Which NFL Team Is Best at Every Position Group?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMay 30, 2017

Which NFL Team Is Best at Every Position Group?

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    In man caves and taverns across America every year, a debate rages. 

    Who is the best quarterback in the National Football League? Who is the most skilled wide receiver? Who is the NFL's most feared punter?

    OK, that last one only happens in punter bars. And you should stay away from punter bars. That's a rowdy bunch.

    But you don't often hear folks haggling over which team has the best quarterbacks. Or the best offensive guards. Or the best safeties.

    The argument is usually singular. But football is a team game. In the NFL, the whole is more important than the sum of its parts.

    With that bit of fortune cookie wisdom in mind, we're going plural here, with a spot-by-spot breakdown of the top teams at each position group for the 2017 season. 


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    New England Patriots (Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett)

    There isn't a position in the NFL that inspires more argument and discussion than quarterback. Not only do quarterbacks hog up all the money and awards, but they even hog up the barroom arguments.

    What a bunch of glory hogs.

    It's hard to argue against the notion that Tom Brady is the best quarterback playing today. Brady's coming off a suspension-shortened 2016 season in which he completed over 67 percent of his passes for over 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns.

    Brady set a pair of NFL records last year. He passed for 28 touchdowns against just two interceptions, the best ratio in league history in that regard.

    And he became the first quarterback ever to win five Super Bowls.

    Still, there are those who will dispute Tom Terrific's status as top dog among signal-callers, despite the fact Brady is fourth all-time in both passing yardage and touchdowns. Head north and some will say it's Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Move south and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints will get some run.

    However, even if you think Brady isn't the no-doubt top starter in the NFL, it's difficult to dispute the Patriots have an edge when you consider the totality of the position group.

    If Rodgers goes down, Brett Hundley takes the field and the Packers are grilled cheese. If Brees falters, the newly acquired Chase Daniel would step in.

    That's better, but it still isn't good.

    But with Brady in the principal's office last year, Jimmy Garoppolo showed enough in game action that the Cleveland Browns spent most of the offseason trying to trade for him.

    When Garoppolo went down too, third-stringer Jacoby Brissett came in and led New England to a 27-0 win over a Houston Texans team that went on to win the AFC South.

    Argue the king of the starters all you want. But when it comes to the quarterback group as a whole, the Pats are a lock at No. 1.

    Honorable Mention: New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees, Chase Daniel, Garrett Grayson), Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan)

Running Backs

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    New Orleans Saints (Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Travaris Cadet, John Kuhn)

    The New Orleans Saints have long been known as a passing team. But the times they are a changin' in the Big Easy.

    The Saints were already in possession of a 1,000-yard tailback in Mark Ingram, who had the best season of his career in 2016, averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry. But the Saints didn't stand pat in the backfield in the offseason.

    Far from it.

    First the team added a future Hall of Famer at the position in Adrian Peterson. It's no guarantee the 32-year-old Peterson will return to form after an injury-marred 2016, but Saints fullback John Kuhn (one of the league's best at the position) told ESPN.com's Mike Triplett that Peterson has looked impressive in OTAs.

    “He looks the same way he looked when I was watching him from the other sideline for all those years," Kuhn said. "He looks like the same old AP, and I’m just excited to see him in the same team colors.”

    The Saints weren't done yet. New Orleans traded up in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft to select Tennessee tailback Alvin Kamara, who averaged over 5.5 yards a carry and scored 13 total touchdowns for the Volunteers. In addition to providing depth in the backfield behind Ingram and Peterson, Kamara's receiving ability offers the Saints a player capable of filling the Reggie Bush/Pierre Thomas third-down back role from recent seasons.

    Had the Atlanta Falcons not let Pro Bowl fullback Patrick DiMarco depart in free agency, they may have gotten the nod here. Atlanta's one-two punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is probably the best such duo in the NFL. The combination of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in Tennessee is impressive as well.

    But the Saints are now three deep in the backfield with an excellent fullback to boot.

