Senior NFL Columnist

Four-pronged rankings: Cowboys top list, Newton helps Panthers climb

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Cam Newton's presence in the huddle pushes the Panthers into the top five on this list. (Getty Images)  
Cam Newton's presence in the huddle pushes the Panthers into the top five on this list. (Getty Images)  

The NFL is an "air" game now, a pass-happy league built around quarterbacks who can throw the ball.

I've been a big believer in that way of thinking for a long time, which is why my four-pronged approach to building a team is even more important now than it has ever been.

To refresh, the four-pronged approach is this:

1. Get a franchise passing quarterback.

2. If you have that guy, get the player who can knock down the other guy's franchise passer.

3. If you have those two, get the corner who can knock down the quarterback's passes.

4. If you have those three, make sure to get a premium tackle to keep the other teams' pass rushers off your quarterback.

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Four key positions. Four key players. If you have all of those, you should have success.

In the past, the left tackle might have been more important than the corners, but I've amended that. Getting cover players is imperative with the move to more passing. Having an elite one really is a big plus.

I used my four-pronged approach to rate the 32 teams heading into 2012. Each of the four categories has players ranked 1-32, with only one player per team per category. So if a team has two elite pass rushers, only the top one counts. The player ranked first gets 32 points, with the player ranked last getting one.

I then added up the total points to come up with a four-pronged total score. There is a catch. The quarterback position, which is now maybe 65 to 75 percent of the game, gets double points.

For example, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is my top-rated passer. He gets 32 points for that, but it doubles to 64 in the team calculation. The idea is that the premium passers are worth twice as much as any other position -- and maybe even more.

Based on the calculations, there are some interesting outcomes. For one, the team at the top is the Dallas Cowboys with 135 points. They are well positioned at the four key spots with Tony Romo at quarterback, Tyron Smith at left tackle, DeMarcus Ware as a pass rusher and Brandon Carr on the corner. That doesn't mean the Cowboys are my pick to win the Super Bowl. It just means they are positioned well at four key spots.

One of the surprise teams in the top 10 is the Carolina Panthers. But they are also strong at the four key spots, especially now with Cam Newton at quarterback.

Some of the players I put in for their teams are based on projections. For example, I have several rookies penciled in as starters, although that could change. Injured players, such as Terrell Suggs of the Ravens, aren't included.

Being good at those four key spots in the "air-game era" is a must. The four-pronged approach is as important now as it has ever been.

Prisco's 2012 Four-Pronged Rankings
Rank, Team (Pts.)QuarterbacksLeft TacklesPass RushersCBs

1.

Dallas
Dallas (135)
1. Aaron Rodgers
Packers
1. Duane Brown
Texans
1. DeMarcus Ware
OLB, Cowboys
1. Darrelle Revis
Jets

2.

Green Bay
Green Bay (119)
2. Tom Brady
Patriots
2. Joe Thomas
Browns
2. Jason Pierre-Paul
DE, Giants
2. Johnathan Joseph
Texans

3t.

Denver
Denver (118)
3. Drew Brees
Saints
3. Tyron Smith
Cowboys
3. Julius Peppers
DE, Bears
3. Champ Bailey
Broncos

3t.

Houston
Houston (118)
4. Eli Manning
Giants
4. Jake Long
Dolphins
4. Jared Allen
DE, Vikings
4. Joe Haden
Browns

5.

Carolina
Carolina (113)
5. Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers
5. Jordan Gross
Panthers
5. Mario Williams
DE, Bills
5. Brandon Flowers
Chiefs

6.

N.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants (110)
6. Philip Rivers
Chargers
6. Andrew Whitworth
Bengals
6. Clay Matthews
OLB, Packers
6. Brandon Carr
Cowboys

7t.

New Orleans
New Orleans (94)
7. Peyton Manning
Broncos
7. Jared Veldheer
Raiders
7. Dwight Freeney
OLB, Colts
7. Nnamdi Asomugha
Eagles

7t.

Philadelphia
Philadelphia (94)
8. Matt Ryan
Falcons
8. Michael Roos
Titans
8. Cameron Wake
DE-OLB, Dolphins
8. Chris Gamble
Panthers

9t.

Chicago
Chicago (93)
9. Matt Stafford
Lions
9. Eugene Monroe
Jaguars
9. Tamba Hali
OLB, Chiefs
9. Charles Woodson
Packers

9t.

Kansas City
Kansas City (93)
10. Tony Romo
Cowboys
10. Branden Albert
Chiefs
10. Trent Cole
DE, Eagles
10. Brent Grimes
Falcons

11.

