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2023 NFL season: Ranking top combos at 11 key position groups

As training camp approaches, executives, scouts and coaches will be comparing their rosters to others around the league. Team builders want to see how their blue-chip players stack up with those of the NFL's elite squads, in an effort to determine if their personnel strengths are enough to spark a Super Bowl run. Possessing a superior roster does not guarantee Super Bowl success, but those teams with strength at key positions have a chance.

With that in mind, I thought this was the perfect time to decide which teams have the best combos of players at 11 key position groups, focusing on combos of two or three players. After popping in some tape and scribbling a few notes, here is what I came up with:


Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles PHI · Year 4
Marcus Mariota
Philadelphia Eagles PHI · Year 9

The second-place finisher in 2022 MVP voting, Hurts has emerged as a top-five quarterback, thanks to dynamic playmaking abilities as a run-pass threat on the perimeter. His potential to churn out 100-yard rushing games or 300-yard passing outings makes him one of the most challenging matchups in the league. This offseason, the Eagles added a backup with similar traits. Mariota is a former starter with the experience, expertise and explosiveness to run a Philadelphia offense loaded with RPOs and option tactics. The 29-year-old is the perfect insurance policy to preserve the team's chances at making another Super Bowl run. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Derek Carr and Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints; 3) Bryce Young and Andy Dalton, Carolina Panthers 

Running backs

Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers GB · Year 7
AJ Dillon
Green Bay Packers GB · Year 4

As they begin the post-Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers could let their running backs carry the offense while Jordan Love adjusts to life as the team's new QB1. Jones and Dillon are a lethal combination whose complementary games present a mix of finesse and power that will test opponents. If coach Matt LaFleur transitions the offense to a ball-control attack that gobbles up first downs on runs and high-percentage passes, the dynamic duo could help Green Bay emerge as a surprise playoff contender this season. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons; 3) Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams, New Orleans Saints.


Tyreek Hill
Miami Dolphins MIA · Year 8
Jaylen Waddle
Miami Dolphins MIA · Year 3

Aerial attacks with multiple explosive playmakers on the perimeter pose a challenge to defensive coaches. The Dolphins could field half of an Olympic-caliber 4x100-meter relay team with Hill and Waddle. The duo torches opponents on catch-and-run concepts and bombs, with Mike McDaniel taking advantage of their superior speed at every turn. Defenses can't utilize double coverage or brackets without conceding big plays to the unchecked playmaker. Thus, the Dolphins can pile up yardage and points at a breakneck pace, with Hill and Waddle zipping up and down the field as big-play specialists. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals; 3) Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers. 

Tight ends

Hunter Henry
New England Patriots NE · Year 8
Mike Gesicki
New England Patriots NE · Year 6

Bill O'Brien's return to the offensive coordinator position could send the Patriots back to their 12 personnel roots, with Henry and free-agent signee Gesicki threatening opponents down the seams. New England tight ends haven't combined for more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season since 2017 (the last year Rob Gronkowski reached that mark), but the big-bodied playmakers should restore the potency of the position on the team, with Mac Jones tossing the ball around in a ball-control offense featuring more high-percentage passes inside the numbers. As Henry settles into his role as a chain-mover and Gesicki puts up points as a red-zone weapon and hybrid playmaker, the pass-catching combo will give opponents matchup problems all over the field. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely, Baltimore Ravens; 3) Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith, Atlanta Falcons. 

Offensive tackles

Lane Johnson
Philadelphia Eagles PHI · RT · Year 11
Jordan Mailata
Philadelphia Eagles PHI · LT · Year 4

It is not a coincidence the Eagles are able to pummel opponents on the ground or through the air, given they boast an elite set of bookends on the edges. Johnson and Mailata are monstrous blockers with nimble feet and nasty attitudes. The tandem's toughness and tenacity enable the Eagles to play smash-mouth football on the edges while mixing in RPOs and play-action passes to keep opponents on their heels. With Johnson and Mailata displaying the athleticism, agility and body control to excel as blockers on the move, the Eagles' diverse offensive attack is keyed by the play of their dynamic edge players. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Taylor Decker, LT and Penei Sewell, RT, Detroit Lions; 3) Donovan Smith, LT and Jawaan Taylor, RT, Kansas City Chiefs.

