The Most Dominant Player at Every Position Heading into 2017 NFL Season

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJuly 10, 2017

The Most Dominant Player at Every Position Heading into 2017 NFL Season

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    It's just about time for training camps to open across the NFL. Before you know it, the 2017 NFL season will be upon us.

    Training camp is a time of great stress for many players. Some are battling for a spot in the starting lineup. Others are trying desperately to hang on to their slot on the 53-man roster.

    However, for a fortunate few, training camp is a mere formality. Their only concern at this time of year is getting ready to do what they do best.

    Dominate in the games that count.

    One is the most successful quarterback in NFL history. Another is a wide receiver who is as consistent as he is productive. Another still is a defensive end who has accomplished a feat equaled only by the great Lawrence Taylor.

    They are the very best at what they do in the National Football League. The most dominant players in the league at each position.

    And soon enough, it will be time for them to shine again.

Quarterback

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    Tom Brady, New England Patriots

    At no position in the NFL will discussion of the very best generate a more heated debate than at quarterback. The past 15 years or so have been a golden age for signal-callers. There are at least half a dozen players at the position plying their trade who will see their careers end with enshrinement in Canton.

    Tom Brady might not have the strongest arm of that group. He certainly isn't the fleetest of foot.

    But given that the 39-year-old just won his record fifth Super Bowl, it's awfully hard to argue with the results.

    Not only has Brady been great, but he appears to be like a fine wine—he improves with age.

    In 2016, Brady set an NFL record by throwing just two interceptions to go with 28 touchdown passes. His passer rating of 112.2 a year ago was his highest since he rewrote the single-season record books during New England's 16-0 2007 season.

    Over the past three years, Brady has thrown 97 touchdown passes—and just 18 interceptions.

    Detractors will argue that Brady wouldn't have had the success he’s enjoyed had he not played for such a good team. But it's the opposite that's the case—the Beantown dynasty of the past two decades never would have been were it not for No. 12.

                

    Best of the Rest

    Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Brees has more 5,000-yard seasons on his professional resume than every other quarterback in NFL history combined. I reckon that just about covers it.

    Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: No quarterback in the history of the NFL has a higher career passer rating than Rodgers' 104.1. Once again, I reckon that just about covers it.

    Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: There are any number of signal-callers I could have mentioned in this spot (Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger), but after passing for nearly 5,000 yards and winning the 2016 NFL MVP award, Ryan gets the nod.

Running Back

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    David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

    This was easily the toughest call in this article, as there are at least three running backs who can make a legitimate claim to being the NFL's most dominant.

    But there's just one tailback who was simply unstoppable in 2016. One who came out and piled up over 100 total yards each and every week.

    Over the first 16 weeks of the 2016 season, David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals played in 15 games. In all of those games, the 25-year-old hit the century mark. It was an NFL record, and only a knee injury in the final game of the season prevented a clean sweep.

    Not bad for a third-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa.

    Johnson finished his second season with 1,239 yards on the ground and another 879 yards on 80 receptions. For the math-averse, that's 2,118 yards of offense for the season.

    Per the team's website, Johnson has his sights set even higher in 2017—like 1,000 yards rushing and receiving higher.

    "That is my main goal," he said. "I must get 1,000 rushing and receiving. I definitely want to be one of those players. There's only two other running backs who have done it. I definitely want to be among those guys."

    Johnson might not be the best pure runner in the NFL, but as he showed last year, his all-around skill set can't be beat.

    And I wouldn't bet against him joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk in the 1,000/1,000 club.

              

    Best of the Rest

    Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers: Had it not been for four missed games last year, Bell would have topped 2,000 total yards in his own right. The 25-year-old has also averaged 4.9 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons.

    Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: Elliott didn't waste any time making a name for himself in the NFL. He topped 100 rushing yards in his third game, averaged 5.1 yards a pop and ended his rookie year as the NFL's leading rusher.

    LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills: McCoy had one of the better years of his career last year, setting a personal best with 5.4 yards a carry. It was the fifth time in eight seasons that Shady gained more than 1,000 yards on the ground.

Fullback

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    Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco 49ers

    It's not very often that a Pro Bowl player who is the best in the NFL at what he does changes teams in free agency.

