Our next assignment for ESPN.com’s Power Rankings: Rate the top 10 offensive players in the NFL, taking signal-callers out of the equation.
It’s a difficult task, considering we’ve not addressed the offensive line. (I believe that left tackles are on the long-term agenda, but that is not my department.)
Ranking the Offensive Players
1t. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans 1t. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings 3. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans 4. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals 5. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions 6. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons 7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars 8. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins 9. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns 10t. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs 10t. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Nobody else took my route. I simply put a giant premium on explosiveness and passed on O-linemen entirely. I didn’t do it because I downgraded their importance. Backs, receivers and tight ends couldn’t qualify for consideration here, obviously, without quality line-blocking.
I did it for three reasons.
Like virtually every football writer, I am least good at evaluating offensive linemen with my own eyes.
Although conventional wisdom says to build inside-out, if I could select 10 offensive football players with whom to start a team, I’d load up on playmakers and feel good about the potential to build a good line starting with my 11th choice. (I’d have an excellent offensive line coach.)
We’re not in the prime of Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones or Alan Faneca. And although some great linemen got votes here, none is so good he HAD to be here. Right now, we might be more about units than superior individuals.
But my logic is easily disputed by someone who took a completely different tack. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert voted linemen fifth and sixth with Joe Thomas and Jake Long, respectively.
“It's definitely harder to measure the impact of a singular offensive lineman versus skill players, but to me you're fooling yourself if you either subordinate their role or don't consider the best linemen to be just as important as the best running backs or receivers,” Seifert said in an email laced with compliments of the AFC South blog’s content. “Linemen don't touch the ball, so their impact on any given play is more limited than, say, when Adrian Peterson gets a handoff.
“But over the course of a game, an elite offensive lineman can contribute to a victory just as much. And, more obviously to most people, a sub-par performance from an offensive lineman can lead to defeat. I made sure to rank my top running backs and receivers ahead of any offensive lineman in this ranking, but I thought the two best guys in the league -- Joe Thomas and Jake Long -- deserved to be ranked over the second tier at the other positions. So that's how I went about it.”
“I think Chris Johnson is the best running back and I think Jamaal Charles is right behind him,” Williamson said. “I see Charles often. The guy is the goods. So, that leaves Peterson just a tad below. I stuck to my running back power rankings, which cost Peterson. Seems like it happened again. But I'm comfortable with it.”
Jones-Drew caused a bit of a divide. He wasn’t named on five of our eight ballots, but NFC East newbie Dan Graziano and NFC South maven Pat Yasinskas had MJD in their top four.
“He's the every-down back, he's the goal-line back, he catches the ball,” Graziano said. “I just think his overall contributions to the offense set him apart. He may not be as good or skilled a back as Peterson or Johnson, which is why I ranked those guys higher.
"But for me he has more to do with how his team's offense runs and succeeds than does a receiver like a Fitzgerald or White. And while I think Jamaal Charles has more talent, the fact that he doesn't play as much as Jones-Drew plays moves him further down the list for me.”
Said Yasinskas: “I look at Maurice Jones-Drew as more than just a running back. He's an all-around weapon.”
As usual, the reasoning of my colleagues makes me secretly second-guess some of my decision-making. Wait, did I say that out loud? Then not so secretly.
It’s hard to go wrong, obviously, with an entire pool of offensive players (minus quarterbacks) to choose from.