Quarterback- Brett Favre is healthy and playing like he did back in 1996 in a Super Bowl run. His arm is still very live, is placing the ball well and is doing a nice job of spreading the ball around. Kurt Warner is starting to find his rhythm and when he has time, no one throws the ball more precisely accurate to his vast array of targets. The Raiders Rich Gannon has started well again this year and Jay Fiedler is an overachiever who manages a game well. The Colts Peyton Manning has struggled the last couple of weeks, making some poor decisions and throws. Carolina's Chris Weinke has showed the most maturity of the rookies, showing poise under pressure and making good decisions. He has limited foot quickness and struggles when he cannot set his feet and square his shoulders to throw.
Running back- With all the weapons the Rams have in their offense, Marshall Faulk is the most versatile and most dangerous and difficult to defend. He's quick, fast, the best receiver out of the backfield and rarely puts the ball on the ground. Faulk is scheduled to return from his knee injury this weekend and should be 1000%. The Chargers LaDainian Tomlinson is not only the best rookie runner of the year but also the overall rookie of the year to this point. He runs hard with good body lean and balance for a runner, is quick and decisive to the hole and has good burst and change of direction to make defenders miss in the openfield. Curtis Martin of the Jets has run very well and Lamar Smith of the Dolphins is a tough, slashing power runner who will wear you down with his power and durability. Anthony Thomas has become the feature back for the 5-1 Bears. He has shown the ability to grind out the tough yards and surprisingly been able to break several runs over 20 yards. Other rookie runners worth mentioning are the Eagles Correll Buckhalter, the Bills Travis Henry, the 49ers Kevin Barlow and James Jackson of the Browns.
Wide Recievers- Rod Smith of the Broncos has had to carry the passing game since the injury to Ed McCaffrey and has done a nice job. He's big, physical and aggressive off the line of scrimmage with the speed to separate from defenders. The Rams Torry Holt has been outstanding as well as teammate Isaac Bruce. The 49ers Terrell Owens is so big, strong and physical on the ball yet has the speed to make big plays out of the quick slants. Jimmy Smith has not only come back from a severe off-season illness but has played at al all pro level through the early season. No one beats double coverage as consistently as Smith. No rookies have emerged but the Bears David Terrell, Redskins Rod Garner, Chiefs Marvin Minnis and Koren Robinson of the Seahawks have shown flashes.
Tight Ends- Tony Gonzales of the Chiefs has been clearly the best tight end in the league. In fact he has been the most dominant player at his position in the league. He has been doubled and tripled teamed due to the ineffectiveness of the Chiefs receiving corps but has still managed to get open, make clutch catches and has a higher average per catch than most top receivers thus far. The Colts Marcus Pollard, the Eagles Chad Lewis and Freddie Jones of the Chargers are featured more in their offense and have had their moments while the Vikings Byron Chamberlain has stepped up as Moss and Carter have seen lots of bracket coverages. The Giants Howard Cross is vastly underrated because he still is a dominant blocker after a decade in the league. He is the best tight end in the league at handling defensive ends one on one. The Ravens Todd Heap looks like he fill fit nicely in their offense and is the only rookie to step up to this point.
Offensive Tackles- The Rams Orlando Pace (LT) has graded out the best and most consistent thus far. He has been dominant at times in both the running and passing game. The Saints William Roaf and the Ravens Jonathan Ogden have also played well from the left tackle position. The best right tackle thus far has been the Packers Mark Tauscher. He's a strong, tough mauler type who's been a big reason for their run game success. The Saints Kyle Turley, Raiders Lincoln Kennedy have been inconsistent but at times dominant while the Eagles Jon Runyan continues to be very effective. Two tough guys that are limited athletically but are good technicians and beat guys with effort are the Rams ORT Ryan Tucker and the Jets OLT Jason Fabini. Rookie offensive lineman rarely make impact and this season is no different but the Buccaneers Kenyatta Walker is starting at left tackle. In time, he will be a good one but he is struggling some early this season.
Offensive Guards- Larry Allen of the Cowboys is the toughest guy to block in the NFL and has been so for a number of years. The Saints Wally Williams is a consummate pro. He shows drive blocking strength, quickness on pulls and has a nice short set in pass protection. The Jets Randy Thomas, the best Right Guard in the league, is as physically gifted as any guard in the league. He plays with good strength and quickness and has good body control but really struggles with the mental side of the game. The game is a little fast for him mentally and he struggles versus stunts and games. As he gradually adjusts, he may be the games next best offensive guard. It's Thomas and linemate (center) Kevin Mawae that is largely responsible for the success that the Jets have versus the Dolphins, handling Zach Thomas. The 49ers Ray Brown is also playing well. The Seahawks Steve Hutchinson is the best rookie guard and is starting on the left side. He's a great technician and a strong run blocker.
