Highest-graded players at every position in the past 8 Super Bowls
At Pro Football Focus, we are nearing the completion of our ninth year of data collection; this means we’ve graded each of the last eight Super Bowls. We’ve seen some incredible games, so we decided to take a trip down memory lane and recap the top performances over the eight Super Bowls of the PFF era.
Below is PFF’s first ever All-Super Bowl team, taking the best performances at each position over those eight games.
(Editor’s note: While some players ended up playing in multiple Super Bowls, we only considered their best performance.)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, 2010 Packers, +9.1 overall game grade
Runner-up: Eli Manning, 2011 Giants, +8.5
In Aaron Rodgers’ only Super Bowl appearance, he was near unstoppable—as long as he wasn’t under pressure. He had an NFL passer rating of 140.2 when there was no pressure, including a three-touchdown performance. He made some great passes that ended up being dropped, which hurt his raw numbers, but there is no denying Rodgers was one of the few reasons the Packers became Super Bowl XLV champions.
Running back: Marshawn Lynch, 2014 Seahawks, +3.8
Runner-up: Joseph Addai, 2009 Colts, +1.6
In recent memory, there have been few memorable running back Super Bowl performances, but Marshawn Lynch did his best to keep the Seahawks in the game against the Patriots. He had a 100-yard performance, which included eight Patriots missing tackles on him. People mainly remember the one play that he didn’t get a carry, but that shouldn’t take away from how well he played the rest of the game.
Fullback: Henry Hynoski, 2011 Giants, +2.7
Runner-up: Will Tukuafu, 2014 Seahawks, +1.9
While fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL today, Hynoski made a positive impact on a few plays in Super Bowl XLVI. He was a solid run-blocker and had two catches for 19 yards, which was enough for the best fullback performance since 2007.
Tight end: Vernon Davis, 2012 49ers, +4.2
Runner-up: Matt Spaeth, 2010 Steelers, +1.9
The 49ers of that era were best known for their star defensive players, but it was the offense that kept San Francisco in a close game with Baltimore. Vernon Davis was a big part of that, with a six-catch, 104-yard day. On top of that, he was one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the last few Super Bowls. Davis, of course, will be taking the field again in Super Bowl 50—this time for the Broncos.
Wide receiver (outside): Santonio Holmes, 2008 Steelers, +4.2
Runner-up: Julian Edelman, 2014 Patriots, +3.2
Santonio Holmes made one of the most memorable catches in Super Bowl history, but he was getting the best of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all game long. He ended the game with nine catches for 131 yards (94 coming after the catch).
Wide receiver (outside): Larry Fitzgerald, 2008 Cardinals, +3.6
Runner-up: Chris Matthews, 2014 Seahawks, +3.1
Santonio Holmes wasn’t the only star of the 2008 Super Bowl, as Larry Fitzgerald nearly matched Holmes. He had seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns, with most of that coming against Ike Taylor. His Super Bowl performance capped off an incredible playoff run, with 546 yards and seven touchdowns over his four games.
Wide receiver (slot): Hines Ward, 2010 Steelers, +5.5
Runner-up: Wes Welker, 2007 Patriots, +3.7
Ward has the reputation for being a great receiver and run blocker, and against the Packers, he lived up to that reputation. He caught all seven passes thrown his way, including a touchdown, and helped Rashard Mendenhall average 4.5 yards per carry.
Left tackle: Joe Staley, 2012 49ers, +3.4
Runner-up: Jonathan Scott, 2010 Steelers, +2.8
Against the Ravens, Staley didn’t allow a single pressure, despite the Ravens’ great pass rush. When Frank Gore ran to the gaps to the left or right of Staley, he had 61 yards on just four carries.
Left guard: Kelechi Osemele, 2012 Ravens, +6.3
Runner-up: Ryan Lilja, 2009 Colts, +1.4
Osemele faced off against Justin Smith on the majority of snaps and held him without a pressure. More often than not, he got the best of Smith in the run game, as well, holding the 49er to just one stop.
Center: David Baas, 2011 Giants, +4.1
Runner-up: Matt Birk, 2012 Ravens, +3.5
Another offensive linemen making the team based on his run-blocking; Baas got the best of the interior linemen of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Brandon Jacobs averaged 5 yards per carry running down the middle.
Right guard: Marshal Yanda, 2012 Ravens, +4.2
Runner-up: Josh Sitton, 2010 Packers, +3.9
Year after year, Yanda has been the best right guard in football, so it’s no surprise that the Raven has also posted the best performance among Super Bowl right guards. Yanda didn’t allow a pressure against the 49ers, and was a good run-blocker, even if his running backs couldn’t take advantage of it.
Right tackle: Justin Britt, 2014 Seahawks, +2.9
Runner-up: Flozell Adams, 2010 Steelers, +2.5
For most of the season, Britt was a liability at right tackle, and when he moved to left guard for 2015, he wasn’t much help either—but Britt saved his best performance for when the Seahawks needed him the most. Like the rest of this offensive line, he didn’t allow a pressure and graded above average as a run-blocker in Super Bowl XLIX.
PFF puts forward a hybrid defense that features two edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers), three players on the “interior” of the defensive line (3-4 defensive ends or defensive tackles), and two linebackers (all inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers).
