Using a team of former NFL scouts, sportingnews.com ranked the top 20 at every position in terms of their expectations for 2009, although it limited the punters, kickers, centers and fullbacks to the top 10, and the return specialists to the top 15.
Hayden was recognized as a top corner by the panel of scouts
Biggest (Pleasant) Surprise:
Kelvin Hayden was ranked as the 16th-best cornerback in the NFL. Obviously, the
Colts didn't give him the kind of contract that they did in the offseason
because he is a scrub, but it was also very surprising to see him mentioned
among the elite in the game.
To temper our enthusiasm, though, the list also had DeAngelo Hall — player who was released halfway through the 2008 season by the Oakland Raider — as the eighth-best cornerback in the league.
Biggest (Unpleasant) Surprise:
Of the 32 teams in the league and the featured backs that play for those teams, Joseph Addai was not mentioned among the 20 best.
While it's true that he struggled last season and that the drafting of Donald Brown will hurt his production in 2009, to not rank him in the top 20 is an oversight.
Addai still has talent, he still has a place in the offense, and, until Indianapolis announces otherwise, he's still the starting tailback for one of the most potent offenses in the league.
Adam Vinatieri was not listed as one of the ten best kickers in the NFL.
If the list were compiled at the end of the 2006 season, he most certainly would have been at the top of it. After a rough 2007, he rebounded nicely in 2008, and looks primed to have another stellar year in 2009.
When handicapping Vinatieri's game, there's really only one question that needs to be asked: If you need to convert a field goal to win a game, would you seriously say that you would choose the ten players listed ahead of Vinatieri instead of one of the greatest clutch kickers in NFL history?
A ranking outside the top five would actually be warranted.
A ranking completely off the list is insulting.
Nicest Change of Pace:
It seems as though an anemic running game and a new head coach were exactly what Peyton Manning needed to get the respect of journalists everywhere.
Manning ranks as the number one quarterback on this list and was also rated as the most important player in the NFL according to a recent Foxsports.com article.
The reasons most commonly cited for these accolades are the fact he carried the team to 12 wins in 2008 without much help and the fact that 2009 ushers in a new era and no one is nervous that Indianapolis lost a coach of Tony Dungy's caliber.
Although he has consistently been ranked in the top three for most of this decade, being able to claim the top quarterback spot — and top spot overall — in two separate lists is a nice honor.
Other Notable Rankings:
Dwight Freeney was dubbed as the third best defensive end, but fellow Pro Bowler Robert Mathis was left out of the top 20 at the position.
Both Saturday and Manning were recognized as top players
Jeff Saturday came in at number seven, which is an impressive feat, considering his age and the struggles of the offensive line and running game in 2008. But, it should also be noted that Tony Ugoh was not listed as one of the 20 best tackles, which is noteworthy because the list was intended to judge potential for the coming season and Ugoh has not quite grown into the left tackle position.
None of the linebackers or defensive tackles for the Colts made their respective lists, but that is understandable. They don't have stars or standout performers in those areas and the majority of the outside linebackers on the list were rush linebackers that play in a 3-4 defense.
Dallas Clark was noticed for all his hard work, as he checked in at number three. Perhaps buzz like this — and the fact that Tony Gonzalez no longer plays in the AFC — will garner him a well-deserved trip to Hawaii this season.
Reggie Wayne further cemented his status as the go to guy in the passing offense with a number three ranking among receivers.
Bob Sanders was ranked fourth among safeties, which is not a big surprise. What's surprising is that Antoine Bethea was not in the top 20, but both Chris Hope and Michael Griffin of the Titans showed up in the top ten.
Ultimately, this is just a list to be analyzed and dissected by fans and sites like ColtPower when there's little other news. The real rankings will be decided when everyone puts on their pads and the season kicks off.
However, it's good to know that, out of 24 possible position players, seven Colts made their respective list, five of those players were considered top ten players, and four of those men made the top five.
Indianapolis will enter the 2009 season with a number of questions, but it's comforting to know that elite talent at several key positions is not one of them.
Check out the rest of The Sporting News rankings, including coaches, by clicking here.
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