ensured that they can make do in the event Luck is injured.
No matter his backup, the Vikings are a clear No. 1 based on Adrian Peterson. The NFL’s top back joined a prestigious club a season ago, running for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defenses would load eight in the box, and it didn’t matter as Peterson would make one aggressive player miss and turn it upfield for a big gain. Peterson takes a large majority of Minnesota’s carries, leaving Toby Gerhart with only a handful per game, but A.P. is in a league of his own in the NFL right now.
The Texans are extremely dangerous when Ben Tate is healthy. He adds the perfect contrast to Arian Foster in Houston’s zone running scheme.
For his career, Tate has averaged 5.1 yards per carry and could very well be a starting running back in this league. Foster ran for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, proving he’s still among the top three NFL backs.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have built quite the stable in the last couple of years. Frank Gore ran for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago and still has plenty left in the tank. Kendall Hunter is a solid backup, as is change-of-pace back LaMichael James.
The 49ers also drafted Marcus Lattimore to add to the mix, assuming he’ll be healthy enough to play this season. Lattimore was one of college football’s best running backs until he tore his ACL midseason last year.
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were among the NFL’s best receiving tandems in 2012. Thomas finished the season with 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Decker finished with 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Falcons are one of the few NFL teams that have two true No. 1 receivers. Roddy White doesn’t need much room to make big plays, using a strong upper body to win contested passes. He combines that with speed after the catch, making him one of the most feared receivers in the game.
Julio Jones is entering his third season with Atlanta. He has thus far proven why he was worth trading up for in the 2010 draft. Last season, he led the team in receiving touchdowns (10) and had nearly 1,200 receiving yards.
It’s clear that Detroit's Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in football. But with the way he played at the end of the 2012 season, Dez Bryant made a case for being the NFL’s second best. Bryant scored 10 of his 12 touchdowns in the last eight games of Dallas’ season. In Week 16 against the Saints, he finished with 224 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cowboys also have Miles Austin, who caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
New Orleans Saints
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham dealt with a nagging wrist injury that led to a league-high 14 drops in 2012. With a healthy beginning to 2013, Graham is expected to emerge as the NFL’s best tight end.
Ben Watson is a balanced backup who can be utilized in the run game as well as split out as a receiver.
New England Patriots
The Patriots started the NFL trend of using multiple tight ends in various formations, though that strategy has gone up in flames due to Aaron Hernandez’s murder trial. But whenever Rob Gronkowski comes back, he immediately becomes one of the two best tight ends in the game.
Jake Ballard is a solid No. 2, though he won’t be used in the passing game as frequently.
Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta is now Joe Flacco’s favorite target on the roster with Anquan Boldin in San Francisco. Pitta does a good job controlling the middle of the field, which also gives his wide receivers space to work.
Ed Dickson is an athletic tight end who can make plays after the catch. He was used more frequently in the run game a year ago, but he could see increased reps in the receiving game in 2013.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers return all five starters from what was the NFL’s best run-blocking group in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. Joe Staley is an elite left tackle, and right tackle Anthony Davis is finally living up to his potential. Mike Iupati rarely loses one-on-one battles off the snap and has turned into one of the league’s best guards.
There isn’t a more physical offensive line in football than San Francisco’s.
The Broncos were smart to lock up Ryan Clady to a long-term deal. A top-five left tackle, Clady’s combination of strength and agility makes him an ideal blindside protector. Denver added Louis Vasquez this offseason via free agency, which improves the unit from great to elite.
Right tackle Orlando Franklin is notably excellent in pass protection, as he rarely allows pressure to reach Peyton Manning. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Franklin allowed just 26 total pressures last season, ranking him No. 10 in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Over the last two years, the Buccaneers have been building an upper-echelon offensive line. During the 2012 offseason, Tampa Bay made a splash by signing Carl Nicks. He and Davin Joseph quite possibly make up the best guard duo in the NFL. Both were injured last year, which contributed to a below-average showing from the unit.
Assuming both stay healthy in 2012, the interior running game should open up nicely for running back Doug Martin.
If the Lions' defensive front could keep the off-field shenanigans away from the playing field, then it could be as dominant as it should be. On pure talent alone, the Lions have the best defensive line in the NFL.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is one of the best at his position. Combined with Nick Fairley, Detroit has the best defensive tackle combo, hands down. Rookie Ziggy Ansah figures to make an immediate impact at defensive end.
