After putting up my All-NFL roster one-and-a-half weeks ago and Kam Chancellor showing me why he should be on there (even though he didn’t perform anywhere near that in the regular season and I only two strong safeties on there), I decided to list the best units for each position group. So this is not about individual performances but rather about what the entire unit has done for their respective team. Again this is only about the regular season. Let’s see where Kam’s Legion of Boom stacks up.
1. Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free
2. Baltimore Ravens – Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner
3. Denver Broncos – Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez
4. New England Patriots – Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Kevin Zeitler, Eric Winston
If you could split the MVP trophy into five parts it would probably go to the Cowboys O-line. These guys have been the closest to the Great Wall of Dallas in quite some time and nobody is questioning Jerry Jones’ decision on spending high draft picks on linemen anymore.
As great a story as Justin Forsett’s season has been, leading the league in yards per carry – the key has been the Ravens’ five guys up front (especially what to me is the best pair of guards). They have pushed defenders around in the running game all year long as well as giving up the second fewest sacks in the NFL.
Once again Peyton Manning has been the league’s least sacked signal caller and even though his intelligence and understanding of defenses certainly has been a big factor to that this reshuffled offensive line has done a tremendous job. Allowing undrafted second year man C.J. Anderson to lead the league in rushing since making him the starter proves that.
Many wondered what the Patriots offensive line would look like without All-Pro veteran Logan Mankins and much like the team in general they struggled at the start of the year, but boy have they picked it up from there on, allowing only 26 sacks and making various runners look good all year long.
The Bengals running backs have impressed the entire season, with Jeremy Hill as a runner up for offensive rookie of the year, but that O-line is pretty good. Even Andy Dalton has looked … hm, at least better than he should have.
1. Denver Broncos – Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas
2. Green Bay Packers – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless
3. Dallas Cowboys – Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten
4. Indianapolis Colts – Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener
5. Atlanta Falcons – Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Houglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo
Notable mention: Washington Redskins
Not everybody was sold on Emmanuel Sanders after letting Eric Decker go, but Sanders has run by defenders all year long. Demaryius Thomas’ two drops in the Divisional Round have been really surprising, which tells you how reliable he has been. Wes Welker hasn’t looked the same, but still made plays for the Broncos and while I’d like Julius Thomas to have greater production over the entirety of the field, he has been a touchdown machine and matchup nightmare in the red zone.
The Packers’ top two receivers have combined for a league-high 25 touchdowns. They have formed the best receiving duo in the game. If you want to know what Davante Adams can do and how much trust Rodgers has in him just watch the fourth quarter of Sunday’s matchup against the Cowboys. The only thing that keeps them from the number one spot is the lack of reliable option at tight end.
Dez Bryant has put up monster stats this year, which makes the other pass catchers in Dallas look mediocre on the stat sheet, but make no mistake – Romo has relied on them. Jason Witten has been a steady chain mover, especially on third down, Terrance Williams has taken advantage when defenses focused on Bryant and Cole Beasley has come up strong at the end of the year.
The Colts have the best duo of tight ends in the league and T.Y. Hilton has made the jump to stardom in 2014. Hakeem Nicks has not lived up to his potential, but the only thing that really concerns me is the decline of Reggie Wayne’s production. He has dropped some balls he has caught for the last thirteen years.
Julio Jones is right behind Megatron when it comes to physical freaks at the wide receiver position. He has been the best player on the field even when he wasn’t healthy. White, Douglas and Hester have all been big parts of Atlanta’s passing game. The Falcons haven’t overcome the loss of Tony Gonzalez though.
The Redskins have some dynamic players at wideout and tight end as well.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis
2. Philadelphia Eagles – LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles
3. Green Bay Packers – Eddie Lacy, James Starks
4. Cincinnati Bengals – Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard
5. New York Giants – Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams
First of all – this is about running back comitees. That’s why you don’t see the Seahawks or Steelers up there since they only lean on one back.
Charles was the most relied on offensive player in 2013 outside of the quarterback position. And while he didn’t get the ball that often this year, he made the most of it averaging five yards a carry on his way to yet a another 1000-yard campaign. Probably the biggest reason for Charles’ drop in carries was the emergence of backup Knile Davis. As we all know the Chiefs didn’t have a receiver with a single touchdown and still only came up losses by Baltimore and Houston short of the playoffs. This tells you how important the play of their backfield has been.
If I made a list of the running backs it’s hardest to put a hand on the Eagles’ runners would probably be number one and two. Those guys are dynamic. Darren Sproles was unbelievable at the beginning of the season, but Shady has taken his place as the go-to-guy in Philly.
Eddie Lacy to me looks like a bigger Marshawn Lynch. This sounds crazy, but NOBODY wants to tackle this guy. And this year he has caught the ball out of the backfield exceptionally well. Starks has been a nice change-of-pace kind of runner for the Packers.
I knew at some point the Bengals would put Hill in the starting lineup. Bernard’s injuries have allowed that, but both those guys have performed very well for their team. That combination of hard-nosed running by Hill and Bernard’s shiftiness will create problems for opposing defenses in years to come.
