The season is nearing completion, which means we have our focus set on the off-season and the 2010 NFL Draft. Here’s our list of the players each NFL team can build around.
**Please note, this is not a list of the best players on each time, but the young players that each time can use as foundations for future success.**
Offense- RB Marshawn Lynch.
If Lynch can stay out of jail, he has the talent to carry a franchise. His ability to run, catch and block makes him a very dangerous offensive threat. Until the Bills can find a steady quarterback, their running game must carry them offensively.
Defense- CB Leodis McKelvin.
While there may not be many “shut down” cornerbacks in the NFL anymore, McKelvin has the speed and agility to stick with the smaller receivers, but the strength and size to compete against bigger targets. In the pass-happy AFC, a good one-on-one corner is essential.
Offense- QB Chad Henne.
The Dolphins have some good young talent (OT Jake Long for instance), but Henne is the one that impresses the most. The Dolphins were limited offensively with Chad Pennington under center (hence the Wildcat). With Henne in the game Miami is finally able to stretch the field. All that’s missing are some legit receivers.
Defense- DE Philip Merling.
The Patriots taught us in the early 2000s how important defensive ends are to a 3-4 defense. Merling looks like a budding star as a 3-4 end.
New England Patriots
Offense- OT Sebastian Vollmer.
Vollmer proved his worth on Monday night against Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts, keeping Tom Brady clean for the entire game. Matt Light is only getting older, and more injury prone. Vollmer is the future of the Patriots offensive line.
Defense- LB Jerod Mayo.
It goes without saying, but Mayo is the future of this defense. He’s already considered the leader of the Patriots dominating defense in only his 2nd season. Mayo will compete with Patrick Willis (49ers) for Ray Lewis crown as the best linebacker in the game once he retires.
New York Jets
Offense- QB Mark Sanchez.
There is a lot of talent on the Jets offense worth mentioning (Shonn Greene, Nick Mangold), but none is as important or as promising as Sanchez. The rookie passer has been impressive in his first season and will only improve with more experience and better targets at wide receiver.
Defense- CB Darrelle Revis.
Already considered one of the best cornerbacks in football, Revis will continue to improve and gain more recognition from offensive coordinators. He’s a truly gifted player with much to offer the Jets.
Offense- QB Joe Flacco.
This one is pretty obvious. The Ravens have great talent on the line (Jared Gaither, Michael Oher) and in the backfield (Ray Rice, Le’Ron McClain), but it all focuses around Flacco. The big, strong-armed passer has the tools to carry the Ravens back in to Super Bowl contention.
Defense- DT Haloti Ngata.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will not play forever, although both continue to play at the highest possible levels. When they are gone the torch will be passed to Ngata, an elite run-stopper and and pass rusher in the versatile Ravens defense.
Offense- RB Cedric Benson.
Benson has been re-born in Cincinnati after a very rough start to his career in Chicago. Running with a renewed purpose, Benson is leading the NFL in rushing. At only 26 years old, and with very low carries in his first 3 seasons, Benson can look forward to five more seasons of carrying the load and take pressure off Carson Palmer and the Bengals passing game.
Defense- CB Leon Hall.
Some might point to linebackers Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga, or even defensive end Antwan Odom, but none of those players alter a game plan like Hall. A physical corner, Hall is able to shut down the AFC’s best receivers, but is also physical enough to support in the run game.
Offense- QB Brady Quinn.
The Browns front office might not agree, but Brady Quinn should be the future of this offense. He has the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback, especially once he has legitimate receivers to throw to. Quinn deserves more than the short leash Eric Mangini and co. have placed on him. Our suggestion to whomever takes over the Cleveland football operations- keep Quinn.
Defense- ILB D’Qwell Jackson.
It is only by default that we mention someone in this space. The Browns defense is terrible, among the worst we’ve ever seen in terms of talent. The one proven player, Shaun Rogers, won’t be around much longer. Jackson is a good, solid inside linebacker who can be a force in the run game. The Browns will definitely address their defense in the off-season, but one position they can mark off their list is inside linebacker.
Offense- RB Rashard Mendenhall.
A great running back in college, Mendenhall is living up to expectations in his 2nd NFL season. Ben Roethlisberger gets most of the attention in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers will only go as far as their running game can take them. With the exciting Mendenhall in the back field, Pittsburgh will remain a competitor.
Defense- LB LaMarr Woodley. There are so many good players to choose from here, mainly in the front seven, but none stands out as much as Woodley. A Pro Bowl player already, Woodley is a terror to opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks. There are not many linebackers we would take over him.
Offense- WR Andre Johnson.
One of the NFL’s best kept secrets, Johnson is a stud. The Houston offense has largely been inept during his tenure, but with Matt Schaub finally healthy, Johnson is shining. In another setting, Johnson would be known for what he is- the best receiver in the NFL.
