There are few debates in sports that elicit the same response as ranking the best player at a certain position in the NFL. With the amount of turnover in pro-football, it seems the discussion is completely different from year to year in most cases.
As the 2017 NFL season is underway, now is a better time than ever to reignite the argument about who is the best player, or group of players, at each position in the NFL.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Another year, another championship for Tom Brady. Every NFL fan who does not pledge allegiance to the consistently dominate New England Patriots has been waiting for Father Time to take his toll on the future Hall of Fame quarterback, yet it actually seems that Brady may be improving with age.
With an uncanny ability to make average receivers look like superstars, Brady is poised to lead the Pats to an even better season than last year, if that is even possible. After leading the Patriots to the greatest comeback in NFL history in the Super Bowl, there is no debate that Tom Brady is still on top of the mountain at the quarterback position.
Running Back: Le’Veon Bell
Barely beating out Arizona’s David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell remains the best running back in the NFL. Despite playing in only twelve games last season, Bell still put up 1,268 rushing yards, while posting 4.9 yards per carry and 105 yards per game.
Bell’s ability to consistently get positive yards is due to his unmatched patience with the ball; he seemingly always finds the correct lane, and has the agility to make people miss at the second level. It is pretty rare in the NFL, but Bell is essentially guaranteed 1,000 yards as long as he stays healthy, which makes him the most valuable running back in the NFL.
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones
With just under five minutes remaining in Super Bowl XI, the Falcons were clinging to an eight point lead against the Patriots. With every ounce of momentum on the Patriots’ side, Atlanta needed a spark desperately. On a broken play, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan rolled to his right and threw a pass into heavy coverage along the sideline. At a seemingly impossible angle, Julio Jones rose above the defense to catch the pass, and had the wherewithal to get both feet down in bounds.
While Atlanta still found a way to lose the game, Jones was arguably the best player on the field that night. Throughout the 2016 season, Jones was consistently the most dominant receiver in the league, averaging over one-hundred yards per game and finishing with 1,409 total receiving yards. His combination of speed, strength and sheer athleticism separate him from other receivers in the NFL, and Jones will only continue to improve as he enters the second half of his NFL career.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski
Very little explanation is required for Gronkowski’s position in comparison to other tight ends in today’s NFL, as he should only be compared to the greatest tight ends in the league’s history. While Gronkowski only played in eight games last year, he still racked up 540 receiving yards on a ridiculous twenty yards per reception.
Even if he missed an entire season, it is not up to him to earn the top spot amongst the NFL’s tight ends, as he has already proven that he is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. The story remains the same, if Brady and Gronkowski are on the field at the same time, the Patriots are likely on their way to another Super Bowl.
Offensive Line (Unit): Dallas Cowboys
It is difficult to distinguish between the top offensive linemen in the league, as there are very few statistics that directly relate to the offensive line’s performance. However, is it very easy to tell which teams have a good offensive line and which do not, as it is much easier to see an entire line’s performance in comparison to one individual lineman.
For the past few seasons, the offensive line that has been heralded as the best in the league has been the Dallas Cowboys’, as it seems that they can put just about anyone at running back and they will have success running the football. In Ezekiel Elliot’s rookie campaign, he benefited greatly from being able to run behind the dominant unit that was protecting him. The winners of the inaugural “Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year” award, the Cowboys enter 2017 as the group to beat up front.
Defensive End: Khalil Mack
The premier defensive player from 2016, Khalil Mack was named the Defensive Player of the Year last season and for good reason. His combination of freakish speed and strength allow him to dominate any offensive tackle that he faces, and chase down quarterbacks outside of pocket to force fumbles as well.
Mack fits the build of the modern defensive end, as he can play from a three-point stance or from the outside linebacker position. This hybrid skillset lets Mack shift around the field, which negates the offense’s ability to have a specific gameplan for him.
Defensive Tackle: Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald is unlike other defensive tackles. Standing at six-feet-tall, Donald already has an advantage over most offensive lineman by being able to get lower than the larger interior lineman.
When combined with his great strength and effort, Donald becomes a force in the middle of the line of scrimmage, often demanding double teams just to slow him down. Donald recorded nine sacks last season, which is pretty extraordinary for a defensive tackle, and it does not look like he is planning on slowing down in 2017.
Inside Linebacker: Luke Kuechly
Despite only playing in ten games last season due to a severe concussion, Luke Kuechly still managed to finish with seventy-one tackles. Kuechly’s greatest asset has always been his positioning, which allows him to be in the right place at the right time to make tackles and force turnovers.
When healthy, Kuechly has an unmatched eye for the ball, as he has once recorded twenty-one tackles in a single game. His health is a question mark, however, as concussions tend to be a recurring injury. If Kuechly is able to avoid injury, he is almost a shoo-in to be an All-Pro linebacker once more.
Outside Linebacker: Von Miller
It was a down year for Von Miller in 2016, as he only finished second in the NFL in sacks with 13.5. All jokes aside, Miller is still unstoppable. As long as he has shoulder pads and a helmet on, he is good for double digit sacks every season. There is absolutely no reason why this should change, and until it does Miller will be listed as the top outside linebacker in the NFL.
Safety: Landon Collins
Perhaps the most improved player in the entire NFL, Landon Collins received heavy consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year award last season. Essentially the Giants most effective player at every facet of defense, Collins recorded one-hundred tackles, five interceptions and four sacks on the year.
Like many other Alabama products, Collins has made such a major impact in just his second year in the league. The First Team All-Pro selection will look to improve upon his stellar performance in 2016, as he is still only twenty-two years old, and the Giants defense is expected to be even better than last year’s squad.
Cornerback: Patrick Peterson
One of the most versatile players in the entire league remains atop the cornerback rankings entering the 2017 season. Patrick Peterson has very few weaknesses in his game and it seems as if people are beginning to take for granted just how talented he is. Peterson is always matched up with the opposing team’s best receiver, and often takes them completely out of the game.
Despite being asked to cover the most talented receivers, Peterson still manages to make plays in the backfield on outside run plays, and is a sure open field tackler, as well. His ball skills are unmatched at the cornerback position, and the quarterback is taking a huge risk testing Peterson in a one-on-one matchup.
Often, Peterson can be overlooked because he does not put up the interception numbers that a player like Marcus Peters does, but it is important to remember that Peterson is not given the same opportunity to get interceptions because quarterbacks are much more careful in throwing his direction.