NFL1000: Ranking Every Player in Super Bowl LI
You never know who's going to be the star of a Super Bowl. Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley was on the losing side in Super Bowl V but won the game's MVP award regardless. Seattle's Malcolm Smith parlayed an interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVIII into his own MVP award and a contract with the Raiders.
Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown had two picks in Super Bowl XXX, and few had ever heard of him. Tampa Bay's Dexter Jackson had two picks of his own against the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Whether these players ever have another serious NFL moment, they'll always have those Super Bowl memories. Beyond the big names we all know, it's possible that any one player eligible to take the field in Super Bowl LI could take over the event for himself.
Here, using my own scouting eye and the consensus reports of the NFL1000 team of scouts, as well as premium statistics from Pro Football Focus, we've ranked every potentially eligible player on the rosters for the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.
There are instances in which my own rankings will jibe with those of our positional scouts and times when they won't. Scouting is a subjective art, but with all that information at hand, here's how we see the rosters for Super Bowl LI, in reverse order of importance.
Not all players will have scores from NFL1000, as they did not register enough snaps or play in enough games to get an accurate representation of them. Full regular-season grades for qualifying players around the league this season can be found here.
99. Joe Cardona, LS, New England Patriots
Part 1: If we're talking about the long snapper during the game, it means he did something wrong. Cardona has been accurate on his snaps, and he's made a couple of tackles on special teams.
98. Josh Harris, LS, Atlanta Falcons
Part 2: If we're talking about the long snapper during the game, it means he did something wrong.
97. Joe Vellano, DT, Atlanta Falcons
Vellano's seen his snap count plummet from 707 in 2013 to 18 in 2016. Those 18 snaps all came in the NFC Championship Game, where he had a tackle and a stop.
96. D.J. Tialavea, TE, Atlanta Falcons
A member of the Small Sample Size All-Stars, Tialavea has one target in his NFL career, and it was for a touchdown in Week 16 against the Panthers.
95. Woodrow Hamilton, DT, New England Patriots
An undrafted free agent from Mississippi, Hamilton saw action in two games this season and recorded one quarterback hurry and four stops.
94. Sharrod Neasman, FS, Atlanta Falcons
The undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic had a few mop-up tackles in coverage, but if he plays a role in the Super Bowl, it will likely be on special teams.
93. Nick Williams, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Williams had five catches on six targets for 59 yards this year, and he's a good special teams player.
92. Dashon Goldson, S, Atlanta Falcons
As they say, life comes at you fast. Goldson was recently one of the best safeties in the game, but injuries have taken their toll, and he has had just five snaps this season.
91. Matt Lengel, TE, New England Patriots
Lengel scored a touchdown against the Jets in Week 16, but if he sees any action in Super Bowl LI, it will likely be on special teams.
Route: 11.3/20 Hands: 14.5/25 YAC: 11.0/20 Block: 16.5/25 POS: 6/10 OVR: 59.3/100
90. Matt Schaub, QB, Atlanta Falcons
If Schaub sees any time in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons are in big trouble. A spot backup since he had a nightmare string of pick-sixes a few years back, he's become the definition of the bench player you don't want to see with his helmet on.
89. LaRoy Reynolds, ILB, Atlanta Falcons
Reynolds was rendered redundant by the ascension of Deion Jones this season. He's a decent veteran who doesn't quite have the speed required to start in Dan Quinn's defense.
88. Jonathan Jones, CB, New England Patriots
Jones allowed four catches and a touchdown on eight targets, but he does have value on special teams.
87. Brandon King, CB, New England Patriots
King has been far more of a special teams ace than a cornerback this season. Special teams is where he's racked up seven tackles and two assists.
86. Joshua Perkins, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Perkins had just three catches on five targets, but one was for a touchdown. He could see time on the field if the Falcons decide they want to run a lot of two-tight end sets.
85. Paul Worrilow, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
Worrilow has never been a spectacular player, but he's good as a depth guy who brings the occasional quarterback pressure.
Cvg: 14.5/25 Run: 14.3/25 Rush: 7/15 Tackle: 15.5/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 57.3/100
84. Cyrus Jones, CB, New England Patriots
Jones allowed a touchdown on just 11 targets as a cornerback in 2016. He gives more value as a special teamer.
Cvg: 14.2/30 React: 14.4/30 Slot: 14/20 Tackle: 5/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 56.6/100
83. Tyson Jackson, DT, Atlanta Falcons
The third overall pick in 2009, Jackson never turned into the dominant player his draft position suggested he might. He provides value as a rotational tackle at this point in his career, and he did have a sack in the NFC Championship Game.
Snap: 13.2/25 Rush: 12.6/25 Run: 15.4/25 Tackle: 11.3/25 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 59/100
82. Ben Garland, C/OG, Atlanta Falcons
Garland played just 49 snaps in 2016, but he didn't allow a single quarterback pressure and was strong in the run game.
81. Terron Ward, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Ward ran 31 times for 151 yards, and he hit big plays on two of those runs for 71 yards total. You might see him break off another one in Atlanta's multifaceted backfield.
80. Philip Wheeler, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
Signed by the Falcons in 2015, Wheeler is a good depth linebacker who can stop the run and blitz a bit. He's not playing at the level he did a few years ago, but he's still good for a few splash plays in the right circumstances.
Cvg: 14.4/25 Run: 15.4/25 Rush: 7.6/15 Tackle: 15.9/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 59.3/100
79. Ryan Allen, P, New England Patriots
Allen ranked 24th in gross yards per punt this season (44.7) and eighth in net yards (41.4), which is more a testament to New England's punt coverage units than anything Allen has done.
Dist: 13.4/20 Hang: 13.3/20 Acc: 32.8/45 Tackle: 3/5 Pos: 3/10 Overall: 65.4/100
78. Jacoby Brissett, QB, New England Patriots
Brissett was the Patriots' starting quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo's Week 2 shoulder injury until Tom Brady's Week 5 return from suspension, and it was interesting how they used him against the Bills and Texans. More than any other time in the Bill Belichick era, the team used its quarterback's mobility to throw read-option concepts at the opposing defense, and the Texans were especially gobsmacked by it.
The Patriots combined Brissett's running ability with the kinds of power/counter/trap blocking schemes run by the 49ers in the Jim Harbaugh days, and it was successful. We likely won't see Brissett on the field in Super Bowl LI, but given that Belichick likes to game-plan differently for every contest, would you be completely surprised to see Brissett out there for a couple of razzle-dazzle plays?
77. Jordan Richards, SS, New England Patriots
Richards hasn't seen much time at safety, but he's provided value as a special teamer. You'd expect more from a second-round pick in 2015, but his selection "raised some eyebrows" around the NFL when it was made, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. Even the Patriots have their share of draft picks they might wish they could do over.