Defensive end (3-5 tech): Darnell Dockett, 2008 Cardinals, +7.0
Runner-up: Ty Warren, 2007 Patriots, +4.5
Against the Steelers, Dockett made play after play, including three sacks and two stops in the run game. Dockett was a player known for having some incredible games while being invisible in others. It was the second-highest grade Dockett ever received as a pass rusher in the PFF era, and the third-best grade he received in the run game.
Defensive end (3-5 tech): Antonio Smith, 2008 Cardinals, +5.0
Runner-up: Gerard Warren, 2011 Patriots, +3.2
Dockett’s teammate, Antonio Smith, also had his best game of the season when things mattered most. Even though he was held without a sack, he had five pressures for the only time that year. Smith and teammate Vernon Davis are the only two players on this All-Super Bowl roster (not including runners-up) returning to the big stage in Super Bowl 50.
Nose tackle: B.J. Raji, 2010 Packers, +2.9
Runner-up: Terrance Knighton, 2013 Broncos, +1.4
Even though most nose tackles make their mark against the run, B.J. Raji made his mark against the Steelers as a pass rusher. The Packers’ defense had just 19 pressures against the Steelers, but seven of them came from Raji.
Edge rusher: Adalius Thomas, 2007 Patriots, +7.7
Runner-up: Michael Bennett, 2014 Seahawks, +7.1
There have been several dominant edge rushers in the past eight Super Bowls, including plenty in the Giants-Patriots game, but no one has been more dominant than Adalius Thomas. He put up two sacks, one hit, and eight hurries on 27 pass rushes in Super Bowl XLII.
Edge rusher: Chris Clemons, 2013 Seahawks, +7.4
Runner-up: Lamarr Woodley, 2010 Steelers, +5.7
The entire Seahawks’ defense put up a dominant performance against the 2013 Broncos, but Clemons was one of the few to stand out from the rest. He had a sack, hit, four hurries, and a batted pass, while also contributing a stop in one of his few run snaps.
Inside linebacker: Patrick Willis, 2012 49ers, +4.2
Runner-up: K.J. Wright, 2013 Seahawks, +2.8
Willis was dominant against the run throughout his entire career, and that was no different on the brightest stage. He had five run stops without a missed tackle. He allowed one catch in Super Bowl XLVII, but it was for a 3-yard loss.
Inside linebacker: Bobby Wagner, 2014 Seahawks, +3.4
Runner-up: James Farrior, 2008 Steelers, +2.6
Bobby Wagner was one of the only Seahawks defenders to have a disappointing performance in their Super Bowl XLVIII victory, so he made up for it the following year. He had an interception in the pass game, and three stops in the run game.
Cornerback (outside): Malcolm Butler, 2014 Patriots, +4.0
Runner-up: Jimmy Smith, 2013 Ravens, +3.4
Butler was responsible for one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history, but even if the Seahawks ran instead of passed on that play, Butler still would have had a strong performance. On six targets, he only allowed two catches. He had a pass defense to go along with his interception, and only allowed one yard after the catch. The Super Bowl XLIX outing spring-boarded a strong 2015 season.
Cornerback (outside): Tramon Williams, 2010 Packers, +3.9
Runner-up: Tarell Brown, 2012 49ers, +2.4
The one defender the Steelers tried to take advantage of in Super Bowl XLV was Tramon Williams, but that strategy didn’t work. On nine targets, Williams only allowed three catches for 22 yards. He also had two passes defended. He did this while covering Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown.
Cornerback (slot): Kyle Arrington, 2011 Patriots, +1.5
Runner-up: Charles Woodson, 2010 Packers, +1.1
There have been few slot cornerbacks to post a dominant Super Bowl performance in the PFF era, but Arrington is the closest we’ve seen. He graded out above-average as a run-blocker, as a pass-rusher, and in coverage in Super Bowl XLVI.
Strong safety: Kam Chancellor, 2013 Seahawks, +3.9
Runner-up: Melvin Bullitt, 2009 Colts, +3.5
The Seahawks had two interceptions and two passes defended against the Broncos, and half of those came by the hands of Chancellor. While he allowed six receptions throughout the game, they went for a total of 27 yards. He has a reputation for being a great run defender, but against a Denver team that rarely ran, Chancellor adapted and had a great performance.
Free safety: Kenny Phillips, 2011 Giants, +2.0
Runner-up: Earl Thomas, 2013 Seahawks, +1.5
It’s difficult for a free safety to stand out in an individual game, but Kenny Phillips didn’t allow a catch, and two of the three passes thrown his way were defensed.
Kicker: Garrett Hartley, 2009 Saints, +2.2
Runner-up: Lawrence Tynes, 2011 Giants, +0.9
Throughout the game against the Colts, Garrett Hartley made all three field goals he attempted, and all three were from 44 yards away or more.
Punter: Steve Weatherford, 2011 Giants, +2.8
Runner-up: Jeff Feagles, 2007 Giants, +1.8
The Giants only punted four times against the Patriots, but on three of them, Weatherford pinned New England within 20 yards of their own end zone.
Kick returner: Jacoby Jones, 2012 Ravens, +2.5
Runner-up: Antonio Brown, 2010 Steelers, +2.0
Jacoby Jones ran a kick return back 108 yards for a touchdown, but also had four other returns for another 98 yards.
Punt returner: Julian Edelman, 2014 Patriots, +1.5
Runner-up: Ted Ginn, 2012 49ers, +1.0
Rarely do teams leave their top wide receiver in as their punt returner, but Edelman had three returns in the Super Bowl. The rest of the special teams unit didn’t give Edelman much help, but he was able to manage 9 yards per return.