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Blue chips and red chips: Defensive position rankings

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Ravens DT Haloti Ngata (left) and Chargers S Eric Weddle are among the NFL's 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 who meet the criteria for the grading system.

Blue chips and red chips: Offense
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 offensive 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 who 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 defense (click here for the offense). Also note that the players are listed in order, starting with the best player at each position.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Blue Chips
Julius Peppers, Bears
Dwight Freeney, Colts
Jared Allen, Vikings
Trent Cole, Eagles
Mario Williams, Texans

Red Chips
John Abraham, Falcons
Justin Tuck, Giants
Justin Smith, 49ers
Will Smith, Saints
Robert Mathis, Colts

Notes
» This was a hard position to handle as some ends are playing linebacker, and some linebackers play end. All the players here are true ends playing with their hand on the ground on every down (Mario Williams may be standing up now, but based on last year his hand was down all the time).
» I left off Osi Umenyiora because these other players are better and can play both the run and pass.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Blue Chips
Haloti Ngata, Ravens
Ndamukong Suh, Lions
Vince Wilfork, Patriots
Kevin Williams, Vikings
B.J. Raji, Packers

Red Chips
Casey Hampton, Steelers
Richard Seymour, Raiders
Kyle Williams, Bills
Darnell Dockett, Cardinals
Jay Ratliff, Cowboys

Notes
» In this group, I combined both nose tackles and defensive tackles.
» Ratliff was borderline making the red-chip list based solely on his relatively average play last season. But in the past few years, he was dominating and therefore his career play won him the final spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Blue Chips
Patrick Willis, 49ers
Jon Beason, Panthers
Jerod Mayo, Patriots
Curtis Lofton, Falcons
Lawrence Timmons, Steelers

Red Chips
Ray Lewis, Ravens
Brian Urlacher, Bears
Jonathan Vilma, Saints
David Harris, Jets
Barrett Ruud, Titans

Notes
» To qualify here, the linebacker must be able to play all three downs and impact the game.
» Lewis and Urlacher are near the end of their careers, but both still play on all three downs and both still impact their team. They just no longer do it at a blue-chip level.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Blue Chips
DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys
Clay Matthews, Packers
James Harrison, Steelers
LaMarr Woodley, Steelers
Terrell Suggs, Ravens

Red Chips
Cameron Wake, Dolphins
Lance Briggs, Bears
Tamba Hali, Chiefs
Brian Orakpo, Redskins
Shaun Phillips, Chargers

Notes
» This position is mostly pure linebackers, with the exception of Suggs, who also plays some defensive end.
» The Raiders' Kamerion Wimbley and the Broncos' Elvis Dumervil were the biggest omissions. Neither are truly linebackers and are more rushers, and are thus hard to categorize.

CORNERBACKS

Blue Chips
Darrelle Revis, Jets
Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles
Charles Woodson, Packers
Aqib Talib, Buccaneers
Devin McCourty, Patriots

Red Chips
Leon Hall, Bengals
Antonio Cromartie, Jets
Asante Samuel, Eagles
Brandon Flowers, Chiefs
Tramon Williams, Packers
Brent Grimes, Falcons
Johnathan Joseph, Texans
Vontae Davis, Dolphins
Quentin Jammer, Chargers
Charles Tillman, Bears

Notes
» Since I went 15 deep on wide receivers, I felt it only fair to do the same with the guys charged with stopping them.
» It's important to note that some of the red-chip players, like Tillman and Flowers, are scheme-specific, but still outstanding in their roles.

SAFETIES

Blue Chips
Troy Polamalu, Steelers
Ed Reed, Ravens
Adrian Wilson, Cardinals
Antrel Rolle, Giants
Eric Berry, Chiefs

Red Chips
Nick Collins, Packers
Earl Thomas, Seahawks
O.J. Atogwe, Redskins
Eric Weddle, Charges
LaRon Landry, Redskins

Notes
» The top two players here were easy to pick. Berry might be moving into that group if he has another season like his rookie year.

HEAD COACHES

Blue Chips
Bill Belichick, Patriots
Mike Tomlin, Steelers
Sean Payton, Saints
Rex Ryan, Jets
Andy Reid, Eagles

Red Chips
Mike McCarthy, Packers
Mike Smith, Falcons
Lovie Smith, Bears
Tom Coughlin, Giants
John Harbaugh, Ravens

Notes
» When ranking the coaches, I also took under consideration the total staff breakdown, as some coordinators are extremely valuable.
» The Redskins' Mike Shanahan would have appeared on this list in the past, but the last few years his teams have taken a step back.

AND NOW FOR THE OFFENSE...

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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