The NFL’s top athletes were once almost exclusively at the so-called “skill” positions
such as wide receiver and running back, but over the past 30-40 years advancements in both training technology and players becoming more physically imposing have altered that perception. In the 21st Century, elite athletes are at every position.
At QB, Michael Vick’s ability to scramble out of the pocket transformed the position, and reigning NFL Rookie of the Year Cam Newton has taken that ability to an even higher level, becoming as feared for his running ability as for his arm. RBs Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Ray Rice are considered great all-around athletes while WRs Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald would have succeeded in any sport they chose to participate in. A recent trend, converting basketball players to the TE position, was begun with Tony Gonzalez and continued with Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham.
As offenses have become faster and more athletic, defenses have had to find elite athletes to keep up. DE Julius Peppers, a genuine athletic freak, as well as Mario Williams and Ndamukong Suh, combine massive physical stature with Olympic-level athleticism to demand double or even triple teaming. LBs Patrick Willis and Jerrod Mayo easily range from sideline to sideline with little effort, while DBs such as Troy Polamalu, Eric Berry and Ed Reed bring unique combinations of speed, strength and quickness, allowing them to not only blanket receivers but also to deliver punishing hits to opposing ballcarriers.