Center- The Jets Kevin Mawae is the best center in football. He has the strength to fold a defensive tackle 1 on 1 yet has the quickness to get out on a linebacker onto the second level. Tom Nalen of the Broncos is a great technician who has superior quickness. He is the key to their zone/angle blocking scheme where he is the guy usually reaching the front side defender. Matt Birk of the Vikings is a tough and smart competitor as is the Raiders Barrett Robbins who was having his second outstanding season in a row until he went down with a season ending injury. Nor rookie centers have made significant impact but the Lions Dominic Raiola and the Ravens Casey Rabach have a lot of potential. The Falcons Robert Garza has potential at center as well although they have moved him to backup left guard.
Defensive Tackle- La'Roi Glover of the Saints has picked up where he left off last year. He's not a speed guy but very quick and explosive off the ball and gives guards a fit. The Vikings Chris Hovan has really stepped it up in his sophomore season. What he lacks in athletic ability and natural strength, he makes up for in his relentless effort and fight. He creates leverage situations with his hands. Former Viking John Randle is making some headway out in Seattle. The Broncos Chester McGlockton has flashed of brilliance at times but takes off way to many plays. The Chargers John Parella is one of the most underrated players in the league. Gerard Warren of the Browns has not only been the best rookie defensive tackle but one of the leagues overall best early on. Other rookies that have made impacts are Casey Hampton of the Steelers, Richard Seymour of the Patriots and to a lesser degree his college teammate Marcus Stroud of the Jaguars. Damoine Lewis of the Rams and Shaun Rogers of the Lions have show potential as well and should play more as the season goes along.
Defensive End- Michael Strahan of the Giants has been outstanding, even dominant versus the Rams. He's explosive off the ball, has some quickness off the edge, has the strength to cross the blocker's face and control the line of scrimmage. He's the most complete defensive end in football. Kabeer Gbaja Biamila of the Packers has been the most effective right defensive end in the early portion of the season. He is an undersized speed rusher who closes well from the edge. However, KGB's production has dropped as opponents have started to double-team him. The Saints Joe Johnson is the best run defending Right End in football. He is very instinctive, strong and quick which serves him well versus the run and pass. The Ravens Michael McCrary and the Broncos Trevor Pryce have been solid early on. The Bills Phil Hansen and the Patriots Bobby Hamilton are productive, hard working, overachieving Left Ends. After a long contract holdout, the Bengals Justin Smith has started to get adjusted to the speed and pace of NFL play. Other rookies seeing some action at defensive end are the 49ers Andre Carter, Jamal Reynolds of the Packers, the Eagles Derrick Burgess and the Cardinals Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Outside Linebackers- The Seahawks weakside linebacker Chad Brown has reemerged as an impact player with his blitz skills off the edge. He plays well in space versus the outside run and pass and shows the ability to reroute and fill versus the run . Peter Boulware has played well on the strong side for the Ravens. He does not play well over a tight end but is a great space player who can cover and make plays in pursuit. Junior Seau has been the most complete weakside linebacker thus far this season. He takes less foolish chances than he did earlier in his career yet is still making big plays and is a top leader. Derrick Brooks, weakside linebacker of the Buccaneers, has not made as many big plays early on but is the smartest linebacker in football. The Bears Roosevelt Colvin has been the best strongside linebacker in the NFC. He has an explosive first step and can close from the edge as a rusher, has avoided moves as a blitzer, and does not stay blocked. He has graded out even better than Brian Urlacher early on. The Patriots Tedy Bruschi is one of the most unheralded linebackers in the league. He's undersized but is smart and is used so well by Bill Belichick in his scheme. Rookies Tommy Polley of the Rams has shown flashes and Orlando Huff has really made progress for the Seahawks on the weakside. Carolina's Dan Morgan looked good in preseason but an early season injury sidelined him.
Inside Linebackers- At Middle linebacker, Ray Lewis still sets the standard. He has range, toughness, strength, avoid skills to play in space and is still a feared as a hitter. The Bears Brian Urlacher is a great athlete who covers a lot of ground and is benefiting greatly from the sound play of defensive tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor in front of him. The Falcons Keith Brookings is very rangy, athletic and one of the more instinctive young linebackers in the game. His ability to search and flow to the ball is worth watching alone. The Raiders Greg Biekert and the Chiefs Marvcus Patton are the two most underrated middle linebackers in the game. Both are strong run down guys with instincts and toughness, although short on athletic ability. The Steelers Right Inside linebacker is the best rookie linebacker in the game. He is gifted athletically and is developing a physical Steeler edge to his play.