76. Justin Coleman, CB, New England Patriots
In 225 snaps this season, Coleman has been targeted 23 times. He allowed just nine receptions for 118 yards, one touchdown and an opponent passer rating of 70.6. He could be of value in the Super Bowl as a fourth cornerback and special teams player.
75. Matthew Slater, WR, New England Patriots
Slater is one of the best special teams players of his era—he's made the last six Pro Bowls for his work there, and 2016 was the first season in which he was also named an AP All-Pro. Slater hasn't had a catch since 2011, but that's not part of his game, and the Patriots value him for his specific contributions.
Route: 13.4/25 Hands: 13.2/25 YAC: 11/20 Block: 11/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 57.4/100
74. Chris Chester, OG, Atlanta Falcons
Though he was a better run-blocker in the second half of the 2016 season, Chester has not generally displayed the same improvement in performance seen by other Falcons offensive linemen under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and line coach Chris Morgan. In 2016, the veteran allowed seven sacks, 13 hits and 28 hurries.
Pass: 15.6/25 Run: 16.9/25 Power: 16.5/20 Agility: 13.9/20 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 70/100
73. Barkevious Mingo, ILB, New England Patriots
The Patriots sent a fifth-round pick to the Browns in exchange for Mingo before the season started, though it was thought that the former sixth overall pick was in danger of getting cut. He's had 54 total snaps with the Patriots, though he has shown his usual speed on the field at times. Presumably, he'll have to develop more integration with the overall defensive plan before he gets more snaps. In the meantime, Mingo has contributed on special teams, where he has six tackles.
72. C.J. Goodwin, CB, Atlanta Falcons
An undrafted free agent in 2014 out of California (Pennsylvania), Goodwin has had limited snaps at cornerback in his career (and he allowed the highest opposing quarterback rating of all Atlanta's corners in 2016), but he's developed into a good special teams gunner, and he ranks second on the Falcons roster in special teams tackles.
71. Shea McClellin, OLB, New England Patriots
The former first-round pick of the Bears never quite lived up to that status in the Windy City, but he's been a decent rotational linebacker with some pass-rushing and run-stopping ability. He garnered one sack, two quarterback hits and 11 hurries in 432 snaps this season.
Cvg: 14.8/25 Run: 15.1/25 Rush: 8.2/15 Tackle: 15.7/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 59.7/100
70. Deji Olatoye, CB, Atlanta Falcons
When looking for potential under-the-radar Super Bowl heroes, it's always instructive to pay attention to players who have performed well in limited action. Olatoye has been targeted just 10 times this season, but the second-year man from North Carolina A&T has allowed just three catches for 27 yards and an opponent passer rating of 39.6.
69. Nate Ebner, FS, New England Patriots
Ebner leads the Patriots with 17 special teams tackles this season, and though he's had just 19 snaps in 2016, he's valuable for that stat alone. The Patriots must keep the Falcons pinned to their side of the field if they hope to contain that combustible offense.
68. Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England Patriots
Gostkowski had a decent season in 2016, though not up to his previous standard. He made 32 of his 37 field-goal attempts (including the playoffs), but he had a case of the yips with extra points early in the campaign, and his kickoff numbers have been average. He's better than he was in October, when he famously told reporters, "I stink right now," but the Patriots do not have the special teams advantage in Super Bowl LI, and Gostkowski is a part of that problem.
Pwr: 31.3/40 Acc: 29.1/40 Tkl: 4.1/10 Pos: 3/10 Overall: 67.4/100
67. Eric Weems, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta's special teams are strong in nearly every category, and Weems has been the team's primary punt and kick returner over the last couple of seasons. He averaged 22.7 yards per kick return and 11.4 yards per punt return in 2016. He also leads the team with 12 special teams tackles.
66. Courtney Upshaw, DE, Atlanta Falcons
Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Ravens, Upshaw never became what you'd call an elite pass-rusher, but he's always been strong on rushing downs and as a back-side pass-rusher in certain packages. The Falcons signed him to a one-year deal in March, and he picked up two sacks, three quarterback hits, 15 quarterback hurries and 15 stops in 341 snaps through the 2016 campaign.
Snap: 14.4/25 Rush: 13.5/25 Run: 14.2/25 Tkl: 11/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 59.8/100
65. Ted Karras, OG, New England Patriots
A sixth-round rookie from Illinois, Karras is one of New England's young guards who has benefited greatly from the tutelage of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. He's allowed no sacks and two quarterback pressures in 108 snaps this season.
64. Rob Ninkovich, OLB, New England Patriots
Ninkovich is a rotational pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker who can bring the heat around the edge, and he'll challenge Atlanta's offensive tackles. He had five sacks, three quarterback hits and 17 quarterback pressures in 538 snaps.
Cvg: 15.8/25 Run: 16.8/25 Rush: 8.9/15 Tkl: 16.8/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 64.2/100
63. Jonathan Babineaux, DT, Atlanta Falcons
Now in his 12th season, Babineaux is more of a rotational player than the every-snap superstar he used to be. Still, in subbing around Grady Jarrett and Ra'Shede Hageman, he's a decent run-stopper, and he'll get the occasional pressure. He had a sack in the divisional-round win over the Seahawks.
Snap: 14.8/25 Rush: 13.7/25 Run: 14.4/25 Tkl: 11.2/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 60.6/100
62. Joe Thuney, OG, New England Patriots
Thuney had a rough AFC Championship Game against the Steelers' defensive front, and the challenge won't get any easier in the Super Bowl. He'll face Falcons defensive tackle Jarrett a good amount of the time if Jarrett plays as much 3-technique tackle as he has through the playoffs. The Falcons defender is a leverage monster, and Thuney will have to play his best to counter that.
Pass: 15.4/25 Run: 15.3/25 Power: 14.3/20 Agl: 16.9/20 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 68.8/100
61. Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons
In 80 snaps this postseason, Hooper caught all three passes thrown his way for 33 yards and broke or avoided two tackles. When the Falcons run two-tight end sets, expect to see him on the field.
Route: 12.1/20 Hands: 14.1/25 YAC: 11.1/20 Blk: 16.9/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 60.4/100
60. Matt Bosher, P/K, Atlanta Falcons
When are special teams contributors important? When they add points, of course, but also when they pin opponents to the wrong side of the field. Bosher has done that all season as the Falcons' punter and kickoff specialist, averaging 46.3 yards per punt and 69.1 yards per kickoff with 74 touchbacks in 120 attempts.
59. Vincent Valentine, DT, New England Patriots
One of the untold stories of the Patriots' defensive success is the way New England has restocked its front with estimable young talent. Valentine, the third-round rookie from Nebraska, has been effective as a rotational run-stopper with the ability to bring a little bit of pass rush. You could see him in the Super Bowl subbing out for Malcom Brown and setting the middle when the Falcons run inside zone.
