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Who’s ready for MVP talk?

With only 234 days until the next “NFL Honors” awards show, there isn’t much time (and yes, the math is correct). In fact, there really isn’t much time before the NBA announces its Most Valuable Player. Those smart fellas who run the pro basketball association called an audible with their MVP award, announcing an awards night, a la the NFL. If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, it can be also be cool. NFL Honors night has generally been a success, adding a bit of drama to the announcement of the most indispensable player in pro football … which is usually a thrower.

Thus, with the NBA’s top player (James Harden? Russell Westbrook?) set to be announced June 26, why not take an early, deep dive into something that is not likely to upset you? Below, we parsed out the top candidate for MVP from every team in the NFL. You’ll find 16 quarterbacks, 16 non-quarterbacks, and several other fun options (hey, you try picking an MVP hopeful from the Jets).

Let’s start with a couple of obvious names that might very well be announced come Feb. 3. Oh, and if you harbor any disagreement, @HarrisonNFL is the dropbox.

The big three
Based on last season and expectations for 2017, these are the early favorites:
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: For all the respect tossed Brady’s direction, it’s hard to believe he’s only won two MVPs. Though that’s still impressive, Peyton Manning’s five MVPs appear to have re-jiggered our expectations. Despite winning Super Bowl LI and the game’s MVP award for a fourth time, Brady’s 2016 campaign somehow seemingly flew under the radar, though it probably only falls behind 2010 and 2007 as his best to date.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: For the remainder of his prime, Rodgers will be the quintessential MVP candidate. He produces several wow plays per season while putting up statistics (like leading the league with 40 passing touchdowns in 2016) that make arguing for him easy. And the Packers will be good, again.

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders: No longer an underdog, Carr is prominently mentioned as an MVP candidate. Too much talk? Maybe. But while his numbers didn’t match those of Brady or Rodgers, the perception is that Carr makes the Raiders go. The addition of Marshawn Lynch may slightly hurt the passing numbers but help Carr’s MVP case, simply because it should help keep Oakland relevant.

The big three, non-QB division
No non-QB has been named MVP since Adrian Peterson won the award five years ago. If it were to somehow happen again, these would be the most likely suspects:

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Brown could have been MVP a couple of years ago. The problem is, wide receivers always fall well below quarterbacks in this deal, and historically, they’ve lagged behind the RBs — as in, no wideout has ever won it. Brown couldn’t get a sniff despite posting over 1,800 yards with Landry Jones and an end-of-career Michael Vick throwing him passes in 2015. The MVP drought at this position will end at some point. Brown was down 26 catches and nearly 500 hundred yards from his previous two years’ averages without the suspended Martavis Bryant around in 2016. Now, Bryant is back.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys: If there is one running back who is most likely to wrest this award from a quarterback, it has to be Elliott. The Cowboys should at least contend in the NFC East again, while Elliott is only in Year 2 of his career. His offensive line isn’t quite the same without Ronald Leary and Doug Free, the big three (All-Pros Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick) are still there. If you’re wondering about Le’Veon Bell, remember that playing a whole season factors into this award greatly — and Bell’s played in just 47 games over four seasons.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: Why not list reigning MVP Matt Ryan here? While admittedly splitting hairs, I am thinking offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s departure for the top job in San Francisco will affect Ryan more than it will Jones. The best wide receiver in the NFC — if not the NFL — is going to get his throws and looks. Also, bear in mind how difficult it is for players to repeat as MVP winners. It’s been a minute since Peyton Manning pulled it off in 2008 and 2009. Before that, Brett Favre went back-to-back-to-back in 1995, ’96 and ’97, and Joe Montana repeated in 1989 and 1990.

Rising tides lift all boats
Several players, like Drew Brees and Andrew Luck, posted outstanding numbers in a lost cause last season. What if the players around them raised their level of play? Each of the following players has either been in the MVP running before or was prolific for teams who didn’t get far in January:

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Wilson dropped off the national MVP radar, partially due to an injury-plagued 2016. But can you make the case for any player being more valuable to his team? Seattle wins because of Wilson and its defense. A return to 13-3 could spell MVP for this man.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: Brees always carries the stat line. Unfortunately, his defense has ranked 31st, 32nd and 28th in points allowed over the last three seasons. An average year from that side of the ball would put this team in the postseason — and Brees back into the MVP discussion.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: If the Cardinals had won 10 games rather than seven in 2016, Johnson would have given Matt Ryan a run for his money. The NFL leader in yards from scrimmage (2,118) was so consistent that the he failed to total 100 yards just once: in Week 16, when he left early with a knee injury.

