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FR: April pre-draft signings

In this post, we’re comparing signings between the beginning of April and the NFL draft. For previous signings in free agency, go to the March signings post and work your way back. We’re using a comparison in which 10 marks the team with the most noteworthy moves and 1 indicates the team with barely noteworthy moves.

10 – Jets (added UFA OLB Jason Taylor) – Taylor is a specialty player at this point as a 3-4 outside pass rusher, but he had seven sacks in that role last year and should be able to shine in Rex Ryan’s attacking scheme. He got a two-year deal nominally worth $13 million, but in reality it’s a one-year deal worth up to $3.75 million with a bunch of funny money in the second year. Taylor will help the Jets continue to gear up for a major run at a championship this year. And his Dancing with the Stars-inspired acting career won’t suffer from a year in the Big Apple, either.

9 – none

8 – Saints (added DE Alex Brown and UFA DT Jimmy Wilkerson) – Brown was cut in Chicago after Julius Peppers landed there, and now he makes his way to New Orleans. There, he’ll take the spot of former first-round disappointment Charles Grant. Brown is a pretty good (but not great) defensive end who can rush the passer and stop the run, and he’s better than any other defensive end on the market in April – by a lot. For the Saints to get him was a coup that came at a reasonable two-year, $5.5 million price. That’s fair but not excessive starter money. Wilkerson got a one-year, $2 million deal even though he’s recovering from an ACL injury. If he gets healthy, he’ll be a fine second or third tackle who can help stabilize the interior of the Saints’ defense.

7 – Vikings (added CB Lito Sheppard) – Sheppard has bounced around the last couple of years, after being dissatisfied in Philly and falling out of favor with the Jets. But he’s still a pretty good player who will help a Vikings secondary that’s probably the weak link on an otherwise stacked team. Sheppard can’t play man-on-man coverage all day long, but he can be a dependable cog in a strong defense, and that’s exactly what the Vikings have. So getting Sheppard for $2 million over one year is a coup for the Vikes.

6 – Patriots (added WR Torry Holt, DT Damione Lewis and P David King) – Holt had an OK but not spectacular season in Jacksonville last year, and he’s definitely falling off from his Greatest Show on Turf days. Holt will get up to $1.7 million this year, which is a fair price for a veteran receiver, but you have to wonder if the Holt signing will repeat the failed Joey Galloway experiment of last year. Lewis had plenty of good moments as a rotation tackle for the Panthers, showing that he can get into the backfield on occasion. But the Panthers, in a youth movement, let Lewis walk. Now he goes to New England, where the Pats need a backup who can bring the pass-rush skills that Jarvis Green used to bring. Lewis is a decent bet to fill that role well, and that makes him worth a low-cost shot for the Pats. King is another of the Australian Rules Football players trying to make the move into the NFL punting fraternity.

5 – Giants (added S Deon Grant, kept UFA P Jeff Feagles) – Grant has started every game for the last nine seasons for Seattle, Jacksonville, and Carolina, and his presence at free safety will help protect the Giants against Kenny Phillips’ major 2009 injury. With Grant and Antrel Rolle, the Giants now have a solid safety duo in a spot that was troublesome last year. Feagles returns for a 23rd season, and he remains one of the best directional kickers in the league. Feagles isn’t the boomer he once was, but he gets the job done.

5 (con’t) – Bengals (kept UFA OG Bobbie Williams) – Williams was perhaps the best guard on the market, but the Bengals were able to get a deal to keep him around. He’s been a starter for the last three years, and his physical blocking is one of the reasons the Bengals have strengthened their run game the last two years.

4 – Redskins (added UFA RB Willie Parker, UFA DT Howard Green, WR Roydell Williams, and RB Ryan Torain) – Parker becomes the latest import into the Redskins’ aged backfield, as the Redskins are paying him up to $3.1 million on a one-year deal. This is an uncapped-year special by Washington, which is giving Parker a chance to vie for carries against fellow vets Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker doesn’t have the speed he did in his Fast Willie days, but he probably still has more pop than Portis or Johnson does at this point. Perhaps a five- to eight-carry role will allow Parker to showcase what speed he has left. But our suspicion is that the Redskins just wasted a couple million dollars on a bet that won’t come in. Green is a sturdy 3-4 nose tackle who should probably be a backup but who can fit the role as the Redskins move to that defensive system. Williams once was a prospect for the Titans, but he hasn’t played an NFL game since 2007. Torain was a Shanahan favorite two seasons ago in Denver before injuries shortened his rookie campaign. It’s hard to see him getting a shot behind Parker, Portis, and Johnson, but Torain probably landed with the coach most likely to give him a fair shot.

4 (con’t) – Rams (added LB Na’il Diggs) – Diggs, part of the Panthers’ purge of experienced players this year, lands in St. Louis, where his former LB coach Ken Flajole is the defensive coordinator. Diggs can take over the veteran role Will Witherspoon had in St. Louis before being traded last year. Diggs is consistent, but he doesn’t make many plays from the outside linebacker spot.

4 (con’t) – Seahawks (added OG Ben Hamilton and WRs Mike Williams and Reggie Williams) – The Seahawks’ receiving corps is pretty sorry, and so Pete Carroll is taking a shot on a couple of reclamation projects. Mike Williams, who played for Carroll at USC, hasn’t panned out anywhere as a top-10 draft pick. Reggie Williams showed some flashes of ability in Jacksonville, most recently in 2008, but he sat out last year after repeated legal problems. Reggie is more likely than Mike to make the 2010 roster, but both of these guys look like longshots at this point. Hamilton started eight games for the Broncos last year, but as a holdover from Alex Gibbs’ days as the line guru in Denver, he no longer fit the Broncos. But Gibbs is now in Seattle, and Hamilton’s knowledge of and fit in the system makes him a natural to replace the traded Rob Sims at left guard, at least in the short term.

3 – Lions (kept DE Jared DeVries) – DeVries, who Detroit had released in the offseason, returns to the only team he has played for on a one-year, $1.7 million deal. He’s probably better off as a backup at this point in his career, but DeVries is a veteran who can still be an asset.

3 (con’t) – Jaguars (kept UFA DE Reggie Hayward) – Hayward returns for his sixth season in Jacksonville after coming off an injury that limited him to a single game in ’09. He’s little more than a rotation pass-rusher at this point, but he could provide depth behind youngsters Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey and offseason acquisition Aaron Kampman.