Defense- LB DeMeco Ryans.
Ryans just keeps impressing us every week. Few players are as fundamentally solid and intelligent on the field as this middle linebacker. Now in his 4th season, Ryans is the cornerstone of the Texans defense.
Offense- RB Donald Brown.
What will the Colts do once Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne retire? There are not many young superstars in waiting on this roster, but one worth mentioning is Brown. Joseph Addai gets more attention in the media, but Brown is the better overall player. His ability as a receiver will make him the more valuable back for the Colts future.
Defense- DT Fili Moala.
The Colts have won their division titles with a largely unknown defense. Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders are well-known, but both have been injured numerous times. The Colts continued success will rest on the large back of Moala, an impressive young defensive tackle with tons of room to grow.
Offense- OT Eugene Monroe.
A quiet player, but an impressive force on the field. Monroe will be the Jaguars future at left tackle. Once the team adds more talent at receiver, and a better down-field passer at quarterback, Monroe’s star will only rise. Already a dominant run blocker, Monroe is one of the most promising young tackles in the game.
Defense- FS Reggie Nelson.
Few defenses are built around safeties, but Nelson is a unique breed of playmaker and leader in the secondary. Nelson will anchor the Jags secondary, while other young stars grow in the front seven.
Offense- RB Chris Johnson.
Johnson is already one of the most exciting players in the NFL as a 2nd year player. As the Titans passing game improves, so will Johnson’s opportunities in the offense. Adrian Peterson might be the best runner in the game, but Johnson has an argument for a close 2nd.
Defense- CB Cortland Finnegan.
At only 25 years old, Finnegan is already respected as one of the best at his position. A former 7th round pick, Finnegan’s stock has risen each year to the point of him being selected as a starter in the 2009 Pro Bowl.
Offense- OT Ryan Clady.
Who is the best left tackle in football? If you said Ryan Clady, not many would argue with you. Clady hit the League running and hasn’t looked back. Clady already owns a pretty impressive record, as he went his first 20 NFL starts without allowing a full sack. There are not enough good things to say about Clady, we’ll just sum it up by calling him The Best.
Defense- OLB Elvis Dumervil.
The Broncos move to a 3-4 defense was a brilliant change, as it put Dumervil on the field even more. At 25 years old he is leading the NFL in sacks. Need more impressive numbers? In 3.5 NFL seasons he’s racked up 38 sacks.
Kansas City Chiefs
Offense- QB Matt Cassel.
Ignore the media dronings about Cassel being a bust. Cassel will be just fine, and as the Chiefs gather more talent around him, Cassel will prove that he is a future NFL star. As evident in recent weeks, Cassel has the look of a franchise quarterback.
Defense- DE Tyson Jackson.
The Chiefs liked him enough to spend the #3 overall pick in the ’09 Draft on Jackson. With little talent around him, Jackson hasn’t been overwhelming as a rookie, but he has shown glimpses of being a Pro Bowl caliber player. Give him a solid nose tackle to partner with, and a few competent cornerbacks behind him and Jackson will be a household name.
Offense- TE Zach Miller.
Much like the Cleveland defense, there is not much worth mentioning here. The Raiders are marked with busts at many positions, except tight end. Zach Miller is a star hidden on a terrible team. Once, or if, the Raiders have a consistent quarterback under center, Miller will become a regular in the Pro Bowl.
Defense- CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
We prefaced this by saying we wouldn’t just list the best players at each position. We lied. No cornerback in the NFL can compete with Asomugha. He’s simply the best the league has to offer at the cornerback position, which is sad considering he’s stuck in Oakland.
San Diego Chargers
Offense- QB Philip Rivers.
I’ll bet the Chargers are glad Eli Manning threw a temper tantrum and would not play in San Diego. By drafting and trading Manning, San Diego “settled” for one of the best young passers in the NFL. Tough, daring and full of moxie, Rivers is all we’d ask for in a franchise quarterback.
Defense- CB Antonio Cromartie.
Shawne Merriman might be on his way out of San Diego. Shaun Phillips is already 28. Antonio Cromartie has it all. He could lead the NFL in interceptions each season… if only quarterbacks were brave enough to challenge him.
AFC Best of the best- Our list of the best young players at each position:
QB- Philip Rivers, San Diego
RB- Chris Johnson, Tennessee
WR- Andre Johnson, Houston
TE- Heath Miller, Pittsburgh
OT- Ryan Clady, Denver
OG- Logan Mankins, New England
OC- Nick Mangold, New York Jets
DE- Mario Williams, Houston
DT- Vince Wilfork, New England
OLB- Elvis Dumervil, Denver
ILB- Jerod Mayo, New England
CB- Nnamid Asomugha, Oakland
S- Kerry Rhodes, New York Jets