Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.
So far, we have covered Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates, defensive front sevens, satellite backs, wide receivers, the Around The NFL quarter-season All-Pro team, best offseason bargains, Comeback Player of the Year candidates and NFL divisions.
While these selections are based on all data available, I have relied primarily on NFL Game Pass and my own notes. Offensive linemen are noticeably absent, as I don't have the time or the expertise to judge their play with the attention they deserve.
On to the list:
Considering the length and breadth of Brady's career, it's well past time to acknowledge that he has surpassed Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas as the greatest quarterbackever to suit up. Montana didn't play a full 16-game season from age 29 through the end of his career. He was benched once in favor of Steve Young and then traded in his mid-30s. At Brady's current age, Montana was playing out his final season. Meanwhile, Brady is enjoying an MVP campaign, challenging his record-breaking 2007 season as the highest level he has played in a sterling career.
Brady recently stated that he's a better quarterback now than he was five years ago. That's not hyperbole. A slimmer Brady is more nimble in the pocket and has lost nothing from his fastball. He continues to put on a quarterbacking clinic, showcasing rare field vision, processing information at rapid speed and attacking the right players on the right down and distance. With the exception of the 2014 regular-season finale in which Brady rested for half of the game, he's led the Pats to victory in 20 of his last 21 starts. That is a phenomenal feat for a quarterback who has already played long enough to own the career Super Bowl records for passes, completions, yards and touchdowns.
After just two NFL starts, it was obvious that Gurley was not just a generational talent but also a franchise-altering power/speed back of the Earl Campbell mold. Despite missing two games and barely playing in a third, he's on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards. Since entering the starting lineup, he has accounted for 50 percent of the Rams' offense. He's easily the youngest player in history to rush for at least 125 yards in four consecutive games.
At what point do we go overboard in acknowledging Gurley's uniqueness? Barring an injury, he will sail past Adrian Peterson's sterling rookie mark of 1,341 yards. More impressively, Gurley has rushed for 575 yards in his first five games since ACL surgery compared to the 420 Peterson accrued in the first five games of his 2012 MVP season -- returning from a reconstructive knee procedure of his own.
The ATNFL team features a satellite back because the best offensive coaches utilize a spread-offense specialist in a pass-heavy era with uptempo attacks and game-deciding two-minute drills. Lewis has been the most elusive -- and perhaps the most exciting -- back in the league, consistently forcing the first tackler to miss via the run as well as the pass. Despite missing a game to injury, he's on pace for 73 receptions, 798 receiving yards and nine touchdowns -- numbers that would shatter the career-best seasons of Brady's other satellite backs such as Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen.
Carolina's Mike Tolbert is the most recognizable fullback because he touches the ball more than other lead-blockers and fans are tickled to witness a man of his carriage moving like a running back. DiMarco deserves the midseason accolades, however, as the pile-driving force consistently paving huge holes for Devonta Freeman.
Of all great tight ends in history, Gronkowski is the most freakishly physical at 6 feet 6 and 265 pounds along with the movement skills of a wide receiver. His blocking ability allows the Patriots to steamroll softer defenses with a power-rushing attack. His nonpareil receiving ability allows Brady to riddle stout defenses such as the Bills or Jets with a spread attack.
Leading the league in both categories, Jones is on pace for a record-breaking 140 catches to go with 1,784 yards. DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and Keenan Allen merit strong consideration for the second spot, but I've been swayed by Steve Smith's magical age-36 half-season. Second only to Allen Robinson in plays over 20 yards, Smith was averaging an incredible 95.7 yards per game while single-handedly keeping the Ravens' offense afloat prior to his season-ending Achilles tear. Whether or not he returns for another season -- as John Harbaugh suggested -- 89 is a lead-pipe lock for the Hall of Fame.
How explosive is the Cardinals' offense? They already have six games of 400-plus yards this season, equaling the number of times they have managed that feat in the past five seasons combined. It's hard to quantify Fitzgerald's leadership in Arizona. After selflessly moving from the outside to the slot in Bruce Arians' scheme, he's now willingly taking on lead-blocking duties for Chris Johnson's short-yardage runs. He's also on pace for career highs in receptions (110) and touchdowns (14).
The Ravens have two wins this season because Tucker has ice water in his veins, delivering two more game-winners to bring his career total to nine. Not just a machine in clutch situations, Tucker is also excellent on kickoffs.
Landry has made a few questionable decisions as a returner, but still ranks among the NFL's most effective on punts and kickoffs. He has the added benefit of doubling as a dynamic slot receiver.
If Watt played Zach Mettenberger every week, he'd break every record in the books. After hitting the statuesque Titans quarterback nine times in Week 8, Watt is now up to 40 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 25 QB hits and 15 tackles for loss. Those numbers compare favorably to his midseason 2014 stats when he ran away with the Defensive Player of the Year award.
The clown suit that Donald fashioned for Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger and guard Shawn Lauvao with this Tasmanian Devil-style spin move followed by lightning-quick closing speed to sack Kirk Cousins remains the most impressive defensive play I've seen this year. Donald will be a mainstay on this list for years to come.
The spotlight shines brightest on the linebackers in Carolina, but it's been Short and cornerback Josh Norman who have been the difference-makers in the Panthers' 7-0 start. Short has been a consistent force as both a pocket-pushing pass rusher and an interior run-stuffer, giving him a slight edge over a reborn Geno Atkins in Cincinnati.
Cornerback Aqib Talib is generating surprising Defensive Player of the Year buzz, but Miller and Ware are the focal point of Wade Phillips' blitz-happy 3-4 scheme that gave Aaron Rodgers' the worst whupping of his career. Denver's linebacker depth is incredible. Backup pass rushers Shaquil Barrett, Lerentee McCray and Shane Ray would start on many other teams.
NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth recently revealed that Colts offensive coaches game-planned for Collins more than any other player except for two-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Billed as a two-down thumper coming out of Alabama, Hightower has also been an effective pass rusher in subpackages. He made nine plays in the backfield versus the Jets. Nine!
It speaks to Norman's dominance that he's first among cornerbacks in opposing passer rating, interceptions and pick-sixes, yet it's the spectacular plays that have understandably drawn the most attention for the undefeated Panthers. Norman simulated his acrobatic game-clinching interception versus the Saints with an insanely athletic diving pass deflection to prevent a game-winning T.Y. Hilton touchdown Monday night.
A legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Mathieu plays like a combination of undersized but fierce former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield and disruptive free lancing former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. He's the first cornerback I've ever seen holding the top spot across the board in Pro Football Focus' grades for coverage, run defense and pass rush.
Smith is not only the best blitzing safety in the league, but also a prime example of Minnesota's defense challenging Seattle's as the league's surest tackling unit. The second spot was a tough choice between Jones and Malcolm Jenkins. Even before his twin pick-sixes in Weeks 6 and 7, Jones was the lone week-in, week-out force on Miami's defense.
Pat McAfee is so good that he has his own nickname: Boomstick. He could easily be the choice, but Hekker won me over as the most lethal fake punter of his generation. The former All-State high school quarterback was pushed out of the pocket at Green Bay in Week 5, calmly went through his progressions and threw on the run for an improvised 20-yard fourth-down conversion in the third quarter. For his career, Hekker is now 6-of-8 for 99 yards and a touchdown, good for a 155.7 passer rating. He's a hell of a punter to boot.