2 – Cardinals (added UFA PK Jay Feely) – Feely, whom the Jets didn’t make a big push to retain, moves to Arizona, where he’ll replace Neil Rackers. Feely has been a reliable kicker in past years, and moving out of the Meadowlands into the Arizona dome at age 34 could help prolong his effectiveness.

2 (con’t) – Texans (added UFA Neil Rackers) – Rackers lost his gig to Feely in Arizona, and so he moves to Houston to compete with Kris Brown. Neither Rackers nor Brown was at his best last year, and the Texans’ prolific offense needs a consistent kicker to produce maximum points. If Rackers makes good and wins the job from Brown, he’ll earn $4.1 million over two years. But with only $350,000 guaranteed, Rackers will have to go out and take the job from Brown.

2 (con’t) – 49ers (added UFA OLB Travis LaBoy) – LaBoy missed the entire 2009 season with torn tendons in his foot, but before that injury he had 23.5 sacks in five years with the Cardinals and Titans. At age 28, he’s worth a one-year, $1.6 million risk to see if he can recapture his pass-rush skills.

2 (con’t) – Bears (kept UFA LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – The linebacker we affectionately call The Tower missed most of his first Chicago season with injury, but he knows Lovie Smith’s defense well from St. Louis days and can be an effective fill-in starter.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (kept UFA DE Nick Eason) – Eason started five games last year, but he’s best as a fourth defensive end who can hold up in the 3-4 defense. He’s also one of the all-time good guys and the subject of one of the most telling stories I picked up covering Clemson football back in 2001. Just for personal reasons, I’m glad to see Eason stay in the league as long as possible.

1 – Browns (added C Eric Ghiaciuc) – Ghiaciuc started at center for the Bengals for several years, but he bounced around last year. Now he lands in Cleveland as Alex Mack’s backup.

1 (con’t) – Titans (added QB Chris Simms) – The Titans brought back Simms, who spent last year with Denver, to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind Vince Young and Kerry Collins.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (added QB Kyle Boller) – Boller, who started a few games as the Rams’ backup last year, moves to Oakland to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski’s offseason pectoral muscle injury makes having Boller, a veteran who knows new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a nice insurance policy.

1 (con’t) – Panthers (added PK Todd Carter and S Aaron Francisco; claimed DB Brian Witherspoon on waivers) – Carter, a small-school kicker, comes in to serve as the kickoff guy in Carolina. The Panthers had Rhys Lloyd in that role last year, but finding a first-year player to fill that role saves them $800,000. And right now, every penny seems to count in Carolina. Francisco is a special-teams ace who has played on the last two Super Bowl losers. He won’t make much of a defensive impact, but he could help replace the departed Dante Wesley. Witherspoon brings some kick return skills.

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Free-Agency Preview: Class of the class

As the free-agent market opens (midnight eastern Friday morning), I thought I’d list the cream of the crop (as I see it) at every position. I’m not a scout, so I probably am leaving some people out, but here’s a pretty good list by position. I’ve only included players that are unrestricted on the market, so that eliminates all the restricted free agents as well as the franchise players.

Quarterback – Chad Pennington (Mia.), Jake Delhomme (Car.) – Pennington is the only quarterback in the market I’d consider as an option for a training-camp competition, because he’s consistent and accurate, but Delhomme could find a similiar role.

Running back – Thomas Jones (NYJ), Chester Taylor (Minn.), Ladell Betts (Wash.) – At age 32, Jones shouldn’t get a long-term deal, but he’s a fine option for 2010. Taylor is a good fit in two-RB sets because he’s a good blocker and receiver who can also carry the load when necessary. Both are better at this point than recent releases and fellow over-30 running backs LaDanian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, or Jamal Lewis. Betts becomes an under-the-radar choice as a No. 2 back after being released by the Redskins.

Wide receiver – Antonio Bryant (TB), Derrick Mason (Balt.), Kevin Walter (Hou.), Nate Burleson (Sea.), Terrell Owens (Buff.), Torry Holt (Jax.), Kassim Osgood (S.D.) – Bryant is wildly inconsistent, but he’s the only guy in this group with the potential of being a No. 1 receiver. Mason is still a dependable guy who fits as a No. 2 receiver, and Walter can make some plays in that kind of role as well. Burleson is a little too up-and-down to be a No. 2, but he is a nice option. Owens’ skills are declining to the point that he’s barely a No. 2., and the same is true for Holt. Osgood, a special-teams ace, never got much run at receiver for the Chargers, but he’s big and fast, which may lead someone to give him a chance he hasn’t yet had in the NFL.

Tight end – Ben Watson (NE), Brandon Manumaleuna (SD) – Watson is inconsistent, but he can be a passing-game threat. Manumaleuna is a big, sturdy blocking tight end who would fit as a nice piece with Mike Martz’s new Chicago system or perhaps a Wildcat team.

Center – Kevin Mawae (Tenn.), Casey Rabach (Wash.) – Mawae and Rabach are both veterans who still perform acceptably but won’t get long-term deals. Still, a team with a short-term need has options.

Guard – Bobbie Williams (Cin.), Rex Hadnot (Cle.), Stephen Neal (NE), Keydrick Vincent (Car.) – Williams is a big guard who’s good in the run game and OK in pass protection. At age 33, he’s not in his prime, but he’s got a few good years left. Vincent, who started the last two years in Carolina, is a similar player whose performance is a tick below that of Williams. Hadnot isn’t great, but he’s still a good player who is an acceptable NFL starter. Neal is undersized compared to the other massive guards in this group, but he’s still an above-average player as well. None of these guys will get overpaid, but a couple of them at least should get multi-year deals.

Offensive tackle – Mike Gandy (Ariz.), Chad Clifton (GB), Barry Sims (SF), Tra Thomas (Jax.) – There’s little to no tackle help to be found, as Clifton and Thomas are on their last legs and Sims is a fill-in at best. Gandy is probably the best option. He’s started at left tackle for the Cardinals the last three years, and while he’s better in the run game than in pass protection, he gets by. And at age 31, he’s still an acceptable starting option going forward.

