Garrett Epple and Ray Lewis
There might be better modern comparisons. Epple hawks passing lanes like Luke Kuechly. He either deflects or cleanly picks three or four passes per game. And when he slides, he slides with the body like another #52: Ray Lewis.
Trevor Baptiste and Devin Hester
People have compared faceoff athletes to kickers because they are specialists. Eh, not quite. Kickers have very few opportunities to impact a game. Faceoff athletes are more like an entire special teams unit: punters, kickers, punt returners, and kick returners.
Like the way a return man changes field position, Baptiste can tilt possession totals in his team’s favor. Opponents have to fight an uphill battle against the Atlas. It’s tough to win when you’re constantly starting drives from inside your own 20- or 10-yard line.
Coach Resch and Coach Belichick
Archers assistant coach Tony Resch is a defensive mastermind. He makes a halftime adjustment each week that prevents a goal or two. One of my favorite tweaks was against this Atlas’ pairs looks. After sliding upfield from the pipe in the first half cost the Archers, they tweaked their help defense.
In the second half that help came from the adjacent defender. It allowed Scott Ratliff to stay at home and anticipate this sneak from Eric Law. Ratliff closed out in time to block Law’s shot.
In a league filled with one-point games (and score differential tiebreakers), these plays add up over the course of a season.
Jake Bernhardt and Julian Edelman
Jake Bernhardt is the best two-way player in the world. Julian Edelman covered Anquan Boldin – one of the best slot receivers of all-time! – in the 2011 AFC Championship Game. He averages 11.2 yards per punt return (tied for 17thall-time) and has made some of the biggest catches in Super Bowl history. Both Bernhardt and Edelman are versatile, tough, hyper-competitive, and clutch.
Matt Dunn and Stephon Gilmore
Lots of cornerbacks talk about how they’re the best. Gilmore just goes out and does his job. Dunn is the same way. His game does all the talking. Some cornerbacks take chances for pick-sixes and leave their defense vulnerable, like a defender who throws takeaway checks. Dunn can sit down in an athletic stance against Connor Fields for 20 seconds without being baited into throwing a stick check or falling for a fake. Darrelle Revis recognizes Gilmore as the best in the game right now – most of Dunn’s peers would say the same about him.
Tom Schreiber and Aaron Rodgers
Schreiber and Rodgers are cooler than the other side of the pillow. No moment is too big for them. They elevate their games when trailing late. More often than not they come through in the clutch moments. Take a poll of defensive coordinator’s worst nightmares; Top 3 would be Rodgers, Schreiber, and Freddy Krueger.
Tucker Durkin and JJ Watt
Opposing players tend to walk away with bruised egos and bodies after facing these two defensive menaces. Unrelenting professionals that are hard-nosed, and define the term grit. Every season they are in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
Brent Adams and Lamar Jackson
“That’s Speed Boy.” Good luck trying to catch these two in the open field. They will blaze past multiple defenders; in a flash, the ball crosses the goal line. Both are elite athletes who have a dynamic skill set. Neither letting a single position label define them. Hybrids playing to their strengths and leaving opponents in the dust.