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: We found out after the season that Newton had a bum shoulder, which required surgery. Even so, the franchise QB failed to successfully follow up his 2015 MVP campaign because of a variety of factors. But now rookie RB Christian McCaffery is in-house. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin is two years removed from the ACL tear that ruined his 2015. And the Panthers’ defense should be improved.

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Like Wilson, it is darn near impossible to separate quarterback from team with Luck — perhaps more so in this case, given the weakness of Indy’s defense. New general manager Chris Ballard bulked that area up during the draft and free agency. If the Colts play out of their minds, Luck’s case gets stronger — presuming, of course, Luck’s surgically repaired shoulder doesn’t get in the way.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants: Contract talk aside, Beckham has the potential to turn it on at any time. Can he stay focused? Here’s thinking new additions Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram will be such distractions to opposing defenses that Beckham has a big year — maybe even big enough to win MVP.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions: Although an underdog, Stafford deserved to be mentioned as an MVP candidate for most of last season. Then he dislocated his middle finger and, with Matt Ryan keeping up his torrid pace, that was it. Additions on the offensive line and a return to health for running back Ameer Abdullah could result in an MVP run for Stafford.

Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos: Miller came so close to winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 despite all the problems the Broncos had on offense, and despite the lack of team success (which had to have helped winner Khalil Mack). If Denver’s offense shows up this time, Miller could be the first defensive player to win league MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins: Cousins is the second-best — but most important — player on the Redskins. Trent Williams won’t be winning MVP any time soon, but he could be protecting an MVP if the young receivers (Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson) step up and Washington goes 10-6 or better.

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams: This is a huge leap. But Donald — who, in three short years, has come to be considered the game’s premier interior lineman, earning first-team All-Pro honors multiple times — meets the criteria for this section. If the Rams play well enough to win the NFC West and Donald plays like he has, Donald could take home the hardware. That is quite a large if, though.

MVPs … of their teams
The guys below are easily the Most Valuable Players on their own teams, yet have neither the insane numbers nor enough talent around them — at least, as of this writing — to make much of a mark in this race at this point:
Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers: The consummate MVP of his team. I originally went with last season’s rookie phenom, Joey Bosa, but I couldn’t get away from the importance of Rivers to this franchise in a transition year. While his numbers were down and interceptions were up in 2016, remember that Rivers was having to force throws when half of his offense was out with injury and the Bolts were trying to stay in games. With the draft emphasis on offensive line and wideout, methinks No. 17 will be back.

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Perhaps no team is more quarterback-centric than the Bucs. Where would Tampa be without Winston? Amazingly enough, Winston has thrown 281 more passes than fellow 2015 draftee Marcus Mariota.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans: Speaking of Mariota, the Titans’ hopes rest on him staying healthy, something he has not been able to accomplish for a whole season through two years in the NFL. Yes, Tennessee’s running game ranked third in the league in 2016. No, Tennessee can’t win the AFC South with Matt Cassel under center.
FIRST LOOK AT 2017 SEASON
▹ How might Carr’s contract affect Dak?
▹ Head Coach Power Rankings
▹ Rosenthal: Titans AFC’s ‘It’ team
▹ Teams that’ll disappoint, overachieve
▹ MVP candidate for each team
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE …
▹ Falcons | Saints | Panthers | Bucs
▹ Seahawks | Cards | Rams | 49ers
▹ Cowboys | Giants | Redskins | Eagles
▹ Packers | Lions | Vikings
‘TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017′
▹ Biggest top-10 snub from ‘Top 100′
▹ Ike Taylor’s Rankings:
▸ 100-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41
▸ 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Dalton was far from the issue in Cincinnati last season. The Bengals clearly missed former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (the offense dropped from seventh to 24th in points scored), while the Bengals’ running game went AWOL. Dalton can’t win on stats alone.

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens: If Flacco is going to win this, he’ll need a lot of help. With Dennis Pitta (86 catches last season) gone and one of the weakest running games in pro football (91.4 yards per game, 28th in the NFL), will Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman or recent signee Jeremy Maclin provide it? On the other hand, if Baltimore wins the AFC North and Flacco throws for 4,600 yards, how could he not be NFL MVP?

LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: Surprise! The NFL’s top running game did not reside in Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott or those run-happy Titans. Rather, the Bills paced the entire league, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Not sure about the M.O. of new head coach Sean McDermott, but I can’t imagine it will involve a broad departure from the ground game. That starts with No. 25, who is still in his prime.

Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: Don’t laugh. While Wentz’s numbers did drop badly down the back half of his rookie season, his receivers did more than their part to contribute by dropping everything in sight. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith should be a boon to Wentz’s (gulp) MVP run.

Unlikely but cool cases to make
So Matt Ryan is obviously a household name, but as the quarterback of a team that, entering 2016, hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2012, he came out of nowhere to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Here is a handful of players who could similarly surprise with at least a few votes:

Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs: His story is amazing, and the girl I hang out with thinks “he’s cute.” Maybe more importantly, Berry has come all the way back to be a more impactful player than he was before. No safety has ever won the award, but Berry played like an MVP last year. Witness the game in Atlanta.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans: Going out on limb, but hear me out. Clowney was running around in opposing backfields like a kid at a public swimming pool late last year. J.J. Watt is back, which means Clowney could face a ton of single blocking. And Watt might be a year away from being his dominant MVP-like self.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: Ajayi would have to enjoy a helluva campaign to be named MVP — but why not? The Dolphins made the playoffs last season despite every member of the offense still learning in the team’s first year in coach Adam Gase’s system. We’ve seen Ajayi be a workhorse of epic proportions against the Steelers (204 yards on 25 carries in Week 6) and Bills (420 yards on 60 carries combined in Weeks 7 and 16). Could he do it over a full season?

Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears: While everyone was watching Aaron Rodgers toss 40 touchdowns, Matthew Stafford pull games out of his butt and Sam Bradford complete a record number of 2-yard slant routes, Howard played out of his mind. He averaged more yards per carry than Zeke Elliott (5.2 to 5.1) on his way to 1,313 rushing yards. You don’t like this choice? I’ll take your Bears suggestions here.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: The only rookie on this list, Fournette has the best opportunity to win league MVP among the incoming freshmen. Christian McCaffery will split carries with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina. Who knows if any rookie QB will start? Expect the Jags to greatly reduce Blake Bortles’ pass attempts.

Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings: Yeesh. Don’t yell at me. This was between Bradford and an ascending player in safety Harrison Smith. Bradford should enjoy more protection with the arrivals of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers on the offensive line. Maybe he’ll push the ball downfield more. If not, Bradford won’t win nine games, much less league MVP.

Not in this football lifetime … or at least, this season
Welp, there are three teams left. Three outfits that very well could be picking in the top five in next year’s draft. Again. Instead of just going quarterback (Brian Hoyer, Cody Kessler and Josh McCown?), how about a handful of off-the-beaten path — make that waaaaaaaaay off-the-beaten path — MVP candidates?

Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Will Hyde thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s offense? He should. The 49ers’ RB1 rushed for 988 yards in only 13 games last season, an impressive feat when you consider how often his team trailed (badly). GM John Lynch and Shanahan have said they would like to get more out of Hyde, which could mean a huge season, albeit for a 5-11 team. More likely scenario: Pro Bowl.
Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns: Who to go with here? Isaiah Crowell? Jamie Collins? With the quarterback position up in the air and the roster filled with young players, the most talented prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft has as much chance as any Brown to be named league MVP. Of course, he would probably have to pull a Jevon Kearse, piling up 14.5 sacks with Cleveland going to the Super Bowl. More likely scenario: Defensive Rookie of the Year.

UPDATE: Garrett limped off the field with an apparent foot injury on Wednesday.

Leonard Williams, DE, New York Jets: Work with me. Please? The Jets are in rebuilding mode. Williams is as likely to steal the NFL MVP as the Jets are to, uh, take the AFC East. That said, at times, Williams plays like a first-team All-Pro. He improved in Year 2. If any Jet could pull this off, maybe it’s him. Or not. More likely scenario: DPOY.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jamal Adams passed his first test.