    Honorable Mention: Atlanta Falcons (Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Brian Hill, Terron Ward, Derrick Coleman), Tennessee Titans (DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen, Khalfani Muhammad, Jalston Fowler)

Wide Receivers

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Pittsburgh Steelers (Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers)

    There wasn't a harder position in the NFL to handicap for this article than wide receiver. A lot of teams, at the very least, have a potent duo. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans in Tampa. Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. in New York. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in Denver. And so on.

    The Green Bay Packers are loaded at the position. Jordy Nelson has topped 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in three of his past five seasons. Davante Adams had a coming-out party in 2016, piling up 12 scores of his own. And Randall Cobb is one of the more dangerous slot receivers in the NFL.

    The New England Patriots were already deep at wideout but lacked a true No. 1 receiver. They solved that problem in the offseason, trading for Brandin Cooks, who topped 1,100 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

    But the top spot goes to the team with the best player at the position in football.

    Antonio Brown couldn't have been more consistent over the past four years if he were a robot. In fact, I'm beginning to think Brown is some sort of pass-snaring android.

    Brown's average season over that span is staggering: 120 catches for 1,579 yards and 11 scores.

    That's his average! With coverage constantly draped all over him!

    Brown is the ringleader in the Steel City and far and away the team's best receiver. But he isn't a one-man band.

    Martavis Bryant sat out all of last season because of a suspension, but before that ban the 25-year-old was emerging as one of the NFL's best deep threats. In two NFL seasons, Bryant has found the end zone on 14 of his 76 career catches and has 10 grabs of 40 or more yards. Sammie Coates is also more than capable of taking the top off a defense, averaging over 20 yards a catch last year.

    Throw in a pair of underneath targets in Eli Rogers and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Ben Roethlisberger will have no shortage of options when he drops back to pass in 2017.

    I'd throw to No. 84, but that's just me.

    Honorable Mention: Green Bay Packers (Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis), New England Patriots (Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell)

Tight Ends

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    New England Patriots (Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy)

    We are living in the Age of Gronk.

    There's little question that when he's healthy, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots is the best tight end in the NFL. In 15 games in both 2014 and 2015, Gronkowski topped 1,100 receiving yards and posted at least 11 receiving touchdowns.

    The problem with Gronk has been durability. The 28-year-old has missed at least half the season in two of the past four years, including eight games a year ago.

    However, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told Mike Reiss of ESPN.com that Gronkowski is back to his old self in OTAs.

    “He looks like Gronk,” McDaniels said. “He’s involved in everything.”

    In recent seasons the Patriots have made a point of keeping a Plan B on hand in case Gronk gets hurt again. Last year it was Martellus Bennett. This year it's Dwayne Allen, who the Pats acquired in an offseason trade with the Indianapolis Colts.

    Allen's had some injury issues of his own. The sixth-year veteran hasn't played in 16 games since his rookie season, missing 23 games over the last four years.

    When on the field though, Allen has shown to be a dangerous red-zone threat, including six touchdowns on just 35 catches in 2016.

    The Los Angeles Chargers have an interesting youth/experience combo in second-year pro Hunter Henry and 42nd-year pro Antonio Gates.

    OK, maybe he isn't that old.

    And the Washington Redskins are three deep with viable receiving options at the position with Pro Bowler Jordan Reed, veteran Vernon Davis and Niles Paul.

    But if he's healthy, it's Gronk's world. The rest of us are just living in it.

    Honorable Mention: Washington Redskins (Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, Vernon Davis), Los Angeles Chargers (Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath)

Offensive Tackles

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Tennessee Titans (Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly, Tyler Marz)

    The Tennessee Titans are a team on the rise. Had quarterback Marcus Mariota not broken his leg late last year, the Titans may well have made the playoffs just one year after having the NFL's worst record.

    Many would point to Mariota as the foundation for that rebound. Or tailbacks DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.

    But the true foundation of Mike Mularkey's "exotic smashmouth" offense is the young tackle duo of Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin.

