Ranking the Top 50 Players at Beginning of 2014 NFL Season

Russell S. BaxterContributor ISeptember 5, 2014

Ranking the Top 50 Players at Beginning of 2014 NFL Season

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    Heard said at the same time: "I'm No. 1."
    Heard said at the same time: "I'm No. 1."Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    These are the kinds of pieces that are lots of fun to write.

    They also draw both praise and ire from dedicated fans.

    So here goes. Presented to you are the top 50 players as we see it as the 2014 NFL season hits its first full weekend this Sunday.

    What are the deciding factors when it comes to these selections?

    Career performance and production certainly can’t be ignored. But in this instance, recent play is an extremely relevant factor. This is less about team accomplishments and more about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately as a player. And to be fair, you have to have at least two seasons under your NFL belt in order to qualify here.

    Our list includes seven quarterbacks, six running backs, seven wide receivers, two tight ends, six offensive linemen, eight defensive linemen, seven linebackers, six defensive backs and one punter.

    It should also be noted that performers such as Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington, suspended for all of 2014, are not included on this list. Others like outside linebacker Aldon Smith, suspended for the first nine games of the season, were left out in the cold as well.

    So agree, applaud, cheer, question and scratch your head when it comes to the following. Remember, we are taking just 50 out of nearly 1,700 performers, so please keep that in perspective.

    And if you’re wondering why your favorite player didn’t make the list at all, please don’t fret.

    Just assume he’s No. 51.

50. RB Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    It’s safe to say that 2013 was a lost season for not only running back Arian Foster, but the Houston Texans as well.

    The team enters 2014 riding a 14-game losing streak, but by all accounts, they have the franchise’s all-time rushing leader back, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t pick up where he left off.

    Despite missing eight games a year ago, Foster still ran for 542 yards and a score and added 22 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown.

    In 59 games with the club, he’s totaled 6,777 yards from scrimmage and scored 52 times. He led the NFL with 351 rushing attempts in 2012 and in three of his five NFL campaigns, the three-time Pro Bowler has topped 1,200 yards on the ground.

    Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

49. TE Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

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    A third-round draft choice back in 2003, tight end Jason Witten has shown no signs of slowing down.

    Over the last 10 seasons alone, he’s never missed a game and had at least 60 catches. Witten’s 879 career receptions ranks 17th in NFL history.

    In 2013, the nine-time Pro Bowler totaled 73 catches for 851 yards and his eight touchdown grabs were the second-best season total of his 11-year career.

    On a Dallas Cowboys team that has been consistently mediocre in recent seasons, No. 82 has been a steady force on a club that has made 8-8 their mantra the last three years.

48. P Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers

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    Yes, punters are people too. And pretty damn good football players.

    Andy Lee has been assisting the San Francisco 49ers for 10 seasons since being a sixth-round draft choice in 2004 from the University of Pittsburgh.

    The three-time Pro Bowler owns a 46.1 career average and has had only three kicks blocked in 10 seasons and 869 attempts.

    Lee has seen both the good and the bad of the Niners in the last decade. Fortunately for the franchise, he’s been a big part of the good.

47. DE Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

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    It’s still mystifying that New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was not named to the Pro Bowl in 2013.

    In three seasons, the 2011 first-round pick from Temple University has established himself as one of the best in the business. This past season, he led Rex Ryan’s club with 10.5 sacks. Of course, there are also 63 tackles, three passes defensed, two force fumbles and an interception as well.

    The Jets front seven is quickly becoming one of the most feared in the league. Wilkerson is a big part of the other teams’ concerns.

46. RB Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

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    Last year was hopefully the exception rather than the rule for both the Baltimore Ravens and running back Ray Rice.

    We are certainly willing to give the three-time Pro Bowler the benefit of the doubt.

    The off-the-field issues aside, which will wind up costing him the first two games of the season, Rice has been one of the league’s most versatile and productive backs since entering the league in 2008. He’s totaled 9,214 yards from scrimmage and 43 scores on 1,799 touches and fumbled just nine times along the way.

    The Ravens enter 2014 with what looks like a much-improved offensive line. Rice’s return in Week 3 could be the beginning of a bounce-back season for the productive performer.

45. SS Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    While Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu has certainly felt the effects of wear and tear in recent years, he’s also proven that he’s still one of the top playmakers at his position.

    Last season, the 11-year veteran was named to his eighth Pro Bowl. Along the way, he’s been part of some of the best defenses in the league in recent years, totaling 32 interceptions, a dozen sacks and 13 forced fumbles.