Even though it’s hard to get an accurate read on players in non-padded practices, the New York Jets’ prized rookie provided a snapshot of his potential in the team’s three-day minicamp, which concluded Thursday. The former LSU safety displayed his physical skill, making an interception and breaking up a pass. What stood out in particular, though, was his mental game, especially pre-snap.
Jets rookie safety Jamal Adams didn’t hesitate to take charge on a few plays at minicamp. AP Photo/Julio Cortez
On a couple of sequences, Adams figured out the offensive play and barked directions to his teammates, alerting them on what he saw. He took charge of the situation, showing no rookie hesitation whatsoever.

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“I’m not to the point where I’m seeing a lot of things right, but I’m seeing some things,” he said. “I’m always working on that every day, being a student of the game.”

The Jets have big expectations for Adams, who worked with the first-team defense throughout the offseason practices. He will be a Week 1 starter at safety, along with fellow rookie Marcus Maye. Adams admitted he was indecisive in the early practices, but he outgrew that phase quickly.

“Now I’m moving around, I’m flying to the ball, calling out plays, just knowing the playbook,” he said. “There are still some wrinkles, some mistakes that I’ve made. I’m trying to get better each and every day. When we come back for training camp, everything has to be perfect.”

Here’s a look at some of the players who helped their stock in minicamp — and some who didn’t.

RISERS

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins: He was the top skill-position player, displaying the kind of pass-receiving talent that would fit nicely in a West Coast-style offense. He dropped 25 pounds and quit drinking, earning praise from teammates and coaches. It’s a feel-good story. Let’s see if he can keep it up when the pads come on in training camp.

CB Juston Burris: He got beat deep once on Thursday (lucky for him it was an overthrow), but Burris has worked his way into the conversation at cornerback. He was used as the No. 3 corner behind Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine. In nickel, Skrine played the slot, with Burris and Claiborne on the outside. Burris had one of the six interceptions in camp.

OLB Josh Martin: Used last season on special teams, Martin worked with the starters in the base defense, replacing Jordan Jenkins. Martin is a cerebral player and could get a chance to contribute on defense.

FB Julian Howsare: Yes, the Jets have a fullback on the roster, and they’re planning to use him. A linebacker in college, Howsare has improved as a pass-catcher. In fact, he scored a couple of touchdowns in a red-zone drill.

DE Muhammad Wilkerson: He passed the eye test, looking quicker and slimmer than a year ago. Coming off a bad year, Wilkerson should be back to his 2015 form now that he’s 17 months removed from leg surgery.

FALLERS

TE Jordan Leggett: Because of his athleticism and receiving skills, he should’ve jumped out in non-contact practices, but it was a quiet camp for the fifth-round pick from Clemson. Eric Tomlinson and Jason Vander Laan, a college quarterback in 2015, outplayed Leggett at tight end.

WRs ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen: They didn’t do anything wrong, they just got hurt. Stewart (thumb and groin surgery) missed the minicamp and the 10 OTA practices, a big setback for the first-year wideout. Hansen injured his knee on the first day of minicamp and didn’t return. The two rookies — third- and fourth-round picks, respectively — are being counted on to contribute.

CB Marcus Williams: He could find himself in a battle to retain his spot in the pecking order. Darryl Roberts, who had an interception and a pass break-up, could overtake Williams as the No. 4 corner.

The offensive line: Again, this is injury-related. Brian Winters (rotator-cuff surgery) and Ben Ijalana (knee scope) sat out, and Kelvin Beachum (sore knee) was limited. There’s no reason to panic because they should be ready for training camp, but they missed out on a chemistry-building opportunity. The upside was that Brandon Shell, Brent Qvale and Dakota Dozier got extra reps.

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A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Ultimate underdog: Of the 256 potential Super Bowl LII matchups, the least likely is a Jets-San Francisco 49ers title showdown, according to the Golden Nugget sports book in Las Vegas.

The current odds are — prepare to gulp — 5,000-to-1.

Oh, my.

Win that bet with a $10 wager and you’d have enough money to buy two PSLs in the Coaches Club at MetLife Stadium.

Let’s try to put that into perspective, if possible. The odds are getting struck by lightning in your lifetime are 13,000-to-1, per the National Weather Service. Hey, if the Jets dump a couple of more veterans before the season …

For a sports comparison, the Leicester City soccer team was a 5,000-to-1 shot to win the Premier League in 2015-2016 — and it did.

I’ve been covering the Jets since 1989, and I can’t recall any season in which the expectations were this low. Even in 1996, the year they bottomed out at 1-15, they entered the season with high hopes, bolstered by an offseason spending spree that included Neil O’Donnell and the arrival of No. 1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson.

