Which NFL Team Is Best at Every Position Group?

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2018

Which NFL Team Is Best at Every Position Group?

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    No NFL roster is stacked at every position, but most teams are rich in at least one spot. Here, we're looking at all 32 depth charts to determine which teams have the best stable for each position.

    We're looking for the best starters first here, with a focus on recency (2017 production takes precedence over two or three years ago). We're also taking note of trends to not get fooled by seasons that were likely aberrations. Then we're taking backups into consideration.

    The 2018 draft class will be considered for depth more than anything. We can't yet say a first-year ball-carrier would vault a running back stable to the top spot before he plays a single down.

    Finally, long-term injuries play a factor, specifically for starters. Oftentimes, recovery timetables are uncertain, which leaves roster gaps for indefinite periods. League suspensions bare less of an effect because we know when the ban starts and ends.

       

Quarterbacks: Philadelphia Eagles

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    Depth chart: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Joe Callahan

    It's hard to debate against the Philadelphia Eagles in the quarterback category. Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles will remain the backup behind Carson Wentz, who played at an MVP level before tearing his ACL.

    Most teams would expect a significant drop off from their starter and No. 2 signal-caller. The Eagles completed an improbable championship run with their reserve quarterback. No other team comes close to that type of security at the position. 

    Philadelphia expects Wentz to make a full recovery from an ACL tear, but the team doesn't have to rush him back into action with Foles on call. 

    Runner-Up: New York Jets

    The New York Jets have three QBs who all have legitimate shots to start.

    Last year, Josh McCown proved he's still a decent stopgap option. Teddy Bridgewater has been to the playoffs and may still see better days ahead with an opportunity to take the field. Sam Darnold, arguably the best rookie quarterback in the draft, fell to Gang Green at No. 3. 

Running Backs: New Orleans Saints

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    Depth Chart: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Williams, Daniel Lasco, Boston Scott, Trey Edmunds, Zach Line (FB)

    The New Orleans Saints finished fifth in rushing last year, 192 total yards behind the No. 1 Jacksonville Jaguars. However, quarterbacks for the top four teams in the category all accounted for at least 302 yards. 

    Drew Brees scrambled for just 12 yards, which left all the groundwork to the running backs. Mark Ingram rushed for a career-high 1,124 yards, which ranked fifth in 2018.

    Alvin Kamara won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with 1,901 all-purpose yards. He ranked third in the category behind running backs Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell.

    Once Ingram returns to action from a four-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy, the Saints backfield will feature the best one-two punch. Zach Line's exceptional blocking adds the final touch to the No. 1 rank at the position. 

         

    Runner-Up: New England Patriots

    The Patriots running back stable doesn't have a single proven standout performer. Nonetheless, as a group, it's the most versatile backfield in the league. The coaching staff could use a combination of six tailbacks—James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden—to expose matchup advantages in a variety of scenarios.

Wide Receivers: Oakland Raiders

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    Depth Chart: Amari Cooper, Martavis Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton, Ryan Switzer, Marcell Ateman, Dwayne Harris, Keon Hatcher, Saeed Blacknall

    Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert sent Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a third-round pick on Day 1 of the draft. Two days later, Oakland swapped interior defender Jihad Ward for Ryan Switzer. 

    Switzer further strengthens the wide receiver unit as a top-notch returner. He finished 2017 ranked seventh in yards and fielded a punt for a score.

    The Raiders will field a trio featuring Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and Bryant. There's skepticism concerning a decline in the former Green Bay Packer's production, but the drop-off between Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley certainly contributed to a poor season.

    Nelson tied wideout DeAndre Hopkins to lead the league with six touchdowns through the first six weeks of the 2017 campaign. 

    All of a sudden, Oakland has a solid trio plus a spark plug on special teams. If the team holds on to its former slot receiver Seth Roberts, that will be extra production as the fourth or fifth pass-catcher on the depth chart. 

