Rating Super Bowl Starters: Colts Get Edge

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) AP

This story was written by CBSSports.com Senior Writer Pete Prisco


If my rating of the 44 starters in Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV is an indication, we could be in for a heck of a game.

The Indianapolis Colts have six of the top 10 players on the list, including four of the top five. But the New Orleans Saints have 11 of the top 20.

If stars decide the game, which they usually do, the Colts should win. Only Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is in the second spot, keeps the Colts from having a sweep of the game's five best players.

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Peyton Manning tops the list at No. 1, followed by Brees, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. Freeney is highly questionable for the game with an ankle injury.

Three of the top five are key parts of the Indianapolis passing game, while Brees is the key to the Saints passing game. That should set the tone for a high-scoring game, based on these ratings.

For purpose of the ratings, I didn't include the nickel corners or the extra tight ends. No blocking back is rated since both teams use mostly three-receiver sets, with the fullback on the bench.

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts: Is there any doubt who tops this list? The man is a special player, maybe the best we've seen.

2. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: There aren't many games Manning plays where the quarterback on the other team is in his class. Brees is close, but not quite.

3. Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts: This might seem high, but he is a force off the edge who can change the game in a hurry. His injury is a concern.

4. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: He is the most underrated receiver of his time. He is better than Marvin Harrison was in his best days. That's saying something.

5. Dallas Clark, TE, Colts: He offers such mismatch problems for defenses because he plays tight end like a receiver. His versatility is vital to the Colts passing game.

6. Jahri Evans, G, Saints: He is a mauler in the run game. He's a big reason the Saints improved running the ball this season. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl.

7. Robert Mathis, DE, Colts: Speed, speed and more speed. He makes up for his lack of size with an explosive first step. He's the perfect complement to Freeney.

8. Jonathan Vilma, MLB, Saints: He is the spark of their defense. He's a rangy linebacker who makes up for his lack of ideal size with the instincts to find the football.

9. Will Smith, DE, Saints: After dropping some weight this season, he's back to being a force coming off the right side of the defense. He's the key to their pass rush.

10. Clint Session, LB, Colts: He doesn't look the part, but he's always around the ball. I like to say he's the best chubby linebacker in the game.

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11. Jabari Greer, CB, Saints: When he missed time with an injury, the Saints secondary really struggled. He's a good man-cover player.

12. Carl Nicks, G, Saints: Keep an eye on this kid. He's a real comer. Evans was named to the Pro Bowl, but Nicks isn't far behind.

13. Sedrick Ellis, DT, Saints: Too high, you say? Take a look at his two playoff games. You will think differently. When he was out with injuries, the Saints defense wasn't nearly as good.

14. Darren Sharper, S, Saints: This might seem low, but I think he gambles a lot and he has missed some tackles this season that led to big plays. He's good, but he's not as good as his reputation right now.

15. Marques Colston, WR, Saints: His 15.3 per-catch average is impressive. He does a lot for a receiver who isn't a burner. He's great in the slot.

16. Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: He isn't as good as expected, but he's still a big part of the Saints offense. His pass-receiving skills help open up everything in the passing game. He's also a dangerous return man.

17. Gary Brackett, MLB, Colts: He's built like a fire hydrant, but he knows how to get to the football. He's the perfect middle linebacker for what they do on defense.

18. Kelvin Hayden, CB, Colts: He missed a lot of time with injuries this season, but he's back and healthy again. He played at a high level in 2008, which is why the Colts gave him a long-term deal.

19. Jon Stinchcomb, T, Saints: He was chosen for the Pro Bowl, although he probably isn't that good. He is the best tackle in the Super Bowl.

20. Jeff Saturday, C, Colts: He isn't the same player he was two or three years ago, but his smarts are perfect for the Colts offense. He can have problems with big people on his nose.

21. Antoine Bethea, S, Colts: This rangy safety doesn't get the due he deserves. He's a quiet player who has been the glue of the young secondary.

22. Jeremy Shockey, TE, Saints: He's not nearly as good as he thinks, but he's still a solid tight end. He needs to be more of a factor in the middle of the field.

23. Daniel Muir, DT, Colts: This street free agent has been a big reason why the Colts allowed Ed Johnson to leave. His play against the run has been huge for the Colts.

24. Joseph Addai, RB, Colts: He came to camp lighter and quicker and has had a very good season. He has played really well in the postseason. His blitz pickups are vital to the passing game.

25. Jonathan Goodwin, C, Saints: When the Saints lost Jeff Faine in 2008, they thought there might be a big drop-off in the middle of their line. There has been some, but not as much as expected.

26. Jerraud Powers, CB, Colts: This rookie corner has the look of a future Pro Bowl player. He is smooth, excels in the Cover 2, but he can also play man coverage.

27. Tracy Porter, CB, Saints: When he was out of the lineup with injuries, the Saints struggled on defense. This second-year player has the skills to be a good cover corner and will get better with age.

28. Antonio Johnson, DT, Colts: This is one of Bill Polian's good finds. He was taken off the Tennessee practice squad and has developed into a good run-stopper inside.

29. Melvin Bullitt, S, Colts: He took over when Bob Sanders went down. Bullitt is a big hitter who also has range. He isn't as good as Sanders, but he's a solid player.

30. Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts: Speed is his game. But he has also improved greatly as a route runner. His best football is still to come.

31. Devery Henderson, WR, Saints: He used to have trouble with drops, but he has worked on that and has become a big-play threat. Henderson has great speed.

32. Roman Harper, S, Saints: He's a rangy safety who can sometimes get over-aggressive. He's young and improving, but he still misses too many tackles.

33. Ryan Lilja, T, Colts: He's a fighter who has improved since coming back to the Colts. He's not a great athlete, but gets by with his toughness.

34. Scott Fujita, LB, Saints: He has been a steady player for their defense. He isn't flashy, but he gets the job done.

35. Bobby McCray, DE, Saints: The Saints would prefer to use him as a situational rusher, but he's starting because of the injury to Charles Grant. There really isn't much difference between the two, but McCray is a better pass rusher.

36. Ryan Diem, T, Colts: He has improved as a pass protector, but he's still not great at it. He has issues with speed rushers at times.

37. Austin Collie, WR, Colts: This rookie has quickly adapted to the Colts offense. He's a relentless worker who has a great rapport with Manning.

38. Jermon Bushrod, T, Saints: He has had moments where he has played well, but he has had others where he has struggled. He's still learning, but he was pretty good against Jared Allen.

39. Lance Moore, WR, Saints: He was hurt for a lot of the season, but he's healthy again and will get reps as the third receiver along with Robert Meachem. Moore is good on the intermediate routes.

40. Remi Ayodele, DT, Saints: He's a wide body who plays on first and second down. He's the space eater in the middle of their defense.

41. Scott Shanle, LB, Saints: He's the weak link of the three linebackers, but he's not far behind Fujita. They seem like they want to replace him every summer, but he somehow finds a way to keep his job.

42. Charlie Johnson, T, Colts: He beat out Tony Ugoh for the job, but it's the lesser of two evils. If not for Manning's quick release, he would be exposed a lot.

43. Phillip Wheeler, LB, Colts: He took over when Tyjuan Hagler went down. He's a speed player who fits in the Colts scheme, but he's not a great player against the run.

44. Kyle Devan, G, Colts: He took over as the starter early from Mike Pollack. Devan is a young player who will get better, but for now he's the weak link on the Colts roster.

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