Look at the bright side: A Jets-Dallas Cowboys matchup is only 400-to-1.

2. Four-gone conclusion: The abrupt release of David Harris means the Jets’ version of the Core Four is no more. We’re talking about Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson (both drafted in 2006) and Harris and Darrelle Revis (both drafted in 2007). Mangold acknowledged the Harris news with a tweet, using this hashtag: #EndOfAnEra

So true.

While they weren’t a dynasty, a la the New York Yankees’ Core Four, they represented the best of the Jets — four homegrown players who achieved varying degrees of personal success. Unfortunately, they never tasted a championship. In their seven seasons together, the Jets were 57-55, plus four playoff wins. They got as far as the AFC Championship Game — twice.

In this time of gloom and doom, I’d like to pose this question: Which players will comprise the next Core Four? Leonard Williams and … who? His concert-going buddy, Darron Lee? Jamal Adams? Your guess is as good as mine.

3. Hit Man’s next move: From what I understand, Harris, 33, isn’t considering retirement at this point. He has attracted interest from teams, and there could some action in the coming days. The Cleveland Browns need an inside linebacker after trading Demario Davis to the Jets. The Los Angeles Chargers, coached by former Jets assistant Anthony Lynn, could use some experience in their linebacking corps.

Mangold and Revis also are looking for jobs. It’s all quiet on those fronts, as their asking prices remain high. As of a few weeks ago, Mangold still was looking to be among the highest-paid centers.

4. Maye day! Maye day! Adams has been the talk of the draft class, which is what you’d expect from the sixth overall pick, but the player who really jumped out during the three-week OTA period was second-round safety Marcus Maye. Working mostly at free safety, he impressed the organization with his ability to digest the defense and limit his mental mistakes on the practice field. It’s still early, but the Jets really like the way the Maye-Adams tandem is developing.

5. Gang (Very) Green: Yes, the Jets are a whole lot younger than they were a year ago, but it’s not like they’ve cornered the market on youth. In fact, they’re barely the youngest team in the AFC East. The average opening-day age of their projected starters is 26.2, a bit younger than the Buffalo Bills (26.9). Next is the New England Patriots (27.8), followed by the Miami Dolphins (28.2).

Here’s a breakdown by unit:

Average Age Of Projected AFC East Starters
TEAM OFFENSE DEFENSE TOTAL
Jets 27.3 25.2 26.2
Bills 27.1 26.4 26.9
Patriots 27.8 27.7 27.8
Dolphins 26.5 30.0 28.2
6. Short-sighted decision: The Jets goofed by parting ways with Eric Decker, and here’s why: It’ll be that much harder to develop Christian Hackenberg (or Bryce Petty) without an experienced and reliable wide receiver. Every quarterback needs a go-to guy at receiver, especially a young quarterback, and the Jets don’t have one.

Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson show promise, but they’re still not polished route runners — and route running is vital in a West Coast-based system. With Decker, you know exactly where he’ll be. He’s also a weapon in the red zone; Enunwa and Anderson have 10 red-zone catches between them.

Barring a trade, the Jets will save $7.25 million when they get around to cutting Decker. I don’t want to say it’s a penny-wise, dollar-foolish decision because we’re talking about a lot of money, but you get the point. Look at the Philadelphia Eagles; they devoted their offseason to upgrading the supporting cast around Carson Wentz. Have the Jets done that with their young quarterbacks? Perhaps for the future, but not now.

7. Stop & Shop: As noted the other day, the Jets have talked to the Baltimore Ravens about Decker. Why the delay? The Ravens could be waiting on an answer from free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Best-case scenario for the Jets: Maclin signs with the Bills, increasing the Ravens’ need for Decker. In that case, the Jets might be able to extract a late-round pick from the Ravens.

There’s nothing cooking on the Sheldon Richardson trade front. The Jets are prepared to go into the season with him, hoping his value increases before the mid-season trading deadline.
8. Cap ‘n crunch: The Jets have $16.2 million in cap room, according to overthecap.com — and that includes Decker. When he goes, and when they sign Adams, they’ll be at about $19.5 million. They can carry that into next year, when they could have a whopping $80 million in room.

9. Mo’ better than before: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, coming off a disappointing season, is now 17 months removed from surgery to repair a fractured leg. No more excuses.