Kicker – Neil Rackers (Ariz.), Shayne Graham (Cin.) – Neither Rackers nor Graham had his best year, but both have been solid in recent campaigns. They could provide an upgrade for teams with inconsistent young kickers. Cundiff

Defensive ends (4-3) – Julius Peppers (Car.), Aaron Kampman (GB), Kyle Vanden Bosch (Tenn.), Charles Grant (NO), Adewale Ogunleye (Chi.), Leonard Little (STL), Tyler Brayton (Car.), Ryan Denney (Buff.)  – This is perhaps the most stacked position in free agency, and Peppers of course is the class of the group. Although he’s 30, he’s still a premium pass rusher, and as a player who has been known for so-so effort, he could be reinvigorated by a change of venue. He’ll get the biggest deal in this free agent market. For teams that miss out on Peppers, Kampman and Vanden Bosch are nice options. Both still have a little pass rushing juice and are sturdy vs. the run. Grant never lived up to his potential as a first-rounder, but he has talent and could get a look as a fresh-start candidate. Ogunleye is a formerly productive pass rusher who has moved into the solid but unspectacular part of his career, while Little is probably just a situational pass rusher at this point. Brayton is a solid run-stopper but not much of a sack man. Denney is like Brayton but even older.

Defensive ends (3-4) – Dwan Edwards (Balt.), Justin Bannan (Balt.), Jarvis Green (NE), Vonnie Holliday (Den.) – The Ravens reportedly want to keep both Edwards and Bannan, who are key rotation players on their front 3, but it’s likely that at least one of those guys will get a big deal elsewhere. Edwards could be one of the big winners in this free-agent market. Green and Holliday are veterans who are solid 3-4 ends and great options for teams looking to fill a rotation spot.

Defensive tackles (4-3) – Tank Johnson (Cin.), Damione Lewis (Car.), Jimmy Kennedy (Minn.), Fred Robbins (NYG) – Johnson is well known for his legal problems, but he was on his best behavior last year in Cincinnati, and he played well too. He’s the best 4-3 tackle on the market by far. Kennedy, a former bust with the Rams, showed some flashes as a backup tackle who can slash into the backfield on occasion. Robbins is more of a fill-in who could fit as a fourth tackle at a veteran minimum salary. Lewis, a late cut, is a pretty productive slashing tackle but is more effective as a backup than a full-time starter.

Nose tackles (3-4) – Jason Ferguson (Mia.), Hollis Thomas (Car.), Maake Kemeoatu (Car.), Jamal Williams (SD) – All of these guys are long in the tooth, but they can plug the nose. With so many nose tackles franchised this year, this is a scarce position, and that may help their marketability. Kemeoatu is the youngest of the group, but he’s coming back from a major Achilles injury. Williams and Ferguson are more accomplished, but health and age are big concerns.

Outside linebackers (3-4) – Joey Porter (Mia.), Jason Taylor (Mia.), Tully Banta-Cain (NE), Derrick Burgess (NE) – The outside pass rushers are all veterans. Porter had 26.5 sacks over the past two years and is still a quality pass rusher. Taylor has slipped a little below that level, but he’s still a quality situational rusher. Banta-Cain had just 12.5 sacks in his first six seasons, but he had 10 for the Patriots last year in what was either a breakout season or a fluke. Some team may outbid the Patriots hoping for the former. Burgess is the consolation prize in this group.

Linebackers – Karlos Dansby (Ariz.), Gary Brackett (Ind.), Keith Bulluck (Tenn.), Antonio Pierce (NYG), Scott Fujita (NO) – Dansby is another prize in this market. He’s a 3-4 inside backer who’s big enough to play on the strong side in the 4-3, and he’s a playmaker with great range at both spots. He’ll get a huge deal somewhere. Brackett is more of a system player, but he’s an impactful 4-3 middle linebacker despite being undersized. Bulluck has been a terrific weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 for many years, but at his age he’s starting to slip. Still, he’s a good starting option who would also be a great leader. Fujita isn’t the athlete Bulluck is, but he’s also a starting-quality player. Pierce has been a top 4-3 middle ‘backer, but injuries are a huge concern. But if he can pass a physical, he can help a team.

Cornerbacks – Dunta Robinson (Hou.), Leigh Bodden (NE), Lito Sheppard (NYJ), William James (Det.) – Robinson has talent, but his production last year didn’t match his franchise-player salary. He’s not a shut-down corner, but he is a talent who will make good money. Bodden had a solid year with New England, repeating some of the success he had in Cleveland. His year in Detroit was a bust, but on the whole he’s proven his worth. James is a veteran who’s good enough to start, although he’ll need help over the top. Still, corner desperate teams could do worse than James. Sheppard is a talent who thinks more of himself than his play merits, but he’s still a top-3 cornerback for most teams if he’s willing to take a role instead of star.

Safeties – Antrell Rolle (Ariz.), Ryan Clark (Pitt.), Darren Sharper (NO), Mike Brown (KC), Jermaine Phillips (TB) – Rolle is a big-time play maker with great range and great size who is hitting the market because his contract is outsized. But he’s one of the few impact players on the market, and that should lead to a pay day. Clark is a big-hitting strong safety who has limited range but still has made big plays for the Steelers in recent years. Sharper had a big impact on the Saints in ’09, but his age makes a long-term contract unwise. Still, Sharper can help. If a team is looking for veteran wiles but can’t get Sharper, Brown and Phillips are options.

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The 2009 All-Jersey Number Team

Over the past few weeks, we’ve analyzed the best players in the league at each position by jersey number. Now we’re combining those lists to create our 2009 all jersey-number team. From 1 to 99, here are the best players at each jersey number.

To see how we selected our finalists, you can review the jersey number project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this postand quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this postand kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post and linebackers in this post and defensive backs in this post.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals

2 – QB Matt Ryan, Falcons. Other position winner: P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots. Other position winner: QB Derek Anderson, Browns

4 – QB Brett Favre, Vikings. Other position winner: P Andy Lee, 49ers

5 – QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles. Other position winner: P Mike Scifres, Chargers

6 – QB Jay Cutler, Bears. Other position winner: PK Joe Nedney, 49ers

7 – QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Other position winner: P Jason Baker, Panthers

8 – QB Matt Schaub, Texans. We originally gave the position nod to Matt Hasselbeck, but as Hasselbeck continues a steep decline, we’re switching to an ascending player in Schaub. Other position winners: QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks; PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings

9 – QB Drew Brees, Saints. Other position winner: P Shane Lechler, Raiders

10 – QB Eli Manning, Giants. Other position winners: WR Santonio Holmes, Steelers; PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers

11 – WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals. Other position winners: PK Sebastian Janikowksi, Raiders; QB Daunte Culpepper, Lions

12 – QB Tom Brady, Patriots. Other position winner: WR Marques Colston, Saints

13- QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals. Other position winner: WR Johnny Knox, Bears

14 – WR Brandon Stokely, Broncos. Other position winner: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

15 – WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos. Other position winners: QB Seneca Wallace, Seahawks; P Craig Hentrich, Titans