    In just under 1,000 snaps last year, Lewan ranked as the seventh-best tackle in the NFL per the graders at Pro Football Focus. Conklin did him one better. In addition to checking in one slot better than Lewan overall, Conklin was the highest-graded right tackle in the league.

    As a rookie.

    As Jim Wyatt reported for Titans Online, Lewan and Conklin have a fan in Peter King of the MMQB.

    “The reason I really like Tennessee is because of the meat and potatoes of this team,” King said. “Who right now has a better young left and right tackle in football? I don’t think anybody, including Dallas and the teams that are really celebrated on the offensive line. I think they’re the best."

    I agree. The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders might have better lines overall, and in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson the Philadelphia Eagles are probably the best in the NFC at the tackle spot.

    But when it comes to best in the NFL, youth is being served in Nashville.

    Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders (Donald Penn, Austin Howard, Marshall Newhouse, David Sharpe), Philadelphia Eagles (Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Dillon Gordon, Halapoulivaati Vaitai)

Offensive Guards

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns (Joel Bitonio, Kevin Zeitler, Spencer Drango, John Greco)

    According to Pro Football Focus, perennial Pro Bowler Zack Martin of the Dallas Cowboys was the highest-graded right guard in the NFL last year.

    No argument here. A strong case can be made that the 26-year-old Martin is the best guard in football period.

    Among left guards who made more than 10 starts on that side of the line, Kelechi Osemele of the Raiders received the league's highest grade in his first year in Oakland.

    Again, no argument here. If you're going to dispute Martin's status as the best guard in the league, Osemele and Marshal Yanda of the Baltimore Ravens are the two names you'll most often hear mentioned.

    However, we aren't judging guards individually. And when you start talking about the best pair of guards in the NFL, the conversation turns to an unusual place.


    The Browns spent big on the offensive line in free agency, and the centerpiece of those additions was Kevin Zeitler, who made the trip up Interstate 71 from Cincinnati. In almost 1,100 snaps for the Bengals in 2016, Zeitler allowed just one sack and graded sixth at the position.

    The 2016 season was a wash for left guard Joel Bitonio, who missed six or more games for the second year in a row. However, when he's on the field, the fourth-year pro has quickly become one of the best in the business. In his lone full season in 2014, Bitonio was a top-five guard, allowing just one sack and three quarterback hits all season long.

    The Browns also have an excellent "swing" option at the position in 10th-year veteran John Greco, who can back up both Bitonio and Zeitler and who was a top-25 guard in his own right a year ago.

    Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders (Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, Oni Omoile, Vadal Alexander), Dallas Cowboys (Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Emmett Cleary, Jonathan Cooper)


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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Dallas Cowboys (Travis Frederick, Joe Looney)

    When judging the center position, it's essentially an individual competition. Whereas many guards and tackles will at least get the occasional break, most NFL teams are loathe to swap out the only player who touches the ball on every snap beside the quarterback.

    And from an individual standpoint, it's hard to pick against Travis Frederick of the Dallas Cowboys.

    As then-Bleacher Report writer Erik Frenz wrote back when the Cowboys made Frederick the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, it was a selection that was almost universally blasted.

    B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller didn't mince words. "I hate this pick," he said.

    We've all been dining on crow ever since.

    As a rookie, Frederick graded sixth among all centers at PFFThe following year he allowed just one sack and ranked first. The year after that he didn't allow any sacks and ranked second. Last year was another goose-egg and a ranking of third.

    Over his last three NFL seasons, in well over 3,000 snaps, Frederick has allowed all of one sack.

    Atlanta's Alex Mack is great at what he does. So is Oakland's Rodney Hudson. Both were key acquisitions that have helped turn the Falcons and Raiders into Super Bowl contenders.

    But Frederick is the best in the game. The rock in the center of the best offensive line in the NFL.

    Honorable Mention: Atlanta Falcons (Alex Mack, Ben Garland), Oakland Raiders (Rodney Hudson, Jon Feliciano)

Defensive Ends

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    New York Giants (Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Devin Taylor, Romeo Okwara)

    This was one of the tougher calls to make in this article. Given the importance of getting after the quarterback in today's NFL, more than a few teams have invested significant resources in the defensive front.

