By Brian Kalchik @BrianKalchik on July 10, 2014
The NFL is a shifting landscape, but there is always one thing you can depend on. Some players will show up on Sunday and, almost without fail, be the best player on the field, regardless of what position they play. So who are the best players at each of the significant positions today? Continue on as I rank the best of the best from quarterback to safety.
You'd be crazy or out of this world to not pick Denver QB Peyton Manning as the best in the NFL given his historic season last year. He statistically had the best season by a quarterback in NFL history, led the Broncos to the greatest offensive season in NFL history and led his team to the Super Bowl. Nothing more needs to be said.
There are a few great running backs in the league, including LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles, but no one has been more consistent for longer than Adrian Peterson. The former Oklahoma Sooner has had 1,000 yards in six of his first seven seasons, and only a torn ACL prevented him from doing the same in 2011. There is no one who has done more with less around him than Peterson.
Despite not matching his record numbers in 2012, Calvin Johnson is still the best WR in the NFL today. With no significant help opposite him (Nate Burleson), the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket still caught 84 passes for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, including seven 100-yard games. If you need anymore proof, replay his 329-yard day against Dallas.
Jimmy Graham has been so good the past three seasons that he's changing the definition of what a tight end really is. He is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses because he has wide receiver skills in a tight end body. Graham's 16 touchdowns last season led all receivers, not just tight ends in 2013. No one else has come even close to Graham's level of dominance over the past three seasons.
Just like his first six seasons in the league, Browns OT Joe Thomas ranked as one of the top tackles in the league last year. Despite an anemic offense around him, Thomas allowed just 37 hurries and was the top ranked pass blocking tackle according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s not easy switching from one side of the line to the other, but Green Bay's Josh Sitton did just that and exceled, especially as a pass blocker. In 648 passing attempts, Sitton allowed just one sack and seven hurries. Sitton's work in the running game helped a previously dormant running game post 13 100-yard rushing games, even without QB Aaron Rodgers for a significant stretch of the season.
When it comes to centers, there are plenty of good ones and very few great ones. Cleveland's Alex Mack is a great one. The way he handles his protections and calling out blitzes is one of the best in the league today. Mack is a very balanced center who is rarely out of position or rarely gets beat. Mack's protection allowed Cleveland's QB make WR Josh Gordon the best wide receiver last season statistically.
The argument for best defensive end begins and ends with Houston's J.J. Watt. As a 3-4 defensive end, he won't have the statistics of say a Robert Quinn or a Greg Hardy, but he has more of an impact than anyone else at the position. Not only is he an excellent run-stuffing defensive end, but his ability to bat down passes (hence the nickname J.J. Swat) has added another element to his repertoire.
It may have been a bad year in Tampa Bay, but it was a great year individually for Gerald McCoy. The former Oklahoma Sooner played in all 16 games for the second consecutive season, and on a D-line with zero great pass rushers, McCoy raised his sack total from five in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013. He graded out as the best pass rushing tackle in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus.
Lavonte David took his game to a new level and avoided any sophomore slump talk with an outstanding 2013 season. David was an every down playmaker on a team that was constantly in turmoil around him. He led his position in tackles for loss, defensive stops (21 more than his competition) and ranked second behind DeAndre Levy in interceptions by a linebacker with five.
Younger inside linebackers like Carolina's Luke Kuechly may catch the attention of most, but San Francisco's Patrick Willis is still the best. Willis overcame missing two games and still recorded over 100 total tackles. Over the past three seasons, Willis has been ranked in the top three of Pro Football Focus' inside linebacker rankings.
Locking down the left side of the "The Legion of Boom," Richard Sherman didn’t allow a pass completion of longer than 38 yards all year and was only beat for two touchdowns last year. Sherman validated his talk of being the best corner in the league by finishing with an NFL-high eight interceptions while allowing opposing QBs to complete just 49.2 percent of their passes against him.
Perhaps the most valuable member of the "Legion of Boom," Earl Thomas' playmaking ability covers up any small deficiencies he may have. Thomas had 14 missed tackles last year, but there aren’t any other safeties who can play the deep role yet still impact the run like him.
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