    The Pittsburgh defense is looking to get younger these days, but there’s little doubt that that Polamalu is the leader of the unit. This season, he’s a team captain for the first time in his impressive career.

44. OLB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Remember a year ago about this time, when a late-hit penalty on Lavonte David in the closing moments against the New York Jets help set up a game-winning field goal for Rex Ryan’s club?

    That proved to be a blip on the screen for the two-year pro who comes off a banner year in which he was named First-Team All Pro. David led the club with 145 tackles and five interceptions while finishing second on the Bucs with seven sacks. Throw in 10 passes defensed, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that that’s quite a year.

    Of course, David was coming off a season in which he led Tampa with 139 stops during his rookie campaign. So much for that sophomore slump thing.

    And the best may be yet to come.

43. DE Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills

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    As a franchise, the Buffalo Bills have not had much success for well over a decade.

    Don’t tell that to defensive end Mario Williams, who has now made two different stops in his eight-year career and been successful in both places.

    While his final two seasons with the Houston Texans were marred by injuries, he’s been a 16-game starter in each of his two years with the Bills. He’s totaled 23.5 sacks in 32 games and in 2013, led the club with 13 sacks—the second-best total of his career.

    With new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz around, there’s no telling what kind of numbers Williams could post in 2014. Of course, the only figure that counts in Orchard Park is ending a 14-year playoff drought.

42. QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Here’s a vote of confidence for one of the league’s up-and-coming players who has had to carry far too much of the load in his first two NFL seasons.

    Quarterback Andrew Luck was the league’s top overall pick in the 2012 draft. After a rookie campaign in which he threw 23 touchdown passes and ran for five scores but also committed 23 turnovers, there may have been a few doubters.

    This past season, Luck again threw for 23 scores and ran for four touchdowns. He also cut down on his mistakes, turning over the ball just 11 times, including only nine interceptions.

    Of course, the playoffs have been a different story for Luck in terms of turnovers. But it seems like just a matter of time before he gets that figured out as well.

41. G Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles

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    If you saw the progress the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line made this past season, you now know it is one of the best units in the league.

    And veteran guard Evan Mathis was and is a big part of that. The well-traveled performer was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2013 and in three seasons with the Eagles, he has started 47 of 48 games and been incredibly steady.

    Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Mathis as the NFL’s best guard each of the last three seasons.

    Who are we to argue?

40. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been stuck in this 8-8 rut the last two seasons, it doesn’t mean that the “big” still doesn’t apply to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    He’s now been at the controls of the team’s offense for 10 years. While he has had his problem staying healthy on occasion, he has also baffled opposing defense with his ability escape trouble and make something happen.

    Roethlisberger comes off a season in which he threw 28 touchdown passes compared to only 14 interceptions, totaling 4,261 yards through the air.

    It may also surprise some when you realize that he’s already thrown 219 career touchdown passes to 122 interceptions.

39. DE Jared Allen, Chicago Bears

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    We will make this short and sweet.

    Defensive end Jared Allen begins his second decade in the NFL with a his third team. The Chicago Bears added him via free agency this offseason.

    In 10 years with Kansas City and the Minnesota Vikings, he’s totaled 128.5 sacks. Perhaps even more impressive is that in six seasons in the Twin Cities, Allen started every game and totaled 85.5 sacks in 96 contests—11 or more sacks in each of those campaigns.

    It’s hard to believe that the Vikings, who allowed the most points in the NFL in 2013, couldn’t have used his skill at least one more season.

38. OLB Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

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    Following an injury-shortened 2012 that still resulted in a Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens, Terrell Suggs enjoyed a bounce back year in 2013.

    The six-time Pro Bowler totaled a team-high 10 sacks, the fifth time in 11 seasons that he’s reached double digits in that department. Suggs has now amassed an impressive 94.5 career sacks, to go along with his 25 forced fumbles and seven interceptions.

    As well as very few signs of slowing down.

37. T Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles ranked second in the NFL in total offense in 2013 and led the league in rushing.

    Having left tackle Jason Peters back on the field certainly helped. A year after missing all of 2012 with a torn Achilles, the massive blocker started all 16 games for Chip Kelly’s club and was named to his sixth Pro Bowl in 10 seasons.

    Pretty impressive for a former undrafted free agent from the University of Arkansas.

36. OLB Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts

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    There are those who have the knack for the sack.

    Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis has that and more.

