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Blue chips and red chips: Defensive position rankings


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It is blue-chip/red-chip time here at NFL.com, which means ranking the top players and head coaches in the NFL.

In last year's blue-chip/red-chip column, I broke it down by team. This year I'm breaking it down by positions because it keeps the number of players on the list to the select few who meet the criteria for the grading system.

With a great deal of help from NFL Network colleague Brian Baldinger, we built a blue-chip/red-chip board. The goal was to get a top 10 at each position. But at some spots, like wide receiver and cornerback, we went more than 10. At others, like center, we went less. The end result is the top 73 players on offense and the top 75 on defense. Baldinger provided great insight and was a tremendous help, but I take full responsibility for the final product.


Definition of a blue-chip player

» Player demonstrates rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game

» Is a premier player in the league and a weapon on the field

» Combines competitiveness and skill to have a consistent championship-level performance

» Rates in the top five at his position in the league

Definition of a red-chip player

» Player has abilities that can create mismatches vs. most opponents in the league

» Is a featured player on the team and has impact on the outcome of the game

» Player can't be taken out of the game in one-on-one matchup

» Has a consistent level of performance each week

» Plays at a championship-level performance

» Rates in the top 10 at his position in the league


Before you rip the rankings, make sure to read the above definitions and make sure the player you feel has been slighted fits the description. Not everyone can make the list, so there are going to be some good -- but not great -- players who fall short. In a separate column before the season, I will rank all the teams, using a point-based system, to come up with my blue-chip/red-chip power rankings.

So let's get started with the defense (click here for the offense). Also note that the players are listed in order, starting with the best player at each position.


Blue Chips

Julius Peppers, Bears

Dwight Freeney, Colts

Jared Allen, Vikings

Trent Cole, Eagles

Mario Williams, Texans

Red Chips

John Abraham, Falcons

Justin Tuck, Giants

Justin Smith, 49ers

Will Smith, Saints

Robert Mathis, Colts


» This was a hard position to handle as some ends are playing linebacker, and some linebackers play end. All the players here are true ends playing with their hand on the ground on every down (Mario Williams may be standing up now, but based on last year his hand was down all the time).

» I left off Osi Umenyiora because these other players are better and can play both the run and pass.


Blue Chips

Haloti Ngata, Ravens

Ndamukong Suh, Lions

Vince Wilfork, Patriots

Kevin Williams, Vikings

B.J. Raji, Packers

Red Chips

Casey Hampton, Steelers

Richard Seymour, Raiders

Kyle Williams, Bills

Darnell Dockett, Cardinals

Jay Ratliff, Cowboys


» In this group, I combined both nose tackles and defensive tackles.

» Ratliff was borderline making the red-chip list based solely on his relatively average play last season. But in the past few years, he was dominating and therefore his career play won him the final spot.


Blue Chips

Patrick Willis, 49ers

Jon Beason, Panthers

Jerod Mayo, Patriots

Curtis Lofton, Falcons

Lawrence Timmons, Steelers

Red Chips

Ray Lewis, Ravens

Brian Urlacher, Bears

Jonathan Vilma, Saints

David Harris, Jets

Barrett Ruud, Titans


» To qualify here, the linebacker must be able to play all three downs and impact the game.

» Lewis and Urlacher are near the end of their careers, but both still play on all three downs and both still impact their team. They just no longer do it at a blue-chip level.


Blue Chips

DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

Clay Matthews, Packers

James Harrison, Steelers

LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

Terrell Suggs, Ravens

Red Chips

Cameron Wake, Dolphins

Lance Briggs, Bears

Tamba Hali, Chiefs

Brian Orakpo, Redskins

Shaun Phillips, Chargers


» This position is mostly pure linebackers, with the exception of Suggs, who also plays some defensive end.

» The Raiders' Kamerion Wimbley and the Broncos' Elvis Dumervil were the biggest omissions. Neither are truly linebackers and are more rushers, and are thus hard to categorize.


Blue Chips

Darrelle Revis, Jets

Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles

Charles Woodson, Packers

Aqib Talib, Buccaneers

Devin McCourty, Patriots

Red Chips

Leon Hall, Bengals

Antonio Cromartie, Jets

Asante Samuel, Eagles

Brandon Flowers, Chiefs

Tramon Williams, Packers

Brent Grimes, Falcons

Johnathan Joseph, Texans

Vontae Davis, Dolphins

Quentin Jammer, Chargers

Charles Tillman, Bears


» Since I went 15 deep on wide receivers, I felt it only fair to do the same with the guys charged with stopping them.

» It's important to note that some of the red-chip players, like Tillman and Flowers, are scheme-specific, but still outstanding in their roles.


Blue Chips

Troy Polamalu, Steelers

Ed Reed, Ravens

Adrian Wilson, Cardinals

Antrel Rolle, Giants

Eric Berry, Chiefs

Red Chips

Nick Collins, Packers

Earl Thomas, Seahawks

O.J. Atogwe, Rams

Eric Weddle, Charges

LaRon Landry, Redskins


» The top two players here were easy to pick. Berry might be moving into that group if he has another season like his rookie year.


Blue Chips

Bill Belichick, Patriots

Mike Tomlin, Steelers

Sean Payton, Saints

Rex Ryan, Jets

Andy Reid, Eagles

Red Chips

Mike McCarthy, Packers

Mike Smith, Falcons

Lovie Smith, Bears

Tom Coughlin, Giants

John Harbaugh, Ravens


» When ranking the coaches, I also took under consideration the total staff breakdown, as some coordinators are extremely valuable.

» The Redskins' Mike Shanahan would have appeared on this list in the past, but the last few years his teams have taken a step back.

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I still feel like William Moore is snubbed league wide. The guy was 2nd in INT's amongst SS's, behind only Troy Polamalu. He was also 4th in PD's. And he was first in return yards off of INT's. Not to mention he can lay the wood.

i agree, i believe with another solid season he probably make the list. personally i think they could switch lofton and abe. he still seems to be a dominant force, while lofton is good in run d he struggles in pass coverage.

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I still feel like William Moore is snubbed league wide. The guy was 2nd in INT's amongst SS's, behind only Troy Polamalu. He was also 4th in PD's. And he was first in return yards off of INT's. Not to mention he can lay the wood.

Babs gets snubbed all the time, too. He is easily a Red Chip DT.

I think giving Lofton a Blue Chip rating is a bit ambitious. He's a very solid Red Chip MLB in my opinion, but he's not really enough of a playmaker to be called a Blue Chip LB.

I have a VERY hard time with calling Devin McCourty a Blue Chip CB after just one season.

Edited by k-train
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I still feel like William Moore is snubbed league wide. The guy was 2nd in INT's amongst SS's, behind only Troy Polamalu. He was also 4th in PD's. And he was first in return yards off of INT's. Not to mention he can lay the wood.

Yeah, Babineaux was snubbed here too I think.

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