         

    Runner-Up: Los Angeles Chargers

    The Los Angeles Chargers are a close second with their depth. If Keenan Allen stays healthy and Mike Williams fulfills expectations, we may have a new leader in the category. 

Tight Ends: New England Patriots

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    Depth Chart: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Will Tye, Ryan Izzo, Jacob Hollister, Shane Wimann

    The Patriots have a cheat code in tight end Rob Gronkowski in the passing attack. His attention to detail in blocking goes unnoticed, too. He's been nicked with injuries over the past few seasons, but Dwayne Allen can fill in the gaps when the four-time All-Pro misses time going forward.

    Allen didn't provide much in the passing game last year, but he played a major role in the ground attack, sealing the edge. If necessary, he can revert to the receiving threat who racked up 126 catches for 1,451 yards and 19 touchdowns between the 2012-16 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

    Will Tye flies under the radar, but he's another viable receiving option. The fourth-year tight end recorded 90 receptions for 859 yards and four touchdowns with the New York Giants in his first two seasons. Mark him down as an unheralded contributor in the aerial attack for the upcoming campaign.

         

    Runner-Up: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Few tight end groups come close to the Patriots trio, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers duo of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard has potential if the latter improves his blocking technique. The pair led the team in touchdown catches with six for the 2017 season.

Offensive Line: Philadelphia Eagles

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    Starters: Jason Peters (OT), Stefen Wisniewski (OG), Jason Kelce (C), Brandon Brooks (OG), Lane Johnson (OT)

    Reserves: Isaac Seumalo, Chance Warmack, Toby Weathersby, Taylor Hart, Darrell Greene, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Aaron Evans, Jon Toth, Ian Park, Matt Pryor, Jordan Mailata

    Philadelphia's offensive line didn't show many holes last year. Eagles quarterbacks took 36 sacks last year. Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled at both tackle positions in pass protection through 16 appearances. Assuming blindside protector Jason Peters returns to action in Pro Bowl form, the starting quarterback will take fewer hits. 

    The Eagles also fielded the No. 3 rushing offense in 2017. Running backs garner the spotlight, but give credit to a strong interior unit and solid blocking on the perimeter.

    Right guard Brandon Brooks earned his first Pro Bowl invite. Center Jason Kelce finished the year as an All-Pro. The running backs targeted the left end 23 percent of the time, which tied the Chicago Bears as the highest proportion among all teams rushing toward that area on the offensive line, per Football Outsiders.

         

    Runner-Up: Atlanta Falcons

    The Atlanta Falcons came close to the top spot. Quarterback Matt Ryan only took 24 sacks last season, though the rushing offense didn't look as strong with a major hole at right guard. The front office signed Brandon Fusco to fill the position, but he's a serviceable bandage at the moment. 

    When matched against the Eagles offensive linemen, Philadelphia's group has the edge in starting-caliber talent. 

Defensive Front (Interior, Defensive Ends/Edge-Rushers): Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Starters: Yannick Ngakoue (DE), Malik Jackson (DT), Abry Jones (NT), Calais Campbell (DE)

    Reserves: Marcell Dareus, Dante Fowler, Taven Bryan, Dawuane Smoot, Hunter Dimick, Carroll Phillips, Eli Ankou, Michael Bennett, Michael Hughes, Kapron Lewis-Moore

    For this position, interior defenders, defensive ends and edge-rushers have been combined to form the defensive front. We'll focus on players on the line of scrimmage and those targeting quarterbacks.

    It's almost splitting hairs with the Jaguars and Eagles defensive lines. The Minnesota Vikings also came to mind, but their group doesn't have the comparable depth to other two units.

    The Jaguars earned the name Sacksonville for a reason. Marcell Dareus and Dante Fowler, who doubled his sack count from two seasons ago, played approximately 45 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2017. 

    On any other club, both defenders would likely play the majority of snaps as starters. The Jaguars added defensive tackle Taven Bryan's upside to strengthen the depth up front.