    One year ago during his 11th NFL season, he led the league with 19.5 sacks. That’s not bad considering the Colts defense totaled only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis now has 111 sacks during his impressive career.

    The former fifth-round draft choice from Alabama A&M has also been credited with 50 forced fumbles.

    It’s safe to say that opposing quarterbacks won’t miss Mathis this September. The aggressive defender is suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

35. ILB Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers

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    Here comes yet another model of consistency when discussing the San Francisco 49ers.

    Inside linebacker Patrick Willis was a first-round pick in 2007 and in each of his NFL seasons, he’s been named to the Pro Bowl. While he’s taken a slight back seat to fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman in terms of tackles, Willis’ play speaks for itself.

    And the productive defender may have to speak a little louder during the early stages of 2014 with Bowman still on the mend, outside linebacker Aldon Smith suspended for the first nine games and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey out for the season.

34. G Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints

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    Guard Jahri Evans finally did something in 2013 that he hadn’t done in seven previous NFL seasons.
    He actually missed a game...or two.

    That’s about all the bad news when it comes to the former fifth-round pick from Bloomsburg State. Evans has been named to the last five Pro Bowls and has started 126 games of a possible 128 games.

    And head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees are both eternally grateful.

33. QB Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

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    He’s part of that great quarterback draft class of 2004 that also featured both Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

    Unfortunately, Philip Rivers is often reminded that he’s the only one of the three not to make a Super Bowl appearance, much less win a pair of rings.

    Of course, we will remind you that Rivers was the only one of the three to take his team to the playoffs in 2013. Following a couple of subpar seasons in which he committed a combined 47 turnovers from 2011-12, he rebounded with a big year and was named the league’s 2013 Comeback Player of the Year.

32. SS Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

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    In three of his four NFL seasons, Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry has been healthy enough to play at least 15 games. In each of those years, he wound up in the Pro Bowl.

    While some are not expecting much from Andy Reid’s club in 2014 following last year’s late-season and playoff collapse, the Chiefs are hoping that Berry can be a steady force once again. He comes off a year in which he totaled 82 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and a pair of fumble recoveries.

    This is not a defensive unit lacking talent, especially with Pro Bowlers Dontari Poe, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson. And hopefully for Reid and the Chiefs, the defense looks closer to the group that helped propel the team to a 9-0 start in 2013.

31. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Back on track is just one way to describe Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

    Not that it was his doing. In 2012, the man with the nose for the end zone had a slight case of allergies. The team started four different quarterbacks and Fitzgerald managed a mere four touchdown receptions.

    A year ago, the team traded for veteran Carson Palmer and No. 11 responded with 10 touchdown grabs, his best showing since 2009. Fitzgerald is tied for 12th in league history with 87 scoring receptions and his 846 career grabs are a franchise record.

    And with the Arizona receiving corps looking good this offseason, it could be a banner year for the 10-year pro.

30. G Logan Mankins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    How does one part ways with a six-time Pro Bowler and arguably the best player at his position in the league?

    The New England Patriots may have to eventually answer that question the hard way.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers probably don’t really care. Logan Mankins is now with their team and is simply a terrific addition.

    For a team that had already added left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith via free agency, the addition of Mankins may prove to be a major coup.

    Ah, forget maybe.

29. OLB Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers

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    It’s safe to say that Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews was all over the field in Thursday night’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He totaled four tackles and a forced fumble in the 36-16 loss.

    Frankly, it was nice to just see him on the field. In five seasons, the four-time Pro Bowler has totaled 50 sacks. He’s also missed a combined nine games the past two years.

    Matthews remains one of the league’s most intense competitors. If the Packers are to reach the playoffs once again, he needs to remain healthy.

28. WR Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

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    We didn’t get to see a lot of wide receiver Reggie Wayne in 2013. That’s because his 13th season in the league was cut short by injury.

    The six-time Pro Bowler totaled just 38 catches before missing the final nine games of the year. Still, his reception total gave him 1,006 grabs for his career, the eighth-highest total in league history. Wayne’s total of 13,566 career receiving yards also ranks 11th all-time in NFL annals.

    Would it be a shock to see the veteran wideout pick up where he kind of left off in 2012 when he caught 106 passes?

27. DT Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    After his first two seasons in the league, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy looked like he could be a disappointment after missing a combined 13 games over that span.

    That changed quickly. The third overall pick in 2010 has started every game the last two years and totaled a combined 14.5 sacks, including a career-high 9.5 sacks this past season.

    With new head coach Lovie Smith and new coordinator Leslie Frazier in Tampa, McCoy is already looking like he could be a contender for defensive player of the year accolades.

26. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    When the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to show wide receiver Antonio Brown the money and let free-agent Mike Wallace leave, there were certainly some doubters.

    Those people have left for the day.

    In 2013, Brown finished second in the NFL with 110 receptions and 1,499 receiving yards. Don’t forget in 2011 he totaled at least 1,000 yards as a pass-catcher and on special teams, earning Pro Bowl accolades for the latter.

    These days, he may be the best wideout in the league after the catch and arguably the Steelers best offensive player.

25. T Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos

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    Welcome back.

    We didn’t get to see a lot of left tackle Ryan Clady last season, his 2013 campaign cut short by injury after just two games.

    Now the three-time Pro Bowler, who last season missed action for the first time in his six-year career, is back with a new tandem mate in left guard Orlando Franklin, who shifts from right tackle. Clady’s fill-in a year ago, Chris Clark, takes over at right tackle.

    Did the Denver Broncos manage to allow a league-low 20 sacks without their starting left tackle? Thank Peyton Manning for that. But the return of Clady adds up to nothing but good things for John Fox’s club.

24. DE Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams

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    It’s hard to ignore 19 sacks. And perhaps some will think we’ve rated St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn a bit too high.

    You tell him.

    A First-Team All-Pro selection in 2013, Quinn’s third NFL season proved to be the charm. Only the Indianapolis Colts Robert Mathis totaled more sacks than the Rams’ first-round pick in 2011, who has made leaps and bounds since totaling just five sacks in 15 games in his rookie season.

    Keep in mind that the Rams have totaled an imposing 105 sacks the last two years and Quinn has totaled more than one-quarter of those (29.5).

23. CB Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots

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    Perhaps it’s only appropriate that Revis Island is somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Cod.

    The New England Patriots had to be ecstatic to land cornerback Darrelle Revis in free agency. Combine the fact that he’s one of the best players at his position with the knowledge that he’s now more than one year removed from the knee surgery that shelved him for the vast majority of 2012.

    With the Pats losing Aqib Talib to the Denver Broncos, Revis is the perfect counter punch to that move. And the fact that he’s not that far removed from the AFC East certainly helps as well.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss and the New York Jets regret certainly looks like New England’s gain.

22. WR Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys

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    It is exciting to watch where this may be headed.

    After a pair of so-so seasons to open up his career, the Dallas Cowboys have a real star in wide receiver Dez Bryant.

    Consider these numbers. In his first two seasons, the 2010 first-round pick totaled 108 receptions for 1,489 yards and 15 scores.

    Now look at the last two seasons. Bryant has a combined 185 catches for 2,615 yards and 25 touchdowns, totaling at least a dozen scores each year.

    Yes, there’s no telling where this may be headed. But it is certainly up.

21. DE Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers led the National Football League with 60 sacks in 2013, exactly one-fourth of those quarterback traps by defensive end Greg Hardy.

    The sixth-round pick from 2010 has made great strides each year in the league. And no number indicates that more than his first two seasons, when he totaled a combined seven sacks in 2010 and 2011.

    During last season’s brilliant campaign, Hardy picked up seven sacks in the final two games of the regular season.

    If Hardy and the Carolina defense come up with another great year, perhaps the Panthers could be the first team in the NFC South to win back-to-back division titles.

20. WR Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears

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    Veteran wideout Brandon Marshall continues to frustrate opposing defenses with his size and tenacity.

    The talented performer has been named to five Pro Bowls with three different teams, the last two with the Bears. In 2013, he caught at least 100 passes for the fifth time in his career and the talented performer has reeled off seven straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

    Marshall has always been hard to stop. That’s never been truer than now.

19. DT Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

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    One season after ranking as a strong candidate for NFL defensive player of the year honors, defensive tackle Geno Atkins saw his 2013 campaign cut short by injury.

    But as Simple Minds once sang, "don't you forget about me."

    The two-time Pro Bowler remains in the discussion for the best player at his position. In nine games last season he still managed six sacks. And he’s obviously not far removed from a year in which he totaled 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2012.

    The Cincinnati Bengals remain one of the most talented and deepest teams in the league. As good as the team was defensively in 2013, imagine how much better it can be this season with Atkins healthy.

18. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

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    Marshawn Lynch was in quite the mode on Thursday night as he and the Seattle Seahawks opened the season.

    It proved to be like taking candy from a defense. Lynch totaled 20 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns as Pete Carroll’s club rolled to a 36-16 win over the Green Bay Packers.