    But Kyle Juszczyk isn't most players. He's the NFL equivalent of the dodo bird. A dying breed.

    Juszczyk is a fullback—a very good fullback.

    In addition to being the highest-graded fullback in the NFL last year at Pro Football Focus while a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Juszczyk was also the highest-graded pass-blocker. Juszczyk played the most snaps of any fullback in the NFL in 2016 by a sizable margin.

    What really sets Juszczyk apart, though, is he's actually a factor in the offense—or at least he was with the Ravens a year ago.

    In 2016, the 26-year-old hauled in 37 passes for Baltimore as a safety valve for Joe Flacco. That might not sound like a big number, but for a fullback in today's NFL, over two catches a game every game is quite a bit.

               

    Best of the Rest

    James Develin, New England Patriots: In addition to being a special teams maven, Develin is one of the NFL's better lead blockers, grading second in the NFL in that regard in 418 snaps for the Super Bowl champions last year.

    Patrick DiMarco, Buffalo Bills: Another high-end fullback who found a new home in 2017, DiMarco was PFF's top-graded run-blocker among fullbacks while with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. LeSean McCoy will enjoy playing behind him.

    John Kuhn, New Orleans Saints: A veteran tailback who was a longtime fan favorite in Green Bay, Kuhn is one of the better pass-blocking fullbacks in the league. He also scored four rushing touchdowns as the Saints' goal-line back in 2016.

Wide Receiver

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    Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Much like at quarterback, we're in the midst of a golden age of sorts at wide receiver. With pass-wacky offenses and rules tilted to help them, it's no surprise that so many pass-catchers post gaudy numbers each season.

    But even by today's standards, what Antonio Brown has done over the past four seasons has been remarkable.

    It started in 2013, when Brown reeled in 110 passes for 1,499 yards and eight scores.

    The next year, Brown did even better: 129 receptions for 1,698 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns.

    But wait! There's more. The following season, Brown's touchdowns fell all the way to 10 (the slacker), but he set career bests in both catches (136) and yardage (1,834).

    Brown missed a game last year, but even then he topped 100 catches for the fourth straight season and found the end zone 12 times.

    Over that four-year span, Brown's average season is 120 receptions for nearly 1,600 yards and double-digit touchdowns—all while being double-covered almost constantly.

    There may have been bigger single seasons over that stretch (although not many), but no one's been as consistently fantastic as the eighth-year pro from Central Michigan.

    As it turns out, Brown can do quite a lot for you after all.

                 

    Best of the Rest

    Odell Beckham, New York Giants: Beckham has topped 90 receptions and 1,300 yards in each of his three NFL seasons, with 35 touchdown grabs. You may have seen some of them on TV. Like, say, this one—about nine million times.

    A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Green's coming off the worst season of his career, having failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in six seasons. Of course, he barely missed it—Green averaged nearly 100 yards per contest in his 10 games last season.

    Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: Like Green, Jones had some problems with injuries a year ago. Even then, he still posted 83 catches for over 1,400 yards. When he's healthy, Jones is as uncoverable as it gets—a truly dominant talent.

Tight End

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    Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

    After yet another injury-marred season, we're in an all-too-familiar spot with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski—wondering about his health for the season to come.

    Per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, Gronkowski insists he's "100 percent."

    "Just being able to compete, conditioning-wise, strength-wise, in the weight room, being out on the field with teammates, being able to play football, it's great," Gronkowski said. "I'm always trying to perform, I always want to get better every single year. I want to get better every single week. I'm always motivated no matter what the circumstances are. I love playing the game."

    Counting on Gronkowski to make it through 16 games healthy straddles the line between optimism and folly, given that the 28-year-old hasn't done so since 2011.

    But if somehow he does—look out, NFL. Because there isn't a player in the league more difficult to defend than Gronkowski. He's too quick for many linebackers and pushes cornerbacks and safeties around like rag dolls.

    In that 2011 season, Gronkowski had arguably the greatest single season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. He reeled in 90 passes, topped 1,300 receiving yards and set an NFL record for scoring grabs by a tight end with 17.

    Those numbers will be tough to match. But if he's healthy, Gronkowski's the only tight end in football who can.

