NFL 2014: Best Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Player on All 32 NFL Teams
The NFL regular season gets underway this week as all 32 teams have compiled their 53-man roster with one goal in mind: Win the Super Bowl.
The teams who get to the Super Bowl always have a few key players that help them succeed. Some teams have more key players than others. All 32 teams have one player, respectively, who is labeled as the best player on offense, defense and special teams.
We'll look at the best offensive, defensive and special teams players for all NFL teams.
Offense: Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver
Larry Fitzgerald has never had longevity with a quarterback throughout his career in Arizona. Even so, Fitzgerald has proven he is one of the best wide receivers in the game and has been an asset for Arizona’s offense. He caught double-digit touchdowns for the first time since 2009. Although he was short of reaching the 1,000-yard mark, Arizona can’t afford to lose him.
Defense: Patrick Peterson, cornerback
When it comes to discussing the top cornerbacks in the league, Patrick Peterson’s name deserves to be part of the mix. His value to the Cardinals was evident when the front office signed him to a five-year contract worth up to $70 million. Since entering the league in 2011, he’s been Arizona’s best defensive player.
Special Teams: Ted Ginn Jr., wide receiver
Ted Ginn Jr. has been up and down throughout his career as a return specialist with Miami, San Francisco and Carolina. He hopes to produce more as a returner under special teams coordinator Amos Jones.
Offense: Matt Ryan, quarterback
Matt Ryan will be without tight end Tony Gonzalez, but he’s never failed to get everyone around him involved. He threw multiple touchdown passes to eight different pass-catchers and connected with 10 different players on scoring plays altogether. He also had a 67 percent completion percentage, the fourth highest in the NFL.
Defense: Paul Worrilow, linebacker
Despite being undrafted last year, Paul Worrilow shined and recorded 19 tackles in back-to-back games near the midway point of the season. He finished with 127 tackles, leading the Falcons in that category.
Special Teams: Devin Hester, wide receiver
Devin Hester wasn’t as explosive as he once was during his first two years in the league. But after two years without a return touchdown, he got it going again. Bottom line: You can never count out Hester when he returns the football.
Offense: Torrey Smith, wide receiver
With 65 catches on the season, Torrey Smith excelled as one of the top playmakers among all wide receivers in the NFL. He finished with 1,128 yards and one of the highest averages with 17.4 yards per catch. While running back Ray Rice serves his two-game suspension, Smith will be a key target for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Defense: Daryl Smith, inside linebacker
After spending nine years in Jacksonville, Daryl Smith turned into a big-time linebacker in his first year in Baltimore. Smith had career highs in tackles (123), pass deflections (18), sacks (five) and interceptions (three) and even scored his first career defensive touchdown.
Special Teams: Justin Tucker, kicker
Justin Tucker tied for first in the NFL for most field goals made with 38 last year. He also connected on a field goal from 61 yards away, the second longest in 2013.
Offense: C.J. Spiller, running back
Although the Buffalo Bills did not have a 1,000-yard rusher, C.J. Spiller was part of a strong 1-2 duo with Fred Jackson. The team hopes Spiller can duplicate his success and do even more when his touches increase.
Defense: Mario Williams, left defensive end
The Buffalo Bills took a big blow when they learned about Kiko Alonso’s injury. However, Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams anchors a strong and sound defensive line that includes right defensive end Jerry Hughes and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
Special Teams: Dan Carpenter, kicker
Making 92 percent of his field goals, Dan Carpenter is a viable kicker to send and have come through for the Bills in close situations.
Offense: Cam Newton, quarterback
Cam Newton doesn’t have a dominant No. 1 receiver. One thing he does a good job of is finding a way to get as many people involved with the offense. In addition, Newton’s done a lot of damage with his feet, contributing as the leading scorer on the ground for the Panthers.
Defense: Luke Kuechly, inside linebacker
After drafting Newton in 2011, the Panthers used their first-round pick in 2012 on Luke Kuechly, who’s been a major impact player on defense the past two seasons. He owns the NFL single-game tackle record with 24 as he punched his first Pro Bowl ticket this past season and landed AP Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Special Teams: Graham Gano, kicker
Graham Gano limited his misses to only three out of the 27 field goals he attempted in 2013. He went six-of-six from 50-plus yards.