Jennings has been great when available, but Williams has done a tremendous job in his absence. They have found a way to produce behind a bad Giants offensive line.
1. Buffalo Bills – Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes
2. Detroit Lions – Jason Jones, Ndamokung Suh, Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah
3. New York Jets – Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson
4. Miami Dolphins – Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon
5.Saint Louis Rams – Williams Hayes/Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn
Let’s just say all four starters on that Bills D-line could be All-Pros. They have terrorized offensive backfields all year long.
The rise of the Detroit defense has been the result of an improved secondary, but their four guys up front have remained the key to their success. Suh was a top ten defender this season and together with Fairley they have gotten push on guards every single week. Ziggy Ansah is turning into what the Lions expected when they drafted the athletic but inexperienced Ghanaian.
The Jets season was a struggle from start to finish, but the position group they really excelled was their defensive front. Wilkerson would have been the Jets’ top player the third year in a row, if Richardson didn’t outperform him, racking up eight sacks from the inside.
Talk about an underrated group. That Dolphins defensive front has balled out the entire season, putting pressure on opponents’ quarterbacks and controlling the line of scrimmage. Most people know Cameron Wake, but they should start to talk about the other three guys as well.
The Rams had the fewest sacks in the NFL over the first six weeks, but since Donald has been put into the starting lineup this front took off. While Donald certainly has an argument for defensive rookie of the year, Robert Quinn has found a way to turn into the guy he was last year and with Chris Long back from injury that D-line should be even better next year.
1. Baltimore Ravens – Courtney Upshaw, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee
2. Carolina Panthers – A.J. Klein, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis
3. Philadelphia Eagles – Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Casey Matthews, Mychal Kendricks, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham
4. Seattle Seahawks – Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright
T-5. New England Patriots – Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Akeem Ayers
T-5. San Francisco 49ers – Ahmad Brooks, Dan Skuta, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Michael Wilhoite, Aldon Smith, Aaron Lynch
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many great linebackers all playing on a weekly basis like they have in Baltimore. Mosley should be the defensive rookie of the year, Smith has been underrated for a long time, Suggs is a top five outside linebacker, Upshaw might be the most stout edge setter, McPhee is one of the best pass rush specialists and Dumervil had 17 sacks. Do I have to say anything more?
Kuechly and Davis have formed what might be the best duo of linebackers in the league. Kuechly is the new standard for middle linebackers and Davis is the nightmare of all tight ends. The way he beat up players like Jimmy Graham is remarkable.
If Ryans didn’t get injured at the middle of the season this group would be even higher. Kendricks and Barwin, who has become a complete outside linebacker, are top five players at their respective positions. Cole and Graham have been good pass rushers for the Eagles as well.
When Wagner was healthy he was the best linebacker in the game – period. Wright did a great job filling in for him when he got injured, but is better at the outside. Irvin has proven to be more than a pass rusher and Smith is a former Super Bowl MVP.
I just couldn’t decide between the Patriots and 49er linebacking corps. If not for losing Mayo, the Patriots would be higher, yet if the Niners had Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman for the whole year they’d probably be number one. Let’s just say they both have some dynamic young linebackers.
Had Stephen Tulloch not been injured the Lions linebackers would certainly be on this list also.
1. Seattle Seahawks – Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Tharold Simon, Jeremy Lane
2. New England Patriots – Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington
3. Arizona Cardinals – Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon, Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel
4. Denver Broncos – Rahim Moore, T.J. Ward, Aquib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby
5. Cleveland Browns – Tashaun Gipson, Donte Whitner, Jim Leonhard, Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Justin Gilbert
The Legion of Boom is still the gold standard among defensive backfields. They haven’t forced quite as many turnovers as last year, but they are still feared by all quarterbacks and receivers. The combination of their lockdown corners, Thomas’ ability to cover the entire field and the punishing style of play Chancellor has this group is very special.
The Patriots have made an enormous improvement at the cornerback position bringing in Revis and Browner. Revis Island has been uncomfortable to stay at the entire season and being matched up against a 6’4 corner in Browner hasn’t been enjoyable either. Let’s not forget McCourty as one of the best safeties in football either.
No secondary has been relied on so much to hold up in pure man coverage than the Cardinals backend. Peterson didn’t look right for a large part of the season, but Cromartie is the right guy to line up on the opposite side of him. Mathieu is still coming back from injury, but they have a lot of depth. Bucannon is turning into their own version of Kam Chancellor.
Much like New England the Broncos’ improvement in the secondary has been in large part to their free agent acquisitions. While Ward has given them some toughness they lacked in recent years, Talib took the challenge of matching up against opposing number one targets on a weekly basis. Harris almost outplayed him though and Moore has defended the deep ball much better as well.
The Browns let Ward go in the offseason only to pick up a similar player in Whitner. Haden had another Pro Bowl year, Skrine deflected 18 passes and intercepted four more, Gilbert has shown promise, Leonhard was a reliable backup and Gipson had six interceptions.