While the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl contenders with two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL to be featured in our “Be The GM” tournament, we picked a pair of defensive players from the the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals in Chris Long and Patrick Peterson.
Long started his NFL career slowly when he was the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and is already 28, but he has become one of the better 4-3 defensive ends in the game. Long has had double-digit sack totals in 2011 (13.0) and 2012 (11.5) and has also been a leader at his position in hits and hurries.
The presence of Robert Quinn on the other side of the Rams’ line has made Long more productive, but he is arguably the more valuable asset for the franchise since he’s just 23. Quinn has been inconsistent in his production compared to Long, however, and there is no doubting that the more reliable productivity comes from the veteran. Sam Bradford, meanwhile, could finally play to his potential at just 25, but he hasn't even been a league average quarterback at this point in his career.
With Larry Fitzgerald turning 30 this month and coming off a disappointing season due to major issues for the Cardinals at quarterback, Peterson is the most valuable of several young and talented members of that defense. Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington would very possibly be the nominees from the Rams, but Peterson already has two Pro Bowls on his resume at cornerback before turning 23.
Peterson wasn’t as much of a factor as a returner in his second season as he was as a rookie, but he intercepted seven balls and generally played strong man-to-man coverage as he continues to refine the mechanics of his game. Peterson also recovered five fumbles, which led the NFL.