“He’s moving well and in good shape,” new defensive-line coach Robert Nunn said. “He’s not in game shape, but he’s in good enough shape to get in shape. … He seems to be moving quicker and I think he feels like he’s moving quicker than he has. I know he struggled off that injury, but he’s very impressive.”

10. Confessions of a sideline reporter: Yep, I was the guy who encountered a Hackenberg pass last week at practice. With a phone in one hand and a notebook in the other, I was able to use my forearm to block a low sideline pass that hit damp grass and skipped like a stone on water. End of story. Can we stop the hysteria, please?

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2016 wasn’t a great season for front-seven units. The playoffs were marked by good-enough defenses simply trying to slow down great offenses (and usually falling short).

Like most NFL trends, this shouldn’t last. Recent champions like the 2015 Broncos and 2013 Seahawks had all-time defenses that were overwhelming up front. Many of the best front-seven groups have reloaded for this season with the complementary pieces necessary to rush the passer and stop the run.

I’ve ranked the best front sevens below with one simple question in mind: Which group would I want to roll with for the 2017 season?

12) New York Jets
Seven key cogs: Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Darron Lee, David Harris, Steve McLendon, Lorenzo Mauldin.
FIRST LOOK AT 2017 SEASON
▹ Biggest roster weak spots: NFC | AFC
▹ Under-the-radar X-factors for 2017
▹ MJD: Which relocated RBs will thrive?
▹ Schein: The Odell Beckham problem
▹ Comparing QBs from 2017 and 1992
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE …
▹ Falcons | Saints | Panthers | Bucs
‘TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017′
▹ Ike Taylor’s Rankings:
▸ 100-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51
▸ 50-41
The 2016 Jets’ front seven was so much less than the sum of its parts. Williams, Wilkerson and Richardson should be awesome, but they don’t quite fit together. They are all brute strength and not enough speed. Candidates for the Jets’ best edge rusher include … Mauldin and Jordan Jenkins?

New York still cracks this list over some near misses like the Dolphins, Jaguars, Bucs and Bears because the Jets’ Big Three should be so much better. Williams can be a first-team All-Pro. Wilkerson, consistent as a ShackBurger in his first five seasons, shouldn’t suddenly be washed up at 27 years old. For all the criticism he took in 2016, Richardson was a top-five run-stopper among 4-3 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus. And that came in his worst season.

11) Kansas City Chiefs
Seven key cogs: Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Dee Ford, Bennie Logan, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Allen Bailey.

The Chiefs, like the Jets, get knocked for not being complete. They tried to address a run-stopping deficiency by signing Logan, but the team has question marks at defensive end and inside linebacker that remain unsolved. That’s why they are low on the list, but they are included because of a killer one-two punch. Houston remains one of the most devastating, complete defenders in football. Jones could wind up being the second-best defensive player from the 2016 draft class behind Joey Bosa.

10) Los Angeles Rams
Seven key cogs: Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Dominique Easley, Connor Barwin.

Donald will become one of the highest-paid defensive players in NFL history soon, an honor he richly deserves. The rest of his Rams defensive teammates have been living off reputation and Gregg Williams quotes for too long.

Brockers and Easley form an intriguing duo inside, but they combined to play fewer than 900 snaps last season. Quinn was last a consistent force in 2014 — and his 2013 season, when he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, stands out as an anomaly in his career.

It remains to be seen how Ogletree and Barron fit into Wade Phillips’ defense, but the Son of Bum always finds a way.

9) Philadelphia Eagles
Seven key cogs: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Nigel Bradham, Derek Barnett.

Philadelphia’s cornerbacks made this group look worse that it really was last season. The Eagles’ front consistently applied pressure under Jim Schwartz. And the unit boasts enviable depth, with players like Chris Long and Beau Allen not listed above. Cox and Graham would be bigger stars if the Eagles weren’t knee-deep in that 7-9 bull—- the last two seasons. Jernigan and Barnett should add more juice than departed Eagles Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan supplied.

8) Los Angeles Chargers
Seven key cogs: Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Corey Liuget, Denzel Perryman, Brandon Mebane, Kyle Emanuel, Jatavis Brown.
The list of defensive players I would rather have in 2017 than Joey Bosa: J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Khalil Mack.

