Written by: John Stocco
Something that’s gaining more popularity in the NFL is players holding out when training camp begins. We see it with the most popular players in the game. Khalil Mack forced Oakland to pay him or trade him, and he got both. Aaron Donald pressured the Rams into making him one of the highest-paid players in NFL history, and now we’re seeing the same thing with two of the biggest playmakers in the NFL today. Training camp is in full gear, and two of the league's best running backs have decided to sit out, Ezekiel Elliot and Melvin Gordon have decided to hold out, along with Washington’s offensive tackle Trent Williams, Jaguars defensive linemen Yannick Ngakoue, and wide receiver Mike Thomas have fallen in line with the two running backs. It got me thinking, so I put on my GM cap on and I decided to rank the top positions in the NFL and decided which position I would invest the most resources in to win a Super Bowl.
This is a simple one. You need to have great quarterback play to win anything in the NFL. Quarterbacks get the big payday; they get all the coverage, they’re the leaders in the locker room, they’re the face of your franchise, and if you want a Super Bowl ring you better get this position right. Teams live or die by who they have behind center.
2, Edge Rusher
You need a great quarterback to win, and you need a player who not only pressures the quarterback but a guy who puts damage on one. Let’s look at the recent number one overall draft picks in the NFL.
2019 = Nick Bosa, Edge Rusher.
2018 = Baker Mayfield, Quarterback.
2017 = Myles Garrett, Edge Rusher.
2016 = Jared Goff, Quarterback.
2015 = Jameis Winston, Quarterback.
2014 = Jadevon Clowney, Edge Rusher.
2013 = Eric Fisher, Offensive Tackle.
2012 = Andrew Luck, Quarterback.
2011 = Cam Newton, Quarterback.
2010 = Sam Bradford, Quarterback.
In this last decade, 9 out of the 10 first overall draft picks has been quarterback or edge rusher. The quarterback and edge rusher are the pillars of your franchise, and at those two positions, you don’t need depth; you need stars.
This is where some controversy can come into play. Should corners be ahead of edge rusher? Or is cornerback too high on my list of valuable positions? Teams need a good cornerback group, but they don’t need the cornerback to be the star of your team. Looking at the Bears, they put value in their cornerback group, like a combination of Kyler Fuller and Prince Amukamara, but they don’t build their defense around a cornerback as they build around Khalil Mack. On the flip side, you can look at the Chiefs from last year. Dee Ford and Chris Jones made them one of the best pass-rushing teams in football, but you can make the case that they were an upgrade away at cornerback from the Super Bowl. The Chiefs finished 29th in pass defense last season. Even with the smallest improvement or enough talented depth, the Chiefs might have been playing on the biggest stage.
4, Offensive Tackle
Here are the guys up front protecting your most valuable asset from the edge rushers. Nowadays it’s not just the blind side; the right tackle position is just as valuable in today’s NFL because of the athleticism coming from both edges on defense. Offensive tackles can really make or break an offense. You look at successful teams like the Patriots and Saints, who invest resources in offensive tackles through free agency and the draft. Then you look at the teams who have struggled to produce anything on offense, like the Giants and the Cardinals, and a swinging door would be more effective than their offensive tackles.
Growing up with Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis, I always thought the linebacker position was the quarterback of the defense. The linebacker has been through some changes on the field and even in the scouting room, but it doesn’t mean it’s been devalued. Rather, it’s a position that has developed to the times of today's NFL. Nowadays, you’re not looking for linebacker’s who can get to the quarterback or make that massive hit that will be on Youtube highlight reels for eternity. Instead, you’re looking for your linebacker to be the most athletic player on the field. They need the speed of a safety to cover sideline to sideline, possess the strength of an interior linemen, and the ability to collapse the pocket like an edge rusher. The linebacker is your most complete player on the defense and should be viewed as one of the most valued players on your team.
6, Interior Offensive Lineman.
If you don’t think guards are valuable, go ask the Colts and the Cowboys how they feel about Quenton Nelson and Zach Martin. Guards are being valued more and more every year because of the rise in defensive tackles that can stop the run and rush the passer. While tackles are expected to protect the quarterback, guards are expected to protect the quarterback and ignite the running game for the offense. Getting the guard position right can change the outlook of your offensive line and change the game plan of your offense every week.
7, Interior Defensive Lineman
Defensive tackle is a position that always goes unnoticed when the average fan is watching a football game. Generally speaking, defensive tackles are looked at as run stuffers or players who clog up holes, making it easier for the linebacker to come up and end the play. As the years go, they’re getting faster and more athletic, and you're going to see more defensive tackles getting to the quarterback more instead of just stopping the run at the line of scrimmage
The elite offenses attack the middle of the field, and to be a good defense you need to be strong up the middle. Defenses need that player playing center field with great ball skills, a dependable tackler, and someone with some of the best instincts on the field. #8 might seem like a downgrade, but safety is an important position teams need to get right.
9, Wide Receiver.
When was the last time a superstar wide receiver won their team a big game? I’m not talking a primetime game on NBC in Week 11. I’m talking a big game, a division title on the line, a Conference Championship, or the Super Bowl. Now you can’t throw out the average joe to run a curl route, but paying a superstar wide receiver to be the best player on your team never works out. In big games, it’s all about the quarterback, the offensive line, and the defense. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson have proved time and again they make their own success, but here’s a bone I will throw at wide receivers. As previously mentioned, Saints wideout Michael Thomas is holding out. Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback, and with his production still, at elite standards, the receptions and targets thrown towards Michael Thomas have increased. In certain cases, you have to give your big money to playmakers like the wide receiver and running back, and the Saints are that rare occasion with an elite receiver, an elite running back, and an aging quarterback on his way out.
10, Running Back.
30 years ago, people would have called me crazy for having the running back position 10th on my list, but it’s the nature of where the game is going today. Nobody else on the field takes as many hits as a running back, and running backs who are starters like Alvin Kamara, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsey, and James Connor are being taken in the later rounds, some even going undrafted. Just like at receiver, there is the rare occasion where you have to spend a good chunk of the salary space on a running back. The inevitable that will be Saquon Barkley is one, and Ezekiel Elliot is the other, but even great running backs like Melvin Gordon have little to no leverage when they’re holding out trying to negotiate a new contract. The “next man up” mentality epitomizes the running back position in 2019.
I can’t put kicker ahead of the positions that are a part of the game on every down, but it is important and to even be on this list is a compliment. This position wins playoff games, and this position loses playoff games. If you have yourself a franchise kicker then you better cherish him until his leg falls off. If you have a train wreck and you’re going through new kickers every year, that could lead you into some trouble.