                     

    Best of the Rest

    Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs: Gronkowski may be the best tight end in football, but after catching 85 passes for over 1,100 yards last year for the Chiefs, Kelce was the best tight end of 2016.

    Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers: Olsen might not have the physical gifts of some of the other tight ends on this list, but the 32-year-old has been as consistent as they come, topping 1,000 receiving yards each of the last three years.

    Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins: When he's on the field, Reed's as talented as any player in the NFL at his position. The problem for the 27-year-old has been durability, including four missed games a year ago.

Offensive Tackle

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    Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

    Joe Thomas has spent the entirety of his career playing for terrible teams in Cleveland. It's too bad, really. Had Thomas played under a bigger spotlight, perhaps more fans would see him for what he really is.

    Thomas isn't just one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL. Or even one of the best offensive tackles of his generation.

    He's one of the greatest tackles ever to play the game.

    Thomas, who came in at No. 25 in the latest iteration of the NFL's top 100 players, was the Browns' first-round pick in 2007. He's started every game since then on the left flank of Cleveland's offensive line.

    In fact, he's never missed a snap.

    Not one. In a decade.

    All that time, Thomas has performed at an elite level. In nine of his 10 NFL seasons, Thomas has been named either a first- or second-team All-Pro. All 10 seasons, he's been selected to the Pro Bowl.

    No other offensive lineman in NFL history has accomplished that feat.

    I've seen some great offensive linemen play in the 30-plus years I've been an avid football fan, from Anthony Munoz to Larry Allen to Orlando Pace.

    Thomas is every bit as good as any tackle I've ever seen.

            

    Best of the Rest

    Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders: Penn isn't mentioned all that often in discussions of the league's best blind-side tackles, but in 2016, the 34-year-old surrendered just one sack. Unfortunately, it was the one where Derek Carr got hurt.

    Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams: At 35 years old, Whitworth's no spring chicken, but if his performance in Cincinnati last year is any indication, he's not close to ready for the scrap heap just yet.

    Trent Williams, Washington Redskins: The eighth-year veteran is in the prime of his career, and while durability is a bit of a concern, Williams gave up only 16 quarterback pressures in 12 starts a season ago.

Offensive Guard

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    Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens

    The Baltimore Ravens have hemorrhaged offensive linemen in recent years. Guard Kelechi Osemele bolted for Oakland in free agency a year ago. Right tackle Ricky Wagner followed suit in 2017, becoming the NFL's highest-paid player at his position after he signed a contract with the Detroit Lions.

    At least one stalwart remains in Charm City, however—and he's the best in the NFL at what he does.

    Over 10 seasons in the National Football League, Marshal Yanda has established a reputation as one of the most durable and versatile guards to come along in quite a while.

    Six times, Yanda's been named to the Pro Bowl, and in both 2014 and 2015, he was a first-team All-Pro.

    It's somewhat puzzling that Yanda didn't make it three in a row in 2016—especially when you consider it was probably the best year of his career. Not only did Yanda receive the highest grade of any guard in the NFL from Pro Football Focus, but he was named their Offensive Lineman of the Year.

    That may have had something to do with the fact that he didn't allow a defender to so much as touch Joe Flacco. Zero sacks allowed. Zero hits allowed. Only six hurries allowed.

    If that isn't dominant, I don't know what is.

                 

    Best of the Rest

    T.J. Lang, Detroit Lions: Lang just got a fat payday from the Lions (three years, $28.5 million) after a 2016 season with the Green Bay Packers in which he didn't allow Aaron Rodgers to be sacked or even hit.

    Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys: Martin's been one of the best guards in the NFL from the moment he stepped onto the playing field, making the Pro Bowl all three seasons he's been in the league.

    Josh Sitton, Chicago Bears: Sitton may not be a household name at his position (what guard is?), but he ought to be—he's been one of the best pass-blocking guards in the NFL for some time and had one of the best seasons of his career in 2016.

Center

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    Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

    When the Dallas Cowboys selected Travis Frederick with the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the selection was widely pilloried as a reach.

    No one thinks so anymore.

    Per Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus, Frederick was named the No. 1 run-blocking lineman in all of the NFL last season.

    Frederick is far from a one-trick pony. His pass-blocking acumen is every bit as good. He did not surrender a sack for the NFC East champions last year, and the 26-year-old had some of his best efforts of the season against big-name tackles like Linval Joseph and Damon Harrison.