Snap: 15.7/25 Rush: 14.5/25 Run: 16.4/25 Tkl: 11.7/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 65/100
58. Patrick Chung, S, New England Patriots
Chung is more a hybrid linebacker at this point in his career than the safety he was drafted to be in 2009. In the 2016 season, he amassed 72 tackles and a sack and was decent in coverage. As long as he's flowing to the ball and covering tight ends in short spaces, Chung is an asset in Bill Belichick's defense.
Cvg: 17.8/25 Rec: 18/25 Slot: 14.8/20 Tkl: 15.4/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 72/100
57. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England Patriots
Tom Brady has a 111.4 passer rating this season when throwing to Mitchell, putting the fourth-round rookie behind only Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan in that category. But if Mitchell is to see the ball more often, he's going to have to stop the drops—he was second on the team with five.
Route: 15.8/25 Hands: 15.6/25 YAC: 11.6/20 Blk: 11.7/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 63.5/100
56. Levine Toilolo, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Primarily known in 2016 for the 46-yard touchdown pass he caught against Seattle in Week 6 when the Seahawks tried to play Cover 2 and Cover 3 defenses at the same time, Toilolo is a decent blocker with an increasing knack for getting open out of the kind of pre-snap motion the Falcons love to use. He's one to watch in the Super Bowl when Matt Ryan is looking for short-to-intermediate targets.
Route: 11.4/20 Hands: 13.6/25 YAC: 11.1/20 Blk: 18.2/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 60.3/100
55. Aldrick Robinson, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Robinson caught 20 passes on 34 targets for 323 yards, and he'll primarily be used as a fourth receiver, but he did go off for 111 yards on four catches against the 49ers in Week 15. If the Patriots tie up Taylor Gabriel in a four-receiver set, Ryan might look Robinson's way on intermediate-to-deep routes.
Route: 14.8/25 Hands: 15/25 YAC: 12.4/20 Blk: 11.2/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 62.5/100
54. Michael Floyd, WR, New England Patriots
Floyd was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in mid-December after a DUI arrest, and he was a healthy scratch for the AFC Championship Game after a subpar divisional-round performance.
A talented receiver in a raw sense, Floyd is the kind of player Belichick loves to take a risk on: the field-tilter who may or may not adhere to New England's complicated playbook full of synchronized option routes. Sometimes it works (Randy Moss), and sometimes it doesn't (Chad Johnson). Floyd would do well to take it over the top in the Super Bowl—if he's allowed to play.
Route: 16.5/25 Hands: 16.2/25 YAC: 11.9/20 Blk: 11.7/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 65.2/100
53. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, New England Patriots
The second-round pick in 2014 finally got some serious action at the start of the 2016 season while Tom Brady was serving his four-game Deflategate suspension, and before he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2, he looked good. He completed 43 of 63 passes for 502 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on the year.
Garoppolo's play means that if Brady is hurt in the Super Bowl, all is not necessarily lost. The offseason question is whether some quarterback-needy team comes to the Patriots with a high draft-pick offer in exchange for the backup, but for now, the decision to develop him under the radar has paid the expected dividends.
52. Matt Bryant, K, Atlanta Falcons
Wait. A kicker at No. 52? Well, when you have the kind of season Bryant has had, it's warranted. Bryant made 37 of his 40 field goals through the regular season and playoffs, and he's been nearly automatic on extra points. If Bryant handled kickoffs as well (Bosher does that for the Falcons), he'd be worth a top-40 spot. When you see what the NFL has done to kickers' heads by moving the extra point back, the reliable ones are more valuable than ever—especially in a high powered offense like Atlanta's.
Pwr: 30.9/40 Acc: 33.1/40 Tkl: 4/10 Pos: 3/10 Overall: 71.1/100
51. Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Matthews has not been consistent throughout his NFL career, and that's been true in 2016 despite Atlanta's obvious offensive improvement. He's allowed six sacks this season and four in the Falcons' last six games. Power rushers can affect Matthews' protection abilities, and he can be vulnerable to the kind of power moves the Patriots use with linebacker blitzes and end-tackle stunts.
Pass: 18.5/25 Run: 18.8/25 Power: 15.4/20 Agl: 14.8/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 75.4/100
50. Kyle Van Noy, LB, New England Patriots
The Patriots got Van Noy from the Lions for a sixth-round pick in October, and he's seen more playing time from the end of the regular season to the postseason. Van Noy is versatile enough to be used as a blitzer and peel off into coverage.
Cvg: 13.7/25 Run: 14.8/25 Rush: 8/15 Tkl: 15.4/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 57.9/100
49. James White, RB, New England Patriots
White has been a good blocker and receiver who may see a few snaps in the Super Bowl, depending on how much the Patriots want to rotate their running backs. If offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels continues to roll out the four-receiver sets the Steelers saw in the AFC Championship Game, White could get the nod because he allowed just one sack and one quarterback hurry in 465 snaps. New England will also use him as one of its slot receivers in specific schemes.
In: 15.6/25 Out: 16.1/25 Rec: 16.9/20 Blk: 15.6/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 70.1/100
48. Robert Alford, CB, Atlanta Falcons
With Desmond Trufant out of the picture in the second half of the season, Alford stepped in and became Atlanta's most targeted cornerback in 2016. The effectiveness of that gambit has been mixed at best. Alford is a good, rangy athlete, but he's given up a ton of touchdowns—nine to just two interceptions. He'll be an easy target for Tom Brady unless he can turn things around in a hurry.
Cvg: 18.8/30 React: 18.4/30 Slot: 15.9/20 Tkl: 5.4/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 67.4/100
47. Cameron Fleming, OT, New England Patriots
Fleming is an interesting part of New England's offensive line. In 2016, he was an every-play starter in just two games—against the Cardinals in Week 1 and against the Browns in Week 5. But when the Patriots go to their six-linemen sets, which they do frequently and will both pass and run out of those formations, Fleming is the sixth man. He's allowed just two pressures in 297 snaps.
46. Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots
Amendola didn't get a ton of work in 2016—he's had just 25 receptions on 31 targets, including the playoffs—but Brady has a 140.5 passer rating when throwing to Amendola, which is higher than to any other Patriots receiver.
Route: 17.8/25 Hands: 17.6/25 YAC: 12.6/20 Blk: 11.8/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 68.5/100
45. Justin Hardy, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Among all of Atlanta's receivers, only Taylor Gabriel has a higher quarterback rating when targeted than Hardy, who helped Matt Ryan to a 130.3 rating this season. Hardy is a third or fourth receiver, but he could pop off for a few big plays if the Patriots put a bunch of defenders on Julio Jones.
