NFL: How Many Elite Players Does Each Team Really Have?
It is generally around this time of year that the first predictions or preseason power rankings are formed ahead of the NFL regular season. However, realistically that is impossible to do without a free-agency period.
Unfortunately, free agency doesn't look like happening any time soon. However, that doesn't stop us taking a look at which team has the most elite level talent heading into the season as things stand.
In an article that was inspired by Michael Lombardi's piece on NFL.com, I am going to try to find out which team has the best base of superstars from which to build heading into the season.
While my previous lists have caused some controversy, this list is based simply on the talent and what the player has shown in his career since then. There are no predictions nor will any of the team's moves around the player in question affect their ranking.
**Rankings are not in order; however, they are separated into a top 10 and then 11 to 15**Sam Bradford
The standout names on this list will all come in the second group. Matt Schaub just beat out Sam Bradford because of career longevity but there was no keeping Josh Freeman out of the top 10 after his amazing start to his career. Nobody has more fourth quarter comebacks than the Bucs young signal caller since he became a starter.
Tony Romo makes the list despite missing most of last year while Matt Cassell's efficiency from last season couldn't be denied. There will be no arguments with the placing of the other players on this list, I believe.
There were few surprises on the running backs list. Running backs are a dime a dozen these days, but these guys certainly stand out from the rest.
Pierre Thomas will probably cause some contention for some readers but Thomas is one of the most all around backs in the league. His 5.4 average in 2009 was a huge key to the Saints' Super Bowl victory.
Leonard Weaver has somewhat become the forgotten man in Philadelphia (well, for the onlooking national media at least). Weaver is the most dynamic full back in the league and will give the team another dimension as if they needed any more.
*Many players were worth being second tier but list is restricted to 15 so the best were chosen.
There will be a huge amount of contention on this list. No matter what 15 players I put here, there would be arguments either way. Guys like Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson may have had down years last year for various reasons, but they remain unique talents.
Kenny Britt was absolutely outstanding in Tennessee last year despite being hampered by injury, Vince Young, Kerry Collins and Rusty Smith. He may be a bit mental but aren't they all?
Zach Miller (OAK)
The inclusion of both Patriots tight ends is deserved. That offense revolves around the talented tight ends which reflects the unbelievable difficulty that defenses face matching up to them. Guys like Chris Cooley and Zach Miller have made it despite a lack of stability at the quarterback positions on their respective teams.
Williams may be a rookie and while many of the other tackle rankings have Okung on these lists, Williams' performances against DeMarcus Ware showed his potential. Once he is part of a decent offense he will be renowned across the whole league as an elite tackle.
Jared Gaither will be a point of contention considering he hasn't been on the field much in his career. However, when he was he was outstanding. Gaither is a brilliant left tackle who showed outstanding skills against James Harrison during the few occasions they went head-to-head.
Josh Sitton really came to prominence this past season with an All-Pro type of season. It may come as a surprise to see a name like Steve Hutchinson not making the top 15 but his play has begun to tail off as you would expect from a 33-year-old.
A lot of centers dominated this list. I figured it made more sense to pair the groupings together, however, instead of reaching and calling some players elite when they are not.
Sione Pouha will be the most debated inclusion here I would imagine. Pouha stepped in to the starting role for the Jets last season after Kris Jenkins went down with another torn ACL. The Jets defense didn't miss a beat with Pouha in the lineup as he played to an elite level.
Cullen Jenkins made the list despite being injury prone because he is a unique pass rusher from the defensive tackle/3-4 defensive end spot.
The rise of the 3-4 defense across the league would not have come about with the high quality nose tackles that are currently in the league with Wilfork, Hampton, Ngata, Seymour, Raji, Ratliff and Pouha all making this list.
Defensive end/Outside linebacker
*This category has been combined and includes 4-3 ends, 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers.
Jon Beason was listed as a 4-3 outside linebacker after playing there for the Panthers last season. The sack specialist position dominated this category which meant only a few 4-3 outside linebackers made the grade.
The old men just miss out on the top 10 as the changing of guard at the linebacker position has already happened in my mind. The incredibly talented youngsters led by Patrick Willis are making huge (and painful) impressions on the opposition week in and week out.
Lewis, Farrior and Urlacher are still very good players but to say that they haven't lost a step wouldn't be true.
*Aqib Talib would have made this list but he is highly unlikely to be playing in the NFL next year.
The selection of Joe Haden ahead of someone like Devin McCourty may come as a surprise but Haden was outstanding as a rookie. Despite only starting seven games he still managed to force seven turnovers while playing excellent coverage.
Corey Webster and Brandon Flowers are two players who don't receive national acclaim as much as some of the other players on this list but they are both elite cornerbacks. Webster doesn't get the picks but he is still going to be the Giants' best cover man despite the arrival of the Prince from Nebraska.
Kerry Rhodes may be a surprising selection but he made a huge impact for the Cardinals last season forcing eight turnovers. Rhodes returned to the form that made Rex Ryan believe he could be on Ed Reed's level (well, at least he said he did).
Jim Leonhard may also be a surprise but he is a vital part in that Jets defensive scheme. Leonhard is deserving as being considered one of the best in the league.
