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The NFL's Most Dominant Position Units Heading into 2017 Season


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Having a dominant position unit can vault an NFL team into playoff contention.

Having several can get a team deep into January and closer to hanging a banner.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, for example, led his team en route to his first MVP award in 2016. But the support he received from running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman made Atlanta's offense far more dynamic.

Being deep at one position can spread around the playmaking burden. Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota knows that feeling well.

The former No. 2 overall pick has steadily progressed in each of his two NFL seasons, in part due to the stonewalling offensive line in front of him. Mariota feels safe and secure in the pocket, and he's able to watch as the team's O-line opens up gaping holes for Titans running backs to gallop through.

Being dominant in one area also improves others. The New York Giants might be able to squeeze a few more years out of quarterback Eli Manning's career because of the pass-catchers around him now. The Houston Texans' ferocious defensive line gives cornerbacks license to be more aggressive in coverage, knowing the opposing passer won't have much time.

In many ways, teams plant their championship seeds by having one standout position unit, let alone several. 

Let's look more closely at the best position units for 2017, starting with the depth of that Falcons backfield.

Running Backs: Atlanta Falcons

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Devonta Freeman
Devonta FreemanBob Leverone/Associated Press

The measuring stick for a running back depth chart is simple: How many ways can the stable of backs beat a defense? In that sense, quality depth comes down to having a distinctive change of pace and a role for each runner, or trotting out a set of versatile backs.

The Falcons have gone with the latter option. They have two running backs who are nearly interchangeable in terms of their skill sets and what they do well.

One is much better than the other, which is why Atlanta just rewarded Devonta Freeman for his two straight seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards. The team recently signed him to a five-year contract extension worth $41.25 million after he was a central figure in its 2016 season that should have ended with a Super Bowl win.

The Falcons went 11-5 while Freeman produced 1,541 yards from scrimmage, the league's seventh-highest total. He's also a surprisingly effective goal-line runner at his size (5'8" and 206 pounds), and he packs a compact punch. Freeman has scored 11 rushing touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, though he separates himself as a pass-catcher. His 462 receiving yards in 2016 ranked fifth at his position.

Tevin Coleman wasn't far behind, which is what sets apart the Falcons' running backs.

Coleman, a third-round pick heading into his third season, ranked eighth among running backs in 2016 with 421 receiving yards. He's a little larger than Freeman at 6'1" and 210 pounds, and he excels as a downhill runner between the tackles. That's how he averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2016 and chipped in 941 yards from scrimmage.

The Falcons don't lose anything around the goal line with Coleman, either. He's scored nine rushing touchdowns over two seasons and added three more through the air.

Both Freeman and Coleman provide a steady does of slipperiness in space, and each can convert in the area of the field where it matters most. Together, they're two dynamic pieces of a scary offense.

Honorable mention: Tennessee Titans, New England Patriot.


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17 hours ago, DawnOfThemBirds said:

I honestly think that the Falcons LB unit will be quite scary to opposing OCs this season.

The Falcons LB unit is going to be the best in the NFL this year and for years to come.  Our secondary is beastly too.  This article was a backwards looking article, it wasn't looking forward.

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Tampa Bay - Desean Jackson (washed up?), Mike Evans (pretty good), Adam Humphries (OK), anybody else worth mentioning?

Atlanta - Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy plus Andre Roberts and/or Reggie Davis and/or Nick Williams?

I would gladly take the Falcons corp over the Bucs corp anyday.

Even if you throw the TE's into the picture, I would take Toilolo and Hooper and their upside versus the Bucs with Cameron Brate and maybe a rookie.

I guess they did not want to have a team like the Falcons dominating their list (if they had 3 honorable mentions, we would have had to been showing on at least 4 of them). 

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