This past Sunday's Super Bowl was the most watched championship game in NFL history and one of the most highly-rated primetime shows in television history as well, with an estimated 111 million viewers. It is clear that the NFL is one of the most powerful corporations on the planet, and it's popularity is only increasing.
What is it, though, that makes this game, which has seen so little fundamental change throughout its existence, the mega-conglomerate that it has clearly become? Many would argue that as the game has progressed through the years, the speed at which it is played has increased to an extreme degree. Many of today's players are also freakishly gifted when put into the heat of battle. Often, the combination of these two attributes, speed and skill, results in a player who viewers around the world will tune in to see on a weekly basis.
These 10 players have repeatedly shown the ability to take over a game at will and leave you wishing for a fifth quarter once the final whistle blows.
Having just finished his rookie season, I realize it is difficult to justify putting Ndamukong Suh on this list. However, being a Lions fan, I was fortunate enough to see every game he played in this year. Having witnessed the things he did on the field this season, I can not leave him off this list as he possesses qualities which make him undeniably special in the game today.
Aside from his unbelievable strength and size, he shows a sense of patience and feel for the game that many veterans spend years trying to perfect. His incredible timing allows him to shed blockers, often more than one, at a regular rate, and end up in the exact place he needs to be.
He was just a half sack shy of the all-time record for a defensive tackle in NFL history—a record that he will surely make a run at again in his career. He put such punishing hits on opposing quarterbacks that he received fines and often accusations of dirty play, yet he continued to play the game the only way he knows how—100 percent all the time. Suh will undoubtedly be one of the premier defensive players in the league for years to come.
If you have not yet witnessed the versatile weapon that is Jamaal Charles, then please, for your own sake, watch some highlight tape.
Charles is unquestionably one of the top-two or three gamebreaking threats at the halfback position across the entire league and is still somewhat below the radar. His breakout season in 2010 will surely bring this talented young rusher into the limelight, however, as he finished second in the league in rushing on a team which utilizes a two-back system. That means he was seeing less carries than a large portion of his competitors, yet still ran for more yards.
Charles' potential is limitless in the NFL as he possesses the ability to run inside, outside, catch passes and return kicks, all with equal danger to the opposing team. The Chiefs have struck gold with this back out of Texas and would be smart to hold on to him for as long as possible while they wade through the waters of QB uncertainty.
The young Steelers receiver from Ole Miss had a breakout year for the AFC champions and made it clear that he will be a force for defensive secondaries to reckon with for years to come.
Described by many as the fastest receiver they have ever played against, Wallace also displays outstanding leaping ability which allows him to elevate and make catches above defenders when he isn't busy running away from them.
He has quickly become Pittsburgh's most dangerous deep threat and is a perfect compliment to Hines Wards' hard-working style. In just his second year, Wallace consistently came up with long touchdown after long touchdown and made life a lot easier for the crafty Ben Roethlisberger on the way to the Super Bowl.
Wallace was selected in the third round of the NFL draft in 2009 and has proven to every team that passed on him what an awful, terrible, regretful decision they made in passing on him.
Bringing a bit more experience to the list is perennial Pro-Bowler Ray Lewis.
Proving that sometimes veteran savvy is more valuable than fresh rookie legs, Lewis continues to show that technique, drive and intensity can be the most valuable assets to an NFL defender. A master motivator, Lewis is often given the task of performing the pregame speech to his teammates. You would be hard pressed to find a single Raven not prepared for war after the speeches this man is capable of.
The reason Ray's words are so powerful is the fact that he is only expressing the thoughts that are going through his head on each and every play. Hard work, punishing hits and unquestionable leadership skills are some of Lewis' greatest attributes, and they allow him to remain one of the best linebackers in the NFL after a stellar 15-year career. His intensity is so apparent each week that he is one of the few defensive players in the league that you find yourself watching on every snap, regardless of what the offense is doing.
While questionable off the field occurrences have plagued Roethlisberger's career, one thing is for certain: he can do things on the football field that no other quarterback in the world can do.
His unique combination of size, strength and elusiveness make him arguably the most difficult player to prepare for in the entire NFL.
