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Senior NFL Columnist

From Nos. 1-46, ranking the Super Bowl XLVII starters

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I ranked the 46 starters on the two Super Bowl XLVIII teams 1-46 --including nickel corners but no specialists -- to try and get a feel for which team is better.

In doing so, there were some interesting things that came out of it, such as:

 There are five Ravens and five 49ers in my top 10. 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is the top overall player.

 The 49ers have four defensive players in the top 10, which you would expect from such a dominant unit.

 Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco ranked fourth overall, which is a way to combat that defense.

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 It was tough to rank 49ers quarterback Colin Kaerpernick. He has only nine starts. I slotted him in at No. 20.

 Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is ranked 31st. Pregame dances don't matter here.

So dive in, pick the list apart, and just remember that this is a list based on game -- and not name.

1. Patrick Willis, ILB, 49ers: He is a tackling machine and is the NFL's best inside or middle linebacker.

2. Marshall Yanda, G, Ravens: He is a powerful man who can excel in run blocking and in pass protection.

3. Justin Smith, DE, 49ers: He has been hurt the past month, and it has shown. But two weeks off will help. When he's healthy, he might be tops on this list.

4. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Has anybody played better than Flacco in the playoffs? This is his chance to prove he's elite. Too high for him? Sorry.

5. NaVorro Bowman, ILB, 49ers: It's too bad he plays next to Willis because he doesn't get the proper respect. He was better than Willis early in the season.

6. Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens: He hasn't had his best season, but as he has gotten more healthy he has played much better. He has been good in the playoffs.

7. Aldon Smith, OLB, 49ers: Where have his sacks gone? He had 19½ this season but hasn't had one in the past four games.

8. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: He is so good at running the football, but he's great in the passing game as well. He is so elusive.

9. Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens: His speed can be lethal to a defense. Just ask Champ Bailey. He has emerged as a big-play weapon.

10. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: Gore remains a powerful inside runner who can wear on a defense.

11. Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers: He is great after the catch. But he doesn't offer much down the field in terms of the deep ball.

12. Ray McDonald, DE, 49ers: He doesn't get proper credit on a good defense. But the opponents know how good he can be.

13. Terrell Suggs, OLB-DE, Ravens: He didn't have a great season battling back from a torn Achilles tendon, but he has come on in the playoffs.

14. Mike Iupati, G, 49ers: He is a big, physical road grader, but he hasn't been great in the playoffs.

15. Joe Staley, T, 49ers: He's a good, solid tackle who might be a tad overrated. He's good, not great.

16. Anthony Davis, T, 49ers: He doesn't get the acclaim that Staley gets, but isn't far behind.

17. Carlos Rogers, CB, 49ers: He is their best cover corner and usually slides inside in the nickel.

18. Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: He showed what he's capable of in the NFC title game again against the Falcons. It's too bad he's not playing on a more pass-friendly team.

19. Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens: He isn't fast and he doesn't separate, but, boy, can he catch the football.

20. Colin Kaepernick, QB 49ers: He has been really good in his nine starts, but it's only nine starts -- making it tough to rank him.

21. Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers: He is a big-hitting safety who has improved in coverage. But he gets too aggressive at times.

22. Paul Kruger, OLB, Ravens: He has really upped his game and has played well in the playoffs. He's a free agent who will get paid.

23. Ahmad Brooks, OLB, 49ers: He is the overlooked linebacker in the group, but he is a steady force on the left side of the defense.

24. Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Ravens: This young linebacker has emerged as a powerful facet of the defense.

25. Cary Williams, CB, Ravens: He has emerged as their best cover player. He will cash in as a free agent after the season.

26. Alex Boone, RG, 49ers: He played every snap this season and did a nice job in his first year as a starter. He's big and strong.

27. Michael Oher, RT, Ravens: He's a much better right tackle than left tackle. Has played really well in the playoffs since moving to the right side.

Aging Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can still make plays, while nickel corner Chykie Brown has stepped up for the Ravens. (Getty Images)
Aging Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can still make plays, while nickel corner Chykie Brown has stepped up for the Ravens. (Getty Images)
28. Ed Reed, S, Ravens: He's smart and knows what to do, but he just can't make the same plays anymore. He's not nearly as good as his reputation.

29. Donte Whitner, S, 49ers: He is better in the box than in coverage, so look for the Ravens to isolate him.

30. Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens: He is emerging as one of Joe Flacco's favorite weapons. You can see the comfort they have with each other.

31. Ray Lewis, ILB, Ravens: He has made a lot of tackles since coming back from injury, but hasn't been as good as the numbers.

32. Isaac Sopoaga, NT, 49ers: He is a powerful player inside against the run, but he comes off when the 49ers are spread out.

33. Matt Birk, C, Ravens: He's smart and knows what calls to make, but at times he has problems with big, powerful players on his nose.

34. Bernard Pollard, S, Ravens: He is a box safety who might be key to slowing down the read option this week. He isn't great in coverage.

35. Pernell McPhee, DE, Ravens: The Ravens expected big things from him, but he appeared heavy early in the season. He also missed time because of injuries. When healthy, as he is now, he can be an effective run player and solid rusher.

36. Randy Moss, WR, 49ers: He is now just a possession receiver, but has looked better in the playoffs.

37. Vontae Leach, FB, Ravens: He's a mauling lead blocker who keys Ray Rice in the run game.

38. Bryant McKinnie, LT, Ravens: Since coming into the starting lineup in the playoffs, he has allowed only two sacks. Can he keep it up?

39. Kelechi Osemele, G, Ravens: He has played really well in the postseason since moving from right tackle to left guard.

40. Jonathan Goodwin, C, 49ers: In his second year with the team, he got off to a great start, but tailed off late in the regular season. He has picked it up in the playoffs.

41. Bruce Miller, FB, 49ers: Follow him in the run game and the ball is usually going behind him. He is a tough blocker.

42. Tarell Brown, CB, 49ers: He is the guy teams love to pick on in man coverage. He has improved this season, but had a tough go of it against the Falcons.

43. Chris Culliver, CB, 49ers: He is on the field a lot in the nickel and he does a nice job in coverage. He plays a lot of man.

43. Corey Graham, CB, Ravens: When injuries hit the secondary, he stepped in and did a nice job. He will be inside in the nickel

45. Ma'ake Kemoeatu, NT, Ravens: He hasn't played as well as hoped this season, but he has come on in the playoffs.

46. Chykie Brown, CB, Ravens: He has emerged as the nickel back in the playoffs ahead of Jimmy Smith. Brown has made some solid plays.


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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