    The New York Jets have three ends who have made Pro Bowl appearances in Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams. But Wilkerson is coming off a miserable season, and the Jets are making every effort to trade Richardson, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, so they miss the cut.

    The Seattle Seahawks terrific trio of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark combined for 26.5 sacks in 2016. Clark is a young star on the rise, while Bennett's versatility makes him one of the more underrated players at his position in the NFL.

    Not good enough.

    The Minnesota Vikings have assembled a defense loaded from front to back with young talent. That's especially true on the defensive line, where Danielle Hunter's 12.5-sack explosion spearheaded a 28-sack year for the trio of Hunter, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.

    Not good enough.

    Based solely on sack production, the New York Giants might seem an odd choice as the top group of defensive ends. Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul and Romeo Okwara combined for just 16.5 a season ago. Devin Taylor was allowed to depart to the Detroit Lions in free agency after a disappointing season in 2016.

    But among 4-3 defensive ends last year, both JPP and Vernon placed within the top five at Pro Football Focus. Both ends slotted inside the top 12 in run defense and top six as pass-rushers.

    The Giants' ends are as versatile as they are talented. Equally adept at chasing quarterbacks and stuffing the run.

    Add in their depth, and it's Big Blue who rate the best at defensive end.

    Honorable Mention: Minnesota Vikings (Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Danielle Hunter, Datone Jones), Seattle Seahawks (Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Shaneil Jenkins)

Defensive Tackles

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, Clinton McDonald, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu)

    Before I go any further, it's necessary to address the elephant in the room.

    Over the past three seasons, Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams has unquestionably been the best defensive tackle in football. He's piled up 28 sacks over that span. Last year, he was the highest-graded player in the NFL at Pro Football Focus, and it wasn't close.

    A year ago, I'd have listed the Rams here if the starters at tackle were Donald and me.

    And I wouldn't fare so well in the trenches, folks.

    However, with the move to Wade Phillips' 3-4 in Los Angeles, Donald could be seeing a lot of time at end. The depth charts at Rotoworld have already flipped Donald to that spot.

    So given that uncertainty I decided to omit Donald, albeit while providing some rationale why.

    Given the differences in the respective schemes, it's not surprising that the teams with the NFL's best defensive tackles play the 4-3. This isn't to say there aren't any good 3-4 nose tackles, but in many cases their role is more to take up space and occupy blockers than to wreak havoc in their own right.

    There are some excellent DT tandems in the league today. The Philadelphia Eagles appear to have assembled one in Fletcher Cox and free-agent acquisition Timmy Jernigan. Carolina's Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short entered the NFL together and have anchored the Panthers' front ever since.

    As Bonnie Mott of Bucs Wire reported, there's no harsher critic of Tampa's Gerald McCoy than McCoy himself.

    "I’m not one to point fingers, I’m not one to make excuses," McCoy said. "I’m one to, after they said to go look at all of my fourth quarters over the past two years—the great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter. The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it’s necessary. If I want to be considered one of those guys when my career is over, that’s what has to be done."

    McCoy might not toot his own horn, but I'll do it. He's one of the best 3-techs in the game. And with free-agent acquisition Chris Baker and ninth-year veteran Clinton McDonald (who combined for seven sacks last year) rotating opposite McCoy, it's going to be hard to make hay up the middle against the Buccaneers in 2017.

    Honorable Mention: Carolina Panthers (Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Eric Crume, Vernon Butler); Philadelphia Eagles (Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Elijah Qualls)

4-3 Linebackers

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Carolina Panthers (Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, Ben Jacobs, David Mayo, Jared Norris)

    I struggled with how to assess the linebackers. I finally decided that the best way to do so would be to compare 4-3 teams to 4-3 teams and 3-4 clubs to 3-4 clubs. Apples to apples and all that.

    And when it comes to the 4-3 apples, nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina.

    Sure, the Seattle Seahawks have a strong LB corps anchored by middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who led the NFL with 167 total tackles last year. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a solid cadre with youngsters Telvin Smith and Myles Jack and warhorse Paul Posluszny.