    Since arriving in Seattle from the Buffalo Bills, Lynch has played in 60 games, totaling 4,734 yards on the ground and 43 scores.

    He is the power cog in Pete Carroll’s team and makes life so much easier for quarterback Russell Wilson. He may be the one player the Seahawks can’t do without, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

17. TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    A year ago, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught more than one third of quarterback Drew Brees’ 39 touchdown passes.

    Those 16 scoring grabs were also good enough to lead the entire NFL in 2013.

    Arguably the NFL’s best tight end these days (with apologies to New England’s Rob Gronkowski, who has struggled to stay on the field the last two years and conversely didn’t make the list), Graham has totaled 301 receptions for 3,863 and 41 touchdowns in 62 regular-season games.

    Call him a tight end, a wide receiver, a pass-catcher or whatever you want.

    Just call him extremely productive.

16. RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

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    How much of an offensive factor was Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles in 2013?

    You can break it down numerous ways as he led the club in both rushing yards, catches and receiving yards. His 19 total touchdowns led the NFL, and he managed that feat in just 15 games.

    But what may be even more astounding about Charles’ performance this past season are those aforementioned 19 scores were one more touchdown than the entire Kansas City team scored in 2012, when they made just 18 total trips to the end zone during their dismal 2-14 season.

    Call him Charles in Charge.

15. CB Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

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    We have heard this offseason that Patrick Peterson will be concentrating solely on the position of cornerback in 2014.

    No more punt returns or pass catching, it’s focusing on defense which matters most to the talented performer.

    Not that he’s done a bad job to date. A 16-game starter in each of his three seasons, Peterson has totaled a dozen interceptions. And with the Cardinals having so many new faces on the defensive side of the ball this year, focusing on his craft may be the best thing for both him and Bruce Arians’ club.

14. ILB NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers

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    We won’t be seeing San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman for a few weeks.

    And that is too bad.

    It’s a pleasure to watch one of the game’s most consistent defenders. Last season, he led the Niners with 145 tackles to go along with five sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed.

    Bowman has now led his team in tackles three straight years. That’s saying something when you line up next to seven-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis.

    In any case, Bowman won’t be lining up to anyone for a few more weeks as he continues to recover from that knee injury suffered in January’s NFC title game at Seattle.

13. WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

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    We don’t have the guy who gets Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green the ball on a steady basis in these rankings.

    But there was no way we were leaving this prolific pass-catcher off the list.

    Three NFL seasons and three Pro Bowl invitations for Green, who has seen his catches and receiving yardage increase each year. The career figures already read 260 grabs for 3,833 yards and 29 touchdowns.

    And it’s extremely safe to say that there’s more where that came from.

12. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

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    It has only happened seven times in NFL history.

    Could we actually be getting ready to see No. 8?

    If the Philadelphia Eagles No. 25 has something to say about it, we will. You see, only seven players have rushed for at least 2,000 yards in a season.

    A year ago, running back LeSean McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing and no team in the league gained more yards on the ground than the Birds in 2013.

    New head coach Chip Kelly rallied his team from a 3-5 start to a 7-1 finish and an NFC East title this past season. Philadelphia is aiming for bigger and better things in 2014.

    So is McCoy, who has totaled 7,600 yards from scrimmage and 49 touchdowns in five seasons. Is he the league’s best running back these days? Stay tuned.

11. T Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

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    Since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, the Cleveland Browns haven’t done a lot of things right.

    But back in the early stages of the 2007 draft, they did something…left. With the third overall pick in the draft, the franchise opted for University of Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas.

    In seven seasons, he’s never missed a game or a start. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl each of those years and has done it with quiet efficiency.

    Now if only the rest of the team would make some noise.

10. CB Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

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    The word quiet and the name Richard Sherman don’t often go together.

    Of course, the Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback was just that Thursday night in the team’s 36-16 conquest of the Green Bay Packers. That’s quiet as in Sherman having no statistics to show for his performance…and with good reason.

    Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports talks about the talented performer’s play in the 20-point win.

    Oh, by the way, he led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2013 and picked off 20 passes in his first three seasons. It’s safe to say that the "avoid" sign for opposing quarterbacks is flashing when it comes to Sherman.

9. MLB Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

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    While he was at Boston College, he was appropriately described as a tackling machine.

    It’s safe to say middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has lived up to the moniker.