The Seahawks have one of the best rotations in the NFL, starting with Cliff Avril, who signed as a free agent. One of the game’s better defensive ends, he will get to work with Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Michael Bennett.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane tallied three sacks last year and is tough to neutralize inside. Bruce Irvin, who had eight sacks in 2012, will rotate between defensive end and outside linebacker, but he will have to serve a four-game suspension to open the season.
The Bengals possess one of the most underrated defensive lines in the NFL. Geno Atkins will be a longtime star in the league. Atkins finished with 12.5 sacks, bulldozing his way through interior linemen all through the 2012 season.
Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap make for great bookends at defensive end, allowing Atkins and Domata Peko to get that needed push inside.
San Francisco 49ers
Patrick Willis is the NFL’s most instinctive, toughest and most athletic inside linebacker at the moment. You can’t run past him, nor can you trick him in the passing game. He’s the leader of San Francisco’s defense and does a great job getting his unit in position. But by no means is he the only star talent in this group.
In 2012, rush linebacker Aldon Smith finished with a whopping 19.5 sacks. Ahmad Brooks added 6.5 from the other side. The two pass-rushing linebackers have enabled Willis to be more effective in all phases of the game since he doesn’t have to worry about rushing the passer.
And his All-Pro sidekick, NaVorro Bowman, certainly helps.
Carolina definitely has the best linebacking group in the history of its franchise. Luke Kuechly surprised the NFL by finishing with 164 tackles as a rookie. Kuechly played well beyond his years and appears poised to continue the path he’s on. Veteran Jon Beason moved to outside linebacker a year ago and should be more adjusted to it this year, assuming he spends the full 16 games healthy.
Health was finally on Thomas Davis’ side in 2012, as he was able to play 15 games after multiple knee surgeries. If this unit stays together and healthy, it can rival San Francisco’s.
The Ravens have solid experience at inside linebacker, provided Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion) is able to start the season on time. Former Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith joined the squad and adds experience there too. Baltimore also drafted Arthur Brown in the second round.
It’s at outside linebacker, however, where the Ravens will shine this season. Terrell Suggs is finally healthy after tearing his Achilles last April. The Ravens were somehow able to pair Suggs with Elvis Dumervil, a sack machine in Denver. Courtney Upshaw will also be in the mix, making this unit deep and dangerous.
Even without Ray Lewis, the Ravens' linebacking unit should be among the NFL’s best.
Simply put, there’s not a better cornerback tandem than Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Sherman, at 6’3”, 195 pounds, and Browner, at 6’4”, 221 pounds, can match up size-wise with just about any receiver in football. Whereas most corners can’t match big receivers, these two can.
Sherman had eight interceptions in 2012 and has established himself as a top-five NFL cornerback.
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey had a great year until the AFC divisional-round loss to Baltimore. Until then, Bailey was looking like he hasn’t aged, aiding the Broncos to just 199.6 passing yards allowed per game. Chris Harris started on the opposite side for 12 games but might get replaced in the lineup by free-agent acquisition Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
One of the reasons the Cardinals defense surprised a lot of folks is because of the starting cornerbacks. Patrick Peterson is emerging into a top-flight cornerback. Antoine Cason is a solid corner that will frustrate receivers. During the 2013 draft, the Cardinals selected a first-round talent in Tyrann Mathieu in the third round.
Arizona has plenty of options to run with at cornerback, which only improved an already stifling defense.
San Diego Chargers
Eric Weddle ended 2012 as the NFL’s best safety. Weddle has a versatile skill set with the ability to play Cover 2, stuff the run or be a single-high safety. Weddle picked off three passes in 2012.
His presence on the field has elevated Marcus Gilchrist’s game as well.
Not many people saw Dolphins safety Reshad Jones emerging into the player he was in 2012. It was impressive enough to where Jones is now being considered one of the top NFL safeties.
Jones had four interceptions in 2012 and is paired with Chris Clemons in the back end. The two safeties provide a tough twosome to beat.
The two Steelers safeties are as intimidating as they come. Troy Polamalu never met a hit he didn’t like to lay on someone. Reckless with his body at times, Polamalu is a violent safety that’s not afraid to deliver a blow. The only issue with Polamalu is keeping him healthy and concussion-free.
Ryan Clark is a great complement to Polamalu due to his excellent range in coverage. It frees up the corners to be more aggressive and allows Polamalu to take more chances on the field.
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