Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ranking the Top 100 Players in the NFL; 20 - 1

After two columns, I have released the top 20 players in the NFL.  

Penciled in All-Pros
20. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (NYG)
When the New York Giants used their first pick of the 2010 NFL draft on a defensive end despite having Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, some felt they were putting too much focus in one area.  Mind you, that area (pass rush) is what has won them their last two Super Bowls.  Others, myself included, loved the JPP pick and felt pretty confident, given their track record at the position (Strahan too), that Pierre-Paul would emerge as another talented pass rusher.  Nobody could have predicted how quickly that ascension would come.  It took him less than two seasons to surpass his all-pro mentors.  He has been in on a sack in all but seven games over his last twenty-two.  That’s only one more sack-less game than a certain soon-to-be named Cowboy.   
Seems pretty obvious Pierre-Paul was destined
for greatness.  

19. Rob Gronkowski, TE (NE)
My new nickname for Gronk: The Monolith - He comes around once a millennia and changes everything.  With the influx of tight ends and their heightened importance in the modern game (led by the Monolith), NFL teams have two options facing them, evolution or extinction (Gronk also seems to be carved from some type of other-dimension metal, aside from that oh-so-tender high ankle).  The 2010 draft produced a slew of top 100 players like Haden, Pouncey, Suh, Thomas, Bryant, and Graham, yet it is Rob Gronkowski who rests atop, just barely edging out JPP.  The reason for this placement was simple: Gronkowski was the only one of those players to produce the greatest seasons ever for his position.  Patriot opposers often argue that individual success on the team is the result of the system not talent.  If anyone is trying to plead insanity in a murder case, all you need to do is say that about Gronk and they’ll ship you off to the Cuckoo’s nest faster than you can say Nurse Ratchet.  If you’re counting at home, that was two movie references in just one player tid-bit.

18. Calvin Johnson, WR (DET)
Megatron had been a red zone threat for most of his career, but he finally had his breakout season in 2011, catching 96 passes for a league-leading 1,681 receiving yards (the most since Torry Holt’s 1,696 yards in 2003).  Johnson epitomizes the modern NFL receiver: tall, incomprehensible leaping ability, aggressive in the air, and crazy fast.  He is the ultimate when-in-doubt-just-put-some-air-under-it-in-his-general-direction quarterback option.  The top wide receiver title is a three-way battle.  Megatron comes in third because he is the least established and not quite as versatile as the other two, but I’m nitpicking.   

17. Haloti Ngata, DT (BAL)
Ngata earns the top defensive tackle spot in a tight race with Vince Wilfork, Ndamukong Suh, and Justin Smith, although Smith’s age put him below the other three.  Versatility was a tie-breaking quality in the receiver top-tier rankings and it comes into play again here.  Ngata, like Wilfork, is exceptional in run defense, but his increased athleticism allows him to have a superior impact in the passing game as well, so much so that Ngata will often line up outside as a defensive end.  After being named second-team all-pro in 2008 and 2009, Ngata has earned first team honors each of the last two seasons.  The 28-year-old Ngata is beginning to build the career resume of Justin Smith and has finished each of the last two seasons with over five sacks and is one of three Ravens defenders to be ranked inside the top 20.  

16. Joe Thomas, OT (CLE)
In a compelling sub-ranking battle between left tackles, Joe Thomas comes out on top.  I chose him as the number one left tackle in football for a few reasons.  First, Thomas has never missed a start.  Second, he is just the second offensive lineman ever to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons in the league.  Third, Thomas has committed just two holding penalties over the last two seasons and six since entering the league.  And, forth, his current three-year first-team all-pro stretch is the longest among all tackles and tied for the longest at any position. 
Thomas has proven to be the best left tackle in football
since day one
15. Terrell Suggs, OLB/DE (BAL)
The recipient of the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year award from the Associated Press as well as myself, there should be no question about his place among the NFL’s best players.  As comically entertaining as he is good at football, what separates Suggs from the other elite NFL pass rushers is his ability to strip the football.  Cliff Avril was the only other player this season with over 10 sacks and four forced fumbles.  2011 marked the seventh time in nine years that Suggs reached at least eight sacks.   