Offense: Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver
Jay Cutler is surrounded by a triple-threat offense with two 1,200 plus-yard receivers and a 1,300-yard rusher. Alshon Jeffery skyrocketed as one of the best receivers in the game last year. He had 1,054 more yards in 2013 than he did in 2012, with an impressive 16 yards-per-catch average.
Defense: Jared Allen, right defensive end
Jared Allen scored double-digit sacks each of his six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. As one of the fastest pass-rushers in the league today, he goes south in the NFC North and looks to have a big hand in helping Chicago’s defense by providing pressure up front.
Special Teams: Robbie Gould, kicker
Like all kickers listed you will see throughout, Robbie Gould is another consistent kicker who limits his misses and can split the uprights from far away.
Offense: A.J. Green, wide receiver
Andy Dalton has a lot of reliable targets. Perhaps his most productive receiver is A.J. Green. Green finished with 98 catches for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s made the Pro Bowl each of his three years in the league since coming out of Georgia.
Defense: Vontaze Burfict, outside linebacker
Vontaze Burfict led the league in tackles with 171, playing a big part in helping Cincinnati’s defense as he earned his first Pro Bowl bid.
Special Teams: Kevin Huber, punter
Kevin Huber had 24 punts inside opposing teams' 20-yard lines and limited his touchbacks to four, which always motivates a defense going out on the field.
Offense: Joe Thomas, left tackle
The Cleveland Browns took a major hit, losing league-leading wide receiver Josh Gordon for the season to a one-year suspension. The Browns have a couple of elite offensive linemen who they will have to build around, including left tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas allowed 4.5 sacks each of the last two seasons. Whether it is Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel under center, both quarterbacks can rely on Thomas to protect their blind side.
Defense: Joe Haden, cornerback
With T.J. Ward now on the Broncos, Joe Haden is the only returning Pro Bowl defensive player for the Browns. Haden is expected to do well, but he hopes Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson can provide good safety help with Ward’s departure.
Special Teams: Billy Cundiff, kicker
Making just 21-of-26 field goals, Billy Cundiff didn’t have a good season. At the same time, he might be the most notable special teams player for the Browns.
Offense: Dez Bryant, wide receiver
Tony Romo’s favorite player to target is Dez Bryant. He threw to Bryant 160 times, making him one of the most targeted receivers in the league. Bryant finished with 13 touchdowns, the third most in the NFL. He continues to get better each season to help Dallas be a threat on offense.
Defense: Barry Church, free safety
With the loss of Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, Barry Church will be viewed as the new leader of the defense. With 135 tackles, he tied for fourth in the NFC and was in the top 10 in the league.
Special Teams: Dan Bailey, kicker
The Dallas Cowboys have one of the most accurate kickers in Dan Bailey, who made 28-of-30 field goals and was 16-of-17 from 40-plus yards.
Offense: Peyton Manning, quarterback
Peyton Manning’s 2013 season is a perfect example of why he’s labeled as one of the best to ever play the game. Manning threw double-digit touchdown passes to four different players. At the end of the day, Manning simply makes everyone around him better.
Defense: DeMarcus Ware, right defensive end
John Elway scored big when he signed several defensive standouts, including DeMarcus Ware. Ware’s pressure up front will help defensive backs T.J. Ward, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib be even better.
Special Teams: Matt Prater, kicker
Matt Prater succeeded 96 percent of the time, missing only once in all of 2013. He also had the longest field goal made by any kicker with a 64-yarder. The Broncos will miss him during the first four weeks while he serves his suspension as the team may be involved in some close games and could use an accurate kicker like Prater. When he returns, he will continue to be accurate and help the Broncos when called upon.
Offense: Calvin Johnson, wide receiver
With Matthew Stafford as his quarterback, Calvin Johnson is part of one of the most dynamic offenses and one of the most dominant passing games in the NFL. Johnson tied for third last year among wide receivers for most touchdown receptions.