Interior offensive line

Joel Bitonio
Cleveland Browns CLE · LG · Year 10
Wyatt Teller
Cleveland Browns CLE · RG · Year 6

The Browns' passing offense struggled to find consistency in 2022 -- but Bitonio and Teller remained rocks up front. For the sixth straight season, Bitonio participated in 100% of the Browns' offensive snaps, per Next Gen Stats. He also earned his second consecutive first-team All-Pro nod and was a Pro Bowler for a fifth consecutive time. Bitonio earned the second-best offensive grade among guards from Pro Football Focus, and Teller ranked 18th, with both players excelling in their run-blocking marks (second for Bitonio and 11th for Teller). Nick Chubb is a talented running back, but Bitonio and Teller surely deserve credit for Cleveland's continued success in the run (the Browns have finished sixth or better in rushing yards in each of the past three seasons). 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Joe Thuney, LG and Trey Smith, RG, Kansas City Chiefs; 3) Zack Martin, RG and Tyler Smith, LG, Dallas Cowboys.

Defensive tackles

Daron Payne
Washington Commanders WAS · Year 6
Jonathan Allen
Washington Commanders WAS · Year 7

The Commanders logged their sixth consecutive non-winning season in 2022 -- but do not blame a defensive front-loaded with first-round talent. Allen and Payne are rugged run-stoppers with pass-rush ability, combining for 19 sacks last season while helping suppress opponents on the ground. Washington's solid ranking in rushing yards allowed per game (113.3, 11th in the NFL) does not adequately reflect the tandem's dominance inside. It is hard to find disruptive defensive tackles with impact potential against the run and pass. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, San Francisco 49ers; 3) Dexter Lawrence and A'Shawn Robinson, New York Giants.

Edge rushers

Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns CLE · Year 7
Za'Darius Smith
Cleveland Browns CLE · Year 9

The addition of Smith to a front line that already featured Garrett could make new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's Wide-9 scheme an absolute nightmare for offensive coordinators around the league. With a pair of accomplished pass rushers on the edges, the ultra-aggressive defensive play-caller can dial up a bevy of blitzes to create splash-play opportunities for a defense intent on feasting on turnovers and negative plays. Smith's savviness combined with Garrett's explosiveness will enable Cleveland to exploit holes in opponents' pass-protection plans, with each defender capable of taking over the game as a sack artist. Given Schwartz's propensity to dial up pressures to create one-on-one pass rush opportunities, Garrett (who's logged double-digit sacks in each of the past five seasons) and Smith (who's done it in three of the past four) could combine for 30-plus sacks as part of a defensive resurgence in the Dawg Pound. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh Steelers; 3) Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat, Philadelphia Eagles.

Off-ball linebackers

Fred Warner
San Francisco 49ers SF · Year 6
Dre Greenlaw
San Francisco 49ers SF · Year 5

The collective speed and athleticism of the 49ers’ off-ball linebackers creates headaches for opposing offenses. Warner and Greenlaw are tackling machines with outstanding range as sideline-to-sideline defenders. As explosive athletes with superb instincts, awareness and diagnostic skills, they excel at shutting down plays between the numbers at the second level. Given their production last season (257 combined tackles, two sacks, 16 passes defensed and two interceptions) and impact as part of an elite defense, Warner and Greenlaw are the gold standard at the position. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) De'Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker, Green Bay Packers; 3) Nick Bolton and Willie Gay, Kansas City Chiefs.


Sauce Gardner
New York Jets NYJ · Year 2
D.J. Reed
New York Jets NYJ · Year 6

Early draft picks don’t always live up to the hype, especially not right away, but Gardner exceeded expectations in his rookie year. The extra-long defender is a nightmare for WR1s. His length, athleticism, high football IQ and keen diagnostic skills enable him to stay one step ahead of offenses attempting to target his side of the field. With Reed holding his own against WR2s on the back side, the Jets can shut down aerial attacks utilizing a suffocating man-match coverage that makes life miserable for quarterbacks and receivers. 

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Darius Slay and James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles; 3) Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore, Dallas Cowboys.


The Seahawks’ revamped secondary will allow Pete Carroll to tap into the complementary skills of his veteran safety trio. Diggs, Love -- a free-agent addition -- and Adams can create big plays in the deep middle, slot or inside the box. Moreover, the unit’s versatility and overall awareness -- paired with talented CBs Tariq Woolen (led NFL in takeaways as a rookie) and Devon Witherspoon (fifth overall pick of this year’s draft) -- give the Seahawks the potential to create the second coming of the Legion of Boom. Adams missed all but one game last season with a torn quad muscle, but if he returns to form as an All-Pro safety who thrives as a pass rusher, the Seahawks will have the league’s best combination of playmakers at safety.

THE NEXT TWO: 2) Jimmie Ward and Jalen Pitre, Houston Texans; 3) Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter.

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