Team-building comes into focus during training camp, with players battling for various spots across the depth chart -- but the teams with stars still possess a significant advantage.
Below, I've assembled the 10 best offensive-defensive duos in the NFL heading into the 2021 season. As I did last year, I examined the best offensive player and best defensive player on each team, then raked the top combinations. You'll see some different entries from last year and some new combinations, but one thing remains true: All the teams that made this list pose a serious challenge to their opponents.
Rodgers is the only player in NFL history with more than 300 career passing touchdowns and fewer than 100 career interceptions. He's also coming off a season in which he won his third MVP award and registered 48 touchdown passes with a sparkling completion rate of 70.7 percent, both career highs. Yes, he's 37 years old, but he's also one of the best offensive players on the planet at the moment. And Alexander, a fourth-year pro, is one of the best defensive players, ranking as Pro Football Focus' top cornerback in the NFL in 2020. There is ample reason for concern looking beyond 2021, but for now, the Packers should luxuriate in the fact that they're going into this season with all-world anchors on both sides of the ball.
No one has won more games through Year 9 in their NFL career than Wilson, who has 98 victories to his name following a 12-4 campaign in 2020. Setting aside the question of who's cooking and at what temperature, Wilson has helped keep the Seahawks in the upper echelon of the NFC more or less since becoming the team's starter in 2012. Adams has eclipsed linebacker Bobby Wagner as Seattle's best defender, which is high praise -- the do-it-all safety set a single-season record for sacks by a defensive back in 2020, with 9.5.
Mahomes is currently averaging 307.7 passing yards per game, more than anyone in NFL history. He's also -- and to say this is special is a massive understatement -- the first to start in multiple Super Bowls before turning 26. Mathieu, 29, remains one of the most versatile safeties in the game today. He collected a career-high six interceptions in 2020, giving him 10 over the past two seasons -- he's the only NFL player to collect 100-plus tackles and at least 10 picks since 2019.
It might be surprising to see Mahomes at No. 3, but it's important to note that the difference between these three duos is razor thin.
Brady's passing stats may not be as eye-popping as they were earlier in his career. But that's almost beside the point. The 43-year-old remains as much a stone-cold winner as we've ever seen in the NFL, providing the kind of leadership and presence that only one of the best quarterbacks in history can. The 2020 season was a coming-out party for the 23-year-old White, who finished the playoffs with 38 combined tackles -- the most ever by a Buccaneer, and the third-most in NFL history.
The presence of Nelson and Buckner here is a significant feather (or should that be two significant feathers?) in the cap of general manager Chris Ballard, because both studs were acquired via fantastic trades. In 2018, Ballard traded down from the third overall spot in the draft, acquiring a pile of selections (that also included Braden Smith, a standout right tackle in his own right) highlighted by Nelson at No. 6 overall. Smith already received a massive extension, and Nelson is eventually going to become the highest-paid guard in NFL history -- deservedly so, having earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors in each of his first three seasons. Buckner, meanwhile, did exactly what Ballard hoped for when he plucked him from the 49ers last year, earning All-Pro honors after posting 9.5 sacks and providing real interior pass-rush oomph.
Herbert set records for rookie TD passes and passing yards per game. He captured the Offensive Rookie of the Year award -- and he's still just scratching the surface of how good he can become. Bosa, who's racked up 47.5 sacks in his first five NFL seasons, should become even more dangerous rushing the pass rusher as an outside linebacker in new head coach Brandon Staley's 3-4 system.
Chubb has averaged nearly 1,200 rushing yards and 9.3 rushing touchdowns in each of his first three NFL seasons. He also averaged a league-high 10 rushing yards per carry in the fourth quarter of games in 2020. He's been a key figure in Cleveland's current renaissance. Garrett is the NFL's best 4-3 edge rusher. He's coming off a season in which he notched 12 sacks and a career-high 48 tackles, earning first-team All-Pro honors.
Allen's Year 3 breakout season placed him among the league's top-end quarterbacks; in 2020, he recorded seven games with a yardage total of 300-plus and a passer rating of 100-plus, behind only Deshaun Watson (nine). White's 2020 was not quite up to the level of his All-Pro 2019 campaign, but he still pulled down three picks and 11 passes defensed while recording the 12th-best coverage grade among corners, per Pro Football Focus.
With Michael Thomas limited or out of action for much of 2020, Kamara was a real do-everything weapon in New Orleans, becoming just the second player since 2010 to post 100-plus carries, 100-plus targets, 4.9-plus yards per carry and 9-plus yards per catch (joining Jamaal Charles, who did it in 2013). Jordan has been remarkably consistent; since he was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, he's registered nine seasons of 16-plus starts and 7.5-plus sacks, more than anyone in the NFL in that span.