14. Arian Foster, RB (HOU)
Foster exploded onto the scene in a manner few runners ever have in 2010, the season in which the ex-practice squad, undrafted free-agent went on to win the rushing title with 1,616 yards.  If you exclude the first four games of 2011 (he missed three with a hamstring injury and left one early when he re-aggravated it), Foster has averaged 100 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards, and just over a touchdown/game over the last two years.  Those aren’t good numbers… those are LaDainian-Tomlinson-in-his-prime numbers.  Houston had a remarkable season despite being without three of their four best players (Schaub, Johnson, Williams) for much of the year.  I wonder how they continued to play good football…    

13. Andre Johnson, WR (HOU)
 When you are able to string together consecutive 1,500 yard and 100 reception seasons as Johnson did in 2008-09, a top fifteen spot seems automatic.  Unfortunately, 2009 was the last time Johnson competed in all sixteen regular season games and he has failed to do so two additional times over the course of his nine-year career.  We were reminded this postseason that when healthy, Andre Johnson is still among the NFL’s elite players.  He had 13 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown over two games.  Somehow Johnson has never recorded a double-digit touchdown season.  That bizarre statistic and his affinity for injury place him second among wide receivers.   

12. Nick Mangold, C (NYJ)
Is Nick Mangold actually the best lineman in football?  Choosing between him, Thomas, Nicks, and Evans was essentially impossible.  Mangold gets the nod because it was the easiest to calculate his value.  With Mangold making the snaps, the Jets rushed for an average of 111 yards per game.  In the two games without him this past season, New York was 0-2 and good for an anemic 69 rushing yards/game. 

11. Larry Fitzgerald, WR (ARI)
Choosing between Fitz and the Johnsons for the top wide receiver title was difficult.  A healthy Andre Johnson may be as good as Fitzgerald, but durability and consistency are legitimate variables in assigning worth. Fitz has played in all but four games since entering the league in 2004.   While Fitzgerald, Arizona, and a John Freaking Skelton led offense seem destined to be among the league’s worst teams once again, the other two play in a thriving passing attack.  Even with the quarterback situation in the Johnsons’ favor, Fitzgerald’s numbers since 2007(the year Calvin entered the league) are far superior.  He leads the other two in all three major receiving statistics.  Fitzgerald has 68 more receptions that Andre Johnson (who is second among the three in catches) and 608 yards and 10 touchdowns more than Calvin Johnson (who is second among the three in those two areas).  No other receiver can go deep, short, or over the middle with the ease and comfort of Fitzgerald, even when defenses know he’s the only viable option nowadays.  How does he not break every single-season receiving record if he is teamed with Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Eli, Rivers, Stafford, or a healthy Peyton Manning?    
Fitzgerald during the Kurt Warner era reflects only the
beginnings of his currently unsurpassed potential 
Hall of Fame Track

10. Adrian Peterson, RB (MIN)
Adrian Peterson is the best running back in football and the highest ranked non-quarterback offensive player.  We can talk about statistics, averages, and personal accolades and recognition until the end of time and I’m sure all those things would prove AP to be the top runner in the game, but even that would fail to do him justice.  Peterson’s brilliant dominance transcends any type of tangible measurement.  You just need to watch one explosive Peterson five-yard run to understand why nobody in the NFL can play like him.  He’s so strong that people questioned his decision to add more muscle a few off seasons back because they thought he was already strong enough and shouldn’t sacrifice speed for the sake of even more freakish strength.  In what world is it bad for a professional athlete to get stronger?  At 6’1’’ and 217 pounds, Peterson is somehow able to seamlessly mesh together the brute strength of someone like Brandon Jacobs with the twinkle toes of Sproles or Reggie Bush.  He’s just as comfortable knocking the lights out of a linebacker, as he is capable of reversing field and spinning away from would-be tacklers.  Nobody runs like him.  Not now, not a decade ago, not ever.  