16 – WR/RS Josh Cribbs, Browns. Other position winner: QB Charlie Batch, Steelers

17 – QB Philip Rivers, Chargers. Other position winners: WR Braylon Edwards, Jets; PK Shayne Graham, Bengals

18 – QB Peyton Manning, Colts. Other position winners: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings; P Jeff Feagles, Giants

19 – WR Miles Austin, Cowboys

20 – S Ed Reed, Ravens. Other position winner: RB Thomas Jones, Jets

21 – CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders. Other position winner: RB LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers

22 – CB Asante Samuel, Eagles. Other position winner: RB Matt Forte, Bears

23 – RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins. Other position winners: CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins; WR Devin Hester, Bears

24 – CB Darrelle Revis, Jets. Other position winner: RB Marion Barber, Cowboys

25 – RB Ryan Grant, Packers. Other position winner: S Ryan Clark, Steelers

26 – CB Antoine Winfield, Vikings. Other position winner: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins

27 – RB Ray Rice, Ravens. Other position winner: CB Rashean Mathis, Jaguars

28 – RB Chris Johnson, Titans. Originally, we opted for Adrian Peterson over Johnson, but as Johnson continues his historic season, and as Peterson continues to struggle, we’re going to make a switch. Other positional winners: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings; S Gibril Wilson, Dolphins

29 – CB Leon Hall, Bengals. Other position winner: RB Joseph Addai, Colts

30 – S Mike Brown, Chiefs. Other position winner: FB John Kuhn, Packers

31 – CB Cortland Finnegan, Titans. Other position winner: RB Jamal Lewis, Browns

32 – RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars. Other position winner: S Eric Weddle, Chargers

33 – RB Michael Turner, Falcons. Other position winner: CB Charles Tillman, Bears

34 – RB Ricky Williams, Dolphins. Other position winner: S Dominique Barber, Texans

35 – CB Zack Bowman, Bears. Other position winner: RB Jerome Harrison, Browns

36 – S Nick Collins, Packers. Other position winner: RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles

37 – S Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins. Other position winner: FB Jason McKie, Bears

38 – S Dashon Goldson, 49ers. Other position winner: RB Samkon Gado, Rams

39 – RB Steven Jackson, Rams. Other position winner: CB Brandon Carr, Chiefs

40 – TE Jim Kleinsasser, Vikings. Other position winners: RB Brian Leonard, Bengals; S Marquand Manuel, Lions

41 – S Antoine Bethea, Colts. Other position winners: FB Lorenzo Neal, Raiders; TE Spencer Havner, Packers

42 – S Darren Sharper, Saints. Other position winner: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots

43 – S Troy Polamalu, Steelers. Other position winner: RB Darren Sproles, Chargers

44 – TE Dallas Clark, Colts. Other position winners: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants; S Jarrad Page, Chiefs

45 – FB Mike Sellers, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Leonard Pope, Chiefs; DB De’Von Hall, Colts

46 – RB Ladell Betts, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Daniel Fells, Rams; LB Vinny Ciurciu, Lions

47 – FB Lawrence Vickers, Browns. Other position winners: S Jon McGraw, Chiefs; LB Brit Miller, 49ers

48 – S Chris Horton, Redskins

49 – FB Tony Richardson, Jets. Other position winners: LB Zack Follett, Lions; DB Rashad Johnson, Cardinals

50 – LB Curtis Lofton, Falcons. Other position winner: OG Ben Hamilton, Broncos

51 – LB Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. Other position winner: C Dominic Raiola, Lions

52 – LB Ray Lewis, Ravens

53 – LB Keith Bulluck, Titans

54 – OG Brian Waters, Chiefs. Other position winners: LB Andra Davis, Broncos; DE Quentin Groves, Jaguars

55 – OLB Terrell Suggs, Ravens. Other position winners: DE John Abraham, Falcons; C Alex Mack, Browns

56 – LB Brian Cushing, Texans

57 – LB Bart Scott, Jets. Other position winners: C Olin Kreutz, Bears; DE James Wyche, Jaguars

58 – DE Trent Cole, Eagles. Other position winner: LB Karlos Dansby, Cardinals

59 – LB London Fletcher, Redskins. Other position winner: OG Nick Cole, Eagles

60 – OT Chris Samuels, Redskins. Other position winner: DT Joe Cohen, Lions

61 – C Nick Hardwick, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Gerard Warren, Raiders

62 – C Casey Wiegmann, Broncos

63 – C Jeff Saturday, Colts

64 – C Jake Grove, Dolphins. Other position winner: DT Kedric Gholston, Redskins

65 – OG Andre Gurode, Cowboys

66 – OG Alan Faneca, Jets. Other position winner: DT DelJuan Robinson, Texans

67 – C Jamaal Jackson, Eagles

68 – C Kevin Mawae, Titans. Other position winner: DE Jonathan Fanene, Bengals

69 – DE Jared Allen, Vikings. Other position winner: OT Jordan Gross, Panthers

70 – OG Leonard Davis, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Kendall Langford, Dolphins

71 – OT Michael Roos, Titans. Other position winner: DE Kroy Biermann, Falcons

72 – DE Osi Umenyiora, Giants. Other position winner: OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins

73 – OG Jahri Evans, Saints. Other position winner: DT Jimmy Kennedy, Vikings

74 – C Nick Mangold, Jets. Other position winners: OLB Aaron Kampman, Packers; NT Jacques Cesaire, Chargers

75 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots. Other position winner: OG Davin Joseph, Buccaneers

76 – OG Steve Hutchinson, Vikings. Other position winner: NT Jamal Williams, Chargers

77 – OT Jake Long, Dolphins. Other position winner: NT Kris Jenkins, Jets

78 – OT Ryan Clady, Broncos. Other position winner: DE Jacob Ford, Titans

79 – NT Ryan Pickett, Packers. Other position winner: OT Jeff Otah, Panthers

80 – WR Andre Johnson, Texans. Other position winner: TE Bo Scaife, Titans

81 – WR Randy Moss, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Owen Daniels, Texans

82 – TE Jason Witten, Cowboys. Other position winner: WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs

83 – WR Wes Welker, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Heath Miller, Steelers

84 – WR Roddy White, Falcons. Other position winner: TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots

85 – TE Antonio Gates, Chargers. Other position winner: WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals

86 – WR Hines Ward, Steelers. Other position winner: TE Todd Heap, Ravens

87 – WR Reggie Wayne, Colts. Other position winner: TE Brent Celek, Eagles

88 – TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. Other position winner: WR Isaac Bruce

