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Senior NFL Columnist

Four-pronged rankings: Broncos top list, Cowboys look like a contender

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Aaron Rodgers is the top QB in the NFL according to Prisco's rankings. (USATSI)
Aaron Rodgers is the top QB in the NFL according to Prisco's rankings. (USATSI)

You can have your read-option offenses, your fullbacks, middle linebackers and run-support safeties.

That's nice complementary stuff for any team, but the key to winning in the current NFL, with all the rules aimed at making this an "air" league, is having talent at the four spots needed to build a Super contender.

Naturally, it starts with the quarterback, who I believe is now 70 percent of the game.

Then it's the guys who knock the quarterbacks down, the guys who keep those pass rushers off the quarterback and the corners who knock down the quarterbacks' passes.

See the pattern?

That has been my belief for a long time, something I call the "Four-Pronged Approach" to winning football. If a team has a great quarterback, it can help ease the hurt of not having stars at the other spots.

But if a team has a great passer and a great pass rusher, coupled with good talent sprinkled around those two players, watch out.

As I've done for years here, I am using my four-pronged approach to rate each of the 32 teams. Each of the four categories has players ranked 1-32, one per team, and the player ranked first gets 32 points down to one point for the player ranked last.

There is a catch. The quarterback spot gets double the points since passers are so key to winning -- now more than ever.

So Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, in the top spot, gets 32 points times two for 64, whereas the top pass rusher, top left tackle and top corner only get 32.

The top team, by far, was the Denver Broncos with 154 points. They earned that big number with top-five players in each of the four categories. The Cowboys were second with 125 points, followed by Green Bay at 124, San Francisco at 112 and the Giants at 111.

Whether this will decide the Super Bowl winner is debatable. What it will show is the teams that have a real chance.

Team totals

1. Denver Broncos: 154

2. Dallas Cowboys: 125

3. Green Bay Packers: 124

4. San Francisco 49ers: 112

5. New York Giants: 111

6. Seattle Seahawks: 110

7. Houston Texans: 107

8. Atlanta Falcons: 103

9. Baltimore Ravens: 98

10. Chicago Bears: 94

11. New England Patriots: 92

12. Cincinnati Bengals: 91

13. (tie) Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts: 86

15. Washington Redskins: 85

16. Kansas City Chiefs: 81

17. Arizona Cardinals: 79

18. Pittsburgh Steelers: 76

19. St. Louis Rams: 74

20. Cleveland Browns: 73

21. (tie) New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 71

23. (tie) San Diego Chargers, New York Jets: 64

25. (tie) Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans: 60

27. (tie) Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings: 55

29. (tie) Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles: 51

31. Oakland Raiders: 46

32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 31

Quarterbacks

Colin Kaepernick is on the rise as a starting QB. (USATSI)
Colin Kaepernick is on the rise as a starting QB. (USATSI)

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

6. Eli Manning, New York Giants

7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

8. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

9. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

10. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

11. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

12. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

13. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

14. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

15. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

16. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

17. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

18. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

19. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

20. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

21. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

22. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

23. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

24. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

25. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

26. Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith, New York Jets

27. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

28. Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders

29. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

30. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

31. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

32. Kevin Kolb/EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills

Pass rushers

J.J. Watt is a one-man wrecking crew for the Texans. (USATSI)
J.J. Watt is a one-man wrecking crew for the Texans. (USATSI)

1. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

2. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

3. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys

4. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

5. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers

6. Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers

7. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants

8. Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears

9. Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis Colts

10. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

11. Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo Bills

12. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens

13. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

14. Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs

15. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers

16. Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins

17. Chris Long, DE, St. Louis Rams

18. LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

19. Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots

20. Dwight Freeney, OLB, San Diego Chargers

21. Cliff Avril, DE, Seattle Seahawks

22. Sam Acho, OLB, Arizona Cardinals

23. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Atlanta Falcons

24. Paul Kruger, OLB, Cleveland Browns

25. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

26. Victor Butler, OLB, New Orleans Saints

27. Quinton Coples, OLB, New York Jets

28. Connor Barwin, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles

29. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

30. Derrick Morgan, DE, Tennessee Titans

31. Jason Babin, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

32. Lamarr Houston, DE, Oakland Raiders

Corners

Richard Sherman has quickly become one of the NFL's elite corners. (USATSI)
Richard Sherman has quickly become one of the NFL's elite corners. (USATSI)

1. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

2. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

3. Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos

4. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns

6. Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets

7. Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears

8. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs

9. Asante Samuel, Atlanta Falcons

10. Jason McCourty, Tennessee Titans

11. Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys

12. Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills

13. Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers

14. Leon Hall, Cincinnati Bengals

15. Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens

16. Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis Rams

17. Prince Amukamara, New York Giants

18. Johnathan Joseph, Houston Texans

19. Carlos Rogers, San Francisco 49ers

20. Derek Cox, San Diego Chargers

21. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts

22. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins

23. Aqib Talib, New England Patriots

24. Chris Cook, Minnesota Vikings

25. Carey Williams, Philadelphia Eagles

26. Mike Jenkins, Oakland Raiders

27. Chris Houston, Detroit Lions

28. Jabari Greer, New Orleans Saints

29. Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers

30. DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins

31. Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers

32. Dwayne Gratz, Jacksonville Jaguars

Left tackles

Duane Brown makes Matt Schaub's job a lot easier in Houston. (USATSI)
Duane Brown makes Matt Schaub's job a lot easier in Houston. (USATSI)

1. Duane Brown, Houston Texans

2. Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos

3. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

4. Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers

5. Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders

6. Trent Williams, Washington Redskins

7. Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks

8. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys

9. Eugene Monroe, Jacksonville Jaguars

10. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals

11. Michael Roos, Tennessee Titans

12. Jake Long, St. Louis Rams

13. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers

14. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs

15. Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings

16. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets

17. Donald Penn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

18. William Beatty, New York Giants

19. Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles

20. Sam Baker, Atlanta Falcons

21. Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers

22. Jermon Bushrod, Chicago Bears

23. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills

24. Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore Ravens

25. Nate Solder, New England Patriots

26. Levi Brown, Arizona Cardinals

27. Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts

28. Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh Steelers

29. Jonathan Martin, Miami Dolphins

30. Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions

31. Max Starks, San Diego Chargers

32. Charles Brown, New Orleans Saints


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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