         

    Runner-Up: Philadelphia Eagles

    The Eagles released Vinny Curry and acquired Michael Bennett in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, but there's uncertainty around his availability with an assault case still under investigation. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan will miss four to six months due to offseason back surgery, per ESPN's Adam Schefter and Field Yates

    The potential absences elevate the Eagles reserves into starting positions across the defensive line. Meanwhile, the Jaguars unit returns healthy and intact for another strong campaign.

Off-Ball Linebackers: Seahawks

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    Depth Chart: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Barkevious Mingo, Dadi Nicolas, D.J. Alexander, Shaquem Griffin, Jacob Pugh, Emmanuel Beal, Warren Long

    Teams line up in nickel packages more than base alignments to counter passing attacks.

    It's not uncommon for two off-ball linebackers to drop into coverage, leaving a pair of defensive ends or edge-rushers and two interior defenders to disrupt the play up front. It resembles a 4-2-5 alignment in nickel coverage.

    Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright should garner more spotlight in the middle of the defense. As off-ball linebackers, they're not piling up sacks, but neither player spends extensive time on the sideline due to schematic limitations.

    Wagner and Wright can sniff out the run on early downs and cover in space against the pass. The former played 93 percent of the team's snaps and the latter took the field for 87 percent in 2017.

         

    Runner-Up: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers take a close second with a solid trio at linebacker. Luke Kuechly's exceptional play pushes Carolina's group to 1A, though Shaq Thompson hasn't quite reached his peak yet. Despite Thomas Davis' violation for performance-enhancing drugs, he's still playing at a Pro Bowl level. Still, the 35-year-old slots a level below Wright defending the run or pass.

Defensive Backs: Minnesota Vikings

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    Starters: Xavier Rhodes (CB), Harrison Smith (S), Andrew Sendejo (S) Trae Waynes (CB), Terence Newman (NB)

    Reserves: Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Marcus Sherels, Holton Hill, Jack Tocho, Trevon Mathis, Craig James, Horace Richardson, Jayron Kearse, Anthony Harris, Tray Matthews

    Debaters can make legitimate claims for the Los Angeles Rams, Vikings and Jaguars for best secondary heading into the 2018 campaign. 

    The Rams put together their stellar secondary during the offseason. When looking at cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib on their previous teams, it's fair to expect an upgraded unit in Los Angeles. 

    However, sometimes what you see on paper doesn't work out in reality. Los Angeles added two All-Pros on the back end, but how will they mesh with the current pieces in the secondary? More so on defense, 11 men must move together on the same page to see great results.

    Unlike the Rams, the Vikings and Jaguars return key players in the defensive backfield after a successful year. The units ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in passing scores allowed in 2017.

    After safety Andrew Sendejo's solid campaign, the Vikings don't have a clear weak link to target on the back end.

    Minnesota also has a clear edge in cornerback depth with Mackensie Alexander and first-rounder Mike Hughes in reserve roles.

    Runner-Up: Jacksonville Jaguars

    The Jaguars have a question mark in the slot, where they lost Aaron Colvin and signed D.J. Hayden, who came over from Detroit, but he played a majority of his snaps on the boundary. 

Special Teams: Baltimore Ravens

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    Kicker/Punter: (Justin Tucker, Sam Koch)

    It's a toss-up between the Rams and Baltimore Ravens.

    Through six seasons, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has an impressive 90.2 field-goal percentage. 

    Los Angeles' four-time All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker averaged nearly 48 yards per punt for the past three terms.

    Sam Koch has been an asset for Baltimore's defense, pinning opposing teams inside the 20-yard line on 40 punts, but he also spent more time on the field than Hekker with 19 more sendoffs. 

    Nonetheless, when calculating the percentage of total punts inside the 20-yard line, Koch has a 48-46 percent advantage over Hekker. Despite the All-Pro accolades, let's go with efficiency. Based on Zuerlein's track record, 82.9 percent kicking accuracy, his 2017 rate could be an aberration as opposed to a new norm. 

    The law of averages and directional punting put the Ravens on top.

    Runner-Up: Los Angeles Rams