NFL
September 22, 2020
BY Manouk Akopyan

The NFL’s Most Prolific Position Groups in 2020

The NFL is a mismatch league, and teams that employ an elite position group give themselves an advantage over their opposition that can propel them to the playoffs and beyond. 

Take the San Francisco 49ers, for example. They rode the best defensive line in the NFL a year ago all the way to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the Niners, they went up against the best quarterback group — of course, headlined by Patrick Mahomes — in the league. 

But that was last year, and clearly things are a lot different in 2020. But which position groups are the most prolific this year? These ten groups of players are the best on both sides of the ball in the NFL. 

Quarterbacks: Kansas City Chiefs

The New Orleans Saints might have the most depth and experienced quarterback room in the league with Drew Brees, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, but neither of them possesses the generational talent combined with the youth and potential of Patrick Mahomes. 

In just his third full season as a starter, the Chiefs signal-caller is already the best quarterback in the game, a Lombardi Trophy winner and a regular season and Super Bowl MVP.

If Brees were a bit younger, the Saints would run away with the designation Mahomes and Co. are taking on our list. But it’s officially a dawning of a new era, and it’s the 25-year-old Mahomes who will be the face of the league for the decade ahead.

With 53 starts under his belt, backup quarterback Chad Henne has plenty of experience as well and could spell Mahomes if anything unforeseen occurs. 

Running Backs: Cleveland Browns

The Browns have two bell-cow running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt

Chubb, a 2018 second-round pick, was the second-leading rusher in the league last season, and that didn’t stop the Browns from also bringing in Hunt after he was released by the Chiefs after a graphic video surfaced of him attacking a woman

Hunt was the league’s top rusher in 2017 and is still just 25. The pair provides Cleveland with the best one-two punch in the league, and rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski will have the luxury of riding the hot hand at any given time. 

More importantly, the backfield in Berea gives Baker Mayfield a shot to finally take his game to the next level in his third year with hopes of landing the Browns their first playoff berth since 2002.

Wide Receivers: Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys made the moniker of the Triplets a thing in the 90s with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. 

Big D now has a different kind of Triplets on its hands at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb

Dallas traded for Cooper in the middle of last year and was immediately pleased with the former Raiders' play, rewarding him with a five-year, $100 million deal this offseason. Cooper is coupled with Gallup on the outside, a third-year pro who developed considerably in his sophomore season, tallying 1,107 yards and six TD catches in just 14 games.

Never one to shy away from a big-name player, Jerry Jones drafted Lamb in the first round this year, and the Oklahoma star should shine in the slot for years to come. 

Tight Ends: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles have two Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends for Carson Wentz to target in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, making them a slightly better pick than the still-unknown Tampa Bay Bucs’ trio of Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.

In their first two seasons together, the duo of Ertz and Goedert hauled in 295 catches for 3,020 yards and 23 TDs. There are some teams who don’t have that kind of production from their top two wide receivers. 

Goedert, a second-rounder in 2018, can be a full-time starter for more than two-thirds of the teams in the league. Should the 29-year-old Ertz suddenly lose a step — or fail to come to terms on a contract extension — Goedert will be ready to fill in.

Offensive Line: New Orleans Saints

There is no offensive line better than the Saints’ Bayou-based road graders featuring Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Cesar Ruiz and Ryan Ramczyk.

Ramczyk is a 2019 All-Pro who didn't allow a single sack last season. Armstead and Peat are two-time Pro Bowl players. McCoy was a promising 16-game starter as a second-round pick last year, and Ruiz was the 24th overall pick from this year's draft. 

The Saints are so stacked on the O-line that they had the luxury of releasing three-year starter Larry Warford in the offseason. Warford made the Pro Bowl in all three seasons he played in New Orleans. 

Defensive Line: Washington Football Team

The Washington Football Team has shored up its defensive front in the last four years by allocating first-round draft picks on a quartet of cogs. 