    There are centers who may have had a slightly better season in 2016 than Frederick, but none who have been as consistently good for as consistently long.

    I guess Jerry Jones knew what he was doing when he made that pick after all.

                   

    Best of the Rest

    Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders: Hudson has graded as the best pass-blocking center in the NFL in each of the last two seasons, per PFF, and he's been in the top two three years in a row. He didn't allow a sack or a hit in 2016.

    Alex Mack, Atlanta Falcons: Mack was a big part of the Falcons' run to the Super Bowl last year, making the Pro Bowl and earning second-team All-Pro honors for the second time before playing through a broken leg in Super Bowl LI.

    Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos: There isn't a center in the NFL who improved more in 2016 than Paradis—so much so that Pro Football Focus gave the 27-year-old the highest grade in the league at the position.

Defensive End

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    J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

    Yes, I'm aware J.J. Watt missed most of the 2016 season after having a pair of surgeries on his back. I'm also well-aware that back injuries have much more history of getting worse than they do of getting better.

    But per Drew Dougherty of the Texans' website, Watt insists he's ready to rock. "I'm very happy with the way it's responded," Watt said. "It feels great."

    His word is good enough for this writer.

    And if Justin James Watt is 100 percent (or even relatively close to it), then he's much more than just the best defensive end in football.

    He might be the best player in the NFL, period. A game-changing wrecking ball. A Category 5 hurricane of misery for opposing offenses.

    In Watt's last full season, he piled up 76 tackles and 17.5 sacks. The year before, it was 78 stops and 20.5 sacks.

    Mind you, this is while facing constant double-teams.

    J.J. Watt is a generational talent—one of only two players in the history of the National Football League to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards.

    There are some great defensive ends in the NFL. But none of them can hold a candle to a healthy Watt.

                           

    Best of the Rest

    Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers: Bosa must not have gotten the memo that rookie defensive ends take time to acclimate to the NFL. He had two sacks in his first game as a pro and piled up 10.5 in 12 games en route to winning Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles: Graham's raw stats (59 tackles, 5.5 sacks) aren't overly impressive, but he's the only edge-rusher in the NFL who scored a top-five grade in both pass-rushing and run defense last year, per Pro Football Focus.

    Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings: Hunter racked up 12.5 sacks in his second NFL season despite not starting a single game for the Vikings. He's slated for an increased role in 2017, making a 15-plus-sack season a distinct possibility.

Defensive Tackle

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    Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

    This might be fudging a bit. With the Rams making a switch to the 3-4 under new coordinator Wade Phillips in 2017, Aaron Donald will see time at defensive end in base sets.

    But Donald is, at his core, a 3-technique defensive tackle. A really, really good one.

    Oh, who am I kidding? He's great.

    There are a handful of defenders in the NFL right now who legitimately give opponents nightmares. Before the game. After. And most assuredly during. I'll mention a couple more in a moment.

    But then there's Donald, who has an otherworldly first step.

    As Sam Monson reported for Pro Football Focus, Donald was that site's choice for Defensive Player of the Year. Sure, he "only" had eight sacks, but that number doesn't begin to accurately describe how disruptive Donald is.

    Donald generated 82 total QB pressures in 2016. Not only is that a staggering number for an interior lineman, but it was third in the entire NFL. He also had a pressure every 6.1 rushes, a rate that led all interior linemen and ranked seventh overall.

    Put him at end. Put him at tackle. Put him wherever you want.

    Donald's going to collapse the pocket and wreak havoc with alarming regularity.

    It's just what he does.

                        

    Best of the Rest

    Damon Harrison, New York Giants: One-technique tackles generally don't put up big numbers, especially sacks. But Harrison posted an eye-popping 86 tackles a year ago, ranking as the top interior defender against the run, per PFF.

    Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers: Short's sack numbers were down in 2016 after his 11-sack explosion during the Panthers' Super Bowl run two years ago, but the 28-year-old remains a pocket-collapsing force in the middle.

    Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins: Suh catches a lot of flak for the size of his paycheck and his surly disposition, and he may never repeat the 10 sacks he had as a rookie. But Suh's still one of the best 3-techs of the past 15 years, and his 72 stops in 2016 were a career high.

