Friday, January 28, 2011
All 106 Super Bowl XLV players ranked
By Matt Williamson
Ranking the Super Bowl rosters is never easy, especially when it comes to selecting the No. 1 player.
Last year, it wasn't difficult to put Peyton Manning right at the top. This year, there could be a great debate between Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers as the better quarterback. And it could be argued that they don't even belong in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots overall with the wealth of defensive talent in this game.
This matchup is loaded with star power and I think it is pretty clear that these are the two top defenses in football. Of course, this list will create a stir, and feel free to blast me for it. But below, I will justify why I have every player where I do -- although those guys at the caboose of this train are awfully difficult to really get a bead on considering how little they have played. My apologies to them and their families.
Also remember, the Packers have 15 players on injured reserve and have been crushed by injuries this season, so several of these young men would not be a part of this team in a typical season. Here we go.
For players 49-106, click here.
Roethlisberger has that "been there, done that" factor over Rodgers. That isn't a knock on Rodgers, but Roethlisberger is simply amazing when it matters most. He didn't throw the ball well versus the Jets, but played a far better game than his numbers would indicate. His playmaking ability is just off the charts. Roethlisberger finds a way time and time again.
Like Roethlisberger, Rodgers didn't have his best game last week. But also like Roethlisberger, he is immensely gifted and has progressed at a rapid pace. He might just be a quarterback without discernible weaknesses at this point. But he hasn't been on this stage yet. Roethlisberger has -- and is 2-for-2. But there is no reason to doubt Rodgers.
Harrison would be my vote for Defensive Player of the Year. Harrison is the type of force that just never relents. He is tremendous in all facets of the game. Happen to remember what he did in his last Super Bowl appearance?
Matthews was a complete terror for the first half of the season, and although he wasn't bad to finish up the year, his play did drop off (probably due to injury). But this is a great football player. And he doesn't have a complement on the other side like Harrison does. Matthews is healthy, has been tremendous during the playoffs and could be poised for one more huge game.
Polamalu's role in this great defense has diminished in the playoffs and he hasn't been near the line of scrimmage as much as usual. That makes me think he just hasn't been 100 percent healthy. Two weeks to prepare for this game could do him a world of good. If a defensive player is going to make a game-changing play, my bet is on Polamalu.
This huge body just needs a bigger body of work to place himself in the elite category. He does it all. He absorbs double teams. He penetrates the backfield. And he is a great interior pass-rusher. He rarely leaves the field and has amazing stamina. Raji is a big-time difference-maker who is instrumental to this defense.
In my opinion, Jennings had the best season of any wide receiver in the NFL this regular season. When TE Jermichael Finley went down, Jennings stepped up in a big way. He was also great last week and has gone for more than 100 yards receiving in the Packers' last two playoff games. The Steelers are going to have an extremely tough time containing him.
A relative unknown until a few weeks ago, but Williams has been an excellent cover man for some time now. He has a great build, technique and fluidity for the position. He might only be getting better.
With a win in this game, it should be very difficult to keep Woodson out of the Hall of Fame. He isn't like any other corner in the game today. Actually, he is more like the cornerback version of Polamalu with his extreme versatility and playmaking skills.
Who is Josh Sitton, you ask? He might just be the best guard in all of football. He is a tremendous run blocker and without question the best offensive lineman in the Super Bowl.
The first thing you think about with Wallace is speed -- and he has as much of it as anyone in football. But he has developed into an excellent all-around player. He is especially dangerous when considering Roethlisberger's ability to extend a play and his deep passing ability.
Timmons had a true breakout season. He is Dick LeBeau's version of Polamalu on the second level of the defense. Physically, he is a player without a weakness and his technique and recognition skills are quickly catching up to his natural talents.
Woodley has been great in the playoffs throughout his career and is nearly the player of his edge-rushing partner in crime, Harrison. Bryan Bulaga will need help with this guy.
The Packers have the best secondary in football. And with the exceptional cornerback play, it can be easy to overlook this Pro Bowl performer. Collins is someone Roethlisberger must be very aware of on game day.
Although he is playing only about half the defensive snaps, getting Jenkins back from his calf injury made a very good defense even better. He has extreme versatility for a defensive lineman and tormented the Bears' blocking scheme in the NFC Championship Game.
Keisel gets noticed more for his beard than his play, but this is a very good all-around 3-4 defensive end in the prime of his career. He has stepped up dramatically in Aaron Smith's absence.
|Aaron Rodgers has big-time ability, but this is his first taste of the big stage.|
Mendenhall looked fresher and more explosive than anyone on the Jets' defense last week. He is a very talented runner and underappreciated receiver. Just imagine him in the old-school Bill Cowher offenses.
Miller is among the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. He is about as reliable as you can get as a pass-catcher or blocker. Tight ends have tormented the Packers. Miller could be in for a huge Super Bowl.
With all the sub packages that Pittsburgh plays on defense, Hampton ends up on the sidelines a fair amount. But what he does well -- clog the middle and make everyone else's job easier -- he does exceptionally well.
Pouncey will be talked about leading up to the game as he tries to heal quickly from an ankle injury. Pittsburgh desperately needs him to do battle with Raji. But if he plays or not, Pouncey is next in an amazing Pittsburgh center lineage.