89 – WR Steve Smith, Panthers. Other position winner: TE Daniel Graham, Broncos

90 – DE Julius Peppers, Panthers

91 – DE Will Smith, Saints. Other position winner: OLB Tamba Hali, Chiefs

92 – OLB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos. Other position winner: DT Albert Haynesworth, Redskins

93 – DT Kevin Williams, Vikings. Other position winner: OLB Anthony Spencer, Cowboys

94 – OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Aaron Schobel, Bills

95 – OLB Shaun Phillips, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons

96 – OLB David Bowens, Browns. Other position winner: DE Tyler Brayton, Panthers

97 – NT Kelly Gregg, Ravens. Other position winner: OLB Calvin Pace, Jets

98 – DE Robert Mathis, Colts. Other position winner: LB Brian Orakpo, Redskins

99 – OLB Jason Taylor, Dolphins. Other position winner: DE Andre Carter, Redskins

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Jersey Numbers: Punters and Kickers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post. Now we move to kickers and punters, who wear numbers between 1 and 19, although the vast majority sport single numbers.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers hasn’t shown off the big leg he featured earlier in his career, but he has developed into a consistent threat on field goals. He gets the nod over Dallas’ Mat McBriar, a supersolid punter. Other notable 1s: Pat McAfee, Colts; Matt Turk, Texans

2 – P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs – He doesn’t get much credit, but Colquitt may be the NFL’s best punter not named Shane Lechler. With 31 punts inside the 20 vs. just four touchbacks, and with an incredibly low average return rate of just 5.2 yards, it’s no wonder that Colquitt is second in the NFL in net punting with a 41.9-yard average. We give him the nod over good placekickers like David Akers of Philly, Mason Crosby of Green Bay, and Rob Bironas of Tennessee. Other notable 2s: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Nick Harris, Lions; Reggie Hodges, Browns

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski has developed into a solid clutch field goal kicker as well as a strong kickoff specialist. It’s rare to find a single kicker who does both jobs so well. Other notable 3s: Kris Brown, Texans; Josh Brown, Rams; John Carney, Saints; Jeff Reed, Steelers; Jay Feely, Jets; Matt Stover, Colts; Adam Podlesh, Jaguars; Hunter Smith, Redskins; Matt Bryant, Falcons

4 – P Andy Lee, 49ers – Lee is another underrated punter with terrific averages both gross and net. He gets the nod over long-time placekickers Jason Hanson of Detroit, John Kasay of Carolina, and Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis, who has missed much of the season. Other notable 4s: Sam Koch, Ravens; Brad Maynard, Bears; Phil Dawson, Browns

5 – P Mike Scifres, Chargers – Scifres’ numbers don’t completely reflect it, but he can be a game-changing punter, as he showed in San Diego’s playoff win over Indianapolis last season. Other notable 5s: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins; Garrett Hartley, Saints; Rhys Lloyd, Panthers; Matt Prater, Broncos; Ben Graham, Cardinals; Donnie Jones, Rams; Chris Kluwe, Vikings

6 – PK Joe Nedney, 49ers – There aren’t dominant kickers or punters at this number, so we’ll give the nod to Nedney, who has long been a solid kicker with a big leg. The fact that he’s about the funniest kicker I ever interviewed doesn’t hurt either. Other notable 6s: Nick Folk, Cowboys; Ryan Succop, Chiefs; Shaun Suisham, Redskins; Chris Hanson, Patriots; Brett Kern, Titans; Thomas Morstead, Saints; Sav Rocca, Eagles

7 – P Jason Baker, Panthers – Few kickers wear this number, so Baker, who isn’t having his best season but has been solid in his time in Carolina, gets the nod. Other notable 7s: Jeremy Kapinos, Packers; Billy Cundiff, Ravens

8 – PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, and he’s 18-for-19 on field goals this year, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. That gives him a slight nod over Buffalo P Brian Moorman. Other notable 8: Dirk Johnson, Buccaneers

9 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – Lechler is on his way to a record-setting season. As Bill Simmons pointed out on Friday, Lechler has a chance to break the single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt (held by Hall of Fame QB Slingin’ Sammy Baugh). Lechler is currently averaging 51.7, and his net average of 44.7 yards is nearly three yards better than the single-season record, which Lechler already holds. He’s the best punter in the league and might be the best punter ever. Other notable 9s: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers; Michael Koenen, Falcons; Jon Ryan, Seahawks; Daniel Sepulveda, Steelers; Steven Weatherford, Jets; Robbie Gould, Bears; Rian Lindell, Bills; Lawrence Tynes, Giants

10 – PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has had his playoff problems, but he’s been a reliable regular-season producer. That gives him the nod over Seattle’s Olindo Mare, who is having a good season but has been inconsistent in recent years. Other notable 10s: Connor Barth, Buccaneers; Josh Scobee, Jaguars; Kevin Huber, Bengals

11 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The kicker also known as Sea Bass (think Dumb and Dumber) has a powerful leg and has the distinction of being one of the very few kickers to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

15 – P Craig Hentrich, Titans – Hentrich hasn’t played this season, but we’ll recognize his strong career as a punter in Green Bay and Tennessee here. Other notable 15: Dave Zastudil, Browns

17 – PK Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham has developed into one of the most solid kickers around. Although his consistency this season has been lacking, Graham remains a good threat for Cincy. Other notable 17: Mitch Berger, Broncos

18 – P Jeff Feagles, Giants – Feagles has been punting in the NFL forever, but he still has a roster spot. He’s one of the few practicioners of the art of directional punting left in the league as well. Other notable 18: David Buehler, Cowboys

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FR: Clutch kickers

If you’re paying attention to Football Relativity, you know that we have a bit of an obsession with kickers. From our Crazy Kicker of the Week award to the songs of kickers that are constantly running through our head, we spend way too much time considering the status of these soccer-stylers. (I blame my days writing the kicker reports for Pro Football Weekly‘s fantasy football preview mag.) Since we’re thinking about them, we thought we’d use a Football Relativity comparison to assess the most clutch and least dependable placekickers in the league. The 10 level is for the kicker you’d want taking the game-winning kick in the Super bowl; the 1 level is for a kicker you wouldn’t trust to keep you out of overtime in the preseason.