9. Jared Allen, DE (MIN)
Allen is probably the strongest defensive end in all of football.  He is the ultimate sack artist, but seems to genuinely enjoy taking the football out of the hands of the opposing quarterback as much as he does brining him to the ground.  He has 26 forced fumbles over the last seven seasons.  Allen also has the most sacks of any player since he entered the league in 2004 and missed the single season sack record by half a sack in 2011.  The scariest part is that 2011 was probably not his best season.  In fact, it may not have even been his second best.  Allen finished 2005 with 11 sacks but seven forced fumbles.  He had 15½ sacks in 2007 and 10(ten!) pass deflections.  Allen produces all-pro seasons with incomprehensible ease and, as the headline for the top 10 would suggest, is without question going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.      
Allen is the second best pass rusher in football and the best at
his position.  
8. Patrick Willis, ILB (SF)
If I had to summarize Patrick Willis in one word, it would be “complete.”  The best middle linebacker in football, Willis has been voted to either the first or second all-pro team every season of his professional career.  Despite being somewhat undersized at 6’1’’, Willis has established himself as the best tackler in all of football.  He has finished with more than 100 solo tackles in every year except 2011, in which he missed three games.  All was not lost though as Willis recorded career highs in forced fumbles (4) and passes defended (12).  Willis has five career interceptions and seventeen career sacks.  He has posted four or more sacks three different times over five seasons.  Ray Lewis, whose pass rushing abilities are among the greatest ever for an inside linebacker, has done so only twice over sixteen seasons.  Willis has forced a fumble 12 times.  Lewis has just 18 forced.  With a Super Bowl ring, Willis would be right on track to match Lewis’ career achievements. 

7. Ed Reed, S (BAL)
Five first team all-pro selections and three second team all-pro selections are all one needs to hear to understand where Reed ranks among the all-time great safeties.  His ball-hawking abilities are completely unmatched and he makes two or three plays every game that make you say to the person next to you, “You know, he might be the best defensive player ever.” Reed has posted over five interceptions seven out of his ten years in the league.  Many were critical of Tom Brady when he seemed out of his element in the conference championship game against the Ravens.  How did he overthrow that guy?  How didn’t he see Branch downfield?  I can assure you, Brady saw all his receivers on that day and his overthrown balls were almost exactly where he was trying to put it.  The thing about Reed is that he wants quarterbacks to think their receivers are open, so a veteran (notice, that is spelled vet-er-an.  I’m sorry everyone on the show Sports Yelling but it is not pronounced vet-tran) quarterback like Brady must think long and hard about whether or not that guy streaking down the middle of the field isn’t guarded by Reed twenty-five yards away.  It’s those little things that make Reed the greatest pass-coverage safety of all time.       

6. Drew Brees, QB (NO)
Drew Brees might retire as the greatest offensive player to never win a MVP award.  Probably because he’s one of my all-time favorite athletes, Brees has been the subject of many of my recent columns.  Even in an age of inflated passing numbers, he is still the most productive quarterback seemingly every year.  If you’re open, Brees will get you the ball.  Seven different New Orleans players had over 400 receiving yards in 2011.  Five had six or more touchdowns.  When Brees calls it quits, he should be in the top five for career passing yards.

5. Darrelle Revis, CB (NYJ)
Why does Darrelle Revis deserve to be so high?  Because he’s the only corner to crack the top 30.  You can argue who might be the best quarterback, running back, or linebacker until the end of time, but there is no argument for anyone other than Revis at cornerback.  He was named first-team all pro this past season for the third straight year, which, along with Joe Thomas, Patrick Willis, and Jahri Evans, marks the longest current streak.  Through the first seven games of 2011, opposing quarterbacks had a QB rating of 2.9 when throwing at Revis.  The next best cornerback over that time span gave QB’s a rating of 39.4.  People might argue against this high of a ranking and say, “If you ignore his side of the field completely, he can’t really hurt you.”  If you ignore his side of the field completely, he already has hurt you.