He has repeatedly shown the ability to shed menacing tacklers, run away from trouble and hit a receiver streaking down the field all in the same play. His stats don't lie as he has made it to three Super Bowls prior to turning 30, two of which he has left victorious. He is the kind of player that teammates love to play with and he truly gives it all on each and every play.
By the time he reaches the end of his career, it is reasonable to wonder if he will be among the all-time great quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.
While some running backs possess blazing speed, others are blessed with incredible strength.
Adrian Peterson is one of the few who is fortunate to have both weapons in his arsenal. He can run through defenders at the line of scrimmage with jaw-jarring stiff arms and then run away from the speediest of defensive backs on his way to monster touchdowns on a regular basis. If he can overcome his tendency to fumble the football, then he truly has the potential to become one of the greatest runners the NFL has ever seen.
With the Vikings quarterback position in such question heading into the 2011 season, it is fair to assume that Peterson will be receiving his most carries yet. This is something which has fans in Minnesota prepared to witness feats which have never been seen on a football field.
If Peterson performs the way he has shown he is capable of, then 2011 could be a season for the ages.
While it is fair to argue that putting Johnson above AP isn't justified, remember that this list is about excitement factor, and there is no running back in the league who can bring fans to their feet faster than the NFL's most recent 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson.
While his 2010 stats dropped following a historic '09 season, he still rattled off some unbelievable runs which left viewers questioning if there was a video game or actual game on their television screen. His ability to make people miss is matched by only a handful of players in the league
The Titans are having a strange offseason to say the least, and the next couple of years may prove to be underachieving for the speedster from East Carolina. However, you can still bet that each time he touches the football, there is potential for a show-stopping, jaw-dropping, eye-opening ramble down the field.
Another quarterback with off-the-field issues conflicting with on-the-field brilliance, Mike Vick is a once-in-a-lifetime talent in the NFL.
He possesses the speed and elusiveness of a running back and has finally coupled these with the patience and accuracy of a true pocket passer. In one of the greatest stories of redemption in sports history, Vick returned to the NFL after serving over a year in prison, and boy were fans of the game thankful to see him back.
He threw 11 touchdowns in his first 11 games in 2010 before throwing a single interception—a feat that is difficult to comprehend when you take into account the talent he was facing week in and week out at the cornerback position. Legal issues aside, Vick is a kind of talent that comes along very rarely in any professional sport, and it is great to see his talents back on the field. Nobody else in the league is capable of doing what he can do.
The third-and-final Steeler on the list is also the final defensive player.
Troy Polamalu is one player who transcends position while on the field and, quite literally, does whatever it is that he wants to do at any given time. He can stop the run like a linebacker. He can stop the pass like a corner. He can catch the ball like a receiver. He can return it with the vision of a running back. He was truly born to be a football player and continues to make some of the most astounding plays year in and year out.
On a team which has been one of the most successful over the past decade, Polamalu shines as the unquestionable most valuable player on the defensive side of the ball and may be more valuable than Big Ben in some situations as well. He is the most exciting defensive player in the league to watch and often is more fun to keep an eye on than the opposing teams' offense. His instincts are pure, and he follows them on the field as though he were an animal trained to stop the opposition.
On a list full of the most exciting players in the NFL, it is hard to pick just one to top the rest.
DeSean Jackson, however, is fully worthy of the place on top. A player who repeatedly finds himself in the right place at the right time, Jackson has made more lengthy game-breaking plays than any other player in the league since he arrived from California in 2008. His true speed is hard to determine as he appears to reach a different level each time he touches the ball, and he is almost impossible to catch once he's gone past you.
Whether it's an end around, deep toss or punt return, he is a legitimate threat to run through your entire team at any given moment. The combination of Jackson, Vick and running back LeSean McCoy give the Eagles one of the most dangerous offenses in recent memory.
He became the first player in NFL history to return a game-winning punt with no time on the clock this season against the New York Giants on a play that will forever be remembered by many as the most exciting of their lifetime following a remarkable fourth quarter comeback. After fumbling the ball and picking it up moving the wrong direction, he proceeded to zero in on a seam in the coverage team and run past everybody nearly untouched for the game-winning score.
This was just another unbelievable feat in the short career that Jackson has seen so far, and it is hard to imagine how he can improve beyond the level he has performed at up until this point. Stay tuned.