Atlanta
Atlanta (91)
11. Cam Newton
Panthers
11. D'Brickashaw Ferguson
Jets
11. Chris Long
DE, Rams
11. Patrick Peterson
Cardinals

12.

Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh (89)
12. Matt Schaub
Texans
12. Ryan Clady
Broncos
12. Von Miller
OLB, Broncos
12. Vontae Davis
Dolphins

13.

New England
New England (88)
13. Joe Flacco
Ravens
13. Joe Staley
49ers
13. LaMarr Woodley
OLB, Steelers
13. Richard Sherman
Seahawks

14.

San Diego
San Diego (86)
14. Jay Cutler
Bears
14. Jared Gaither
Chargers
14. Brian Orakpo
Redskins
14. Lardarius Webb
Ravens

15.

N.Y. Jets
N.Y. Jets (83)
15. Mike Vick
Eagles
15. Donald Penn
Bucs
15. Aldon Smith
OLB, 49ers
15. Cortland Finnegan
Rams

16t.

Cincinnati
Cincinnati (82)
16. Josh Freeman
Bucs
16. Russell Okung
Seahawks
16. Cliff Avril
DE, Lions
16. Charles Tillman
Bears

16t.

Detroit
Detroit (82)
17. Sam Bradford
Rams
17. Jermon Bushrod
Saints
17. Charles Johnson
DE, Panthers
17. Derek Cox
Jaguars

18.

St. Louis
St. Louis (79)
18. Carson Palmer
Raiders
18. Nate Solder
Patriots
18. John Abraham
DE, Falcons
18. Leon Hall
Bengals

19t.

Miami
Miami (77)
19. Andy Dalton
Bengals
19. Trent Williams
Redskins
19. Jeremy Mincey
DE, Jaguars
19. Carlos Rogers
49ers

19t.

San Francisco
San Francisco (77)
20. Mark Sanchez
Jets
20. Levi Brown
Cardinals
20. Connor Barwin
OLB, Texans
20. Jason McCourty
Titans

21.

Baltimore
Baltimore (71)
21. Alex Smith
49ers
21. Jeff Backus
Lions
21. Carlos Dunlap
DE, Bengals
21. Ike Taylor
Steelers

22.

Tennessee
Tennessee (66)
22. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Bills
22. Matt Kalil
Vikings
22. Chris Clemons
DE, Seahawks
22. Corey Webster
Giants

23.

Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay (65)
23. Matt Hasselbeck
Titans
23. Will Beatty
Giants
23. Will Smith
DE, Saints
23. Aqib Talib
Bucs

24t.

Jacksonville
Jacksonville (62)
24. Matt Cassel
Chiefs
24. Demetress Bell
Eagles
24. Shaun Phillips
OLB, Chargers
24. Devin McCourty
Patriots

24t.

Oakland
Oakland (62)
25. Andrew Luck
Colts
25. J'Marcus Webb
Bears
25. Kamerion Wimbley
DE, Titans
25. Jerraud Powers
Colts

26.

Cleveland
Cleveland (60)
26. Robert Griffin III
Redskins
26. Rodger Saffold
Rams
26. Paul Kruger
OLB, Ravens
26. Jabari Greer
Saints

27t.

Buffalo
Buffalo (56)
27. Kevin Kolb or
John Skelton
Cardinals
27. Anthony Castonzo
Colts
27. Jabaal Sheard
DE, Browns
27. Antoine Winfield
Vikings

27t.

Indianapolis
Indianapolis (56)
28. Christian Ponder
Vikings
28. Bryant McKinnie
Ravens
28. Matt Shaughnessy
DE, Raiders
28. Chris Houston
Lions

27t.

Minnesota
Minnesota (56)
29. Blaine Gabbert
Jaguars
29. Marshall Newhouse
Packers
29. Sam Acho
OLB, Cardinals
29. Terrence McGee
Bills

30.

Seattle
Seattle (55)
30. Matt Flynn
Seahawks
30. Sam Baker
Falcons
30. Calvin Pace
OLB, Jets
30. Quentin Jammer
Chargers

31.

Arizona
Arizona (51)
31. Colt McCoy or
Brandon Weeden
Browns
31. Cordy Glenn or
Chris Hairston
Bills
31. Adrian Clayborn
DE, Bucs
31. DeAngelo Hall
Redskins

32.

Washington
Washington (49)
32. Ryan Tannehill or
Matt Moore
Dolphins
32. Mike Adams
Steelers
32. Chandler Jones
DE, Patriots
32. Ron Bartell
Raiders

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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