Our 10 best NFL offseason top 10 lists

This was supposed to be the first day of the rest of our NFL lives, offering a clean break from the 2011 lockout and our first weekend free from the various projects and top 10 lists that have occupied our time since March.

Instead, here we are, suspended in the same sorry locked out state.

We've analyzed helmets, ranked the best players in the game today and even projected which ones would dominate three years from now.

If the longest NFL offseason continues much longer, I fear we'll resort to ranking the 10 best ESPN.com top 10 lists. Come to think of it, let's get it out of the way now, as a pre-emptive strike against someone actually assigning it to me. That would never happen, would it? Hey, we ranked helmets. Anything is possible.

Speaking of those helmet rankings, you apparently liked them. A lot. Users recommended them to Facebook friends more than they recommended any of the other 15 -- that's right, 15 -- offseason power rankings. And so it's with your input that I've assembled the 10 most socially networked ESPN.com NFL offseason power rankings (number of Facebook recommendations in parenthesis):

  1. Ten best helmets (4,000+). I'll admit to participating in a May 4 email discussion with a colleague in which he lamented and I agreed that we were bottoming out with the decision to rank helmets, of all things. We were flat-out wrong. Bill Williamson had fun with the project, even consulting fashion experts, and the resulting May 17 item has been recommended more than 4,000 times on Facebook.

  2. Ten best running backs (2,000+). Steven Jackson ranked seventh and Frank Gore was tied for 10th, with Chris Johnson edging Adrian Peterson for the top spot. I thought standing up for Gore was important and explained why for the piece: "He's produced across systems for a team that has had a different offensive coordinator every season of his career. He's never had a quarterback to take pressure off him. Defenses have known what was coming, and Gore has kept coming anyway."

  3. Ten best linebackers (1,000+). Patrick Willis topped this list, showing that a great player at a less glamorous position can still command appropriate respect levels. "Nobody in the NFL plays their position better than Patrick Willis, and that is saying a lot," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "He has no weaknesses."

  4. Ten best safeties (995). Our panelists felt guilty after this one. The position was difficult to grade and without a clearly established order outside the top couple of selections. Adrian Wilson was fourth.

  5. Ten toughest venues (960). The venue formerly known as Qwest Field ranked third. Lambeau and Heinz were the only other NFL stadiums appearing on every voter's ballot. Candlestick Park, with its tricky winds and slippery grass, could rank among the toughest if the 49ers had remained a playoff team over the last decade.

  6. Ten best head coaches (764). Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt just missed the cut. No other NFC West head coach received a vote. Bill Belichick was the overall winner in a runaway.

  7. Ten best quarterbacks (693). The NFC West was shut out here. Where will Sam Bradford rank one year from now?

  8. Ten best defensive players (614). Willis was fourth overall and second on my ballot. Teammate Justin Smith missed the top 10. He was tied for 13th with votes from me and Kevin Seifert.

  9. Ten best owners (558). Seattle's Paul Allen missed the cut despite getting votes on four ballots.

  10. Ten best receivers (549). Larry Fitzgerald was second only to Andre Johnson. A little help at quarterback would have helped Fitzgerald make a stronger case for the top spot. He drew two first-place votes.

Here's hoping your Saturday ranks among your very best. Bring on free agency and training camps. Please.