Route: 14.8/25 Hands: 15.1/25 YAC: 12.1/20 Blk: 11.3/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 62.2/100
44. Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots
Lewis looked like the Patriots' most dynamic back last season before injuries derailed him, and he's been slow to get back in the game this year. But he blew up against the Texans in the divisional round, scoring touchdowns by rushing, receiving and in the return game. Bill Belichick loves to game-plan on offense with unexpected weapons, so if Lewis gets 20 carries and five catches in the Super Bowl, don't be surprised.
In: 17.3/25 Out: 17/25 Rec: 16.3/20 Blk: 15.3/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 72/100
43. Brooks Reed, DE, Atlanta Falcons
With Adrian Clayborn out with the torn biceps he suffered in the divisional round, it's been Reed and veteran Dwight Freeney bringing the pass rush. Fortunately for the Falcons, Reed has played some of his best football in the second half of the 2016 season and into the playoffs. He has four sacks, five hits and 23 hurries on the year, and three of those sacks have come since Week 12.
Rush: 17.2/25 Run: 13/25 Snap: 13.3/20 Tkl: 13.9/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 65.3/100
42. Elandon Roberts, LB, New England Patriots
When the Patriots traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns, they did so for two reasons: contract issues with Collins and the team's faith in Roberts, the sixth-round rookie from Houston who has proved to be surprisingly agile in coverage and able to bring some thump against the run. Every Patriots defender will be challenged by Atlanta's multiple offensive looks to the short and intermediate areas, and Roberts is no exception.
Pass: 17/25 Run: 26/35 Rush: 9.4/15 Tkl: 10.8/15 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 69.1/100
41. Duron Harmon, S, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty is New England's primary deep safety, but Harmon can also serve in that role, and he's adept in shorter coverages and against the run. In 2016, he allowed seven catches on eight targets for 97 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, he's allowed both of those touchdowns in the postseason, so Ryan and Co. may be gunning for him.
Cvg: 21.6/30 Rec: 21.3/30 Slot: 5/10 Tkl: 15.8/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 71.6/100
40. David Andrews, C, New England Patriots
If you're going to be the pointman on the offensive line in a Tom Brady offense, you'd better be smart and consistent—two things Andrews has proved to be. He's not the most physically imposing blocker at 295 pounds, and he can get pushed back in the run game, but in 1,256 snaps this season, Andrews has allowed just one sack, five quarterback hits and 19 quarterback hurries.
Pass: 17.1/25 Run: 16/25 Power: 15.5/20 Agl: 14.1/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 68.6/100
39. Eric Rowe, CB, New England Patriots
The Eagles couldn't quite figure out what to do with Rowe one year after drafting him in the second round as a hybrid defender in 2015, so they shipped him off to the Pats in the Chip Kelly purge. No doubt Bill Belichick was eager to get his hands on a guy who has shown the ability to play everywhere from safety to slot corner.
In 2016, no New England cornerback allowed a lower opponent passer rating than Rowe's 55.8, and he's the only Patriots corner who has more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. Well done, Eagles!
Cvg: 19.2/30 React: 18.7/30 Slot: 15.3/20 Tkl: 5.2/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 67.4/100
38. Taylor Gabriel, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Deemed expendable by the Browns, Gabriel has become a key part of Atlanta's passing game in that he can create explosive plays with his downfield speed. He tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with six in the regular season, and he gained an impressive 213 yards and scored three touchdowns on four passes over 20 yards in the air. Julio Jones is Matt Ryan's primary deep target, but don't be surprised if Gabriel slips through New England's secondary for a big play of his own.
Route: 15.9/25 Hands: 16.2/25 YAC: 13.5/20 Blk: 10.8/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 65.4/100
37. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Atlanta Falcons
A second-round pick in 2014, the year before Dan Quinn became the Falcons head coach, Hageman has struggled with consistency on the field throughout his NFL career. However, he's seen an uptick in performance of late, and this is a major advantage for Atlanta if he can keep it up.
With Hageman starting at the nose tackle position, Quinn can deploy Grady Jarrett at the 3-technique spot, allowing Hageman to take up double-teams and Jarrett to demolish single blockers. New England's offensive line is vulnerable to power up the middle, so Hageman needs to have a big game.
Snap: 15.9/25 Rush: 14.3/25 Run: 16.2/25 Tkl: 11.8/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 64.7/100
36. James Develin, FB, New England Patriots
The Patriots are known for spread formations and multislot packages, but they're just as adept at running the ball right down your throat, and Develin—who has seen action in 408 snaps this season—is a big part of that. Atlanta's front seven is fast, but it's also light, so look for the Pats to attack it with Develin blocking for LeGarrette Blount.
Blk: 43.4/50 Run: 14.9/25 Rec: 8.8/15 Pos: 4/10 Overall: 71.1/100
35. De'Vondre Campbell, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
While first-round safety Keanu Neal and second-round linebacker Deion Jones get the lion's share of credit for the recent resurgence in Atlanta's young defense, let's not sleep on Campbell. He struggled a bit in coverage in the regular season (five touchdowns allowed) but has cleaned up his game in the second half of the campaign. He also does a great job of containing outside runs and short passes underneath—two key parts of New England's offensive philosophy these days.
Cvg: 17.1/25 Run: 17.8/25 Rush: 7.7/15 Tkl: 18.4/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 67/100
34. Patrick DiMarco, FB, Atlanta Falcons
The fullback is a dying breed through much of the NFL, but don't tell the Falcons that—they value DiMarco highly. He had a 31-yard reception in the NFC Championship Game, and you can expect to see him more as a blocker and sub-package receiver than a pure rusher, but he's an important part of Atlanta's base power formations.
Blk: 44/50 Run: 14.9/25 Rec: 9.4/15 Pos: 4/10 Overall: 72.4/100
33. Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Coleman didn't get the same number of reps as backfield-mate Devonta Freeman, but in small-sample-size events like a Super Bowl, he's the kind of player worth watching. He scored eight rushing touchdowns on his 118 regular-season carries and broke five runs of 20 yards or more to Freeman's seven. Look for him to try to break a big one when the Falcons move Freeman out wide if the Patriots adjust to that motion by stretching their defense horizontally.
In: 17.1/25 Out: 16.3/25 Rec: 16.8/20 Blk: 15.8/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 72/100
32. Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots
Hogan bounced around the league before landing with the Patriots in 2016, and he proved his value in the AFC Championship win over the Steelers with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. His effectiveness with Brady on deep passes was no fluke—Hogan was by far the Patriots' best deep target this season, with 16 catches on 23 targets for five touchdowns on passes 20 yards or more in the air. When Brady uncorks one in the Super Bowl, Hogan will most likely be the recipient.
