Whole Nine Sports

The Second Bests

Mason LeBeau
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Sometimes you can be great, and still not be the best. Sometimes you’re great, and not even the best at your own position on your own team. Those are the guys I wanted to look at today. I won’t be ranking the best ‘Dynamic-Duos’ in the league, but rather the excellent players who despite being great or even ELITE, aren’t even the best at their own position on their team.

Too Close To Call

Sometimes you really luck out and have two extremely high caliber players at the position. They may just have two different roles that are hard to compare, are on opposite ends of upside vs floor, or are simply equally talented, these guys were too close to call.

Xavien Howard / Byron Jones

Howard has been one of the few mainstays after the purge of Miami as they successfully #TankedForTua. Now with the mission successful, Miami had a haul of draft picks and cap space and dedicated the stacking the CB room. Jones has been an elite CB1 for Dallas and Howard for Miami, neither are particularly loud and they win in different ways, but this is one of the few teams with two true #1s.

Tyron Smith / La’El Collins

These guys are on pretty different ends of their careers. Collins after a slow start to his professional career has really ramped up to one of the best right tackles in the league and possibly the best run-blocker at the position. Smith has been among the elite blindside protectors for years now but hasn’t been able to escape the injury bug. It felt disingenuous to call Smith the 2nd best, however Collins isn’t at his level yet when both are healthy.

Chris Godwin / Mike Evans

Similar to the Smith/Collins situation. Mike Evans has been an underrated X for a while now due to the Bucs lack of success, but by all means is in the conversation. It wouldn’t have been controversial to put Godwin on the actual list, but he was genuinely incredible last season in only his second year. Going forward I think it’ll be hard to say if one is definitively better, but at the same time it’s possible Godwin is thriving under Evans. Time will tell, but it’s hard not to love Godwin’s upside.

Joe Schobert / Myles Jack

A bit odd for Jacksonville to make a splash in FA during a rebuild at a position they didn’t really need, but Schobert was an excellent cover backer and should pair excellently with Myles Jack. With Telvin Smith’s abrupt retirement there hasn’t been that dynamic duo in Duval, enter Schobert and while neither are heavy hitters, they should be very rangy and hard to pass against.

Joe Haden / Steven Nelson

Haden was once a young star who fell into obscurity and made his way back, Nelson has quietly grinded his way to excellence. Regardless of how you got there, the Steelers found two boundary corners who were excellent on opposite sides of the field. You can even look inside and find another promising corner in the slot in Mike Hilton.

Phillip Lindsay / Melvin Gordon

Very different circumstances got Denver their talented duo. Phillip Lindsay was a UDFA hometown hero who also grinded into being one of the better runners in the NFL. Melvin Gordon – a former first-round pick, never quite lived up to his draft status and had a failed holdout, is still quite talented with the ball in his hands. It’ll be an interesting watch to see if either of these guys distance themselves from the other.

Honorable Mentions

Players who couldn’t quite crack the top-10. Be it because the younger player just isn’t quite that caliber yet or at least hasn’t proven himself, or they simply weren’t up to the talent of those above them. All the players below were considered. (No order).

Richie Incognito – Rodney Hudson

Jameis Winston – Drew Brees

Bradley Chubb – Von Miller

Robert Quinn – Khalil Mack

Jarvis Landry – Odell Beckham Jr

Jordan Poyer – Micah Hyde

Melvin Ingram – Joey Bosa

Orlando Brown – Ronnie Stanley

Calvin Ridley – Julio Jones

Shaquille Mason – Joe Thuney

Danny Trevathan – Roquan Smith

Matt Milano – Tremaine Edmunds

Dallas Goedert – Zach Ertz

Bud Dupree – TJ Watt

Devin White – Lavonte David

The Best of the… Not Best?

What we’re looking for here are the best players who aren’t quite the best positional player on their own team.

Leighton Vander Esch – Jaylon Smith / Dallas Cowboys

Even with Sean Lee holding down the fort over the past decade, Dallas had no problems filling in his shoes and then some. Needing to replace the oft-injured Lee the Cowboys took a risk on a player whose career was at one point in jeopardy in Jaylon Smith. Given proper time to recover, Smith has been everything they hoped he’d be, and we still wonder if he could’ve been better fully healthy. A part of a stacked LB class in 2018, Leighton Vander Esch was almost instantly a hit and was continuing his progression before a scary neck injury sidelined him for the year. Even only a year and a half into his career, this duo looks mean as LVE has reportedly felt great after his recovery.  

