Alright, I’ll be running down the 20 most feared players on offense, and the 20 most feared on defense. Several guys might get a nod for their special teams play.
1. Chris Johnson, RB Tennessee – Hard to even think of notching him down a year after he set the single season record for yards from scrimmage and became only the 6th player to achieve 2000 yards rushing in a single season. Oh, and did I mention only the 1st to do it in his second year? Johnson’s speed and evasiveness pretty much ensure he doesn’t sustain injury, meaning he’s got longevity in his favor. He’s a threat as a receiver out of the backfield or in the slot as well. Defenses beware – Every Coaches Dream is a nightmare!
2. Peyton Manning, QB Indianapolis – If you would have told me a year ago that anyone would be scarier than Manning, I’d have laughed and moved along. This year, it’s true. But that doesn’t make Manning any less frightening. By far the most football-intelligent player in the league, with the deadliest skillset a pocket passer can have, look for Manning to carry on with 4000+ yards, 30+ touchdowns, and basically a completion percentage around 68-74. 4 MVP’s… and running.
3. Drew Brees, QB New Orleans – The Super Bowl MVP, fresh off of another amazing year where many believe he could have taken the MVP instead of Manning – but I think he’s much more than satisfied with that other trophy sitting on his shelf. Brees has acquired more talent on both sides of the ball, meaning more opportunity to just shred people with his incredible accuracy and touch.
4. Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota – Peterson’s fumbling is still a very large concern, and anyone putting confidence into this kid, does it with a grain of salt. But he’s still good for close to 2,000 all purpose yards, receiving out of the backfield, and pummeling people. If Favre is back, Peterson is even more dangerous, especially with a white-twin in the backfield with him now.
5. Jason Witten, TE Dallas – A tight end this high? Forreal? You betcha. Jason Witten is surrounded by an incredible receiving corps, and in each year he’s been in this league, he’s been a better receiver than 92% of the Wide Receivers league-wide. His threat this year is that he’s guaranteed (if the WR’s stay healthy) to face man coverage against LB’s, all of whom are smaller and/or slower than he is. Even if his WR teammates go down – his 75-85 catches a season still throw him in this spot regardless.
6. Reggie Wayne, WR Indianapolis – I could have gone in the division on this one, but I think Andre Johnson is going to falter a bit without Kyle Shanahan there calling the plays and a new offense having to be learned and run by everyone. Wayne’s in a familiar place though, and he’s fast removing the memory of Marvin Harrison, and is on pace himself to become the #1 QB-WR tandem in NFL History. Sure he’s benefited by the most feared QB in the league… but I think we can make a case for Wayne almost anywhere.
7. Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay – I think Green Bay is still missing some pieces… but quarterback definitely isn’t one of those pieces. Aaron Rodgers has been amazing since taking over the reins in the Tundra, and for good measure, he’s got a very skilled receiving corps. This kid is definitely going to play great ball, and may even prove himself more fierce than I believe he is on this list…
8. Brett Favre, QB Minnesota – Last year wasn’t a 1-hit wonder or a fluke. If Favre returns (okay, WHEN Favre returns), we’re going to be witnessing more of the same, and this time, maybe without that INT that pretty much cost Minnesota the game. Favre’s in a situation where he’s happy, and playing happiness can’t be matched in football, as evidenced by some of his struggles in New York… even though he was having a great year before the biceps injury there as well. Brett Favre only gets better with age, and he’ll prove it this season again.
9. Calvin Johnson, WR Detroit – Holy fuck, Batman, are you smoking Ivy’s dust? Yes. Megatron is cracking the top 10 of the most feared offensive players. Why? Because he’s done great even without help on his team. Stafford isn’t a joke, and with some good running backs, a decent line, and a couple of good tight end’s, Megatron is going to find himself in a very favorable situation this year, and might be leading the league in a few statistical categories.
10. Brandon Marshall, WR Miami – Marshall is going to love the warm weather, and he’ll be great in his division playing in the cold weather because, well, that’s what he’s done his entire pro-career. With the stable of running backs, 3 straight 100+ reception seasons is surely looking to become 4 straight. Marshall might also be a guy who triple-crowns it this year… and who would honestly be surprised by that? Not Broncos fans, that’s for sure.
11. Anquan Boldin, WR Baltimore – I’m sure Boldin isn’t going to have the flashiest of highlight reels or numbers this season, but I’m almost sure he’s going to wreak havoc on anyone who lines up across from him, or across the middle from him. Boldin has always punished defenders for trying to tackle him, and now he’ll be doing it as the featured guy he always should have been. It’ll help having the offense around him that he does……..
12. Ray Rice, RB Baltimore – Going to stay in house for this pick, where Ray Rice is going to find the respect teams have for Boldin and the rest of the receivers, beneficial to his already impressive stats. The kid amounted more than 2,000 yards last season, and this season probably promises more of the same, keyword being more. I expect to see Rice find more running room, and more 1 on 1 coming out of the backfield as a receiver, where his speed will separate him from the linebackers who are covering him, and he’ll be downfield in no time……..