The list of defensive players I would rather have for the next 10 years than Joey Bosa:

Bosa is a more natural fit for Gus Bradley’s 4-3 defense in Los Angeles than as a 3-4 outside linebacker in San Diego — and Bosa should be even scarier with a full offseason and training camp to get ready. He’s surrounded by a group of players that covers all bases. Perryman provides thump at inside linebacker, while Brown adds speed. Ingram is a complete bookend to pair with Bosa, while Mebane and Liuget bring quality beef to the interior defensive line. The Chargers are ranked low on this list for the same reason that Bradley’s old team in Jacksonville didn’t make the list at all. Thus far, this group has looked better on paper than on the field.

7) Pittsburgh Steelers
Seven key cogs: Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree, James Harrison, Javon Hargrave, T.J. Watt.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has stocked his roster with defensive cornerstones for his defensive-minded coach. Mike Tomlin was allowed to depose a franchise legend in former coordinator Dick LeBeau in order for Tomlin to fully execute his defensive vision. Other than Harrison, the key players in this front seven are squarely in the middle of their respective primes. Tuitt, Heyward and Shazier can all excel against the run and pass.

It’s time for this group to grow up together and play as one. This is the year.

6) Denver Broncos
Seven key cogs: Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, Brandon Marshall, Domata Peko, DeMarcus Walker.

There is no such thing as “too many edge rushers.” Even with DeMarcus Ware retired, the Broncos could possess one of the most productive outside pass-rushing trios in football in Miller, Ray and Barrett.

Miller will make up for a lot of sins, but the team’s inability to stop the run wasn’t fully addressed by signing Peko, the 32-year-old longtime Bengal. Even though Wolfe and Ray have the potential to enjoy breakout seasons, this is a top-heavy group that lacks the depth of the team’s championship squad, which included Ware, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan.

5) New York Giants
Seven key cogs: Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Devon Kennard, Dalvin Tomlinson, Jonathan Casillas, B.J. Goodson.
If this exercise only ranked defensive lines, the Giants would probably finish No. 1. Harrison puts a great run-stopping group over the top. JPP and Vernon play an incredible amount of snaps without sacrificing a consistent pass rush.

The Giants’ problem: The three players behind the defensive line count, too. GM Jerry Reese has been skimping at linebacker roughly since Antonio Pierce left town. Goodson, a second-year fourth-round pick who barely played as a rookie, is taking over at middle linebacker. Kennard isn’t trusted on passing downs. It looks like another year of the Giants’ defensive line and secondary trying to cover for the guys in between.

4) Minnesota Vikings
Seven key cogs: Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Brian Robison, Datone Jones.

The Vikings don’t have the marquee names in lights like most of the teams on this list. They do have a balanced and versatile group with few weaknesses. The young linebacker duo of Barr and Kendricks can excel on any down, covering receivers, stopping the run or rushing the passer. (Barr can play better than he did a year ago.) Hunter, like his two young linebacker teammates, has the potential to break out if he hasn’t already. Joseph and Griffen were both given eye-opening, monster contracts by Minnesota, which now seem like forward-looking bargains.

It’s not too late for this Vikings group — with everyone but Robison still under 30 years old — to achieve the type of dominance that coach Mike Zimmer expected last season. This entire Vikings team has some post-hype potential.

3) Carolina Panthers
Seven key cogs: Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short, Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, Charles Johnson, Shaq Thompson.
This is the only front-seven group on this list led by off-the-ball linebackers. Kuechly’s concussion problems are concerning, and Davis isn’t getting any younger, but this is the fastest, savviest linebacker duo in football until proven otherwise. Thompson, still coming into his own in the NFL at age 23, provides freakish athleticism of his own.

It’s not like the defensive line lags far behind. Short was rightly paid as one of the game’s best defensive tackles. Peppers, Addison and Johnson form an experienced trio of defensive ends who have been Brady-like in ignoring the ravages of time. Carolina is primed to bounce back in 2017, with this group leading the way.

2) Seattle Seahawks
Seven key cogs: Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright, Frank Clark, Malik McDowell, Ahtyba Rubin.

This front seven might never fully get its due, which is a shame. Blame the Legion of Boom’s marketing department. Blame Malcolm Butler.

The foursome of Bennett, Wagner, Avril and Wright remains a force, incredible for its longevity in an era built to break up teams, especially great ones. Bennett’s ageless versatility and strength is the key, although Wagner and Wright have steadily grown better each season. Clark is a worthy third-wheel pass rusher, allowing Bennett to move inside on passing downs. McDowell landed on the perfect team to maximize his raw talent.

