Analysis  

 

Bucky's Best: NFL's top players in eight skill-based categories

In this series, Bucky Brooks identifies the NFL's top 10 players within unique, skill-based categories.


Hands and ball skills

Whereas many evaluators place tremendous emphasis on speed, athleticism and agility when assessing pass catchers, to me, the elite guys are those who exhibit extraordinary hands and ball skills. The league's most natural pass catchers -- like Alshon Jeffery -- effortlessly pluck the ball out of the air.
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Cover corners

There's nothing that makes me cringe more than hearing any cornerback with a little skill touted as a "shutdown corner." The reality is that few CBs in today's game are capable of locking down receivers without assistance. Patrick Peterson, though, has that ability. But is he the best of the best?
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Blind-side protectors

Truly dominant left tackles (see: Joe Thomas) win one-on-one matchups in spectacular fashion while also displaying sound footwork and fundamentals. Top-notch guys must be able to hold their own against dynamic pass rushers, as opposed to relying on assistance from tight ends and running backs.
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Complete running backs

Not too long ago, NFL running backs were commonly expected to run, catch and block at a high level. Today, players like that are an increasingly rare breed. Still, there are running backs who can do it all -- like LeSean McCoy, a dynamic threat who makes things happen in many more ways than one.
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Clutch quarterbacks

It's important to study a quarterback's play in vital situations (red zone, two-minute drill, fourth quarter) to see if he possesses the mental fortitude to rise to the occasion when it matters most. Who is the NFL's Mr. Clutch in today's game? Drew Brees certainly makes a compelling case for the title.
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Hybrid tight ends

Looking at the current NFL landscape, it's no surprise that most of the top tight ends are classified as hybrids, based on athleticism and unique skills. Armed with a fat new contract that pays him like a wide receiver, Jimmy Graham is the leader of the pack. Who else is redefining the position?
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Dynamic safeties

The NFL's aerial evolution over the past decade has changed the way defensive coordinators build their secondaries. Teams are placing a greater emphasis on adding athletic playmakers with versatile skill sets; hence, Jairus Byrd received a monster contract this offseason. Where does the Saints safety rank among his peers?
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All-around inside linebackers

What is the key to building a dominant defense in the NFL? Blue-chip talent up the middle -- particularly at inside linebacker, where versatile, savvy studs set the tone. Case in point: Carolina Panthers superstar Luke Kuechly. Besides the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, though, who else flourishes in this role?
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