10 – Adam Vinatieri, Colts – Vinatieri is the gold standard of clutch in the league, since he’s made not one but two Super Bowl-winning kicks. From the time he made a 45-yarder in the snow to advance the Patriots in the 2001 playoffs, he’s been almost automatic in the biggest moments. In fact, he didn’t miss a potential game-winning fourth-quarter kick between 1999 and 2007, an amazing string of clutchness. He’s still the best.

9 – Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been well above average as an NFL kicker. (I have long been well intentioned but susceptible to bad puns.) But he’s still at the top of his game, as he proved by kicking three game-winners and hitting all 6 of his attempts from 50-yards plus. The career 82 percent kicker is still one of the best.

9 (con’t) – Robbie Gould, Bears – Gould’s most famous kick was a 49-yarder in overtime that won a playoff game against the Seahawks three seasons ago. That’s an impressive achievement in the wintry, windy conditions of Soldier Field. He has an 86 percent success rate in his four-year career, which speaks even more about his ability. The fact that Gould made the one big money kick he’s tried so far indicates that his clutch ability is pretty strong.

9 (con’t) – Josh Brown, Rams – Brown was incredibly clutch when he was in Seattle, making two famous game-winners from 50-yards-plus. He’s still as clutch as he ever was – his 49-yard game-winner against Washington last year proves it – but he doesn’t have as many clutch chances as he once did. But kicking indoors will allow Brown to keep his range, and his 19-of-30 success rate on 50-plus yarders shows that Brown is an elite kicker in the league.

9 (con’t) – Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham bounced around the league before finding a home with Cincinnati in 2003, but since then he has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league. He’s made 87.5 percent of his tries as a Bengal, which is a remarkable rate of consistency. He has three career game-winners and is 7-for-14 from 50-yards plus. And he’s done this in a city where the winter weather creates adverse kicking conditions. If Graham played on a better team, more of us would know how clutch he is, but the one-time Pro Bowler and current Bengals franchise player is among the very best in the league.

8 – Jeff Reed, Steelers – Reed hit the first game-winner of the 2009 season in overtime against the Titans, and he has proven to be a solid kicker in his eight years in Pittsburgh. He’s hit nearly 83 percent of his career field goals and has one playoff game-winner as well. He doesn’t have a howitzer for a leg, but in maybe the NFL’s toughest stadium to kick in, Reed continually makes the big ones.

8 (con’t) – Jason Hanson, Lions – Hanson has spent his entire 18-year career with the Lions, and as such he’s been a forgotten kicker in recent years. But he’s an 82 percent career kicker who still has a big leg, as he proved by making 8-of-8 tries from 50-plus-yards last year. Hanson hasn’t had a lot of pressure kicks recently, but his performance elsewhere shows that he still has the chops to make those big kicks.

8 (con’t) – Jason Elam, Falcons – Elam has long had one of the league’s biggest legs, as he proved by tying the NFL record with a 63-yarder in 1998, and he had a streak of 30 straight field goals into last season. Elam got off to a rough start this season, but his career 81 percent average and 60-plus percent rate from 50-yards-plus shows that he’s still a great security blanket in the clutch.

8 (con’t) – John Carney, Saints – Carney is 45 years old, but he’s still a quality kicker, as his Pro Bowl campaign last year showed. The fact that he’s connected on 83 percent of his kicks in his now 20-year career shows his reliability. He no longer has eye-popping range, but if you have a pressure 40-yarder, there are few kickers you would want more than Carney.

8 (con’t) – Rob Bironas, Titans – In his five years in Tennessee, Bironas has hit 83 percent of his field goal tries, and he’s also shown late-game chops. He famously had four game-winning kicks in 2005, including a 60-yarder to beat the Colts. He also had eight field goals in a single game against the Texans. Bironas is one of the best young kickers in the league.

7 – Nick Folk, Cowboys – Folk, a third-year kicker, has been extremely consistent for the Cowboys. Last year he hit on 20-of-22 field goal tries, and for his career he’s over 87 percent on kicks. He’s also 5-for-8 career on tries of 50 yards or longer. He’s also made some long game-winning or game-tying kicks, including a 52-yarder that forced overtime against Arizona last year and a 53-yarder to beat Buffalo in a 2007 Monday-night game.

7 (con’t) – Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski faced the unenviable task of replacing Adam Vinatieri in New England, but he has performed well, going to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s connected on about 85 percent of his career field goals and has a strong leg both on kickoffs and on field goals, and his playoff performance has been solid as well. Gostkowski hasn’t had the moments Vinatieri had so far, but his performance indicates that he’s ready to handle them.

6 – Joe Nedney, 49ers – Of all the kickers I’ve ever interviewed, Nedney was one of my favorites. He’s a huge guy – 6-foot-5 – who has always had leg strength but who took a while to gain consistency. But he has made 88 percent of his field goals since coming to San Fran in ’05, which goes to show that he’s become a dependable guy.

6 (con’t) – Lawrence Tynes, Giants – Tynes is an 80 percent career kicker, and he also made a big-time 47-yard kick in overtime against Green Bay in the NFC championship to put the Giants into the Super Bowl, even though he had missed two shorter field goals earlier in the game. He doesn’t have a huge leg – he hasn’t made a 50-yard-plus field goal since 2006 in Kansas City – and the fact that the Giants chose John Carney over Tynes throughout the 2008 season is a red flag too. But Tynes has established himself as a trustworthy option.

6 (con’t) – John Kasay, Panthers – Kasay has been with Carolina since the franchise took the field in 1995, and by and large he has been a consistent force. He’s shown the ability to make long field goals in the clutch, but he famously failed in a couple of big spots in the Panthers’ lone Super Bowl appearance. He has 12 game-winners in his career, and even approaching age 40 he’s still a good if not great clutch option.

5 – David Akers, Eagles – Akers hit 19 straight postseason field goals before finally missing one in last year’s NFC championship game, which goes to show that he’s ultra-dependable in big spots. He’s a career 80 percent kicker, but last year was his first season in four where he surpassed the 80 percent mark for the year. Akers has a good pedigree, but his numbers are starting to leak, which makes that miss vs. the Cardinals last year loom a little larger. Still, most teams would be happy to ride on Akers’ leg.

5 (con’t) – Phil Dawson, Browns – Dawson is in his 11th season as the Browns’ kicker, and he’s made nearly 83 percent of his kicks in weather that can often be the opposite of kicker-friendly. He also has 11 game-winning kicks in that time. He’s a solid 10-of-15 on tries of 50-yards-plus, which shows he can make those kicks but doesn’t often take them. He’s provided a good comfort level for the Browns over the years.