Defense: Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle
Ndamukong Suh is one of the most feared defenders in the league. Although he collected just 5.5 sacks, he brought pressure up the middle and made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks and interior blockers.
Special Teams: Jeremy Ross, wide receiver
Jeremy Ross scored on a punt and kickoff return last season. In addition, he helped give the Lions good field position a majority of the time.
Green Bay Packers
Offense: Jordy Nelson, wide receiver
The injury bug was an issue for the Green Bay Packers last year. But Jordy Nelson managed to stay healthy and prove his value. Despite playing with multiple quarterbacks throughout the season, Nelson finished with 85 catches, eight touchdowns and 1,314 yards.
Defense: Clay Matthews, outside linebacker
Even after missing five games, Clay Matthews kept up his status as a top-notch linebacker and led the Packers in sacks with 7.5 and was the co-leader with three forced fumbles.
Special Teams: Mason Crosby, kicker
Mason Crosby not only has the leg to make field goals from a long distance, but he is very precise. In addition, Crosby made all 22 field goals from 39 yards or closer, getting the job done for the Packers if they were unable to finish drives with a touchdown.
Offense: Andre Johnson, wide receiver
Even though the Houston Texans had three different quarterbacks throughout the season, Andre Johnson still managed to pull in 109 catches, third in the league, for 1,407 yards. Although Johnson will have a new quarterback under center, and may even work with multiple quarterbacks, he will continue to pull through.
Defense: J.J Watt, right defensive end
Among all 3-4 defensive ends, J.J Watt is probably the best defensive end in the league. He had 10.5 sacks with seven passes batted down and forced four fumbles. He also dominated on special teams with a pair of blocks.
Special Teams: Shane Lechler, punter
It is never a good thing when a team has to call a punter 88 times in a season. But the Texans defense benefits from having Shane Lechler on the team. He averaged 47.4 yards per punt and forced a lot of offenses to start deep in their own territory.
Offense: Andrew Luck, quarterback
Everyone knows that Andrew Luck’s top target is T.Y. Hilton. But Luck does a good job of getting his entire offense involved. He threw touchdown passes to 11 different players in 2013. He is one of the best quarterbacks when it comes to taking care of the football, throwing just nine interception and fumbling only once.
Defense: Robert Mathis, outside linebacker
Although Robert Mathis will serve a four-game suspension, he remains the most valuable defensive player for the Indianapolis Colts. He’s coming off a league-leading 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles. Statistically, he is the best pass-rusher in the NFL. When he returns from his suspension, Indianapolis’ defense will look completely different.
Special Teams: Matt Overton, long snapper
Adam Vinatieri is one of the top kickers in the league with a long history of success, but long snappers deserve some praise, too. Matt Overton has always accurately snapped the football to holders and was recognized with a Pro Bowl invitation this past season.
Offense: Blake Bortles, quarterback
Blake Bortles showed some promise throughout the preseason with a 63 percent completion rate out of 51 attempts and committed no turnovers after being selected third overall in this year’s draft. Expect him to do well when he gets the chance with Jacksonville.
Defense: Paul Posluszny, inside linebacker
Paul Posluszny was the team’s only Pro Bowl player last season after finishing second in the league in tackles. He also had a hand in every part of the defense with 11 pass deflections, three sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), a forced fumble and a recovery. The Jaguars don’t have a lot of key players, but Posluszny is a player who the team will want to build around on defense.
Special Teams: Josh Scobee, kicker
Josh Scobee missed only two field goals in 2013, but they were from long range. He was successful 92 percent of the time and came through for the Jaguars when the offense could not finish drives.
Kansas City Chiefs
Offense: Jamaal Charles, running back
Jamaal Charles was responsible for nearly 37 percent of Kansas City’s offense and led all non-kickers in scoring with 114 points. With a lot of unknowns on offense, Charles might get plenty of touches this year after shining under Andy Reid's system.
