|Gerald Herbert/Associated Press|
|Calvin Johnson began 2011 with nine touchdowns in Detroit's first five games, finishing with 16 on the year.|
So much of our time is spent bloviating on quarterbacks, and justifiably so, but that is not the only position on the field where one player can dominate the game.
I enlisted the help of several NFL coaches, executives and scouts and compiled a list of the seven most dominant players in the NFL. And in this exercise, quarterbacks aren't eligible.
You aren't given the nickname "Megatron" for being just an above-average wide receiver. Johnson is the epitome of dominance. Everyone in the stadium knows where the ball is going and there is absolutely nothing a defense can do about it. If you are looking for a witness, give Rob Ryan or anyone in the Dallas secondary a call. As one NFC executive put it, "He's a bigger, tougher Randy Moss."
You don't normally equate the word "dominant" with the tight end position. Gronkowski changed that perception last season. His 17 touchdown catches (an NFL TE record) led the entire league. I asked an opposing defensive coach about trying to slow down Gronk. "It's helpless; there is nothing you can do." This coach went on to explain that Gronkowski's a matchup nightmare for anybody you throw at him. He's too fast and athletic for linebackers to cover and his size and strength overwhelms cornerbacks and safeties.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who watches NFL football on a regular basis. He's the best cornerback in the game and the only current player at the position worthy of the "shutdown" label. I asked several opposing coaches and personnel execs if there was any reason he shouldn't be on this list. Crickets ...
Stats don't always tell the story, but in this case they are hard to ignore. In seven seasons, Ware has sacked opposing quarterbacks 99.5 times. He's had four different seasons where he's collected 14 or more sacks and only one year in which he failed to reach double digits (his rookie season, when he had eight). He's also forced 27 fumbles in his career. "He's the one guy we play against that we don't have an answer for," said one NFC executive who is very familiar with Ware's ability to dominate games. "How do you stop him? I wish I knew."
Everyone in the NFL uses the same word to describe Allen: "Warrior." A relentless motor is his trademark, and he's proven capable of completely destroying an opposing passing attack. Want dominance? He recorded 22 sacks last season while playing on a team that won three games. Pass rushers love to play with leads. It allows them to pin their ears back and abandon any thought of a possible run. Jared wasn't afforded that luxury, yet he fell only half a sack short of Michael Strahan's single-season record.
Pierre-Paul is the defensive version of Calvin Johnson. His physical size and athletic ability are so off the charts that it is tough to come up with a defensive comparison from the present or the past. His length and ability to corner the edge is similar to Jevon Kearse, but he's much thicker and stronger. In 2011, JPP was a dominant force with 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. He creates major matchup problems no matter where he aligns. From the outside, his power is a major issue for offensive tackles, while his quickness gives interior offensive lineman fits. One highly respected NFL defensive line coach believes he's the best pass rusher to enter the league in the past 10 years.
I think the cat might finally be out of the bag: Justin Smith is one bad dude! It's hard for a 5-technique in a three-man front to dominate a football game, but Smith does just that on a weekly basis. He has rare strength, power and balance to hold the point of attack against the run. Simply put, he's immovable. He also has the quickness and awareness to shed blockers, locate the football and make the tackle. As a pass rusher, he makes it close to impossible for the offensive line to establish a clean pocket. He constantly gets push and offers a wide variety of hand moves to create pressure. The term walk-off usually applies to baseball players, but Justin made it relevant in the NFL last season. He made key plays to clinch wins over the Eagles, Lions and Giants (in their regular season matchup).
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.