Mike McGlinchey – Trent Williams / San Francisco 49ers

He was meant to be a replacement for Joe Staley, a long-time All-Pro LT who was nearing the end of his career. Once he was gone, McGlinchey was supposed to continue the streak of excellent tackle play. Instead, San Francisco opted to continue their dominance on both ends of the line and make the trade for Trent Williams. Now over the past couple years while McGlinchey has developed into one of the best young tackles in the league, Williams has either played little or not at all. It’s worth questioning if TWill will come back to form so quickly, in which case you could reverse this duo if MG continues to improve. It’s worth giving Williams the benefit of the doubt as he was consistently an elite blindside tackle for years.

Marcus Peters – Marlon Humphrey / Baltimore Ravens

While Marlon Humphrey has quietly risen to the top of not just the best young CBs in football, but one of the best in general, Marcus Peters has moved around different roles on different teams. Once looking like one of the most promising upcomers as well, Peters slipped a bit from the ELITEs after moving to LA with his very give-or-take style of coverage. Across from a true lockdown guy like Humphrey, Peters thrived in his half season in Baltimore and only looks to continue his dominance as he gets more comfortable in the defense.

Chris Harris Jr – Casey Hayward / Los Angeles Chargers

Harris Jr is used to playing Robin, be it under Champ Bailey, or across from Aqib Talib. At this prime the term ‘Robin’ is almost disingenuous as he was one of the best pure cover corners in the league. However, a year out from CB1 duties and a slight step back and entering a new team and scheme, we can give Casey Hayward the nod as the true CB1 here. Hayward has been perennially underrated as a lockdown boundary corner and even with an influx of DB talent around him we should expect he continues to take that role in stride.

KJ Wright – Bobby Wagner / Seattle Seahawks

While the rest of the LoB crumbled around them, Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright have remained the consistent source of production for this Seahawks defense. While this isn’t the suffocating unit of old, you won’t find a LB duo as good as this one. With Luke Keuchly retired there’s little doubt who the best MIKE backer is in the league. With that discussion out of the way, pinning where Wright ranks is a bit harder, but there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be the best Linebacker on a large majority of teams.

Javon Hargrave – Fletcher Cox / Philadelphia Eagles

Hargrave was a bit of a late riser in Pittsburgh but contributed greatly to one of the best defenses of 2019. Playing next to Cam Heyward was an effective strategy that he clearly didn’t want to get away from, so he arguably upgraded to the next best DT in the league Fletcher Cox. Philly has made it their prerogative to keep stacking the trenches and with Malik Jackson just on rotation, adding Hargrave next to one of the league’s most dominant forces was an excellent way to keep pressuring the middle, right into the QBs face.

Anthony Harris – Harrison Smith / Minnesota Vikings

Anthony Harris-on Smith. As long as Mike Zimmer is at the helm it seems like the Vikings can do no wrong on defense. The emergence of Anthony Smith explains a lot as to how Minnesota stayed afloat while the cornerbacks dropped off of the map. They’ll have to continue doing so as they lose their veteran talent and even younger talent to free agency, as well as some valuable pass rush in Everson Griffen. If any duo is up to the task, it’s this one. Harris really came out of nowhere the past two years as an UDFA out of Virginia, but he’s become one of the better safeties just as he was primed to hit FA himself. His talent would usually make for the best DB on his team, but Harrison Smith in his twilight just has not slowed down as he continues to prove he has a genuine argument for the best safety in the game.

Kareem Hunt – Nick Chubb / Cleveland Browns

An embarrassment of riches at skill positions, the Browns just seem to have depth as every position on offense. Nick Chubb like Jaylon Smith was on track to be one of the best prospects in recent history before devastating knee injuries. Their natural talent has shined through however as both got healthy and continued to improve after second-round selections as they’ve become some of the best at their positions. Kareem Hunt wasn’t a necessity, but unfortunate circumstances landed him in Cleveland where he adds a solid complement to Chubb. Let’s not forget that Hunt himself was a Pro-Bowl caliber talent who’s likely better than most starting backs in the league, but second fiddle in the Browns offense.

Ryan Ramczyk – Terron Armstead / New Orleans Saints

The Brandin Cooks trade has worked wonders for New Orleans even though that pick was at the bottom of the round. Ryan Ramczyk somehow fell to the final pick of Day 1 in the 2017 draft. What even felt like a steal at the time has only proved to be a missight on the rest of the leagues part as he nabbed his first 1st-Team All-Pro this past season, after a 2nd-Team All-Pro in 2018. Those accolades usually are that of your premier tackle, but it’s veteran blindside protector Terron Armstead who owns that distinction at the moment. Armstead may not have gotten that All-Pro award but make no mistake, he plays at the most league-talented LT spot to Ramcyzk’s right. There are very, very limited teammates that the Wisconsin product would be the second-best lineman on, the Saints just happen to be one of them.