13. Philip Rivers, QB San Diego – I hate this guy, I really do, and I’m not convinced of anything until I see it play all the way through to the Super Bowl, and maybe even a win. But I have to be honest and admit that he still is a scary regular season quarterback, and with some young running backs, he’s going to find himself with some pressure relieved on that arm, so 4,000 yards and a few more TD’s is probably likely.
14. Shonn Greene, RB New York (Jets) – He stepped up big last year, and faced some tough defenses in some of his better games. The featured role will help him out, and Tomlinson’s teaching and spelling out of the backfield, he’ll find himself in a favorable position to cut defenses up. He’s shifty enough to catch defenders over-pursuing, but he’s powerful enough to run through those defenders when they backpedal expecting his cut.
15. Eli Manning, QB New York (Giants) – I hate to say it, but I think Eli will prove himself the best QB in the NFC East. Last season he eclipsed 4000 yards, and was almost 2:1 touchdowns vs. interceptions. His completion percentage was fairly high, and he was making all the throws necessary. If his running game gets back on track, he’ll be even more feared, but I believe Brandon Jacobs is the biggest coward who SHOULD be a feared player in the league. Eli will still capitalize regardless.
16. Tom Brady, QB New England – Very low? Yes. But I’m not expecting much out of New England this year, or for a few to be honest. I think Brady still has a brilliant year, but Moss’ situation makes me skeptical, as does the knee injury of Welker, who I don’t believe comes back as healthy as everyone hopes. There’s not enough talent at receiver to spread wide, and not enough talent at running back to draw defenses in. But Brady is still a surgeon.
17. Robert Meachem, WR New Orleans – This kid came up big last season. Anytime the Saints needed a play, Meachem was always right there waiting. His numbers weren’t incredibly eye-popping, but he’s still growing, and nobody on that receiving corps will ever be a one-man army under Brees’ leadership. That doesn’t take away from the threat that Meachem is good for a long ball over the middle at any clutch moment… and defenses having to prepare for him all week long as well.
18. Sidney Rice, WR Minnesota – When Favre comes back, Rice’s value jumps even higher with more experience and familiarity going into the season. He might even be favored to take over some of the statistical leadership in the league if everything plays out right off of playaction and all that. It’s a make or break year for the kid too… he wants that new contract, only adding on to what he did last season will earn it for him, so I expect him to play with a fire.
19. Miles Austin, WR Dallas – Miles came out last season and proved that learning the game is most important. He played his heart out as the primary target for Tony Romo, and with more receivers, double coverage isn’t going to happen. So unless there are 16 Darrell Revis’ lined up across from him every week this season, I don’t expect anyone to stop him from improving on his numbers last season and earning the big contract he wants this year instead of the tender he’s got to play under.
20. Andre Johnson, WR Houston – I think his numbers slip a little this year. He’s not going to be moved all over the field, he’ll be playing a #1 corner with over-the-top help on every play for the first time in several years. But his speed, strength, and hands will not be in question. He’ll have some TO-like numbers if he plays over the middle without fear, which is still fierce enough.
1. Dwight Freeny, DE Indianapolis – Dwight Freeney is the most incredible athlete on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL. His speed and surprising power are enough to throw ANY left tackle off of his game. And when you focus your efforts on him, one of his teammates beat you… and that’s what a fierce player does, makes those around him better. He’s beaten the best left tackles year after year, with a spin move and spin fake that all defensive ends wish they had. Ask any offensive lineman about this guy, and they’ll tell you they get Dwightis that week…
2. Jared Allen, DE Minnesota – Much like Freeney, Allen makes everyone around him better. But he’s been killing all on his own for years now. Allen is fast, strong, and no tackle or guard enjoys the thought of having to go up against him. His motor is incredible, and he’s going to run down quarterbacks all year long too. Vehicular manslaughter is possible without a vehicle – QB’s cross with caution.
3. Patrick Willis, LB San Francisco – Willis has fast become the most physical linebacker in the league. His popularity has skyrocketed, and everyone favors him to Ray Lewis… who will appear on this list. Willis crushes ball-carriers and receivers who have the balls to come over the middle into his zones. He’s also a sound blitzer, and can pick the ball off. He’ll leave footballs rolling on the ground, as well as the guy he just pummeled to knock it loose.
4. Ed Reed, S Baltimore – Ed Reed is the greatest safety in the league, and maybe ever to have played the game. Ed can punish the ball carrier, hit the receiver when the ball arrives, and attacks the football like no other. When he gets his hands on the ball, he’s taking it to the house… or he’s putting it in a teammates hands when he’s being tackled so that guy can take it to the house. He may miss a few games… but he’ll definitely be the most feared DB when he is playing.
5. Brian Orakpo, LB Washington – No favoritism here, nobody can argue. Any list I’ve seen like this holds Orakpo here, or higher. Usually a sack specialist who does well as a rookie (11 sacks), does even better every year after… and Orakpo is going to be utilized more on the blitz in a 3-4 this season, so he’ll be punishing all QB’s and making plays.