Defensive ends Chase Young (2020, No. 2 overall) and Montez Sweat (2019, No. 26 overall) along with defensive tackles Daron Payne (2018, No. 13 overall) Jonathan Allen (2017, No. 17 overall) make up a fearsome front for Washington that should rejuvenate the defensive-minded Ron Rivera in his first year as a coach in the nation’s capital.

The franchise has it so nice that four-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan, owner of 92 career sacks, can come off the bench and play meaningful snaps in spurts.

In Week 1, Washington went gangbusters against the Eagles, racking up 8 sacks, 13 tackles for losses, 15 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. With that kind of defensive play, the team can withstand limited play from sophomore Dwayne Haskins as they look to make a playoff run. 

Linebackers: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul and Devin White highlight a linebacker corps in Tampa that shores the defensive ship for the Bucs.

David has been one of the best and most consistent ball-hawking 'backers over the last decade alongside the Seahawks' Bobby Wagner. While David mostly roams the middle of the field with White, Barrett sets his sights on the quarterback — he led the league last year with 19.5 sacks in his first year in Florida. 

Pierre-Paul became a household name playing on the D-line, but after embracing a position switch, he's still producing, accumulating 21 sacks in 2018 and 2019. 

The playmaking White is a 2019 No. 5 pick from LSU who had a stellar rookie season causing three fumbles, recovering four of them and taking two back for a score. He added 2.5 sacks for good measure in 13 games as a starter. 

The Bucs have the speed to cover sideline to sideline while also being able to rush the passer, it doesn't get much better than that. 

Cornerbacks: New England Patriots 

Bill Belichick has a history of enlisting top-tier cornerbacks. Ty Law, Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib and Asante Samuel are just some of the shutdown covermen he's developed during his dynasties in New England. 

Last year's defensive player of the year Stephen Gilmore is the Hoodie's latest pupil playing at a premier level. Gilmore tied for the league lead with six interceptions in 2019, as he returned two for scores as well. The shutdown corner is paired with 12-year veteran Jason McCourty. Although the aging McCourty is no longer a world-beater, he and Gilmore make-up the best and most consistent corner duo in the league.

A quartet of J's in J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams add the kind of depth that gave the Pats the league's top-ranked passing defense last year, allowing a league-low of just 173.9 yards per game and an NFL-best 25 INTs. 

Watch out for Jackson. He could be Belichick's latest pet project to develop into a lockdown corner. 

Safeties: Minnesota Vikings

It’s hard to argue that Harrison Smith is not the heart and soul of the Vikings’ defense ever since Minnesota drafted him out of Notre Dame in 2012. The five-time Pro Bowl safety seemingly finds himself around the ball at all times, much to the delight of coach Mike Zimmer. 

Smith had three INTs and forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a sack last year. 

Playing next to him is Anthony Harris, an undrafted player who has developed into a stud roaming the outfield. The 28-year-old Harris was tied for the league lead in INTs last year with six. Harris’ production on the field resulted in the Vikings handing him the franchise tag. 

While Smith has been a Minnesota mainstay for almost a decade, it appears Harris might not. The Vikings were trying to trade Harris in the offseason after tagging him but eventually reconsidered.

Special Teams: Kansas City Chiefs

When you have the league’s most highest-powered offense, you need a kicker who can consistently boot the ball between the uprights. 

The Chiefs have just that in fourth-year pro Harrison Butker, who owns a 90.2% career clip, second-best in NFL history. 

The last time the Chiefs had a punter not named Dustin Colquitt was 2004. The declining Colquitt left K.C. in the offseason, and he's now replaced by rookie Tommy Townsend.

Mecole Hardman has taken over return duties from fellow wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who tallied five return scores in his first three years in the league. The Chiefs did not ask Hill to add on to his workload last year, a task instead bestowed on Hardman.

The rookie second-rounder was one of just seven players to return a kickoff for a TD. He also had a 9.3 yards per return average on punts.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration