10 Most Versatile Players in the NFL

David AllisonContributor IIMarch 8, 2012

10 Most Versatile Players in the NFL

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    The guys in this slideshow are the NFL's version of the Swiss Army knife. They are used in a variety of situations and perform a number of roles for their teams.

    Historically, NFL players often played on both defense and offense and used their skills however they could to help their teams win games. Guys like Jim Brown, Sammy Baugh and Bronko Nagurski played a number of positions and were highly effective athletes all over the field. 

    While it isn't nearly as common as it once was, there are a number of current players who can seemingly do it all on the football field. 

    So stay sharp as we take a closer look at the 10 most versatile players in the NFL.

Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

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    Third-year man Julian Edelman is a multi-talented player for the New England Patriots. While he is ostensibly a receiver and kick returner, this past season he was used extensively by Bill Belichick as a cornerback.

    The Patriots secondary had been stricken by injuries and ineffectiveness, so the multi-talented Edelman was pressed into service.

    Belichick is notorious for coveting players who can perform a number of roles. Guys like Kevin Faulk and Wes Welker find a home with the Patriots. Edelman's speed and good hands make him a nice fit as a situational receiver, running back and return man.

    While he didn't perform excellently at cornerback, he was adequate enough to not get burned too often as a nickel back.

Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns

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    Joshua Cribbs is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league. He can do it all on offense and has even been known to play safety on defense occasionally.

    Cribbs is a hugely effective kick returner and can run the ball out of the backfield or can line up at receiver. He has also lined up at quarterback for Wildcat formations.

    Cribbs is the best player on the Cleveland Browns, and if the Browns ever develop any consistency under center, Cribbs could blossom into an even more impressive offensive weapon.

Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings

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    Percy Harvin has shown that he can perform a number of key roles for the Minnesota Vikings. From returning kicks to running and catching the ball, Harvin is thoroughly impressive with the football in his hands.

    While Harvin doesn't have the height or consistency to be an elite receiver, his speed and vision make him an incredible weapon for the Vikings.

    Harvin hasn't been used on defense yet, but it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for him to play corner at some point if he were pressed into service by need.

Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos

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    No matter what you think about Tebow's long-term prospects as a starting quarterback in the NFL, he is certainly a guy who could serve a number of roles for the Broncos.

    His accuracy and footwork is suspect, but he does have a gun for an arm and is one of the better quarterbacks with the ball in his hands when he tucks it and takes off.

    He got a little time at receiver when Kyle Orton was still a Bronco early in 2011 and injuries hit the team. Although he never hauled in a pass, his routes and speed off the snap were good enough to make him a threat.

    Many folks think that Tebow could be a hugely effective tight end or even a linebacker in the NFL. If his starting QB gig doesn't work out, he certainly has the physique and skills at the ready to make the transition to another position.

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals' Patrick Peterson took the NFL by storm last year as a tackle-shedding, amazingly fast return man. He made the Pro Bowl as a punt returner for the NFC this past season due to his four touchdowns and nice yardage average for his returns.

    In addition to his break-away speed and smooth jukes in the return game, Peterson is also an excellent cornerback. Peterson brings a nice physicality to the Cardinals' secondary and had two interceptions in 2011.

    As a younger player, Peterson will almost certainly continue to terrorize opposing teams' special teams. In addition, his skills at cornerback will improve and he'll be even more effective as an anchor for the Cardinals secondary.

Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

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    The diminutive Sproles is a threat to break out for big yardage every time he touches the ball. After playing in the shadow of LaDanian Tomlinson with the San Diego Chargers for the early part of his career, he finally busted into NFL fans' consciousness with the Saints this past year.

    Quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton have been thrilled to have the multi-talented Sproles as a new toy for their souped-up offense. Sproles is a great pass-catcher out of the backfield, is hugely dangerous in the return game and always seems to squeeze out yards on the ground when he gets the ball off a hand-off.

    Sproles' statistics speak loudly. In fact, they practically shout from the rooftops about his efficiency. Sproles had 603 yards on the ground with a 6.9 yards-per-carry average. He added another 710 yards through the air off of 86 receptions. He's not afraid of the end zone either, with seven touchdowns in 2011.

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

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    While we're examining running backs, we ought to give a shout out to Ray Rice. Rice is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL. He can run between the tackles, bounce to the outside with the ball, block for the passing game or swing out to catch the ball in space.

    It's like he's jasmine, brown, wild and basmati all in one short, muscle-bound package. (Get it? His last name is Rice. Sorry everyone.)

    When Ravens' offensive coordinator Cam Cameron got away from siphoning the offense through Rice last year, the team struggled. Rice is the true key for the Ravens offense. If Joe Flacco can develop more consistency and rapport with his receivers, their offense could become downright scary with Rice leading the way.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Newton had a plethora of doubters as he entered the NFL as a rookie last season. Some thought that his game wouldn't translate well to the professional level and that he wouldn't be able to make the throws necessary to keep the Panthers' offense moving downfield.

    Newton silenced those naysayers in short order in 2011. He showed that he can make plays with his quick legs or with his strong right arm.

    With a more-than-respectable 60 percent completion percentage and over 4,000 yards through the air on the season, Newton's chops as a passer are now unquestioned. He also rushed for 706 yards at a 5.9 yards-per-carry clip.

    Newton's versatility at quarterback last year has even inadvertently helped an NFL prospect. With Newton's immediate success, teams are looking more closely at Robert Griffin III as another Newton-style quarterback who could be a savior for their franchise. 

Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Although he hasn't found much consistency in his two years in the NFL, McCluster is a spectacularly talented receiver, running back and kick returner. His cluster of skills will make him an essential part of new head coach Romeo Crennel's offensive attack in 2012.

    McCluster had almost 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2011 and he has seemingly limitless potential to become another Darren Sproles-like player.

    Although he didn't return as many kicks in 2011 as he did in 2010, he can certainly be pressed into service in that role and can provide some dynamic moments on special teams.

Brad Smith, Buffalo Bills

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    How much the New York Jets missed Brad Smith this past season is a testament to his do-it-all usefulness.

    The Jets would have loved to throw Smith out there as a change-of-pace quarterback occasionally to spark their anemic offense in 2011. Instead, Smith was a key part of the Bills' offense last season.

    Smith returns kicks, lines up at wide receiver, takes snaps as a Wildcat quarterback and could probably kick a field goal if asked to do so.

    Smith's versatility makes him the ultimate Swiss Army knife for the Bills. His name may be boring and ubiquitous, but his many skills on the football field are anything but ordinary.

Honorable Mentions and Honorary Versatile Player

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    There are certainly some worthy fellows who I've left off of this slideshow. Here is my attempt to mollify some of the potential outcry for the guys who didn't make the final cut.

    Honorable Mention

    Devin Hester, Chicago Bears: He's still one of the most dangerous return guys in the league and has transformed himself into a nifty receiver as well.

    Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos: A supremely gifted athlete, the Broncos cornerback returned kicks earlier in his career and could swing over to safety and perform decently.

    Brian Westbrook, free agent: Although he's certainly in the twilight of his career, Westbrook was an amazing talent for the Philadelphia Eagles as a receiver and runner.

    He played sparingly for the San Francisco 49ers last year, but if he can regain his mid-career form, he can still contribute to another team.

    Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins: Bush is a quick-cutting running back who makes other players miss in space. He has great hands and can line up at receiver if needed.

    Honorary Versatile Player

    Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs: As a hard-hitting linebacker, Vrabel ranked in the upper echelon of NFL defenders. He also entered games as a tight end in goal line packages and ended his career with 10 receiving touchdowns.

    Vrabel carved out a unique place for himself on both sides of the ball, and even though he retired after the 2010 season, he's still the "Swiss standard" for versatile players of the past 15 years.