Defense: Justin Houston, outside linebacker
Houston got off to a fast start with 7.5 sacks in the first three weeks, but then finished with only 11. He missed the last five games due to injury and the Chiefs missed his presence as a pass-rusher. If healthy, Houston will team up with Tamba Hali and Dee Ford to create the best pass rush in the NFL.
Special Teams: De’Anthony Thomas, running back
De’Anthony Thomas will fill in for Pro Bowl punt returner Dexter McCluster, and he’s already proven he can fill those shoes easily. Thomas had an explosive 80-yard punt return touchdown early in the preseason, showcasing his speed and ability to force missed tackles.
Offense: Branden Albert, left tackle
With Mike Pouncey then on the PUP list, Branden Albert was signed just in time to help the offensive line. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has pressure to start winning games for the Dolphins and will have blockers, like Albert, to help him.
Defense: Olivier Vernon, right defensive end
Miami’s defense features a strong defensive end duo with Olivier Vernon as the team leader in sacks with 11.5. In addition to being the top pass-rusher, he has help from left defensive end and Pro Bowler Cameron Wake.
Special Teams: Brandon Fields, punter
Brandon Fields has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and was voted into last year’s Pro Bowl. Fields had one of the highest punt averages in the league with 48.8 yards per punt.
Offense: Adrian Peterson, running back
Through the up and down years Minnesota has had since Adrian Peterson joined the league in 2007, Peterson has always been the team’s best player and has been tabbed as the best running back in the league.
Defense: Chad Greenway, inside linebacker
With the departure of Jared Allen, Chad Greenway is the new leader of the Vikings defense. He’s led the team in tackles each of the last five seasons and has a big responsibility as the defensive leader.
Special Teams: Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver
It is no surprise that Cordarrelle Patterson made the Pro Bowl after a pair of kick return touchdowns and setting up the offense with great field position, averaging 32 yards per return.
New England Patriots
Offense: Tom Brady, quarterback
Even though Rob Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season because of injury, Tom Brady continues to do what he does best—get the ball to his receivers and tight ends, of which he’s had many over the years.
Defense: Chandler Jones, right defensive end
Chandler Jones fell just short of being voted into the Pro Bowl during his second year out of Syracuse. Although the team lost a big cornerback in Aqib Talib, Jones’ ability to create ill-advised passes will allow other cornerbacks to come up with some picks.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, kicker
Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski tied for first with Justin Tucker for most field goals made in 2013 with 38 and was kept busy with 44 extra-point attempts. Like all kickers on this list, Gostkowski is also consistent with his deep field goals. He led the league in scoring in 2013.
New Orleans Saints
Offense: Drew Brees, quarterback
Drew Brees had a 69 percent completion percentage, ranking him higher than all starting quarterbacks in the NFC. He also had 39 touchdown throws, surpassing the 5,000-yard passing mark. Like all elite quarterbacks, he makes everyone around him better.
Defense: Cameron Jordan, right defensive end
Cameron Jordan is one of the most impressive 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL today, managing to get away from offensive tackles and bring down opposing quarterbacks, 12.5 times to be exact. With Junior Galette providing pressure from the other side, quarterbacks are forced to quickly release their passes.
Special Teams: Thomas Morstead, punter
With 25 punts inside the 20-yard line, Thomas Morstead had good aim and received some help from his teammates on special teams to limit touchbacks, with only five on the year.
New York Giants
Offense: Victor Cruz, wide receiver
It wasn’t a pretty year for quarterback Eli Manning, the league leader in interceptions. With a nonexistent running game, Manning mostly relied on Victor Cruz to help him on offense. With Hakeem Nicks gone, Manning will throw more passes to Cruz, as he’s the most reliable receiver on the team.
Defense: Antrel Rolle, strong safety
As the leader in tackles and interceptions, Antrel Rolle had a Pro Bowl season and landed All-Pro honors for the second time. He is a cornerstone for the Giants to build around and have a successful defense.
Special Teams: Steve Weatherford, punter
Steve Weatherford averaged 47 yards per punt, placing him tied for seventh with Thomas Morstead. He also had one of the longest punts as well.