4.Troy Polamalu, S (PIT)
Is it possible that Troy Polamalu is underrated?  I argue yes.  If there’s an athlete with better closing speed, I have never seen him.  Nobody plays harder than Polamalu and no defensive back has as big an impact on the game.  If Ed Reed is the best ball-hawking safety of all time, Polamalu might be the best tackling one.  This is truly a golden age at the position and there will probably never be two safeties of their prowess playing at the same time ever again.  The 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and four time first-team all-pro probably only has another three or four years left in his career before his body fails to be able to cope with the immense toll of playing with Polamalu intensity and subsequent recoil damage.  Cherish them.  

3. Tom Brady, QB (NE)
Everyone who’s listened to local Boston radio stations knows Brady might be leaving the “elite quarterback” category, a big game choker, a weaponless leader, and at the beginning of the end of his career.  Everyone who hasn’t listened to local Boston radio stations knows he is the greatest Patriots player ever, better than Peyton and Eli Manning, one of the best athletes Boston has ever seen, a first-ballot future hall of famer, and still one of the five best players in football.  

A League of Their Own
2. DeMarcus Ware, OLB (DAL)
DeMarcus Ware was a no-brainer choice for top defensive player.  Nobody has more sacks since he entered the league (Nobody has had more sacks than Allen since Allen entered the NFL but he did this one year before Ware went pro) and nobody can attack the quarterback as consistently and with as wide a variety of moves as Ware.  Reliable as he is explosive, Ware has missed just one game during his seven seasons and has posted over 11 sacks in all but his rookie year.  He has finished a year with 14+ sacks four times and has single season bests of 20 and 19.5.  There are certain athletes that would be elite at whatever sport they decided to take up.  Ware is one of them.  At 6’4’’ and 260 pounds, his 4.56-second 40-yard dash combine time is straight-up criminal.  Slightly older players like Dwight Freeney and John Abraham have shown that a pass rusher can make a big impact on the game well into his 30’s with only a slight drop off in ability.  The 29-year-old Ware is currently sitting on 99.5 sacks and will need somewhere between seven and eight more years at his current pace to topple Bruce Smith for most career sacks all time.  Smith had 21½ fewer sacks at this point in his career than does Ware.  Really, though, none of this matters.  Ware could retire today and get into the Hall of Fame, probably in his first year of eligibility. 
Eli Manning knows all too well why Ware is the best defender in
the NFL
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB (GB)
The 2011 NFL Most Valuable Player was the obvious choice for number one.  Rodgers produced one of the greatest offensive seasons we have ever seen and led Green Bay to a fifteen win regular season.  With people questioning whether Peyton Manning will take a NFL snap ever again, Rodgers is his heir apparent in terms of ability and popularity.  He runs the offense, wins, and has reached Peyton-esque infallibility.  You can recognize somebody as a great athlete when he makes the complex look effortless and turns the rare into commonplace.  Federer concludes five-set matches without even the slightest odorant of sweat.  Derrick Rose routinely glides and shifts to the hoop through small militias.  Healthy Chase Utley so seamlessly sends balls 425 feet with a 25-degree turn of his body and a simple flick of the wrist that you ask, “Why doesn’t everyone hit that way?”  Aaron Rodgers fluently zings passes to the back shoulder of receivers draped in coverage for easy completions.  Green Bay receivers are never covered when Rodgers is sending the ball their way.  There are several promising young quarterbacks in the league, but none come even close to what Rodgers has been doing in Green Bay.  It’s difficult to see a situation where he doesn’t reel in three of the next six MVP awards.   

So that wraps up the top 100 Players in the NFL.  Now, about those other sports… (but first here’s the quick list of the best in football)