6. Darrell Revis, CB New York (Jets) – Revis won’t ever have another year like he did last year… but he’ll never be thrown at anywhere near as much as the few times he was last year either. QB’s will not test this guy, as he’s now got Nnamdi-fever. Revis Island will become a barren wasteland from now on, as nobody will visit.
7. Nnamdi Asamougha, CB Oakland – Nnamdi is still the most dangerous corner in the league. Revis was batting down passes… you just didn’t throw to him. Nnamdi grabs passes out of the air and takes them to the house. Very rarely will a receiver get off the line vs. him, and even when you do, his rebound ability is unmatched. He’ll get beat inside a few times… but he’s still a shutdown corner.
8. Ray Lewis, LB Baltimore – The father… Ray is what every linebackers wants to be… great! His passion, intensity, speed, power, and focus are unmatched completely. I’m almost tempted to switch he and Willis, especially now that Ray’s got 700 pounds of man in front of him in Ngata and Glenn, so he’ll have some freedom he never thought he’d see.
9. Clay Matthews, LB Green Bay – Matthews, like Orakpo, is only going to see his numbers improve. He’s going to dominate people left and right, and up and down the field. He’s got a knack for finding himself in position to make plays, and is always on the ball. No back, tight end, or quarterback, will ignore this guy on any down, that’s for sure.
10. LaRon Landry, S Washington – This might not be a popular pick now, but just wait for the season. Landry is going to be played to his strengths, blitzing, playing a close-to-the-line zone, and being who he was supposed to be coming out of college, and not trying to replace Sean Taylor in a scheme that left him vulnerable.
11. Rolando McClain, LB Oakland – If any rookie is going to flourish this year, it’s McClain. He may prove to be the best pick in this draft, and he’s a great fit. Oakland has a D-Line that will fight and create pressure… and DB’s who will keep offenses from rushing throws, or hold throws off a bit longer. The result, McClain is going to stop a lot of draws, throws over the middle, and scrambling QB’s. His speed and hitting power is up there with a Lewis or Willis, all he needs now is experience, applied technique, and discipline.
12. Charles Woodson, CB Green Bay – For some reason, offenses still think they’re allowed to test this guy, and they’ll keep testing him because he’s getting older, but… he’s going to keep making plays, picking passes off, and taking the ball back to the endzone for a TD. Woodson is every bit of the potential that Heisman said he was…
13. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Arizona – He’s got two huge safeties, and had some numbers pretty close to Revis last season. His arm length, speed, and shifty hips help him stay in great position to shut any receivers down, and he’ll be playing some good ones this year. All he’s got left to do is learn to really jam guys at the line, because then he’ll take away his side of the field completely.
14. Jairus Byrd, S Buffalo – This kid can only continue to get better. He missed a few games last year as a backup, and still ended tied for the league lead in INT’s… as a rookie. He’s a sound tackler who can make the big hit, and on his defense, he HAS to be the playmaker. Might hurt having lost Fewell from the Buffalo staff, but I think his instincts will continue to put him in position to keep offenses out of his zone.
15. Jonathan Vilma, LB New Orleans – Vilma may have been the biggest playmaker of last season on defense… but his numbers didn’t shine bright in any one category, so you may not realize it. Vilma was right in the middle of a lot of those turnovers the Saints caused last year, constantly putting the ball on the ground, or picking it out of the air… and it was ALWAYS in the most clutch of moments, sealing games.
16. Tracy Porter, CB New Orleans – Porter has tremendous upside, and he’s got instincts that also put him in position to make a play in a clutch moment. Porter needs to be feared if he isn’t, because he’s going to make offenses pay if they think they can test him. His ability to jam and recover are as good as any, and his awareness is up there with some of the best as well. Great tackler who won’t give up extra yards.
17. DeMarcus Ware, LB Dallas – His stats fell off, but he still provided the presence needed to make big plays. He’ll continue, and might even get back to being the sack machine he was 2 years ago, especially with the Cowboys hoping to spend less time on defense this season, meaning he’ll be fresh enough to get his work done.
18. Brian Cushing, LB Houston – He’s hurt by the fact that he’s going to miss four games. Brian will still be a monster when he gets back on the field, PED’s or no PED’s. His tackling is sound and powerful, and his ball awareness is incredible. He’ll rip it out, or pick it out of the air… and he’ll always be within 5 yards of whoever has the football at the end of every play.
19. Julius Peppers, DE Chicago – Julius has fright than this, but not with the Bears. I say this is the year we find out just how badly Julius wants to play, and how he uses that will to actually perform on the field. If he gets better – he’s the most feared after Freeney… but if he falls off even the slightest, well this position reins true.
20. Eric Berry, S Kansas City – Berry is going to make plays, and make those plays often. He’s young, so he’ll slip up in coverage here or there, and maybe miss a few tackles… but the heart and instincts of this kid are incredible… Ed Reed like, even. And it helps that he idolized and watched film on some of the better FS’s we’ve seen… Ed Reed, Sean Taylor (who Berry said was his absolute favorite player), Darren Sharper, Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson (studying the last two at corner as well). I see Berry turning the Chiefs’ secondary into a true powerhouse.