Strong Safeties- Rodney Harrison has been the most valuable player on an outstanding defense that has led to the turn around for the Chargers. He has size, strength and is a physical hitter near the line of scrimmage. He is not very fluid or effective in coverage. The Saints Sammy Knight is a playmaker who beats you with instincts and toughness. Chad Cota of the Colts is an underrated physical player. The Rams Adam Archuletta has been the best rookie safety and one of the best overall strong safeties in the league, period. He is an aggressive speed player who has made a lot of plays. The Raiders rookie Derrick Gibson has seen some action and has potential but has not stood out thus far.
Free Safeties-The aging Rod Woodson has gotten by on experience but has still made a lot of plays in the early portion of the season. The Giants Shaun Williams is the most skilled free safety in the league. He has the unique combination of size and strength to play the run, even in a strong safety look combined with the range, change of direction to make plays on the ball in the air. The Eagles Brian Dawkins is another physically gifted free safety but has not made as many plays at this stage of the season. The Colts Idrees Bashir is the only rookie free safety making much of an impact thus far.
Cornerbacks-The Raiders Charles Woodson has established himself as the premier corner in the league. He has size, is a great athlete with top cover skills and the strength to play through the receiver. He has developed more consistency to go along with his skills. Ryan McNeil of the Chargers has played well early in the season despite lacking the speed and quickness he once possessed. Smaller, quicker receivers still give him some trouble, but he beats you with experience and has the strength to reroute receivers. He also plays with great range in zone coverage. Sam Madison of the Dolphins is very solid, a good technician, has cover quickness and plays the ball well in the air. Bobby Taylor of the Eagles is a big, physical cover corner that smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage and has enough change of direction to turn and mirror receivers' routes. He can lock down the team's biggest receiver. Aeneas Williams is a wily veteran who no longer has the great speed and range but positions himself well and still knows how to break on and play the ball. Two corners that are vastly underrated are Otis Smith of the Patriots and Antoine Winfield of the Bills. Winfield is small and suffers to match up but is super tough, physical and doesn't play small even though he is on the short side. Otis Smith is a great technique and position player that lacks the great speed and athletic ability.
Rookie cornerbacks that have made some progress are Will Allen of the Giants, Buffalo's Nate Clements, Washington's Fred Smoot, Seattle's Ken Lucas, Denver's Willie Middlebrooks and Miami's Jamar Fletcher has played some in their nickel package.
Special Teams- A number of place-kickers have had good seasons to date but the Raiders Sebastian Janikowski when staying out of trouble off the field can be special on the field. The 49ers Jose Cortez, John Carney of New Orleans and Jeff Wilkins of the Rams have kicked well. Carolina's Todd Sauerbrun has punted well for a bad team. He gets good hang time on the ball and has placed the ball well.
Denver has a good return game and has developed good returners with Cornerback Deltha O'Neal handling punts and wide receiver handling kickoffs. Dolphins rookie wide receiver Chris Chambers has done a nice job with kickoff returns and has Dallas wide receiver Reginald Swinton. Desmond Howard of the Lions and Veteran Brian Mitchell of the Eagles have done a fine job with punt returns.
Rookies of the Year- RB LaDainion Tomlinson San Diego, RB Anthony Thomas, DT Gerard Warren Browns, SS Adam Archuletta Rams, ILB Kendrell Bell Steelers. These guys have played at a high level and have made a big impact on their teams. Other players who have contributed nicely to their clubs are Will Allen CB NY Giants, DT Casey Hampton of the Steelers, DT Richard Seymour of the Patriots and RB James Jackson of the Browns.
Coaches- Butch Davis has done a remarkable job with the Browns. He is doing it with smokes and mirrors on defense. He has them believing and attacking on defense and they are starting to come around on offense. Dick Jauron of the Bears has done a nice job under adverse circumstances. Dick LeBeau has the Bengals playing well as has Bill Belichick of the Patriots who is getting the most out of his club. Bill Cowher is also doing a nice job with the Steelers as well. San Diego offensive coordinator Norv Turner has done a great job of mixing things up and keeping defenses off guard. He does the best job of self scouting and doing different things out of similar looks as anyone in the league. He sets teams up from week to week better than anyone. Miami's offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has does a nice job of playing to Jay Fiedler strengths and Pittsburgh's Mike Mularkey has utilized Kordell Stewart better than anyone since Gailey left the steel city.
Chris Landry is a veteran NFL Scout of over 12 years serving as a scout for Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns. He was also the former organizer of the NFL Scouting Combine. He now owns and operates his own scouting consultant business where he serves as a consultant to several NFL teams and also assists Universities and NFL teams in their coaching searches. He can be heard nationally on Fox Sports Radio as their College and NFL analyst.