Inside Linebacker

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    Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

    Like the aforementioned J.J. Watt, Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly enters the 2017 campaign under something of a cloud. With Watt, it's his back. With Kuechly, it's the scary-looking concussion that cost him the last six games of the 2016 season.

    It's the second straight season that Kuechly's missed multiple games due to a head injury.

    However, just like Watt, Kuechly insisted to Bill Voth of the team's website that he's a "full-go" for the upcoming season.

    "Everyone is concerned, just worried about making sure you're OK, which I appreciate. It makes you feel good that people genuinely care about you," Kuechly said. "But I'm good to go. I got cleared Week 13 or 14, so I was able to practice and things went well. Things are continuing to go well, and I'll be good to go."

    Assuming he is, there's zero doubt who the most dominant inside linebacker in the NFL is.

    Even with those six games missed, Kuechly topped 100 tackles last year—just as he's done every year he's been in the NFL.

    As a rookie in 2012, Kuechly topped 100 solos and led the NFL in total tackles. The next year, Kuechly piled up 166 stops and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

    There isn't a facet of the game where Kuechly isn't an elite performer, whether it's stuffing the run or covering receivers out of the backfield.

    It will be good to have him back on the field.

                 

    Best of the Rest

    Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: In two short seasons, Alexander has emerged as one of the best young inside linebackers in the game. Alexander paced the Buccaneers with 145 total tackles last year, including a league-leading 108 solos.

    Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots: Hightower's 65 stops in 13 games a season ago belie his importance to the Patriots defense. There's a reason the Pats let Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins go but re-upped the 27-year-old earlier this year.

    Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks: No player in the NFL had more tackles in 2016 than Wagner's 167. The 27-year-old pitched in 4.5 sacks and had the highest run-stuffing grade in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

Outside Linebacker

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    Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

    If there's one position where I was tempted to call it a tie, it's outside linebacker. Calling Von Miller the second-best anything just seems kooky.

    But as great as Miller is at what he does, Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders is even better.

    In just three years, Mack's become one of the NFL's most feared defenders. In 2015, he racked up 77 tackles and 15 sacks. That sack number dipped to 11 last season (what a slacker), but Mack was still one of the most impactful edge-rushers in the NFL. Per Pro Football Focus, he was the only player in the NFL to amass over 90 pressures for the season.

    For those counting at home, that means Mack had opposing quarterbacks running for their lives five or six times a game—every game.

    Bleacher Report's own Doug Farrar recently ranked Mack as the NFL's most unblockable pass-rusher.

    "Unblockable?" Farrar asked. "At his best, the 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year is more than that. He's unbeatable."

    Oh yeah. Mack was also named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.

    I probably should have mentioned that, huh?

                     

    Best of the Rest

    Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons: It hasn't taken long for Beasley to establish himself as one of the league's best young pass-rushers. In 677 snaps in 2016 for the NFC champions, Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks. He also tied for the league lead with six forced fumbles.

    Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals: In 11 games last season, Burfict amassed 101 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. When his head's on straight and he isn't cheap-shotting anyone, Burfict's as good as any 4-3 "Will" in the game.

    Von Miller, Denver Broncos: Fun fact about the 28-year-old Miller, who has averaged over 12 sacks a season in six years in the league: Despite an eye-popping 18.5 sacks in 2012, Miller has never been the NFL's sack king.

Cornerback

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    Chris Harris, Denver Broncos

    Among NFL cornerbacks, Chris Harris of the Denver Broncos isn't one of the bigger names.

    He isn't even the highest-profile cornerback on his own team.

    However, when Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar ranked the NFL's best cornerbacks as part of his NFL1000 series, Harris topped the list.

    It isn't just Farrar who feels that way, either. Pro Football Focus ranked Harris as the highest-graded cornerback in all of the NFL last year, both overall and in pass coverage.

    Harris has been playing at an elite level for several years now. As a matter of fact, according to PFF, no cornerback in the NFL has allowed fewer yards per coverage snap than Harris over the last five years.

    Harris has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past three years, and he was named an All-Pro in each of those years as well—including a first-team nod in 2016.

    Denver's "No Fly Zone" is the best pass defense in the National Football League, largely because it has the best one-two punch at corner in Harris and Aqib Talib.