Route: 16.9/25 Hands: 16/25 YAC: 11.8/20 Blk: 12.3/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 65.9/100
31. Dwight Freeney, DE, Atlanta Falcons
Freeney signed with the Falcons on a one-year deal for 2016 after a decent season with the Cardinals, and he's shown remnants of his prior greatness. Freeney is a rotational pass-rusher at this point in his career, but at 36, he can still bring it. In 483 snaps, Freeney amassed four sacks, nine quarterback hits and 42 quarterback hurries—including five hurries against Green Bay in the NFC Championship win.
Rush: 18.3/25 Run: 12.7/25 Snap: 14.9/20 Tkl: 13.3/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 66.7/100
30. Malcom Brown, DT, New England Patriots
Brown was New England's first-round pick in 2015, and the Texas alum has done an impressive job replacing Vince Wilfork as the man in the middle of the Patriots defensive line, especially against the run. At 6'2" and 320 pounds, Brown has the strength to take on multiple blockers and the agility to move through gaps in stunts and twists. His battles with Falcons center Alex Mack will be exciting to watch.
Snap: 17.4/25 Rush: 16.8/25 Run: 18.8/25 Tkl: 13.1/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 72.6/100
29. Chris Long, DE, New England Patriots
Selected second overall in the 2008 draft by the Rams, Long had a couple of marquee seasons and then started to get lost in the wash of that franchise's personnel and coaching errors. The move to Foxborough in 2016 was as transformative for Long as it's been for many veterans who found themselves in bad situations and discovered professional redemption in an organization that knows how to deploy players in the best possible ways. No Patriots defender has more quarterback hurries than Long's 46, and he's been just as stout against the run as he is disruptive against the pass.
Rush: 17.1/25 Run: 14.1/25 Snap: 12.9/20 Tkl: 12.8/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 64.4/100
28. Alan Branch, DT, New England Patriots
Branch can get after enemy quarterbacks to a degree—he registered two sacks, one hit and 14 hurries in the regular season—but his primary responsibilities are to soak up double-teams and stop the run. He's been especially adept at the second task; his 31 stops tie him with linebacker Dont'a Hightower for first on New England's defense.
Snap: 16.1/25 Rush: 15.1/25 Run: 17.9/25 Tkl: 12.3/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 67.9/100
27. Andy Levitre, OG, Atlanta Falcons
Levitre has been perhaps Atlanta's most consistent offensive lineman outside of Mack, which is a remarkable turnaround for a former free-agent bust in Tennessee who was traded to the Falcons in 2015 for a couple of late-round picks. Redefined in Kyle Shanahan's offense, Levitre has mixed power and agility well and has allowed just one sack since Week 9.
Pass: 17.3/25 Run: 16.9/25 Pwr: 16.9/20 Agl: 14.1/20 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 72/100
26. Logan Ryan, CB, New England Patriots
A former slot-coverage expert, Ryan has been moved outside more and more recently with decent results. In the 2016 season, he allowed 85 catches on 126 targets for 842 yards, three touchdowns, three picks and an opposing quarterback rating of 84.2. That's the highest rating allowed of all New England's primary cornerbacks, and as the most targeted defender in the Patriots secondary, Ryan will likely have his hands full with Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Atlanta's other targets around Julio Jones.
Cvg: 17.5/30 React: 17.5/30 Slot: 15.3/20 Tkl: 5.6/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 64.8/100
25. Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots
Acquired from the Bears in a March 2016 trade, Bennett was supposed to be the second half of a dynamic tight end duo with Rob Gronkowski. It didn't happen as expected, as Gronk is out for the season with a back injury, and Bennett has struggled with his own physical maladies. But when he's half-healthy, the "Black Unicorn" is as good on the field as he is outspoken off it.
Bennett can run just about any route, and he's a tremendous blocker; that was true all the way back to his days with the Cowboys. Fifty-five catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns? No small potatoes given the injuries Bennett has fought through, and if he's able to play past the ankle injury that could require offseason surgery, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, he could be a big factor in Super Bowl LI.
Route: 14.2/20 Hands: 17.5/25 YAC: 13.1/20 Blk: 18.2/25 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 68.9/100
24. Jalen Collins, CB, Atlanta Falcons
When Desmond Trufant went down for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle in November, it could have been a major hit to Dan Quinn's defense. Trufant might be Atlanta's best overall defender, and he's certainly the team's best cover man. But Collins came in and saved the day in his second season.
The 2015 second-rounder out of LSU slipped with a four-game PED suspension to start the 2016 campaign, but starting in Week 9 and through the playoffs, he allowed 28 catches on 50 targets for 380 yards, two touchdowns, two picks and an opponent quarterback rating of 77.1. Also a dynamic tackler against the run, Collins will be tasked as much as anyone to keep up with New England's dizzying array of personnel and route concepts.
Cvg: 16.9/30 React: 17.6/30 Slot: 15.3/20 Tkl: 5.3/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 64/100
23. Jabaal Sheard, DE, New England Patriots
Sheard had his moments this season where he was less of a factor than expected—he took a downturn in snaps midseason and didn't travel with the Patriots to play the 49ers in Week 11. When he's on, Sheard is an above-average pass-rusher and an excellent run defender on the edge. Given the percentage of outside runs the Falcons like to execute—an even 16 percent to either side of the offensive tackle spot, per Football Outsiders—the Patriots need Sheard to be at his best.
Rush: 18/25 Run: 14.1/25 Snap: 13.3/20 Tkl: 13.1/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 66.1/100
22. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta Falcons
One of the problems defenses face when trying to stop Jones is that the idea of overwhelming Jones with defenders no longer works (if it ever did), because the Falcons have a ton of talent among their receiver corps. Key among that group is Sanu, the former No. 2 receiver for the Bengals.
He's still a second banana in this offense because Jones is so good, but he'd be a legit top target in many systems. Among receivers playing at least 50 percent of their teams' offensive snaps, only Seattle's Doug Baldwin caused a higher quarterback rating when targeted than Sanu's 121.9.
Route: 17.3/25 Hands: 17/25 YAC: 13.4/20 Blk: 11.5/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 68/100
21. LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots
The pre-eminent power rusher on either roster in Super Bowl LI, Blount could be a mammoth factor in the game. Though Atlanta's front seven is fast and versatile, it's also light, and it hasn't been tremendously effective against power-run games this season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in most of Football Outsiders' run-stopping metrics.
Blount scored an incredible 18 rushing touchdowns this season and forced 42 missed tackles as a rusher. Given the optics of this particular matchup, don't be surprised if Bill Belichick makes Blount a major part of the game plan from the start.
In: 18.8/25 Out: 16.7/25 Rec: 15.1/20 Blk: 16.2/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 72.8/100
20. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman led the Falcons with 1,079 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on just 227 carries, but his ground game is hardly the only thing that gives him such an important role in Atlanta's offense. Because he's also a great receiver, Freeman helps offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan win in the pre-snap phase by moving from the backfield to the slot or outside as a receiver before Matt Ryan takes the ball.