    But the Panthers have a Luke Kuechly.

    In all five of his NFL seasons, Kuechly has topped 100 tackles, including a 2016 season in which he missed six games because of a concussion. The 26-year-old has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the past four years and won the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

    Kuechly told ESPN.com's David Newton that he isn't going to alter his playing style after suffering concussions each of the last two years.

    "You play the game and don't think about getting hurt because that slows you down and increases the likelihood of getting hurt," the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year said Thursday after the third day of organized team activities. "I don't think about it. You just go out there and play."

    Veteran Thomas Davis is one of the toughest players in the league, and even at 34 years old Davis racked up at least 100 stops last year for the fifth straight time. Youngster Shaq Thompson has quietly become one of the better SAM linebackers in the NFL, earning the highest grade in the NFL among 4-3 strong-siders from PFF.

    With A.J. Klein moving on in free agency, the Panthers don't have the depth at the position they did before, but I still can't slot anyone ahead of them.

    After all, they have a Luke Kuechly.


    Honorable Mention: Jacksonville Jaguars (Paul Posluszny, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, Audie Cole, Blair Brown, Lerentee McCray), Seattle Seahawks (Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Cassius Marsh, Arthur Brown, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Ronald Powell)

3-4 Linebackers

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    John Cordes/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals (Chandler Jones, Deone Bucannon, Karlos Dansby, Markus Golden, Kareem Martin, Haason Reddick, Gabe Martin, Jarvis Jones)

    I'll freely acknowledge that I surprised myself here. I didn't expect to settle on the Arizona Cardinals as the best group of 3-4 linebackers in the NFL.

    I thought maybe it would be the Denver Broncos, who have arguably the NFL's most feared pass-rusher in Von Miller, an up-and-coming batterymate in Shane Ray and a couple of underrated inside linebackers in Brandon Marshall or Todd Davis.


    Or maybe the Washington Redskins, who sport good three-deep rotations both outside (Trent Murphy, Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith) and inside (Will Compton, Mason Foster and newcomer Zach Brown, who led the AFC in tackles in 2016).

    Again, nope.

    At outside linebacker in Arizona, the Cardinals have a pair of edge-rushers who combined for 23.5 sacks last year in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, as well as a pair of Day 2 picks capable of spelling them in Kareem Martin and Jarvis Jones.

    Inside the Cardinals have a blend of youth and experience. Veteran Karlos Dansby is on his third stint with the team, and he had 114 total tackles for the Bengals last year. Even in a down 2016 in which he missed three games, Deone Bucannon tallied 91 tackles in 2016. And first-round rookie Haason Reddick may prove to be the best of the bunch, as his versatility is perfectly suited to an Arizona defense that likes to mix things up.

    It was a close call (that bunch in the nation's capital is sneaky good, and Von Miller is easily the best individual player of the lot), but the Redbirds get my vote. 

    Honorable Mention: Denver Broncos (Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson, Vontarrius Dora), Washington Redskins (Ryan Kerrigan, Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Will Compton, Chris Carter, Trent Murphy)


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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos (Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, Taurean Nixon, Lorenzo Doss, Brendan Langley)

    If the 3-4 linebackers were a surprise, the cornerbacks, um, weren't.

    It's hard to pick against the "No-Fly Zone."

    No team in the NFL allowed fewer passing yards in 2016 than the Denver Broncos. They were the only team in the league to surrender fewer than 200 passing yards per game.

    That's largely due to the best trio of cornerbacks in football.

    Of the 119 qualifying cornerbacks in the NFL last year at Pro Football Focus, the Broncos slotted two in the top five. Chris Harris allowed just 53.6 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and had a passer rating against of less than 70.

    Four-time Pro Bowler Aqib Talib did him one better. Not only did Talib allow just 53 percent of the passes directed at him to be completed, but his passer rating against didn't even hit 50.

    As defensive coordinator Joe Woods told Andrew Mason of the team's website, potential No. 4 cornerback Lorenzo Doss has also been playing well in OTAs.