    But with all due respect to Talib, Harris is the top dog in the Mile High City due to his versatility. There are quite a few excellent boundary corners in the NFL, but the list of cornerbacks who are as good in the slot as they are on the outside isn't long.

    Harris tops it. 

               

    Best of the Rest

    Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs: Peters' aggressiveness still gets him in trouble from time to time, but since he entered the NFL in 2015, no player in the league has more interceptions than Peters' 14. He's the new king of the ball hawks.

    Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks: Sherman's grade of 13th at the position last year may be a sign that he isn't the player he once was. The trade rumors that swirled around him this offseason might be as well. But he's been one of the NFL's very best for the past six seasons.

    Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos: Per PFF, there wasn't a better player in pass coverage last year than Talib. He didn't give up a single touchdown in 2016 and allowed a passer rating against of just 49.5. Talib yielded just 351 receiving yards for the season.

Safety

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    Landon Collins, New York Giants

    New York Giants safety Landon Collins has officially arrived.

    In his second NFL season, Collins finished second in the league with 100 solo tackles. But all those stops were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    Collins also showed quite the nose for the big play. He intercepted five passes (returning one for a touchdown) and added four sacks. It was the first time in NFL history that a player has recorded at least 100 solo tackles, two sacks, five interceptions and 12 passes defended in the same season.

    That breakout season earned Collins All-Pro honors, but he told John Schmeelk of the team's website that he sees plenty of room for improvement in his game.

    "I want to get better reading my line of scrimmage reads, my technique, and being in the right place," Collins said. "There were a lot of plays where I could have been in a different place and made more plays. I could have had 10 picks if I had been where I needed to be. That's what I want to work on."

    Ten interceptions are a pretty tall order, but already Collins has shown to be just what NFL teams are looking for nowadays at safety: a player who can stuff the run at the point of attack without being a liability in coverage.

                   

    Best of the Rest

    Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs: Berry, who piled up 77 tackles last year with four interceptions, was third among all safeties in pass coverage, per PFF. Berry's recovery from cancer and return to Pro Bowl form is one of the NFL's best feel-good stories of the past few years.

    Devin McCourty, New England Patriots: McCourty doesn't have the notoriety of some of his compatriots at the safety position, but there isn't a better coverage player on the back end in the entire NFL than the converted cornerback.

    Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks: If you want to know just how valuable Thomas is to the "Legion of Boom," look no further than last year's playoff loss to the Falcons. With Thomas out with a broken leg, the Seattle secondary was shredded by Matt Ryan.

Special Teams

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    Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

    Now, I'm no special teams coach (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but I have a suggestion for NFL teams in 2017.

    Don't kick the ball to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

    It is, as they say, ill-advised.

    Among players with 10 or more kick returns last year, Hill's average of 27.4 yards per return ranked sixth. Among those with 10 or more punt returns, Hill averaged 15.2 yards—tops in the NFL.

    Three of Hill's returns ended with the Chiefs throwing six points on the scoreboard—also No. 1 in the league.

    Opponents won't have to worry about kickoffs in 2017. With Hill now the No. 1 receiver in K.C., special teams coordinator Dave Toub told Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk that Hill won't be returning kicks this season, although punts are still on the table.

    "We can't have him on kickoff return," Toub said. "We'd really like him to be our punt returner. I know Andy has a plan for him and we'll just follow Andy's plan.”

    The smart money says Hill will be out there for punts, if only because it's awfully hard to keep such a potent weapon in its scabbard.

    And that leaves punters with an easy call.

    Out of bounds, man. Out of bounds.

                  

    Best of the Rest

    Nate Ebner, S, New England Patriots: According to Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus, in addition to serving as the personal protector for Patriots punter Ryan Allen, Ebner led all special teamers with 14 tackles in 2016.

    Marquette King, P, Oakland Raiders: Not only was King third in gross punting average and seventh in net punting average for the Raiders in 2016, but the 28-year-old also gets 11 million bonus points for making punts entertaining. Who knew that was possible?

    Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens: The 27-year-old kicker missed all of one of his 39 attempts for the Ravens in 2016. From 40-plus yards out, Tucker was a staggering 24-of-24. I'm 73 percent convinced he's actually a robot.