When this happens, defenses in their base formations have to put a linebacker out on him, which generally doesn't work out well. And if Freeman's versatility forces a defense to go base nickel or dime, Shanahan is perfectly happy to call a play in which Freeman runs through an inside or outside zone-blocking scheme.
Bill Belichick undoubtedly has plans to limit Freeman's effectiveness, but it will be on Patriots defenders to lock him up in the run game and limit his production as a receiver. As he has 54 catches on 61 targets for 462 yards and two touchdowns, that's no easy task.
In: 18.8/25 Out: 17.4/25 Rec: 16.6/20 Blk: 16.3/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 75/100
19. Ricardo Allen, S, Atlanta Falcons
Every effective modern NFL defense must have the safety who can patrol the deep third of the field, move from sideline to sideline in a hurry and help with intermediate and bracket coverage. When Dan Quinn was Seattle's defensive coordinator, he was blessed with Earl Thomas in that role. Now, as Atlanta's head coach, he has Ricardo Allen.
Not that Allen has yet reached Thomas' level as a player, but he's been effective as the center fielder in Quinn's defense, which has the same Cover 1 and Cover 3 base principles as Seattle's. In those units, which require the free safety to take care of deep coverage and clean up a lot of the time, Allen has been on lock against the pass.
In 1,224 snaps this season, he's been responsible for just 12 catches on 21 targets for 136 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. When Tom Brady uncorks one of those deep balls to Chris Hogan, his favorite target on long passes of late, it'll be up to Allen to reverse the momentum.
Cvg: 21.4/30 Rec: 21.4/30 Slot: 5.2/10 Tkl: 14.8/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 70.8/100
18. Brian Poole, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta's 2016 defensive draft was probably the NFL's best, with three rookies (Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell) starting in Super Bowl LI. But great front offices also hit big on undrafted players, and the Falcons did that with Brian Poole, who was passed over in the draft but has been making contributions to Atlanta's defense all season.
Primarily a slot corner in coverage, Poole has also become a real force as a blitzer. He harassed Aaron Rodgers consistently in the NFC Championship Game, and you could see him do the same as a blitzer off the edge against the Patriots. Of course, if the Falcons can get pressure with their four linemen and Poole can stay in the slot, that's even better, but he's proved to be effective and versatile.
Cvg: 16.1/30 React: 16.4/30 Slot: 15.6/20 Tkl: 5.7/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 62.8/100
17. Trey Flowers, DL, New England Patriots
New England's 2015 draft was a triumph for its defensive line, and Trey Flowers, taken in the fourth round out of Arkansas, is a big part of that. Listed as a defensive end, Flowers can also kick inside and use his size (6'2", 265 lbs) and explosiveness to rush past blockers and get pressure on a consistent basis.
He's racked up seven sacks, 11 hits and 21 hurries, and he has improved greatly as a run defender. Not bad for a guy who played only four snaps in his rookie season. Bill Belichick has always seemed to coach under the philosophy that when you show up on the field, you'll get more playing time, and Flowers is a great example of that.
Rush: 17.8/25 Run: 15.3/25 Snap: 12.5/20 Tkl: 13.5/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 66.4/100
16. Shaq Mason, G, New England Patriots
A fourth-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2015, Shaq Mason is yet another Patriots offensive lineman who has seen his play improve exponentially under returning line coach Dante Scarnecchia. A decent pass protector and run-blocker in his rookie year, Mason came on in the second half of the 2016 season as a leverage monster in the run game, and he's given up one sack since Week 11.
The Patriots are a power-rushing team, with 59 percent of their attempts going to the center and guard areas, per Football Outsiders, and Mason's improvement is a big reason that's been so effective.
Pass: 15.3/25 Run: 16.3/25 Power: 16.1/20 Agl: 15.2/20 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 70/100
15. Dont'a Hightower, ILB, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick appreciates players who can do many things. As New England's defense has morphed into more of a traditional 4-3 in concept over the last few years, Dont'a Hightower has been a key part of that unit—not only for his ability to stop the run with his thumping tackling style up the middle, but also his acumen as a blitzer.
When the Patriots go with a five-man blitz, it's frequently Hightower who's filling that extra gap, and he has been effective in that role with five sacks, seven quarterback hits and 15 hurries, including the postseason. And with his 37 run stops, Hightower will be a major part of the New England front tasked to stop the Falcons' superb rushing duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Pass: 17.8/25 Run: 27.6/35 Rush: 10.5/15 Tkl: 11.1/15 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 73/100
14. Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons
It's one of the NFL's greatest recent evaluation mysteries: How did Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett last until the fifth round of the 2015 draft?
When I watched his college tape, I had him as a second-round prospect—more due to his rotational status and short arms than anything else—and even with a second-round grade, I was wrong. Jarrett is a rotational player to a point, but in 705 snaps during the regular season and playoffs, he's made the most of those reps with three sacks, eight quarterback hits and 31 hurries, not to mention his 25 run stops.
What makes Jarrett so effective at 6'0" and 305 pounds? Leverage. He's been able to overcome the "short-arm" debit because he's so good at bringing the fight to offensive guards when he's in range. What he did to Green Bay left guard Don Barclay in the NFC Championship Game was embarrassing—on one snap, Jarrett was rag-dolling him out of the way, and on the next, he'd just bowl him over.
Patriots left guard Joe Thuney is in for a long day if he's the starter, and given Thuney's less than impressive performance against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, Jarrett might be licking his chops.
Another part of Jarrett's value: He commands a large number of double-teams, freeing up other pass-rushers. And given the fact that Tom Brady's two Super Bowl losses were to New York Giants teams that could bring consistent pressure up the middle, Jarrett's presence is crucial.
Snap: 18/25 Rush: 15.9/25 Run: 18.4/25 Tkl: 12.9/15 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 71.8/100
13. Nate Solder, LT, New England Patriots
Here's an amazing stat to consider: Neither Nate Solder nor Marcus Cannon, both of New England's starting offensive tackles, have given up a sack since Week 11. Solder had a rough game against the Bills in Week 8, allowing three sacks, and he allowed a sack against the Seahawks in Week 10, but it's all been good since then.
A tight end at Colorado, Solder has gone through bouts of inconsistency throughout his NFL career, but when he's on, he combines athleticism and strength in a rare package. He'll be tested at left tackle by Falcons pass-rusher Vic Beasley, who led the NFL in sacks this season with 15.5, and by the creative gap schemes implemented by Dan Quinn.
If Solder, who's given up a grand total of three pressures in his last three games, can stay on point, it'll be a big advantage for the Patriots, as it could force the Falcons to blitz and leave holes open in their pass defense.