5 (con’t)- Kris Brown, Texans – Brown, who started his career with the Steelers, has been in Houston since the Texans were born, has 11 career game-winning field goals, including eight with Houston. One of those was a 57-yarder to beat the Dolphins in 2007. His career percentage is just under 80 percent, but he has made 55 percent of his 50-yard-plus attempts. Brown has the chops to make a long field goal in the clutch, but he’s not the sure-fire three-point producer that some other kickers are.

4 – Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers’ career percentage of 77.4 percent isn’t great, but he has a strong leg (19 career 50-plus field goals), and he has one Pro Bowl season in ’05. He made an NFL record 40 field goals that year. In recent years, he’s been a very solid option for the Cards, but he’s never been the ultraconsistent option other kickers are.

4 (con’t) – Mason Crosby, Packers – In his three years in Green Bay, Crosby has shown a big leg that is a little wild at times. He’s completed just under 79 percent of his kicks, which is a percentage lower than most teams would prefer. He does have the ability to hit from deep, making 7-of-12 from 50-yards-plus. He’s a great touchback guy and a long-range threat, but for a clutch 42-yarder there are better options in the league.

4 (con’t) – Dan Carpenter, Dolphins – In his first season last year, Carpenter hit 21-of-25 field goals, including a last-minute game winner vs. Oakland and one 50-yarder. His only misses were from 40 yards and further, which means he was automatic on short-to-midrange tries. His career is off to a good start, but we have a long way to go before we can truly call him clutch. But like Vinatieri, Carpenter was an undrafted free agent found by Bill Parcells, so at least the pedigree is there.

3 – Josh Scobee, Jaguars – Scobee is in his sixth year in Jacksonville, but his success rate on field goals is less than 80 percent, which is not ideal. He did make four 50-yarders last year, which along with his touchback percentage shows his value, and he made back-to-back game-winners early last season. Scobee is the ultimate good but not great NFL kicker who you think can make the big one but who will always leave a shadow of doubt.

3 (con’t) – Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The former first-round pick (you read that right) has always had one of the league’s biggest legs, as he showed by making a 57-yard game-winner last year vs. the Jets. But his consistency level has been spotty, as shown by his 77 percent career success rate. Sea-Bass is a great option for long clutch kicks of 55 yards or more, but at more reasonable distances there are many other guys you’d rather have.

3 (con’t) – Jay Feely, Jets – Feely has bounced around a little, but his career accuracy rate is 81.5 percent, and he has five career game-winners. He doesn’t have a big leg, which shows in his scattershot rate on field goals of 40 yards or more (65 percent). So Feely is a dependable guy on the short field goals but not the guy you want taking a long attempt in the clutch.

3 (con’t) – Mike Nugent, Buccaneers – Nugent has three career game-winners, but his career percentage of 79.8 is only average among NFL kickers. Now that he’s in Tampa Bay where the environment is more kicker-friendly, he could up his percentage. But he needs to take advantage of his strong leg by making more of his long attempts before he can be considered a real clutch threat.

3 (con’t) – Olindo Mare, Seahawks – Mare landed in Seattle last year and beat out Brandon Coutu in the race to replace Josh Brown. Mare had a solid season, making 24-of-27 field goals including a game-winner against the Rams. But last year was only the second time since 2002 that Mare made more than 78 percent of his field-goal tries. He has a strong leg for kickoffs but has been scattershot on his longer attempts, making just 18-0f-39 from 50-yards-plus in his career. Mare deserves credit for holding off Coutu two years in a row, but he’s no longer an elite clutch kicker in the NFL.

2 – Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has a big leg and great regular-season results (86 percent success rate), but his playoff results are lacking. He missed game-tying tries that eliminated the Chargers in the ’04 and ’05 seasons, and missed in four straight postseason games. So despite the fact that his stats look good, Kaeding isn’t the guy you want taking a clutch kick.

2 (con’t) – Rian Lindell, Bills – Lindell has made his chops as a bad-weather kicker in Buffalo, and he has made 80 percent of his career field-goal tries along with every extra-point he has ever tried. But Lindell’s clutch performance has been less than ideal, which means that there are better options out there.

1 – Matt Prater, Broncos – Since replacing Jason Elam in Denver last year, Prater has showed a big leg with good range, but his consistency is lacking (only 70 percent success rate). He has hit 6-of-7 from 50-plus, which helps, but he’s still someone who needs to prove his clutch chops.

1 (con’t) – Shaun Suisham, Redskins – Suisham struggled last season after performing consistently in his first two years in Washington. His career percentage is just 78 percent, and he missed a 30-yarder in his long playoff game. Suisham could still grow into a consistent kicker, but that consistency has been lacking so far.

1 (con’t) – Steven Hauschka, Ravens – Hauschka replaces long-time Ravens kicker Matt Stover this year because he’s got a longer leg both on kickoffs and field goals. The former N.C. State kicker had two long attempts last year as the kickoff specialist, hitting from 54 and missing from 52, and he’s 1-of-2 thus far this season. But he has a long way to go before he provides a comfort level.

1 (con’t) – Ryan Succop, Chiefs – Succop, who was Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL draft this year, made his first career field goal, a 53-yarder against Baltimore. It remains to be seen how clutch Succop will be, but he is one of the most intriguing to watch because his kicking leg is about three times as muscular as his plant leg. Believe me – it’s hard to stop staring at the difference.

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FR: Super Bowl potential playmakers

I was reading on ESPN.com and saw a headline in which Jeffri Chadiha wrote that Larry Fitzgerald was an 11 on a 10-point scale. First of all, he might be right; second of all; that means that we need to play relativity with Super Bowl 43’s best playmakers. Per Carl’s suggestion, we rated the skill-position players against their peers across the NFL as the Super Bowl gets closer, but for now we’re comparing only Steelers and Cardinals. As always, we’re on a 10-point scale (no Spinal Tap or Chadiha exceptions) where 10 points is, well, Fitzgeraldian and 1 point is someone who is a possible playmaker in a remote situation. We’ve left out offensive linemen, because it’s so hard to distinguish them individually because they are meant to function as a unit.

10- Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals – No player has polished his star more in the playoffs than Fitzgerald. He was the best player on the field by two country miles in the first half of the NFC championship game, and he was nearly as good in the first two rounds. If the Cardinals are going to win the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald will have to be the guy. And if Fitzgerald has another monster game (like his 152-yard, 3 TD showstopper vs. Philly or his 166-yard masterpiece vs. Carolina), the Cardinals have a shot. He’s the ultimate gamebreaker, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the ultimate game.

