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The best athlete on each NFL team

NFL Nation looks at the best athlete in each NFL locker room.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: I asked a veteran Bills player last week about who he believed was the best athlete on the team. His response? “Tyrod Taylor, and nobody talks about him.” That player told me he has faced Taylor in pickup basketball and was amazed at his skills on the court. — Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins’ best natural athlete is 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback Brent Grimes, who players say is one of the team’s strongest pound-for-pound guys in the locker room. Perhaps Grimes’ most impressive feat is overcoming an Achilles tear three years ago and showing no ill effects by making the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. He’s still one of the Dolphins’ quickest players, and his leaping, one-handed interception in 2014 against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is one of the most athletic plays in recent memory. — James Walker

New England Patriots: When I asked Bill Belichick if it was a safe choice to go with LB Jamie Collins, he didn’t have an objection. At the same time, Belichick pointed out that it’s hard to judge across-the-board athleticism on a team when you have players who weigh anywhere from 175 to 350 pounds, because while a 350-pound player might be athletic for his size, he’s not going to stack up well to a 250-pound player. “But I think when you take all that into consideration, given Jamie’s size in addition to his athleticism, he’s in a pretty special category there,” Belichick said. “Do we have guys on the team that run faster and could do different drills faster than him? Yeah, probably we do. I know we do, but none go in and have the same kind of strength and power and explosiveness he has. That’s kind of the difference. But it’s a hard thing to measure.” — Mike Reiss

New York Jets: After posing the question in various corners of the Jets’ locker room, the consensus was CB Antonio Cromartie. He is long at 6-foot-2, and even at 31, he’s still fast enough to play man-to-man coverage and return kickoffs. He also has played a handful of snaps at wide receiver during his career. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: There was no consensus in the locker room on whom was the Ravens’ best athlete, although defensive end Chris Canty made a strong case for linebacker C.J. Mosley, who became the first Ravens rookie ever to reach the Pro Bowl last season. “Size, speed and pure athleticism,” Canty said. “You put him on the football field and he can pretty much do anything.” — Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals: The most athletic player on the Bengals’ roster is also their most versatile. Not only is Mohamed Sanu one of Cincinnati’s more valued receivers, but he also is the team’s emergency quarterback. Sanu turned a lot of heads in the locker room this offseason when he proved he could be an emergency place-kicker too. With a decent crosswind, he boomed in a 60-yard field goal with relative ease while training in July at Rutgers, his alma mater. — Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns: Talk to players and one stands out as the best athlete on the Browns. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres to play baseball, he plays scratch golf and he can dunk a basketball. QBConnor Shaw called him the “quickest dude I’ve ever seen.” The player? QBJohnny Manziel, who also happens to have a nasty competitive side. “We go bowling during training camp and his elbow is hurting, and he’s bowling left-handed and rolling strikes,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “He is that type of kid who is going to pick up a ping pong paddle and has not played in 10 years and just crush you.” — Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers: Martavis Bryant hangs more than jumps. He glides more than runs. His breakaway speed is elite; he ran a sub-4.4 40 at the combine. And when you put that together with his 6-foot-4 frame, you get a rare package. But what makes him the Steelers’ best athlete is his quick-burst ability. The Steelers track short-burst speed through GPS monitors, and I’m told Bryant often has the fastest times, despite his lanky frame. “A lot of times, you get big receivers like him and they are more built to speed — long speed, so to speak,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “This is a guy after a couple of steps, he’s at full speed. His full speed is as fast as anyone.” — Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: During the NBA playoffs, I asked J.J. Watt if LeBron James was the best athlete on the planet. He bristled at the thought. “You’re asking an athlete that,” Watt said. The implication? He considers himself at least in that discussion — and rightfully so. Watt’s combination of size (he’s 6-foot-5 and nearly 300 pounds), athletic ability (have you seen that 61-inch box jump?) and work ethic (in the Texans’ facility working out at 3 a.m. after signing a $100-million contract extension) are rare. It’s why opponents and teammates alike gush over him week after week. — Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts: He can’t show it now because he’s injured, but QB Andrew Luck’s athleticism has been talked about for years inside the Colts’ locker room. Luck has shown over and over again that he’s deceptively quick when he takes off with the ball; he has tallied 1,101 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns during his four-year career. When asked about other sports in which Luck has shown his athleticism, one player said basketball: “He’s fundamentally sound, and he has no problem mixing it up underneath.” That’s not surprising since Luck, who also enjoys soccer, has no problem taking on linebackers when he’s running. — Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars: In talking with numerous players, one name kept coming up: WR Marqise Lee. In addition to being one of the best players in the country during his time at USC, he was a sprinter and long jumper on the track team. He set a national prep record in the long jump and also competed in the triple jump, 100-meter and 200-meter in high school. Most of his teammates didn’t know that, but they know what they see on the field. “His movements are so fluid,” CB Dwayne Gratz said. “Smooth.” — Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright played some basketball while he was at Baylor, and Justin Hunter is a dynamic basketball player who was a big-time long jumper in college. But in exploring the locker room, I decided on cornerback Perrish Cox. As safety Michael Griffin explained, “If you’re telling somebody how to play corner, you’re not going to tell him, ‘Hey, look at this guy right here.’ You let Perrish do what Perrish does, because he’s blessed with God-given ability.” Cox accepted the title. “I have the body, the speed and the mind-set to really do anything I want to,” said Cox, who played basketball and ran track growing up in addition to playing football. — Paul Kuharsky