Pass: 18.4/25 Run: 18.5/25 Power: 15.1/20 Agl: 14.5/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 74.5/100
12. Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons
When Dan Quinn came over from Seattle, he knew he'd need what he had in safety Kam Chancellor: an enforcer-level tackler in space who would make every receiver in the NFL think more than twice about going over the middle. Quinn got that with Keanu Neal, whom Atlanta selected in the first round in 2016.
Neal's most obvious attribute is the physical style with which he plays, but he's as versatile as Chancellor eventually became. A box safety for the most part, Neal will also peel off into slot coverage at times when the Falcons run zone defense, and he's more than happy to patrol the middle in Cover 1 and Cover 3 zone concepts, waiting for some poor slot receiver to get his block knocked off.
The Patriots run a lot of slot receivers through their offense in different iterations, and it will be on Neal to take care of them to a large degree. Neal will also likely be tasked with reading New England's running backs, especially if and when Tom Brady decides to use them as outlet receivers. That was a big part of the winning strategy in Super Bowl XLIX—New England's victory over Seattle, in which Quinn was the defensive coach.
Cvg: 19.3/25 Rec: 19.1/25 Slot: 15.3/20 Tkl: 15.6/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 75.3/100
11. Deion Jones, ILB, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons got a huge haul on defense with their 2016 rookie class, but Deion Jones has been the most impactful player in the second half of the season—and he has my Defensive Rookie of the Year vote. The LSU alum, taken in the second round of the draft in part because he was seen by some evaluators as too slow on the field, has been anything but for Dan Quinn's defense.
Jones is the model of the modern NFL linebacker. Light and fast, he's able to do everything from covering curl/flat routes to running with tight ends up the seam to moving to the deep third to cover post routes. In addition, Jones has no issue with squaring up in the run game, as evidenced by his 41 run tackles and 26 run stops in the regular and postseason.
Given Tom Brady's ability to kill defenses by 1,000 paper cuts with everything from simple screens to quick flare passes all over the field, the Falcons must take care to keep those short passes under control. Jones can not only do that, but he can also shut down those plays and create turnover opportunities. He's a rare player whose star is just starting to rise.
Pass: 19.9/25 Run: 27.2/35 Rush: 9.3/15 Tkl: 11.3/15 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 73.7/100
10. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots
The man first presented to America as the game-winning defender in Super Bowl XLIX has become far more than a one-play wonder in the two seasons since.
Malcolm Butler has allowed four touchdowns this year (including the postseason), but he's also had four picks, and more than any other Patriots cornerback, he's responsible for covering the opposing team's No. 1 receiver. And with 57 catches allowed on 102 targets, Butler has become a valuable defender when the idea is to limit the damage against possession-oriented passing teams looking to keep New England's offense off the field.
You'll most likely see Butler covering Julio Jones through most of Super Bowl LI, which makes him one of the most important names on this list. If he's able to at least limit what Jones can do, it'll be a huge swing in the Patriots' favor.
Cvg: 19.6/30 React: 19.4/30 Slot: 15.9/20 Tkl: 5.5/10 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 69.4/100
9. Ryan Schraeder, RT, Atlanta Falcons
While Alex Mack is the undeniable face of Atlanta's drastically improved offensive line, Ryan Schraeder has been just as important to that uptick in performance. An undrafted free agent from Valdosta State in 2013, Schraeder has become one of the NFL's best run-blockers, and he's a key cog in Kyle Shanahan's multiple run fronts.
Where Schraeder still needs to improve is in pass protection—he allowed eight sacks, eight quarterback hits and 20 quarterback hurries through the NFC title game—but the quality of his performance in the run game transcends that and still makes him a top-10 player in Super Bowl LI.
Pass: 18.4/25 Run: 19.3/25 Power: 15.9/20 Agl: 15/20 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 75.6/100
8. Marcus Cannon, RT, New England Patriots
Perhaps no Patriots player has benefited more from the return of legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia than Marcus Cannon, who hit new levels in his sixth season. The 6'5", 335-pound TCU alum has always been able to drive well in the run game, but 2016 is when he became the Patriots' best pass protector, and the difference was clear.
In 2015, Cannon gave up six sacks, nine quarterback hits and 27 quarterback hurries at left and right tackle. This season, and with Scarnecchia's focus on continuity and fundamentals, Cannon became a true force at right tackle, allowing two sacks, seven hits and 21 hurries in 1,173 snaps through the AFC Championship Game.
Cannon allowed two sacks in New England's AFC title game loss to the Broncos at the end of the 2015 season, and he allowed two more against the Cardinals in the 2016 regular-season opener. He hasn't allowed a sack since and didn't allow a single pressure of any kind against the Steelers in this year's AFC Championship Game. Few players on either roster coming into Super Bowl LI have shown more obvious improvement in the space of a calendar year.
Pass: 17.9/25 Run: 18.2/25 Power: 15.3/20 Agl: 14.5/20 Pos: 7/10 Overall: 72.8/100
7. Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
OK, see if you can guess which NFL player has the most receiving yards since Week 9 and through the postseason? We're spoiling it a bit by asking the question on Julian Edelman's slide, as Edelman is indeed the most prolific receiver in that category over that time, with 1,003 yards on 73 catches and 112 targets.
The undrafted former quarterback from Kent State has become Tom Brady's most important and reliable target through sheer hard work and attention to detail. No team runs more option routes than the Patriots, and no receiver in those option routes better understands how to use a defender's leverage against him.
Edelman has speed up the field, so let's not look at him and just assume that he's another slow possession receiver. He did have 87 of his targets and 63 receptions from the slot this season, but he'll also take the top off a defense in specific formations. As much as any Patriots offensive player, Edelman is a big reason New England's passing game stayed upright after Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season with a back injury.
Last time Edelman was in a Super Bowl, it was XLIX, and he caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, frequently bedeviling Seattle's aggressive cornerbacks with quick angle routes. Expect a lot of the same against Atlanta's young secondary.
Route: 19.3/25 Hands: 18.8/25 YAC: 14/20 Blk: 12.1/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 73.1/100
6. Vic Beasley, DE, Atlanta Falcons
Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in his second season, but there's a lot more to his game than quarterback takedowns. He also had five quarterback hits and 42 hurries this season, including the playoffs, making him Atlanta's pre-eminent pass-rusher. Beasley's primary game is pure speed off the edge, but as he's taken new moves from Dan Quinn and his staff, he is now a multifaceted quarterback disruptor, just as able to beat a tackle with an inside counter as he is to bend the edge.