    "The thing that he proved last year when he did play was that when he gets on the field, he has the potential [and] the instincts to make plays on the ball. That's just his nature," Woods said. "So the biggest thing for him is to continue on that same progress."

    The New York Giants have a deep stable of talented cover men, and with the acquisition of Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots have a chance in 2017 to take a run at Denver for the title of the league's best corners.

    Because heaven forbid the Patriots not be great at everything.

    But if they want that title, they're going to have to take it. 

    Honorable Mention: New England Patriots (Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones), New York Giants (Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Valentino Blake, Michael Hunter, Donte Deayon)


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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Seattle Seahawks (Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson)

    Well, duh.

    For years, three Pro Bowl players have formed the foundation for Seattle's vaunted "Legion of Boom" defense.

    Two of those stars hold down the back end.

    After breaking his leg last year, there were reports that free safety Earl Thomas was considering retirement. But back in March he told Ed Werder (then of ESPN) that he had decided to play again in 2017.

    "I'm coming back to prove I'm the best," Thomas said. "I'm coming back to help my team win a championship."

    With Thomas on the shelf last year, the secondary was a shadow of its usually stingy self.

    Kam Chancellor is battling some injury woes of his own. The 29-year-old missed four games last year with a pulled groin, and Chancellor had surgery on both ankles in the offseason.

    But even at less than 100 percent last year, Chancellor still amassed 85 total tackles and two interceptions while grading out third among all safeties at Pro Football Focus.

    The Seahawks added a measure of insurance against an injury to one of those stars by signing Bradley McDougald in free agency. McDougald is no world-beater, but the 26-year-old can man both safety spots and has 36 career starts under his belt.

    The cold reality is that "The Legion of Boom" is in its twilight most likely. And there are other great safety tandems out there, like Tyrann Mathieu and Antoine Bethea in Arizona, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in Baltimore and Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in Green Bay.

    But for one more year at least, the Emerald City reigns supreme at the position.

    Honorable Mention: Arizona Cardinals (Tyrann Mathieu, Antoine Bethea, Tyvon Branch, Budda Baker); Baltimore Ravens (Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, LaDarius Webb, Otha Foster)

Kicking Game

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    Baltimore Ravens (Sam Koch, Justin Tucker)

    Obviously, the average fan doesn't tend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of NFL kickers and punters.

    However, if you've paid any attention at all to the NFL over the past five years, you should know that Justin Tucker is about as good as it gets at putting the biscuit in the basket.

    Of his 39 field-goal attempts in 2016, Tucker missed all of once. He was a perfect 10-of-10 from 50 yards or more, and Tucker was a perfect 27-of-27 on extra-point attempts.

    Combined with Sam Koch, who was the fifth-ranked punter in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus, after dropping 36 punts inside the 20-yard-line, the Baltimore Ravens have the finest pair of feet in the National Football League.

    OK, that sounded a little weird.

    Honorable Mention: Carolina Panthers (Andy Lee, Graham Gano), Dallas Cowboys (Chris Jones, Dan Bailey)

Return Game

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Kansas City Chiefs (Tyreek Hill, De'Anthony Thomas)

    Like it was going to be anyone else.

    Tyreek Hill didn't just burst onto the scene as a rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs. He exploded like a supernova.

    In addition to 61 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns, Hill quickly became one of the most dangerous return men in football.

    Actually, the most dangerous return man in football—by a wide margin.

    Among players with over 10 kickoff returns, Hill's 27.4-yards-per-return average ranked sixth, about four yards a pop less than league leader Cordarrelle Patterson's in Minnesota.

    Hill also led all players with more than 10 punt returns, at 15.2 yards per. Between kickoffs and punts, Hill found the end zone three timesalso the best in the NFL.

    Hill's receiving numbers should be better in the second year of his career, but those return numbers will be difficult to duplicate.

    It would be unwise to kick it to him in 2017.

    Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders (Cordarrelle Patterson, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington); Seattle Seahawks (Tyler Lockett, J.D. McKissic, Paul Richardson)