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: One of the best all-around athletes to ever wear a Broncos uniform is in the team’s radio booth each Sunday, as Dave Logan was once of the few players ever drafted in three professional sports (NBA, NFL and MLB). The team’s general manager, John Elway, was a Hall of Fame quarterback and a New York Yankees prospect in his playing days. But on the current roster, QB Brock Osweiler was offered a basketball scholarship by Gonzaga, and seventh-year safety David Bruton Jr., his teammates say, is still one of the fastest Broncos players. But in terms of overall athleticism and the ability to convert speed to power, linebacker Von Miller is a rare package, according to many of his teammates. — Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs: An interception in an October game against theMinnesota Vikings showed why cornerback Marcus Peters is the best athlete on the Chiefs. Peters was in coverage on one receiver down the field, with his head turned back toward the quarterback. That allowed Peters the vision to see the ball being thrown to a different receiver and the time to make the pick. It was a most uncommon play that only a few elite athletes could make. “He has tremendous ball skills,” coach Andy Reid said. “A lot of corners in bumpandrun can’t find the ball like he finds it.” — Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders: Yes, the Raiders have Derek Carr, Amari Cooperand Khalil Mack — all of whom are supreme athletes — but the choice here is Charles Woodson. The man who won the Heisman Trophy despite being primarily a defensive player at Michigan 17 years ago is still displaying his great athleticism at age 39. He is among the league leaders in takeaways, and he is still making a difference in both the run- and pass-defensive schemes. — Bill Williamson

San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett is perhaps the most explosive athlete. Eric Weddle will tell you he’s the man. But the Chargers’ best athlete is the team’s most unassuming player, running back Danny Woodhead. He ran a 4.33 40 and posted a 38.5-inch vertical at his pro day coming out of Division II Chadron State College. Woodhead averaged 26 points a game in basketball during his senior season in high school and ran a 10.5 100-meter dash. A scratch golfer, Woodhead has carded a 66 on the links. — Eric D. Williams

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: This season notwithstanding, Dez Bryant is the Cowboys’ best athlete. While Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed catches seem to grab attention, Bryant does the same things in pregame warm-ups, practices and games. Bryant’s measured speed isn’t overly blazing, but he rarely gets brought down from behind. And once he gets going, he can run through tacklers. He can also jump over and around defenders. If you’re looking for something of a surprise pick as the Cowboys’ second-best athlete, it might be the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Dan Bailey. He works out in the offseason with position players and regularly finishes among the top of the group. — Todd Archer

New York Giants: The question of who’s the best athlete on the Giants wasn’t a difficult one for the players to answer. The better question seems to be whether Odell Beckham Jr. is the best athlete in the NFL. “Everyone knows, or everyone should know by now, that Odell’s athletic ability is second to none in this league,” cornerback Prince Amukamarasaid. Between his hand-eye coordination, speed and body control and the silly, dazzling stuff he does in practice — like throwing spirals with both hands and kicking field goals with balls he spins on the ground — Beckham is a nonstop one-man athletic show who delivers every single week. — Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles: You could make an argument for cornerbackNolan Carroll as the best pure athlete on the Eagles. Carroll won the starting corner job after impressing coaches by winning all of the offseason competitions — running, in the weight room, you name it. But a couple of players made a strong case for left tackle Jason Peters. He might not win a foot race, but the 6-foot-4, 328-pound Peters is freakishly athletic, thanks to his strength, agility and quickness. There’s a reason he was able to become a Pro Bowl tackle after coming into the league as an undrafted tight end and commands so much respect from his teammates. — Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins: The Redskins have several explosive players, including tight end Jordan Reed. But one name stood out the most: left tackle Trent Williams, a freakish athlete because of how well he moves at more than 300 pounds. The Redskins use Williams on screens that call for him to cover more distance than most teams would ask from their tackles. In college, he once played center in a game with no issues, despite not having played there previously. And Williams is confident in his athleticism, once saying that if he lost 50 pounds, “I’d be a nice tight end … or maybe even an outside linebacker.” It’s hard to disagree. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: Kyle Long is the Bears’ best athlete because of his size, strength and natural skill. Long originally wanted to be a baseball player. He was selected in the 23rd round of the 2008 MLB draft by the Chicago White Sox, but accepted a baseball scholarship to Florida State instead. Long eventually transitioned to football and transferred to the University of Oregon, where after only one season with the Ducks, he was taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Despite being raw, Long earned two consecutive Pro Bowl berths at right guard. He moved to right tackle in Week 1. Only a freakish athlete could be drafted in two professional sports, plus change positions on the fly without the benefit of practice time. — Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah grew up playing soccer and basketball. He traveled from Ghana to the United States, was cut after trying out for the BYU basketball team and then walked onto the track team, where he ran a 10.91 100-meter dash. He had never played football before his sophomore year at BYU, and by the time he was a senior, he was a first-round draft pick. Less than three years into his NFL career, he is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. As DE Darryl Tapp explained, “[Ansah] is probably the one guy in this locker room you could put in any sport and he’ll probably dominate it. Hand-eye coordination, violence, agility, speed, explosion. He’s the real deal, man.” — Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers: Packers cornerbacks Demetri Goodson andQuinten Rollins both played Division I basketball. Goodson even hit a last-second winner to advance Gonzaga into the Sweet 16 during the 2009 NCAA tournament. But both of them concede that the team’s best athlete is Julius Peppers, who played football at basketball at North Carolina. Peppers’ college hoops coach, Matt Doherty, said earlier this year that Peppers could have played in the NBA had he focused solely on basketball. — Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson is the obvious choice for the Vikings, but there’s another player who might steal the title from because of his unique blend of size and speed: linebacker Anthony Barr. A running back who switched positions in college, Barr measured 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds at the combine last year, but he still ran the 4.66 40. “He’s so smooth, you forget he’s moving that fast,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “Everything just looks so easy for him. As a little guy, it makes me mad.” — Ben Goessling