Moreover, you saw his increasing versatility in Atlanta's NFC Championship win over the Packers when on several occasions, Beasley lined up in the middle of the field at linebacker depth, or at the defensive tackle position, and spied Aaron Rodgers to great effect. Beasley won't have to spy Tom Brady—running around isn't Brady's game—but don't be surprised if Quinn deploys Beasley from multiple gaps, trying to alter Brady's line calls with schematic trickery.
Rush: 19.1/25 Run: 13.2/25 Snap: 16.1/20 Tkl: 13.8/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 69.8/100
5. Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty is the current version of the ultimate Bill Belichick player, because above all, Belichick values players who can move to multiple positions and excel. McCourty has done that. A Pro Bowl cornerback in his rookie season of 2010 after he pilfered seven interceptions, McCourty was moved around the secondary over the next few years as New England's personnel and coverage concepts changed, and in 2016, he was named to the Pro Bowl again—as a safety.
Now, McCourty's primary task is to handle the deep third of coverage, moving from side to side to help Patriots cornerbacks deal with longer routes and faster receivers. But he can also come down into the box and deliver a blow against the run, and he was occasionally put in slot coverage.
Given the sheer explosiveness of Atlanta's passing attack, the number of targets Matt Ryan has and the multiple ways in which Belichick deploys his secondary personnel, it's safe to say McCourty will be the Patriots' most important defender in Super Bowl LI.
Cvg: 23.4/30 Rec: 23.6/30 Slot: 5.9/10 Tkl: 16.2/20 Pos: 8/10 Overall: 77.1/100
4. Alex Mack, C, Atlanta Falcons
When the Falcons signed former Browns center Alex Mack to a five-year, $45 million contract in March 2016, they acquired the epicenter of an offensive line that is now one of the league's best.
Not that it was always easy for the veteran. Through the first month of the season, Mack appeared to struggle at times at the second level and with some aspects of Kyle Shanahan's quick inside and outside zone concepts. But once he got up to speed, Mack was both technically impressive and physically dominant, blazing a trail for the linemen around him to improve.
There isn't a trick Mack hasn't seen, and against a Patriots defensive front full of talent and schematic brilliance, Mack's presence will be crucial. He'll be the one responsible for making the line calls, identifying and adjusting to different pressure concepts and moving those defenders to help Atlanta's run game.
Mack has been struggling with an ankle injury, which would be a big advantage for New England if it doesn't clear up in time for the Super Bowl. That's how important Mack is to the Falcons' chances. Atlanta ranked fourth in rushing yardage up the middle in 2016, per Football Outsiders, and Mack hasn't allowed a sack since Week 6.
Pass: 17/25 Run: 17.6/25 Power: 16.7/20 Agl: 15.4/20 Pos: 6/10 Overall: 72.6/100
3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones dealt with injuries this season, but he was still the toughest man to defend whenever he was on the field. In the NFC Championship Game, he killed the Packers defense with 180 yards and two touchdowns despite a toe injury.
There's no player on either team with Jones' unearthly combination of strength to box out a defensive back, speed to run past cornerbacks and safeties on deep routes and spatial awareness to get open in pockets of man and zone coverage. Even if he's covered, he's not—Jones will simply jump over coverage and bring in the ball, unafraid of any physical repercussions.
How the Patriots play Jones is one of the more compelling Super Bowl stories. If you bracket him with a cornerback and a safety, you're leaving openings for Matt Ryan's other targets, and Ryan's got a ton of them. But if you leave him with single coverage, you're begging him to catch the ball over and over.
Some teams have taken the view that letting Jones catch what he'll catch and addressing the other offensive weapons is the way to go. Bill Belichick tends to believe the way to win is to take away the one thing the opponent does best. How New England's defense tests Jones will tell us how Belichick came down this time around, but don't be surprised if Jones has a huge—and potentially game-altering—performance either way.
Route: 19.9/25 Hands: 19.4/25 YAC: 14.4/20 Blk: 12.6/20 Pos: 9/10 Overall: 75.1/100
2. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
With all the talk about Tom Brady (and Brady's obvious status as the top man on our list), Matt Ryan was more efficient and productive in many aspects in the 2016 season. To a degree, we're giving Brady justified points for being here before, but that's not to minimize what Ryan did. His quarterback rating of 119.0 was the NFL's highest, including the postseason, and his 45-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio is something you'd have seen in Aaron Rodgers' glory days.
And if Ryan starts throwing deep on you, watch out. Through the postseason, on throws of 20 yards or more in the air, he's been good for 12 touchdowns and no interceptions—the only quarterback taking at least 25 percent of his team's snaps who managed to avoid a pick on deep throws.
Ryan has perfectly merged with Kyle Shanahan's philosophies, and it's why he's the most dangerous weapon in this game. He's become more mobile to take advantage of Shanahan's boot-option concepts, and he's adept at throwing on the move. Moreover, he is experienced enough to perfectly run an offense that is as diverse and schematically impressive as any we've seen. No team beats you more in the pre-snap phase than the Falcons, and Ryan's the guy who has to keep that all in his head.
In previous campaigns, pressure was Ryan's kryptonite, but in 2016 and through the playoffs, he threw six touchdowns and no interceptions under duress. The Patriots may take more care to go after Ryan's targets than Ryan himself, because Atlanta's quarterback is on a historic hot streak…and it's lasted all season.
Acc: 16.9/25 Arm: 19/25 Press: 14.1/20 Dec: 14.2/20 Pos: 10/10 Overall: 74.1/100
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Preparing for his seventh Super Bowl and gunning for his fifth win (joining former 49ers/Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley as the only other man to hold that particular honor), Tom Brady is now the old gunslinger who knows every trick and can still execute them all. His arm isn't quite what it used to be, but he's still a great deep thrower because he understands receiver openings so well.
In addition, he's developed a supernatural bond with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in which he and his coach upend every defense New England faces. There's nothing the Patriots won't think of throwing at you, and there's no personnel set they won't succeed with. More than anything, that's on the 39-year-old Brady and his ability to transcend aging and what it does to most professional athletes.
Including the postseason, it was yet another ridiculously efficient season for the guy who is most likely the best quarterback we've ever seen (33 touchdowns, four interceptions). What's returned a bit this season is Brady's skill as a deep passer; he threw 11 touchdowns and one interception on throws over 20 yards. If he has time to read through his progressions without significant pressure, he'll carve you up like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey.
Atlanta's predominant hope in Super Bowl LI is to do what the Giants did in Brady's two Super Bowl losses: pressure him early and often right up the middle and prevent him from stepping up. If that doesn't happen, Brady will do what he does: roll over your defense like a robot. It's what makes him a rare athlete. He's managed to combine youthful vigor and aged acumen in a package we've never seen at the position.
Acc: 18.6/25 Arm: 19.5/25 Press: 14.2/20 Dec: 14.7/20 Pos: 10/10 Overall: 76.9/100
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
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