While there is a risk that the Seahawks’ stew grows stale, the team’s defensive decline was overstated last season. Seattle finished third in points allowed, first in yards-per-carry allowed and fifth in defensive DVOA in a down season. The team’s front seven, not the secondary, now leads the way.

1) Houston Texans
Seven key cogs: J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, D.J. Reader, Benardrick McKinney, Brian Cushing, Christian Covington.

By the end of last season, Clowney and Mercilus were among the most devastating duos in football. Adding the best defensive player of the century to that tandem isn’t fair.
This ranking assumes Watt returns as close to the same player that he was before back surgery. If that happens, this trio could make up for so much: Tom Savage, a so-so Texans linebacker group and possibly the nation’s debt. Watt, Clowney and Mercilus are the best front-line trio in football because all three can play in multiple formations, on any down, against any style of offense. The team is also confident in Reader’s ability to provide an upgrade from Vince Wilfork.

I started this column looking for a complete front seven, and the Texans don’t exactly qualify, lacking in coverage linebackers. But the awesome potential of Prime Watt, Clowney and Mercilus playing together overwhelms the competition on this list, just like it should overwhelm AFC South offensive lines.

Cheap Muhammad Wilkerson Womens NFL Jersey 2017

Is Sheldon Richardson worth keeping?

It’s a question the New York Jets have been mulling for months, one they will continue to examine. If they don’t trade him before or during the upcoming season, they will have to decide if they want to re-sign him as a free agent in 2018.

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Some might argue it behooves them to keep the Richardson-Leonard Williams-Muhammad Wilkerson troika together, giving them a potent one-two-three punch on the defensive line. We’re talking about three talented players, a havoc-wreaking trio that boosts the defense whenever they’re on the field at the same time.

Except that wouldn’t be accurate.

This might be hard to believe, but the defense was terrible last season when the Big Three played together. I’d like to say, “You can look it up,” but you can’t. Those statistics are virtually impossible to unearth, but our man Zach Mariner from ESPN Stats & Information did just that.

Richardson, Wilkerson and Williams played together for 513 of the 998 defensive snaps last season, and the results were ugly — 8.0 yards per pass attempt, a bloated 79.6 QBR, a 19-2 touchdown/interception ratio and only six sacks.

That’s not what you call dominant defense.

A 1-2-3 Punch On The D-Line
COMBO SNAPS YDS/RUSH YDS/PASS ATT CMP% TD/INT
Richardson, Wilkerson, Williams 513 3.7 8.0 64.9 19/2
Wilkerson, Williams (no Richardson) 184 3.7 9.5 73.9 6/1
Richardson, Wilkerson (no Williams) 70 3.1 6.6 57.5 3/0
Richardson, Williams (no Wilkerson) 143 4.5 5.3 57.0 1/3
Of the four different combos involving at least two of the Big Three, this one ranked as the least productive.

How do you explain something like that? They should have been able to create favorable matchups, with two players drawing double-teams and allowing the third to be singled up against one blocker. It apparently didn’t happen too often, perhaps because one of them — most often Richardson — was forced to play out of position. That’s what happens when you have three defensive tackles.

Sheldon Richardon’s Value
SNAPS YDS/RUSH YDS/PASS ATT CMP% TD/INT
Richardson on 763 3.7 7.1 62.0 23/5
Richardson off 262 3.7 8.5 68.0 7/3
This much can’t be disputed: They were a better defense with Richardson on the field.

Let’s have some fun and pick out the best combo in various situations. Such as:

Against the run: With Richardson and Wilkerson in the game (no Williams), the Jets yielded only 3.1 yards per carry, significantly better than any other combo.

Against the pass: The defense was better in most statistical categories with Richardson and Williams on the field, not Wilkerson — only 5.3 yards per attempt, with one touchdown and three interceptions.

On third down: Surprisingly, the defense was more efficient with Williams on the bench, with Richardson and Wilkerson in the game — a 33 percent conversion rate.

As you can see, it’s hard to pinpoint a dominant trend. That would make it easy to assess the value of each player, which would come in handy if they have to pick an odd-man out. It really comes down to the coaching staff being able to find ways to better utilize the three players, especially when they’re on the field together.