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones is the best athlete because of his combination of size, speed and chiseled physique. After running a 4.39 40 and posting a 38.5-inch vertical jump at the 2011 combine, it’s clear Jones could excel in track and probably basketball, although he told me he’s not too big on the NBA. — Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers: Quarterback Cam Newton gets all the headlines for his flips into the end zone and the way he runs over defenders, but the Panthers’ best athlete is third-string quarterback Joe Webb. Not only can Webb run and throw, he plays wide receiver and is on every special-teams unit. Webb leads special teams in tackles with 12 and is averaging 21 yards on kickoff returns this season. He won’t run over defenders like Newton can, but as he showed during the preseason, he certainly can make tacklers miss. He’ll tell you he is a better basketball player than Newton too. — David Newton

New Orleans Saints: This question sparked quite a bit of debate throughout the Saints’ locker room, with one vote even going to veteran guard Mike McGlynn as the most deceptive athlete (the 325-pounder apparently forced his way into one of the QB challenges and won it). Fellow offensive lineman Terron Armstead and DE Cameron Jordan got even more love as the best “pound for pound” athletes. Armstead still holds the record for fastest 40-yard dash time by an O-lineman at the combine (4.71 seconds). Receiver Brandin Cooks ran his 40 in 4.33 seconds and tore up the Saints’ fitness test this summer. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to beat QB Drew Brees’ well-roundedness. Brees was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, basketball and baseball) and beat a younger Andy Roddick a couple of times in junior tennis events. He has flashed that versatility by winning multiple home run derbies in charity softball events — while switch-hitting, no less. —Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: You easily make a case for wide receiverMike Evans, who was a basketball player before football, or QB Jameis Winston, who was a two-sport athlete at Florida State. But the best athlete on the Bucs is rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander, who has the combination of speed and hitting ability. His play against in the first Atlanta game sealed it, when he raced down Julio Jones from behind and stripped the ball from the Pro Bowler. — Rick Brown

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: The most athletic player on the Cardinals isn’t a name that initially comes to mind, especially in a locker room that includes Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, John Brown and David Johnson. But defensive back/gunner Justin Bethel has been labeled as the team’s most athletic player more than once. “He’s probably the most athletic person in our secondary,” Mathieu said, which in turn leads to Bethel being the most athletic player on the roster. — Josh Weinfuss

St. Louis Rams: Many Rams players believe the best athlete on the team is defensive end Robert Quinn, and not just because of his speed. Quinn has what one teammate calls a “Gumby-like” ability to contort his body as he bends the edge when he rushes the quarterback. In his younger years, Quinn was a wrestler and skateboarder, showing off his balance, hand-eye coordination and strength to complement his other skills. — Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers: On first glance, you would think that deposed quarterback Colin Kaepernick would get a lot of love here in the Niners’ locker room when it comes to the best athlete on the team. Alas, no one I talked to mentioned him. Rather, two names kept popping up, from totally different sides of the spectrum — slight receiver Bruce Ellington, all 5-foot-9, 197 pounds of him, and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, a relative behemoth at 6-foot-3 and 259 pounds. Ellington is fast — registering a 4.45 40 — and has a ridiculous vertical leap of 39.5 inches. And played point guard at South Carolina. Brooks also was given glowing reviews for his speed and leaping ability. Then there’s this: Brooks was a standout high school hoops player. “Yeah, you imagine me trying to guard him,” Ellington said with a laugh. — Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks: Versatility is a term that gets overused in football, but DeShawn Shead fits the label. He is now the Seahawks’ starting right cornerback, but he has also played free safety, strong safety and nickel. In addition to being the newest member of the Legion of Boom, Shead competed in decathlons while at Portland State. Before that, he set a record at his high school in the pole vault. The Seahawks have a lot of great athletes, but none who can do more things at a high level than Shead. — Sheil Kapadia



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