    A year after a stellar rookie campaign in which he totaled a team-high 165 stops, Kuechly amassed 166 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and seven passes defensed on the way to being named the league’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

    This past season, Kuechly was a huge part of a Carolina Panthers team that allowed the second-fewest yards and points in the league this past season.

    And this talented defender may be just getting warmed up.

8. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    It wasn’t a great beginning for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night at Seattle.

    But it doesn’t mean there aren’t better things to come, especially for the talented signal-caller. Just look at the recent numbers. In 41 regular-season games dating back to 2011, he’s thrown 102 touchdown passes compared to only 21 interceptions in 41 regular-season games. Rodgers has thrown at least three touchdown passes in 21 of those contests.

    And despite not starting until 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler is only 11 short of the 200 touchdown pass club.

7. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    There’s three straight seasons of 5,000 or more yards through the air. There is also at least 39 touchdown passes each year over that span as well.

    And throw in the fact that in eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, quarterback Drew Brees has missed just one game, and it wasn’t due to injury.

    The productive signal-caller has helped guide the Saints to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and of course, was MVP of Super Bowl XLIV in 2009 when the team won it all.

    Some feel that Sean Payton’s club is primed to get back to the Big Game. If they do, Brees will have a large hand (or arm) in that title. The 13-year pro has made it look easy in the Big Easy so far.

6. RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has seemingly been around forever. And even on the rare occasion of when he’s been counted out, that sentiment doesn’t last very long.

    In seven seasons, he’s already totaled 10,115 yards rushing and run for 86 scores. He’s added five more touchdowns as a pass catcher.

    Less than a calendar year after injuring his knee late in 2011, he ran for 2,097 yards in 2012—the second-highest single-season total in league annals.

    The six-time Pro Bowler could really make some headway up the NFL’s all-time rushing chart in 2014.

5. FS Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

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    Stop the presses. Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas made a mistake on Thursday night.

    Actually, while fielding a punt in the first quarter in the team’s eventual 36-16 win over the Green Bay Packers, teammate Richard Sherman blocked a player into him and Thomas lost a fumble. That’s about all that went wrong for him and his team in the victory.

    In four seasons, Thomas has yet to miss a game or start, totaled 15 interceptions and been named to each of the last three Pro Bowls.

4. WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

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    In seven seasons, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been one of the game’s shining stars.

    And over the last four seasons, he’s been nothing short of mega-productive.

    His career numbers read as follows: 572 catches for 9,328 yards and 66 scores.

    The statistics over the last four seasons have been mind-boggling as Johnson has totaled 379 receptions for 6,257 yards and 45 touchdowns in 61 contests. Johnson has been named to all four Pro Bowls over that time and in 2012, set a new NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards.

    Enough said.

3. DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

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    The NFL’s newest $100 million dollar man is getting ready to make life miserable for opposing offenses once again.

    Notice we said offenses and not just quarterbacks.

    In three seasons, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has already carved a niche as one of the league’s best players. The numbers are indeed impressive. A 16-game starter each year, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft has totaled 36.5 sacks in 48 games and in 2012 was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

    Watt has already forced eight fumbles and totaled six fumble recoveries in his young career. He also returned an interception for a touchdown in the team’s playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011.

    Simply put, What is not to like?

2. QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Yes, we know 2013 proved to be an off-year for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

    His completion percentage was down, he was under constant pressure and he threw just 25 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

    While some think Brady is in a state of decline, the veteran quarterback may be getting ready for yet another Super Bowl run. Better rapport with his revamped receiving corps from a year ago would certainly help.

    But Brady’s greatness is epitomized by his play in the clutch as well as his performance in a multitude of different offensive game plans. The stats may have been down in 2013, but rest assured that won’t be happening again anytime soon.

    Is Brady really on the decline? We should all be in such a funk.

1. QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    This can hardly be a shock seeing Peyton Manning at No. 1—although there are those who like to point out what the veteran signal-caller hasn’t done during his amazing career.

    Here is what he has done the last two years alone, this after not playing at all in 2011.

    Manning has thrown 92 touchdown passes in 32 games with the Denver Broncos and led the club to the top seed in the AFC each season. A year ago, the franchise made its first Super Bowl appearance since 1998, coincidentally the same year Manning was the first overall pick in the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He set NFL records with 5,477 yards through the air and 55 touchdown passes.

    Looking for consistency? In 15 seasons on the field, the veteran performer has thrown no fewer than 26 touchdown passes in any of those campaigns.

    Perhaps one day Manning will get that second Super Bowl ring. We know it won’t be for a lack of trying.