Position Power Rankings  

 

Seahawks secondary headlines top position groups

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Every week, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position or attribute.

So far, we have covered running backs, safeties, red-zone threats, throwing arms, quarter-pole surprises, quarter-pole disappointments, franchise cornerstones, players deserving of Pro Bowl consideration, best free-agent pickups, biggest free-agent flops, rookie classes, Comeback Player of the Year candidates and 2015 free agents.

This week, we examine the NFL's top position groups.

1. Seahawks secondary Don't look now, but the "Legion of Boom" is playing at an even higher level the past three weeks than they did as a historically great unit last season. Richard Sherman hasn't allowed a completion over that span. Byron Maxwell was the defensive MVP in the shutdown performance against Chip Kelly's Eagles. Earl Thomas remains the game's premier free safety, while Kam Chancellor is still the most intimidating box safety. This defense has allowed just one play over 17 yards the past two weeks and is now averaging 274.5 yards per game compared to 273.6 a year ago. At peak strength, Seattle's secondary has put on a clinic over the past 16 games, suffocating the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

2. Cowboys offensive line Although DeMarco Murray's record-breaking season has sparked MVP discussion, former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride maintains that left tackle Tyron Smith is the Cowboys' most valuable player. Already a Pro Bowl-caliber lineman, first-round right guard Zack Martin is an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Altogether, Murray's blockers have set a physical tone this franchise has lacked for years, all the while helping to mask the weaknesses of a below-average defense.

3. Packers wide receivers A quarterback can't be separated from his wide receivers. Nelson is one of the NFL's best route runners, deep threats and boundary targets whereas Cobb is a first-down machine with reliable hands, a punt-returner's run-after-catch elusiveness and an uncanny mind meld with Aaron Rodgers on improvised plays. The analytics site Pro Football Focus tracks quarterback-to-receiver passer rating. It's no surprise that Cobb (143.7) and Nelson (131.1) stand far above the crowd at their position.

4. Bills defensive line A month ago, a strong argument could have been made that Mario Williams was the fourth-most effective player on a defensive line that features Pro Bowl tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams as well as productive pass rusher Jerry Hughes. Since then, Mario has played like a man possessed, racking up six sacks and stuffing the run. The Bills' defensive front is the reason they remain in the playoff hunt despite a season's worth of subpar quarterback play.

5. Broncos receiving corps I'm going to stretch the rules and throw in Julius Thomas, since 21st century "move" tight ends are essentially wide receiver hybrids. Although Wes Welker is no longer a threat after the catch, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders each rank in the top-five in receptions and top-six in receiving yards. Three of the four members of this crew deserve strong Pro Bowl consideration this season.

6. Lions defensive line Even with Nick Fairley sidelined, Detroit is on pace to finish with the third-best run defense of the past 25 years, per Football Outsiders' metrics. Although they have been ably assisted by an All-Pro performance from weakside linebacker DeAndre Levy, they also have the game's dominant defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh to go with a true breakout star in pass rusher Ziggy Ansah.

7. Ravens offensive line On the Week 14 recap edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, we made the point that Baltimore's offensive line has been every bit as dominant as Dallas' when all five starters have been healthy. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have been the best in the league, paving the way for Justin Forsett's surprising breakout season. Among quarterbacks with 13 starts, Peyton Manning is the only one to be sacked fewer times than Joe Flacco.

8. Rams defensive line If not for a disappointing September and October, this unit would rank quite a bit higher. Robert Quinn and rookie Aaron Donald have staked their claim as the NFL's most productive end-tackle tandem over the past six weeks, as the Rams have led the NFL in sacks and takeaways over that span. With veteran defensive end Chris Long finally returning to the lineup, this is one defense no contender wants to see on the schedule the rest of the way.

9. Patriots secondary Reggie Wayne has called New England's defensive backfield the best he has faced in 14 years. Cornerback Darrelle Revis and free safety Devin McCourty are among the five best at their respective positions, strong safety Patrick Chung has enjoyed a bounceback season and Brandon Browner allows Bill Belichick to play matchups with the most physical corner in the game. This secondary doesn't have the shutdown nature of Seattle's, but it has been Belichick's best in over a decade.

10. 49ers linebackers Where would the 7-6 49ers be without rookie linebackers Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch? Vic Fangio's defense has been among the league's stingiest despite missing Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman -- the NFL's premier inside linebacker duo for the past decade -- for the majority of the season. Aldon Smith has been a terror since returning from suspension, while Borland is leading the NFL in tackles since entering the lineup at midseason.

Honorable mention: Colts tight ends, Cardinals secondary, Jets defensive line, Eagles defensive line

The latest Around The NFL Podcast reacts to the fallout of Cam Newton's car accident and debates how the Browns will look with Johnny Manziel at QB. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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