Power Ranking the Top 25 Players in Super Bowl XLVIII

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2014

Power Ranking the Top 25 Players in Super Bowl XLVIII

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    It wouldn't be a stretch to say Peyton Manning is the single most-important player in this Super Bowl.
    It wouldn't be a stretch to say Peyton Manning is the single most-important player in this Super Bowl.Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Sports fans love to debate. The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will settle the debate on who is the NFL's No. 1 team this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII, but Bleacher Report wants to kick up a storm with debating the Top 25 players in this game.

    We rank them here with a special lean toward how important each player and position is to this Super Bowl's outcome. There are nine Broncos offensive players on the list, because they had a record-setting offense, after all.

    Some notable omissions are Champ Bailey and a slew of Seahawks defenders. Heck, we could have filled the whole slideshow with Seahawks defensive players. As it is, there are seven in the ensuing slides.

    Enjoy and debate away.

25. Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    How in the world can a player who had so little impact on the Seattle Seahawks' season as Percy Harvin had be one of the top 25 most important players in the game?

    Harvin is that talented, that's why.

    Often injured, sure, but when he is healthy and on the field, he is a game-changer. Debate his lack of impact on the season because of injury all you want, but just the potential presence of No. 11 warrants the last spot in this top 25.

24. Shaun Phillips, DE, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Shaun Phillips might not be playing in this Super Bowl if not for the mix-up made by Elvis Dumervil's agent last spring that led to Dumervil being released and signing with the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos turned to Phillips, who posted 10 sacks.

    You can make a good case for Chris Clemons or Cliff Avril being on this list over Phillips. Also, Wesley Woodyard is the Broncos' defensive captain.

    But Phillips has had a big role as a starter, particularly with the loss of Von Miller (knee).

23. Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Right corner Brandon Browner's suspension has allowed a burgeoning superstar to emerge in Byron Maxwell. Nickel corner Walter Thurmond was suspended too; otherwise, the NFL masses might not know much about Maxwell.

    The fourth piece of the famed "Legion of Boom" is the newest starter, but he is a real good piece to the best secondary in football.

22. Danny Trevathan, LB, Denver Broncos

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Wesley Woodyard might be the Denver Broncos' defensive captain, but Danny Trevathan was the leading tackler with 125. He has emerged as one of the NFL's best—and few—every-down linebackers in football.

    His snaps have increased at the expense of Woodyard. With Marshawn Lynch needing to get into his beast mode, Trevathan will have a far bigger role in this Super Bowl than this sub-20 ranking suggests.

    NFL.com's Chris Wesseling asked Trevathan if he gets enough respect around the league: "I'm gonna answer that after this Super Bowl," the player said.

21. Orlando Franklin, RT, Denver Broncos

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The Seattle Seahawks need to get pressure in the face of Peyton Manning, but they will have to do it against arguably the best right-side offensive line in football: guard Louis Vasquez and tackle Orlando Franklin.

    Franklin is the first of the two to appear in this top 25. While he winds up lower-ranked than Vasquez, he has the task of stopping situational hell-raisers...err, pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Franklin's success will make a big impact on buying time for Manning against a dangerous ball-hawking secondary.

20. Russell Okung, LT, Seattle Seahawks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Left tackle is arguably the most important position in this pass-happy NFL, so you should not be surprised to see one ranked in the top 20. You might be surprised one is not ranked higher in this game in fact.

    Russell Okung has had an injury-plagued year, but he is still one of the most trustworthy blind-side protectors in football when healthy. If the Seattle Seahawks were more of a pass-happy team, Okung might get more respect than we give him here.

19. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    In just his second season, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the NFL's top-ranked defense with 119 tackles and is second on the team with 24 tackles in two postseason games, according to NFLMedia.com's Super Bowl capsule (credentials required).

    That is serious production. Unlike some of the Seattle Seahawks' front seven, Wagner plays on both running and passing downs. You could make a case he is the most important non-Legion of Boom defender for the Seahawks.

18. Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    Michael Bennett is an interesting case. You can argue that Chris Clemons or Cliff Avril have a greater impact overall on the Seattle Seahawks defense, but as a situational pass-rusher, Bennett might have more importance on the outcome of this game.

    If the Denver Broncos weren't so good at protecting the passer—and Peyton Manning so quick at getting the ball out—Bennett would have a great case to be one of the top five most impactful players going into this Super Bowl.

17. Brandon Mebane, DT, Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Brandon Mebane might not have a lot of devoted fans—what run-stuffing tackle does?—but he is easily the most underrated player in this top 25. Pro Football Focus rated him (subscription) as the second-best defensive tackle against the run this season.

    If not for Peyton Manning's offense potentially requiring more nickel packages, we would have rated Mebane higher. As it is, he might be limited to playing more on early downs and short yardage, which will limit his impact on this Super Bowl.

16. Max Unger, C, Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    This hasn't been a great season for Max Unger, mostly due to injury, but he was selected to the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive year. That says a lot about how he is regarded around the league.

    While he has seen better days, he has no bigger day ahead of him than this Sunday. Blocking a very good Denver Broncos front for Marshawn Lynch will be one of the biggest keys of the game.

15. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    There was a time Denver Broncos head coach John Fox hid Knowshon Moreno on the roster. The running back was buried on the depth chart and on the verge of being cut. Now Moreno is 26, coming off a career year and headed for a nice payday in free agency.

    The Broncos can win without him, but that doesn't mean they should try. You beat good defenses, particularly one with a Legion of Boom secondary, by running the ball right at them. We will see how much of an impact Moreno can make.

14. Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver Broncos

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Terrance Knighton might be the most important player to the Denver Broncos' success in this Super Bowl outside of Peyton Manning. The large defensive tackle is one of the game's best run-stuffers. Marshawn Lynch might get to know him intimately this Sunday.

    He graded out as the NFL's ninth-best defensive tackles, despite playing just the obvious run downs (53 percent of the Broncos' defensive snaps), according to Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus.

    He might not have the one-time draft status as some others, but he is a pivotal player in this game.

13. Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Eric Decker is not big and fast like Demaryius Thomas or shifty and nimble like Wes Welker. He is still darn good, and he is about to become a rich man this offseason.

    Back-to-back 85-catch, 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown seasons at the age of 22 will do that for you. Decker might have priced himself into being the best free-agent receiver on the market this winter. A big performance in the Super Bowl could make him tough for the Denver Broncos to afford.

12. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver Broncos

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The best thing you can ever say about a shutdown corner is nothing at all. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had one of those seasons.

    Sure, he has been a part of some bad secondaries, including the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2013 Denver Broncos, but wide receivers and offensive coordinators know he was not the weak link this year.

    Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded the 27-year-old pending free agent at plus-14.9, making him one of the best corners in the game. He had a well-timed career year.

11. Manny Ramirez, C, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    This ranking is going to open eyes—if people truly care about offensive linemen. There are more talented players than Denver Broncos center Manny Ramirez. You could argue there are more talented linemen on the Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.

    Heck, he was once a backup guard who was cut from an 0-16 Detroit Lions team, as USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones chronicles here.

    Now, he is the center for Peyton Manning. Think of the most cerebral quarterbacks in NFL history...they are almost always teamed with very good centers.

    Ramirez deserves props for dealing with Manning's line checks and calls and then delivering that message to an offensive line that propped up a 1,000-yard rusher in Knowshon Moreno and helped the quarterback to the greatest statistical season in NFL history.

    On second thought, maybe Ramirez is ranked too low here.

10. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Russell Wilson lovers are going to be upset that he barely checked into the top 10 here. The fact is that he is in just his second year. Peyton Manning is playing in his third Super Bowl.

    Ask Colin Kaepernick about how difficult it is to win a Super Bowl with so little experience. Ask hundreds of former quarterbacks, like Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

    Wilson is a very good quarterback and potentially a great one. But his best days are still one, two or three years in the future.

9. Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos

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    Wes Welker has had a whirlwind past 12 months, going from one record-setting Hall of Fame quarterback to another to beating his former team in the AFC Championship Game, which featured a controversial cross-body block that knocked out the New England Patriots' best defensive back.

    Along the way, he suffered multiple concussions that might put the rest of his career in doubt.

    "We'll see what happens," Welker told the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe. "I've definitely been blessed with 10 more years than I ever thought I would play in the NFL. I'll just keep on playing until they tell me I can't anymore."

    Regardless of his future, it has been quite a ride for an undersized receiver whom few could have expected to rack up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers.

8. Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The placement of a tight end over the likes of left tackles, push-rushing defensive ends and run-stuffing linebackers is potentially eye raising for true NFL lovers.

    A third-year breakthrough has helped make Thomas one of the game's toughest receivers to match up against, though. Portland State doesn't generate many NFL players, much less burgeoning superstars, but Thomas is that.

    Coming into the season, he had just one catch for five yards on the back of his football card. Now, he has 66 receptions for 793 yards and 12 touchdowns. If the 25-year-old can stay healthy in one of the most brutal positions in football, look out.

7. Kam Chancellor, SS, Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Strong safety Kam Chancellor puts the boom in the Legion of Boom. He is the enforcer.

    He runs like a corner and hits like a linebacker and has become one of the best run-support safeties in football now...if not ever. We would like to see Chancellor of 2013 line up against Ronnie Lott, circa 1988, in the Oklahoma drill. That would be a ticket worth buying.

6. Louis Vasquez, RG, Denver Broncos

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The fact that we give such a high ranking to an offensive guard—over a tackle even—is telling. Guard doesn't tend to be a position that makes a player a household name.

    Louis Vasquez warrants that status. He is one of only two linemen among the 38 guards who played at least 900 snaps in 2013 to not permit a sack, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Get pressure up the middle on Peyton Manning? Good luck.

5. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Instead of trumpeting "Beast Mode" here, we have to veer off on a tangent. Marshawn Lynch didn't want to be seen at Media Day on Tuesday. Yet, his attempts to not be seen created a scene.

    It looked like an underhandedly desperate attempt for attention.

    Lynch won't need attention on Super Bowl Sunday. He will get it in truck loads. Even if he might merely be fifth on our list, you can make a case he is the second most important player in this game next to Peyton Manning. As Lynch goes, so go the Seattle Seahawks.

4. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Here is a player who needs very little said about his placement on this list. After back-to-back 90-catch, 1,400-yard, 10-touchdown seasons, Demaryius Thomas is legitimately one of the best wide receivers in football.

    Don't try to make a case that his two monster seasons are a function of Peyton Manning's arrival in Denver. Sure, it helped, but Thomas would be an elite wide receiver with any quarterback.

    If anyone can match up with his size and speed, though, it is the Legion of Boom—one-half of which is still to come on this top 25.

3. Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks

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    Free safety Earl Thomas will never make the noise Richard Sherman makes, but Bleacher Report readers voted Thomas over Sherman as the most irreplaceable piece of the Legion of Boom. You could say that is a function of Sherman's detractors after his NFC Championship Game boasting, but that would be slighting a player whom Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon called a "heat-seaking missile" to Jim Corbett of USA Today.

2. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Richard Sherman might never be as good as he thinks or says he is. That shouldn't matter, though. Even his words cannot tarnish his reputation as one of the game's ultimate defensive playmakers.

    The Seahawks generally just play sides with their coverage, so expect Peyton Manning to throw to his left a lot more than his right. The best corners' names are never mentioned, but they are rarely burnt or far from the action.

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

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    You know we had to go with Peyton Manning at No. 1 after he posted the greatest season in quarterback history with 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns. There is still one more title dangling out there to cement that legacy, though.

    A second loss in a Super Bowl, particularly if he makes another late mistake like he did years ago against New Orleans, would wake up those tired critics who state Manning is merely a great regular-season quarterback. Hogwash.

    He's an all-timer regardless and the most important player in this game.

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.