New York Jets
Offense: Nick Mangold, center
Nick Mangold appeared in his fifth Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro for the third time in his career. The most impressive part is that he's missed only two games in his entire career, starting all 126 games that he's been available for as a Jet.
Defense: Muhammad Wilkerson, left defensive end
After recording eight sacks in his first two years, Muhammad Wilkerson earned 10.5 sacks in 2013 and also landed second-team All-Pro honors for the first time. Going into this year, he’ll be one of the leaders on defense for the Jets.
Special Teams: Nick Folk, kicker
In a cold-weather city, Nick Folk did a good job, making 33-of-36 field goals. Accuracy in the cold isn’t easy, but Folk comes through for the Jets.
Offense: Rod Streater, wide receiver
In a season where the Oakland Raiders struggled under center with two different quarterbacks, Rod Streater deserves some credit. With Derek Carr manning the helm, per Tadd Haislop of Sporting News, Streater might see better success in 2014.
Defense: Khalil Mack, outside linebacker
Khalil Mack had double-digit tackles each of his four years at Buffalo and his sack total increased every season. He had an impressive preseason and Raiders fans should be excited to watch when he faces a great group of quarterbacks in the AFC West.
Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski, kicker
Even after missing nine field goals, Sebastian Janikowski remains as the best special teams player on the Raiders.
Offense: LeSean McCoy, running back
LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards, finishing 268 yards ahead of second-place rusher Matt Forte. With a successful first year under head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, McCoy is projected to be in the top five again in nearly every key rushing category.
Defense: Trent Cole, outside linebacker
Trent Cole will surround himself with a pair of viable inside linebackers in DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. He was the Eagles’ leader in sacks and forced fumbles with a late-season surge. If he plays consistently for 16 games, he will return to the Pro Bowl.
Special Teams: Darren Sproles, running back
Darren Sproles hasn’t scored a touchdown on special teams since 2011, but never count him out. Especially now that he will play under special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, who had some success with special teams in San Francisco and Miami.
Offense: Antonio Brown, wide receiver
With Josh Gordon suspended, Antonio Brown is the leader in receiving yards among all returning players going into 2014. He was just one yard shy of the 1,500-yard mark as Ben Roethlisberger’s top receiver.
Defense: Troy Polamalu, strong safety
Although Troy Polamalu turned 33 this past offseason, he has shown no signs of taking major steps back and continues to play at a high level. Last season, he showed some aggression with a career-high five forced fumbles while playing good defense as a safety.
Special Teams: Shaun Suisham, kicker
Shaun Suisham’s longest field-goal attempt came from 48 yards, but he missed just two field goals out of 32.
San Diego Chargers
Offense: Philip Rivers, quarterback
Philip Rivers had one of the best seasons of his career with the San Diego Chargers, which included a late rally to sneak San Diego into the playoffs. Rivers had a career high in completion percentage with 69.5 percent and tied his career high for quarterback rating with 105.5. He limited his giveaways to only 13, which is impressive for a quarterback who slung the ball 544 times.
Defense: Eric Weddle, free safety
Eric Weddle led the Chargers in tackles and tied for first in interceptions with two. Fortunately for the Chargers, the offense did not give away the ball much. At the same time, it is a great opportunity for the team to take advantage and dominate the turnover ratio. It all starts with Weddle, who’s been with the team since 2007.
Special Teams: Nick Novak, kicker
The San Diego Chargers have an impressive group of players on special teams, but Nick Novak stands out the most with his 92 percent field-goal success.
San Francisco 49ers
Offense: Vernon Davis, tight end
The San Francisco 49ers had only three offensive players who caught touchdowns last season. Vernon Davis hauled in 13 touchdown receptions. Since Colin Kaepernick became the primary quarterback for the 49ers, Davis’ performance has gone up as well.
Defense: Patrick Willis, inside linebacker
With Aldon Smith suspended and NaVorro Bowman on injured reserve/PUP, a lot of pressure is on Patrick Willis to keep the defense sound and solid for the first few weeks of the regular season. Willis has made plays all over the field before and will continue to do so, even without his two most reliable teammates.
