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Blue chips and red chips: Offensive position rankings

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (left) and Niners TE Vernon Davis are among the best at their positions.


It is blue-chip/red-chip time here at NFL.com, which means ranking the top players and head coaches in the NFL.

In last year's blue-chip/red-chip column, I broke it down by team. This year I'm breaking it down by positions because it keeps the number of players on the list to the select few that meet the criteria for the grading system.

Blue chips and red chips: Defense
Michael Lombardi ranks the best players at each position, handing them his blue- and red-chip ratings. Take a look at the best in the game at the defensive spots. More ...

With a great deal of help from NFL Network colleague Brian Baldinger, we built a blue-chip/red-chip board. The goal was to get a top 10 at each position. But at some spots, like wide receiver and cornerback, we went more than 10. At others, like center, we went less. The end result is the top 73 players on offense and the top 75 on defense. Baldinger provided great insight and was a tremendous help, but I take full responsibility for the final product.

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Definition of a blue-chip player
» Player demonstrates rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game
» Is a premier player in the league and a weapon on the field
» Combines competitiveness and skill to have a consistent championship-level performance
» Rates in the top five at his position in the league

Definition of a red-chip player
» Player has abilities that can create mismatches vs. most opponents in the league
» Is a featured player on the team and has impact on the outcome of the game
» Player can't be taken out of the game in one-on-one matchup
» Has a consistent level of performance each week
» Plays at a championship level performance
» Rates in the top 10 at his position in the league

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Before you rip the rankings, make sure to read the above definitions and make sure the player you feel has been slighted fits the description. Not everyone can make the list, so there are going to be some good -- but not great -- players that fall short. In a separate column before the season, I will rank all the teams, using a point-based system, to come up with my blue-chip/red-chip power rankings. 

So let's get started with the offense (click here for the defense and head coaches). Also note that the players are listed in order, starting with the best player at each position.

QUARTERBACKS

Blue Chips
Tom Brady, Patriots
Peyton Manning, Colts
Philip Rivers, Chargers
Drew Brees, Saints
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Red Chips
Michael Vick, Eagles
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Matt Schaub, Texans
Eli Manning, Giants

Notes
» This is the only position I had six blue-chip players. All of them are clearly vital to their teams.
» I left Tony Romo off the red-chip list based on last year's shoulder injury, which affected his season. If healthy, Romo belongs on the list.
» Michael Vick is not a blue-chip player yet. He needs to play an entire season the way he played last year, then he might be able to unseat someone. However, even if he does play that well consistently, I'm not sure he is better than the six players ranked higher than him.

RUNNING BACKS

Blue Chips
Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Chris Johnson, Titans
Steven Jackson, Rams
Ray Rice, Ravens
Michael Turner, Falcons

Red Chips
Arian Foster, Texans
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers

Notes
» The biggest omission is Frank Gore of the 49ers, who I feel is a really good player, but not quite up to par with the other red-chippers.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Blue Chips
Andre Johnson, Texans
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Reggie Wayne, Colts
Greg Jennings, Packers
Roddy White, Falcons

Red Chips
Calvin Johnson, Lions
Wes Welker, Patriots
Santonio Holmes, Jets
DeSean Jackson, Eagles
Mike Wallace, Steelers
Vincent Jackson, Chargers
Miles Austin, Cowboys
Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
Marques Colston, Saints
Steve Smith, Panthers

Notes
» Dwayne Bowe of the Chiefs was the hardest omission. He had 15 touchdowns last season, but it never felt like he could take over a game.
» Why did 15 WRs make the cut? With all the three-receiver sets in the league, I didn't want to shortchange the position.

TIGHT ENDS

Blue Chips
Vernon Davis, 49ers
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
Antonio Gates, Chargers
Dallas Clark, Colts
Jason Witten, Cowboys

Red Chips
Jermichael Finley, Packers
Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
Heath Miller, Steelers
Zach Miller, Seahawks

Notes
» Both Clark and Gates have been hurt, but when they are on the field they dominate and are impossible to take out of the game.
» Finley is really a blue-chip player, but due to his injury last year, I moved him down.
» Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots almost made the list. With one more season like last year, he is a slam dunk to be a red chip.
» Heath Miller of the Steelers is so good in pass protections and run blocking that even though he is not a down-the-field receiver, he does so many things well that he cannot be taken off the list.

TACKLES

Blue Chips
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets
Donald Penn, Buccaneers
Joe Thomas, Browns
Jake Long, Dolphins
Marcus McNeill, Chargers

Red Chips
Michael Roos, Titans
Jason Peters, Eagles
Chad Clifton, Packers
Jordan Gross, Panthers
Joe Staley, 49ers

Notes
» It's no coincidence all 10 play left tackle; it's where the best linemen play.
» Debated between Roos and McNeill for the final blue-chip spot, but ultimately settled on the Charger. Both are excellent players.

GUARDS

Blue Chips
Jahri Evans, Saints
Logan Mankins, Patriots
Josh Sitton, Packers
Chris Snee, Giants
Steve Hutchinson, Vikings

Red Chips
Carl Nicks, Saints
Harvey Dahl, Rams
Brandon Moore, Jets
Davin Joseph, Bucs
Kris Dielman, Chargers

Notes
» Hard to leave the Ravens' Ben Grubbs and the Browns' Eric Steinbach off the list, but only could have 10. Both players would be the next in line.

CENTERS

Blue Chips
Nick Mangold, Jets
Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers
Nick Hardwick, Chargers
Alex Mack, Browns
Ryan Kalil, Panthers

Red Chips
Andre Gurode, Cowboys
Kyle Cook, Bengals
Max Unger, Seahawks

Notes
» Only eight centers are on the list. It did not make sense to add a player to the list if his play did not fit the description in the grading system.

AND NOW FOR THE DEFENSE AND HEAD COACHES...

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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