Mike Scifres may not have had a great season in San Diego last year but the breakdown in protection wasn't his fault. Scifres remains one of the best in the league.
Field goal kickers like Scobee, Carpenter and Janikowski may not have the best percentage but that is largely due to the range they can kick from. Vinatieri isn't considered one of the most talented kickers but there is still nobody else I want taking a last-gasp field goal.
Packers: (11) Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Chad Clifton, Josh Sitton, Cullen Jenkins(FA), BJ Raji, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Tramon WIlliams, Nick Collins.
Nobody can argue with the Super Bowl champions' lengthy list.
Steelers: (11) Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Wallace, Maurkice Pouncey, Heath Miller, Casey Hampton, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu.
It's no surprise that this team made the Super Bowl for the third time this past decade. The strength through the middle—Hampton, Farrior and Polamalu—in each game is a huge reason why.
Ravens: (10) Ray Rice, Le'Ron McClain(FA), Todd Heap, Matt Birk, Jared Gaither(FA), Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Sam Koch.
Billy Cundiff will have a legitimate gripe! Jared Gaither will be heavily featured in the comments I imagine.
Chargers: (9) Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Marcus McNeil, Louis Vasquez, Kevin Burnett, Antoine Cason, Eric Weddle(FA), Mike Scifres.
The Chargers are such a well rounded team, their defense doesn't have many big name stars but it has great all around consistency and no real soft spots.
Giants: (9) Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, David Diehl, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee, Barry Cofield, Justin Tuck, Corey Webster, Antrelle Rolle.
This Giants team is really talented...in certain positions.
Chiefs: (8) Matt Cassell, Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Brian Waters, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry.
The Chiefs tackles have a legitimate gripe at not making this list.
Dolphins: (8) Brandon Marshall, Jake Long, Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, Vontae Davis, Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields.
Mike Nolan is the hottest defensive coordinator in the league right now.
Jets: (8) Santonio Holmes(FA), Dustin Keller, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Sione Pouha, David Harris, Darrelle Revis, Jim Leonhard.
This team really needs Mark Sanchez to step up in his third season.
Patriots: (7) Tom Brady, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins (FA), Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty.
The Patriots are a team with a lot—and I really mean a lot—of guys that could crack these lists over the coming years but these are the seven that are there right now.
Saints: (6) Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans, Malcolm Jenkins.
This is obviously still an offense first team, defensive the secondary is very deep though but nobody outside of Jenkins could crack the top 15.
Colts: (6) Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Antoine Bethea, Adam Vinatieri.
The Colts have quite a few youngsters up and coming but they are still relying on the old heads, obviously.
Texans: (6) Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Vonta Leach(FA), Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans.
The transition to the 3-4 defense is really going to have to help that secondary.
Rams: (6) Sam Bradford, Stephen Jackson, Jason Brown, Fred Robbins, James Lauranaitis, Josh Brown.
The Rams have a good mixture of youth and experience. Watch for Roger Saffold to make the tackle list next year.
Raiders: (6) Darren McFadden, Zach Miller, Richard Seymour, Nnamdi Asomugha (FA), Shane Lechler, Sebastien Janikowski.
Who ya got? Richard Seymour or Nate Solder?
Falcons: (6) Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Curtis Lofton, Brent Grimes.
The Falcons may believe they were one receiver away from the Super Bowl, but their defense really needed more help.
Buccaneers: (5) Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Kellen Winslow, Donald Penn, Davin Joseph(FA).
An emerging team with a solid base. This list is set to grow over the coming years.
Cowboys: (5) Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, Matt McBriar.
Romo may not have the locker room in Dallas, but he's definitely the key to them getting back to the playoffs.
Redskins: (5) Chris Cooley, Brian Orakpo, Trent Williams, Oshiomogho Atogwe, London Fletcher.
You've got a big load to carry, fellas.
Jaguars: (4) Maurice Jones-Drew, Marcedes Lewis, Eugene Monroe, Josh Scobee.
The Jaguars have some solid pieces to build with one of the best young run blocking lines in the league.
49ers: (4) Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley, Patrick Willis.
The 49ers are perfectly set up to start a rookie quarterback with a strong running game, elite tight end and very good left tackle.
Bears: (4) Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher.
The Bears have a lot of players that just missed the cut in a few of the lists such as Chris Harris at safety and Anthony Adams at defensive tackle.
Panthers: (4) DeAngelo Williams(FA), Ryan Kalil, Jon Beason, Charles Godfrey.
There's no surprise this team needs Newton on offense.
Titans: (4) Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Michael Roos, Tony Brown.
The Titans are headed for a transition period, Chris Johnson is better off holding out.
Browns: (3) Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joe Haden.
A first choice corner and the best left tackle in the league puts this team in a better position than things initially appear.
Cardinals: (3) Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes.
Have I inadvertently just said the Cardinals have the best safety pairing in the league? I hope not!
Broncos: (2) Ryan Clady, Champ Bailey.
Josh MacDaniels has a lot to answer for.
Bills: (2) Kyle Williams, Donte Whitner.
This team is in much better shape than it was last year despite this low figure.
Bengals: (2) Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph(FA).
At least the secondary has some talent.
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