If we knew that Smith was going to play and be the player who we remember before his injury, he would be much higher on this list. But when looking at only what he would bring to the table for this game as Ziggy Hood's backup, he could be lower on the list. He was a difficult player to rank.
Wells doesn't have great size, but he is a very good technician. He is one of the better centers in the league, but rarely is mentioned among the best at the position. This is a great stage to gain that recognition.
Taylor slipped and fell last week, which led to Santonio Holmes' long touchdown. And he hasn't been exceptional in the second half of the season. But overall, Taylor is clearly Pittsburgh's best cover man and is often assigned to the opponent's top wideout, which would often be Jennings this week.
He has an injury similar to Pouncey's, but Clifton is much more likely to play. The Packers desperately need Clifton to return to 100 percent to do battle with Harrison. But this problem is compounded because of the disadvantage they have on the other side with Bulaga versus Woodley. Clifton has been a rock for the Pack.
Pickett can play nose tackle or end in Green Bay's three-man line. He also plays defensive tackle in the Packers' 2-4-5 personnel grouping that they are so fond of. The Packers are not short-handed up front with just Pickett and Raji on the field.
It would be easy to say that Farrior isn't what he used to be and his greatest asset is his leadership and experience. Although that isn't false, he really did have a great season and can still do a lot for this defense.
Again, few realize it, but Bishop stepped up in a big way this season. He has been a very solid player on the second level for Green Bay and is a major reason it is playing in this game.
When Smith went down, it fell on the former first-round pick to step up his game. That was earlier than the Steelers had planned, but Hood has taken to his role extremely well. He has a chance to develop even further into an exceptional 3-4 end.
Ward isn't as dynamic as he once was and doesn't separate from great cover men (like Green Bay's) like he did in his prime, but Ward still is the guy Roethlisberger looks for when he needs a play made. Ward could be headed to
the Hall of Fame and already does have a Super Bowl MVP on his extensive résumé. Don't count him out just yet.
|Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 121 yards in the Steelers' AFC title game victory.|
This is a guy who came out of nowhere. He had limited defensive experience at the college level, but anyone can see that he has a lot of natural ability. Shields is yet another great find by Green Bay's front office and is a key member of the league's best secondary.
Sanders has a very bright future. He is explosive in all his movements and is excellent with the ball in his hands. And he is just a rookie, albeit one who acclimated himself very quickly to the NFL game. Sanders is now a major part of Pittsburgh's offense.
Nelson just makes plays when he is on the field. He can get deep or play the possession role. What he brings to the table can get lost among all of Green Bay's weapons, but Nelson would have a much more featured role on many NFL squads.
Like Nelson, Jones is a bit of a role player in this offense. But he is also very good in that role and could demand more action on another team. Jones is less consistent than Nelson, but might have more big-play potential.
A self-made player and a knockout hitter, Clark is a solid all-around safety who brings intelligence and leadership to Pittsburgh's secondary. He is a fine complement to Polamalu.
Although it is highly unlikely that he ever lives up to his lofty draft spot, Hawk has improved as the season has gone along. He can no longer be considered a liability, but rather a core player on one of the league's best defenses.
Some might question this slotting, but Flynn looks like a potential starter in this league. And he could demand a nice draft pick in return over the offseason.
Starks would have been a much higher draft pick based just on his skill set and running ability. He is now the Packers' workhorse and we have seen glimpses lately of what he might become. Starks is still a work in progress, though, and running room should be very scarce against Pittsburgh.
Much like Ward, Driver is still a solid veteran wideout who has the complete trust of his star quarterback. The big plays are not there like they once were, but Driver can still contribute, although he really struggled last week.
The Packers' first-round pick has ability and could even be the future at left tackle. But he has been a liability as the starting right tackle. Woodley should present big problems. But there should be better days ahead. In fact, Bulaga's play has drastically improved of late.
The Packers' starting left guard, Colledge is built more like an offensive tackle than a guard. And he plays like it too, as he is clearly better in protection than in opening holes in the run game. He isn't a bad player, but is a reason Green Bay struggles with a consistent run game.
Foote is a rock-solid backup to both interior linebacker positions and a favorite in the locker room. The drop-off wouldn't be too significant if a starter were to fall in SB XLV.
This is a nasty player with great size and overall physicality. He pulls well and is a force coming downhill in the run game. But he isn't light on his feet and can be beaten in protection by quickness and counter moves.
Pittsburgh traded for McFadden last offseason after it allowed him to go to Arizona for one year. He isn't real impressive from a movement standpoint, but he does fit the system well and plays the game with toughness.
Brown has come on like gangbusters and made a gigantic play against the Ravens to secure the Pittsburgh victory. He is quick, but also fast and is very good with the ball in his hands.
Jackson is pretty much a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none and really lacks special qualities. But he is solid in the pass game and the Packers know what they are going to get from him. That in itself has value.
Mastay was simply brilliant in Green Bay's win over the Bears. Going into that game, Chicago had a decisive special-teams advantage, but Masthay had something to say about that. The Packers might not have advanced without him.
Kuhn is a bit of a folk legend in Wisconsin. He is pretty easy to root for. He's an important short-yardage back and a key member of the Packers' Bone backfield.
Willie Colon was the Steelers' starting right tackle -- and a very good one. But massive Adams has been an acceptable Plan B -- particularly as a run blocker.
For players 49-106, click here.
|Sam Shields forced a fumble and had two INTs in the NFC title game.|
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