9 – Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona – Warner has been outstanding in the playoffs – 66 percent completions, 257 yards passing per game, and 8 TD vs. two interceptions. If he can hold onto the ball – and that means fumbles as well as interceptions – he’ll make his share of plays against Pittsburgh. He’ll have to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid the quick and deadly Steelers rush. But Warner has proven this year and especially this postseason that he’s capable. One more big game and he becomes the only quarterback to start and win Super Bowls with two different teams.

8 – Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh – Holmes is the guy who can take the Steelers offense from good to great. He’s made big-time plays in both of the first two playoff games (the punt return vs. San Diego and the 65-yard touchdown with 40 yards of run after the catch vs. Baltimore), and had one overturned by replay. In a game where Pittsburgh may need to score some points, Holmes is their best chance for a big play. 

8 (con’t) – Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh – Polamalu is the ultimate gambler on defense. He’s liable to give up a big play every once in a while, but far more often his instincts pay off. He’s tough, and he showed with his pick and score against Baltimore that he can make huge plays. The question is whether Polamalu’s swashbuckling style will pay off against the Cardinals’ high-flying offense. If the Cardinals play a lot of three-WR sets, then Polamalu will have to play a lot of coverage, and that’s not really his strength. It’ll be interested to watch and see if he can be disciplined enough to put his team in position to win.

7-  Lamarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh – Quick quiz: What Steeler has the most sacks in the postseason? It’s Woodley, who has had two sacks in each of the last 2 games. That’s no fluke – he had 11 1/2 in the regular season. With teams focusing more on defensive player of the year James Harrison, it opens a lane for someone, and Woodley has been the guy in that lane more often than not. If he gets two more sacks, it’s a sign that the Steelers are dominating defensively.

6- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh – It’s funny, but most of the time the Steelers can win without a big game from Roethlisberger. Even in their Super Bowl win three years ago, Big Ben wasn’t great (9-of-21, 123 yards, no TDs, 2 picks; 7 rushes for 25 yards and a touchdown). But Roethlisberger will be more important in this game, because it’s hard to see the Cardinals being held below three touchdowns. That means the Steelers will need a few big plays in the passing game to win. Roethlisberger will likely have to double his passing output in this Super Bowl if he’s going to get a second ring.

6 (con’t)- Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona – Wilson is an 8-year Cardinal and their emotional leader on defense. But even more, he’s a crushing force on D. He had two sacks vs. Philly, one of which forced a fumble. If you had to choose one guy on the Cards D to make a big play, Wilson’s the odds-on favorite.

5- Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh – Parker hasn’t had a great season because of assorted injuries, but Fast Willie still has some ability to change a game. (You might not remember, but he has the longest TD run in Super Bowl history, a 75-yarder against the Seahawks three years ago.) Parker ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers in the playoffs but couldn’t get going against the Ravens. Still, it wouldn’t be a shock if he broke free for a long run or two against the Cardinals.

5 (con’t) – Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona – Boldin’s sore hamstring pulls him down this list, but we saw against Atlanta how devastating he can be. He’s a dependable move-the-chains guy who has good run-after-the-catch ability. But  will the YAC come with his hamstring hurting? It’s hard to predict this. But the guy who came back from a broken face after just three weeks is impossible to count out. My hunch says he’ll be an important part of Arizona’s Super Bowl plan, hurting hammy or not.

5 (con’t) – James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh – Harrison earned defensive player of the year hardware with his 16-sack regular season, and he’s added one more in the postseason. Woodley has been the hotter linebacker lately, but in Dick LeBeau’s defense it’s more about your opportunities than about your totals. If Harrison gets free, then he’ll be  dangerous. But the guess here is that the Cardinals, who had a good plan against the Eagles’ blitz, will have a plan at least for Harrison in this game.

4- Edgerrin James, RB, Arizona – James got just 18 carries between weeks 8 and 16, but he has had at least 16 rushing attempts in all three playoff games. He’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has put a spark back in the Cardinals rushing game. If he gets 16 carries for 73 yards in the Super Bowl like he did against Atlanta and Philadelphia, it’ll mean the Cardinals are in the game. He’s more of a barometer in this game than a determinant, but if James can run effectively, it will be a huge boon for the Cardinals.

4 (con’t) – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Arizona – The rookie from Tennessee State had four interceptions in the second half of the season, and he’s had two more in the playoffs. Plus, DRC is superfast and dangerous with the ball in his hands. If he can get his hands on the ball, he could change field position or even put points on the board for Arizona.

4 (con’t) – Darnell Dockett, DT, Arizona – Dockett is the most talented guy on Arizona’s front 7. If he can create havoc, the Steelers offense could sputter. Remember that Ravens DT Haloti Ngata tore up the interior of Pittsburgh’s line last week; that means Dockett has an opportunity. He’s not the force that Ngata is – at least not consistently – but if you hear Dockett’s name often, it’s a really good harbinger for the Cardinals.

3- Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona – Hightower started out his rookie season strongly, but his performance dropped off pretty significantly later in the season. (He had 35 rushing yards or less in the last 8 games of the regular season.) But he has picked it up in the playoffs, scoring three touchdowns, and his bull-rush touchdown at the end of the Eagles game was a play no one else on the Cardinals could have made. He might have one of those kinds of plays left in him for the Super Bowl.

3 (con’t) – Antonio Smith, DE, Arizona – Smith is the one guy on Arizona’s defense whose name I’ve had to learn this postseason. He’s had 2 sacks and seems to be, along with Darnell Dockett, the most consistent source of pressure. The Steelers’ offensive line isn’t that sturdy against the pass, so Smith is a guy to watch.

3 (con’t) – Aaron Smith, DE, Pittsburgh – Smith, along with NT Casey Hampton, is the anchor of Pittsburgh’s defense. If he can have a top-notch game, the Steelers can snuff out the Cardinals’ running game. And if that happens, the Steelers will be in good position to pin back their ears, blitz, and create havoc (and turnovers). Smith’s numbers won’t be huge, but he could play a huge role.

2- Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona – Dansby is the Cardinals’s leading tackler, but he’s not that likely to make a game-changing play. Still, with the Steelers’ rushing emphasis, Dansby will have to be filling the hole all game long if the Cardinals are to have the ball enough to have a chance.

1- Neil Rackers, PK, Arizona – He’s on here for one reason: He has a big leg. He had a long field goal of 54 yards this year and has made 16 from 50-plus over the last five years. If a long field goal is necessary, Rackers is far more likely to provide it than Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed.

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