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB (GB)
2. DeMarcus Ware, OLB (DAL)
3. Tom Brady, QB (NE)
4.Troy Polamalu, S (PIT)
5. Darrelle Revis, CB (NYJ)
6. Drew Brees, QB (NO)
7. Ed Reed, S (BAL)
8. Patrick Willis, ILB (SF)
9. Jared Allen, DE (MIN)
10. Adrian Peterson, RB (MIN)
11. Larry Fitzgerald, WR (ARI)
12. Nick Mangold, C (NYJ)
13. Andre Johnson, WR (HOU)
14. Arian Foster, RB (HOU)
15. Terrell Suggs, OLB/DE (BAL)
16. Joe Thomas, OT (CLE)
17. Haloti Ngata, DT (BAL)
18. Calvin Johnson, WR (DET)
19. Rob Gronkowski, TE (NE)
20. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (NYG)
21. Vince Wilfork, DT (NE)
22. Carl Nicks, OG (NO)
23. Jahri Evans, OG (NO)
24. Ray Rice, RB (BAL)
25. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB (JAX)
26. Ndamukong Suh, DT (DET)
27. Tamba Hali, OLD (KC)
28. Clay Matthews, OLB (GB)
29. Darren McFadden, RB (OAK)
30. Charles Woodson, CB (GB)
31. Von Miller, OLB (DEN)
32. Matt Forte, RB (CHI)
33. Roddy White, WR (ATL)
34. Maurkice Pouncey, C (PIT)
35. James Harrison, OLB (PIT)
36. Jason Peters, OT (PHI)
37. Adrian Wilson, S (ARI)
38. Brian Cushing, OLB (HOU)
39. Jonathan Joseph, CB (HOU)
40. Jason Babin, DE (PHI)
41. Justin Smith, DT (SF)
42. Derrick Johnson, ILB (KC)
43. Dwight Freeney, DE (IND)
44. LeSean McCoy, RB (PHI)
45. Logan Mankins, OT (NE)
46. Jimmy Graham, TE (NO)
47. LaMarr Woodley, OLB (PIT)
48. Eli Manning, QB (NYG)
49. Victor Cruz, WR (NYG)
50. Phillip Rivers, QB (SD)
51. Cameron Wake, OLB (MIA)
52. Brian Urlacher, ILB (CHI)
53. Brandon Marshall, WR (MIA)
54. Frank Gore, RB (SF)
55. Justin Tuck, DE (NYG)
56. Ray Lewis, ILB (BAL)
57. Ben Roethlisberger, QB (PIT)
58. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (PHI)
59. Matthew Stafford, QB (DET)
60. Jake Long, OT (MIA)
61. Mario Williams, DE/OLB (HOU)
62. Antonio Gates, TE (SD)
63. Dez Bryant, WR (DAL)
64. Michael Turner, RB (ATL)
65. Greg Jennings, WR (GB)
66. Tony Romo, QB (DAL)
67. Elvis Dumervil, DE/OLB (DEN)
68. Mike Wallace, WR (PIT)
69. Michael Vick, QB (PHI)
70. Aldon Smith, OLB (SF)
71. Geno Atkins, DT (CIN)
72. Cam Newton, QB (CAR)
73. A.J. Green, WR (CIN)
74. Asante Samuel, CB (PHI)
75. Vonta Leach, FB (BAL)
76. Wes “The Common Cold” Welker, WR (NE)
77. Vernon Davis, TE (SF)
78. Peyton Manning, QB (IND?)
79. Ryan Clady, OT (DEN)
80. DeMarco Murray, RB (DAL)
81. Julius Peppers, DE (CHI)
82. Eric Weddle, S (SD)
83. Chris Johnson, RB (TEN)
84. Osi Umenyiora, DE (NYG)
85. Devin Hester, WR/KR (CHI)
86. Lance Briggs, OLB (CHI)
87. Dwayne Bowe, WR (KC)
88. Duane Brown, OT (HOU)
89. Joe Staley, OT (SF)
90. Brian Orakpo, OLB (WAS)
91. Jason Witten, TE (DAL)
92. Hakeem Nicks, WR (NYG)
93. James Laurinaitis, ILB (STL) 
94. Matt Ryan, QB (ATL)
95. Andy Dalton, QB (CIN)
96. Darren Sproles, RB/KR (NO)
97. Carlos Rodgers, CB (SF)
98. Marshal Yanda, OG (BAL)
99.  Earl Thomas, S (SEA)
100. Joe Haden, CB (CLE)


1 comment:

  1. 100 players and not a single Bills? If you are right, it will be another sad year for me.