Special Teams: Phil Dawson, kicker
Phil Dawson is easily the best special teams player on the 49ers. He missed only four field goals, three of which were from long distance.
Offense: Marshawn Lynch, running back
Through Seattle’s postseason Super Bowl run, Marshawn Lynch ran for 288 yards and four touchdowns. He showed his dominance all season long, leading all NFC rushers in touchdowns and tying for first in the league in the same category.
Defense: Richard Sherman, cornerback
As a Super Bowl champion and the league leader in interceptions, Richard Sherman backs up his words. He is the heart and soul of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom.”
Special Teams: Steven Hauschka, kicker
Steven Hauschka made 35 field-goal attempts and missed only two while leading the NFC in scoring.
St. Louis Rams
Offense: Zac Stacy, running back
With Sam Bradford injured and out for the year, Zac Stacy will go from learning the ropes as a rookie to taking over as the leader of the offense in his second season. Stacy was second in rushing yards and third in touchdowns among all rookie rushers.
Defense: Robert Quinn, right defensive end
St. Louis has a deep defensive line, and it all starts with the defensive ends. More specifically, Robert Quinn has gotten the job done, having the best season of his young career. His NFC-leading 19 sacks is more than the 15.5 he had in his first two years combined.
Special Teams: Tavon Austin, wide receiver
Tavon Austin was known for his speed, quickness and agility coming out of West Virginia. Austin scored a punt return touchdown as a rookie and is expected to do better in his second season as a return specialist.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offense: Vincent Jackson, wide receiver
Journeyman quarterback Josh McCown will soon consider Vincent Jackson one of the best receivers he’s thrown to in his entire career. Jackson, who’s succeeded with different quarterbacks in his career, pulled in 78 catches for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. If McCown can limit his interceptions, like last year with Chicago, he and Jackson will do a lot of damage against defenses.
Defense: Lavonte David, outside linebacker
Lavonte David has a hand on every part of Tampa Bay's defense. He led the team in tackles and interceptions and was second in sacks. Under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and head coach Lovie Smith, he will continue to flourish defensively.
Special Teams: Patrick Murray, kicker
Patrick Murray survived the month of August as he defeated Connor Barth to become the Buccaneers kicker. He made both of his field goals in the preseason. Only one of his kickoffs was returned, with the rest resulting in touchbacks.
Offense: Kendall Wright, wide receiver
Although the Rams lost running back Chris Johnson, the team still has wide receiver Kendall Wright, who can reach his potential if he and quarterback Jake Locker create good chemistry on the field.
Defense: Zach Brown, inside linebacker
With Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner out of Tennessee, Zach Brown might be viewed as the new leader of the defense. He was second on the Titans in tackles and managed to come up with some sacks through the middle while also playing well against the run.
Special Teams: Dexter McCluster, running back
The Titans get a big returner in Dexter McCluster, who had a pair of punt return touchdowns with the Chiefs. McCluster gives the Titans something they didn’t have in the punt return department last year and might be the difference-maker in a game or two.
Offense: Pierre Garcon, wide receiver
Although Robert Griffin had some trouble throughout the season, Pierre Garcon kept his head down and worried about himself. It worked well for him as he led the NFL in catches with 113 and was in the top 10 in receiving yards. Whether it is Griffin or Kirk Cousins under center, Garcon is the receiver they will want to target heavily.
Defense: Jason Hatcher, right defensive end
Jason Hatcher led all defensive tackles in sacks last year with 11, which translated into his first Pro Bowl invitation as a Dallas Cowboy. Now, Hatcher joins a new team and will be part of a new system in which he will shift from defensive tackle in a 4-3 to being a defensive end in a 3-4.
Special Teams: Andre Roberts, wide receiver
Andre Roberts handled return duties quite a lot as a rookie in 2010 with Arizona, but he's seen very few since then and didn't see any last year. With some new faces and an unreliable kicker, Roberts might be the best player the Redskins have to work with on special teams.